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SXSW 2024: Emerging Tech and Trends Shaping the Future

Zeno at SXSW 2024

Experts, leaders, creatives, athletes and artists from around the world gathered at the 2024 SXSW Conference in Austin, TX to share the latest on how technology is and will impact the world around us.  

It was a wonderful whirlwind of listening and learning, but one thing is clear - we are on the precipice of radical change when it comes to tech innovation and the ways it will reshape our economy and society.  

We’ve outlined five topics that will have the most impact:  

1. AI Should Not be Feared but Embraced.  

As you can imagine, nearly every panel at the conference touched on the topic of AI in some way, but the key theme this year was how humans can use AI to advance. There was far less fear of technology and more discussion around the importance of human oversight and direction. How humans can use AI as a tool to give them the time and space to think bigger, differently, and more complexly than before. AI will not replace jobs, but will replace aspects of jobs, so those that learn, embrace, and utilize the technology day-to-day will succeed.  

2. Connected Ecosystems Will Rule.  

There was plenty of discussion around the accessibility and practicality of the Apple Vision Pro, and  even more focus was put on the future of VR technology and how headsets will continue to evolve and become part of the technology ecosystem – they won’t replace laptops, mobile phones, and smart watches, but will continue to be more user-friendly and integrated into more everyday activities. With 1 in 5 kids under the age of 10 (Gen Alpha) already having a VR headset, this technology will evolve quickly.  

3. Seismic Shifts in the Sports Industry. 

There was lots of discussion about the impact of social media on the massive evolution occurring in the sports industry – most specifically around NIL/NCAA athletes and the emergence in popularity of women’s sports. Several panels discussed the monetary implications of these shifts – payment for NCAA players, the challenges of navigating NIL on a state-by-state basis, the increase in media buy budgets for women’s sports leagues, but the most interesting part of the discussion was the role that social media played in driving these monumental changes. Instagram, Snap and others gave athletes their own voice, their ability to control their own narrative as individuals outside of the team, school, location, etc. and the freedom to create and fuel fandom without the limiting factor of whether their game was on broadcast TV. It gave athletes the power and now the money is following.   

4. The Future is Immersive. 

The Immersive Futures Lab at SXSW continues to be a yearly showstopper, with tech startups across the globe descending on Austin and displaying incredible technology. This year the interaction between man and machine continued to be explored. Highlights included AI-powered biometrics that ‘read’ a person’s emotions and in turn produced a piece of art highlighting their emotional state. The impact of this technology is far-reaching, and the output could be more than a work of art, taking the shape of any media. Imagine a playable AI-powered video game stemming from your biometric reading, allowing you to combat or augment your emotions with tasks that support a healthy mind. One additional theme was the emphasis on haptics and ‘feeling’ what you’re experiencing. Cutting-edge technology allowed you to watch a video of a chef chopping onions while you ‘feel’ the knife hitting the cutting board in your hands. And yes, somewhere across the globe, John Connor was born. 

5. Biotech for Mental Health. 

The showstopper of the event was the Headspace XR activation - ‘your mind’s virtual playground’. The experience featured interactive mood-boosting games, one-on-one guided meditations and techniques to help strengthen mind-body connection through movement, breathwork and play. Headspace continues to innovate in finding unique ways to just straight up make you feel better. Simple tasks like picking up colorful orbs and launching them at the wall or engaging breathing techniques were accessible and surprisingly effective. They've effectively gamified meditation and other coping mechanisms in a fun engaging format.