Highlights at SXSW This Week

3 Minute Read | Jeff Lohnes at this year’s SXSW in Austin
By Jeff Lohnes

We are taking a look at a few of SXSW’s highlighted programming trends. At this global meeting for creative minds, the explored topics will most certainly continue to be themes of 2018 and beyond.

There are striking differences in the way these conversations take place, with so many of them having such disruptive potential. The dialogue here at SXSW is one of excitement, anticipation, and a focus on bright future possibilities. It stands in contrast to how these subjects are often discussed by industry groups and legacy organizations in their respective arenas where the conversations are often fuelled by fear of change or anxiety-inducing unknowns.

Most of the companies here sharing their plans for major future change will not quite make it. Many will burn out, some will thrive and one or two could become the disruptor and a household name of the future. The take-away from joining in those conversations is a realization of just how truly invigorating they are. It’s exciting and centred around potential. SXSW is good reminder to all of us to not just have conversations about change, disruption and future technologies; we must sincerely embrace these concepts, find good in them and possibilities that exist. While we do not need to be defined by them, we should certainly become informed by them.

Here is a look at the programming themes SXSW has highlighted for this year’s event.

CONVERGENCE IS EVERYWHERE

Why it matters: SXSW continues to bring people from different industries and disciplines together, making new and meaningful connections and driving creativity. As we define ourselves in less specific ways and place increased importance on our ability to adapt, we create an environment that values flexibility over rigidity. Where the lines between traditional boundaries become blurred is where collaboration and revolution.

THE VR MARKET MATURES

Why it matters: VR isn’t a passing fad or a niche technology seeking purpose. It has matured into a potent tool in the arts, medicine, business, and entertainment. Production technology and standards continue to increase rapidly, furthering the acceleration of VR towards a mainstream technology. In its wake the door has opened wider for mobile AR applications and the introduction of MR devices in the near future.

THE BLOCKCHAIN RISES

Why it matters: The volatility of Bitcoin continues to grab all the headlines but cryptocurrencies are just the beginning of a potential revolution. Blockchain tech is going mainstream fast and is being adopted and experimented with in areas as diverse as smart contracts (music and healthcare), identity (passports, personal ID), the Internet of Things (data marketplaces), and digital rights management (music and film). The broad decentralization of data could become the next iteration of Internet.

HACKING HEALTH AND OUR BODIES

Why it matters: Data from our devices and deeper understandings of the matter we are made from is leading to a new era in healthcare. From hacking our own genome to building medicines that are as unique as the condition and person they are treating, things are becoming very personal with the interface that is the human body.

EMPOWERMENT, INCLUSION, AND ACTIVISM IN BUSINESS AND THE ARTS

Why it matters: As politics aims to divide, we are seeing more voices organize and rise up both online and offline in support of a more inclusive society here and abroad. Diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of innovative and creative societies the world over. But there is still much more work to be done in 2018 and beyond.

STARTUPS IN THE AGE OF THE BIG FOUR TECH GIANTS

Why it matters: The dynamics of founders and funders continue to change — the fact that these groups come to SXSW in large numbers doesn’t. The allure of discovering the next big thing remains a key part of SXSW. But as the Big Four — Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook — continue to have huge technological influence, the question remains: will this kind of total domination stifle tomorrow’s innovation?

THE OMNIPRESENT AI

Why it matters: Data is today’s DNA. We are increasingly living in a sensor-rich environments where AI’s impact is starting to become omnipresent. Devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa have brought an always-on-and-listening virtual assistant into our lives. Development in AI is rapid, and incremental improvements in abilities, aptitude, and accuracy are piling up quickly. As AI is woven more tightly into the fabric of our lives, we see it being applied across all that SXSW covers. Whether it’s AI providing automation tools for creators, predicting the habits of consumers, writing film scores or writing code on its own, the future is both bright and concerning as we head into uncharted waters.

FRONTLINE CITIES

Why it matters: The roles and responsibilities of cities are evolving in response to a more connected, more tumultuous world. We’re seeing global coalitions of cities joining together to confront issues such as climate change, cybersecurity, immigration and extremism. As big government seems to be stuck in a stutter or start/stop, is it up to cities to pave the way towards the future, providing stability, growth and community for their citizens?

ETHICAL DESIGN

Why it matters: As we move towards a post-device era we are beginning to see the longer-term social and psychological effects our devices, apps and AI have had. What has happened to us since the dawn of the smartphone, social networking and mobile apps? What will happen to us if we don’t recognize these effects and learn from them, as our tech continues to disappear into the background and we increasingly trust those that design and build the products and software in the things that we have conversations with?

Programming trends and photo courtesy of SXSW.com