Culture

5 of the Biggest Trends at SXSW 2014

Every year in March, around 30 000 people descend upon the city of Austin – that bastion of cool in the sea that is the state of Texas. The mega-event brings together music, film and tech enthusiasts, and it’s been known to launch careers of bands like the Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes, and kick off buzz for movies like the critically-acclaimed indie Short Term 12 (a must-see if you haven’t yet). It’s biggest impact is within the tech world, where Southby (as it’s affectionately known) has been the launching pad for Twitter and Foursquare. Disturbingly, this year’s event was marred by a car crash in which a drunken performer who was speeding away from police, rammed his car into a crowd outside one of the venues, killing 2 people and injuring dozens. It left a sombre mood over what is usually a festival occasion for celebrating new ideas. But, in the spirit of that celebration, the 5 trends  that stuck out most for me from this year’s event…

Your next favourite chef may not be a person…

IBM created a lot of buzz for its food truck that was giving out samples to show off Watson, the computing system best known for winning Jeopardy three years ago. It’s able to create food items no human chef could think up. Kenyan Brussels sprouts with sweet potato puree, ginger and almonds, anyone? How about a creamy Czech pork belly moussaka with peas, parsley root, cottage cheese and dill? With Watson, you input a region, a main ingredient or two and a type of food, such as soup or pie, and it analyzes thousands of recipes and matches chemical flavor compounds that are most likely to surprise people and also taste good. IBM says Watson is not meant to replace chefs, but it does show what cognitive computing is capable of. Like organizing my cupboard, perhaps?

* Hey Mr DJ, no need to put a record on…

A new start-up, called Lightwave, has created technology that pretty much makes asking for song requests unnecessary – because the DJ will be able to ‘feel’ what you want to hear. A-Trak played a party held inside a giant plastic igloo, where about 150 people wore special bracelets that measured their movement, body temperature and excitement level. The DJ had an iPad in front of him that showed the crowd’s excitement in real-time, and he could adjust it according to the dancers’ mood. Waitresses also served bottles of water when temperatures started rising too much from all the dancing. Lightwave believes the technology is useful not just for bands at concerts, but also for movies, sporting events and political rallies.

Make space in your wallet for Bitcoin…

An ATM installed on the floor of the SXSW Trade Show that allowed people to buy bitcoins using cash, together with the various panels dedicated to the subject, show just seriously we should be taking the headline-making currency, which was launched in 2008. Pundits like the fact that the virtual currency is a network that lets people transfer ownership, and is an alternative to buying services and products online via a public ledger. More bitcoin ATMs are due to be installed in Asia and Europe, and even rapper Nas, whose friend venture capitalist Ben Horowitz has invested about $50 million in Bitcoin-related start-ups, is a fan.

* You may finally be able to keep some secrets…

Security and privacy online were major themes at Southby this year, what with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and ex-CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden both beaming into virtual conversations. Both called for the public to be more conscious of the information shared online, and, elsewhere at the fest, Tor, the free software that prevents people from learning your location or browsing habits, was lauded. As was an app called Secret launched a month ago. It lets people share their deepest and darkest thoughts with the people they know, without their names attached. So kinda like Facebook, without the faces.

Get used to seeing everyone wearing glasses…

And not just the cool hipster kind. All throughout Austin, people could be spotted wearing Google Glass, giving rise to Instagram hashtags of the word ‘Glassholes’. The term entered the popular lexicon to ridicule early adopters of the technology that allows you to record things and surf the web through a glass panel you wear over your eyes. But, as pretentious as the wearers may seem, experts seem to agree that we are only at the beginning of the technology acceptance cycle, and there is much more to come from the potential Google Glass has to offer. Given the number of sessions devoted to it at Southby, it won’t be long before we’re all dealing with laws about where one can and can’t wear the glasses.

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