AI & GENDER: A MAXUS SURVEY

[ This is an extension of a piece written in the report: Conversation: AI, Chatbots & the New Consumer Connection. In the report, we explore new ways brands are working with AI in conversational and commercial applications. We created this post to be updated regularly with new findings. ]

Maxus AI Gender Index: A Semi-Serious Survey

For ongoing analysis of the gender assignment of frequently-released human-like AI products, Maxus is conducting a study of gender & industry classification.

Current findings (15 June 2016)

  • 56% of gendered AI agents are female
  • 100% of law bots are male
  • A majority of finance agents are male
  • We already track at least two Lucys, two Avas and two Evas. Awkward!
  • Stefan is repping for the boys in fashion/shopping.
  • Bernie, a name that in USA conjures a certain image, has a job as AI dating coach that can help your Tinder game

Source: Maxus AI/Bot Gender List

Study Notes

  • It's evolving & incomplete. Roughly two AI products are released per week (ProductHunt, TechCrunch) so we'll follow through 2016 to see how trends change.
  • We've compiled a spreadsheet of current AI agents (assistant or bot products that use human-like names or identities). Please help us find and assess new bots as they come online by adding comments to the sheet
  • Gender classification is obviously speculative. We've used our best guess on the general impression of the product identity, including:
    • Explicit mentions of gender by founders
    • Avatar images, illustrations or representations
    • Majority mentions in media inferring a classification
  • Industry classification e.g Legal, Shopping, Dating is based on initial impressions
  • We'll keep these charts updated as the spreadsheet grows and changes

AI, Gender and Brands: Background for the Study

Who are our new AI companions? Human-like technology, conversing and operating via voice, chat or email, is here. There are AI assistants, bots and other human-like agents being created and launched each week. How we identify them, and with them, will be important.

AI and Gender

A lot has been written* exploring gender stereotypes playing out in the naming of AI assistants. Certainly, the most popular brands of AI Assistants, by far, have been gendered female: Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, plus Viv, Amy, Clara and Ava.

So what are we to understand from the prevalence of female characters? If we understand AI agents to be massively capable super-human intelligences, it's a good step for representations of women in technology and business. If we consider these agents anything otherwise, it raises questions in an age where diversity, equality and inclusion is finally at the forefront of discussion.

Brands are singular representations. A lot is involved in devising a brand and AI assistants are branded products, after all. They represent their creators' promise and values. But also, we're excited about AI because it's human-like technology. In no way does 'hiring' a minority AI match work in diversifying real human workforces. But AI is supposed to be representative. What will brands choose to represent?

These human-centric challenges around AI give brands the opportunity to extend ongoing work in correcting diversity and inclusion issues.

How brands are dealing with identity and AI

Brands should give customers a choice of whether they work with a male, female, minority, non-human AI agent. Creators can offer a variety of agent archetypes that better represent the spectrum of people in that role: law, finance, technology, big data, office management, sports commentary, journalism, shopping, transport, fashion and beauty.

X.ai, the AI startup trying to solve meeting scheduling, introduced "Andrew" soon after "Amy". CEO Dennis Mortensen doesn't give details on what percentage of early adopters choose each gender for their assistant. Anecdotally, I've heard of one person that hired the Andrew.

Facebook M was reportedly originally codenamed "Moneypenny", after the eternally youthful (and patient) James Bond secretary, but was later renamed the gender-neutral M. M may recall a Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes or for vintage fans Bernard Lee.

Google's Assistant is simply "Assistant" - no doubt drawing on their brand cache as an oracle of knowledge and power

FOOTNOTES

  • http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/why-do-so-many-digital-assistants-have-feminine-names/475884/
  • http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/04/27/when-robots-are-an-instrument-of-male-desire/
  • https://www.imperica.com/en/viewpoint/not-just-a-pretty-robot-gendered-robots-and-female-personal-assistants
  • http://qz.com/452804/ugh-another-virtual-assistant-with-a-female-name/
  • http://motherboard.vice.com/read/digital-assistants-get-womens-namesunless-theyre-lawyers

Will IBM Watson’s voice-activated ads change how consumers connect with brands?

