SXSW: March 10 2019

Today’s sessions all started later due to the overnight DST time change. I saw two excellent movies—which take up more time, of course—so I only attended two Interactive sessions and took a quick look at the Trade Show. I’ll spend more time there tomorrow.

Knock Down the House

This documentary, Knock Down the House, followed four women who ran for Congress in the 2018 elections. They were trying to unseat incumbents in Las Vegas, St. Louis, West Virginia, and New York City. A large part of the movie focused on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ultimately successful campaign and election. Unfortunately, AOC was not feeling well and was unable to attend today’s screening. The audience loved this informative and well-edited film. So did I.

Roger McNamee and Nicholas Thompson

Roger McNamee, a former mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, has now written a book called Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe. He was interviewed by Nicholas Thompson, Editor in Chief of WIRED. When McNamee first met Zuckerberg, Facebook was just two years old and mostly limited to college students. Back then, McNamee was convinced that Zuckerberg had found a way to address trolling. McNamee said that it is now apparent that Facebook’s security and privacy issues are due to their business model which traces humans and uses AI to steer people to specific outcomes. McNamee admitted that he has been using Facebook to target ads for his book and that he has advised Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic presidential candidates. He agreed with Warren’s proposal to break up the big tech companies. 

AI and the Future of Storytelling

This session discussed how artificial intelligence can be used with the arts. Each panelist introduced their projects. Douglas Eck (Google) is investigating AI /machine learning to create art and music. Heather Smith (Storyfile) began a project in 2009 to capture Holocaust survivors’ experience. Her team filmed interviews which were then put through natural language processing to enable AI-to-human conversations. Lance Wyler (Columbia University) talked about an AI project called Frankenstein. Charlie Melcher (Future of Storytelling) noted that some authors even use AI to sample and generate ideas for novels.

Apollo 11

This documentary about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon was fantastic. Director Todd Douglas Miller started this project back in 2014. Working with the National Archives and NASA, he used a “direct cinema” technique only using archival (mostly color) film. He said that a few shots came from other missions when Apollo 11 footage did not exist. Archivist Stephen Slater (also in attendance) synched the mission’s audio with video since they had been recorded separately. Miller consulted with Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins to make the film accurate. He said that both men were floored when they saw the end result.

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