Austin, you’re drunk!

In case you wondered where I am: no worries, I’ll be fine. Set up camp in Austin Texas, just in time for SXSW 2022. It will be an in-person, hybrid, weird meta-oriented brain-blower. NFT’s a gogo. Virtual POP’s (Proof of Presence) around every corner. A friend of mine is officially sending his Avatar. I had to RSVP for a virtual party. I saw a mini-van in a maxi-store. Meta is the new Mega. I got a mail from Bruce Sterling.

I looked at this trailer. Then at my White Russian (sorry, White Caucasian that is), then again at the trailer.  Ow boy, this is going to be an interesting week!

“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

There you have it.  Call me crazy, but my bags are packed. I’m in the Big Apple, and tomorrow I’ll ride at dawn, propelled by the 16.000 horses of an Airbus 320, towards Austin, Texas.  The weirdest city in the Lone Star State.

Yes, I know, officially SXSW 2020 is cancelled. Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin declared the state of emergency, and called off the biggest event of Austin. Health officials maintained until the last moment that there was no scientific reason to do so.  Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority in Austin County said on Wednesday that “there’s no evidence that closing SXSW, or any other gatherings, will make the community any safer”. He repeated that statement on Friday, after the state of emergency was declared.

There’s a lack of conclusive scientific evidence that cancelling mass gatherings will change the overall impact in spread of disease over time” Escott said.

Excuse me?

Steve Adler adds further to the confusion, by urging people in Austin to go out, eat out, spend money at local entrepreneurs, and enjoy the live music at the unofficial events. Seriously, he did: on his twitter channel.

Hundreds of booked bands have no intention of backing off, and are still aiming to perform at the places that booked them, and that were not part of the official SXSW circuit.  5th street and 6th street are rocking the boat.

Venues switched from international stars to local talent, and are determined that the show will go on. “Keep Austin weird”, the famous city adagio at its wildest and at its best.

Alternative SXSW

Thousands of SXSW Interactive attendees woke up with no SXSW to go to, but with a couple of thousands of euro in nonrefundable expenses: planes, catering, transport, hotels…  Part of that tech crowd decided to go to Austin anyway, hoping for a kind of alternate festival in the best case or some days off in the worst case.

Turns out that there is plenty of activity in the weirdest city of the west: Plenty of people are organizing events in Austin just for the tech crowd that has every intention of attending SXSW. Some local tech entrepreneurs  are working at holding on-invitation only events, grey events, or are turning their planned keynotes and panel discussions into podcast episodes. It looks like you might be able to attend the recording sessions if you know how to get you on the list.

Online and social media channels on  “Alt SXSW 2020” are popping up by the dozens. Even good old Unofficial SXSW Guide started broadcasting again.

I’m homing in on the #AltSXSW and #AltSXSWEDU hashtags that are rounding up registrants and speakers alike to meet up and share ideas.

Washing hands

I promise to be careful; I’ll wash and disinfect a-gogo. I won’t hug, I won’t kiss. I’ll smoke the heck out of the ill making little buggers in The County Line.

But nothing will keep me away from Austin in the week to come. Davy Crockett said it so well: “You may all go to hell,  but I will go to Texas….

And, as every year: I’ll keep you posted.

#SxSW 2020: how to prepare for wisdom, beer, BBQ and rattlesnakes

I’m slowly, but surely getting prepared for #SxSW, the 16th time I’ll be flying out to the Mecca of emerging technology, new ideas and creative thinking. Every year I come back buzzing with excitement, and a million ideas. #SxSW is cerebral doping, enhanced synapses and trigger-happy neurons. Thousands of keynotes to navigate through at the official venues, and in the grey zones. People presenting their hearts out in gargantuan venues and shady hotel rooms. Things to learn, to discover… invitations to change and rethink. Festival organizer Louis Black thinks SXSW Interactive “has probably been the biggest of its kind in the world” since 2007.

Here is how you make the most of it. I share this 5 weeks in advance, so no excuse for you to come to the battlefield unprepared :-).

Law and order

You will need a passport, an ESTA, and a ticket to the festival. Start early… ESTA can take a while these days. Every year, the ESTA question list gets longer… don’t forget to add one of your social accounts. You do not want to go through the stress of having to deal with an expiring passport just days before you leave. (Been there, done that: bad for your inner rest!)

Austin City limits

Book you hotel even earlier. If you’re a party animal, get in the city center. Costs you an arm and a leg, but you’ll be close to the action and the parties. If you care about your night nap, aim outside the City Limits: plenty of great hotels, at a fraction of the price, and guaranteed quiet at night. Realize you’ll need a car, and go gentle on that beer.

#SxSW social

Fill in your social profile that comes with your registration. Upload a decent picture of yourself (if not the organization will provide you with a mugshot at check-in. Trust me, you do not want to go there, they are notoriously good at taking bad pictures). Pick a couple of tags that are interesting to you, and use the connector to set up meetings with people. You go to #SxSW to learn, and to meet. To meet is a verb: it requires action.

