South by Southwest 2019

South by Southwest (SXSW) is emerging as a modern-day world’s fair — complete with global attendees, activations and tracks that serve as “pavilions” dedicated to countries and emerging technologies, and a community of people who are excited to see and share what’s next for humanity.

This year there were exponentially more international attendees around Austin, TX, including full delegations from countries like Indonesia, Brazil and Japan sent to represent, learn and report back. Mayors from around the U.S. flew in to compete in the Civic I/O Mayor’s Matchup: Tech Innovation Pitch Competition, and politicians seeking influence and/or the presidency came to campaign — including AOC, Warren, Klobuchar, Beto and Schultz.

And yes, the brands were back again, including huge activation footprints that increasingly include their own stages and programming.

Modern brands don’t just invest in SXSW to hand out tchotchkes in a booth, but create a spectacle that will stand out and spark social sharing.

Highlights included Game of Thrones, Good Omens and The Daily Show’s Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library (#client).

The rise of E-Scooters were the most obvious and obnoxious trend in the city this year. E-bikes and scooters were littering every street corner and wreaking havoc for pedestrians as the lack of accepted “scootiquette” meant people were zipping by on sidewalks and walkways across Austin. This photo pretty much sums it up.

For a conference that once celebrated the birth of Twitter, rise of Foursquare and disruption of mainstream journalism, this year‘s theme focused more on responsible technology, privacy implications and reclaiming the humanity that we have given up to A.I.

This theme was less about vilifying digital and innovation and more about balancing privacy and profit, building empathy into products, people-based leadership, and holding both corporations and ourselves accountable to the short- and long-term impact algorithms will have on what it means to be human.

2019 Highlights:

Can you trademark your DNA so nobody else can use it?

Amy Webb shared her 12th annual presentation of her emerging tech trends report, which highlights 315 trends, up from 225 last year. Her findings show breakthroughs in A.I., satellites, transportation, social factors and monetization.

She says to understand the future of your field you need to watch trends in adjacent industries. Webb also says it’s not about predicting the future but rather understanding the future so you can adjust your business strategy.

For example: By 2021 half of the interactions you have with machines will be using your voice. Can you trademark your DNA so nobody else can use it? If you don’t technically own your DNA then who owns your body and all of the stuff in it? What great questions!

VentureBeat has a great summary of this report. You can stream the session audio here, and DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE!

Let’s respect the elders

Douglas Rushkoff presented on his Team Human concept, and the responsibility technologists have for reclaiming the humanity of digital tools.

The idea is not to vilify these new digital and social tools, but to reclaim the humanity we deserve in these innovations.

His new book is highly recommended for any marketer looking to reconcile the amazing advanced algorithms and targeting tools we have at our disposal with the ethical implications of what we’re helping to build.

Key quote: “I’m not against digital technology or progress. But we should retrieve and bring back some of the values of our past. We see this in practice elsewhere: Burning Man, craft beers, Etsy, and more… Let’s respect the elders.”

Stream the session audio here. See my Twitter thread here.

“Human beings are no longer users. We are the used.” – Douglas Rushkoff

Technology can be used to augment human creativity, not replace

The Future of Story Telling’s Charle Melcher lead an all-star panel about using A.I. to tell stories and augmenting human creativity – including using holograms to share the story of holocaust survivors (and now looking to capture the stories of your grandparents to keep long after they pass), creating paintings worth $400 million dollars, and reimagining Mary Shelley’s monster of Frankenstein with an A.I. that observes human behavior online to understand how to live in our world.

Stream the session audio here.

We can’t just give kids a phone and be surprised their social media behavior is unhealthy

At the “The Digital Loneliness Epidemic: Reshaping Social Media” panel, Born this Way Foundation’s Cynthia Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga’s mom) talked about both the upsides to social — like helping diverse communities find each other and reduce loneliness and isolation – but also the rate of harassment and bullying and self-harm rates that are rising because of it.

And Aza Raskin, who helped design the concept of infinite scroll, said that unfortunately the infinite scroll design experience wastes 200,000 human lifetimes a day and is leading to a noted decrease in attention rates and depression.

According to Aza, 55% of plastic surgeons now report having at least one patient who says they want to look like a Snapchat filter. Yikes! Stream the session audio here. See my Twitter thread here.

“You know eventually your kid will be near water so you teach them how to swim. We can’t just give kids a phone and be surprised their social media behavior is unhealthy.”
– Cynthia Germotta

Change happens when the pain of changing is less than the pain of not changing

Joseph Jaffe’s concept of Built to Suck talked about how brands have been built for “short-termism” and not to succeed in the modern era.

Jaffe’s research shows that 439 of the original Fortune 500 from 1955 are gone; over the last two years more than half of the Fortune 500 have had declining revenues; and he predicts 50% of the S&P 500 will be replaced in the next 10 years.

Jaffe says corporations need to invest in modern talent, be prepared to self-disrupt, and look to their founding origins of the brand to reclaim your authenticity.

Key quote: “Change happens when the pain of changing is less than the pain of not changing.”

See my Twitter thread here.

“Companies today aren’t built to last. Instead we try to see how big we can get before we suck. Companies are built to suck.” – Joseph Jaffe

I tended to appreciate the straight line without anticipating the adventure of the zig zag

Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett shared her experience in the White House, working to ensure equality for women, girls and advancing civil rights — in anticipation of her new book Finding My Voice.

Jarrett says there is a business imperative in valuing diversity as a strength. She says it’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s also critical to competing in a global marketplace.

Based on her experience, if diversity is only “a nice thing to do” the first time the economy starts to shrink it will be cut unless it’s baked into business. Smart.

