Tech & Innovation
SXSW 2015: So Much more Than A Gadget Show

SXSW 2015 is fast approaching, and after a good few years of watching from the sidelines (i.e. stalking the Twitter hashtag and reading all the summary blogs post-event…), I’m extremely excited to actually go to this incredible festival of creativity, innovation and invention this year.


I’m going on behalf of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising – I work in the innovative tech lab – and having done my research on who to see, where to go, what to do, I’ve noticed a few trends amongst the hundreds of sessions available. Strangely, they aren’t exactly what I had expected considering what is being talked about in mainstream as well as industry media. I expected drones, wearables, nearables and privacy – and as much as these topics do feature in the schedule – there seems to be a larger focus on some other, and in my mind more intriguing, areas. To my delight, it seems a lot less like the gadget show I was expecting, and more like a considered look into the future…

Biology goes experimental

From looking at how we can hack our brains to maximise our cognitive ability to completely eliminating disability, there looks to be a lot of conversation around how we can use technology to further enhance not only our understanding but also the functionality of our make up. Biotech has recently become a hot topic with Google Ventures focusing a good proportion of its investments into the life sciences and healthcare, and this is sparking discussion and innovation in this very broad field. SXSW looks to be a good place to explore not only the ‘science behind’ and the technologies themselves, but also the ethics behind bioengineeringsynthetic biology and personal biodata. There’s even a session on how biotech merges with art. I reckon this will be an interesting and possibly quite divisive topic for the attendees, so SXSW should hopefully start some great conversations moving forward into the rest of 2015 and beyond, bringing this topic far more mainstream.

Space is open for business

Despite space tourism starting to actually feel quite real, general interest in the space sector fluctuates with budget cuts and new governments all over the world adapting long-term space exploration goals to gain more votes. With one of the keynote speakers being Astro Teller, ‘Captain of Moonshots’ at Google[x], space is looking to be one of the significant topics up for discussion at SXSW Interactive and I’m really hoping it will help spark more fascination and excitement in the sector as a whole. What’s interesting to see is that the sessions aren’t just about the future of space travel – we’ll also hear about NASA’s social media strategy, and how they are keeping the world more informally informed; we’ll learn how we are going to keep astronauts healthy in space and how we are going to get them to Mars. We’ll also look at cross-disciplinary topics such as how designers can help us prevent black holes, and we’ll hear all about how Hubble has impacted our world by looking out of it. There’s a hunger for the space industry to become a lot less shielded from more public input, and the fact that there is such a focus on the industry at an event full of corporates and entrepreneurs – the world of business – suggests that this is an industry which is going to grow exponentially and become much more open to input from people and places which were previously unexpected.


The far away future

I was assuming there would be a lot of discussion around ‘future trends’ and ‘what the next big thing is’, but what surprised (and, more importantly, delighted) me was the number of sessions looking further into the future and pondering more about the state of the world and its politics as oppose to the state of technology and consumers. From thinking about what it will be like to soon have a President who will have their life completely chronicled on social media to speculating what weapons would be used in World War Three, a breadth of topics look to be explored, going much deeper than simply what consumer tech has in store for us. There’s even a design fiction experiment  which takes a different world – the possible future world of 2079 – and thinks about how brands would evolve to fit this environment. Looking far away into the future of the world as a whole is a pretty fascinating exercise, and one which I believe more brands need to engage in if they are to continue to stay relevant in this ever-changing universe.

Of course, I am only scratching the surface of what is to come out of SXSW this year – and to be fair, a lot of discussions and trends come from the swapping of ideas between the attendees – but I am certainly looking forward to a tech conference which will explore wider themes beyond what the next gadget to come to market will be.

SXSW Interactive is shaping up to be an event which will not only explore a vast array of different topics, but also dive deep into discussions which may not feel completely comfortable. The volume and diversity of delegates will hopefully bring these thoughts and ideas to life through new thinking and new collaborations, and, with any luck, create some incredible innovations off the back of what is sure to be a crazy busy, but extremely enlightening week.

Catch the latest highlights and updates from SXSW on ogilvydo. Stay tuned!

First Appeared on IPA Austin Blog

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