Drones, bitcoins on wheels, and the rebirth of privacy

What happens when 75,000 professionals at SXSW (South by Southwest) from 74 countries with backgrounds in music, technology, and film get together for 10 days in Austin, TX? Quite a lot! Normally we write about investing but this week we’ve got a very different topic. I spent a week at SXSW 2014 and here are some of my favorite highlights.

Intellectual meets creative

SXSW (South by Southwest) began as a music festival in 1987 and has since grown to be one of the largest gatherings of entrepreneurs and entertainers in the world. While still retaining its core value, providing an audience for new and upcoming musical talent, SXSW has become a destination for motivated professionals to get creative, swap ideas, and collaborate in future business. It’s huge, and amorphous, sort of like the internet itself.


A focus on the need for privacy

SXSW is evolving little by little from a product launch festival to a global technology meeting of the minds. SXSW Interactive, the technology and startup side of the festival, focused this year on privacy issues. Addressing the crowd via satellite, Edward Snowden gave a keynote speech highlighting the current state of privacy as “at a crossroads”. While some argued to just adapt to the reality of a post-privacy world, others insisted on creating solutions to take back our privacy. Either way, these are the programmers who make it all happen so expect 2014 to include many privacy related startups. In that sense SXSW serves as a dense look at the bigger trends.

Here is a quick recap of my favorite moments of SXSW 2014: 

  • The modern equivalent of the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast panic may have happened when thousands of twitter users mistook the MIT Media Lab’s “one sentence science fiction” twitter stories as actual news events. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
  • There was a Bitcoin ATM on wheels – we love the irony of selling Bitcoins lemonade stand style. Don’t expect to be able to come back to complain. (picture at bottom)
  • To get into the free Jay-Z/Kanye West concert, all you had to have was a Samsung phone. Predictably, many bought new Samsung phones just to get in.
  • Just to remind us that not all tech innovation is as innocent as streaming music services or fitness tracking bands, the award for the most terrifying innovation on display was the Stun Gun Drone, a small and nimble flying drone outfitted with a stun gun.
  • And last but not least, local Bostonian Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab was inducted into the SXSW Interactive Hall of Fame.

(The Official Oh-So-Inviting SXSW Mobile Bitcoin ATM)

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