Exploring Artificial Intelligence in the Media at SXSW 2018

A group of 10 undergraduates went to the SXSW Interactive Festival in Texas this year to explore the latest on artificial intelligence in the communications field.

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Levitating humans, space robots and 3D-printed sushi.

These were some of the artificial intelligence innovations that a group of first-year students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information saw at the South by South-West Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas in March this year.

The annual event drew hundreds of key industry players such as Google and IBM. These companies hosted talks, panels and workshops to showcase their latest innovations and discussed their implications.

The 10 WKWSCI students were the first batch to attend the festival as part of the newly-revised Information Society and Policy module which explores emerging communication technologies in today’s digital era.

Associate Chair of Academic Mark Cenite revamped the course syllabus this year to cover the applications of AI in the media industry. Previously, the course focused on the social and political impact of social media and mobile phone usage in society.

“I wanted the course to focus on what comes next. A lot of new media technology now are incorporating AI,” said Dr Cenite, who is also a senior lecturer at WKWSCI. “SXSW is an ideal place for students who wish to explore policy issues in new media, talk to the movers and shakers (in the industry), and get a concrete sense of what’s coming (up next)."

Some notable AI innovations at this year’s SXSW include the world’s first AI financial advisor by financial technology startup Pefin and a smart jacket by Google.

The former offers consumers personalised advice on investments and savings based on an algorithm that predicts future returns and financial stability.

With technology woven into its seams, Google’s “Jacquard” is a smart jacket allows the user to access different functions, such as getting directions or answering calls, by simply brushing his hand over the jacket cuff.

“To witness the real applications of AI and virtual reality was just amazing,” said Ignatius Lee (CS’21), one of the students who attended the festival.

Lee’s favourite talk at the festival was “The Final Human-Computer Interface, Your Brain,” hosted by Boston-based startup Neurable. The firm shared about their virtual reality headset, the Neurable Brain-Computer Interface Development Kit, which helps developers create brain-controlled content for virtual reality.

“I thought it was cool for technology to be able to read minds. However, it could also be invasive as it would mean privacy concerns for the test subjects,” said Lee.

Part of their coursework was to propose potential AI applications in the media industry and discuss their ethical, social and policy implications. They were able to draw inspiration from innovations at the festival and consult AI experts on their ideas.

An AI that detects if videos have been manipulated, an automated post-production sound editor, and an algorithmic predictor that measures the engagement rate of social media influencers were some of the AI-backed ideas conceived.

For the automated post-production sound editor, the application could use AI to suggest sound clips that best match a particular video clip, said Wee Xuan Yi (CS’21), who coined the idea.

“I believe that AI is the future and it’ll be part of our everyday lives. It’ll definitely be helpful to understand what is happening in the AI space.


“We are always talking about how robots are going to steal our jobs or replace work eventually,” said Wee. “But I've come to realise that robots are not here to steal our jobs. They are here to help us do ours better.”

Another student Elizabeth Foo (CS’21) proposed a programme that tweaks texts and images on digital display banners to blend seamlessly into the website they are on.

Thankful for the opportunity to attend this year’s SXSW Festival, Foo said: “I was quite proud of my AI proposal because from not knowing much about AI (before the festival), I was eventually able to propose a solution to a problem.”

“I believe that AI is the future and it’ll be part of our everyday lives,” she added. “It'll definitely be helpful to understand what is happening in the AI space and think about the potential it has.”