This year’s SXSW Interactive was bigger than ever, with more than 33,000 attendees and hundreds of panels, workshops and brunches. Our latest report highlights key themes and insights from the festival, including brand examples and takeaways for the future.
Artificial intelligence caused a huge buzz at this year’s event, with keynote speaker (and highest-paid female executive in the U.S.) Martine Rothblatt exploring the potential of digital personality upload and virtual immortality. Rothblatt’s talk comes at a time when tech elites are aiming conquer aging. PayPal’s Peter Thiel said “solving” problems and illnesses relating to aging was the next frontier for silicon valley at November’s WebSummit in Dublin and Google investing heavily in age-defying biotechnology.
Another trend at the event was the rising power of women in tech—U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and CEO of a Saudi Arabian luxury company Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud were both featured in keynote sessions. Twitter hosted a Women’s Brunch for leaders in tech, advertising and venture capital. Panel titles ranged from “#OurTimeToLead: Why Tech Needs More Women” to “Confident Women: Ditch the Bitch Stigma.” So, a breakthrough year, but “it needs to go far, far, further though,” argued Elizabeth Gore, entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell. Perhaps this was evidenced by the much-talked-about panel in which a male Google exec repeatedly interrupted Smith while they were, ironically, talking about celebrating diversity.
Sustainability was, as it should be, everpresent. “There was a big focus on the triple bottom line: People, Proﬁt, Planet,” said Gore. There were talks on the future of sustainable fashion and food production. Levi’s even outfitted the entire SXSW staff with denim jackets, drawing attention to its water-saving denim care platform. As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone put it nicely, “The future of marketing is philanthropy. Young people in particular are attracted to companies with meaning.”