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A recap of PHD’s annual BrainScape 2016 conference

Events & Awards

A recap of PHD’s annual BrainScape 2016 conference

Panelists discuss the future of advertising and humanity

Omnicom Media Group’s PHD hosted the seventh edition of its annual BrainScape conference in Dubai last month. This year’s theme was ‘Predestination’ – well represented through a virtual host, although, thankfully, not as sinister as Ethan Hawke in the movie of the same name.

David Rowan, editor, Wired UK, said: “You can either be scared or excited about the opportunities the future presents, but you can’t sit this one out, because it is coming sooner than you think.” Rowan opened the half-day conference with a presentation that illustrated that the sci-fi future we see in movies is, in many ways, already here – flying cars, for instance, may soon be a reality given Larry Page’s significant investments.

Featuring an eclectic mix of speakers, the conference brought together Rowan; Tom Chatfield, technology theorist, author and broadcaster; Daniel McDuff, researcher of sensing and machine learning tools at Microsoft; and Hugh Cameron, chief strategy officer at PHD Worldwide.

All of the speakers presented a rather I, Robot kind of scenario, although Chatfield did reassure those who feared such a future by explaining that living in a networked age would mean that there is less and less we will do individually and more and more we will do together.

David Rowan
Editor, Wired UK

  • Bots or “small AI” are gaining importance, as automated messages – based on bots – help in solving problems
  • Start-ups play a key role in enabling the sci-fi kind of future we imagine and, although they’re fighting for survival, that fight is what keeps them ahead of corporates
  • Using consumer data and launching innovative products is somewhat the domain of start-ups and it’d seem that the shortest route to innovation would be collaborating with start-ups
  • Using AI to solve problems is giving rise to newer kinds of businesses we didn’t know existed
  • Perhaps unfortunately, live media beats quality media. Just look at Facebook, Snapchat, Periscope…
  • Businesses have to be enablers, especially as people want to do less and less work and businesses need to deliver growth with as few steps as possible
  • Security is a concern, because technology makes us vulnerable as everything gets connected to a network

Daniel McDuff
Researcher of sensing and machine learning tools, Microsoft

  • Communication is not about what we say and do, but how we say and do it
  • Just the smartphone in your pocket can measure not only your heartbeat, but why it changes
  • Algorithms could outperform humans in detecting certain objects, situations or emotions. As per research, computers can pick up subtle variations in pictures much better than humans can. What are the odds humans can be as perceptive and observant?
  • Understanding how someone reacts to your product is key in tailoring a customer experience for that individual
  • How humans and machines can – rather, need to – work together: human emotions are super important because they help us remember, make decisions and communicate, and affect our health and wellbeing. Machines are important in measuring these emotions and how they affect us
  • Emotions vary by culture, gender and individual, which makes it imperative to collect data on a large scale to understand these differences. For instance, countries with a high level of migration historically tend to have more expressive emotions to make it easier to interpret them
  • The real challenge is not using technology to gather data, but using data to improve quality of life

Tom Chatfield
Technology theorist, author and broadcaster

  • There isn’t enough reason to imagine a de-humanized, AI-driven future
  • In fact, when considering the social and ethical issues of a tech-driven world, we must remember the skills that bind us: human creativity and sociability versus machine capacity, speed and connectivity
  • We’re moving to a future where we will do less alone and more together
  • Tech doesn’t give us a direction unless we ask open questions
  • The greatest scarcities in an information age are human time and attention
  • Humans are hyper-social; they aren’t as rational as social and crave human connection. That’s perhaps the reason behind the success of influencers

Hugh Cameron
Chief strategy officer, PHD Worldwide

  • The role of media planners and strategists continues to change with new technology; less subjective, more solid
  • Planners will become designers of better and more streamlined consumer experiences, enabled by the combination of human talent and data
  • Humanity’s role is going to be in the field of experiences


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