Smart Content Summit Keynote: Smart People Trump Smart Devices

LOS ANGELES — Amber Case, fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and visiting researcher at the MIT Media Lab, has been approached by more than one tech company of late, always with the same question: How should they go about making their products smarter?

Her answer? “Stop it.”

“We need smarter people, not smarter devices,” said Case, during her keynote presentation March 9 at the Smart Content Summit West event. “The scarce resource of today is the limits on our attention. Create technology that dwells in our lives in a nice way, instead of a disruptive way.”

She shared several examples of “smart” technology gone awry, from at-home auto pet-feeding services that led to pets starving, the ability for people to order products at will via someone else’s in-home AI-controlled voice assistant, and something as silly as having to update the firmware on your smart fridge in order to make it work correctly, leading to a “dystopian kitchen of the future,” Case joked.

While those may be some of the more egregious examples of “smart” technology gone awry, Case shared other day-to-day instances where technology continues to fail to exist in the periphery of our lives, and just isn’t as passive as it should be. Think using a smart phone while driving, which, despite all the advances in the hardware itself, still fails to “give information in a calm manner,” Case said.

There are plenty of examples in the media and entertainment sector where smart technologies simply can’t trump the analytical smarts of people, Case said. She pointed to a test where the screenplays of science fiction movies were fed into an AI program, with the result of what the AI program pumped out being almost unintelligible.

For Netflix, how often do you hear people complain that there’s too much to watch, and instead of spending time searching, viewers ask others for recommendations, Case asked? And for Spotify music playlists, all the AI in the world won’t be enough without humans curating as well, she suggested. “Human curatorial and AI need to work together,” she said.

She believes the answer is “calm” technology, instead of the interruptive technology seen today.

For the media and entertainment sector specifically, companies are dealing with just too much information, and are finding themselves “completely overwhelmed,” with not enough effort put into making what the influx of information means, and how it can be made actionable.

“Machines shouldn’t act like humans, and humans shouldn’t act like machines,” she said. “We’re overwhelmed by everything and really need to focus on the mental stress part.

Approximately 350 media and entertainment reps were on hand for the Smart Content Summit West, hearing experts discuss everything from the smart content space to the latest standards making the digital supply chain more manageable.

The conference was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), with Ad-ID, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, the Hollywood IT Society (HITS) and the Smart Content Council serving as association partners. Conference sponsors included MarkLogic, Amazon Web Services, TiVo, GrayMeta, Microsoft Azure, Nuxeo, FilmTrack, NeuLion, Avanade and Crawford Media Services.