Announcing Our 2017 Global Theme: “Language and the Machine”



“As elements of language evolve and morph into something new, we inevitably become more reliant on the technology that enables them.”


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In a 2011 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Marc Andreessen famously claimed that software was eating the world. In his piece he stated that over the next 10 years most industries will be disrupted by software in some form or another.

While it’s true that the onward march of innovation has disrupted and in some cases dismantled entire industries, we are also seeing an even more profound change, which we believe will result in the greatest shift in human communication in our history.  It is this shift that will serve as the focus of our global theme for 2017:  Language and the Machine, which will look at how algorithms are changing the way we connect and communicate.

Software is Eating Our Words

By 2022 there will be more than 6 billion digitally connected citizens, 10 billion connected devices, millions of autonomous chatbots, trillions of sensors and networks so fast that communication will happen faster than humans can process a single thought.

Communication is defined as the imparting or exchanging of information or news and language is a system of communication and so whether we are communicating verbally in writing or using photos and videos, in the future our words will be mediated and modified by technology.

And so as software advances and as the proliferation of technology impacts more people on the planet we believe one of the most important questions to ask is what will this mean for the future of language and human communication?

To understand this at a more macro level, here are five trends that help us understand the importance of this question, and our overall global them, “Language and the Machine: Algorithms and the Future of Communication”…

  1. Video viewership is exploding, with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook Live leading the way. Video formats are also changing and so as a medium expect some huge shifts in form and function.

  3. Messaging is dominated by Facebook and WeChat, it’s growing rapidly, and evolving from simple text communication to become our new home screen with options for vivid self-expression and commerce.

  5. Rise of voice interfaces because they’re fast, easy, personalized, hands-free, and cheap, with Google on Android now seeing 20% of searches from voice, and Amazon Echo sales growing as iPhone sales slow

  7. Rise of machine assisted communications, including Facebook’s Messenger app and new API for developers. Includes chat based commerce, customer support and mobile payments. In 2017 we might see the first friend-bots where people become attached the the bots they interact with each day.

  9. New layers of immersion and new fields of reality never experienced before via AR and VR, which impacts how we communicate, how we play games, watch films and interact with doctors, teachers and how we travel the world.

Reference: Mary Meeker’s essential 2016 Internet Trends Report

New Elements of Language

With each of these advances we’re seeing “new elements of language” emerge, which include GIFs, emojis, online video, voice commands, haptic responses and dozens of other new ways information and messages are currently sent and received.

These elements are helping us express and communicate in ways we’ve never been able to before. Today we can react to something on Facebook with an emoji, interact with chatbots as if we were having a conversation with a customer service agent. We can delegate the arduous back and forth of setting up a meeting via email to a human assisted a.i and we can order an Uber or change a song on Spotify by giving verbal commands to a box in our living room.

As elements of language evolve and morph into something new, we inevitably become more reliant on the technology that enables them. It is this reliance which will have the greatest impact on how we function as humans day-to-day, which, in the context of what this means for business, raises three important questions:

  1. Are we moving towards a world where visual and audio communication will become more important than the written word?

  3. Will businesses and organizations connect with customers and community members more effectively if humans were taken out of the equation?

  5. What happens if we are able to reduce the amount of time spent engaged unnecessary communication such as emailing or speaking to customer service agents in the phone?

Throughout 2017, we’ll explore “Language and the Machine: Algorithms and the Future of Communication” at each Social Media Week and SMWi event. We’ll publish articles and case studies diving into this idea, attempting to unpack the questions outlined above and many more.   Our industry doesn’t stop changing, and neither should we as digital marketers, tech enthusiasts, startup founders, and everything in-between.

Join us in 2017 to explore this idea. Attend an official Social Media Week conference (February, June, September, and November), join our weekly mailing list, or sign up for SMW Insider, our newly launched live and on-demand video platform to start thinking about 2017 and beyond.

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