At this very moment, hundreds of thousands of people are buzzing around Austin, Texas for the world’s most innovative festival of music, film, connectivity, tech, and (unofficially) BBQ.  

Each year, the Interactive program mixes heavy hitting keynotes (Mark Zuckerberg spoke in 2008) with start-up events (Twitter launched there in 2007). The 2017 conference, which runs from March 10–19, will be no different.

Red Wire wrangles a ‘best of’ list that keeps mobile and tech front of mind.

Data-driven medicine

It might seem surprising considering Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling could be in the next room, but health is now a major draw card at SXSW Interactive. Big-data analytics is to be worth an estimated US$34.27 billion by 2022, so conversations around its effects on the medical experience are at the forefront in 2017.

Smartwatches and fitness wearables are up for discussion in Accuracy: Consumer Wearables and Research Coverage, which outlines the challenges facing the accuracy of wearables, as well as exciting potential impacts such as personalised medical programs.

Health apps is another huge growth area tackling a range of issues. Dunking on Disparity: Health Tech For All, which includes panellists from Dell and IBM, looks at the lack of access to mobile health tools and apps by low-income earners who need them most.

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Another must-see is Collaborative Innovation in the Digital Health Age. Mixing personalised medicine, artificial intelligence, and cognitive computing, this panel features giants of consumer wellness and big data such as IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Dell Medical School.

With the help of personal assistants connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables, seniors have a lot of gain from the health tech space. Merging Senior Care and Technology at Home looks at how entrepreneurs and IoT are changing both the way we age and think about ageing.

Virtual worlds

At SXSW 2017, there are VR meet ups, discussions about VR’s impact in Latin America, VR and the queer community, VR activism, and VR production in extreme environments.

A good place to start is Virtual Reality: The Make It Or Break It Years where the host and head of VR Austin, Patrick Curry, examines how far VR has come, the bumps along the way, and where it needs to go, now.

Medicine and VR collide in sessions such as Advocating for VR and Gaming in Hospitals, and Divisional Therapy: How VR Transforms Illness.

Infographic of IoT tech for senior communities

With a projected market value of US$162 billion by 2020, VR is on track to boom, and brands are taking notice. In Brands are Leading the Way to the Evolution of VR reps from Deutsch, MEC Entertainment and Moth + Flame shine a light on the innovative VR content currently built by brands.

MR and AR get a look-in, too. In Hololens, Magic Leap, and Making the Mundane Magical, Jake Lee-High from Future Colossal looks at the multifaceted world of Mixed Reality. And Meta’s Meron Gribetz explains how to Make AR Work for Developers and Designers.

The AI Agenda

At SXSW Interactive 2016, Sophia, an AI robot, took questions from the audience. AI takes center stage once again in 2017. Setting the tone are two panels: AI and Deep Learning, Are We Ready? and The Next Four Years of AI. The latter brings together a host of great minds (including Margaret Rhodes from WIRED) who will discuss the murky parts of the AI landscape, from governance to transparency.

Can I Trust My AI Therapist? examines how AI could assist with massive global health challenges, and Robo-Advisors: The Good, The Bad & The Future looks at the role of AI bots in investment.

AI ethics are another hot topic. Beyond BB-8: When Robots Start Acting Human discusses the impacts, risks, and massive shifts that the next phase of AI has in store.

Self-driving cars

Google used SXSW to test its Waymo self-driving cars last year and, with the self-driving market predicted to hit US$42 billion by 2025, they remain a firm fixture in 2017.

In Accelerating the Link to Self-Driving Cars, Danny Shapiro from NVIDIA discusses the reality of automotive’s deep learning dream and technology being developed by the industry.

Assimilating Cars Into Our Society asks speakers from academia and industry to discuss the regulatory issues of putting the cars on roads, which includes the million-dollar question: If something goes wrong, is an autonomous vehicle liable?

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In other sessions, reps from Hyundai, INRIX, and Samsung discuss how the policies of a Drumpf government could impact transportation tech, and It’s Like Uber for Healthcare imagines a world of on-demand health transportation.

Mobile first

Few SXSW Interactive sessions are without a ‘mobile’ component, but a handful put it front and centre.

Helen Crossly from Facebook chairs Moving at a Mobile Minute, which looks at the consumer behaviour of mobile-first shoppers. Jem Young at Netflix discusses what it really means for the company to be “mobile first”. Speakers from IBM and Eventbase Technology Inc examine how intelligent machines, such as Siri and Watson, affect mobile apps. And, From Mobile First to Offline First, which includes brains from Microsoft and IBM’s Watson program, dives into designing web, mobile, desktop and IoT applications with offline use in mind.

Got all that? Well, new speakers and program times are being added every day, so hit the SXSW Interactive site for all the up-to-date info.

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Camilla Gulli


Camilla Gulli,

As Editor at Red Wire, Camilla is particularly passionate about diversity in tech, content marketing, social media, and disruptive platforms.