POV: SXSWi 2017

By Rachel Lowenstein, Manager, Strategic Innovation, Life+, Mindshare NA


Austin’s SXSWi festival just wrapped: there were panels, interactive activations and galleries dedicated to the ever changing world of digital. From marketers to developers, publishers to neuroscientists, the festival had a diverse group of attendees. Below is our highlights.

Details and Implications:

Humanization of autonomous living was a huge theme, through VR, AR, AI and new tech. The view of a cognitive future where technology can better anticipate human needs was everywhere. Instead of technology interrupting the status-quo, SXSWi proved to be about technology enhancing lives, propelling rather than interjecting. This notion was not specific to one industry or technology. Rather, it was prevalent across emerging technology discussions.

One session outlined nine principles for developing AR (augmented reality) systems. Gamification and entertainment aside, the message was that brands should take mixed reality experiences through the lens of utility and value building first and make them shared. More, ‘grab an augmented remote to rent a movie from Amazon then watch with your family on TV’ vs. ‘wearing a headset, rent a movie in a VR app store, and watch the movie alone. The commentary was that VR isolates us from human interaction while AR can deepen connections.

AI was promoted as the connective tissue of autonomous living that will predict what we want and need. From chatbots providing new forms of customer service, e-commerce and messaging, AI will drive a cognitive future across interfaces. The real question being asked here is what human interaction is this replacing and how does that drive value? Through efficiency, service or exclusivity? The interfaces we can build for bots are endless but brands need to make sure that bots have human touches to ensure they are well received and used.

New interactive surfaces were presented as another way that the digital world is enhancing the human one. Sony and dozens of start-ups in the trade show showed off projections with sensors that users could engage without having additional screens in front of them. Health-tech start-ups are doing away with wearables, instead offering tattoos to monitor robust health metrics. In the long run, we’ll see hardware getting smaller or disappearing entirely as we infuse interfaces with anatomy and real objects, meaning brands will need to adjust social media, digital, and connected device strategies as screens shift to actual physical environments.


SXSWi remains a huge melting pot of inspiration, innovation, parties and BBQ. It is quite unlike any conference you will attend elsewhere (and that is without attending the film, music and comedy versions of the event, some of which run concurrently). In previous years VR, AR and AI have all taken center stage, whereas this year we saw them coming together to create a vision of what our future lives could look like. For more insights and in depth coverage from SXSWi, please go to MindshareInTheLoop.com for the team’s daily recaps.