Things I’ve learned at SXSW this year.
It’s done. Another marathon of content, networking and entertainment against a somewhat seedy cowboy-&-tattoo flavoured backdrop: finished, gratefully and exhaustedly. And for me, SXSW 2016 was no less crazy or inspiringly serendipitous than previous years. Great job, guys.
Here are a few of my key takeaways about tech, life and winning at Southby. (My chosen content themes mostly centred around transport, social good, start-up culture and robotics.)
I’ve learned that:
Until recently, transportation systems remained largely unchanged. We’re now at a stage where a global paradigm shift in transportation of all kinds is inevitable. New technologies (e.g. ride sharing, hyperloop and on-demand services) are emerging to reduce the existing frictions in the movement of goods, people and services, and ease the burden we impose on our environment.
A world of self driving cars is probably much closer than we think. The way new sensors learn, adapt and apply new information means that progress is already fast, and set to accelerate.
We don’t yet know the secondary effects that new tech solutions (e.g. electric cars) will have on society. How it would change family life – say, parenting - once self-driving cars are standard behaviour? Would it mean more free time or different social rules? How does it connect elderly people to each other and their community? As the tech changes dramatically, so will society.
Despite all the fears and talk about robots and the future of humanity, we cannot yet see the mechanic that will unlock artificial conscious intelligence (as Rodney Brooks reminded us at SXSW). Teams have not yet been able to create robots with the self-directing intelligence of an insect, let alone anything else. We have a way to go before Skynet starts getting uppity.
On the state of philanthropy and disruption, just 5% of the $335 million donated in the US came from corporates. Startup disruption in the philanthropy space is partly geared at social business - for profits (and not an NGO's) with viable business models that would take on these challenges e.g. Tech for Africa.
Some people still think that SXSW is a conference. I’ve been to plenty of conferences, and most were passive, dictated experiences. SXSW is nothing like that. It’s an environment for making things happen – a framework of interactivity, fuelled by the energy you put into it, and fertilizing the next round of world-changing ideas in all the industries it represents. Turn up, engage, be the change you want to see in the world.
Oh - and there is some great content too…