Post-script to SXSW: geeks really are taking over the world and we’re all the better for it

I’m home now from SXSW and able to reflect on some of the bigger themes that came out of it. There was hard evidence that the “internet of things” is becoming a reality – from Google’s experiments with self-driving cars, a pair of talking shoes and the rise and rise of 3D printing. Software is the future of hardware. And it’s really only just begun.
Related to that is the theme of wearable technology. The Google Glass demo (which I am gutted to have missed) got a lot of buzz. Indeed, according to Mashable, it was the highlight of this year’s conference (http://mashable.com/2013/03/13/google-glass-buzz-sxsw/).

 

You can sneak a peak here:

 

 

Quite simply, this has the potential to revolutionise internet usage and the role it plays in our lives. If you think it’s ubiquitous now, just wait.
But for me, the biggest personal outtake from the conference was a sense of unexpected optimism about nothing less than the future of our planet. Or, more specifically, the future of human beings living on this planet.
When Al Gore was at his most passionate about the need to address climate change in his address to delegates on Sunday, he swept his arm across the assembled audience of technologists and exclaimed: “You guys can do this. It’s up to you!”
I smiled a little wry smile at the time. But the more I thought about it, the more I listened and watched and discussed with others, the more I became persuaded that not only was Gore right, but also that his audience are actually one step ahead of him. Geeks are taking over the world; and they might just save it.
Elon Musk, the SpaceX entrepreneur, led the way with his vision of every means of transport in the world going electric (with the ironic exception of rockets); and when he talked rather cryptically about the “hyperloop” – a “new form of transport” that is neither plane for train but which is cheaper and quicker than air travel – it felt credible coming from this man, rather than some Harry Potter like fantasy. After all, he is the only man in history to build a private enterprise that’s put a rocket into space. Several rockets.
Gore himself declared great belief in the decarbonisation movement and pinned his hopes for a return to free and open democracy on “the continued freedom and independence of the Internet.” He also pointed to the role of 3D printing in fashioning a new jaw for a woman who’d been severely maimed in an accident last year (http://alturl.com/3fgi5).
Chinese entrepreneur, Ping Fu, talked of the full potential of 3D printing as a technology that will eventually mean that shipping costs (and attendant environmental pollution), oversupply (and wastage) will be extinguished, as product designs are distributed virtually for local “printing.”
I also took tremendous heart from the intelligent and open vision for better use of aggregated data, which was expressed by Dennis Crowley, the Foursquare founder, and which was also present at a panel I attended on the future of Artificial Intelligence.
All in all, I thought, technology is going to be our salvation. Then I read this story (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21754915) about a business that is openly creating 3D printed gun parts…and I reined myself in a little. Technology, like science – and, for that matter, data – is intrinsically neither good nor evil. It’s the use we put it to that counts.
The good news for everyone working in the marketing industry – as both professionals and humans – is that the potential for doing truly amazing things with it are growing and growing and growing. If you want to reap competitive advantage in your job, though, you’d better keep up!

 

John Owen is Deputy Chairman of Dare and has just got back from SXSW

  • Alasdair reid

    Oh John.

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