SXSW Day 2: Here comes the future, whether you want it or not

9 03 2014

Assistant Professor Jeff Inman is representing Drake University at SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive) this year March 7-10. Click here for his top 5 panel picks. For his rundown on Day 1, click here. And be sure to follow his adventures on Twitter: @MagStudies.


AUSTIN, TEXAS — Carl Bass summed up how everyone felt Saturday morning at South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. The president and CEO of Autodesk, a 3D design and engineering firm, looked out over the crowd gathered for his talk on the coming robot revolution and put it this way: “We’re all playing hurt this morning.”


R2D2 makes an appearance at SXSW.

Maybe that’s why he brought along R2D2 to his talk: to give everyone a little bit of a geek boost. Or maybe it was more prophetic, as he started talking about how robots will dominate our world and our economies in the coming decades. “By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on the planet,” he said. “I think there will be more robots and smart machines on the planet than people by then.” Hail our robot overlords!

That combination of scientific advancement and sheer horror seemed to be the theme for the day. Bass talked with wonder about how robots—and his definition of robots is broader than yours—are already changing the way we work and might be at the core of our jobless recovery. Kiip founder Brian Wong unveiled the data behind a new and more engaging form of marketing, what he calls the “marketing of moments,” that will be taking over phones in the next few months. And Wikileaks founder Julian Assange reminded SXSW during a Skype interview that he knows who has already taken over your phones (hint, it’s the NSA).


Kiip founder Brian Wong

“The NSA has grown into a rogue agency,” he said. “And as we’ve moved our lives onto the Internet, the NSA has been sucking all that data. Their ability to store all that information has been doubling every 18 months.”

It was “Cosmos” host and current science godhead Neil deGrasse Tyson who provided the optimism for the day. He talked about how, with the return of shows like “Cosmos,” the push for an increase in STEM education, and the rise of web standouts like “I Fucking Love Science,” the world is embracing science in a way that it hasn’t in 20 years.

“We’ve just come out of two decades where it was acceptable to deny science,” he said. “It was OK to just believe. If we believe that makes it true. No. You can’t just choose what is truth and what isn’t. We can’t just believe. We have to question.”

He urged the audience to approach the world with childlike wonder, to continually question and experiment with the word around you. He also snuck in a subtle jab at the audience, saying that they shouldn’t be focused on creating the next new app or the next great marketing campaign, and instead working on some of the great problems of our day. “Dinosaurs didn’t have opposable thumbs—or a space program. If they did they would have deflected that asteroid,” he said. “…We have significant problems and issues in our world that need to be solved.” The brainpower in the room could probably solve a few of those—if they stopped live tweeting, of course.

“The day you stop thinking about tomorrow is the day you stop innovating,” Tyson said during his closing remarks.


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