IBM have announced it will use cognitive computing platform Watson to “speak” with consumers through voice-activated advertising units. But do customers really want a conversation?

What’s changed?

Odds are – substantially – you don’t click on ads. For some, odds are they don’t even see the ads, or are taking steps never to see ads. Is the issue that the ads just don’t talk to you? IBM Watson and their new Weather Co acquisition are betting you just need to talk (to the ads).

Voice interaction with display media isn’t new. Since HTML5 we’ve been able to initiate a microphone connection on third party sites. But it never really took off. Why now?

Adding voice commands to ads for Campbell Soup, Uniliver and GlaxoSmithKline, powered by smart AI (and Watson is amongst the best), is an exciting media product innovation for Weather Co.

What the change means

A.I is hot right now and it’s certainly a good a stunt. Wisely timed to demonstrate value behind Weather Co’s purchase by IBM. CEO Ginni Rometty is saying Watson is their growth focus – and some say she needs to be right.

AI promises more human-like interaction with technology. This year has seen the rise of conversational interfaces such as branded chatbots like KLM’s FB MessengerPoncho’s weather assistant and of course Siri, Alex, Cortana and Google Assistant. 3.1 billion internet users spend more time chatting in messaging apps than any other activity online or on mobile.

Implications for marketers

The experiment here is whether voice will solve the low interaction rates with online ads and ads will solve low interaction rates with voice. Digital media interaction rates on third-party sites are dismal – under 0.5% in N.America (Sizmek, 2015). And Siri (the widest used voice-command technology) has never been used by 85% of iPhone owners. Apple has mentioned Siri serves 1 billion requests a week. There are about as many iPhone owners, so on average, once each per week. By comparison, iPhone users open apps approximately 80 times a day.

The Watson-powered ads promise users will be able to ask them more questions, such as a CPG product’s suitability for allergies or children. Currently, marketers need people to click on an ad, and then click around, to find that out. Current behaviour says they’ll almost never ever do that. Current behaviour says they’d prefer to use chat. Will results of Watson’s and Weather Co’s experiment reveal they just wanted to talk?

Collision 2016 - Recap & Top 10 Startups Report

Collision is “America’s fastest growing tech conference” by the team behind Europe's massive Web Summit. In its second year, Collision has grown to over 10,000 attendees from more than 50 countries. There for talks, demos, debates and pitches were CEOs of the world’s fastest growing startups and the world’s largest companies, alongside top Venture Capitalists (VCs), academics and media.

Tom Kelshaw and Jodi Neuhauser attended, connecting with startups and opportunities from their earliest stages to maturity.

Dominant themes from presentations, interviews and hustling on the show floor were:

Diversity: The Greed case for Good

Diversity is an essential part of any successful organisational structure & strategy. It's just plain good business. In the startup world, disproportionate mixes of women, ethnicities, ages & abilities can threaten good business.

An AI-focused panel spoke of the danger of accelerating automation (via AI and algorithms) in being coded to reflect existing biases... Douglas Merill of lending startup ZestFinance, who struggled with deafness and dyslexia, cautioned against disregarding large majorities of profitable customers because they don't fit a typical type.

Birchbox founder Hayley Barna warned that only 10% of seed funding [assumed: in USA?] went to women.

[Whereas in MENA, 500 Startups (one of the most profitable and successful venture funds in the world) notes that more than 50% of founders they're looking at are women. Catch up, Silicon Valley.]

For their fireside chat, Chris Sacca & Harper Reed invited two attending women onto stage, one from Kenya. They spent the hour in an in-depth discussion on diversity in the Valley.

Sacca (a billionaire) explained investing in diverse teams and markets (e.g Africa) as simply "being greedy and getting rich". One example was StyleSeat, a marketplace for hair & beauty stylists, which other VCs avoided so he "went all in" … to make many millions. 

Harper Reed, former CTO of Barack Obama's campaigns and Threadless, warned against unconscious biases that plague corporate and tech worlds. Hiring from outside your "comfort zone" can introduce various skills, experience & maturity that might be missing form young companies.

