Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Who is Lil Miquela?

Anne says: Have you heard of Lil Miquela? No? She’s an Instagram influencer with 1.1 million followers. Lil first appeared on  instagram in April 2016 – 2 years ago. She does what many young influencers do – takes photos wearing branded clothing, hangs out with musicians, all the usual behaviours. But wait – what you need to know is that Lil isn’t a real person! No, I don’t mean a spoof or fake account, she’s actually a computer-generated (CG) avatar or virtual influencer.

Do all her followers understand that she’s a CG avatar? Or perhaps they don’t care – they relate to her posts and that’s all that matters to them. Is this a future scenario that will come common place? The article extrapolates this out and questions whether agencies for brands will bother with human influencers (who are much harder to control) and simply create a CGI avatar (Brandfluencatars – a term used in the article) where they can manage (read: manipulate) the message without any concerns of random comments slipping through.

There’s so many issues we have to consider as this trend looks like continuing. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission requires influencers to disclose their associations with hashtags like #sponsored – but what about an avatar? Will they need to use the hashtag #notreal #avatar ?

And then there’s the prediction that we’ll all have digital doubles – avatars that appear on our behalf. Will I need to identify myself? #itsreallyme

We wrote about digital avatars previously: Meet the world’s first high end real-time CGI Avatar. The article extends into these areas of high-res, virtual human avatars but only scratches the surface regarding the ethical considerations that lie ahead. Think fake news, political influence… and – is it OK to abuse your digital avatar? Where does the impact on our behaviour towards avatars influence our behaviour towards “real” people? Some of these topics are currently being tackled in academic research fields, but I think it’s time we started all considering the implications of interacting with digital avatars before we find ourselves in situations that may be difficult to wind back.


What is the meaning of ‘meaning’ in ‘the meaning of life’?

Nat says: Okay, so I’m a pretty philosophical person, but the headline of this article made me giggle. If the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ wasn’t already philosophical enough to answer, it appears that modern day philosophers are now looking to scrutinise the words of the sentence itself, rather than exploring what the sentence represents; a classic case we all too often make of mistaking the menu for the meal. The author of the article, a philosophy professor at MIT, explores what we mean by ‘meaning’ in the meaning of life question, pondering whether human life plays a part in a much larger cosmic role, saying that meaning ‘of life’ has to be applicable to us all.

The article represents a lot of what western philosophy stands for, which is a desire to find meaning of life for the individual self who inquires. Now, although I am a western female who loves philosophy, I do not limit my philosophical reach to only western thought. I am a lover of Buddhist and Taoist philosophy in particular, along with aspects of Vedanta and Sanskrit texts; which often all fall under the ‘Eastern philosophy’ banner (Asian and Indian thought). However, what is quite astonishing in Western contexts of philosophy, especially in formalised settings such as universities, is Eastern philosophical views are often omitted, or largely misunderstood. Even with the case of Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher considered to be the most “influential philosopher of the 20th C”, we still do not turn towards the sources of his own inspiration, which were said to be Zen Buddhism and Taoist philosophy.

Why I found this piece so comical, other than its title, was because there is actually an answer for the meaning of life question, at least according to Taoism. I could tell you what that answer is, but you probably would not believe me or accept the answer to be true. It’s one of those questions that can only be answered by the self who inquiries, which is a much more interesting question to ask rather than ‘what is the meaning of meaning’. The question you really should be asking about the meaning of life is ‘Who am I who seeks such meaning?’ In Taoist philosophy, exploration of identity itself is the first stage towards learning life’s hidden secrets. Attachment to the self is what blinds us to life’s secrets — as, ironically, the answers are always right in front of our eyes, but it is as though we have to unlearn what we think we see. There’s a great Zhuangzi proverb about this:

All men know how to strive for knowledge they lack but they do not know how to seek what they already possess. They know how to condemn what they disapprove of, but do not know how to condemn what they have permitted themselves.


Sensor Technology in Public Spaces

Helen says: Collaborative research is being undertaken with funding support from the government to identify if public spaces are meeting our needs. This article looks at the use of smart technology to improve urban planning. Sensors on bins, picnic tables and outdoor furniture can track how public spaces are used. Councils can determine when bins need to be emptied, if equipment needs to be fixed or furniture relocated for optimal use. Knowing how a space is or isn’t used is important information for planners in their quest to evolve urban space design.

