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Life, Death, Virtual Reality, and Bitcoin: What I Saw at SXSW

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Death was pondered in numerous formats in Austin, as Andrew Delamarter, Director of Search and Inbound Marketing, Huge, reports

Life, Death, Virtual Reality, and Bitcoin: What I Saw at SXSW

I might just be getting old, but Death seemed to be a recurring theme at SXSW. The metaphorical death of business models, the virtual death dealt in LAN arenas, and the real death of our bodies, delayed or deferred indefinitely by the onrushing post human future.

A slew of sessions addressed AI, expert systems, and the future ability to upload human consciousness into machines. Chetan Dube, CEO of IPSoft – the creator of the virtual service desk application Amelia – outlined in a packed session a tsunami of onrushing AI tech. AI will be dealing some serious death to large sectors of the service economy very soon. Chetan, who sells the stuff, was pretty psyched: “The past decade was about replacing cheap labor with cheaper labor. This decade is about replacing labor entirely with AI”. It reminded me of the Simpson’s episode were tired workers complain “These jobs are killing us! Can’t somebody take them away?” Done and done!

Mortality of a different kind was on display in the Gaming Expo. Immersive shooters, Virtual Reality games (VR was a big theme), and tons of energy drinks were being eagerly consumed by large crowds. I went on a Saturday (no school) and the place was teeming with kids. Who says arcades are dead? They just got better. Spoiler for people who has still not tried the new VR headsets: Meh.

Creation and death are supposedly flip sides of the same… er, something. So it was fitting that at SXSW the engineers and makers of things were in full effect. The maker pavilion – labeled SXSW Create – was large, full of energy, and just generally really cool, life-affirming, and fun. There was a baffling range of people – it was also teeming with local kids – and a huge range of fun new things and startups. There were drones, robots, and gadgets of all kinds. Reams of children (and adults) eagerly soldered, Dremmeled, and 3d-printed various knicknackery. At the drone meet up (where there was no flying, sadly) there was info on racing drones (easy to build yourself, VR-enabled), film making drones, fly-by-smartphone drones, and lots of info on the emerging drone regulatory environment. 

The Internet of Things (IOT) was everywhere, with most sessions fully booked. This year in general you needed to reserve space in your sessions. The stuff in the smaller rooms tended to be better, and there was never enough room. A big theme was consolidation of apps and platforms by third party services. Nobody wants one app to control their lights, one for their thermostat, and one for their front door. Security of the IOT was another big issue. By some accounts IOT security is an onrushing disaster. Still, if hackers are going to use my tech and bandwidth to send 100,000 spam emails a day, I’d rather they use my toaster as opposed to my laptop.

The Bitcoin community, whose death has been greatly exaggerated, was on the scene in a big way. Bitcoin is all grown up now, shedding its anonymous, cypherpunk, wild-west past for a buttoned-down, regulated future. Great, just what we need – more buttons.

Wrapping things up was a left-of-center session on VR, spirituality, and the future of storytelling. According to the presenters, storytelling in all its forms is how we defeat death. Frankly it seems like a pretty hollow victory to me, so I’m holding on for the robot-me future. Apparently if I can stay alive for the next 25 years, I should be in the clear. Time for me to start using crosswalks.

Andrew Delamarter is Director of Search and Inbound Marketing at Huge

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HUGE USA, Thu, 19 Mar 2015 16:00:40 GMT