Another day, another unending source of inspiration at SXSW day five. From wandering around the Creative Expo to trying new VR experiences, there were just as many activations to enjoy as there were panels to attend.

Today, we attended several panels, from an early session with the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, to catching up on Amy Webb’s 2022 Emerging Tech Trend Report, to understanding more emerging trends in the space, before hearing about NFTs and digital art from upcoming Skillshare Originals teacher pplpleasr. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive in!

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Whistleblowing at Facebook

Frances Haugen made headlines last year when she testified before Congress about Facebook’s internal policies and over-reach.

At SXSW, she reiterated many of her talking points and added color to both her story and the particularly sinister product development at Facebook that have led to their dominance in market.

To put it into a succinct sentence: Facebook gives the most reach to the most extreme ideas.

And this is very dangerous. She broke her talk down into three central ideas:

  1. Censorship systems are ineffective
  2. Facebook doesn’t scale for a diverse world
  3. Conversations around censorship distract from real solutions

All machine learning systems are biased. They are created by people and can carry with them the biases that people bring.

Frances encouraged Facebook – and the audience at large – to consider digital product. “When we focus on product choices, it fixes things for everyone in the world, not just the profitable.”

Facebook wants to show quarter over quarter growth, but at a certain point, that growth stagnated when people were just engaging with their friends and family. And even when brands came into the picture, it still eventually stagnated, that is until Facebook realized the power of groups.

Early Facebook users will remember that they could be invited to a group and choose to accept that invitation, and then interact with the members. A product choice was made to remove the invitation step, and simply put people in those groups. And thus, the echo chamber began with increasingly polarized content to increasingly radicalized audiences. “Groups are the gasoline ignited by the algorithm.”

When we apply this to the election, for instance, we know that the more divisive the language, the better the performance on platform. So political ads that are kind or empathetic are going to cost more money than those that are inflammatory. And while campaigns are budget-conscious as they always are, it’s therefore not in their interest to appeal to a higher level of emotional intelligence. All of this serves to create a more polarized, and as Frances argues, more violent world.

Speaking of tech, and moving well beyond the world of Facebook, we caught up on tech trends with…

Amy Webb’s 2022 Emerging Tech Trend Report

NYU Professor and leader at Future Today Institute Amy Webb was back at SXSW this year for another formidable conversation on the future of technology.

Dallenbach's Cow from SXSW Day Five – Amy Webb's Tech Trends Report
Dallenbach’s Cow from SXSW Day Five – Amy Webb’s Tech Trends Report

She started with presenting an image on screen and challenging us to try to find what it was. After a beat, she showed us that it was in fact a cow. As soon as we saw it, it’s impossible not to see it. Even if we rotate the image, even if we change the color. This is called Dallenbach’s Cow. The reason you can’t see it at first is the same reason we can’t see emerging signals of change or tech trends and how they may change the future. It doesn’t fit into an established model in our minds, so to our brain it’s just raw sensory data. Our brain will focus on the dark spots because they are obvious, and we miss all the white space.

“Reperception is the essence of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”

Amy webb

In essence, the facts have not changed but our perception has. This underscored her central focus: reperception. She encouraged us to practice it every day, to always look for the cow. “Reperception is the essence of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.” And it is the essential tool for great management.

We don’t use reperception to predict the future, but rather to deal with its ambiguity and uncertainty, and in our pursuit of new territory. Trends help us reperceive, and from there we need to think about next level impact and create strategic scenarios so that we can inspire action.

And so with that groundwork set, she launchd into a few major trend clusters: artificial intelligence, metaverse and web3, and synthetic biology.

By way of artificial intelligence, Amy posited that AI is permanently altering our perception of reality. We’ve already surpassed benchmarks across AI and we’re getting closer to the day when AI systems can make their own decisions without us – and not just simple ones. Decisions that are multilayered and complex.

Currently, AI systems can determine what we mean, not just what we say. In the future, this will be indistinguishable from actual intelligence. AI can write copy that is indistinguishable from human-written copy through a system called GPT3. Additionally, as the world grows more and more concerned about facial recognition, the reality is that AI can scan our heartbeat and know who we are. It can assess our breathing patterns. It doesn’t need to see our face to know our identity.

In 2024, there will be a new IEEE WiFi standard that paves the way to receive more biometric data. In our world right now, AI can detect emotions and qualitative characteristics, and studies have shown that we trust synthesized faces more than real faces.

So how does this play out in the real world? We can design a synth to be a certain gender or hair color, sure, but we can also now have it index high on trust or empathy or warmth. We can then use GPT3 with data on an actual life to allow for a responsive conversation. Imagine the use cases on the positive side: L&D, do a table read for a script, etc. And of course, there are sinister capabilities for this as well that we can leave to our imaginations.

We could also use AI to make things like search more intuitive. Search currently is predicated on the idea that we know what we’re looking for. But what if it helped us along the way.

So when we consider the optimistic or catastrophic implications of this world, recerception should leave us asking important questions:

Are the teams building these systems diverse enough? Inclusive enough?
Should it be mandatory to disclose when something or someone is AI-generated?

