It’s fair to say 20 speakers over the two days and one or two refreshments at what turned out to be a freshers' event left me fairly tired. But on the flip side, it has given me time to think about the event and what was discussed a little more.

Day two picked up where Thursday afternoon left off, and whilst this final draft is coming from my desk rather than the bath as per day one’s thoughts, I’ve typed out some words for you to hopefully get a feel.

Responsible technology

I alluded to this term in the first post and it was a recurring theme on day two.

The session on Growing Up Social presented some fascinating insight into the impact social media is having on generations that are growing up not knowing life without Facebook. Social media provides a constant running metric, which for an advert is fine. But when we were talking about a pre-teen using this same data as the basis for their sense of self-worth, things got slightly uncomfortable. No likes on your latest Instagram post? Loser. 147 followers on Twitter? Please.

This isn’t new; the pressures of fitting in define many a childhood. But what is new is the visibility of these metrics; it’s out there for all to see, which adds a whole new level of pressure to go with the bad skin and squeaky voice. The negative impact on mental health sadly wasn’t that surprising. However, the calculation with which the participants planned their social activity to maximise response, was. It was all but the same process we go through when planning a campaign.

“Talking about fashion on Instagram works better than Facebook. And I know abstract philosophical quotes do really well on Twitter late on Sunday evening so I’ve been finding these to post. It’s crazy, I didn’t know Pluto was a dog, planet and philosopher.” (Not actual quote)

There are of course millions of positive stories from social media and how it has provided a voice and community to otherwise isolated teens, but the extent to which some of the participants would feign an interest in a topic, starting to change who they are, for the sake of a like or share felt odd. Especially as it seems many didn’t know all of this exposure is determined by an algorithm. They’re playing the game and making decisions as a result, without knowing the rules. Would things be different if there was greater education around how these things worked? I don’t know, but it did make me think.

We can. Doesn’t mean we have to.

Nicklas Bergman closed the first session with a presentation called Surviving the Tech Storm, in which he showed us a number of weird and wonderful inventions and experiments that are being developed across the world. Watching a hydraulically powered robotic dog maintain balance on uneven terrain was impressive. But the shine quickly disappeared when they further demonstrated the technology via a grinning fool taking a huge amount of pleasure in kicking the machine and watching it perform its Bambi on ice trick to stabilise. At that point, you did wonder if there was a useful objective to the project, or whether it was just done for the sake of doing so. We can. But did we have to?

Driverless cars have a far more tangible purpose; making safer the things that people already do inside a car in the pursuit of efficiency. As a non-driver, people doing things that put me at risk – checking a phone, eating etc - is a selfish frustration. If it wasn’t for somebody else driving I’d be stuck on the bus listening to One Direction pulse from someone’s iPhone. But at the same time, I quite like living and I know a text about dinner can wait.

So will a driverless car make things better? With 90% of all traffic accidents being the result of human error, quicker calculations and reactions will undoubtedly help, but by no means guarantee perfection. It raises the question of culpability; to be fully driverless, the car will be in charge and I would be amazed if any manufacturer would take on that liability. Until issues like this are written in stone, the most valuable use of this technology will be a safety overwrite function, for those moments of real emergency. More semi-autonomous than hands free. Even still, it will depend on how we use it. Will the safety net make us more likely to take a chance or only be used in those moments of real emergency? I know what I would like the answer to be, but do I fear we’ll have a lot more people kicking the proverbial robotic dog in their car because they know they can.

And just when I thought the end was nigh, we were reminded of the power of technology when the purpose is so beautifully clear, with the story of Les Baugh who, having been made a double amputee over 50 years ago, was fitted with prosthetic limbs that allowed him to use arms for the first time in over five decades.

Nicklas closed with a reminder of the need to understand technology; be curious and not afraid of new developments … and to not get stuck with old technologies. In a later presentation, Alastair Duncan spoke of how being different is easy, rather the ambition should be to continually be better. Albeit a different topic, the message resonates with technology just the same. Kicking a robotic dog and making robotic limbs are different, just not both better.

To close

I’m aware most of the points I’ve written about over the last few days sound as though I’ve become a born again technologist (perhaps filming a teddy bear in an empty lunch box in the sea was more symbolic than I realised), but don’t worry, I won’t be knocking on your door any time soon. There are so many practical takeaways from the conference to take back to the office. But there’s a lot to be said for the chance to rethink about the world we’re working in; so often restricted to 140 characters and a looming deadline, so I’m grateful to have been able to spend the time on the coast. Plus, the weather was brilliant. So, thank you Silicon Beach, hopefully see you next year.

If you haven’t already seen it, I would recommend taking the time to look at Nathan’s take on day two, there are some great rules on personalisation from PHD that are well worth a look.

Digital Experience Strategist

As a Digital Experience Strategist at The Economist, Ryan is responsible for identifying opportunities for use of digital innovation. Ryan has a wealth of experience in digital marketing, content strategy, UX, SEM and social media strategy and focuses on creating optimised user experiences that drive engagement and inspire users to take action. If digital experience is his first love, then sport is his second. Follow him on Twitter and read his latest comments and observations on both.