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SXSW 2024 Recap, 12 Favorite A.I. Sessions, and More!

Helen Todd

This SXSW 2024 recap and roundup has my list of the top A.I. sessions I attended, my high-level SXSW session takeaways, and includes the session descriptions with embeds of the full session videos or audio, which are all available now!

The Magic of SXSW

First and foremost, I love SXSW! This was my 13th in Austin, TX, and over the years I’ve spoken on stage, served as an advisor, and this year, I was an official mentor. The mix of inspiration, access to incredible people (like NASA astronauts!), amazing networking opportunities, and getting a glimpse into the future — the magic of SXSW keeps me coming back every year. Oh, and it’s also incredibly fun, known as nerd spring break for a reason! I’ve met dear friends, and as a self-proclaimed panel nerd, I still reference and re-listen to sessions from years ago that were thought-provoking…and still have me thinking about them!

Annual Creativity Squared SXSW Dinner at La Condesa

Ahead of Creativity Squared’s one-year anniversary coming up in April, I was keen on consuming as many sessions and conversations at the intersection of A.I. and creativity as I could. Of course, A.I. was a massive theme this year. So much so that SXSW added an entire week-long track of over 1,500 sessions and programming just to cover topics around artificial intelligence. Over the course of my time at the festival, I went to around 20 different sessions, attended the Austrian Chamber of Commerce BOLD events, joined the Trailblazers & New York Times dinner, geeked out at the Future of Human & Machine Intelligence: Garden Party Salon, met other fellow Emerson alumni at the school’s happy hour, and hosted my annual Creativity Squared dinner. There was no shortage of fascinating conversations and food for thought as we’re in a massive technological transformative period.

SXSW is filled with beautiful serendipity and synchronicities. One takeaway in the midst of all of this technology is how important in person presence and coming together is for human connection, idea-sharing, and envisioning the world we want to co-create together.

Apollo humanoid robot with Helen Todd

Below are some of my favorite sessions and why. The good news is that they were recorded and already available so you can listen or watch the full sessions! (The team at SXSW turned these around incredibly quickly to make them accessible this fast!). I have many more sessions bookmarked to still go through, and if you only listen to one full session, listen to the one and only futurist Amy Webb who I got to meet this year. Her session is always a favorite and this year’s comes with a big call to action:

We have to fight for the future we want.

As always, a massive shoutout filled with gratitude to the whole SXSW team for all of their year-round hard work which makes the magic of SXSW possible!

Helen Todd and Amy Webb

Top 12 SXSW 2024 A.I. Sessions & Takeaways

As mentioned above, with thousands of sessions to choose from, this by no means captures the full festival, but were my favorites I attended at the intersection of A.I. and creativity. Included are some themes and my high-level takeaways from the sessions.

“The wave of innovation that’s coming is so intense, it’s so potent, and so pervasive, it will literally reshape our human existence in ways that I think are exciting and good and absolutely terrifying.”

Amy Webb
  • BONUS: AGI and singularity buzzwords — In the conversations I had, artificial general intelligence was discussed more than singularity; however, ‘singularity’ was in a lot of session titles I wasn’t able to attend. The general feeling I got is that AGI is achievable within 5-10 years, a decentralized version is down the line but has too many vulnerabilities now, and AGI being trained only on the laws of physics vs on human data is when things will get much more interesting!

Glimpse into the Future

Amy Webb Launches 2024 Emerging Tech Trend Report

“The technology supercycle is here, and it’ll change the course of human history… we don’t have to submit, we don’t have to give up our agency.”

Amy Webb

🔑 HELEN: We have a lot to do to collectively co-create the future we all want to live in — Amy Webb’s presentation is always one of my favorites, and she presents different scenarios, usually one more utopian and dystopian possibility. This year’s possible future scenarios give one pause when it comes to what could go wrong. We’re in a supercycle tech trend with the convergence three general purpose technologies that include A.I., the Internet of Things (IoT), and biotechnology that are going to touch every facet of our lives.

With the consolidation of tech power in the hands of a very few, she called “Free Market Techno Authoritarianism,” she reminded us that we have agency to help co-create the future we all want to live in, and there’s much work to be done to bring this vision to life. If you want to understand how we’re already living in a sci-fi book or film, watch her presentation where thoughts can be decoded and then 3D printed and human brain cells are replacing silicon for computer efficiency!

The full trends report is available on Future Today Institute’s website: https://futuretodayinstitute.com/trends/.

