ETA 2012 – A Branding Singularity

Last Friday saw the latest instalment of FITC's Emerging Technology & Advertising (ETA) event series touch down in Toronto. While labelled rather dryly as a "one day conversation on how technology will impact brands", ETA 2012 brought together an improbably diverse selection of speakers to think out loud about design, emerging trends in interaction, engagement and commerce in an intimate and conversational setting. With a speaker roster starting with Ray Kurzweil and finishing with Golan Levin, this might have been one of the more 'out there' events one could dream up for an agency-centric audience as the assembled presenters served up inspiration and provocation (more of the latter, actually) across many domains. CAN was on scene to document the proceedings and I've prepared a summary with some accompanying remarks.

ETA 2012 opened with a bang with an appearance by futurist, inventor and ardent singularitarian Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil opened his presentation with some ad-libbed commentary about how expensive advertising used to be and how unpredictable the field is now as "it is [near] impossible to design virality." To illustrate the unpredictably of technological shifts he cited two examples, first describing Google's search engine as a "late night dorm challenge" with legs and the pointed out that a child with a smartphone in Africa now has more access to more information than the president of America did 15 years ago. Drawing on dozens of graphs charting the adoption rates, processing power and global bandwidth, Kurzweil argued that technological progression was never 'sudden' and that it could always be read as occurring on a smooth, exponential curve; His trump card to illustrate this point was the arc of processing power connecting his 1950s era "room-sized" student computer, his present-day smartphone and the "blood cell-sized devices that we could expect in 25 years". This bold prediction served as a segue into an overview about the intersection of information and health sciences that zoomed through gene-hacking, 3D organ printing, neural implants and the cloud – apparently the future just beyond the perceivable horizon is quite rosy.

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