Since the first Vision conference way back in 2010, it has become the preeminent conference at the heart of Bristol’s burgeoning creative sector. In its own words, Vision’s aim is to ‘give delegates a fresh, clear perspective on the current state of our creative sector, and its future.’

Covering such an expansive remit, not all of Vision’s excellent content is totally relevant for the SearchStar audience - remember, relevance is king - but Tuesday’s conference was always going to include a number of key takeaways for our specific industry.

Summarised below, we take a quick look at ‘The Next Big Digital Revolution’, ‘Creativity in an Algorithmic World’, and ‘The Beginner’s Guide to AI’.

The Next Digital Revolution, Tarek Nseir

Kicking off proceedings, president of BIMA and founding partner of TH_NK, Tarek Nseir, took us on a journey through the emergent independent agency landscape of today.

Arguing that a rapidly diversifying tech market - voice, AR, VR, 3d printing, wearables - is driving a shift in customer expectations, Nseir contended that we (consumers) will soon;

  1. Ask for anything (we can)

  2. Expect that our needs will be accurately anticipated

  3. Expect our digital and physical worlds to come together like never before

  4. Expect services that follow us everywhere

  5. Expect our favourite services to work together

  6. Expect new products to come to market faster and faster

But what does it all mean? According to Nseir, the blossoming of tech and shift in consumer behaviour will have a profound impact on the ways independent agencies are run and the challenges they will face.

From design and strategy, to data, creative, UX, testing, content and more, our agencies will need access to an increasingly dizzying array of skills putting us uncomfortably close to the mercy of the agency giants.

So, how do we compete? According to Nseir, the ideal independent competitor of the near future will ‘lead’, ‘specialise’, ‘connect’, and ‘learn’.

And while he didn’t posit all the answers, it appeared clear in his mind that the ideal independent agency would have to be ‘national, diverse, and different’. But most of all, that it must connect and freely collaborate with other similar agencies.

“The era of the independent but interdependent agency.”

Creativity in an Algorithmic World, Anna Rafferty

Immediately following Tarek Nseir was BBC Worldwide’s global director of digital marketing, Anna Rafferty, and her take on the importance of creativity in an algorithmic world.

Striking out with a discussion of the general public’s low-lying fear of algorithms, Rafferty pointed out that they often result in the polarisation of opinion. They are either amazing or awful depending on your level of vested interest in what a particular algorithm is created to do.

Regardless, she argues, algorithms are - quite clearly - here to stay and will only grow in strength and diversity. And while they may not be functionally excellent at creativity quite yet (see The Ephemerides and Neural Karaoke), algorithms are exceptionally good at organising.

Taking the examples of Google and Facebook’s News Feed, Rafferty posed her audience a question; ‘how do we rise above the noise?’ To put that in context, while Facebook’s News Feed contains an incredible amount of content, it’s very good at showing us the most relevant first, of which we only scroll through a small percentage.

Using the example of Planet Earth 2’s official extended trailer, Rafferty demonstrated the importance of captivating the audience quickly to stop the scroll and keep them there to the end. To do this, her team created a introductory sequence including an intriguing statement, and ensured that the content and music throughout the remainder of the video kept building.

Her point in all of this was that to ‘tickle’ the algorithm, those creating content need to ensure it’s relevant and impactful. To do that, she concluded, we must ‘make things that are of the internet, not just on it.’

The Beginner’s Guide to AI, Dave Hrycyszyn

What if we could build something smarter than ourselves? What would humans be then?

The title of Hrycyszyn’s at times tongue-in-cheek presentation belied the gravitas and potential consequence of its subject matter. Providing a quick history of AI, he took us from Alan Turing’s eponymous ‘Turing Test’ and the failed AI experiments of the mid-century, through to the modern day and beyond.

Most interesting, perhaps, was Japan’s 80s stab at The Fifth Generation Computer - dubbed by Hrycyszyn as ‘the ebola of computing’ - which wasted £1bn and resulted in an AI ‘nuclear winter’ lasting well into the 2000s.

Things have changed, announced Hrycyszyn. People are willing to discuss AI, and with modern technology we can now achieve most of what The Fifth Generation Computer programme set out to do in our own living rooms.

So called ‘weak AI’ already works well - just look at Netflix, Google and Amazon algorithms, while projects like Google’s DeepMind demonstrate the extent to which big businesses are willing to invest in the future of AI.

AI, according to Hrycyszyn, is here to stay. But whether that’s a good thing depends on who you are and what you do. He contended that while AI is great for its owners and tech companies (productivity increases incoming), it could quickly create vast social problems for those in more manual jobs.

Depending on where you sit in society, you’re either in for ‘rainbows’ or ‘The Crapocalypse’. Food for thought indeed.

Conclusion

While not all of the above is cleanly connected to the digital advertising industry, it clearly highlights the changing landscape in which we operate and the dramatically increasing importance of relevancy.

Beyond that, discussion around AI and algorithms cements concerns and poses new questions about our place in what may soon be a very different looking society and workplace.

For how much longer will robots require a ‘human touch’ to get the most out of ad buying? And if we do become obsolete how do agencies continue to add value to the services they provide? The answers to these questions may be closer than you think.