Key quote: “I tended to appreciate the straight line without anticipating the adventure of the zig zag.”

See my Twitter thread here.

“I tended to appreciate the straight line without anticipating the adventure of the zig zag.”
– Valerie Jarrett

Are we delegating the wrong human behaviors to Artificial Intelligence?

Facebook investor and Zuckberg mentor Roger McNamee gave a keynote interview where he defended his advocacy of Facebook’s earliest days saying Silicon Valley was living in a dream world and didn’t see any of these negatives coming.

Yes, he said that.

Therefore, McNamee says when he met a young Mark Zuckerberg he thought this young kid had cracked how to do this social network thing in a positive way and without the trolls. Yes he said that.

But today… McNamee wishes we had created all of this new technology without all of the harm. He shared that our lives are more regulated by the code and algorithms of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon than the rule of law. McNamee says that if you look at the last 10 years, Facebook is more a net negative than a net positive. That says a lot from the man who was the most bullish about Facebook in its earliest days.

Using this wisdom, McNamee says the top 3 things we use AI for today are: 1) eliminating white collar work, 2) filter bubbles, 3) recommendations. But he says jobs, what we believe, and what we like are important human elements we shouldn’t delegate to machines moving forward.

McNamee’s new book is called Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, and yes he is using Facebook to market it! Stream the session audio here. See my Twitter thread here.

Since the 1950’s technology usually improved our lives. So when I met Zuckerberg I thought he had cracked how to do this social network thing without the trolls. But I wish we had created all of this new technology without all of the harm. – Roger McNamee

Creating conditions for new behaviors in large organizations

Ford’s Sandy Fershee shared an extremely compelling presentation about building successful innovative and creative teams inside large legacy organizations, particularly when those organizations have conflicting professional experiences and mind-sets.

Fershee says leaders in these large organizations must be prepared to change your org structure again and again; don’t think you can do change once and be done; know when to say things are good enough; and to adapt and reflect at key moment when the time is right.

She says constraints are our friend, and we should invest in stages when it comes to change. And to celebrate success. Always.

Stream the session audio here. See my Twitter thread here.

“Create conditions for new behaviors. Some people are used to “that’s not going to work” thinking. So break that habit with ice breakers, new ways of thinking, workshops and changing the “no” mentality” – Sandy Fershee

“The future has arrived – it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” – William Gibson

Design and technologist John Maeda shared his 2019 Design in Tech Report, covering the latest trends in the technology sphere with respect to computational design and its continuing evolution.

Sign up for his newsletter to get the full PDF, or stream the session audio here, or watch the full YouTube presentation here.

Non-Obvious trend spotting

Rohit Bhargava presented on “Non-Obvious Trends” and how to look at the world in new ways using trend data.

Among Rohit’s trends were Retro Trust, a throwback trend that’s emerging because Americans are so skeptical about trust today that they are looking to brands we used to trust and rooting for them to succeed. This explains the rise of nostalgia, analog media and deliberate downgrading (flip phones!).

And the trend of Enterprise Empathy, where companies are finding ways to drive revenue through elevating the business value of caring.

Examples of this includes slow checkout lanes for seniors and the disabled people, quiet retail store hours for those with ASD, inclusive product design, and Papa, which is a service that offers grandkids on demand.

Stream the session audio here, and read a full recap here.

“If a trend is well predicted it becomes obvious instead of non-obvious. Ask yourself: are we at the beginning of something, and how do we use it as a non-obvious trend?”
– Rohit Bhargava

Understanding Sci-Fi to Understand Tech CEOs

Had you considered that Elon Musk, Larry Page, and Jeff Bezos think how they think and steer their companies to new visions based on the science fiction they read and watched growing up?

Multiple panels touched on what influenced these powerful technology leaders and how we can have a better sense where they’re pointing their respective companies by studying what influences them.

For example, the Amazon Kindle was inspired by a character named Fiona and Alexa was inspired by Star Trek. However, it’s not all positive.

“We discount how seductive the status quo can be. It’s very uncomfortable to have a job where you blow that up all the time.” -Eliot Peper

A.I. Now’s Rashinda Richardson said her audit of popular sci-fi movies shows almost of the casting features able-bodied white males, and those depictions inhibit our ability to understand new tech and improve the future.

IBM’s Chris Noessel said 50% of sci-fi stories map to things science cares about, but what scientists don’t care about is if A.I. is evil or the citizenship of A.I., although these are prominent plot lines.

Neal Stephenson’s books Snowcrash and The Diamond Age are some of the most influential — although sometimes those imagined futures are misinterpreted as utopia versus the dystopian warnings they were intended to be.

Noessel at designed a poster that shows this disconnect you can download here.

Stream the session audio here.

Recommended sci-fi includes:

  • Books by Martha Wells, Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Asimov and HG Wells
  • Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Seveneves
  • Daniel Suarez’s Daemon
  • Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One
  • William Gibson’s Neuromancer
  • Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars
  • Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Martha Well’s Murderbot series starting with All Systems Red
  • Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch
  • Ursula Le Guin’s Dispossessed
  • The Expanse
  • Star Trek 4
  • War Games
  • Minority Report
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Sorry for Bothering You
  • And books from the panelists:
    • Malka Older’s Infomacracy triology
    • Tim Fernholtz’s Rocket Billionaires
    • Eliot Peper’s Bandwidth trilogy
    • Nathan Shedroff & Christopher Noessel’s Make It So
    • Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized

Want more good SXSW content?

Catch up on keynotes and recaps on the SXSW YouTube channel.

Also seen at SXSW 2019

Watch my Instagram Story here:

And here’s a video Google Photos automagically made from 2019…

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