Some recommendations to learn more about bias:

Cannabis: The Greed case for Weed

With California's AUMA Act likely passing in November, more and more USA states are legalising marijuana and creating a multi-billion dollar market. 

  • Investors Peter Thiel (Facebook & PayPal VC) & Snoop Dogg (Casa Verde) have backed Cannabis startups such as Eaze & Meadow (delivery), Merry Jane (media) and Bob Marley - Natural (branding).
  • We spoke with the founder of YCombinator-backed Confident Cannabis, which unifies the compliance & testing of product at disparate laboratories around the legalized states. Unlike say, wines, which have no objective measure of their quality or taste, marijuana must be chemically analysed before sale (like the ingredients list on the side of a packet of processed food). Confident Cannabis are cornering the market between growers, distributors & retail outlets... creating a sort of data-led futures exchange of varieties with attributes that may in high demand.

When markets emerge, such as CPG in South East Asia, brands and agencies have moved quickly to take advantage. I wonder who will be the first "all green agency" to open shop to service this consumer opportunity?

Startups

  1. Wattpad - Perhaps the most popular social network most people have never heard of. Provides a platform for both writing & reading fiction, with line-by-line- comments from fans. Which must be daunting for authors. But it's launching breakout stars like Anna Todd and her six-book series "After", with a Paramount Pictures deal. Brands like AT&T & Coca-Cola are already working with WattPad and their legion of active contributors on branded stories.
  2. Knocki - IoT and Smart Homes have been big for a while, but I loved this innovative input device. It uses a simple vibration sensor and very smart algorithms to detect taps & knocks on any surface. Place a few of these sensors on, under or behind walls, tables, bed-frames, doors etc. One, two, three or more taps (even morse code) can be used to activate smart home devices like door locks, lights, Sonos, Nest thermostats etc.
  3. DiaperKind - "Uber for X" startups are common as... muck. This NYC-launched startup provides the washing & cleaning services for re-usable cloth nappies ("diapers"). For environmentally-conscious mums, reusable diapers without the cleaning & sanitising might be an attractive proposition. They promise to bring the latest in textile-tech to combat the various innovations from disposable giants like KimberlyClark, P&G & UniCharm - who reap a majority of the $30B diaper market
  4. JoJu - Attractive, inspirational influencers have always sold fashion, and more recently sold their own fashion lines. But not every Instagram or Line star has their own Tom Ford on call - so JoJu (out of Paris, naturally) are connecting fashion designers with the hip & influential. It's a revenue-share model that provides accessible apparel collections for influencers that they can sell to their fans & followers.
  5. Converus Lie Detector - Modern Machine Learning tech has enabled basic computer vision (e.g laptop & mobile cameras) to exceed the capabilities of custom hardware costing 100x as much. Taking advantage of this is Converus, which analyses very small eye movements to detect lies. It's used for employers and perhaps law enforcement, but I think the real fun would be reality television & games - there's a delicious tension in the act of lying which could be exciting for brands to take part in.
  6. Cookmood - Cooking shows are nothing new, but live, on-demand cooking training mimics a trend in On-demand professional services being performed in the "gig economy", from medicine, psychiatry and counselling to personal training or beauty advice via video conferencing mobile apps.
  7. Q-Fi Solutions - Somewhere between Qualtrics & SurveyMonkey, this company offers extensive online survey functionality at a reasonable price.
  8. Wireless Registry - Wireless Registry is a Location-based services startup that provides an API for mobile apps to identify very accurate location via combination of wireless & other signals that surround us (beacons, IoT products). If Wireless Registry can forge a relationship with the two largest mobile advertising services companies in the world (Yahoo's Flurry & Verizon's Millennial Media) then they'd have an incredible pool of contributing devices to build their database.
  9. Sabbatical - Powering employee/group sabbaticals in beautiful locations like Puerto Rico. Mixes aspects of WeWork and Airbnb with offsite/training sector and the growing corporate trend of offering sabbaticals to retain staff. They manage properties & programs in very exciting locales - starting in Puerto Rico.
  10. Indigital Australia - AR without internet. Uses Vuforia AR engine to activate visual data based on known markers, such as rock formations, indigenous art or even strange plants. Awesome to know the founders are indigenous Australians themselves, a typically under-served part of Australia's digital economy.

