2014 SXSW Recap

Jonathan Vingiano and I recap the Best of SXSW 2014:

Julian Assange & Edward Snowden

Watch Julian Assange’s full keynote
Watch Edward Snowden’s full keynote

Julian Assange and Edward Snowden both gave their own keynotes around information sharing, privacy, net neutrality and the future of the internet. Assange, who has been confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, called the NSA “a rogue agency.” He furthered that with – “How is it that the internet that everyone looked as as perhaps the greatest tool of human emancipation there had ever been, had been co-opted and was now involved in the most aggressive form of state surveillance ever seen.” Snowden also slammed the NSA and called for serious public oversight – “We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we’re not informed, we can’t consent to these government policies.” Snowden also said users need more awareness and better tools to help them secure their information from prying eyes. If you have any interest (or paranoia) around the subject of online privacy and surveillance (and you should), these are worth watching.

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Watch an excerpt of Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s keynote

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a national treasure. Seriously. Tyson is an astrophysicist, author, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History and probably the most entertaining and passionate person devoted to furthering space exploration and, as he calls it, science literacy. Tyson gave an inspired speech about our place in the universe and the importance of staying curious about the world we live in. As he said, “I think of scientists as curious kids that never really grew up.” On reaffirming the importance of science literacy, Tyson said “If you think education is expensive, think about the cost of ignorance.” The video above of his “cosmic perspective” above is low quality but worth a listen. Tune in around the 3:15 mark on the video for some inspired cosmic goodness.


Watch Andy Goodman’s talk

Andy Goodman, author and digital impresario, gave an inspired panel on the nature of embedables. Andy believes that embeddables are the next iteration of wearables. Embedabbles represent the convergence of implants, genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology. Andy believes that the interface between us and the real world is going to become nonexistent. Embeddables themselves will be sub dermal implants that will capture information about us and feed that information into systems working in the background. Initial areas for embeddables to grow quickly will be healthcare and fitness but will extend further into information, communications, entertainment, education and more. According to Andy, “virtually any human activity we can think of will be modified and and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through obliviously.”

David Carr (NYT) & Eli Pariser (Upworthy)

Listen to the talk
Read a recap of the best moments

On the last day of panels, David Carr led an interesting talk with Eli Pariser about what makes content go viral and what happens when algorithms get so smart that they can identify the quality of content. The conversation got especially interesting when the two started talking about Upworthy’s headlines. Carr contrasted the content in the Times, which had notably boring headlines, with content in Upworthy. The Upworthy content was arugably of a “lower quality” (not factchecked, not created by a journalist) but got much more traffic. Pariser positioned Upworthy’s headlines as doing a social good, as his team is ostensibly socially engineering the Facebook community to click on links that hold content that they deem socially important or impactful (Climate Name Change, for example).

Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe

Watch an interview with Anne Wojcicki

Anne Wojcicki (I still have no idea how to pronounce her last name) gave a keynote on the future of genetics and, mostly, about her company 23andme. Anne believes that knowing your genetic information (and pre-dispositions) will help you make better decisions about your health care. Further, the comsumerisation of healthcare is the future and genetic information is the basis for personalized medicine. However, while disease prevention is clearly a better road than treatment, there is a lot more money to be made in treatment. As she says, “everyone makes money off of you when you’re sick.” Her company is currently fighting an uphill battle with the FDA. While she believes that big data will improve our health and accelerate research discoveries, the FDA believes that that health-related conversations around prevention and diagnoses belong in a doctors office between a doctor and patient. It will be interesting to see where this conversation goes.

Mario Kart IRL

Jalopnik on Mario Kart IRL
The Verge on Mario Kart IRL
Complex on Mario Kart IRL

Ok so Mario Kart IRL is kind of a textbook example of how SXSW has become a place for brands to live together in perfect harmony by creating experiences like this one. But, I love Mario Kart so I had to check this out. Penzoil and Nintendo joined forces to create a Go-Kart track with GoPro equipped vehicles. These GoPros responded to sensors on the track to add the notion of “power-ups” to the race. The idea was really cool but the execution was a bit poor &emdash; the tech was cool but the legal dept seemed to have put a very low limit on the speed of the Go-Karts. Regardless of any hiccups, whoever got to work on this must have had a lot of fun.

IBM Food Truck, Have a snack with Watson

Read about algorithmically designed recipes

Stink Digital produced an interesting tech/food mashup for IBM this year. They had an interactive food truck conveniently placed just outside the convention center that was giving out samples of recipes curated by Watson, the computer. Yes, the same Watson that won Jeopardy a few years ago. He’s into food now, apparently. Through Watson’s debut of “Cognitive Cooking, consumers would pick a few ingredients and Watson would create meals that, apparently, “no human could possibly think of.” Things like Kenyan brussel sprouts with sweet potato puree, ginger and almonds. Creamy pork-belly moussaka with peas, parsley root, cottage cheese and dill. With Watson at the helm, you could just input a region, a main ingredient or two and a type of food and the computer would analyze tens of thousands of recipes to match up chemical flavor compounds that are most likely to surprise people (and hopefully taste good). People seemed to be enjoying it quite a bit.


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