Forget the hype surrounding the social web for a moment, what about something a little further out? This talk will paint a picture of two possible futures, along the way asking the audience to help decide in 2012 if either has a snowball's chance in hell of becoming a reality. Choose between:
1. Brands and users operate in a future-perfect environment of algorithm-driven, sublime relevance, where no nanobyte of data is wasted. Brands display artificial intelligence - becoming, in effect, self-aware - able to determine without human intervention how best to serve their customers. This leads to a glorious future of zero spam and delightful indolence amongst humanity as AI machines do all the work.. for now.
2. Brands and their users seek to fight for discovery and serendipity. Attempting at every juncture to circumvent the algorithmic tramlines laid down for their own good. Co-creating an open web with benevolent, politically neutral technology partners and real-world spaces where tech simply does not penetrate, this is the Wild West, 2050.
We all know social media's genius at pretending to read our minds. Facebook and Google+ reintroduce us to our friends; Pandora plays us music we're algorithmically likely to enjoy; Amazon delivers us to authors who feel statistically familiar. This sleight of hand flatters us and pulls us inward.
But what it doesn’t do so well is surprise us. Our sense of serendipity—the startling coincidence, the amazing happenstance—has eroded severely. A random greeting from a long-lost friend once would have been a lightning bolt in your day; by now, it’s much tougher to lose touch with someone than get reacquainted. If your most discreet pals plot your surprise party, their presence in your location-based apps will give up the ghost. Want to go wander around a foreign city? Forget it: Google has made getting lost not just obsolete but technically impossible.
Will surprise be the next hot online commodity? We’ve seen signs that it might. Chatroulette’s randomness enthralled us briefly, and group-deal sites’ digital coupons deliver us the odd caipoeira lesson—but could surprise be more valuable than that? Will social media, or advertisers, figure out how to sell us back our serendipity?
9th–13th March 2012