2016 SXSW Interactive Recap

SXSW Interactive is pretty much how life should be lived—inspiring talks, great networking, and free booze. I love it so much that even though I had moved away from Austin and had to leave behind a loving family for nearly a week, I made it happen. It might even have  been worth it.

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Obama

The news Friday was Obama’s visit and talk as part of the conference. I didn’t want to go to the talk because it was kind of a jerk move to bring a presidential entourage and hours of road closures to a place already shut down due to the conference. But others were pretty excited about it.

The gist of his talk, I gather, was a welcoming of all the tech-savvy innovators that SXSW is known for to help improve government. Obama no doubt recognizes the stark reality that government agencies lag behind the private sector consistently and dramatically (see SpaceX destroying NASA with a fraction of the budget). The problem that Obama doesn’t seem to recognize is that government doesn’t lag behind the private sector in innovation due to a lack of motivation by well-intentioned and slick-speaking presidents. It lags behind because there are perverse incentives in the government sector. Survival of a government agency is based on backroom handshakes and cronyism, not producing a quality product.

My humble advice to President Obama is that if you want to make the government sector more innovative and technologically advanced, make it the private sector.

Best Panel

My favorite panel was sponsored by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and entitled “Virtual Physicians: The Future of Healthcare“. It was basically a showcase of three pioneers in health tech: Andrew Thompson of Proteus, Leslie Saxon and Todd Richmond of USC. The speakers were informative, inspirational, and brilliant as they described how health tech, specifically, virtual reality, was changing a juggernaut-like health care system in which 70-80% of patients don’t take their medicine as prescribed, 60-70% of what a doctor does could be automated, and in a country in which the third-leading cause of death is health care (iatrogenic illness).

They showed how virtual humans were being used to treat autism-spectrum and PTSD (Bravemind) patients and how virtual reality was helping to fight diabetes by showing what it would be like if you contracted blindness from the disease.

There were so many money quotes, but here are a few:

This panel is what SXSW is all about—well at least half of it.

Best Party

The best party wasn’t actually an official SXSW party, but despite the recent push by organizers to own a piece of every bit of activity in the city during the conference, I like the positive externalities that are generated from the conference and enjoyed meeting people without badges.

Hosted by Golden Frog, the panel discussed the threats to the greatest invention in modern history: the Internet, specifically the request by the feds that Apple create an encryption backdoor for the iPhone so that they can ostensibly better fight crime. I don’t know how people could miss the paradoxical notion of trying to make us more secure by making us less secure, but there you have it.

The host organization may be based in Switzerland, but they certainly know how to throw a party in Texas. As one of the moderators said, “If you’re eating BBQ, drinking beer, and talking about getting the government out of your lives, you must be in Texas.” Amen.

Best Promotion

IMG_20160314_201303633_HDR-2The SAP party at the Hotel Van Zandt rooftop pool was fantastic as well and they had they best promotional item. Playing on the SX2014 thread of personalization, the good folks at Patrón Tequila set up a make-your-own margarita experience where participants could pick from an array of tequilas, rim salts, and garnish to make a unique concoction.

I just so happened to have created—objectively speaking of course—the most delicious beverage ever experienced, called the Thai margarita. Here’s the recipe:

Patrón Reposada
Patrón Mango
Siracha salt
Mango
Cilantro
Jalepeño

Best Talk

While the title “Tech, Failure & Culture” appealed to me, I was surprised at how the presenter of the talk, Knot Standard founder Matthew Mueller, approached the ideas and provided an insightful and inspirational talk. There were takeaways about once every minute, but what I remember most is that

  • you don’t have to have an MBA to start an excellent company
  • companies should celebrate positive successes
  • company culture is as vital as tech

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Oh yeah, and I also learned from several other panels that robots are going to take over the world and we’re going to be their slaves. Inspiring stuff!

Other Apocalyptic Awesomeness

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Rubblebucket at Capital One House

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Bloc Party at ACL Live

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Town Lake Trail looking good in the springtime.

No doubt with this concise overview, you can understand the draw for Obama and the other 40,000 people. See y’all next year!