SXSW 2012 Recap: Keynotes, Social Media and Startups

SXSW Interactive came to an end yesterday. The five-day event started on a high note and ended with a bang. Big names and startups alike migrated to the capital city of Texas to spot potential investments and product launches. Social serendipity became one of the hottest items in this Austin conference as people of similar interests are brought together by the likes of Highlight, Ban.jo and the other discovery apps that made SXSW as a successful laboratory to test the latest in social tech.

Keynotes

In every tech conference, keynotes and discussions are very important elements for conveying the theme of the event. At SXSW 2012, several big names arrived to talk before  thousands of eager attendees. One of the most notable speakers was digital futurists Ray Kurzweil. In his speech he cited how artificial intelligence reshapes humankind. He opened some arguments to stir debate on the topic, saying,

“We are a human-machine civilization. Everybody has been enhanced with computer technology…they’re really part of who we are. If we can convince people that computer have complexity of thought and nuance … we’ll come to accept them as human.”

Meanwhile, TIME’s Lev Grossman pointed out the realities that could be generated by relentless technological advancement: losing humanity due to artificial intelligence domination, technology as a zero-sum-game that disconnects us from real relationships brought about by the immense love for smartphones, and that malevolent machines could one day possibly replicate beyond the control of men.

A fun panel  on Sunday morning asked the audience to explain how social media (especially Twitter) has changed the ways people critique television shoes or movies. At the CNN Grill SXSW, Path’s David Morin sat down to discuss key features of the app and how they learned from a recent security issue.

Social Media

The interactive festival peaked during the weekend. The announcement of Instagram coming to Android was a big hit. CEO Kevin Systrom further teased Android users that the forthcoming app promises to be better than the iOS version.  A live hackfest also took place with Hak5’s Darren Kitchen intruding the mobile phones of audience members, illustrating how vulnerable our devices really are.

Social networks Twitter and Google+ also participated on Day 2 and 3 of SXSW. Twitter, arguably the most successful of all products launched at this conference, was transformed into an avenue of voting for the Goody Awards. On the other hand, Google+ vehemently denied that they are giving up the “social” fight and explained that most interactions in the website are done privately. Angry Birds also shared the spotlight with the above-mentioned companies. The Rovio’s phenomenal game embarks on another adventure with Angry Birds in Space.

StartUps

It was probably one of the most explosive openings of SXSW Interactive in recent years. Four years ago, Twitter got its first taste of the spotlight during the festival. This Austin affair gives young talent the opportunity to share their products and services, exposed to a ready and waiting early adopter community. Newbies like Highlight showed huge potential in being a big name in the future. The app was made to bring together like-minded people and create location-based social networks.

Founder and CEO of Highlight, Paul Davison, shares their goals, saying, “nothing affects our happiness more than the people in our lives. But the way we find these people and bring them into our lives always has been completely random and inefficient.”

The People’s Choice Award at SXSW Interactive went to American Elect—a website dedicated for promoting third-party candidate in November’s U.S. Presidential election. This app is regarded as the closest to successful startup launches this year. Joshua Levine,  the CTO of American Elect, took pride in receiving the award and hinted that this is just a first of the many innovations that they will be introducing in the market:

“This award confirms that Americans Elect is not just a growing political movement, but also a groundbreaking and innovative tech startup. We’re honored to be recognized alongside so many other companies at SXSW using technology to empower people and improve the world around us.”

Another trending topic at SXSW 2012 is the marketing campaign “Homeless Hotspots”—where some homeless Austin residents wore Verizon MiFi 4G cards, providing web access in exchange for donations. It emphasizes the growing pains SXSW and the city of Austin face when it comes to an influx of tens of thousands of visitors for the annual event.