BITE Focus

Key themes from SXSW 2017

Kara Melchers

Managing Editor, BITE Creativebrief


SXSW 2017 banner

This year was my first visit to SXSW and I had high expectations. Prior to the trip I reached out to all of our agencies for advice –

“The weirdest talks are often the best….My least favourite was one given by an ad agency”.

“Bring a hoodie or a sweatshirt or a fancy blazer”.

“Meet the man with the most awarded handshake in Austin - pure marketing genius”.

“Say yes to everything and eat BBQ”.

Say yes to everything… It’s a bit Dice Man, but SXSW is all about keeping an open mind. I decided against the fancy blazer, and unfortunately nobody suggested I might need an umbrella.

For a first-timer the festival is pretty overwhelming, and there’s a real pressure to make the most of every moment. The multiple WhatsApp groups I’d been added to were both a comfort and fuel for my FOMO. Would I have time to dash downtown to try out the Tilt Brush and still make it back for the next keynote? Yes if I ran.

SXSW is really about finding your own stride. The festival attracts some of the smartest and most curious minds, and the conversations happening around the festival can be just as insightful as the keynotes.

Below is an overview of five key themes, born from a combination of talks, workshops, product demos and the all-important after hours dive bar debates. We go into more detail for each of these as part of our BITE INSPIRE sessions, so let us know if you’d like further details.

IBM and Hololens
IBM and Hololens

Our concept of reality will become more fluid

Portable Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality devices offer an opportunity for immersive storytelling and brand differentiation. VR appears to have infiltrated most industries, and there were plenty of product demos. Multi-player VR gaming enabled avatars to interact with one other in a virtual environment, and Hololens layered virtual objects ontop of the real world, from a 3D map of New York to flesh eating zombies. “We’ll grow up in virtual reality, people will have different identities, our sense of reality will become more flexible,” said Google Futurist Ray Kurzweil.

Researchers at MIT are turning emotions into ‘shape grammar’
Researchers at MIT are turning emotions into ‘shape grammar’

We’re teaching machines to think creatively

The arts is one sector most people thought was safe from the impending AI take-over. To think creatively requires an emotional intelligence and the ability to interpret descriptive design language. Researchers at MIT are turning emotions into ‘shape grammar’ and developing a new language that will help machines to make decisions more like human beings. In Hollywood software company Zoic Labs and ad agency Saatchi Team One conducted an experiment using AI to direct a music video. The AI was taught everything from casting using facial recognition software, to editing and grading.

Sony's Xperia
Sony's Xperia

Tech continues to shape our homes and cities

Connectivity is enabling us to complete domestic tasks from anywhere. But it’s not good enough to simply make all products smart, we need to make them considered. As homes and cities become smarter they will morph into our own personal valets, helping us to move through life more seamlessly. Transactions will become more conversational, more service orientated. Connected cities must have people at the heart. John Hanke, Pokemon Go creator and Founder of Niantic Labs is using AR to bring people together and reclaim public spaces. The goal is to use technology to put public life back at the centre of public policy making.

Dr. Ishiguro's robots have a conscious conversation
Dr. Ishiguro's robots have a conscious conversation

Designing a future for IA not AI

Artificial Intelligence is a computer system that reproduces human thinking. Intelligence Augmentation is a computer system that supports human thinking. As we forge ahead creating smarter machines, now is the time to ensure technology is designed to augment, not replace. Technology is already being used to augment our health journey. New wearables are giving rise to the data altruist, a person happy to share their data for good, such as Fitbit's conduction of the worlds largest study on women's reproductive health. 

Cancer Moonshot [image ref: The Atlantic]
Cancer Moonshot [image ref: The Atlantic]

Collaboration is the answer to everything

“The answer to all questions is in our collective experience.” Said Cory Richards, National Geographic Explorer of the Year. This was evident through some unlikely partnerships. From Google Visions x Levis collaboration on Project Jacquard, making it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile, to 47th Vice President of the United States Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, where the Cancer Institution, NASA and Amazon all have a role to play. Channeling the collective experience of the tech community to respond to a growing humanitarian crisis is the ambition behind Techfugees, a charity started by Tech Crunch journalist Mike Butcher. "We need to teach people to be more creative and be more adaptable. We also need to teach people the importance of relationships, as partnerships and collaboration are going to be fundamental to success,” said Beth Comstock, Vice Chair, GE.

To find out more about our BITE INSPIRE sessions please contact [email protected]