#SxSW Go

Download the #SxSWGo application. It gives you access to a world of information. I use it to browse the official agenda, screen speakers and topics, and plot a general blueprint of what I minimum minimorem want to see. It has a great planning section that allows you to add events to your timeline, good for quick referral and easy heads-up during the event. Download the app now! Start RSVP’ing to sessions that are in venues with reduced capacity. Start filling up your schedule now… a bit every day.  There are literally thousands of items to chose from, so this will take you a while.

Guard your badge with your life

No badge, no party. You will not enter without your badge. SXSW will not replace your badge. SO, hang it around your neck, and leave it there. Never leave it at the hotel: leave it in the car at night. Your badge is your best friend. Know where it is at all times!

Beat the queue

Everyone needs a badge, and most people come in on Friday.  So, beat them by going early, and pick up your badge on Thursday, you can do so until 22:00. You will thank me on Friday morning when you see miles of poor people lining up to get their ticket to paradise.

Buy a map

Austin is a big city. There are venues everywhere, and you can easily walk an hour from one venue to the other. Important to know when you are planning. Running out at the end of a keynote, and hoping you’ll make that other one at the other side of town is not the best strategy. Personally, I schedule my keynotes within a one mile radius. Going further away makes me burn away precious time.

Hunt as a pack

Go to SxSW in pairs and trios. Hunt as a pack, split the city in pieces. Let your colleagues and friends cover interesting keynotes that you cannot attend. Compare notes. Three people can cover three times as much ground. Simple mathematics.

Eventbrite and RSVP

Do party, but go easy: SxSW is a marathon, not a one night sprint. Use Eventbrite to look for “SXSW” events in Austin. Most official and unofficial events post their stuff here. RSVP to all you can, having your name on the right list can prevent you from having to wait in ridiculous long lines.

Trust the locals

Don’t hunt exclusively for names you know, and that you are familiar with. Leave enough space in your schedule for discovering new thinking, new approaches. Dare to step out of your usual echo chamber. Personally, I ask local experts what they are attending. Every year I discover exciting new ideas by attending keynotes by fabulous people I did not even know before.

#lines

Be in time for your favorite speakers. Town halls are big, and seat easily a couple of thousand, but some speakers are so popular there will be no room for everyone. So show up early, or –pro tip- go to an overflow room where the keynote is live casted.

SxSw

#shoes #dress code

You will walk. You will walk miles. Bad timing to walk in those shiny new shoes, and plain ridiculous to try to balance on your nine inch heels. I’m a lazy walker, and I total between 5 to 15 miles a day during SxSW. Go for comfortable. Austin is weird, dress codes are by default  technology-comfortable. Aim for light and practical. Dress in layers, it’s warm outside, but the venues are equipped with USA style air conditioning, so it can be frisky inside. Texas is known for its warm climate, but this is rain season: plan for the occasional shower.

Light and thorough

Pick a lightweight laptop. Get that US cable or plug. Make sure you have all the necessary travel bits. Remember: you NEED to be able to power up your laptop, phone, and devices at security before boarding the plane AND at security while arriving.  Clean your laptop from all not necessary files. Go for the biggest battery you can find.

Battery packs

You will burn through power like there is no tomorrow. Charge your devices whenever and wherever you can. Bring battery packs and power stations. I carry a whopping 50.000mAh 6 Port (5/12/20v) in my backpack, and a 20.000 mAh in my jacket. That gets me through a day.

#smartpack

You’ll need a backpack. A smart one. One big enough to transport your electronics, your water bottle and raincoat. One small and light enough to be your ideal companion for long, long hours.  One unique enough that you can see and recognize it from miles away. Remember: this is your shelter, your home, your office.

#WiFi

The WiFi coverage at SxSW is pretty amazing, so make sure you toggle your roaming cell phone data ‘off’. If you’re the social sharing kind (you should), posting your content on your European roaming fees might ruin you.

#ID

This is the USA. Carry your ID at all times. Tons of reasons, but the main one is that even if you’re over a hundred years old, and you look like Methuselah, that bouncer will not let you in, and that barman will serve you no alcohol if you cannot prove that you’re above 21. As your mom will not be around to testify, your ID is your key to drinks. Just saying.

#cash and tips

Yes, they accept cards everywhere. Debit, credit, you name it. But… it is good to carry cash as well. Remember that people in the hospitality industry most often are relying on tips to make their living. You do not tip, they get no pay. So, carry cash to tip your valet parking, the doorman, and the friendly guy struggling with your luggage. Tip your waiter 15 percent if he/she does an ok job, 18 to 20 percent if it was good. Tip a dollar for a drink at the bar, notice how your cocktail gets better as you tip more :-).

Cards

Your European debit and credit cards will be useless when you arrive in the States. Security measures will not allow you to use them, unless you notified your bank in advance that you will be traveling abroad…. So make sure you call ahead, and get a confirmation you will get active cards when you land.

#water bottle

It is Texas. It will be hot. You will be hot. Air conditioning will sap your moisture away. You’ll be jetlagged. You will need water, lots of water.  Invest in a great refillable water bottle, hydration is key. There are tons of water fountains around to fill them up. Drink.

