The South by Southwest 2023 conference, held March 10-19 in Austin, Texas, has become a cultural hub of ideas, art, culture, and technology. A slew of interesting startups, venture capitalists, angel investors, local, national and international government representatives as well as established technology companies gathered to present their latest products and ideas at this year’s event.
I had the opportunity to attend the technology track of the event this year and, through conversations, viewing presentations and reflecting, I absorbed the significant culturally impactful developments emerging in technology. This article serves as a brief digest of the emerging trends, insights and major themes I gathered from the event.
- Generative AI
- Digital identity
- Disappearing technology
- AI + inequality
- AI + ethics
- AI + human intelligence
- Internet of you
Generative AI was, as may not be surprising, the hottest topic at the conference. With the advent of public access to ChatGPT4 and now Google Bard, AI has applications that are effective in ways many did not see coming this soon.
In a particularly engaging talk, Kevin Kelley, senior editor at Wired, gave an optimistic talk about AI’s potential to automate many human processes and create diverse artificial minds with unique strengths and weaknesses that drive innovation. He noted that current AI advancements are based on pattern recognition and generation, which can be used to develop personal interns assisting creatives and knowledge workers with mechanical tasks like searching through documents, analyzing databases, or summarizing meetings.
Digital Identity was another hot topic at the conference. The new capabilities developing in AI allow systems to analyze large amounts of data about you. The internet will be searching you, not the other way around. Online messaging and experiences will be specific to producing the desired outcome from you based on this analysis.
Yasodara Cordova, the Head of Technology at Unico, and Harry Halpin, the CEO of NYM Technologies, delved into the significance of digital identity, which, while a fluid definition, encompasses facts like names, Social Security numbers, addresses, as well as characteristics such as food preferences, or political leanings otherwise known as your social identity. This digital identity tells a story about individuals that can be exploited, which will require careful safeguarding of personal information.
Technology will become increasingly more invisible and inobtrusive. Instead of tethered to screens, humans will work with technology in a more natural, intuitive manner. These improvements will enhance user experience, reduce cognitive load, make technology more approachable, foster more innovation and enhance our well-being. For example, the company HU.MA.NE is building a hardware and services platform based on AI that will have no screens.
AI + inequality
The lack of access to AI in modern culture will likely exacerbate existing inequalities, leaving disadvantaged communities further behind in terms of opportunities, resources, and economic growth. Conversely, those with access to AI will reap substantial benefits, such as increased efficiency, enhanced decision-making, and improved quality of life, widening the gap between the two groups.
AI + ethics
The current ethical issues in AI development include biased algorithms that perpetuate existing social inequalities and unjust outcomes, privacy concerns related to the collection, as well as use and sharing of personal data. Additionally, the potential misuse of AI in surveillance, autonomous weaponry, and the displacement of human labor raises moral dilemmas and societal concerns.
AI + human intelligence
AI experts at SXSW generally presented a consensus that artificial general intelligence – AI that learn and adapt intellectually as well as humans — is very close to reality. Opinions differed about just when it would arrive, but all agreed that it’s on the horizon.
Internet of you
With the ability for AI to speed up the collection, analysis and classification of data, everything people do is becoming data. Apple Watches capture heart rates, sleep quality, steps per day and more. Digital meetings and classes provide insightful interaction data. Even human waste can be and is being analyzed for disease in the interest of public health. This vast quantity of data will be used to create increasingly personalized digital experiences and devices.
As the world gets closer to the horizon of its newest technologies, businesses must adapt to the significant ways cultures shift and the challenges and opportunities that arise in the slipstream. Every now and then, it’s useful to take out the telescope and scan what’s approaching to better prepare for the future.