SXSW: March 8 2024

SXSW 2024 opened on a lovely spring day in Austin. A thunderstorm had rolled through around 7 AM, but within an hour, the sun was out. Bill and I hustled to get to the Austin Convention Center by 9 AM, since that’s when the Express passes (for the following day) become available online. We can tell that this will be an ongoing challenge over the next few days. Anyhow, opening day was fun, even though I spent most of it in Ballroom D.

Hugh Forrest Opening Remarks

SXSW Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest briefly introduced this year’s festival. He noted that 30% of badge holders are from outside the US. “Person-to-person connections are still the world’s most powerful technology.”

His tips for getting the most out of SXSW: Create a game plan. Push your boundaries. Be friendly to everyone. Joy of Missing Out (JOMO) > Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

Opening Session: Exploring Space & Poet Laureate Ada Limón

Ada Limón is the current US Poet Laureate. She explained, “As poets, our job is to make the music complete on the page.” Due to her love of nature, she wanted to link poetry and nature for her signature projects. For one of her projects, she wrote an original poem called You are Here. This poem will be inscribed on a plaque for an upcoming NASA mission to Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) which is scheduled to launch on October 10. Ada explained, “I know nothing about space, but I know curiosity.”  

Dr. Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, joined her on stage to discuss the intersection between poetry and science. As Ada noted, “Poetry is a little bit comfortable with unknowing. … It goes really well with exploration.” NASA has a history of trying to communicate about earth, including putting plaques on Pioneer 10 and gold records on Voyager. Ada read her Europa poem aloud, and Lori displayed a replica of the Europa plaque.

Ten Breakthrough Technologies of 2024

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, CEO & Publisher of the media company MIT Technology Review (related to MIT), started her talk by encouraging attendees to support independent journalism. Previous lists included: natural language processing (2001 – ChatGPT / AI), Smart assistance (2009 – Siri), crowd funding (2012), and smart watches and CRISPR (2013). Bill Gates has asked to pick the 2019 list, which included meatless burgers and carbon capture. She continued with the 2024 list of breakthrough technologies:

  1. AI for everything: Bias can be reinforced by AI; it will take some time to solve this. Expect more copyright lawsuits. Impact on jobs: retraining, hopefully not losses). Misinformation will get worse before it gets better. Deep fake photographs are hard to trace. Generative AI is costly: energy and data labeling by low-paid humans. No “killer app” has emerged yet. 
  2. Super-efficient solar cells: Cells made with perovskites are app. 50% more efficient. 
  3. Apple Vision Pro: Apple’s new headset has highest resolution and fully immersive experience ever. 
  4. Weight-loss drugs: Today almost 2% of the US population has been prescribed one of these drugs. Moving from injection to pill form.
  5. Enhanced geothermal systems: Expansion using fracking techniques, but can cause earthquakes.
  6. Chiplets: Smaller than current chips, chiplet packaging standard was just adopted.
  7. The first gene-editing treatment: Using CRISPR technology, a new drug was just approved to treat sickle cell disease. Costly now ($2-3M per treatment)
  8. Exascale computers: exaflop = 1 followed by 18 zeros. Two of these machines are coming to the US soon. Energy consumption will be an issue.
  9. Heat pumps: Much more efficient than gas furnaces, but also require more energy.
  10. Twitter killers: Interest in de-centralized platforms, such as Bluesky, Discord, Mastadon, Mostar, and Threads. “Ultimately, the real Twitter killer is Elon Musk.”

The public can vote for #11 at Choices are: Robotaxis, Thermal batteries, Lab-grown meat, Space X’s Starship. Here’s what else was considered, but didn’t make the list: new Alzheimer’s drugs, sustainable aviation fuel, solar geo engineering, male-male reproduction, and over-the-counter Narcan 

Keynote: Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen

Moderator: Erin Haines, The 19th News. Panel: Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, Katie Couric, Brooke Shields, Nancy Wang Yuen (Sociologist).

Meghan talked about writing a letter to change a gender-role commercial when she was 11. Brooke: “When I was 11, I was playing a prostitute.” Brooke worries about being a part of the sexualization of women, but was glad she did not move to Hollywood and went to college. 

Katie entered the news business in 1979, “I like to say, back when “harass” was two words instead of one.” The Mary Tyler Moore Show was an inspiration to her. She insisted on a 50-50 role with Bryant Gumble on the Today Show, although it didn’t always work out that way.

Nancy offered a sociologist perspective during the discussion, especially related to the Anenberg Mom’s Report. Meghan commented on how much hate is being spewed against women on social media. Katie talked about the negative impact of social media on girls. Nancy observed that women in many areas, including academia, are being attacked.

One bit of excitement: Prince Harry came in right before the session started and sat in the center of the front row. A crowd gathered to take photos. He rushed out right as the session ended, but I managed to snap a picture. 

After Harry left, the moderator and panelists gathered for a group photo.

Texas Hook ‘Em House

After spending hours in Ballroom D, I desperately needed some lunch, so I visited the University of Texas’ Hook ‘Em House. Their food looked like it was sitting out too long, so I didn’t eat there. However, I did snag a pair of Texas-branded shoelaces. Woo hoo.

The 4 Elements of Non-Obvious Thinking

After a mid-afternoon lunch at Newk’s on Congress Avenue, I went back to Ballroom D for Rohit Bhargava’s session. He’s an entertaining motivational speaker and author who is always popular with the SXSW crowd. Here’s some notable quotes: “Obvious thinking leads to a failure to imagine.” and “The people who understand people always win.”

Rohit listed five Barriers to Non-Obvious Thinking: 

  1. The rise of loneliness and anxiety
  2. An inability to pay attention to what matters
  3. The modern believability crisis, an unwillingness to trust anyone or anything
  4. Lack of purpose and motivation, an inability to imagine a better world
  5. Unconscious bias & low empathy

He also identified 4 Elements of Non-Obvious Thinking (with my notes/reminders here):

  1. Create space for new ideas: breathe (book: Breath by James Nestor), create oasis moments, Seven Minute Meet-up, practice mental time travel (book: Imaginable by Janet McGonigal), actually be an ally (book: Beyond Diversity by Rohit and Jennifer Brown and the womaninterrupted app)
  2. Uncover insights by exploring: notice long shifts, seek unfamiliar stories
  3. Find the focus with curation: see the big picture, curated SXSW itineraries and experiences (, bring out emotion, showed The Girl Effect video 
  4. Define a twist to be unique: hack human behavior, find option C, be unexpected

Sharpie X Paper Mate Studio

My last stop was a visit to this pop-up studio at Icenhauer’s on Rainey Street. They had good swag: a clear wristlet bag (perfect for concerts!) with markers, pens, and a pair of sunglasses. Plus I wrote out two postcards (with free postage!). Definitely worth risking my life to cross Cesar Chavez.

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