#jetlag

Jetlag is a bitch. Arrive a day or two early if you can, so you can adapt to the time difference. As soon as you land, cleared immigration and arrive in the hotel, take a long long shower. Airplanes dehydrate you, and that has a very bad influence on your jetlag. Stay 20 minutes under that shower, and go from steaming to cold and back. Whatever you do, do not go to sleep. You’ll be tired, Exhausted. Those sheets will look so inviting. But hold on until at least 22:00 that first night. You’ll sleep until 04:30, 05:00. You’ll be tired, but fine the next day. Dive into bed earlier, and you’ll be wide awake around 02:00. Ouch. Be tender on the alcohol the first 48 hours, eat light and carry some aspirin.

Sunglasses and sunscreen

To protect those lovely eyes, and that tender skin. There will be sun. A lot of sun.

#pills and heath insurance

Bring Advil, aspirin, Imodium, Motilium, some vitamins and hand sanitizer. The last thing you want to do is losing precious time being ill.  Bring prove of your health insurance! This is the United States of America: No pay, no Cure!  Taking a temporary travel insurance might be clever.

Rental Car

Parking downtown will cost you between $15-30 per day and traffic is a bitch. That said, you need one to move around if you want to wander outside of the city. Book your rental online, in advance. There will be no spare cars at the airport during #SxSW. None. You’ve been warned. Make sure you bring the same credit card that was used to book the car… if not, prepare for a logistic nightmare. If you’re from Europe: yes, you do need that extra insurance. Trust me on that one.

#food

At noon, go easy and light and go for a food truck. Austin is the very home to some of the best food trucks. Michelin grade food on wheels. Going light at noon will help you with your jetlag and general fatigue… and, you will want to have some spare room for the evening hostilities. BBQ is a thing in Austin, and it is mjummie. Franklin BBQ, Lambert’s, La Barbecue, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Stubb’s, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, and Micklethwait… all good. Iron Works is glued to the convention center, and is fab, but does not do reservations and the lines are epic. Stay away from County Line. That’s my favorite, and I love to have the place all by myself. Also om my top list: Fogo de Chao,where Southern Brazil meets Texas. An elegant front porch complete with open flame rotisserie welcomes guests, the meat is to die for. And, Torchy’s Tacos: eat a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent. Wash it away with a Mexican beer.

#reservations

There are thousands of people hunting for food in the evening, so, do not expect to walk in and be seated. Start your reservations around ten in the morning. Remember, most venues will not allow you to be seated before your whole party is complete.

#Bruce Sterling

Don’t go home before attending the Bruce Sterling closing speech. Bruce is a World traveler, science fiction author, Cyberpunk, journalist, all over wise guy and a future-focused design critic.  Bruce Sterling spins the globe a few rounds as he wraps up the Interactive Conference with his peculiar view of the state of the world from a global perspective. His rant and views are epic. He talks like a book, with nice vitriol musings.

SXSW: Truth to Power, Power to Purpose

SXSW 2019 slowly powers down. My 15th one, and, -once again- a splendid edition. Austin is still weird. SXSW still inspiring. We’ve found the answers to some questions, and part with a gazillion new questions spinning in our heads. Mission qua brain fuel: accomplished. I tried to synthesize some highlights, before the maelstrom of things to do grabs me by the collar and that the reality of the business catches up.

Inclusion

SXSW does not have a lot of patience for yesterday’s thinking and yesterday’s habits. While most corporations and countries are still struggling with equal rights and diversity, SXSW is already full steam on inclusion. Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. The difference between striving for equal rights, and inclusion is huge. Inclusion means that diversity in all its forms is firmly and structurally embedded in the very fabric of your society and your organization.

Inclusion tilts your organization to new heights, as women and men from every ethnic background, sexual preference, life choice and age contribute their full potential in finding the right path to a brilliant and bright future. Inclusive strategies have all the right ingredients from the very moment of conception.

Change is happening at neck breaking speeds, and all indicators show there is no slowing down any time soon. To answer this constant pressure, a culture of change needs to be installed in the root directory of every organization that wants to stay future-proof. Secondly, you will have to swing from your front foot. The best way to do that is with an inclusive team.

Fusion

The heydays of the Renaissance man are over. In Leonardo Da Vinci’s time, a polymath or Homo Universalis could know about everything there was to know at that time. Today, very few people span the necessary expertise in a broad number of subject areas. To be able to succeed in the decision-making, a fine set of skills and understanding needs to be fused together. Fusion thinking, and fusion rooms let people with different views, expertise and skills work closely together. This creates sparks that ignite (re)new(ed) thinking. Organizations need to draw on a complex set of knowledge to solve problems that get increasingly multifaceted.

A Fusion room where creative and impactful sparks rub off intense conversations and brainstorming in all openness and safety, is the beating heart of the culture of change. Supercharged collaboration, the ability to tackle everything, everywhere, anytime based on the fusional power of many. I like it.

