Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham’s SXSW Austin Wrap!

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Every year, Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham, B&T editorial consultant, contributor and all-round good guy, makes a pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest to sample the greatest in barbecue and get his chops around some of the best content on the other side of the equator. Here, he shares his key takeaways.

As expected, it was another crazy jam-packed, inspiring and exhausting week at SXSW Austin, Texas. This year, I wanted to mix it up, throw off any FOMO as the incredible content on 24 tracks can be overwhelming and take it all in my stride. AI was everywhere. Sessions spoke with incredible optimism and hope around its possibilities, particularly in the healthcare area. Others said it spelled doom for the human workforce.

What I loved were the powerful sessions on human intelligence from speakers including Jay Shetty and Simran Jeet Singh who highlighted the importance of relationships, resilience, curiosity, courage and connection.

As you all know, I love a list. So here are my highlights:

  • Best session: Michael Dell
  • Annual favourite: Amy Webb, Future Today Institute Tech Trends Report
  • Surprise and delight: Dr Joy Buolamwini – founder of the Algorithmic Justice League
  • Cultural icon: Jane Fonda
  • Best activation: Prime Video – Fallout
  • Best house: Australia House
  • Best Party: SXSW Sydney Party at Australia House. Aussies know how to throw a party … open bar, pumping Aussie music and cool free merch!
  • Music icon: John Oats
  • Movie moment: Dev Patel (Monkey Man, Slumdog Millionnaire)
  • Comedy legend: Conan O’Brien
  • Best Texas BBQ: Terry Blacks.

The top three on my list were super impressive:

Michael Dell

As a youngster, he had a side hustle as a budding entrepreneur selling his local newspaper subscriptions.

He discovered that people who were newlyweds or had just bought a new house were more likely to purchase a subscription.

He contacted local government departments, sourced their details and increased his conversion rate. At the tender age of 12, he was bringing in heaps of cash. Dell was mining data and improving his ROI before data was even a thing.

Amy Webb

As usual, Webb delivered an excellent talk to a packed house with the release of The Future Today Institute’s 17th Annual Tech Trends Report. The report followed some 900 trends across 16 industries and sectors.

The theme of this year’s report was the “supercycle” — an extended period of booming demand that leads to elevated prices and unprecedented demand.

Dr. Joy Buolamwini

WOW! What a smart charismatic leader who has written an incredible book Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What is Human in a World of Machines. She advised world leaders to prevent AI harm. Her MIT research on facial recognition technologies transformed the field of AI auditing. She is the protagonist of the Emmy-nominated documentary Coded Bias which has had over 100 million views.

This year some of the SXSW brand activations were so immersive and incredible, hard to describe in words so check out the photos to get a real sense of their impact, engagement, and scale. My top 10 SXSW Austin activations:

  1. Prime Video: Fallout is a truly immersive special experience
  2. Audible: the carnival experience with the Ferris Wheel was outstanding
  3. Netflix: 3 Body Problems, impactful high-tech holograms/laser/smoke & sounds with the entire international cast on location
  4. Porsche: The Full-Service Lounge – a luxury stylish experience
  5. The Lodge Paramount+: same venue as last year packed with entertainment mini-experiences.
  6. The Delta Lounge: due to the long lines and 60-90 min wait, it was at capacity every day so I missed out on this much-buzzed-about activation.
  7. Sharpie & Paper Mate Studio: cool inactive creative space with Mindy Kaling discussing her creative process.
  8. Reddit: it took over Two Hands for the launch of Reddit Pro
  9. SHE Media-Co-Lab: a whole life health immersion with impressive talent
  10. Poo-Pourri: a Camp Funk experience that was not on the nose.

For me, some of the major takeouts from this year’s SXSW, besides the domination of the AI chatter, were brought to life at the SXSW EXPO.

I interacted with an AI Companion (creepier than expected) and a fun, more friendly robot that was pet-like. But the major things I remember were the more human interactions, colouring in at the National Parks Foundation supersized canyon wall, drawing on a giant whale, or writing inspiring messages on a Wonderspace wall that contained thousands of personalised messages from other good-hearted humans.

To me, the tech and AI conversations were balanced with powerful human truths, emotions, and capabilities at SXSW this year. As Jay Shetty said: “Happiness in life is based on one thing and one thing only … the quality of our relationships!”




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