Diversity, AI, and a Robot Petting Zoo

Random notes from SXSW 2015

SXSW 2015 Badge

“Diversity” has been declared the breakout trend of SXSW this year. Being part of an 80% female team here in the US, I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily well represented in the digital world. But even I noticed that most of the panels I attended in March were primarily filled with women. Of course this is by no means representative and maybe I am just drawn to topics presented by women, but it definitely added enjoyment to my SXSW experience. And it may have made me more receptive to Eric Schmidt and Walter Isaacson repeatedly interrupting the woman in their round, the United States’ Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. While they were discussing the need to involve more women and minorities for a diversity of perspectives, which helps innovation, no less. I definitely was not the only one to notice, though. Someone brought it up during the Q&A and her question “Given that unconscious bias research tells us that women are interrupted a lot more than men, I’m wondering if you are aware that you have interrupted Megan many more times,” was received with applause from the audience. So, I think the tech world and SXSW still have ways to go. Not only concerning gender but also concerning racial diversity.

Failure and other Innovation Principles & Practices
At Google [x], if your project doesn’t fail early, you haven’t pushed hard enough, according to Astro Teller’s keynote. On the other hand, NASA’s “Faster, Better, Cheaper” approach was successful, but cancelled anyway, because politicians could not accept failed missions as part of the process. This according to Dan Ward, author of FIRE: How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation.

The Future of Retail
A piece out of a conversation between Katrina Lake, Founder & CEO of Stitch Fix and Jennifer Hyman, Co-Founder & CEO of Rent the Runway: Physical stores can still offer experiences that online cannot provide. BUT, if 30% of sales are online, maybe stores should become a marketing expense, rather than be expected to make a profit.

The Future of Fast Food
McDonald’s is looking to technology to save its bacon. And it is looking to SXSW to find a way into the tech community. With a big budget, its own pitch sessions, and a little lounge room with free coffee, donuts and phone charging. That is where I found myself during a little fireside chat session with their Marketing VP and a Samsung representative. So I heard of one of McDonald’s plans to stay relevant: become to wireless phone charging, what Starbucks was to free Wi-Fi. You come in, put your phone on the table, by the time you are done with your Bic Mac, your phone is charged.

Well, you better watch Martine Rothblatt’s keynote and read her book “Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality” when it comes out to form your own opinion.

In the Robot Petting Zoo and the Trade Show, one could fall in love with robots to: talk to, save lives, teach kids how to code, maintain relationships, make music. Can you guess which is which?

Robot1 Robot2 Robot3 Robot4 Robot5