Transparency, truth, power, purpose

SXSW clearly has no tolerance for the good old backroom tactics, grey zone approaches and black-box solutions… Transparency, traceability, and openness are the new power words. As well in B2B, as in B2C honesty and transparency became two extremely important metrics. In a world where the clients become more and more vocal, every transaction becomes a moral ‘tic off’ on the values of the business partner.

Brands find power in the values that are inherently linked to its experience. Perception becomes reality, and reality is fact based, and in these times of fake news fact checked. Values connect people and brands with links that go beyond the commercial transaction.

MGM’s Beverly Jackson’s personal motto nails it: “Truth to Power. Power to Purpose.”

Communication shifts from what you offer, to why you matter. Brands that are able to communicate (and show) clear purpose win, hands down. Marketing, communications and media put increasingly more emphasis on the softer bit of the corporate message.  Less down to earth product pushing, more purpose driven value matching.

P&G, Danone, Nike, Starbucks, Mercedes, Johnny Walker and countless other brands are stepping up to this purpose driven interactions.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people

Justin Billingsley, Global CEO Publicis Emil hopes that the next generation consumers will be able to say: “Advertising was the stuff that annoyed our parents when they were trying to do something else.”

The shooting from the hip at consumers on every single possible available platform clearly will not get you into the charts anymore. Consumer time and time indicate that they have had enough with media carpet bombing, and with brand messages that are not relevant to them.

The heavy intrusion of brands in digital media –and especially on social media-, communicating in ways that are not “native” to the platform is perceived as extremely annoying, up to a point that users try to hop from new platform to new platform in a desperate try to be ahead of the Corporate Media Rollercoaster.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people. The data and connection technologies are available to connect to everyone, at any given moment, on any device. The key is to find ways of using that nuclear connection power in combination with messages that are non-intrusive, relevant and engaging.

An ad blocker is a defensive weapon. If the internet user would not feel under attack, the ad blocker would simply not be deployed.

The battle for content

Content is magic. Content that is engaging, well made, informative, relevant, funny, inspiring… seems to be the elfenbridge between brand and consumer. Over the coming months, the battle for content is going to be fierce. With consumers more reluctant to share their own personal stories online, the social media and digital platforms are frenetically looking for good, engaging content. State-of-the-art, premium content- in text, info-graphic, audio and video is in high demand.

Life as it is doc’s, neighborhood focused news, memes, quality journalism overall, citizen journalism or good old entertainment, the social platforms are scrambling to get their timelines more relevant, more attractive, and more engaging.

Brands are also slowly waking up, and see that dry 6 pack shots in reach&frequency campaigns on Facebook buys them little more than very vocal consumer’s annoyance. On the other hand, good thought-true content on the same social platform creates huge added value.

Premium Content strikes back

Content is so good that people would be willing to pay for it,  -correct that-… are paying for it. The freshly launched Quibi video streaming service, Netflix, Spotify, HBO, CNN, Twitter, ShowTime,  YouTube,  Amazon Prime… they all were on stage to put the spotlight on their premium content.

From new episodes of Game Of Thrones, award winning top-notch productions (Roma!), over the return of the podcast (the clear winner of the battle for the intelligent speaker), to alliances with the world most creative influencers… premier content stood tall and proud.

The growing willingness of the market to actually pay for premium content makes content platforms less dependent on advertising dollars. Spotify, Amazon Prime, and Netflix are proving that they could run solely based on a subscription revenue.

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights

Big Data might be the most used hollow phrase of the last years. There is data, yes: oceans of it. But, what do we do with it? What is the capacity of translating data in actionable intelligence?  How does data become a driver that moves the business needle in the right direction?

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights was a revealing session on how to leverage the science of Information Architecture to redefine ROI for your brand. Data is everywhere, but the value and usefulness of that data can at times be elusive. Very Elusive.

SXSW took a steep and deep dive looking at the infinity pool of metrics at hand in a fully IOT- world. How to decipher which metrics are most valuable and the ability to re-invent the rules: there is gold to be had.

From drive-in movies, to movies in the car

Remember the day where youngsters would take the car, and enjoy a drive-in theater? Those days are long gone. The car developed into a supreme driving machine, and is on the verge of becoming something else altogether. Most of the premium car-brands are looking into (semi) autonomous cars. Electric cars that is. Fossil fueled cars seem to be in a blind alley, and alternatives like hydrogen are nowhere in the race for the moment.

Yes, there are still quite a few hurdles to take: We need laws and regulations. We need (even) better maps. We need cleaner, greener and sustainable energy to power those cars. (We need that to power our cities too, btw.) Investments in charging networks need to happen, and fast. We need better batteries; better battery management, and a transparent battery (re)lifecycle based on respect for people and planet. But all that will come within the next generation.

Most people have an audio system in the car that delivers music in a superior way than the systems in their living room”, analyst Jeremiah Owyang said:  “The car is not only a vehicle that takes you from A to B. It is the device that delivers you content and that enables you to interact: with people and with brands.

Once the car is fully autonomous, the curved windshield of the car could very well turn into the biggest and most impactful content delivery screen. Future car manufacturers will have a perfect entry point in the content experience of the commuters, and the car becomes de-facto a new competitive add-on as one of the connecting points in the already crowded communication and media ecosystem.