(2 of 2) SXSW 2016: Diversity, humanity and the future

South by Southwest Interactive 2016 presented a dichotomy of topics: hype for an AI-empowered future (covered in recap Part 1), and a long overdue look at humanity, diversity & fairness, covered below.

Part 2: Diversity & Fairness

This year included an Online Harassment track, which highlighted the challenges (and at times violence) faced online, in gaming and social media by anyone who isn't a young, white male. There was a specific focus on the #GamerGate issue, with panels from various viewpoints.

Unfortunately, after controversy where the entire Harassment Summit was cancelled by SXSW organizers and then reinstated, the harassment panels were very sparsely attended. This could have been in part due to their location (a 25 minute walk from other areas... I rented a bike for this exact reason).

SXSWi always features great content on diversity across nationalities and ethnicities, yet a featured, prime-location "Latino Millennial Vote" panel - an important issue in this USA election year - was also poorly attended. Panelist and multi-award-winning actress America Ferrera even commented that "they should have booked a smaller room".

At very least the keynote on the topic of gender issues in tech - by Elephant in the Valley survey authors Michele Madansky and Trae Vassallo, drew a significant crowd. But it was still only 2/3 of the packed house afforded to a typical tech mogul.

The Silicon Valley diversity survey found:

  • 60% of respondents had experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. 
  • 60% believed they did not have the same opportunities as male peers. 
  • 66% believed they were excluded from networking opportunities (golf, drinking, sports) because of their gender. 

They reported on the "Goldilocks paradox" - with 84% of women being told they were too aggressive, whilst 50% were told they were too quiet. They also discussed solutions, like the Code2040 initiative which helps correct the imbalance in tech.

Later, Dan Price (CEO of Gravity Payments, a credit card payments company), told a sobering story of income inequality in tech startups. He explained that even though his entire, "disruptive" startup was meant to bring fairness to the world of payments - he wasn't being fair to his own employees. His "market-competitive" wages weren't even covering their basics. 

So Dan volunteered a 1.1M pay-cut, invested his assets back into the business to ensure every employee made at least USD70k a year and could live a comfortable, decent and fair life with a family. Dan's talk focused on the shift in business from making money to making a change. 

Important: It's impossible to be at every panel, talk, meet up or off-site about any part a topic at SXSW, so my perception of attendance here is anecdotal, mixed with some Twitter-stalking of other attendees. And I'll admit I didn't stay for entire panels when I wanted to check the discussion and level of engagement at others at the same time. Perhaps every other attendee was doing what I was doing? Perhaps I needed to spend less time talking (and reporting) around and about the issue, and be more engaged in dutiful discussions?

Overall I don't feel the level of engagement with the topic of diversity and inclusion needed better marketing, or different panelists (all of whom have been driving important conversation around the issues), or that SXSW isn't the right audience or environment for this discussion. Where else should we have an open, inclusive, in-person discussion about decent and fair treatment of all people, specifically as it relates to technology?

Nevertheless, it does seem the SXSW community still has a long way to go here. To not only give continuing voice to diverse speakers on difficult topics such as gender, class and ethnicity in tech, but also to pay attention in adequate numbers to affect change.

 

(1 of 2) SXSW 2016: A.I, humanity and the future

South by Southwest Interactive 2016 presented a dichotomy of topics: hype for an AI-empowered future, and a long overdue look at humanity, diversity & fairness.

Part 1: Artificial Intelligence

Last year at SXSW 2015 we wrote about rise of the robots - AI, drones etc. This year, those robots have risen and are driving big conversations in Austin.

Talk of Artificial Intelligence - AI, Deep Learning, Automation, Robotics - was everywhere at SXSW. Kevin Kelly (Wired Magazine) highlighted AI as one of the top three technologies that would shape the next 30 years through "augmenting" humans. At the IBM Cognitive Studio, there were lines down the street to experience Watson AI demonstrations. And whilst Austin prepared for SXSW, over in Seoul Google's AlphaGo AI system was smashing world champion Lee Se-dol in the game Go. Go was long-thought to be a milestone in AI - far more complex and creative than chess.

