SxSW: An Automated Future of Purpose

March 27, 2023

Automation. Purpose. The future. Three things that corners of the industry love to wax lyrical about. But at SxSW, we heard from some actual experts.

Witnessing the convergence of film, interactive media, music showcases and conferences, SxSW in Austin feels like a true out-of-body experience.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the worlds brightest minds, surrounded by an endless supply of local food trucks with a plethora of celebrities, wannabes and mightbes - there’s no surprise nearly 300,000 people descend on the 10-day festival every year.

In short, it is a window into the near future.

Returning back to the Land Down Under overloaded with inspiration, ideas and newfound cultural tidbits, there is no easy way to summarise what went down, but I’ll give it a crack anyway…

Diversity by Design

Without a centralised theme by design, the diverse nature of SxSW allows you to have your mind blown in a multitude of ways. Enabling you to create your own theme. Whether it be unpacking why the future depends on quantum computing, exploring how psilocybin mushrooms can help save the world or the future of sex; the choice is yours!

Beyond this flexibility of the festival, one aspect was abundantly clear, diversity should be integrated, not an afterthought. Catering to those with hearing, sight, mobility or language barriers, the entire production of SxSW was designed to be inclusive. Subtle in nature, its impact was evident and should be used to set the tone for how we approach all curated experiences.

“Fan experience should outweigh business impact.” - Chris Iles

Purpose-Driven Humanity

From the likes of Patagonia to Who Gives a Crap and even Tesla, we have seen a fundamental shift in businesses focusing on fulfilling a mission greater than just their bottom line. Unsurprisingly, nearly every SxSW session focused on this elevated sense of purpose of creating a more hopeful future for the world. A fact that became abundantly clear when touring the convention centre exhibition that was filled with companies solving larger-than-life issues.

What was once viewed as a fad or unique to a handful of companies has now become a necessity. Though it isn’t a new concept, the fundamental shift and rise of purpose-driven enterprises will continue to saturate the corporate world in a change that will only benefit us all in the long term. Moving beyond the isolated, box ticking campaigns of the past into a new era that requires an ever-present and highly visible commitment to a bigger cause.

“There is a difference between what is practically possible and practically profitable.” - Mike Bechtel

Smart Data > Big Data

I’m sure we’re all sick of hearing about AI, whether it be Chat-GPT, Midjourney, Bard or DALL-E, it has become the newest buzzword. Yet the reality is that the concept of AI has been with us for years, from Microsoft Office’s Clippy to Grammerly or even Spotify’s recommendations. The leap we’re watching unfold is the ability of these programs to interpret masses of data and recreate labour-intensive outputs nearly instantaneously.

Recent months have shed light on what society believes is possible compared to what has actually been available for a long time. With this being said, expect the term AI to stay for the long run. A key highlight of SxSW was the focus on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI); being the next big evolution of AI that gives programs the ability to find solutions to previously unsolved or unfamiliar tasks. At this point, we will step beyond what is effectively ‘smart data analysis’ and move on to new ‘data creation’.

“Generative AI is raw data dressed in an incredibly sexy way.” - Will Harvey

The Mehverse

Speaking of impacts, you could argue the Metaverse has had its flash in the pan. Becoming a distant memory of cryptobros, lacklustre internet worlds and digital apes. In truth, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what should be interpreted as the Metaverse. While this future remains in its infancy, we continue to see the arena of AR and VR develop foundations that will see a whole new Web 3.0 world emerge; one focused on adding immersive layers to reality.

Hurdling over the fads, there is an incredibly strong case for this technology to help remove barriers and provide a level of opportunity and freedom that has previously been unachievable. Real-world applications such as training the next generation of doctors through life-like simulations or exploring previously unreachable locations through virtual drone piloting will be the true impact of these developments. But don’t get me wrong, we’ll still find new ways to gamify every aspect of this technology!

“By 2030 we will experience more advancement in technology compared to the rest of human history.” - William Hurley

Yee-haw, see you next time SxSW!

Words by Blair Ellis.