Business as usual

Honestly, there is none. 🙂

The Power of Ambassadors


How do you stand out in a world where everyone has a voice? Where every kid on the block can go very loud on the net? Where there are petabytes of content being published every couple of hours. How do you stand out at #SxSW where thousands of people bitten by FOMO try to figure out to which of the 6,000 or so sessions to go to.

Brilliant activations help of course. Deloitte’s Future of work, HBO’s Bleed for the throne… it stands out, gets noticed and picked up.

This year’s edition also showed the tremendous power of ambassadors. From a multitude of panels, stages and guest appearances, ambassadors spread the word on their cause. Guy Kawasaki singlehandedly hosted, moderated, and spoke on a dozen sessions on and off the festival concourse. The quiet former CMO of Apple uses his tremendous clout to make as well Canva, an audiovisual editing suite, as Mercedes shine. Very cleverly, not by preaching the new shiny object of both brands, but by linking the brand name to his personal values and vision on the rapidly changing online community.

Mercedes

Kawasaki is not the only one with a discreet Mercedes star on his chest. The German car giant played it big this year with a Mercedes Media Lounge at the very heart of the action. Hosted by Tech Set giants Brian Solis and Stephanie Agresta, a fine selection of panels and speakers came sharing their best in an intimate setting, open to select journalists, online media and influencers. The brand cleverly attached its logo to the power of the finely selected orators. With topics as the future of transportation, personal transport in the cities of tomorrow, sustainable energy, inclusion, traceability, design, Mercedes created over the five days of the show a strong link with innovation, respect, and thought leadership.

The Silver Star could also be found in the EQ house, a house discretely set up around their electric car offering, but dedicated to keynotes and talks about empowerment and innovation.  Here the brands iconic She’s Mercedes was hosted, where an impressive suite of powerful women talked about their journey to success, and how to overcome the multitude of obstacles still hindering the path of countless girls and women.

Bonin and Thurston

Bonin Bough,  (Marketing Exec, TV Host, Investor, Author;  Ex. C-Suite Mondelez & PepsiCo and a FastCo 100 Most Creative) and  Baratunde Thurston (ex editor The Onion, Actor, Comedian, Author) use their influence to make sure minorities and people of color get the light they deserve. Both are ambassadors of causes that are way broader than their personal endeavors and projects.

Having Clout

The tremendous power of these people is linked to their personal clout, the result of a steady and trustworthy way of communicating on who they are, and what they stand for.  They write, speak, tweet, and publish. They are on video, on Instagram and on stage. They don’t sell anything. They stand for something: a cause, a project, a dream. They share their thinking. Their frustration, their success, their failures. This, over the past years, has given them tremendous credibility. Trust. Power.

Personal brand

I know the popular adagio that you should concentrate on doing the work, that personal brand is irrelevant, that credibility and fame will follow. But I do notice the power of the people that invest in a content ecosystem around what they do, and what they stand for. The always-on communication lays the groundwork to help understand from a distance who they are, what they do, what makes them tick.  I see a lot of CEO’s, CMO’s, Heads of Business Units etc deploy a communication network around their person, and I believe that is a good move. It broadens the possibilities to talk about the softer, more humane aspects of the brands and causes they represent. It shows where they are going. It tells a lot about the logo’s they represent.

Ambassadors over influencers

Seeing ambassadors doing their thing, irrefutably puts shade over that other phenomenon: influencers. While ambassadors are selected on their lasting link and connection with the brand, the so-called influencers hop all over the place, changing their allegiances to brands as quick as a bigger paycheck comes in. I see less and less value on that side of the equation, it looks more and more like walking billboards if you ask me.

If there is no long-term, respect based, value matched connection… there is no sense, no purpose. No value. Money down the drain.



Jonah Peretti: Don’t Make Shitty TV, Make Good Internet


It takes brass balls the size of Texas to take the stage at SXSW, just after announcing a massive round of lay-offs. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti warned not to write off Buzzfeed just yet in his panel. While a lot of critics openly question the viability and long-term sustainability of a business model totally reliant on third party platforms for distribution, Peretti says he sees a bright shiny future.

A little over a year ago, Peretti warned the world that “the media was in crisis.

The intervening year has been a challenging one for publishers, with thousands of talented people losing their jobs across traditional and digital media. To navigate this crisis, our team has done inspired, tireless work to diversify our business. We made painful decisions to reduce staff, too. The coming year won’t be a cake walk, but I see a clear path to a bright future for BuzzFeed. I’m hopeful the same is true for many of our peers,  Peretti stated.

Crisis on Crisis level out

Buzzfeed’s commercial proposition, that seemed to be cut at the roots by its reliance on platforms as Facebook  could recover by an unexpected phenomenon: “The tech platforms — who until recently seemed all-powerful — entered their own time of crisis. The public, the press, and lawmakers now realize how little control the platforms have over the content they distribute to billions. Opportunistic bad actors — anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, racists, xenophobes, trolls, partisan extremists, scammers, and pedophiles — have taken advantage. Facebook and YouTube continually tweak their algorithms, use machine learning to detect spam and abuse, and spend billions of dollars hiring tens of thousands of human moderators. Despite these efforts, they are still struggling to police their platforms. Removing bad content will never be enough; the platforms also need to build sustainable models for good content to thrive.”