We attended sessions about AI from Stanford professors, MIT roboticists, German brand marketers, Dutch tech artists and workforce psychologists. Key themes included:

1) AI in the workforce

As AI evolves exponentially due to techniques such as Deep Learning and Neural Networks, 2016 will see more “vertical AIs” that can take over complex tasks in a single category - and maybe even entire jobs.

  • X.ai - creators of the popular “Amy” virtual assistant - performs the heinous task of calendar scheduling. Many people don’t even know Amy is a bot.
  • Digital Genius are creating specific AIs that can take over up to 60% of customer service chats.
  • Viv, from the creators of Siri, can already handle most voice calls for pre-sales or tech support.
  • Tara is an AI chatbot that interviews customers to determine their project needs and assign them to the correct freelance technical or design resources. 

Tim Leberehct (frog design) spoke about the threat of displacing hundreds of millions of workers in the quest for productivity. He defines “The Dispensibles” as those workers (up to 50% of us by 2025!) that might be replaced by sophisticated AIs. Similar to modern day refugees, they’ll have specific challenges and needs - how might marketers cope with a new audience with plenty of time on their hands, but limited means?

2) AI for creativity

For Maxus clients, we’re already working with AI to drive creative outcomes. Rather than replacing creators, the use of algorithms and human-like understanding can augment our process. Our current Clarins USA campaign uses AI to understand images that best represent moments of joy & triumph.

Dutch artist Nick Verstand presented his amazing work ANIMA - an AI inside an 8ft glowing, swirling sphere. The planetary orb reacts to the audience near it, learning from their touches, motions, voices and reactions. It was mesmerizing. It’s hard to understand exactly what the AI was “thinking” and trying to achieve - but that’s the same with most art.

IBM Watson researchers spoke about their AI XPRIZE with TED conference. IBM is offering 5 million USD to the winning AI that can deliver the best TED talk in 2017, as chosen by the (human) audience.

Friends of Metalworks, Dave & Gabe Studio, collaborated with sound artists and coders to create an interactive installation at the Deloitte Digital ARC activation. Adapting to physical input from participants, the system used algorithmic methods to ensure an ongoing, organic and tonal synth track that sounded awesome.

Spanish startup TheMotion caught our eye with their algorithm-powered video advertisement creator. Point their tech at any e-commerce website, and it’ll gather all the required information to make video ads with pricing, offers. They can even be personalised based on Facebook or other data.

 

3) AI and Trust

If robots perform more of our daily tasks, including creative ones, we’ll need to watch the amount of trust we place in their algorithms - and how those algorithms will affect brand trust.

Google spoke about the challenge of self-driving cars and the “trolley problem” - in an unavoidable collision, how might our car decide who to injure or even kill?

Instagram announced a shift to curated (rather than chronological) feed, meaning an algorithm will decide what you see. Instagram is foregoing the laws of nature (time) for those of the machine (algorithm). Will users be happy to trust an algorithm to determine which picture of someone else's lunch they see?

Uber constantly comes under fire for its algorithmic “surge pricing”. Whilst it may work to get more cars where they’re needed, it can be seen as exploitative (e.g paying $400 on New Years Eve) or even callous (as in the case of the 2014 Sydney shooting, where people fleeing the area were subject to higher charges).

In an algorithmic world, making choices a little more sensitive will be important to keeping brands “human” and maintaining trust. More on the “humanity” side of SXSW2016 in Part 2.

 

 

13 hacks for SXSW 2016

SXSW veteran and Metalworks Director of Technology, Tom Kelshaw, shares tips for getting the most out of Austin's annual tech, film & music festival.

1) Research YOUR SCHEDULE

Prepare in advance by researching the people and companies behind all those talks, presentations, demos and parties. The SXSW Scheduler is your friend, and most agencies, publishers, bloggers & startups will offer curated recommendations. But be equally prepared for serendipity or simply following new friends or trends as they go.

