As innovators living in Austin, it would be downright irresponsible of us not to share our views on the upcoming interactive hullabaloo that will soon kick off in our backyard.
South by Southwest (better known as SXSW) is an annual conference in 3 parts—film, music, and interactive media—that has been taking place here since 1987. As it grows year after year, so does our anticipation for the important conversations, exciting (as well as admittedly unexciting) breakthroughs, and general mayhem this event brings to our fine city.
What are we keeping an eye on this year? Let’s take a look:
Makers, Marginal Gains, & Robots vs. Jobs
I’m primarily looking forward to 3 events:
First off, the Maker Movement & Humanistic Product Design session, which will discuss how a maker-inspired approach to design can propel innovation and creativity. M3 Design has experienced this first hand using an approach called Competitive Collaboration—another maker-inspired design strategy with our own twist. I look forward to learning how the speakers’ approach helps better connect designers and engineers with the user.
Next up: How Marginal Gains is turning “Good” to Gold. In a world where “disrupt” is the rallying cry of innovators everywhere, this session slows down and takes a look at the effect of a process called “marginal gains,” where small improvements in many areas can lead to huge impacts on overall performance—a philosophy that was used with great success by the British track cycling team in the 2008 Olympics. It will be interesting to see if this coaching philosophy brings anything different to the design environment, where an iterative and incremental approach is a way of life.
And finally: Robots vs Jobs: Technological Displacement is Here. As automation becomes cheaper, manufacturing continues to replace human workers with automated systems and robots. Engineers have a front-row seat to this displacement of jobs, as we are the ones developing and creating the technology for it. It’s easy to be disheartened by the doom and gloom surrounding the loss of manufacturing jobs; as robotics, AI, and automation continue to improve, other job sectors will see job displacement too.
This session has an optimistic outlook and promises to look to the flip side of this trend: new opportunities, improved productivity, and a stronger economy. I welcome the opportunity to take a refreshing look at this sensitive topic.
A Binary Beethoven
My favorite has to be Jukedeck. It’s essentially a program that creates unique music made by artificial intelligence. Basically, if a random YouTube-er wanted to add a unique tune to his or her video—or a company wanted to put music in a commercial without paying royalties—they would just plug in some general parameters, like what genre of music they want, if it’s uplifting or melancholy, how long they want it to be, etc., and Jukedeck will spit out a custom song. It even allows you to purchase the exclusive rights to the song, if you so choose.
I’m not sure exactly how I feel about taking the human element out of music when so many things are becoming automated these days, but it’s a cool concept nonetheless! I’m also curious to hear how varied the music is that comes out of this system, or if it starts to meld together and sound the same after a while.
Luckily, we live in a city with so many talented live performers, I doubt the real deal would ever be outdone by a machine. That being said, I have not yet heard an artificially created song, so I cannot speak to the talent of this virtual composer. But I’m certainly excited to see what the binary Beethoven comes up with!
A Health-Focused Use for VR & Gaming
I’m especially enthusiastic about the session entitled Advocating VR and Gaming in Hospitals. As a big believer that one’s environment can promote healing, this panel is really exciting to me.
My husband is a healthcare architect, and he can attest to the effort that goes into creating a healing environment for children and adults alike. The idea of using VR and gaming is particularly interesting, because these are technologies that can potentially be used in hospitals that haven’t been as “thoughtfully” designed as some of our newer medical facilities, and they are becoming more affordable.
Perspective on How Technology Interacts with Us
We often think in terms of how we interact with our technology, but 2 sessions flip this perspective to highlight how our technology interacts with us.
When Your Internet Things Know How You Feel discusses how conceptual emotion-aware technology can create rich user experiences. ThoughtPolice – How the End of Privacy is Near looks at how these same capabilities could be used to predict what you are thinking and how you might act in the future.
As our digital footprint expands, it is critical that we understand how the perpetually growing cache of our personal information is used, and whether or not its purpose is benign or nefarious.
Director, Industrial Design
2 Exhibitions that Point to the Future
I have my eye on 2 events:
The SXSW CREATE exhibition looks like a fun way to introduce the technologies that are shaping our future.
The Tech Startup Spotlight track looks like it will be highlighting a number of interesting startup ventures. It’s always cool to see what market disruptions are on the horizon.
An Expanded Hackathon
SX always has great technologies and companies to showcase, but one of the most interesting SX Interactive happenings is the SXSW Hackathon. This year, the hackathon categories have expanded from being singularly centered around music to now include VR/AR development and film/video.
It’s exciting to see VR and AR tech becoming more widely accessible, and I’m eager to see the innovative ideas that will come out of this year’s event.