We’re going South!

South by South West – otherwise known as “Southby” – has been high on my bucket list for years now. Last year was the first time I got to go, and this year I’m a veteran! Personally, I visit the interactive part of the conference – and (just like last year) I tell myself that next time I’ll stay for the music. Again, the Texans were very friendly, the visitors extreme white iPhones users, and the subjects very diverse. Here are my personal highlights and lowlights, the sweet and the sour of SXSW, with this year maybe a little more sour…

The thing I noticed this year is that within the community there was a lot of self-criticism. An increasing amount of question marks arise around the startup culture. The energy, the hard work and the glamour of rounding up another successful round of funding is now overshadowed by the “bro”-culture. The hard, sexist and masculine side of this adventure is what makes the working atmosphere unpleasant.

A lot of the sessions at SXSW had Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their title. In most cases, this was a promise fulfilled in many different ways, but in others it was a buzzword used to lure people in the session. Saatchi, for example, uses AI to make video clips, the FBI to recognize faces and emotions, and in chat-interactions AI is used to determine what question a chat bot is going to ask next. But what became especially clear from these sessions is that AI’s are going to help us work better, quicker and smarter! For now, AI is used only for specific applications, but over time it is believed that AI will start replacing existing jobs.

This latter prediction is alarming. If jobs are going to be replaced by AI we are on the one hand going to create a new industry, but on the other hand, it is going to take away a lot of jobs from the less educated people in our society. Because computers are becoming incredibly smart, soon a large part of the population won’t need to work anymore. This may sound like paradise: we give everyone a basic income and all live happily ever after. However, what we see happening in the US is that the unemployed are drowning in boredom. This group of individuals is supported by some sort of sickness benefit. Yet, a lot of these people are extremely addicted to painkillers and are, quite literally, bored to death. If we make this group of individuals even bigger by employing AIs on a large scale, we are digging our own graves. As white iPhone owners, we need to be aware that this could happen and need to start thinking of solutions now. This realization was the biggest insight I gained at SXSW.

Besides that, there were a lot of sessions about conversational interfaces, data science and design, communities for fashion retailers, emotional leadership, crispr, social shopping, facial recognition, and how startups are working together with larger companies. It is extremely insightful to get the big picture and be one year ahead of the rest. But at the same time, it has given me a solid foundation.


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