2) Triple-book Yourself

Using the SXSW Schedule system (which includes a semi-decent app), double or triple-book sessions - but be aware of distances. Travel time between sessions can be 10 - 45 minutes depending on location. You never know where you'll end up, and being within 2 minutes walk versus 15 minutes walk of your next venue will make that decision easier.

3) Avoid Panels

Panels usually suck. Mostly they're a bunch of similar people agreeing with each other. Some are well co-ordinated but often they lack the central narrative of a 60 minute presentation, or the depth of a fireside chat or access of a product demo.

That said, come see my panel - Your Innovation Playbook - at 9.30AM Saturday at the Hilton.

4) Watch Keynotes later

Whilst Keynotes often drive conversation that day, they're actually also the most miss-able. You can catch videos of the Keynotes later online, giving you flexibility to see something elsewhere.

If you must see the Keynotes (and they're usually great) and want to avoid the hour-long lines, you can watch a live telecast from a room or venue closer to your previous or next session.

5) WHO TO SEE

This is the hard part: Go wide or go deep? To get a variety of topics or to specialise in one? Specific tracks delve into Health-Tech, Food, Sports and emerging markets. Also 2016 introduces a focus on gender diversity in tech/media and the related Online Harassment Summit. Which has already drawn controversy, and is now more important than ever.

You can't go wrong with sessions by DARPA, Singularity University or MIT Media LabThese people are making the future.

Closing remarks by Bruce Sterling. The Wired co-founder, cyberpunk author, design theorist and patron saint of SXSW is a must-see. Grab a Shiner Bock and listen to Sterling deliver his annual State Of The Union.

Also my panel on Saturday at 9.30AM - Here Are The Keys to Your New Innovation Playbook - is centrally located at the Hilton and promises to define what tools are required for brands, startups and agencies to work together. I am privileged to speak with serious innovation warriors such as:

Most importantly, SXSW is about expanding and extending your experience by attending sessions that are outside your regular area of attention. You can read a blog post about "hot new trends in social media" any day, but you don't often get to hear a Nigerian science advisor talk about water reclamation technologies. Or see a live demo of a robot baby that cries - in different languages.

6) DEDICATED CALENDARS

Create two dedicated calendars in your smartphone for a) SXSW Schedule & b) random Meetups & Parties (which aren't in SXSW schedule).  This allows you to eye-ball what's on that day, and switch between the two.

7) GET "ON THE LIST" with RSVPSTER

There are about 30 parties, meet-ups, or casual events on at any one time. Be on the list for all of them by signing up with RSVPster - run by Austin nightlife veterans and SXSW paerty vibe experts. Then: quickly create a Gmail filter to put the thousands of invite emails into a folder or you'll probably let your popularity go to your head.

8) Phone chargers

Your phone will die. Quickly. Power outlets are viciously contested territory, so a USB battery pack is a must-have. Apple's official iPhone battery pack is good. The slim Dark Energy Reservoir charger is our favourite - not too bulky to fit in your pocket and has two ports to charge your phone and a new friend's too. You'll need at least two of those ubiquitous lipstick-style chargers to get through the day… and night.

8) Taxis at Austin Airport

If you're getting in Thursday PM or Friday AM - book a Airport Super Shuttle or be prepared to wait 30 - 90 minutes in line. Austin has Uber now but the lines are still crazy.

9) Bikes

Rent a bike, with a lock. SXSW has recently shrunk in geographic scale (many sessions now at new centrally located JW Marriott), but it's still spread out over a 1.5 mile stretch above and below the river. A bike can mean the difference of getting to an interesting event across town on time or to a hot party before the line gets too long.

10) PICK UP YOUR PASS EARLY

Pick up your pass at the ACC the day before (Thursday). This allows you to avoid the registration lines on the first Friday of SXSW and get straight into it.

11) Get Hands-on at SXSW Create

For hands-on hardware geeking with startups, head south of the river to visit SXSWCreate, a kind of Maker Faire in the Palmer Arts Center: 

Tip: The best Lunch/Happy Hour close by is Chuys Barton Springs.