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: Join Amy Webb for the launch of the Future Today Institute’s 17th edition of its Tech Trends Report and a deep dive into all the tech trends you’ll need to follow in 2024. In this mind-bending session, futurist Amy Webb, CEO of the Future Today Institute and professor at NYU Stern School of Business, will provide a data-driven analysis for the emerging tech trends that need to be on your radar this year––and she’ll show you scenarios that will change your perspective on the futures. For those who have attended this session at previous SXSW festivals and already know what to expect from this session, you’ll be in for an extra-special treat this year. At the end of the session, you will receive a special SXSW-edition of the Tech Trend Report, which is downloaded 1 million times every year.

Mind-Machine Merge: Seven Future Trends in a Post-AI World of Work with Sandy Carter

🔑 HELEN: Sandy’s Leadership Checklist includes being an A.I.-first thinker for the 7 key trends she outlines, which include the tokenization of everything, multi-modal, and more and more data!

Sandy’s 7 key trends are:

  • Exponential, Baby!
  • Multi-Modal Learning Models
  • The Experiential Age has arrived
  • Everything is being Digitally Twinned
  • Tokenization of Everything
  • Technical Convergence is essential
  • A.I. has bought us new problems

🔑 HELEN: Crypto is alive and well too!

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: The nature of work is rapidly shifting. The rise of the gig economy and remote working has made the Internet an essential front for many. Now, a Cambrian explosion of nascent technology is changing the game once again. Join Sandy Carter for a glimpse into the future of work through seven transformative trends arising from the bleeding edge of technology — where human brains and tech collide in brilliantly bizarre ways. Explore the potential of the “mind-machine merge” and uncover insights into AI innovations, blockchain identities, and gain actionable takeaways for boosting productivity through pioneering digital tools. Discover how breakthroughs in self-powered wearables and spatial computing are fueling the rise of digital nomads and evolving the value of blue-collar roles. Carter’s utopic, tech-infused perspective invites us to re-envision how we work and embrace new opportunities to hone our productivity and proficiencies. Join us to ride the wave of change toward a limitless and successful future. 

A.I. & Creativity

Robotic Renaissance: The Dawn of Humanoid Innovation

🔑 HELEN: “Art has the power to promote world peace.” -Yusaku Maezawa — One of the most inspirational presentations was from Yemi A.D., an artist who’s going to the moon as part of the dearMoon mission led by Japenese art collector Yusaku Maezawa!! In his presentation (which included revealing the humanoid robot!), he reinforced the crucial role of art and artists in this dynamic transformational change. He challenged the audience to reflect on: What are the key questions we need to be asking? Asking ourselves? And the leaders and creators of modern robotics?

🔑 HELEN: Humanoids are all the rage — I got a picture with Apollo, a humanoid that was revealed on stage at SXSW; however, we haven’t figured out LLMs and chatbots yet when it comes to proper guardrails, responsible A.I., and mitigating hallucinations, and we are now putting them into robots. What could possibly go wrong?!! (Side note: I recommend the film Robot & Frank, which explores robot companionship for the elderly in a fun way and was mentioned as a benefit of these humanoids when they come into our homes in the future.)

🔑 HELEN: We need a clear vision of where we’re going (and more positive stories of what’s possible) — I also attended Yemi’s Featured Speaker Connect session where a limited number of attendees get to have an intimate discussion with some of SXSW’s Featured Speakers. In this session, he stressed the importance of having a vision of the future we want to bring to life.

🔑 HELEN: Digital detoxes work — Yemi has got an amazing, infectious energy, optimism, and outlook on life. One of his secrets includes doing annual week-long digital detoxes to better foster listening to his inner voice. His love of movement and finding freedom in movement is intertwined into all aspects of his life.

Here’s my Instagram post fangirling out more about Yemi. 🙂

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: In the grand narrative of human ingenuity, from mastering the wheel to advancing microchip technology, stands our next monumental leap: the Humanoid Robot.

The most sophisticated tool that humans ever made isn’t just about gears and circuits; it’s about dreams, aspirations, and the endless possibilities of our collective imagination.

Envision a world where time doesn’t limit our creativity and aspirations. Humanoid robots handle life’s routines, liberating us to pursue what truly matters to us. Will we channel it into creative pursuits, or drift into ease and indulgence?

Join Apollo, Apptronik’s cutting-edge humanoid robot for a journey through time, weaving together the stark realities of our past with a hopeful outlook on a future enhanced by humanoid robotics. It’s an invitation to witness where the realms of technology and creative artistry converge, painting a vivid picture of what lies ahead.

