Australia: South by Southwest headwinds for tech

This week's South by Southwest is one of the biggest tech events in the world, boasting 75,000 delegates and 5,000 speakers. Attendees heard from IT company execs, Talking Heads' David Byrne, Handmaid's Tale actress Elisabeth Moss, as well as six 2020 US Presidential Candidates, including Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz. Gwyneth Paltrow was even there talking up her online jade egg and face cream business Goop.

All the big tech companies invade Austin, Texas and spend millions renovating restaurants and bars into "Experience Spaces" giving away merch and free drinks in the hope of accessing SXSW's "influencers". This event is a pilgrimage for the mostly Millennial crowd. It is Burning Man for tech nerds.

This is the event where Twitter was launched and one would have thought it to be the most tech-friendly crowd in the world but this year it was different.

Setting the scene for the discontent was Silicon Valley kingpin Roger McNamee. He is a Co-founder, along with U2's Bono, of venture capital firm, Elevation Partners and an early investor in Facebook. McNamee was promoting his new book Zucked, his treatise setting out how Facebook is destroying democracy. His key themes are that the big tech companies have breached our trust by monitoring us, then taking that data and selling it or using it for behavioural modification. The crowd were right on board and the theme of loss of trust was one that played out on a number of other stages, reaching a crescendo with Presidential Candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren delivered her campaign promise to break up the big tech companies where they both operate and participate in a marketplace. Further, she wants to undo some of the major acquisitions such as Facebook and Instagram.

This was also the year that SXSW woke to the dominance of China in the world of Artificial Intelligence. Bessie Lee, former CEO of advertising giant WPP in China, filled one of the big rooms this year and was invited back for a rare Encore performance the next day. Lee told me she was not expecting this popularity as last year she barely filled a third of one of the small rooms.

The urgency around responding to China's ascendancy was clearly stated by Congressman Will Herd who started his panel with stern words to the EU that they should stop the Transatlantic bickering over privacy rights and "focus on the real issue for us all, China".

The Chinese government has a plan for AI hegemony, and it seems to be working. Last year China led the world in AI patents and academic publishing. The plan is well funded, resourced with 5 Million new STEM grads every year and, importantly for AI, is fuelled by enormous amounts of data from its citizens in a country with no significant privacy laws.

The need for our data to train AI means that more organisations are going to want access to our information. While McKee's optimism about limiting corporate access to our data has a visceral appeal, the reality seemed to be summed up by Futurist Amy Webb when she proclaimed to 2,000 people that "Privacy is Dead".

Webb discussed numerous key trends and when asked why she didn't mention AI, she said "AI is in everything and driving every trend." A theme taken to heart by the Finnish government who was a finalist in the SXSW Awards for its "AI Basics" free course where they hoped to educate 1% of the Finnish population on AI. They ended up doubling that number and creating a global education phenomenon with students from more than 80 countries enrolling.

The biggest issue around AI came from concerns around bias, with six panels devoted to this subject in whole or in part. Examples such as MIT research showing that facial recognition software had a 35% error rate for darker-skinned women compared to just 1% for lighter-skinned males. Beyond trying to have more diversity in programming teams, there did not seem to be any simple solution to this issue and likely it will be a key blocker for organisations wanting to embrace AI solutions.

The audience got schooled in the link between passion and success when Meg Whitman (former CEO of eBay and HP) got together with Jeffrey Katzenberg (Founder, Dreamworks) to get the Millennials excited about their new short form, mobile-first content play, Quibi. With a combined worth of almost $5 Billion they pitched with all the hustle of two twenty-somethings embarking on their first start up. Quibi, backed by all the major studios, launches in April, 2020.

The real stars of the content world were the podcasters. More than 50% of Americans have listened to podcasts, with more than a quarter having listened to a podcast in the last month. Podcasts audiences are growing at 25% a year. Subscription podcast service Luminary just got funded for $100 Million and the audience heard from the founders of two podcasting companies, Gimlet and Anchor, who were just bought by Spotify for a combined $US340 Million.

Gimlet announced that its two minute teeth cleaning "skill" on Amazon's Alexa, Chompers, is the first first Voice Assistant advertising campaign to win a Cannes Lion. But it will not be the last as voice-control/operation was a huge topic with all major appliance and car manufacturers promoting some form of voice-enablement being available now or in the near future.

Voice-operation becomes a huge enabler of the next big trend, emotional-recognition. One of the big tech companies has filed a patent which will enable its smart speakers to assess your emotional well-being as well as knowing when you are sick. Car company Kia has its Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving System which changes the interior conditions of the car in response to the driver's emotional state. The end of road rage?

According to SXSW, everything will be connected in the future. Witness the launch of Nadi X connected yoga pants. I don't think my trousers ever need to be connected, but clearly there is a market. The real Internet of Things battleground is the home. Amazon has launched its range of AmazonBasics home appliances, starting with the voice-controlled microwave. Till now Amazon's data was limited to what happens up to the front door when the package is delivered. Now, via connected appliances, it can know exactly when you are out of popcorn. Then for those wanting the full George Jetson experience you can now buy an Amazon Connected Home. Amazon have joined with the US' largest home builder Lennar and are pumping out new connected homes by the hundreds.

On a sad note, the slow train that is Blockchain still struggles. There were very few sessions on this tech this year. The genetically gifted Winklevoss twins, best known for being sort of involved at the beginning of Facebook, were present to talk about their new Gemini app which allows you to buy cryptocurrency from your phone. Bitcoin and other currencies have taken a savage beating this year but if we ever emerge from this crypto-winter, it may be that the Wrinkevoss boys are well placed.

I attended one session which promised "Blockchain - Beyond the Hype". However real use cases of people making money or gaining efficiencies from deployed blockchain solutions were few and far between. One company Open Health Network seems promising in the blockchain healthcare space.

Human evolution seems destined for a tech-created fork in the next few years as cyborgs, part man, part machine are becoming commonplace. Neural implants which allow people with disabilities to move prosthetic limbs by thought are in market today. The next step is mainstream according to prominent Neuroscientist, Doctor Heather Berlin. "Within five years you will likely have the opportunity to give your child an implant which will triple their memory". Forget expensive schools to get your kid set for life, just buy them a bit more RAM.

As always, the robots were out in force, vacuuming floors, bringing drinks and playing the piano. But this year was the advent of the social robot, with Furhat, an Awards finalist showing what AI can do to create a robot that you can have a conversation with. While we are still a while away from passing a full Turing Test, the advances in robotics are exponential and an area to watch.

Of all the robots, the best was the robot coffee maker - fully robotic and on the market. Robo-barista made the best coffee I had while in Austin. Once they figure out how to put some tribal ink, a nose ring and groomed beard on this bot, human baristas might be in trouble.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions