Hybrid World Adelaide: A Reflection

What: Hybrid World Adelaide Tech Conference

When: 20 – 24 July 2018

Where: Adelaide Convention Centre

In its second year, Hybrid World Adelaide further explored the future of a ‘hybrid world’, immersing visitors and conference attendees in the potentials of living in a real and digital sphere. I was lucky enough to attend the first day of the conference, looking to connect the latest in technology with my interest of engaging audiences in the heritage field and the arts.

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Hybrid World Adelaide 2018 Poster. Image source: Yutani, 2018, Hybrid World Adelaide: Embracing the Future

I was blown away by the many ways that technology is making the world a better place, sometimes by lending a literal robotic hand to those who need it. A speaker who resonated particularly with me was cultural anthropologist Professor Genevieve Bell, who delved into the challenges and opportunities of what is becoming a data-centric world. Her talk ‘Designing wonder in the age of AI: Implications from the 4th wave of industrialisation’ introduced a conversation about the role of technology in making our future world one worth living in, with humanity at the forefront.

When we think about technology, it is not unusual to think of the ways in which technology has made our lives easier in terms of leisure, communication, and business. This is generally followed by discussions about AI, bioethics and echoes of ‘technology is stealing our jobs’. Professor Bell stated that in the 21st century, the majority of technology is not for business, but is about human emotion and activity. What ensued was an encouraging exploration about how technology can be harnessed to create wonder in art.

An interesting and moving discussion followed about the origins of the concept of Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence and algorithms are, in part, about patterns of data. However, data is retrospective. Algorithms using data reproduce the world as it is and has been. Professor Bell talked about art creating a new world, one in which STEM can be employed to alter the ways in which technology is used as a medium to create, categorise, and curate data. She hoped for something she labelled ‘the algorithm of delight’, which would depart from retrospective data and how this can be applied to art.

Additionally, Google recently created an algorithm called ‘Deep Dream’ to create works of art. In response, Professor Bell left her audience with the question: Does our knowledge that a work was created by AI change how we perceive and feel about it?

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Example of a Google Deep Dream artwork used in Professor Bell’s presentation.

So how is Adelaide using technology to engage, create wonder and make magic? There are a couple of concrete ways. As Professor Bell reminded the audience, the future is not yet fixed, and uncertainty is acceptable. However, questions must be asked. This drew a parallel with the vision of MOD., the new Museum of Discovery on North Terrace. At MOD., science, art and innovation collide in a place where the focus lies not in what we, as humans, already know, but rather in asking questions. This innate curiosity results in wonder which is evident from the response MOD. has generated in its visitors.

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Source: MOD. (@modunisa) Twitter

Another way the our city is embracing technology can be seen through Professor Bell’s focus on taking technology and placing humanity at its forefront. The Ignite SA Preserve Challenge was a particularly unique and significant example of this. This challenge sought to provide a digital alternative to share the South Australian Museum’s Australian Aboriginal Cultures collection, of which currently only 5% can be displayed at any given time. An innovative application is being developed to facilitate the sharing of the collection of artifacts in storage through a digital sphere with global access. Keep an eye out for the winners, Sandpit, and their app called Cipher. They will be taking advantage of Adelaide’s Gigabit capabilities to engage the public with the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

I appreciated the opportunity to hear from such an esteemed array of speakers, particularly Bell, at this year’s Hybrid World Tech Conference. The experience served as a reminder that technology should be used in ways aside from those focused upon efficiency and productivity. Technology can and should be used to improve the world we live in, by connecting people with culture, stories, humanity and wonder.

– Claudia von der Borch

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