Amy outlined the optimistic and catastrophic versions of extending this reality to the years ahead. The optimistic has us living in a world of more transparency, while the catastrophic offers cataclysmic misinformation. She penned the likelihood of each scenario at 20% and 80% likely, respectively.

As Amy transitioned into the metaverse, she started with less of the rampant enthusiasm as we’ve seen in other panels at SXSW. As she put it: the most important key finding is that we’re all chasing the shiny. The next generation is real and important, but it won’t be digital collectibles, real estate, or NFTs.

From SXSW Day Five and Amy Webb's Tech Trends Report – The Metaverse
From SXSW Day Five and Amy Webb’s Tech Trends Report – The Metaverse

The virtual world as we know it is becoming more immersive and sensory. We’ll continue to lean into the immersion, adding in more sensory experiences and new levels of embodiment as we interact with emerging technology. Our data is what makes all of this work.

She touched on the notion of digital twins, as making ourselves in the metaverse is going to become easy. We’ll eventually create multiple versions of ourselves, and layer in some of that emotional complexity we touched on with AI. You may be asking yourself, why would we do this? And the answer is we do this already. We act differently on Facebook than we do on LinkedIn than we do on Roblox than we do on Tinder.

Right now there is no common language or protocol for the metaverse, and therefore there is no continuous sense of self. We’ll start to see the proliferation of digital IDs that use blockchain for proof of identity and therefore allow for a more continuous experience online.

The way we shop and the way we earn money will be transformed. We may start to use passive spaces like our homes where we have bluetooth connectivity to earn us money as computing power is scarce and needed.

Amy cautioned on the NFT boom. Digital collectibles are currently valuable because of their scarcity, but the market is growing saturated. She noted that many NFT enthusiasts draw the comparison to fine art, but it’s a flawed one. But she does believe that they are fun, exciting, and a stepping stone for what’s really being built – which is the less shiny infrastructure.

And while physical real estate is precious, Amy also noted consciousness real estate – that is, sleep. She talked about Targeted Dream Incubation where tech companies and brands can enter your dreams. She believes that we’re becoming more vulnerable to influence as we cross into the metaverse and that’s ever-so evident in this idea of crossing over into our dreams and sleep.

So as we move into reperception here, we have to ask: who are the people building out these new spaces? Are they optimizing for everybody? What if metaverse spaces aren’t interoperable? Who gets to decide the standards? What happens if today’s digital marketing system breaks? Who’s in charge of policing the metaverse?

Lastly, Amy touched on computers and synthetic biology, and how we can program biological systems just like we program computers. She entertained the notion of DNA hard drives and discussed advancements in the field of biology.

Feeling that much more knowledgeable, and ready to take on more trends, we headed over to…

10 Non-Obvious Megatrends Shaping 2022 and Beyond

In this entertaining presentation, the Non Obvious Company took us through trends that they believe are going to be top-of-mind this year and beyond.

While we won’t go through all ten in detail, we’re highlighting a few that we found to be particularly astute:

Instant knowledge was one. We consume bite-sized knowledge on demand now and we benefit from learning everything more quickly. At the same time, we risk forgetting mastery.

This notion is of the utmost importance to us at Skillshare, where we offer short lessons and videos on our social media to give you some quick learnings, but value the complete expertise of Skillshare teachers in helping you learn something new. The joy is in the curiosity, the learning, and the making, whether it takes 2 minutes or 2 years.

Human mode was also noted as a trend, which is essentially community. “We have so much technology that drives us apart, we just want to connect with one another.” The solution is to make things with empathy, and if we can add onto this one, to encourage a sense of togetherness. It’s actually the same impetus that inspired the launch of Chroma Courses. After years of feeling isolated with the pandemic, how can we still find time for togetherness at home? A great solution is to learn together, at the same time, with experts in their creative domains.

Next up we headed over to our very own session on digital art…

NFT Culture: Building Community and Defining Success in the Web3 Creator Economy

NFT artist and industry leader pplpleasr sat down with Skillshare’s own SVP of Content, Community, and Brand Alicia Hamilton-Morales for a lively conversation on web3, NFTs, the metaverse, and how digital artists can break through.

Skillshare's own Alicia Hamilton-Morales and pplpleasr on SXSW day five
Skillshare’s own Alicia Hamilton-Morales and pplpleasr on SXSW day five

The two started with a level-set of what each of these terms are – DAOs, NFTs, the metaverse, blockchain – all of which have become essential lexicon for SXSW 2022.

From there, we learned about pplpleasr’s origin story. After working in animation and getting laid off during the pandemic, she found a niche for herself in creating NFTs and growing a steady and loyal fanbase there. She’s since partnered with the likes of Steve Aoki and also launched her own web3 video platform, Shibuya, to examine, produce, and distribute longer-form content in this emerging space.

“People shouldn’t think of NFTs as a vessel to get rich quick, but as a different way to create sustainability for your business… each creator is now their own entrepreneur who can set up shop anywhere.”

And that’s just what pplpleasr has done. Best yet, she’s showing you exactly how she did it in a brand new Skillshare Original coming later this year. Watch this space!

What’s next on our last day at SXSW…

Stay tuned tomorrow as we dive into the motivations and means of GenZ, more on the metaverse, and a quick wrap-up on our key learnings from this year.

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