March madness isn’t just about basketball

Technology matters in March at SXSW, GDC and GTC

Kathleen Maher

March is a huge month for new tech advances. It is the month of SXSW, GDC, and GTC, which are major conferences for us. Each one addresses different audiences and different subjects but it’s in the intersections where it gets interesting. SXSW has grown its movie festival at the expense of its Interactive festival. Interactive became huge and dominated SXSW for a while as digital technology come on the scene with CD-ROMs or followed by the world-shattering arrival of the Internet. It blew up with the web – tools become accessible and easy to use and a generation grew up using them—a generation of creators. But, somewhere along the line building a brand became everyone's job and South by Southwest Interactive became less of an instructional conference and more a showcase for the marketing class. Meanwhile, the movie festival is blooming and the music festival continues to turn Austin, and all its streets, bars, alleys, and back yards into parties. 

It’s worth noting that the tools for movie making are becoming ever more accessible and the channels of distribution are opening up. Video is truly coming into its own as a platform for communication and replacing HTML for many young creators. That may well be another reason more people are interested in learning the tools of movie making and video editing rather than writing code and HTML. 

Answered prayers: Japanese inventors came to SXSW with a sushi teleporter. The idea is that 3D printers are loaded with various food pastes, and they'll  print out perfect sushi rolls according to recipes sent across the Internet. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)


GDC has had a similar trajectory. In fact GDC and SXSW the were founded at about the same time. SXSW arrived in 1987 and GDC came on the scene in 1988. SXSW Interactive was formally introduced in 1994. Both SXSW Interactive and GDC were primarily instructional and utterly fascinating even to those just hanging on to the technical discussion. The game industry has enjoyed a long boom time, and it shows no signs of slowing down though it has changed in dramatic ways. It survived a dreary period of “serious” games, which often translated education into paternalistic show-and-tell, while training has been much better handled by the Internet and YouTube. The various attempts to address women in gaming were equally embarrassing and dreary until someone decided to ask women developers and creators what they thought. Whoa doggies, didn’t we have a good time with that?

This year we've seen mobile gaming take its place as an equal to PC gaming and the industry is moving to seamless gaming from mobile to console to computer.

Finally, Nvidia’s GTC comes along to finish the month off with visions of GPUs healing cancer, navigating the stars, and making movies.

As you’ll read in this collection of Tech Watch stories, these conferences and in fact any technical discussion today has to include AI, Machine Learning, and blockchain. For GTC, AI and ML are critical topics for Nvdia because it is battling enemies on every side from the CPU giants, GPU competitors and new processors designed specifically for AI, ML, and inferencing. Nvdia is a powerful software competitor as any processor maker must be these days and the lessons learned from GTC includes discussions of how a GPU-centric ecosystem can drive cars, cities, health care, and any big data problem the world might have. The bigger the better.

As we’ve gathered data from GTC and GDC I found some clues that might be having an effect on SXSWi. For instance, I attended a panel discussion of AI in fashion. I learned that companies are looking at what people are wearing and learning from that. OMG! You needed a computer for that? I was told that if I wanted my creative content to break out and get picked up by Netflix or Fox, I should make sure to get as many hits as possible on social media. I think I knew that before I went to Austin. I also heard that blockchain would transform the structure of music, media, real estate, banking. I didn't hear how exactly. Actually, in an informal poll I was astounded to meet so many young people who own cryptocurrency. In fact, while waiting in line for a movie, I asked a couple who had just told me about their cryptocurrency holdings. I asked them how blockchain would change the world and they told me they didn't have a clue but they bought Ethereum for a few bucks and it's now worth $700. So, it might well be changing their world. They were actors in the movie we were about to see, so they actually have several bets that might pay off. 

At GDC developers were able step by step show each other what they were doing to automate machine learning. On the show floor people were selling tools that could train bots, drive digital characters, and render in real time using AI as an accelerator. And of course, at GTC, scientists happily walked their peers through all the glorious, difficult, weedy details of blockchain, neural nets, machine learning, big data, and they had an audience eager to hear more.

In all, I submit SXSW Interactive is in the process of eating itself. The marketers have the reins and the talks are at such a high level as to be useless and they’re condescending to boot. It makes just as much sense to sleep late, watch YouTube videos of Bernie Sanders and Elon Musk and then go out to hear music, watch movies, and eat barbecue in someone’s back yard.

And that's why I'll keep going to SXSW.