That is where Peretti sees a bright future: “Digital media content companies can help. We can fill the void on the platforms with quality content, but we need ways to do it sustainably”

Commerce needs content

The basic rule is all too easily forgotten: no pay if no quality content: “Digital media companies scaling down or turning away from the platforms is the exact opposite of what the platforms need. It is much harder to moderate bad content than it is to create good content. No matter how much money the platforms spend, or how many content moderators they hire, this problem won’t be solved by removing bad content, we need an ecosystem where creating good content is sustainable. If tech, content creators and media work together, everyone will benefit”

Content needs safe environments

Peretti piggybacks happily on YouTube’s recent safe-environment debacle: “We just rolled out our own brand safe video network, so marketers can buy across our trusted content. We’re proud to grow our partnership with leading brands who are making the internet better by demanding quality content and holding the platforms accountable. Our creators program allows us to combine the power of influencers with the reach of a quality network”

Don’t Make Shitty TV, Make Good Internet

Peretti also hammered in one of the big setbacks for digital platforms: offline brands, agencies and actors that thinking broadcast media is about pushing the same content to everyone and used to an audience not talking back.  “We need to know what matters to them. Like any good friend, we need to listen as much as we speak. So don’t make shitty TV, make good internet.

As the platforms begin to put out the dumpster fire, we are filling the dumpster with fertile soil, it’s time to rebuild the future of our industry and a better internet for everyone.”

I can live with that thought…



Before they burn me at the stake, call Prof. Ruth Morgan

Sometimes, I wonder about identity theft. Nothing serious, you know, a quick worry on my long commute home at night. Gosh, what if someone got hold of all my passwords? What if someone had a grip on my bank and crypto accounts? What if someone, through clever phishing, succeeded in virtually becoming me? A fleeting thought… I moved everything into two factor authentication or advanced biometrics months ago, and my passwords are so complicated that even I can’t fathom a decent way to remember them.  Seriously, who would want my life anyway?

And, then Prof. Ruth Morgan entered my life. I’m still trembling. The young woman in the little black dress, with the soft friendly voice scared the heck out of me.  Professor Ruth Morgan is the Founder and Director of the UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences and Professor of Crime and Forensic Science at UCL. She heads up a network of researchers (think CSI Miami on steroids) from a wide range of dark, forgotten, avant-garde and simply mind-blowing different disciplines that is focused on developing the field of forensic science evidence interpretation.

Your hair could get you on the chair

Prof. Ruth Morgan delved joyfully into the many ways forensic evidence is often misread, misrepresented or misinterpreted. The consequences in criminal cases are huge: people end up in jail, on death row, and on the electric chair because some scientists did not add up the evidence as they should have. Morgan explains how the DNA your very own sweaty bum leaves on a chair, could end up at the center of a murder scene without you even knowing it.  That hair, and the couple of million dead skin cells you left on your coffee mug, could very well be used in a crime investigation against you.

There is only one you: defend it

Prof. Ruth Morgan has a sweet, razor-sharp and entertaining way to show that forensic science is not as infallible as it is assumed to be. The consequences of the law deciding pieces of you are directly linked to a murder scene are huge, dramatic, and potentially lethal. It made everybody at the Me-Convention also rethink how other incarnations of you could get you in deep trouble. What if someone uses my online me to commit a crime? What if someone uses my password to do the unthinkable?

Morgan made it very clear: once the evidence is there, the natural flow (powered by Occam’s razor) is to make the evidence work. Your hair was there, your digital footprint was there: you did it. It requires special skills, a special ways of thinking to ensure that evidence is interpreted in a fair and open way.

Forensic science evidence interpretation saves and clears reputations and lives. Digital Forensic science evidence interpretation might be a job for the very near future.

It was not me

In the meantime: if ever I get charged with murder or worse… it was not me. Call Professor Ruth Morgan, she might be my only hope…

Ray Kurzweil: we can reprogram DNA

I can remember it as if it was yesterday. My first interview as a young journalist with a real international celebrity. I can still picture myself on the train to London, nervous as hell, on my way to interview Ray Kurzweil for Meridien News Services.

Trying to think down at my level

I can remember his soothing voice, his haltering way of phrasing his ideas. To me, it looked like he put tremendous energy in trying to slow down his brain just enough, so that I could catch up. I suspected him very much to try to think down at my level.

Singularity Man

I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil. Always was. The ideas he describes in his books are mind-blowing. I still do not understand how you can be in the tech industry, and never have read The Age of Intelligent Machines or The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. I can guarantee that a small army of  wannabee guru’s I saw on stage in recent years would have been better way better off, if they had.

