SXSW 2018: Highlights, Talks on Artificial Intelligence, Design, Politics

Progress, Caution and Tough Topics – Our Highlights of SXSW 2018

From March 9th to 18th the SXSW 2018 took place in Austin, Texas. Jochen Denzinger was on site for Iconstorm to participate in a panel, to visit the most exciting talks and to bring impressions of the trade show and the many small side events back to Europe.

Visiting the world’s greatest creative spectacle

The sheer number of locations and attractions makes it impossible to experience the SXSW in its entirety. Its wide range of talks, topics and side events relating to the entertainment and technology sectors is both a blessing and a curse for the visitors trying to make the most of their days in Austin. Jochen Denzinger travelled to Texas and brought us many exciting impressions and pictures. We have compiled our highlights for SXSW 2018 from his reports as well as the many videos, articles and sound bites on the net. The central question here is: How can we take people along for the ride in this world of rapidly changing technology?


Bild: Austin, Texas vom Dach eines Hochhauses.
Austin. The peculiar Texas capital is the home of the SXSW.

The best talks  of SXSW 2018

Is technology growing up?

SXSW is traditionally characterised by technology and progress. However, when we browse through this year’s reports and talks, something was different than usual: because in 2018 sceptical tones mixed with the euphoria about technology that can otherwise be found at the event. Politics played an important role and in conjunction with artificial intelligence and social networks (once Twitter was launched at SXSW) topics such as internet safety, “fake news” and harassment were discussed. AI and Blockchain 2018 played a particularly important role in Austin, but a cautious, self-critical attitude resonated in many talks, panels and discussions that was previously rather untypical.


Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence and Mars Missions

No surprise then that Elon Musk came by on the Westworld Panel of all places. Westworld is an American dystopian TV show, roughly speaking, about the consciousness of intelligent machines and their coexistence with humans.

I am very close, to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me.
Elon Musk, SXSW 2018

Elon Musk came by spontaneously at the SXSW. He not only appeared with the Westworld-makers, but also answered some questions from the audience in his very own, humorous way during an interview session. He spoke about his fears about artificial intelligence, about human life on Mars and explained why he does not make business plans for his space projects. The interview is absolutely worth seeing.


Ray Kurzweil: The Power of Ideas to Transform the World

Futurist Ray Kurzweil and Jessica Coen (Mashable) discussed the rapid developments in the field of artificial intelligence. His prognosis: In 2029 it will outperform human intelligence in all areas and be able to pass the Turing test. No wonder Elon Musk is so afraid of the subject, because Ray Kurzweil is rarely wrong.


Bruce Sterling: Disrupting Dystopia

Bild: Bruce Sterling auf der SXSW 2018
Bruce Sterling at his keynote “Disrupting Dystopia” at SXSW 2018.

In the latest issue of his annual SXSW-Rant, author Bruce Sterling proclaims the death of Moore’s Law. Technology has now grown up and it is time to finally bring it together with the humanities. Because technology should always develop together with people. As always, Sterling brings us an extremely entertaining look at the tech and creative industries. A video of the talk is not yet online, but the keynote is available on Soundcloud.

There were also other noteworthy tech talks from Uber and Facebook, which focused on the topics of trust and responsibility. Both had to fight a scandal on the weekend immediately after the SXSW, namely on the one hand Facebook with the data scandal around Cambridge Analytica, on the other hand Uber, when a self-propelled test vehicle ran over a passer-by in Arizona.

Computer-people suck at predicting the future. They don’t want to understand, they want to solve.
Bruce Sterling, SXSW 2018


John Maeda: Design In Tech Report 2018

John Maeda is an advocate for a new type of designer who is moving away from visual design and closer to technology, exploring it and using it for their work. In his view, computational designers will be able to bring technology, business and design together. This makes him a kind of soul mate for us, because our own Strategic Design Framework goes in a similar direction.

88% of designers surveyed believe that it will be at least 5 years or more until visual designers are replaced by AI. AI can already do a lot right now.
John Maeda, SXSW 2018

This year’s main topics included artificial intelligence, which Jochen was also invited to speak on at a panel in the German Haus. The core of Maeda’s statement was that AI is now in an excellent position to master classic design tasks, which is why many designers fear for their jobs. His advice: As a designer, one should not be afraid of the topic, but should be involved in it; because one can also work very well with AI and it is our task to help shape the path of technology in the future.

The slides for the Design In Tech Report are all available online and we will discuss the talk in detail on our blog shortly.

Even more talks: Politics and Tough Topics

Bernie Sanders, Arnold Schwarzenegger, #metoo movement

As usual, politics also played an important role in Austin. The #metoo movement forced the organizers to take a more critical look at the topic of sexism, and important political personalities gave their assessments of the Trump Age.


Bernie Sanders: The Future of American Politics

Bernie Sanders spoke to CNN presenter Jake Tapper about his country’s future. No matter what one’s political attitude, it is simply fun to listen to the man, because he does not speak at all like a politician.

Jake Tapper interviews Bernie Sanders.


Arnold Schwarzenegger: Effective governance and his personal key issues

Arnold Schwarzenegger also paid tribute SXSW a visit and spoke to Isaac Dovere of POLITICO about his political principles and the issues that he still wants to work on now that his term as Governor of California is over.

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about effective governance and Gerrymandering.

Auf Wiedersehen Austin

All in all, we have to admit that we are not able to cover the SXSW in its entire bandwidth. There are many more interesting talks and interviews from the SXSW with people like Melinda Gates, organisations like NASA and with over 5,000 speakers overall. We therefore strongly recommend to browse the official YouTube channel or the Soundcloud site of SXSW, because there are lots of audio and video recordings.

Before we say goodbye to Austin, we would like to point out that Jochen will publish a personal experience report on our blog in the near future. In any case, we are looking forward to the next time!