SXSW 2015: Highlights


For the past four years, my co-worker Dianna and I have attended SXSW Interactive, the annual technology conference held in Austin, Texas, to get exposed to the latest trends in the retail, branding and digital worlds. The five-day event features panel discussions, networking events, educational sessions and workshops covering a variety of topics. If you didn’t attend (or haven’t read the headlines), here are some prevalent themes from this year’s event.

Wearable Technology

A number of meet-ups, panels and events focused on wearable technology beyond fitness trackers. Discussions featured 3D-printed fashion, “smart” textiles, and highlighted the impacts of the “quantified self.” Check out this dress as seen in Paola Antonelli, senior curator of MOMA’s keynote address. Wearables are no longer only for humans. Now, thanks to WonderWoof, dog owners can track their pet’s activity throughout the day and connect with fellow dog lovers in the process.

Artificial Intelligence

Will our future be run by machines and software? The myths, misconceptions and concerns related to Artificial Intelligence were explored. Keynote speaker Martine Rothblatt, author of “Virtually Human: The Promise—and Peril—of Digital Immortality,” discussed the future and how technology can help extend human life. Rothblatt created BINA48, a robot of her wife of more than 30 years. Journalists from GQ, The New York Times and New York Magazine have all maintained that interviewing BINA48 was no different than real life subjects. Meanwhile, protestors outside the convention center staged an anti-robot rally. Just yesterday, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak spoke out about his fears about AI and the future.

Live Streaming Video

Heard of Meerkat? No, not the animal—the hottest new app, which made waves at SXSW. The new live streaming app lets users share video on Twitter. Since SXSW kicked off on March 13, Meerkat’s user base has grown 30 to 40 percent a day, according to The Washington Post. It’s been called the new technology that will affect the 2016 presidential election. In response, Twitter blocked the app’s access to its social graph, and officially announced it purchased Periscope, a yet-to-be-released live streaming app.

Females in the Driver’s Seat

On the heels (pun intended) of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” women in the workforce was a prevalent topic. A number of panel discussions featured the stories of female entrepreneurs, including Jessica Alba of The Honest Company; Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix; Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway; and Martine Rothblatt of United Therapeutics (mentioned above, and who is also the highest-paid transgendered CEO in corporate America). The main highlight here was the inspirational keynote address from Princess Reema Bint Badar Al-Saud, CEO of Saudi Arabian luxury retailer, Alfa, Intl., who is employing, educating and empowering women in her home country of Saudi Arabia. Watch it here.

Better Business for the Environment

As we face a global climate crisis, it’s natural to wonder how technology can play a role in minimizing our impact on the planet. Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, spoke on a panel titled, “Why Business Is Good for the Planet,” explaining how the retailer is continually creating better products (and now food) that is greener and better for the environment. Her words struck a chord with me: “Don’t be a consumer, be a citizen.”

Similarly, a panel about The Honest Company discussed how the lifestyle brand is filling a void in the marketplace with safe and eco-friendly household products. In 2014, the company garnered $150 million in sales, and was recently valued at $1 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Logan Green, the Co-Founder and CEO of Lyft (Uber’s biggest competitor), discussed how the company’s on-demand carpools are coaxing commuters to leave their cars behind. Meanwhile, a panel about the global water crisis featured Waves for Water, an organization working to provide filtration systems to millions of people who don’t have access to clean drinking water. 

Learn something new? Good! Check out my Austin travel guide here, which features a roundup of places to explore morning, day and night. 

Photo from SXSW

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