SXSW: A “Mini-CES” in Austin
There is so much happening at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin that it can feel a bit overwhelming. Last year we found that it was similar to a giant brainstorming session. This year it seemed like a mini version of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas. Consider CES as a global black tie event where companies have products ready to launch. On the other hand, SXSW is more casual and filled with an essence of serendipity. The city of Austin is filled with creative people from all over the world. Many concepts, themes and trends are on center stage, but you need to move about the entire city to discover them.
Policy and innovation must work together
In the panel on Hyperloop, the proposed high-speed, low-cost transportation system, Congressman Seth Moulton from Massachusetts talked about the need for regulatory balance that protects people without stifling innovation. The discussion ranged beyond Hyperloop to transportation in general, and Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas noted that traffic shapes communities and therefore should not be just an afterthought in the race to bring autonomous vehicles to market.
Giving, making and taking
Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Technology Association, was joined by some other tech leaders, like John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President of AT&T, for a panel discussion focused on tech companies giving back to communities. “Access to communication is a basic human need,” he said, but added that smart companies look beyond the services they offer for other ways to serve. There are selfish reasons for this, he explained — many skilled workers want more than a paycheck, they also want their work to have meaning and purpose. The panel also included Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Ericsson. Read more about purpose at Ericsson’s Technology For Good blog.
Shapiro also suggested that terms and conditions agreements — like the one that you must claim to have read before updating your iPhone — need an overhaul. He suggested a rating systems that reveals right upfront how onerous an agreement is for the consumer.
VR: The next mass medium?
Virtual reality was again one of the buzziest topics. We sat in on a panel at the CTA’s Innovation Policy Day space called “What Will AR/VR Revolutionize Next?” One speaker observed: “You watch TV. You listen to radio. You experience VR.” They also discussed how VR can allow the viewer to feel a sense of empathy, based on the environment dynamics within the virtual space and the user perspective. Recently, Samsung launched a new commercial for their Samsung S8 mobile device and promoted the VR feature as giving you the ability to “do what can’t be done.”
Developers showed off products that move beyond 360-degree video to offer haptics and more realistic interaction with virtual environments. This will be applied to VR experiences that are not just entertaining but useful, like touring a faraway city. Some also talked about the technology’s potential for building empathy by experiencing the life of a refugee, for example, or of someone with a disability. (We’ve written before about the importance of keeping people front and center in the development of VR tech.)
If you attended SXSW, please share your thoughts via Twitter, @NottinghamSpirk, or email, Bnottingham@nottinghamspirk.com.
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