SXSW: Highlights from 14th March

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SXSW is one of our favourite events of the year. The world renowned festival provides an opportunity to learn about the latest technologies and trends that will shape the way we see and interact with the world tomorrow. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.

This year, we sent Head of Strategy, Claire Knapp and Senior Planner, Sarah Price to the event in Austin. Despite being exceptionally busy and wanting to see at least 4 sessions at any one time, they have promised to send us their daily highlights. Their Tuesday highlights are detailed below.

Telepathy meets medical imaging 
SXSW has been taken over by machines. Not in the literal sense, but a huge number of talks have been focused on how AI will revolutionise production, de-risk and accelerate healthcare etc. This, and the ethical implications of it, are everywhere in SXSW. But what about accelerating human intelligence?

Mary Lou Jepsen’s new start-up, Openwater, wants to help doctors detect cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with hi-res, affordable, wearable MRI machines. By re-inventing the physics of the device, Lepsen hopes to use infra-red to look into our bodies and brains in much greater detail than ever before. The opportunities are vast. Not only will this improve diagnostics and monitoring. But in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s exposure to infra-red stimulates neurons, nurturing and boosting cell processes; potentially improving speech, cognition and freezing episode, all through non-invasive means.
Beyond health, by understanding the mechanisms of the brain, the potential is there to visualise not just brain pathways and patterns, but language too. We can transcend language. With the ultimate goal of rapidly sharing and communicating by thought alone. SXSW called it jokingly ‘telepathy’. I can’t think of a more apt term. It sounds out of this world. And it is. It has been by far the most mind-blowing talk I’ve seen this year – if you’ll excuse the pun. Intelligence Augmentation maybe the tool that enables us to not only better understand ourselves, but each other and every living thing.

Art + Science: Videos that inform, inspire and scale
Video is increasingly dominating the internet and transcends social platforms. People, of all age groups, gravitate towards this medium. Particularly for brands, social video offers ample opportunity – no other medium affords the same level of persuasion or emotional connection as video. But in a world where highly crafted video is expensive, and we only have 1 second to capture the attention of our audience, how can we create high value video that our audience wants to engage with? From this talk, it seems the simple answer is just to create videos about avocado recipes, but in reality successful video content is driven by three components: our brand story, audience data/insight and collaborative stories. By looking at the intersection of these three elements, we can create truly impactful video content.

Re-imagining death: a design movement challenge
SXSW is not just about the tech. It is a fantastic place to learn how user centred design can tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. And in this instance, it was death. Death is one of the largest areas of unmet need in health, yet it’s often overlooked in Western societies that look to prolong life, not embrace death. Realising this, OpenIDEO challenged their community to generate ideas on how to design a better ending. The stories and ideas were moving and powerful.

My favourite two were:
Sound Will: Alarms, monitors, the whirling of machines. Sounds in hospitals have been shown impact patients subjective well-being. During a spell in hospital Yoko, a Sound Alchemist, realised this. She made it her aim to help humanise patient experience by enabling end of life patients to develop their own ‘sound scape’ wills. Empowering people through their final stages.

Vykarious:  A wonderfully simple idea. It’s a platform that helps people realise their bucket list by connecting them to people who can fulfil them and share the experience. I think we can all see the benefit that this idea could bring to those who are ill or elderly and may often feel alone and disconnected.

These ideas, and the many more that were developed, help us to remove the shroud of taboo and medical process over death. Restoring humanity, connection and empathy that we all seek when our life comes to an end.