SXSW ’24 Recap: Exploring the Future of Interaction Between Humans and Technology

By : Miguel Caeiro


SXSW 2024 was much more than a tech and innovation event. Over the first five days, experts from various fields gathered to discuss the latest trends, ethical and social issues, shaping the future of society in an increasingly digitized and interconnected era. Here’s a daily recap (March 8-12) of the top discussions on each of these remarkable days. 

March 8th
Day 1 – Contemporary Perspectives

The vibrant scene of a bustling conference was permeated by remarkable talks that prompted deep reflections on crucial issues of contemporary life. On this first day, two sessions stood out not only for their relevance but also for the depth of insights they offered.

“Learning to Love Midlife”, a talk by Chip Conley, brought an innovative and thought-provoking approach to the aging process. Conley challenged the traditional conception of midlife as a crisis, viewing it instead as a phase of metamorphosis comparable to the transformation of a chrysalis. He expanded the definition of midlife, extending it to age 75, and emphasized the importance of curiosity, wisdom, and social relationships at this stage of life.

On the other hand, John Maeda addressed the intersection of design and artificial intelligence (AI) in his talk “Design vs. AI.” He presented fascinating examples of how design can humanize technology, emphasizing the importance of ethics and human values in the development of technological products. Maeda prompted reflections on the impact of AI on education and the job market, highlighting the need for adaptation and the acquisition of new skills. 

In addition to these talks, a panorama of emerging themes was offered, covering renewable energies, genetic editing, and the potential of psychedelics. Atomic energy emerged as a safe and sustainable alternative, with advanced fast fission reactor technologies promising to revolutionize the global energy landscape. Meanwhile, CRISPR genetic technology has emerged as a powerful tool in healthcare and agriculture, although it raises complex ethical questions that require stringent regulations.

A unique perspective was cast on psychedelics, highlighting their potential to stimulate creativity and innovation. However, the importance of education and awareness about these substances was emphasized, underscoring the need for caution and safety in their exploration.

In a constantly changing world, these talks and insights offered a powerful reminder of the importance of adapting and embracing transformations, whether in the life cycle or in the evolving technological landscape. Each talk not only illuminated crucial issues but also inspired participants to contemplate their role in building a more ethical, sustainable, and humane future.

March 9th
Day 2 – Technological Innovations

This day offered a variety of perspectives and talks that not only explored the role of technology in contemporary society but also addressed crucial ethical and strategic issues for the future. 

Amy Webb, in her annual trends report (which you can access here), introduced the concept of the “technological supercycle,”  highlighting the convergence of artificial intelligence, interconnected device ecosystems, and biotechnology. Her analysis not only predicts the future but also raises important ethical issues, such as data privacy and cybersecurity, emphasizing the need for diversity and representation in developing AI models.

Another talk, “Can AI Close the Health Gender Gap?,” brought to light the gender disparity in healthcare and questioned whether artificial intelligence could help close this gap. Despite advancements, it was acknowledged that addressing the problem will require more than just adding data; it is essential to recognize and address the unique differences in women’s healthcare. 

An innovative presentation revealed urban segregation and proposed inspiring solutions, such as the “Reconnecting Communities” program in New York, which uses technology and historical data to promote racial justice and repair in communities divided by major highways. 

The talk “What’s Next?! Preparing for the Next Global Crisis” emphasized the importance of prevention and global cooperation in mitigating future health crises. It emphasized the need to collect data early for effective action, recognizing the challenges of international data sharing.

Additionally, other talks explored ethical issues in artificial intelligence and user experience, advances and challenges in quantum computing – a new topic introduced by Hugh Forrest at SXSW, and the importance of strategic forecasting to prepare organizations for unpredictable futures.

This day not only reflected technological advancements but also highlighted the importance of considering the social and ethical impact of these innovations. With responsibility and collaboration, we can shape a promising future where technology becomes a force for the common good.


March 10th
Day 3 – More Innovation, Technology, and Social Issues

The third day offered a rich experience in insights and perspectives on the future of creativity, technology, and marketing. Three talks, in particular, stood out, providing fascinating insights into the evolution and adaptation to the contemporary world.

In the talk “Designing the Future: How Innovators Create What’s Next,” participants were taken on a journey through the history of creative and innovative thinking, highlighting the importance of empathy and sustainability in innovation. The need to understand and address consumer needs was emphasized, as was the responsibility to design the future considering its long-term impact.

The talk “Apple Vision Pro: Isn’t That Spatial?” explored immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), highlighting their promises and ethical challenges. The seamless integration of these technologies with the existing environment and the need for regulation for responsible use were discussed, demonstrating their transformative potential and the imperative to design the technology thoughtfully

The session “Rebranding the Role of the CMO” discussed the adaptation of marketing leaders amidst the evolution of the modern market. The importance of consumer engagement, building trust and authenticity, and the crucial role of artificial intelligence in innovation were emphasized. Balancing long-term vision with pragmatism was highlighted as essential for building lasting relationships in a constantly-changing world.

