As some of the frequent readers of this blog may know, Big Nerd Ranch was recently at SxSW in pretty full force. We threw an epic party the night of the 11th.
But contrary to its outward appearance, SXSW isn't just one big party. I learned quite a bit from the sessions I attended.
Captains of Industry, Movers and Shakers, and Statistics
Elon Musk was there to talk primarily about his rockets, speaking to the need of reusable rockets as important step in make human beings a "multi-tenant" species. Al Gore urged the masses to use their digital tools in order to let their voices be heard, Rachel Maddow was there promoting and reading from her new book and Nate Silver was there as well, talking about statistics.
These were all surely great speakers to get the privilege to listen to, but some of the most fascinating talks came from the lesser-traveled paths. SXSW 2013 had up to 30 sessions going on at the same time, so while I am sure I missed many more great talks than I got the chance to see, some interesting themes had become apparent by the end of the second day.
The Internet of Things
There were a lot of talks about the coming (already here?) internet of things at this year's SXSW. Many of the talks refered to this trend by name, and perhaps one of the most notable was Scott Jensen's talk about Bears, Bats and Bees. There were many other talks that also addressed the need for some sort of shared communication and capability-publishing protocol implemented on all of the growing number of connected devices that we have.
3D Printing Goes Mainstream
There were many talks about 3D printing this year st SXSW, and not just the nerdy kind that you might expect. There were talks about how 3D printing is making inroads into the fashion industry, as well as in other industries that have remained largely unaffected by the tech world. One panel cited the rise of 3D printing as the beginning of the third Industrial Revolution, and perhaps the return of manufacturing to America through a modern-day cottage industry.
One of the coolest announcements with respect to 3D printing was Maker Industries' announcement of the Digitizer, which uses a laser scanner to grab a 3D rendering of an object to be replicated and printed.
Of course, as with any new technology, the freedoms that 3D printing brings about are already being put to the test, with people printing ammo magazines and even guns themselves from their 3D printers. Not to mention the implications that the Digitizer brings (maybe I will download a car someday!). There's no doubt that 3D printing brings great power to the masses.
Startups, Startups, Startups
Did someone say "startups"? The answer is yes, yes they did. Many times. At this point, you would have to be living under a rock to be ignorant of the startup scene that has become almost synonymous with the tech industry. There was of course the requisite amount of noise that seems to constantly stream from the reality distortion field that is Silicon Valley, but there was also some refreshing talks about how to cultivate a successful, organic and sustainable (am I describing tech companies or fruit smoothies here?) business without taking venture capital.
A single person could not experience even a tenth of what SXSW had to offer, so I am sure that for every excellent talk I saw, I missed at least five others. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any end to this, as SXSW had record attendance this year at over 30,000 attendees. Thus my main wish for SXSW, and it is a doozie, is to be able to watch all the talks online after the event. This would be a crazy undertaking, but would certainly be worth it.