control may be the biggest music leap since Hi-Fiand
more Collision 2017 - 8th May 2017
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ORLEANSJust as "space" may not be
the first thing to come to mind about New Orleans,
"tech" typically doesn't arrive high on
the list, either. But for three days every spring
in recent years, the Collision
Conference has aimed to change that by raising
the national profile of Silicon Bayou. The US-spinoff
of the European Web
Summit event gathers a wide variety of disciplinesnational
security to space, performance enhancing drugs to
autonomous vehiclesand an even wider array of
this year's event, attendees could hear and interact
with chief executives from the likes of Coca-Cola,
Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Wells Fargo, and Bitmoji.
Shark Tank's Chris Sacca sat on the same stage as
future NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, WWE legend
Ken Shamrock, olympic swimmers, and presidents of
organizations from GLAAD to Twitch. Look for some
interviews onsite over the course of the next week
(not so subtle hints available here
but we had a pair of quick highlights stand out.
worlds most dangerous (business) man
a UFC Hall of Famer doing at a tech conference?
Collision moderator Richard Forde didnt lead
with that question. But there on center stagefollowing
a talk on billion-dollar startups with Taboola and
preceding a national security discussion with the
deputy assistant attorney general for the USsat
fighting legend Ken Shamrock. The since-retired Most
Dangerous Man still looks like hed be
a handful in his 50s, but he focuses on a much different
kind of competition these days.
amazing, the fight in these pitches, Shamrock
said of his new life running a non-profit, doing speaking
engagements, and slowly becoming a venture capitalist.
Its almost like being in the ring measuring
up your opponent. Its all about leveraging yourself
for a good business deal.
talk veered more toward biography than business insights,
but he delighted old fans in attendance with behind-the-scenes
tales of his upbringing, UFC career, and high-profile
transition to the then-WWF (though he loved fighting,
my purpose was always to support my family,
Shamrock said. UFC wasnt able to pay me
what I needed at that time). But the wait,
whys he here? feeling went away when Shamrock
discussed the transition out of being a spotlight
you start to come to the end of your career, the end
of the tunnel gets brighter and you panic because
youre used to a certain lifestyle, Shamrock
admitted. Most people after about five years
are broketheyre used to a lifestyle, but
they arent making the same money.
I know Im worth something because popularity
is worth something, he continued. So I
remember thinking, How can I monetize this and
make money off what Ive created over the years?
I looked at Foreman with the grill or Shatner with
Priceline, and I said, I could do that.
he wouldnt delve into specifics, Shamrock told
the crowd he connected with good advisors and has
been able to leverage his celebrity into working with
companies in exchange for equity and partnerships
for his still growing Shamrock, Inc. It has
been about knowing my limitations and getting others
involved when I know Im short, he says.
As for whether this second act can reach even greater
heights than his first, Forde put it to Shamrock quite
bluntlydo you want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg?
that wants to do things or create things, theres
never a limitation, Shamrock replied. I
dont necessarily shoot for the stars, but its
not like I dont think of getting there. For
me, Im not going to be happy with achieving
a goal and stopping; Im going to achieve and
then reach for another.
[Alexa/Google/et al], play Freebird
we attend plenty of conferences around Ars, we don't
tend to present at many. But at both
years of the nascent Collision, I've been asked
to take the stage multiple times as moderator. In
2017, that meant judging pitches (alongside a LeapMotion
exec and the "mean guy" from Canada's version
of Shark Tank) during the prelims of the conference's
startup tournament, talking music festivals of the
future with the planners behind Bonnaroo and our Conde
colleagues at Pitchfork, and diving into the niche
of voice assistance as it pertains to our music listening
alongside industry veterans from Spotify (Ian Geller,
global head of hardware), Pandora (Geoff Snyder, vice
president), and Amazon (Ben Shepherd, global head
of Alexa music), it shocked me how much the music
industry thinks about what feels like a narrow voice
assistant use case. But both Pandora and Spotify cited
noticeably high engagement with Alexa for their users.
Spotify's Geller quickly noted the gigantic potential
"of a technology that anyoneregardless
of age or technical capabilitycan engage with"
(including his 70-something mother-in-law), and he
said voice assistance may open up music listening
to the masses unlike any technology we've seen in
Alexa, voice was a gimmick. You needed to know exactly
how to use it, the right words to use, and if you
didnt know the script, it didnt work,"
he said. "It wasnt worth the effort, but
Alexa was the first one where it was real, where it
was almost like magic. Weve been waiting for
an iPhone moment for the connected home, and it seems
like voice is the thingits allowing people
to engage with music in their homes in ways they havent
since the Hi-Fi stereo system became possible."
echoed the sentiment, noting his 7-year-old gets into
the car and often shouts "Alexa, play the Moana
soundtrack" from the backseat without thinking
twice. Obviously, implementation of Alexa hasn't quite
reached that level of permeability, but the panel
assembled at Collision indicated we're heading that
way: someday we'll be able to ask Alexa at home to
queue up a song we heard in a car three weeks ago,
or to ask Alexa to continue a playlist "for exercise"
(personalized based on prior user actions, of course)
from the living room to your phone as you go on a
however, the first step seems to be training the platform
to deal better with the inherent ambiguity introduced
by a voice command versus inputs via text or full-screen
UIs. "We can list 20 things on a screen to ask,
'What did you mean?' but with voice we need to be
hyperaccurate," Geller noted. 'Play 'Help'
by The Beatles,' thats easy. 'Play The Beatles,'
more ambiguous but still pretty easy. 'Play The Beatles
song that was no. 1 in 1968,' now that becomes harder
Amazon's Shepherd willingly admitted this qualifies
as the biggest limitation with Alexa, and voice assistance
in general, today. But as the platform continues to
partner with services such as Pandora or Spotify,
the amount of data it can call upon to better understand
natural language queries grows and grows. "One
of the biggest challenges remains multi-faceted search
queries," Shepherd said. "No one is going
to type into a box, 'I want the first live version
of this album,' but in voice you can do that. At Amazon
we often say, 'Its day one,' but for voice it
is day zero. This is really in its infancy, and lots
of technology will get better in the next few years,
growing rapidly smarter."
image by Nathan Mattise
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