12) Hungry? Barbecue!

Barbecue. Austin is famous for it. Try at least three whilst you're here but remember - everyone has the same idea as you.

The best BBQ joints in Austin have incredible wait-times during SXSW:

  • La Barbecue: Line up for 30 minutes before it opens - after 12.30PM they're likely sold out. Because it's amazing.
  • Franklin: The most desired barbecue in Austin, prepare to wait in line for over two hours. Seriously. Bring a chatty friend, some beers (I'm not sure drinking on the street is legal in Austin so be discrete) or your laptop to write those "Day 3 SXSW wrap-up" blog posts you promised your boss.
  • Ironworks: It's next door to the ACC and has great food. Before 12PM and after 2.30PM are the best times to get here. If you need to eat somewhere close, the long line does move quickly.

Below is some BBQ I'll be lining up for so I'm not going to talk too much more about it. You should probably avoid it. Yeah. Nothing to see here:

  • Lucy's fried chicken
  • Mickelthwait Craft Meats
  • Freedman's
  • BBQ revolution Food Truck

13) I NEED A DRINK

It's hard not to find a great place to drink in Austin. But after 7+ years, these are some recommendations:

  • Jackelope - Dive-bar with tattooed waitresses and epic "porno-hot" wings on 6th street.
  • La Peche - Very good, well concocted concotions.
  • Side Bar - Escape the madness … before some VC douchebags crash the place and buy you all drinks.
  • St Rochs - Proper escape if you need to seem "with it" and meet with someone important.

 

 

CES 2016 - Tour Recap

Below are highlights from our tours of the CES show floors. We've included technology that's being used to solve a consumer problem, that raises the bar for competition, or has the potential to change the game.

HTC Vive Pre

Whilst often eclipsed by the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive offers a superior experience. Intuitive hand controls, more natural visuals, and motion tracking that's just-so-slightly more comfortable than Oculus. The collaboration between gaming company Valve and HTC will be the best piece of VR kit on the market, as soon as it actually goes on the market, which could be after April 2016.

 

first-response-pregnancy-pro.jpg

First Response PREGNANCY PRO

At first glance, a bluetooth-connected pregnancy test might seem like tech for its own sake. But our client, Church & Dwight, has listen to customers and devised a product that makes those 2-3 critical minutes before the results a little more manageable. The bluetooth-connected device, with Qualcomm tech inside, connects to an app that provides instructions and advice based on a user's pregnancy profile: hoping for a baby? It'll factor that in when revealing the results, and then on-board successful parents onto the next stage of pregnancy management via the app.

Chevy Bolt

GM came back hard in the competition for electric vehicles by unveiling an affordable (USD30 - 35k) small car that can travel over 200 miles on a charge. The media system, sophisticated computers and of course the battery are all from partnership with LG. This proves that heritage automotive brands are still a force to be reckoned with, amongst new upstarts like Tesla and Faraday.

Vantage Snap drone

The promise of an automated aerial film-maker to capture your radness is exciting for any skier, snowboarder or mountain biker. The Snap drone is a backpack-sized foldable drone with high-quality video capability and enough smarts to both follow and avoid the owner whilst filming. Covered propellers mean less chance of injury, and the modular structure means tech can be upgraded without replacing the whole unit.

Think & Go Signage

Think&Go's imaginative solution from France enables content saving, coupon-grabbing and tap payment on any piece of digital signage, via NFC or Apple Pay. Even without a NFC smartphone or watch, the system can work with your RFID credit card, hotel key, work ID, or public transport pass. Nice to know we won't need to carry another card or piece of kit.

Elementium Plasmatik lighters

Elementium is the next evolution of the Zippo. Shoots plasma sparks at 900 degrees celsius like a tiny lightsaber in your pocket. Whilst tobacco-smoking is diminishing (or converting to e-cigarettes), there's still a growing, legal, and profitable market in the USA and other countries for "non-tobacco smoking". Elementium is well-poised to be the gadget of choice when you really need to light something on fire.