The celebrated tech thinker, Google AI architect, and founder of the Singularity University fascinates me now for years with his projections-extraordinaire of a society where humans and machines become more and more interdependent, interconnected… and eventually quietly merge.  Singularity.  The world, the very entity of man and potent thinking machines becomes one. Mankind transcends biology.  Kurzweil thinks Singularity is just around the corner. Somewhere between 2045 and 2060.

Laughing stock

I always wonder if people thinking that Kurzweil is an idiot, a fraud, or a has-been, realize what the man has achieved. His peers see him as one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists. He has a verified thirty-year track record of  very often quite accurate predictions. Called “the restless genius” by The Wall Street Journal and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes magazine, Kurzweil was selected as one of the top entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine, which described him as the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison.”  PBS induced him in the hall of fame of the “sixteen revolutionaries who made America.

The Inventor

Kurzweil was the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. He received the 2015 Technical Grammy Award for outstanding achievements in the field of music technology; got the National Medal of Technology, and holds twenty-one honorary Doctorates.

Internet of everything

We’re getting highly connected, anywhere, anytime. For some this is a scary thought, for some everyday reality. As miniaturization enables computing and transmitting devices do get smaller and smaller, we can make more little things smarter, creating de facto an internet of things. Machine to machine data enables you to use your credit cards, helps road side assistance, combats shop lifting and enhances home automation and security (to name a few). Connected sensor devices are playing an increasingly dominant role in fast moving areas such as home care, patient follow-up and healthcare in general.

Kurzweil points out that health care just became an information technology.   Small armies of sensors, analysers and detectors connect our bodies to the internet. We become a connected part of the internet of everything. “These sensors”, Kurzweil says, “can easily travel through your body, or be added to a single cell. Machine/man merge is just a step on the steep ladder of achieving Singularity.

Passing the Turing Test in 2029

This feeds the web and its connected servers a vast amount of crunchable data. And our artificial brothers are getting better and better in smartly analysing and dealing with whatever is thrown their way. Artificial Intelligence,  for some it is a dirty word… but machines start to think our way, using our probability based thinking. “I think that by 2029, our AI units will finally blast through the Turing Test, the test that was setup to detect intelligent artificial units”, said Kurzweil at SXSW.

Evolving as a species

But let’s face the facts: intelligent, interconnected machines help us evolve faster as a species. Much like the control of fire and the inventions of the wheel, steel, writing, electricity and social security the connected computer power propels humanity to a next level.

Ray Kurzweil sees in his “fifth Epoch” a merger of technology and Human Intelligence, a moment where the methods of biology will be integrated into the human technology base.

Reprogramming DNA

Clinical applications of biotechnology will profoundly transform health, and enhance our vision of medicine with small bio-bots. He thinks we will soon be improving one of the building blocks of our bodies, DNA.

Biotechnology is not just another type of medicine, it’s a whole profound methodology for reprogramming the outdate software in our bodies,” Kurzweil said. “We have software in the form of our DNA. They’re actually linear forms of data and they control our lives. But they evolved in a period when it wasn’t in the interested of the human species to live past the age of 25 because there was limited food and resources. But now that we do, that very same DNA in its current form is sub-optimal.

Improvement of DNA will soon become commonplace in hospitals through techniques like immunotherapy. “Immunotherapy has proven in various trials to be able to reverse advanced, stage four cancer with rodents. It’s a reality and it’s coming very soon.”

For Kurzweil, the human body is a highly advanced computer, running on DNA. Healing and medicine can be enhanced by reprogramming the faulty code in our DNA strings.   Reprogramming the human-body’s ability to combat disease and ageing is just one of the first steps towards fully enhance the body with technology.

Studies show Kurzweil was mostly right on 87 percent of his written predictions till now. So you’ll excuse me for giving him the benefit of the doubt.

For now.

My SXSW 2018 preview

As I slowly get mentally prepared for smoked Texan BBQ and out-of-this world’s Taco’s, it’s time to throw the dice, and predict what the buzz at this year’s SXSW conference is going to be. Two years ago, the Austin based conference was a happy, boiling tech and new media happening, chaperoned by president Obama himself. Last year we experienced the backlash of an industry that did not see Trump coming, and blamed its echo-chambering algorithms to have shielded the truth from the world, through fake news and manipulated timelines.  The words ‘tech hangover’ are doing the miserable feeling justice.

But, water is under the bridge. The sun will shine in Austin, SXSW lovers are sharpening their pencils, and the classic SXSW haters are blowing the dust from their “I am so awesome I do not have to go” record. This closely followed by “It jumped the shark years ago, you know?

I have my fingers on the soft whispering of the web, and the awesome crew from The Eye of Horus are bringing in their bits and pieces of information. There is no shark to be seen, but I think that the following blocks are going to be the talk of town.

#metoo

#metoo was everywhere, and SXSW will not be an exception. Some tech gurus have been confronted with their macho, inappropriate and sexist behaviour. The past high-fived them in the face. With a sledgehammer.  Some SXSW darlings will not be seen on the convention grounds this year, they are hiding, licking their wounds. Those tech guys that took their guru status for a free pass to whatever they fancied, have been publicly called out. More is to come.

