Perfect Porridge

SXSW 2013: Exponential Thinking, Exponential Opportunities

It was my seventh year attending South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas. Six years ago, in 2007, there was no Twitter. There were no iPhones. Many of the panels focused on pure tech, design and the potential impact of bloggers on the media. And there were very few marketers here (more on that nostalgic nonsense here).

This year, I feel like we’re reaching an exponential level of innovation. We’re building on the energy, platforms and ideas at a pace that’s exceeded what I’ve seen at the conference in these past years.

Here are some of the things I’m excited about this year:

A focus on human/tech experience over social
Technology empowers us and betters our lives in so many ways other than Facebook Likes and mommy blog posts (don’t get me wrong, I love a good mommy blog post). It was fantastic to see true innovation this year — ambient umbrellas that forecast the weather, replication technology to make copies of physical objects, affordable flying machines (drones), and more.

Cat videos as a statement of today’s culture.
Cats have always been a popular art and pop culture subject, but the Internet has improved distribution to the point that videos of cats are ubiquitous. Museums have always curated culture that’s representative of the time period. It just so happens a mass scale of people enjoy watching videos of cats today. The implications and social context are fascinating and scale well beyond cats themselves. My colleague, Danny Olson, covered this topic well in another post.

Using technology to create superhuman abilities and augmented experience.
The Revel project uses Reverse Electrovibration to enhance tactile perception on almost any surface in the world. It adds a layer of artificial tactile texture to almost any surface or object, even human skin. This technology, partnered with augmented reality innovations (like Google Glasses) could redefine our sensory experiences through both visual AND touch.

Tackling the data debacle hampering quantitative self
Nearly 15 percent of Americans are tracking themselves using technology, which is more than active Twitter users. Apple Stores sell more than 20 self-tracking products, and I’ll admit I’m wearing a Fuelband right now. In the future, wearable ambient intelligence will evolve from a sports and performance focus to daily healthy lifestyle tracking. Soon our clothes will have sensors built into them. And wearable tech will evolve into fashionable, seamless tracking that fits into our lifestyle. Although the data will be easier to track, store and aggregate, there isn’t a mindset of giving users open access to their data, let alone a platform to store it.

quantified self

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The personal part of personal computing wasn’t always the focus of technology, but today it’s the primary driver. The same focus will be true of quantified self as more people are introduced to the benefits of self-tracking. There are ecosystem benefits to letting people own their data, but no such system exists to incentivize organizations to let users have access. So far. The barriers to data access scale well beyond quantified self, but it’s clear that cost, complexity and security will be key to this trend truly reaching scale.

Federal commercial regulations for drones by 2015
Although there were drones flying around Austin last week, we’re not accustomed to seeing drones throughout the skies in North America. Yet. As of 2015, the media, marketers and brands will finally have regulations for commercial drones that can be used for capturing photos, streaming videos, building things and creating unique experiences. I personally think it will redefine brand journalism and publishing. I want one. Today.

3D printing and sensors
“Innovation is imagination applied” – Ping Fu.

I cannot wait for you buy a product at an online retailer and rather than have it shipped to you, they “whisper sync” the file to your tabletop printer. If I was Best Buy or Amazon, I would be focusing on getting smart printers into homes and offices so I can shift my business model from shipping products to shipping downloadable files.

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Also: sensors. None of the innovations I’ve named so far — ambient umbrellas, replication, quantified self measurement tools — would be possible without sensors. It may seem elementary, but I had never considered how crucial the sensor is to technology and innovation.

Robots are more human than ever
We anthropomorphize robots, and people relate differently to embodied technology. We’re still a ways off from the singularity, but they sure are getting smart enough that we believe they have feelings. And how we design them affects our experiences and how we treat each other.

We’re also starting to see new ways of relating to technology never before considered – like how pets will form bonds with machines.

And then there’s this blend of using human controlled robotics to create a trans-physical connection — even from Tokyo to Austin:

Hardware startups and “Make”-ing are the new apps
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New ways of exploring are coming to market as tech gets cheaper and simpler. We all love LEGO and using our hands, but we also love our computers. This is the best of both worlds.

Accessing your brain
Sick of organizing and curating your iTunes playlist? Let your brain do the selections…

Exponential Thinking
We’ve come a long way from the beginnings of the world wide web due to exponential growth..
tim berners lee sxsw

And Jason Silva, a fantastic curator of other people’s ideas, has a few parting thoughts about those exponential opportunities…

Until next year, I’ll see you on the Internet.