I had a quick visit to Bangkok recently for some family matters. A birth, a (40th) birthday, a wedding, a death…the full circle of life. So what do these four things have in common, other than family? Photos. Lots and lots and lots of them. In Thailand there seems to be a constant need to be taking photos, and posting them (mostly on Facebook) and sending them around (mostly on LINE, a hugely popular messaging service that offers free messaging, voice and video calls, stickers, which arehuge in Asia, and payments.) I’ve been off Facebook for some time, but recently returned as I was missing so much visibility into the life events of my family. The FOMO here is not that I’m not there for the events, but that non-family, distant acquaintances and random strangers know more about my family than I do!
The beginning of one life, and the end of another. Both captured through digital snapshots hundreds of times on multiple devices, posted to multiple platforms, viewed by an extensive network of people. I wonder where (if anywhere?) these photos will reside in 80 years? Surely we won’t be flipping through our phones looking at them.
I also wonder if, with all the progress of virtual reality, attending any one of these events in VR would in any way be as meaningful to me as being there in person. For all the ways it is changing how we watch, learn and interact, is it possible VR could be better than my being able to actually hold my little, warm, charming nephew? Watching how people respond to him? Can it replicate the joy of actually being at a sibling’s wedding? Can it replace how we mourn and pay respects, not just to the dead, but to those that are still here? Will it be able to replace the experience and emotions you get from talking to, hugging and reconnecting with people from your life (and those of others) at events of celebration and mourning?
On a different note, lots of plane time means lots of reading time, much needed when I’m thinking about our conference programs. I’ve started Arun Sundararajan’s new book The Sharing Economy. So far I’m finding it to be an incredibly interesting and thoughtful read. One thing I really like is how much Arun’s personality comes through, something I rarely expect when reading business books. We interviewed Arun at Techonomy NYC last month.
I also finally got to my stack of AI articles. AI will feature prominently on our TE16 program in November. If you haven’t read it, there’s an interesting piece by philosopher Luciano Floridi on Aeon about the how true AI is implausible. He looks at the “Church of the Singularitarians” (the believers) and the “Church of the AItheists” (the disbelievers) concluding that both are misplaced faiths. There’s also a bunch of informative articles about AI (and everything else) on Future Tense.
If you’ve got suggestions for TE16 please reach out. As always, we’ll cover a lot of ground, and I’m always looking for ideas!
Ross is Techonomy’s program director and co-founder.