When South by Southwest kicks off March 10, more than 400,000 people will descend on Austin for 10 days. Some come to find out what's hot (or not) in startups. Others come for the film or the rock 'n' roll. Almost everyone comes for the barbecue. Inc. will be reporting on the ground during the interactive portion of the festival, which offers more than 1,300 different sessions on all things tech-related. Among those sessions, five key themes are likely to dominate:
It's inevitable that politics will permeate SXSW, especially since the Trump administration's stance on immigration and keeping jobs stateside has riled the tech industry. Some sessions are designed to address politics head on: U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey will be the conference's opening speaker on March 10, discussing the difficult task of bipartisan problem solving. CNN analyst Van Jones, who gained a high profile for his strong and pointed commentary during election season, will speak about the current state of affairs, as will venture capitalist and guest Shark Tank investor Chris Sacca, who has been a vocal critic of Trump since long before he came president.
The biggest political fireworks could come when fellow Shark Mark Cuban takes the stage on March 12. Cuban, who called Trump "the best thing to happen to politics in a long, long time" in 2015 but turned his back on the candidate as election season wore on, will serve on a panel discussing governmental obstacles to disruption. The entrepreneur is never one to keep his opinions to himself, so it's probably a matter of time until he sounds off about the president's controversial travel ban or unsubstantiated voter fraud claims. Worth noting: A recent poll revealed Cuban and Trump would be neck and neck if an election between the two were held today. Buckle up.
2 Artificial Intelligence.
It seems like every day there's a new breakthrough in A.I., whether it's a system that consistently renders the same verdict as trial judges or a computer capable of winning millions of dollars from the world's best poker players. The tech industry will zero in on a variety of topics involving A.I., including which fields will be the next to feel its impact as well as the thorny privacy issues that are sure to arise. In one session, Rohit Prasad, head scientist for Amazon Alexa, will discuss A.I.-related regulation with tech policy leader and U.S. Representative from Washington Suzan Delbene. In another, IBM Watson's CTO will explain how the technology works and what it's really capable of.
Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, will discuss the changes to the educational system that will be necessary to make sure that future generations are fluid in artificial intelligence. And some specifically themed panels will cover topics ranging from how Disney uses A.I. to enhance its theme park guest experience to how athletes can employ A.I. during training--and how those use cases will continue to evolve.
3. Job Displacement.
A recent Forrester analysis concluded that 6 percent of all jobs in the U.S. will be replaced with robots by 2021. Tech companies, which often like to focus on how automation will bring about quality of life improvements and business opportunities, are going to play a huge role in this job shift. Otto, the startup behind the self-driving tractor trailer that recently completed a 120-mile beer delivery, will be on hand to discuss automation and the effects it will have on society. Many experts say that driving jobs will be among the first and biggest casualties, thanks to the growing capabilities of autonomous vehicles.
It's possible that not even the arts will be safe from automation. Advertising agency Team One let robots conceive, direct, and produce a film, and will unveil the results at the festival. One potential solution to help mitigate all this job loss could be universal basic income--a government-provided monthly stipend for each citizen. A panel about job loss will feature the French Digital Council, an advisory commissioned by the French government to study the future of jobs, which will discuss that country's growing momentum toward the policy.
The skies above are becoming more and more accessible thanks to companies like SpaceX that are finding ways to drastically reduce the cost of a flight beyond Earth's atmosphere. In a March 15 session, startups Planet Labs and Descartes Labs will discuss the potentially big business of launching satellites into space to observe every corner of the world. In another, geospatial company Spaceknow will show off its tech, which processes and tries to make sense of the huge swaths of data that satellites and drones collect.
Elon Musk's far-fetched plan not only to get humans to Mars, but to inhabit it, has evidently driven interest in the Red Planet: A team of NASA scientists will talk about the challenges of living on Earth's neighbor, while Lockheed Martin and NASA will combine to talk about the interplanetary travel systems that will take us there. And for the even more romantic types, a March 15 talk featuring a collection of astrophysicists will look to answer the existential question: Are we really alone?
Widely publicized accusations from an Uber employee have shined an even brighter spotlight on the sexism and lack of diversity in the tech world. SXSW will tackle those issues from a variety of angles. A March 13 session with Glassdoor will present data illustrating the pay gap and advising how companies can help close it. Another, featuring execs from PayPal and Salesforce, will discuss the role of the tech industry in trying to shape LGBT hiring laws and best practices--especially in states like Indiana and North Carolina, where recent legislation has opened the door even wider for legally permissible discrimination.
On March 12, Inc.'s own Salvador Rodriguez will host a panel featuring execs from Pandora and Code2040 analyzing whether the so-called broken pipeline is really to blame for the underrepresentation of minorities in the tech world.
For more of Inc. at interview with the brother-sister leadership team behind social-media company Imgur on March 10.SXSW, check out editor James Ledbetter's