Some argue that technology used in this way is just another invasion of our privacy. Compared to GPS tracking, CCTV and other cameras used by police, toll ways and parking lots, this sensor technology is innocuous in comparison. It does not identify individuals and it is being used to create safer and more functional public spaces. I personally don’t have an issue with it.

70 percent of Australia’s population growth is occurring in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Apartment living is on the rise and so too is population density. Having accessible and functional public spaces is more important now than ever. With the use of smart technology, our public spaces can be better managed and we will collectively benefit from more informed urban design.


Our Sun has ‘DNA’, and galactic archaeologists are searching for its family

An Australian-led team of galactic archaeologists is on a quest to find stars born at the same time and place as the Sun, and have mapped the chemical make-up of almost 350,000 stars, with the ultimate goal of shining a light on the Milky Way’s history.

Stars formed together in clusters share the same chemical composition — which scientists liken to DNA — but a family reunion remains unlikely as the stars usually drift light years apart after their formation. “The question is where are the stars that formed around the Sun? It should have formed with a bunch of other stars, it should have siblings — and where are they?”

In a surveying project dubbed GALAH the team has been surveying the skies with a spectrograph, analysing what elements stars are made from starting back in 2013. The survey makes use of the HERMES spectrograph at the Australian National University’s Siding Spring observatory, which allowed researchers to analyse starlight across the spectrum to determine the chemical composition of stars.

“[HERMES] spreads out the starlight into different wavelengths, different frequencies. and from that we can then identify each star’s chemical fingerprint,””The problem that we have, we look for stars that were born at a certain time, but they are moved around in the galaxy in the billions of years since they were formed.”

Analysis of the data is still ongoing, so no sibling stars for our Sun have been found yet — but the data set of 342,000 stars will assist scientists looking to deduce the history of the Milky Way.

Joel says: Too bad we can’t just have the sun sign up for an ancestry DNA test and reveal it’s whole family tree to us. Hopefully the GALAH project has a breakthrough within the next few years that helps us further understand the wonders of space and what is out there.


What Airbnb and Strava Know About Building Emotional Connections with Customers

Jakkii says: I found myself nodding along as I read this piece that touches on the pitfalls of “a laser focus” on the transactional layer, before delving into how to identify and create the emotional layer: the layer that gets user buy-in and gets them to return.

There was a key takeaway from this for me that reinforces our approach and really rings true with respect to challenges we see in our work with organisations: The need for contextual user research.

The AgriCo example provided in the piece is a great example of how good intentions go wrong – the data & insights AgriCo had about their customers lacked context. They lacked a deep understanding of the farmer in context in order to design with this context in mind. How might their designs have varied from the beginning had they understood their customers in their environments through contextual research that explored the whys – the emotions – and not just the transactions?

How too might their designs have differed had they researched to find the problem(s) they needed to solve, instead of assuming the problem then conducting the research to find a solution to the assumed problem? I see this at times in my work were people present a list of requirements and explain they were developed based on research that has told them where people’s pain points are. Rarely are the team able to articulate why these are pain points beyond ‘they want to do X but they can’t right now’ – why do they want or need to do X? What problem is the user trying to solve, and are your functional requirements to solve this pain point actually the best way to solve the problem? Perhaps it’s a workaround to fix a workaround and an entirely new process would have more effective outcomes. Perhaps the proposed solution to resolve this pain point will cause ripples further along the end to end journey and cause more issues than it resolves. Without contextual understanding (and a more holistic view of the end to end journey), it is difficult to know if our designs are solving for the right problems.

What are you doing to create the emotional layer for your employees and customers?


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast


This week: chickens of tomorrow, prison business, and the rise of the digital humans. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

The chicken of tomorrow

Are we ready to rethink prisons?

Lil Miquela’s a CGI influencer

Other stories we bring up:

The world’s biggest meat companies are investing in clean meat

The startups racing to reinvent the meal

Facing the fake food future

Our previous conversation on fake milk and clean meat

How AI could put an end to prisons as we know them

The University of Sydney Business School study into private prisons in Australia

Questioning the economics of prisons

Shudu is CGI too

Join us at Vivid Sydney on 16 June 2018!

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