The best of SXSW Interactive 2017

By Jenni Klinger

The innovative ideas and social inspiration that flowed through SXSW Interactive will drive the state of technology in the coming year. Here are the major trends that will affect business, economic and social issues:

Autonomous cars

Just like we saw at Mobile World Congress, autonomous cars were everywhere at SXSW. Though they weren’t cruising on the road, there were plenty of showcases where you could gaze into the luxurious, self-driving future. One model from NIO featured lounge chairs and an interior that’s fancier than my living room.

Though aesthetic is certainly a big draw, it’s important to keep in mind AI and deep learning will be necessary components to these vehicles. Deep learning will essentially be able to train a car at superhuman levels, making it safer than any human on the road. NIO hopes to bring its car to market by 2020.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Look at any article about SXSW Interactive and you will see that we’re in the midst of an AI revolution. There’s an abundance of data available to analyze, but how do we do it? This is where AI comes in. It’s not about replicating the human mind; it’s all about enhancing it. While we won’t see robots coming to consciousness anytime soon, we will be able to make better use of data.

Ultimately, this will let us make more intelligent decisions and take actions based on those analyses. Just think of AI as your whip-smart, go-getter personal assistant, where you can focus on the more meaningful aspects of your job while AI does the grunt work. AI, like that from IBM Watson, is even capable of creating mesmerizing art. You can expect to see AI making lives easier and businesses more profitable.

Health technology

Though it’s a no-brainer that healthcare is a necessity for all, innovative solutions in health are more urgent for certain populations in particular. Seniors and low-income and underserved communities are especially at risk for health problems. And though many great strides have been made in healthcare in recent years, much more needs to be done to help these individuals live healthier lives.

The projected life expectancy growth in the next 50 years is astounding. In fact, the number of people aged over 100 will jump from half a million to 3.7 million by 2050, according to Pew Research Center. Though this is great news for beloved parents, grandparents and ourselves, more personalized, secure solutions are needed to ensure safe and healthy aging for seniors. Cognitive technology will play a key role in this, more effectively connecting families, caretakers and providers with patients. This connection will bring with it improved quality of life for the world’s aging population.

Low-income and underserved populations are also in need of special care. Ownership of a smartphone device for those making less than $30,000 a year more than doubled from 2010 to 2015, according to Pew Research Center. That’s a lot of statistics, but it’s all to say that technology will be a crucial driving force in creating more touch points for those who may not have had healthcare access in the past. Mobile specifically will play a critical role in bridging the gap between underserved populations and the health services they need. For many, smartphones are their only access to high-speed internet. As such, developers and providers must work together to deliver service where these individuals are able to access it. This is their lifeline.

In addition to providing people with the tools they need to live longer, happier lives, health technology will end cancer. Former Vice President Joe Biden gave a keynote speech on the necessary role technology plays in his Cancer Moonshot initiative. Biden wondered why it was so hard for his son, Beau, a cancer patient, to send test results from one hospital to another while there’s a plethora of advanced, fun and entertaining apps and websites. We must devote more resources and attention to developing health technology to make people around the world happier and healthier. Expect to see more on developing healthcare technology initiatives in the coming year.

Photo courtesy of LA Times


Chat is the platform of the future. Though fun, beautifully designed apps are great, sometimes what you need is a quick answer. And though waiting on hold for an hour to speak to customer service is also great in its own character-building right, the technology we have today will need to deliver a smarter way of interacting with companies and organizations.

Chatbots are systems that command and respond to users, but right now, they don’t deeply reason. They’re relatively simple experiences, but as we apply design thinking to improve them, we will be able to craft more advanced and trustworthy bots. In Rob High’s session, “Mythbusters: How IBM Watson ‘Really’ Works,” he talked about the Hilton concierge chatbot pilot, “Connie.” Connie is the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry. The bot is able to inform guests on what to do in the area, where to eat and which amenities the hotel has.

Capital One released its chatbot, Eno, during this year’s SXSW, according to Fortune. One example of many, Eno gives customers information on their accounts, processes credit card payments and even responds to specific emojis through text messaging, all while learning as it communicates.

With the advancement of AI, we can expect to see these bots becoming more intelligent, functional and frequently used.

Women and people of color in tech

According to a report from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, three out of four women love their jobs in tech, so why do they keep leaving? Over half of women leave their tech jobs within the first 10 years, and black women receive only about 3 percent of computer science degrees, according to Bust Magazine. Let’s face it, the tech industry has a serious problem: underrepresentation of women, people of color and many other minority groups. I had the opportunity to attend the sessions “WEXIT: Why Women Exit Tech and How to Fix It” and “A Conversation With Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls CODE.”

What we learned from both sessions is that diversity is not only good for business, it is necessary. Bloomberg reported that women-led tech companies achieve a 35 percent higher return on investment, and when backed by venture capital, deliver 12 percent more revenue than their male counterparts. Though equal opportunity and representation is absolutely urgent and necessary from a human perspective, it can also be made into a business case. Expect more resources such as AIGA’s Gender Equity Toolkit to help you and your company become a more welcoming place for all to work.

SXSW 2017 brought together some of the world’s most forward-thinking people in technology, government and healthcare. The discussions on solutions to social, economic and business problems were inspiring, and we already can’t wait for SXSW 2018. Until next year!

Written By

Jenni Klinger

Blog Manager, IBM Mobile

Jenni Klinger is a web content manager with experience running blogs and creating email campaigns and content strategies. She's worked with tech companies creating editorial calendars, blog posts, and web content plans. Prior to joining IBM, Jenni worked at a university in Australia…

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