#equal rights and ethics

This preludes a whole suit of other rights: gender equality, freedom, equality for minorities, equal pay, and equal rights. The right to freedom of expression, religion, (no) guns, net neutrality. The right to be different, to love, to marry. The right to have your digital-self protected. The right to well-being and self-preservation. The right to see kids grow in a world where suicide and cyberbullying is taking a terrible toll on a whole generation. Discussions that will go way beyond who is going to pee where.

#Creativity

SXSW always was a melting pot, bringing inspiration and creativity to mingle with coding, apps, data and platforms. On the crossroads of these warm and cold disciplines magic happened. I cannot wait to see Nonny de la Peña, one of my augmented and virtual reality stars, talk about her views on content creation and ownership in VR. Inspiring Creativity powered by data and deep tech is my view of the world of tomorrow. The world my daughter is going to live in. So, it better be good :-).

#Empathy

All this means that something needs to be re-injected in this world dominated by science, cold data, machine learning, automation, spreadsheets, logarithms and bots: empathy. If we do not re-learn how to feel and think and anticipate how other people feel, most of the colossal science at our disposal is doomed. Who cares we can laser target Margaret at about every single second of her life? If we do not connect to her with an empathic message that relates to her needs, views and values, it’s water down the drain. Augmented reality and virtual reality are so close to us – physically and psychologically- that any attempt to create AR and VR without an out of this world empathic understanding is doomed to a spectacular fail.

#Blockchain

Stating that Blockchain is going to be on the agenda, is kicking in an open door. The decentralized web is high on everyone’s agenda, and the blockchain is central in traceability, secured financial transactions, ownership rights, IP, traceable content, etc. My little birds whisper it’s all coming nicely together. #Cryptocurrency will be thrown into the same buzzwordy cauldron. Bitcoin, Ethereum, the energy impact of mining, the impact on banks and regular money, possibilities and threats… it will be everywhere. The first crypto billionaires are made, the first casualties buried. It’s not a game anymore.

 #Autonomous everything and robots

We’ve seen the AI systems, in dull grey boxes, or looking way too human. It’s in cars, phones, home assistants, artificial limbs. Time to get it out of the ‘soon to happen’ dreaming. It’s all around us, and we’re (in) it. IOT will be part of our lives, our environments, and our social and commercial interactions.   It will have impact on life, work, social interactions, moral and planet. It’s not all guaranteed to be good. It will certainly not be all bad.  Will we choose augmented humanity rather than the Skynet doom thinking? Will we come up with upgrades on legal and ethical matters?  How does universal basic income come into play? Room for thought, panels and discussions a-go-go.

#Disrupting Dystopia

Ok, I have a soft spot for Bruce Sterling the size of a planet. I love the man, his books, and his way of thinking. He builds mental sculptures with words, and so much of his steam punk science fiction has become reality that I seriously wonder why he does not play the lottery. On Tuesday I will see him close the interactive sessions again. He’ll catch the vapour of nuance that grabs the essence of the conference to a dot: Disrupting Dystopia. I’ll be there.

Jessica Meir, astronaut: Diversity, yes. But only by working as hard.

It is not everyday that you can date a real astronaut. So I had to admit that I was a tiny bit nervous to spend some time with my very personal astronaut crush Jessica Meir (please, don’t tell my wife :-).)

For a boy like me, who was kicked out of astronaut school for not seeing colours very well, Jessica is rather imposing. The rebellious curls, the easy smile, the sparkling eyes – make you forget for a moment that you’re dealing with a diehard astronaut.  Jessica Meir can outsmart, outrun, outwit, outfly and outsurvive me. One-handed. While applying lipstick. So much for mansplaining.

CV, anyone?

How about this: Jessica Ulrika Meir was born in 1977. She is a professor at Harvard Medical School, and finished a postdoctoral research in comparative physiology at the University of British Columbia. As an intermezzo, she studied the diving physiology and behaviour of emperor penguins in Antarctica and the physiology of bar-headed geese, whom are able to migrate over the Himalayas.

She flies T38 fighters, and graduated with a Master of Space Studies from the International Space University. She survived a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation. Something I can barely even spell.

Diversity is needed

Jessica Meir is convinced that diversity and gender balance are important for all great projects. Different minds, origins and gender guarantee a wider spectrum of talent, more shades of thinking, and better chances of cross-fertilisation.  Too much of the same thinking and talents creates a certain poverty for whatever project. Luckily, the time where all NASA’s astronauts were sturdy airforce pilots with testosterone hair on their teeth are long gone.

Diversity is normal

In Jessica’s world, diversity is normal. The astronauts of her class reflect an almost perfect gender and race balance. She is grateful that NASA encourages anyone to grab his or her chance, regardless of race, origin or gender.

But only by working hard

But don’t tell her more jobs should be given to women. She will cold stare you until you slowly start crumbling down into a trembling heap.  In Jessica Meirs’ world, having an equal opportunity is a right. But it’s up to you to grab that chance, and fight for what you’re worth. The world only owes you an equal chance. From there on, it’s survival, hard work and dedication. If you’re better you get a prize. If you’re the best, you can fly to the stars.

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