Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival. With panels led by the who’s who of futurists and pioneers – think everyone from Rohit Prasad, Amazon VP and Head Scientist of Alexa AI, to Martha Stewart (yes, THE Martha) – the event provided a glimpse into “what’s next” for culture, health, style, money and technology.
And while I certainly enjoyed hearing Trevor Noah discuss the intersection of politics and entertainment, or Brandon Maxwell talk about what it’s like to dress the ever-fashion-forward Lady Gaga, I found the conversations about technology most fascinating.
If it wasn’t already clear that we’re deep into the digital era, it’s abundantly clear now. Digital tools are redefining the ways we work, drive, communicate, think… the list goes on. And though the conference did preview new digital solutions – including Nuro, an unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (AV) designed specifically for deliveries, and Mica, which I can best describe as an Artificial Intelligence (AI) guide or coach – the conversation almost always came back to one question: How should humans influence and interact with digital technologies?
For the Magic Leap team who created Mica, digital solutions, and specifically AI solutions like Mica, present opportunities for people to “think bigger,” ponder new questions and become the best version of themselves. To that end, they’ve involved a psychologist in the creation of Mica so that she will serve as a sort of guide – not assistant – to those she interacts with.
Affectiva Founder and CEO Rana el Kaliouby would echo that emotional intelligence needs to be injected into AI solutions. She’s adamant that organizations enlist a Chief Ethics Officer to determine how AIs operate and make decisions. According to her, industry thought leaders must establish ethical guidelines for companies to follow. As AI tools become more and more prominent, they need to be as unbiased and as ethical as possible, accounting for the perspectives of a large and as diverse pool.
Beyond how we establish trusted, useful and safe AI solutions, there was a lot of discussion about ways in which digital solutions are being used today – and how they should be used tomorrow.
Slack Co-founder and CTO Cal Henderson explained how software is driving significant productivity – not just for individuals, but for teams together. And as teams collaborate using software, we need to adjust to a new pace of communication. For him, this doesn’t mean staying in constant contact and working constantly just because we can. Rather, it means that people and organizations need to establish new cultural norms about when and how they work.
Sima Sistani, co-founder and CEO of Houseparty, a face-to-face social network, also acknowledged that technology is changing the nature of how we communicate. Recognizing that people are on their phones constantly, she created Houseparty with the intention of bringing face-to-face interaction back – but through the channels that we’re now all accustomed to.
Digital is only going to get bigger, if the Future of Everything Festival is any indication. And while there’s definitely a “cool factor” associated with what’s on the horizon, it’s also very reassuring to know that the individuals and teams driving this space are thinking hard about how these technologies will interact with and influence the future of humanity.