sxsw 2017 key trends & takeaways

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  • #techhumanized

  • Introduction


    Another edition of SXSW went down in history. Even though this has been my fourth consecutive participation in this conference, I have to admit that this years trip was the most successful. Out of all the SXSWs which Ive participated in, this was the most specialized and horizontally developed event issues concerning a few dozen leading areas of life, have been discussed. Starting with genetics, through nanotechnology, flagrant social problems, up to the most promising new technologies. The level of knowledge presented by the speakers was so high, that at moments Ive felt as if taking part in a medical symposium, while at other times as if at a conference concerning the future of transport or the development of artificial intelligence.

    Let the keynote speech by Jennifer Doudny serve as an example of the interdisciplinary character of SXSW17. The co-creator of CRISPR-CAS9 delivered her speech at the largest conference hall, which was completely full, and talked in great detail about editing human genes.

    This once again reminded me that SXSW, like no other event in the world, focuses more on generating discussions on global problems and challenges, rather than the latest trends or premieres of new products.

    SXSW is no CES or Cannes Festival. Perhaps the scale is similar, but there is definitely no glitz here. The strength of this event lies in the people the best experts in their fields, which in these numbers are difficult to find anywhere else in the world. It is precisely them who, together with the participants (I love the lines to the microphone during Q&A sessions), in March make Austin the best place to talk about what forms and changes the surrounding world.

    The 2014 edition concerned the post-Snowden world, 2015 the future of VR, 2016 has been dominated by storytelling. In 2017 the brands have looked critically and with concern (the development of AI) at the role of technology in our lives. Just because its really cool and interesting doesnt necessarily make it important the words of Bruce Sterling, a futurist and an icon of SXSW, constitute a perfect summary of this years edition and its main subject.


  • Photo: Materiay wasne

    Intelligent Future

  • Intelligent Future


    The development of AI (Artificial Intelligence) was definitely the leading subject of this years edition. Both in terms of discussing the possibilities which are made available by machine learning and advanced algorithms, but also the areas of restrictions, control, and ethics.

    In contrast to previous years, much has been said about the rules which should be applied in terms of the development of machine intelligence, manner of designing interactions with technology, and the models of ethical norms which we should apply to self-learning devices. All that to meet the worst future scenarios described by futurists, and the multibillionaires from Silicon Valley.

    The impact of AI on the entire labor market has been widely commented much has been said about the advantages and disadvantages of tests and implementing the BIG (Basic Income Guarantee). Programmatic advertising (purchased by algorithms) also received its share of negative feedback, for displaying its creative with inappropriate films.

    Already today AI impacts many fields of our lives. IBM, in its Cognitive House, has assured us about it for the second year in a row. As IBMs Phil Gilbert stated cognitive technology will be included in everything that surrounds us. From predictive medicine, through support in fighting hate speech on the Internet, up to taking advantage of it in terms of economy or managing decision-making in companies. All that within 2-5 years.

    According to the futurologist, Bruce Sterling, the development of AI is so rapid that it may soon leave us all without jobs (or even life). The overtone of the AI session was thankfully coherent and optimistic: a completely new era lies before us, and now is the time to speak and develop uniform formal and ethical forms of designing solutions, supported with intelligent algorithms. There is much to gain. In many fields we already see human limitations, and that is where AI may extend our capabilities (the so called Augmented Intelligence). Examples? Medicine, law, economy, information, insurances.

    What values will we transfer to the AI is going to be decided in the next few years. This stage can not be marginalized.


    Using AI in predictive medicine may save as much as 20% of the countrys expenses on healthcare.

  • Computers! We Need To Talk!

    Photo: dion gillard /Flickr CC/

  • Computers! We Need To Talk!


    In 1994 machines which were supposed to interpret human language, were wrong in almost 100% of the cases. In 2013 the error rate was at 23%. Experts in terms of NLP (Natural Language Processing a technology for processing natural language by computers) assume that in 2017 machines will be able to correctly analyze the words spoken to them, in 94% of the cases. The advancement in this field has been extraordinarily rapid, and everything points to the conclusion that we will be speaking much more to the surrounding machines, in the years to come.

    Even though a factual or at least a smooth talk with assisting devices such as Google Home or Amazon Echo is today still far ahead of us, their presence in our homes constitutes a training for the creators of this technology, allowing them to implement improvements in terms of Human 2 Machine communication. Whereas, as users, we learn how to talk to machines weve never done it before.

    Turning towards the direction of the voice as an interface, which will connect us with technology, has been stressed out multiple times during panel discussions. Some lecturers even claimed that in the following years, verbal communication will substitute touch screens and panels (until displacing them completely). In terms of the best implementations, the dominating ones were of course those taking advantage of Alexa Amazons system of voice control (integrations with cars, the beginnings of using in E-Commerce). A solution functioning in the state of Georgia has also attracted special attention blind people may call a special phone number and talk to a bot, which reads the content of almost any website to them.

    Despite the fact that it is just the beginning of our talks with technology, it is worth to remember that their advance form is just around the corner. The market of voice devices will be worth 40 billion USD in the year 2020, at which the Echo assistant from Amazon is going to reach the value of 10 billion. An example of usage in the next few years? A combination of an advance machine intelligence and verbal communication in the form of a device which understands the context of our statements in 100%, thus answering our questions even more precisely.


    65% of Amazon Echo users have conducted a purchase using their voice at least once, and 85% of them repeat the process.

  • Health Powered By Tech

    Photo: Caroline Davis2010 /Flickr CC/

  • Health Powered By Tech


    The fields of medicine and health supported by technology, are those which over the last few years grew the fastest at the SXSW. This time they were among the leading topics, including as many as 70 presentations and discussions during which talks were carried out for example in terms of using VR and gaming (sic!) in medicine, extending life, the technology of editing genes, and of course using AI.

    Using Artificial Intelligence is the main topic in contemporary medicine, an example of which is taking advantage of the IBM Watson to analyze immense sets of data in order to make better and quicker conclusions, as well as to carry out more precise medical diagnoses. Ginni Rometty (CEO IBM), whose presentation has been especially enthusiastically received by the audience, during her speech has talked about the cognitive technology and the future of medicine.

    In turn, Jamie Metzl has stressed out the important role which IVF (In-Vitro) and CRISPR-CAS9 biotechnologies will soon play in the field of human genetic augmentations. In his opinion, genetic engineering with each year brings biotechnology closer to IT.

    Joe Biden, the former vice president of the United States of America, during his speech talked about the research aiming at developing the cure for cancer (the value of the project is about 6,3 billion USD), while Jennifer Doudnys lecture attracted such crowds that the line to the entrance went through two entire floors of the congress center. After the heavily-technical presentation by the co-author of the CRISPR-CAS9 method, one of the most frequent questions was the one concerning the possibility to design children in the future, in accordance with the parents wish, with the use of precise gene editing. Doudny ruled out a dystopian vision, at least for some time (We are not even close to that), implying however that the discussion concerning ethics of gene editing should already be happening, concerning the rapid advancements in this field.

    This years SXSW stands also for a few interesting innovations:

    * Medici named as The WhatsApp of the medical industry The app allows to talk directly with doctors of many specialities * Habit a service of a 100% personalized dietary plan, which development starts with a test and analysis carried out with the use of the Test Kit a set designed to take samples from the patient * Sle