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 year’s trip was the most successful. Out
of all the SXSWs which I’ve 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 I’ve 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
Let the keynote speech by Jennifer Doudny serve as an example
of the interdisciplinary character of SXSW’17.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 ofVR, 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 it’s really cool and interesting doesn’t necessarily
make it important”– the words of Bruce Sterling, a futurist
and an icon of SXSW, constitute a perfect summary of this
year’s edition and its main subject.
The development of AI (Artificial Intelligence) was definitely
the leading subject of this year’s 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
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 IBM’s 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,
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 country’s 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
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 – we’ve
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 – Amazon’s 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 usingVR 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 Doudny’s 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 year’s SXSW stands also for a few interesting innovations:
* Medici – named as“TheWhatsApp 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 theTest Kit – a set designed to take samples from the patient
* Sleepwise – a sleep tracker from Panasonic, which after
gathering and analyzing data, impacts other devices in the
household, which create the user’s (often bad) habits (late sleep /
too much screen and“blue light”, etc.)
Near Smart Mobility
It won’t be a surprise for anyone, that the topic of autonomic
vehicles was discussed very often during panels concerning
mobility and motorization. Since almost every manufacturer in
the automotive industry is currently working on such a vehicle, it
was obvious that this would find its reflection at the SXSW.We can
expect to find self driving cars on the roads much more often,
somewhere around 2020-2022 (that’s what most producers
declare), which the hosts of this event took into consideration,
focusing on subjects in a little less distant time perspective.
The main idea of the“Mobility”path was how cities should create
their infrastructure – ready for the not too distant future, but at
the same time allowing to move more efficiently through the busy
centers today.The main conclusion - improving communication in
any possible way, is the direction followed by most players in the
-Ford - out of all the brands it acts in the most comprehensive
manner, developing a coherent platform, simplifying diversified,
modal, and comfortable traveling, including almost all known
means of transport.
-BMW - the brand has added an additional 40 000 drivers to Reach
Now, its car-sharing platform developed inter alia in Seattle,
Portland, and NewYork (Europe is included in its plans).
-Audi - works on including following cities in its Unite service,
which allows to rent cars (a disadvantage: only Audi) to closest
friends, when the vehicles are not used (90% of the time cars are
parked at parking spots)
-Mercedes - has created the Croove platform, which allows private
car-sharing, for the time being only within Munich.The main
advantage: everyone can join the program, regardless of the brand
of the owned car.
Who will win? A company, not necessarily mentioned above, which
will offer the best platform, combining many forms of public
transport in one ecosystem. Ford is on the right track to doing so.
The company has adopted a long-term strategy of designing
transportation solutions for cities, which was mentioned by Bill
Ford during an interview which took place at the SXSW. In his
opinion the future of public transport lies within the Dynamic
Shuttle model, which will be implemented faster by truly
automotive brands, and not auto-tech ones (Uber, Google).
In India and Africa, Ford is carrying out works in terms of
monitoring traffic in order to increase the numbers of
medicine and water transports.
The number of social topics discussed at the SXSW, has
confirmed my opinion that this event evolves in the direction
of a one which reacts and comments on the changes
undergoing in the world, regardless of the area of life.The new
president appearing this year in theWhite House, also had
quite an impact on this year’s edition.The background of most
panel sessions included a motif titled“Tech inTrump Era”,
although the election results were also discussed in the
context of workplace quotas, gender equality, the reliability
and role of the media, healthcare, and care for the elderly.
Each time it was possible to sense unease and growing
concerns in terms of how will particular areas of the country’s
functioning react to the changes implemented byTrump’s
cabinet. One of the most often commented problems was of
course“Fake News”, which after the 2016 election heavily
blurred the ideas of journalistic truth and reliability.
At the same time, it was often stressed out that the
technological industry possesses the right tools to fight this
dangerous phenomenon, and has to react to it in a decisive
In his speech, Dan Rather (until recently with the CBS News)
presented the real impact of“Fake News”on the work of
information agencies. For example, some media organizations
let go of reporting in the form of live-tweeting, in the fear of
unreliable sources and the risk of copying unverified
information by the multimillion companyTwitter accounts.
Rather stressed out that the pressure to publish information as
quickly as possible, is still so strong that some organizations
take the risk of corrections, and even losing credibility and trust,
by publishing information from unverified sources. Sensation is
still ahead of reliability.
Despite many efforts aiming at fact-checking (there are tests of
television pop-ups being carried out, to verify the information
presented by the speakers in real time), some issues remain
unchanged – the moral aspect should always be decisive when
talking about the truth, objectivism, and the mission of