Build Newsletter: SXSW Showcases Technology’s Impact On Culture

March 24, 2016 Stacey Schneider


sfeatured-buildThis week Greg Chase is on a well earned vacation (hopefully sipping Mai Tai’s in Hawaii right now), so I’ll be taking you through the biggest news in software last week—that crazy music, social and technology festival called South by Southwest (SXSW). It was an exciting week—and not just because Billboard magazine forecasted big things for my roommate’s band, Stokeswood.

SXSW is an inspiring example of how technology has become ingrained into our culture. No longer just a social media and technology show, the event has evolved to become one of the biggest cultural events of the year. It is an event where some of today’s great software companies, like Twitter, Foursquare, GroupMe (now part of Skype/Microsoft), and Glancee (now part of Facebook) have stepped on stage, and SXSW has helped catalyze them to become world influencers in many ways. The event even attracts world leaders like President Obama to speak on the cultural importance of technology permeating all aspects of government, commerce and our economy.

So, this week’s BUILD Newsletter highlights the bits and bytes which stood out in Austin, including the President’s keynote, and some of the incredible innovations showcased at the event such as apps that will feed the hungry, voice-based interactions that allow people silenced by ALS to communicate, and how big data and advanced analytics are making new waves in government.

A Presidential Keynote and Changing Lives Through Digital Transformation

Obama started his keynote by acknowledging that SXSW represents a group of people who are bringing cutting-edge technology to the world. He went on to recruit the tech community to use big data, analytics, and technology to improve government and tackle big problems like curing diseases. He then elaborated on how, as he steps down, government needs to continue to undergo digital transformation.

Many of the world-changing technologies that won awards at SXSW seemed to underscore his message well. From a sharing economy perspective, ShareTheMeal won an award, and its app allows you to tap your phone and spend US $ 0.50 to feed one child for a day. They have already shared a whopping 5,000,000 meals.

Another winning, commercial innovation sought to help people people with chronic pain by using wearables. Quell® is the IoT version of aspirin—delivered through a mobile app and wearable band, it allows people to customize 100% drug-free chronic pain relief, without a prescription and with FDA clearance for use while sleeping.

In the 3D printing category, yes that is a category now, Wevolver won. The company offers a website where hardware projects can be shared much like open source software is shared. Designs include 3D printed violins, build it yourself SegWays, and several robotic hands.

Then, there was the award winner who told an emotionally gripping story from technology they built—a simple system to help a long-term ALS patient say “I love you, Lorraine” to his wife for the first time in 15 years. Technology can change lives.

Voice: The Next Human Computer Interface

While mobile apps have recently been the innovators for voice modality, this form of human computer interaction is quickly expanding, and SXSW showed off some of the newest examples.

First off, CapitalOne’s new Alexa skill allows you to pay your bills by voice, and they also opened up APIs in their new developer portal—these new products include two-factor authentication, rewards, and credit offers.

Born out of an Indiegogo campaign in 2014, the Jibo “companion robot” had a spotlight at SXSW as it readied for its fall release, leading up to the 2016 holidays. While the human-like emotional interactions, intelligent selfie camera, and plans for new social networking platform are compelling, we were most eager to dig into their GitHub repositories, the new tour of its SDK, and the recent SDK comparison to Amazon Echo. The kit includes editors for animation, behavior, and speech recognition rules.

Sony also showed off a new headphone prototype that is built for voice interaction. The “N” is product coming out of Sony’s Future Lab and sports a camera, GPS, and voice control, and early partners include AccuWeather, Strava, and Yelp. Now we can ask N about the weather before we run out to get a taco at that new place and upload a picture of it to Facebook. Or, we could just send our drone to go get it for us, as the FAA might be expecting.

Lastly, the creator of Siri launched the next generation virtual assistant, Viv. It plans to offer developers a plugin for creating more intelligent, conversational interfaces to anything.

Data Takes Center Stage

If all the new hardware and apps weren’t enough, data was also a big topic at SXSW.

With regards to industry standards for electronic health data, former (and first) U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, joined a SXSW panel and said, “In the US alone, the estimates on the misallocation or use of resources in the healthcare sector is a trillion dollar problem. This isn’t low hanging fruit. This is like we’re stepping on the grapes on the ground.”

DZone reported on big data startup Yet Analytics and the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) of the U.S. DoD, who presented an update on the Experience API. The platform supports a pretty robust set of developer resources and is expected to increase the ability to track training and performance analytics, combining data from web and mobile services, virtual reality, video games and simulations, wearables, and the Internet of Things.

Mixing music and big data, the Coachella and Bonnaroo organizers talked about the data inside festival goer apps and how it might help connect the feedback loop between artists and fans.

Another panel, covered how big data may or may not choose the next president, and emphasized that the data cannot do what messaging and creative do—send a strong message that resonates with people.

Finally, a panel including the University of Chicago’s Center or Data Science and Public Policy, showed off three tools that begin to power open government. These tools track bills and voting records, bill plagiarization, and congressional texts. In the future, we might just see a system that allows us to collectively score our government leaders on the delivery of their promises to each constituency.

Until next week…


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