10/03/2014 10:56 GMT | Updated 07/05/2014 06:59 BST

A Superhuman Experience: Fear and Love-in at SXSW 2014

The Innovation Team is again heading to Austin, Texas for SXSW 2014. This put us firmly in fizzy territory as we waited for the plane to take off. And by fizzy, I don't mean Champagne - the '80s are long gone. I mean a mixture of excitement and The Fear.

Excitement, because SXSW represents one of the best Love-ins for innovation and tech thought leadership; and The Fear, because with over 1,300 hours of panels and talks across several days, you need superhuman powers of retention to handle the download.

And therein lies the rub.

SXSW itself perfectly reflects our love/hate relationship with technology. On the one hand we embrace it, because it empowers us to amplify our behaviours and emotions; as Intel's Dr Genevieve Bell puts it, we use technology "to find a way to kind of move through the world and extend ourselves." The challenge, though, in the context of increasingly digitised lives is that it feels like the extension you need is a memory card for your head.

This conundrum informs something we're looking at in our agency - our belief is that human behaviours build human brands, with the onus now on brands to become more responsive, more human-like. One way to achieve this is via the appropriate use of innovation and technology to extend customers' experiences, but vitally that means amplifying the human touch, not obstructing it.

For the human touch, increasingly you can read 'human-like'. Artificial Intelligence grows ever nearer - Google recently bought Deep Mind, a company combining neuroscience with engineering in a bid to help machines mimic the way brains improve performance. Amazon has started to use intelligent systems to intuit customers wanting things before they place an order. Mobile manufacturers, too, are integrating biometrics - with fingerprint recognition and even heart-rate monitors to potentially identify users by ECG signature.

Technology is moving closer to our hearts in every sense. For me, this extension is becoming transformative. That's not to say fundamentally changing emotions or behaviours, which stay remarkably constant; it's more about the way we experience the world and how technology allows us to respond in increasingly amplified ways. We call this 'Superhuman Experience' and it's the key concept we'll be exploring in Texas.

Superhuman Experience can describe a paradox, where our interaction with tech becomes exponentially more remote and complex while our relationship with it grows more intimate and human. So very serious questions abound regarding privacy and control: to what extent do we want machines to think like us... or even for us? Watching Spike Jonze's Oscar-winning Her, it's easy to imagine that if a machine simplifies things and shows us a human-like touch, we'll embrace it... even love it; if it complicates or misinterprets our desires, we'll bin it. (Alas, poor Siri.)

In extending our experience so far and so fast, we must remain mindful of what it means to be human. Voting with my feet between Fear and Love-in at SXSW, I'm still very much in the latter camp; but as we chase the sun across the Pond to Austin, I'm increasingly aware of the former. Ultimately, that will determine if our future is 'Super' or not. That's as true for brands as it is for life.

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