Additionally, the third day of SXSW2024 provided an immersion in various themes, from the latest technological innovations to fundamental social and ethical issues for the future of society. Revolutionary technologies, such as advanced haptic technology (technology that acts on tactile experience) and hologram transmission systems, were showcased in the exhibition area, offering participants a practical view of technological possibilities.

Social and ethical issues, such as digital privacy protection and technological accessibility, were also discussed. Strategies for addressing challenges, such as compliance with data protection regulations and promotion of a cybersecurity culture, were highlighted as fundamental for an ethical and sustainable future.

The third day offered a vision of the future driven by innovation and technology and also highlighted the importance of considering social and ethical issues in the pursuit of a better and more inclusive world. With empathy, creativity, and responsibility, we can shape a more promising future for all.

March 11th
Day 4 – The Co-evolution of Artificial Intelligence and Humanity

The fourth day of SXSW2024 further explored these issues, highlighting the importance of preparing for different future possibilities and the presence of women in design. How to invest in security research and prepare for the transformations brought about by artificial general intelligence (AGI) were important topics. There was a profound reflection on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the co-evolution of humanity, emphasizing the importance of addressing ethical, governance, and future preparedness issues.

In the talk “AI and Humanity’s Co-evolution with OpenAI’s Head ChatGPT,” Peter Deng, VP of consumer products at OpenAI, offered a deep insight into the impact of AI on society. He emphasized that AI does not replace human skills but complements them, expanding our ability to explore deeper questions and enhance our cognitive abilities. Deng also discussed the importance of addressing ethical and governance issues to ensure that the benefits of AI are distributed equitably and its impacts are monitored and regulated responsibly. The concept of AI and society’s co-evolution was discussed, with emphasis on how AI is shaping not only how we perform tasks but also our social and cultural interactions. Deng emphasized the importance of developing AI to be sensitive to diverse perspectives and cultural values around the world, avoiding the creation of biased or discriminatory systems.

The presence of women in design was highlighted in the “Lightning Talks” led by Women Talk Design’s CEO Danielle Barnes, whose organizational mission is to amplify the voices of women and non-binary people. The talks offer speakers the opportunity to practice short speeches in front of a supportive audience and receive feedback. (I really appreciate this effort as a speaker of English as a second language!) Three speakers shared their perspectives on how designers can think about their art, user behavior, and public spaces from a new perspective. 

Mirandy Kim spoke about the importance of resilience in design amid economic challenges, pointing out that major recessions serve as catalysts for innovation. Melody Ethley spoke about the urgent need to invest in shared spaces, such as libraries. And in the third talk, Elise Entzenberg Dayton said that human emotion is deeply misunderstood, despite the dynamic force that emotion has on human behavior and decision-making. This is why she suggests creating meaningful projects with a holistic perspective on human emotion.

This day offered a foundation for discussing and exploring the challenges and prospects of the co-evolution of AI and humanity. With a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach, we can shape a future where AI is developed and used ethically and beneficially for all.

March 12th
Day 5 – The Transformation of Work and the Rise of Artificial Intelligence

The fifth day was marked by a profound reflection on the future of work and the growing influence of artificial intelligence (AI). The talks addressed themes such as co-creation, consumer trends, and conversational AI, highlighting the importance of adaptation and inclusion in the technology era.

Ian Beacraft’s talk, CEO of Signal and Cipher, offered an optimistic view of the impact of AI on the future workforce. Beacraft emphasized that AI does not replace human skills but complements them, allowing people to become “creative generalists.” He stressed the importance of organizations recognizing the value of these professionals and adopting a more flexible, people-centered approach.

According to him, AI is creating a new job market, where each person is seen as a critical resource, generating new opportunities for everyone to reach their true potential. In other words, AI is leading humans to their best. 

Other talks explored co-creation between humans and technology, highlighting how this collaboration is transforming business models and our interaction with the world. Adaptability and inclusion were pointed out as essential elements for addressing challenges and seizing opportunities brought by technological advancement.

Future consumption trends were presented, emphasizing the importance of sustainability, automation for time release, changes in the job market, and consumer empowerment as producers. Conversational AI was addressed, showing how this technology can authenticate and expand the reach of human stories, preserving unique memories and wisdom for future generations.

This day offered a comprehensive view of the future of interaction between humans and technology, highlighting the transformative potential of AI. Although there are challenges and resistance, the opportunity to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to explore their full potential is immense and worth pursuing. With adaptation, inclusion, and an optimistic approach, we can shape a future where AI leads us to our full potential as human beings.

The event offered a platform for companies to stay updated and reflect on the ethical and social impact of their practices, while at the same time empowering and encouraging participants to leave the position of spectators and become agents of change. I was heartened that Vidmob fit so well into these conversations. As a global leader in the generation and analysis of AI-based creative data, we inform and empower the decision-making of marketing and media professionals, which has resulted in transformative impact for some of the biggest global brands. The debates at SXSW reinforced Vidmob’s belief that AI will not replace human labor and instead take a more optimistic approach: humans will provide AI the needed context, cultural nuances, and expertise to maximize our collective potential. We’re on our way.