SXSW Interactive may be over, but the five-day event started on a high note and ended with a bang. Big names and startups alike migrated to the capital city of Texas, launching new products and seeking investment opportunities. Social serendipity became one of the hottest trends for this Austin conference, leveraging new technology around ambient discovery to connect people of similar interests. Highlight, Forecast, Ban.jo and the other discovery apps became the darlings of this year’s event, marking SXSW a successful laboratory to test the latest in social tech.
At every tech conference, keynotes and panel discussions are very important elements for conveying the theme of the event and this year artificial intelligence was a primed topic this year. A few big names talked before thousands of eager attendees, one of the most notable speakers being digital futurists Ray Kurzweil. In his speech he cited how artificial intelligence reshapes humankind, opening up the discussion to the audience saying,
“We are a human-machine civilization. Everybody has been enhanced with computer technology…they’re really part of who we are. If we can convince people that computer have complexity of thought and nuance … we’ll come to accept them as human.”
Meanwhile, TIME’s Lev Grossman pointed out the realities that could be generated by relentless technological advancement: losing our humanity to artificial intelligence domination. Grossman identifies this technology as a zero-sum-game that disconnects us from real relationships, brought about by the immense love for smartphones, saying that malevolent machines could one day possibly replicate beyond the control of men.
The interactive festival truly peaked during the weekend. The revelation that Instagram’s finally headed to Android was a turning point for the mobile sector, fulfilling Fandroid’s expectations for the photo-sharing app. CEO Kevin Systrom says the forthcoming app promises to be better than the iOS version, which will be an interesting delineation between Android and iOS platforms.
Social networks Twitter and Google+ also competed for attention over the weekend. Twitter, arguably the most successful of all product launches at SXSW, was transformed into an avenue for voting up the Goody Awards. The interactive touch point was a reminder to attendees that Twitter’s a relevant platform for engagement.
Google+ set out to prove itself as a viable social platform, vehemently denying that they are giving up the “social” fight, explaining that most interactions onn the network are actually done privately.
Angry Birds also shared the spotlight, as Rovio’s phenomenal game embarks on another adventure with Angry Birds in Space. And at the CNN Grill SXSW, Path’s David Morin sat down to discuss key features of the app and how they learned from a recent security issue.
2012 was probably one of the most explosive openings for SXSW Interactive, as the Austin affair gives young talent the opportunity to share their products and services, exposed to a ready and waiting early adopter community. Newbies like Highlight showed huge potential in being a big name in the future. The app was made to bring together like-minded people and create location-based social networks. Planning and execution was key to Highlight’s success at SXSW, as Founder and CEO Paul Davison shares.
“We launched six weeks before SXSW and people got excited about it,” says Davison. And by the time you get to SXSW people have heard of Highlight, and they’ll go back to their hometown and talk about it…we tried to focus entirely on the product and get it right before SXSW.”
The People’s Choice Award at SXSW Interactive went to American Elect—a website dedicated for promoting third-party candidate in November’s U.S. Presidential election. This app is regarded as one of the more successful startup launches this year. Joshua Levine, the CTO of American Elect, took pride in receiving the award and hinted that this is just a first of the many innovations that they will be introducing in the market:
“This award confirms that Americans Elect is not just a growing political movement, but also a groundbreaking and innovative tech startup. We’re honored to be recognized alongside so many other companies at SXSW using technology to empower people and improve the world around us.”