Here are some themes the team found interesting:
We Need to Plan Now More Than Ever: The Future Is Exciting…and Potentially Scary
Tech is moving fast, and we need to make sure we create scenarios that account for rules, guidelines and safety measures so that future experiences are inclusive and safe with users’ needs at the center. Amy Webb specifically spoke about imagining a future we want to live in as opposed to just letting technology run its course.
After the initial rush of interest to see what answers we humans could get from AI technologies like ChatGPT, which was a relatively passive relationship, we heard several examples of how humans quickly learned AI's limits, and then pushed past them to more interesting uses, actively collaborating with AI. Instead of asking for answers, people asked it for questions, critique, microanalysis, and for first takes or brainstorming. Kevin Kelly predicted we would all be using AI as 'universal personal interns or UPIs for short', which would allow people to enjoy more time for creative work.
Humans Who Understand Other Humans Make Better Products and Brands
Many discussions were about asking better questions, connecting different perspectives, and designing for neurodiversity. The newest tech is exciting but it's not always the complete answer. The largest trends identified were not singular but rather connective ideas, like a stereogram; the patterns might not be obvious at first, but there is a hidden interconnected image hiding in plain sight. Emotional intelligence, curiosity, and the ability to create meaningful experiences are critical human strengths for successful outcomes.
The Metaverse is Going Specialized
The idea of "one" metaverse is still far away, meanwhile it's starting to find more specialized applications, like the medical metaverse, or movie and entertainment industry metaverses. There was speculation that the Metaverse is in a moment like the Internet of 1990 which was a time before the internet found its dominant form.
Tech and Art Have Never Been Closer
Art is often the earliest adopter of new trends, ideas, and technologies. Art helps us visualize and make sense of the new before it's ready to be integrated into our day-to-day life. There were collaborations between artists, technologists, and scientists which brought together the connection in spaces throughout SXSW. Specifically, "Quantum Jungle" by Robin Baumgarten calculated Schrödinger’s Equation to model the movement of a quantum particle demonstrating quantum mechanics with light and movement. Another installation, "Mixanthropy" by Mechun Cai and Yiou Wang features a '3D body deformation and metamorphosis into humanoids, chimeras, and otherworldly beings' which utilize MIT Immersion Lab technology, CGI, and self-trained AI displayed as if captured with an innovative plexiglass pyramid structure.
Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI)
We heard from a tetraplegic who'd had a BCI implanted to allow him to use a controller with one hand. Most of the progress so far has helped with neuromuscular control, typically limbs. Though it is early technology, there's optimism about the potential beyond neuromuscular control.
Expectation of 100 Year Lifespans
The decrease in the population replacement rate in most first-world countries is compounded by the possibility of many more people living past their '90s. This will likely place an additional strain on our social, governmental, and economic systems. There was an entire track dedicated to supporting better healthcare outcomes utilizing technology and design.
Surprised by their Absence
A few themes didn’t get much, or any, exposure. For example, geopolitical trends were almost entirely neglected (will the demand for lithium needed for EV batteries shift economic power to the countries with lithium deposits, like oil did in the last century?), fintech was surprisingly downplayed, and the stress on political, legal, and social institutions caused by the rate of technology change were occasionally implied but not featured.