Aryballe Smell Sensor

Aryballe Technologies demonstrated the NeOse unit. The 44 bio-sensors in this device mimic the human nose, allowing it to identify smells and many tastes. The unit assigns a unique identifier, like a barcode, to every smell. This helps for quality assurance (e.g checking a perfume or food smells exactly how it should) but also to compare one aroma to another. Imagine a system to describe exactly how a new chocolate, wine or whiskey compares to your favourite.

Whirlpool + Amazon Connect-to-Care

Not only do these Amazon Dash-compatible Whirlpool appliances re-order their own washing supplies when running low, the Connect-to-Care program also makes a donation to Habitats for Humanity every wash. This presents a promising example of how brands can add ongoing value and feel-good moments through connected devices. 

Airbus Counter-drone System

Amongst the hundreds of companies showing in the Unmanned Systems hall, Airbus Defense Systems offered a stark reminder that drones demand responsible usage. Espionage, terrorism or just irresponsible drone operation can lead to tremendous damage - and sometimes no-fly zones need to be implemented. Airbus offer a drone signal-jammer that can redirect a drone away from danger, and also detect the source of the drone control.

Genworth Financial

The insurance giants Genworth championed an "empathy technology" showcase employed a the latest tech to educate people on the health implications of aging: vision, hearing and mobility issues. Strapping into a cyborg frame, users were able to experience vision issues, loss of hearing and difficulty sitting, standing and walking around.

Laundroid

The undisputed darling of the Tech West show floor, this laundry-folding robot promises to take over another chore. However the huge size and speed left audiences a little unimpressed: it takes 7 minutes to fold one shirt. Maybe next year?

CES 2016: 3 things that mattered

CES2016 brought less innovation, more maturation. The stars of the past few years: drones, wearables and smart homes have exploded in volume and variety. But it seems innovation has stalled on the show floor, offering only minor improvements in size, design, style and functionality.

For fitness wearables, common features like motion sensing, heart rate, smartphone connectivity and wireless charging are now table stakes, and it was rare to find products that offered more.

The hundreds of consumer drone variants on display were effectively the same product under the hood - offering high-res video, basic autonomy, OK battery life. Some were bigger (EHANG 184 can even transport a person), some were smaller. 

Smart home tech offered thousands of ways to turn a lightbulb on and off, but not much else.

Why the sea of samenesS IN 2016?

The reason for the stagnation is price - in the past few years, component manufacturers in China have tooled up and expanded production of the same wearable components, reducing the cost of doing the same thing as everyone else. 

What really mattered at CES?

Products that truly explored a unique context and user experience at CES2016:

1) Sports-specific wearables: Easton Baseball, EagleEye Football, Xensr & Trace for action sports and Hykso for boxing exploit the passion for their sports via analytics and UX to give insight, training info and bragging rights to users.

2) Smarter drones like Hexo+, Typhoon H & Snap are designed to capture autonomous, awesome "in the moment" videos their owners can show off. These drones are adding auto-follow, collision avoidance and cinematography capabilities into their A.I - trained by seasoned film directors. 

3) Finally, the smart home tech that went largely under the radar was the Amazon Dash-compatible home appliances from Whirlpool. Partnerships between Whirlpool, P&G and Amazon mean the appliance renews its supplies automatically. Whirlpool's Connect to Care system even donates to charity via the internet every time you wash. Washer/dryers, coffee machine and refrigerators now deliver on the decades-old promise of "an appliance that can replenish itself via the internet". This presents an interesting challenge to marketers: a dishwasher doesn't watch TV. It doesn't look at magazine ads. It has brand/retailer allegiance pre-programmed. What is the role of marketing in this Internet Of Things age?

CES 2016: Live & VR Tours

In 2016, you can join Tom Kelshaw on 2 tours at CES:

1. LIVE Tour

10.30AM (PST) Friday 8th January at Eureka Park

2. VR & Video tour replay

Late Evening Friday 8th January - Metalworks Youtube

  • Video wrap-up will be released here and on the Metalworks Youtube channel
  • Interviews and product features
  • 360 degree VR video tour on the show floor. Keep your Google Cardboard handy!