SXSW - a new collaborative future

May 1, 2017



Image via SXSW


SXSW took on another guise this year.  It focused less on what was new, and more on what was right.  

It was a year of stopping, thinking, and put simply: trying to make a plan for tomorrow rather than just ‘innovating’!  


Three key questions ran across the festival. 
Questions that most speakers touched on in some way. 

1. What makes us human?  

2. What are the cornerstones of a positive society?

3. What future do we want to bring into reality?  


Trump, and the post-truth world seemed to be the biggest driver of this shift. 

Trump has challenged Americans, and arguably the world’s view of what is right.  His election has made many of us “wake up” from our political slumber and realise how much we have all disengaged with driving the course of the future through our political vote, and our actions day to day.

But that has clearly changed… 

People want to make plans on the right way forward and they want to be actively involved in doing so. 



One big tension sat at the heart of these discussions: what is the right balance between ethics and freedom.  

Many acknowledge the necessity for greater rigour, and guidelines to be placed on all to ensure we don’t beak any fundamental tenants of society as we bring emerging technologies into the mainstream. However, many were struggling with how you do this and maintain the right to ‘freedom of speech’, and ‘freedom to experiment and invent’.  

The introduction of the journalism stream meant this was discussed in detail through the rise of the ‘post-truth’ world.  

Debates raged between the legality of fake news, with many stating that it was a fundamental human right to have access to information and that deceitful information undermined this right. Others championed (well only a couple really, it is SXSW) the right for anyone to post content, leaving readers to decide if it is relevant, and real.  Satire was an example used to illustrate the importance of freedom of speech. 



This tension was also explored when delving into the world of Bio Politics and Genetic Hacking. 

What should we be given permission to tamper with in our collective genetic code?  It could mean the end of disease, disabilities and potentially old age - so surely it is a great idea. However many championed the idea of diversity of experience and the benefit of struggle, pain and vulnerability in building a strong society.  Humans are built by their struggles as much as their successes.  

“Collective comfort” was the benchmark for when a new genetic technology should be pursued. 

When all have agreed and are comfortable with the changes, then we should go ahead. Although somehow I think that is a pipe dream. Progress is rarely held back by the masses, but championed and envisioned by the few. Most still use the old adage, ‘people don’t know what they want till they have it’… 



At the end of SXSW, what I was left with was the sense that no matter what topic we talked about there was increasing importance placed on collaboration; collaboration between different parts of society and the globe to build this vision for the future.  

Collaboration built on the ideals of: openness, authenticity, rational thought, and diversity of background and opinion. 

And at its very heart was the increasing collaboration between science and the humanities. Collaboration to build technology that fits into, and enhances society, our physicality and our way of life, rather than re-define it entirely.    


Kristy