Outerspace attended the interactive conference and industry expo at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas this month. Demonstrations of creative tech products and services, exhibits, keynote speeches and industry panel sessions were everywhere in the downtown area. Creative trends in tech attracted large and successful companies, investors, and influencers.
The clear trending technologies on show were in artificial intelligence (AI) as well as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR, often contracted to “XR”). “Web3,” a buzzword with a focus on blockchain technology, was present but perhaps more muted after a year of cryptocurrency turmoil.
AI permeated everything, from chatbots, to drug therapy research, to HR tech companies that would use AI to match hiring companies with job candidates. The XR buzz centered around games, with a small set of companies and researchers exploring wider uses for the technology in education and collaboration tech.
I participated as a test subject for a research group (below), with sensors on my torso and face, VR goggles and headphones. They measured my reactions to each different music style as I raced around a virtual track.
Notable trends throughout the show included online security, diversity equity and inclusion (DEI), collaboration across industries, cannabis products, and climate issues such as e-waste and decarbonization.
In panels and among attendees there was plenty of talk about the fear of AI (taking over jobs, acting evil, and threatening humanity). The experienced, rational voices seemed to say that AI is simply a new technology like every other; it’s not good or bad but can be used for both.
AI tech must be treated with care like any dangerous but useful tool, and properly regulated by governments, if industry can’t manage to do it through consensus and standardization.
While ChatGPT recently took AI forward by a huge leap and made it accessible to the masses, the XR industry doesn’t seem to have generated that killer app yet.
It’s still in the realm of bulky, expensive equipment for limited applications, though a revolutionary product might be just around the corner; a few promising exceptions to the gamer focus were on display.
One company, HyperVSN, was showing off their “phygital” models, which were life-size holograms generated in real-time (imagine you could physically-digitally be “in the room” with a colleague from a remote location). Another company was showing desks that could generate holograms without special goggles (though you still need the desk).
The UK government was promoting companies they are funding to develop novel uses for XR technology, including a way to view historical tourist sites (like castle ruins) with period-accurate models overlaid on top, allowing you to get a sense of what the structure and even the culture of the time looked like as you looked towards the ruins.
For those of us in hardware product development, the SXSW show was an opportunity to get a first look at trends and new ideas as they’re launched and to be inspired by the diverse energy surrounding the festival.
Outerspace joined the Global Victoria SXSW trade mission, supported by the Victorian Government (Australia) and shared ideas with Australian businesses and entrepreneurs.
SXSW is going international for the first time later this year with a show in Sydney, Australia in October.