The fellows attended the South by Southwest conference last week, each was able to experience a different portion of the conference. Over the next few weeks each of the fellows will post about their South by Southwest experience. Stay tuned and come back to get a snapshot of each fellows experience.
This year the fellows were lucky enough to attend the South by Southwest conference in Austin Texas this past week. The conference not only spans a uniquely wide array of fields, from the entertainment industry to healthcare, but it also allows for very interesting discussions as different industries overlap and intersect. Although I spent a lot of my time trying to meet and interact with a diverse set of people I really gravitated towards one section of the conference, the future of design.
One talk that I went to on the future of design discussed how conversational user interfaces are slowly replacing traditional interfaces. An example of a traditional user interface would be most apps and programs used on the computer or mobile phone. These interfaces, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, combine buttons and images to walk the user through their platform, collecting input as needed. An example of a conversational user interface would be Facebook messenger, WeChat, or Siri. Conversational user interfaces usually leverage artificial intelligence and instead of walking a user through a static page are run through a conversation. For example in Slack or Facebook Messenger a user can order food, or an Uber pick up just by requesting it in the form of a message. A person is able to sit down and message a robot as they would another human, the result being the same as hours of sifting through webpages had through a traditional UI.
What is really interesting about Conversational UI is that it is much closer to “No UI”. Instead of streamlining the process of getting information through a website or mobile app using images and animation, now the information is gathered just by asking for it. From a healthcare point of view this could be really exciting because conversation requires a much lower literacy level than many current user interfaces. How many people would understand their illness better when the interaction they had with technology was a conversation as opposed to trying to work through the hospital website or user portal on their own?
Another really interesting talk was on digital ethics. It is a field that has received very little coverage but is quickly growing in importance. The first example they gave was the Google “She Invented” example. For a long time when someone would try and google “she invented” it would autocorrect to “he invented”. This is socially very troubling, as our society moves towards ensuring the equality of the sexes, our major source of information gathering seems to push towards the assumption that men invent more than women. Though this is a small example in a much larger social issue, what is troubling from a digital ethics perspective is that there is no system of accountability in place to manage the social conversation. As a society we cannot blame the algorithm, Google was just mining the existing data, but in doing so was making a social statement. Moving forward as our society relies more and more on digital infrastructures there will need to be very mindful conversations about whether our algorithms reflect the past, or shape the future.
These were just a few of the talks at SXSW, the event was very diverse and offered a plethora of opportunities for us to learn about in depth topics in different fields. Stay tuned for a snapshot from each of the other fellows about our SXSW trip.