As I slowly get mentally prepared for smoked Texan BBQ and out-of-this world’s Taco’s, it’s time to throw the dice, and predict what the buzz at this year’s SXSW conference is going to be. Two years ago, the Austin based conference was a happy, boiling tech and new media happening, chaperoned by president Obama himself. Last year we experienced the backlash of an industry that did not see Trump coming, and blamed its echo-chambering algorithms to have shielded the truth from the world, through fake news and manipulated timelines. The words ‘tech hangover’ are doing the miserable feeling justice.
But, water is under the bridge. The sun will shine in Austin, SXSW lovers are sharpening their pencils, and the classic SXSW haters are blowing the dust from their “I am so awesome I do not have to go” record. This closely followed by “It jumped the shark years ago, you know?”
I have my fingers on the soft whispering of the web, and the awesome crew from The Eye of Horus are bringing in their bits and pieces of information. There is no shark to be seen, but I think that the following blocks are going to be the talk of town.
#metoo was everywhere, and SXSW will not be an exception. Some tech gurus have been confronted with their macho, inappropriate and sexist behaviour. The past high-fived them in the face. With a sledgehammer. Some SXSW darlings will not be seen on the convention grounds this year, they are hiding, licking their wounds. Those tech guys that took their guru status for a free pass to whatever they fancied, have been publicly called out. More is to come.
#equal rights and ethics
This preludes a whole suit of other rights: gender equality, freedom, equality for minorities, equal pay, and equal rights. The right to freedom of expression, religion, (no) guns, net neutrality. The right to be different, to love, to marry. The right to have your digital-self protected. The right to well-being and self-preservation. The right to see kids grow in a world where suicide and cyberbullying is taking a terrible toll on a whole generation. Discussions that will go way beyond who is going to pee where.
SXSW always was a melting pot, bringing inspiration and creativity to mingle with coding, apps, data and platforms. On the crossroads of these warm and cold disciplines magic happened. I cannot wait to see Nonny de la Peña, one of my augmented and virtual reality stars, talk about her views on content creation and ownership in VR. Inspiring Creativity powered by data and deep tech is my view of the world of tomorrow. The world my daughter is going to live in. So, it better be good :-).
All this means that something needs to be re-injected in this world dominated by science, cold data, machine learning, automation, spreadsheets, logarithms and bots: empathy. If we do not re-learn how to feel and think and anticipate how other people feel, most of the colossal science at our disposal is doomed. Who cares we can laser target Margaret at about every single second of her life? If we do not connect to her with an empathic message that relates to her needs, views and values, it’s water down the drain. Augmented reality and virtual reality are so close to us – physically and psychologically- that any attempt to create AR and VR without an out of this world empathic understanding is doomed to a spectacular fail.
Stating that Blockchain is going to be on the agenda, is kicking in an open door. The decentralized web is high on everyone’s agenda, and the blockchain is central in traceability, secured financial transactions, ownership rights, IP, traceable content, etc. My little birds whisper it’s all coming nicely together. #Cryptocurrency will be thrown into the same buzzwordy cauldron. Bitcoin, Ethereum, the energy impact of mining, the impact on banks and regular money, possibilities and threats… it will be everywhere. The first crypto billionaires are made, the first casualties buried. It’s not a game anymore.
#Autonomous everything and robots
We’ve seen the AI systems, in dull grey boxes, or looking way too human. It’s in cars, phones, home assistants, artificial limbs. Time to get it out of the ‘soon to happen’ dreaming. It’s all around us, and we’re (in) it. IOT will be part of our lives, our environments, and our social and commercial interactions. It will have impact on life, work, social interactions, moral and planet. It’s not all guaranteed to be good. It will certainly not be all bad. Will we choose augmented humanity rather than the Skynet doom thinking? Will we come up with upgrades on legal and ethical matters? How does universal basic income come into play? Room for thought, panels and discussions a-go-go.
Ok, I have a soft spot for Bruce Sterling the size of a planet. I love the man, his books, and his way of thinking. He builds mental sculptures with words, and so much of his steam punk science fiction has become reality that I seriously wonder why he does not play the lottery. On Tuesday I will see him close the interactive sessions again. He’ll catch the vapour of nuance that grabs the essence of the conference to a dot: Disrupting Dystopia. I’ll be there.