Salvador Dali, A.I., and The Future of Creativity

🔑 HELEN: A.I. is bringing Salvador Dali back to life! — In the most fun presentation, the Dali museum and its creative agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, shared how they’re reimagining the museum experience and using A.I. to bring Dali to life through different immersive experiences and activations. They demoed “Ask Dali,” a new Dali chatbot, and when they opened it up for audience questions, I asked Dali if he’d be a guest on Creativity Squared…stay tuned to find out the answer!!

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: The Dali Museum is one of the most innovative museums in the world. In recent years, they were the first to pioneer VR, synthetic media and the use of OpenAI’s DALL-E in their exhibitions. Join a discussion that will dive into the challenges they overcame and their inspirational journey incorporating Dali’s forward-thinking ethos in promoting his life and work. Experience their vision of the future as they imagine the evolution of artistic expression in the next half-century. This session embodies how innovation shapes art appreciation.

New Business Models for the Creative Renaissance

🔑 HELEN: Web3, NFTs, and the blockchain connect artists to their fans and offer other revenue-generating opportunities — NFTs aren’t dead and only opening up new avenues for artists to break free of the algorithm creative demands of their industries and connect directly with their fans through NFTs. As singer-songwriter Violetta Zironi shared on the panel, “I make music for people, not machines.”

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: We are entering a creative renaissance in which anyone can be a creator and the barriers to artistic expression have been lowered with AI and Web3. While this shift comes with unprecedented uncertainty, learn how creators today are pioneering new products, experiences, and revenue models at the intersections of AI, Web3, Music, Brand, and Metaverse, all to tell better stories and connect deeply with audiences.

What Does Equitable A.I. Look Like?

A Conversation with Dr. Joy Buolamwini

🔑 HELEN: A.I. bias needs to be addressed in our data and technology

🔑 HELEN: From performance metrics to performance art, Dr. Joy Buolamwini epitomizes an artist and technologist, using her art as a vehicle to translate and bring to life her research

🔑 HELEN: We need the 4 C’s for artists — Consent, Credit, Control, and Compensation

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: Dr. Joy Buolamwini is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, an AI bias expert, and an artist. She is the author of the National Bestseller Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines and advises world leaders on preventing AI harms. Her MIT research on facial recognition technologies transformed the field of AI auditing. Her TED talk on algorithmic bias has been viewed over 1.7 million times. And her TED AI talk on protecting our rights in an age of AI transforms the boundaries of TED talks.

As the Poet of Code with exhibitions around the world, she creates art to illuminate the impact of AI on society. Her writing and work have been featured in publications like TIME, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Rolling Stone and The Atlantic. Her work as a spokesmodel has been featured in Vogue, Allure, Harper’s Bazaar, and People Magazine. She is the protagonist of the Emmy-nominated documentary Coded Bias which is available to over 100 million viewers.

Dr. Joy is the first Black researcher to grace the cover of Fast Company appearing in the iconic “Most Creative People” issue. She is a Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright fellow who has been named to notable lists including Forbes 30 under 30, Bloomberg 50, the Time 100 AI Inaugural list, and MIT Tech Review 35 under 35. She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Fortune named her the “conscience of the AI revolution.”

AI Next Frontier: Breaking the Chains of Colonial Algorithms

“I’ve been sounding the alarm on AI bias since 2017, it’s now time to shift the conversation to not just talking about identifying the extent and nature of the problems, but really looking at fundamental solutions from the creative storytelling academic and structural perspective.”

Karen Palmer, Storyteller from the Future

🔑 HELEN: Underrepresented and historically marginalized communities need data sovereignty and to build and use the tech and craft their own own narratives related to A.I. and technology. — The panel emphasized the need to build capacity by training more indigenous people on A.I. so they can eventually build A.I. systems themselves. Indigenous groups are developing A.I. from their perspectives, challenging dominant tech narratives. The “Visioning for the Future” project imagines positive indigenous futures grounded in culture by creating new indigenous language words for future concepts.

🔑 HELEN: Tech companies need to be held accountable for unethical data collection practices — We need to move beyond just the conversations about bias in data and look at the fundamental ways in which data is collected, used, and exploited. We need to explore data sovereignty and mutually beneficial systems that benefit all, and not just the companies profiting from their A.I. tools.

🔑 HELEN: The tools we use have values of their builders embedded into them and need to be more inclusive of Black and indigenous communities’ values — Jason stresses the need for a Kaṇāda epistemology (way of thinking) in A.I. development, and the importance of grounding these technologies in indigenous communities’ values and history. We can learn a lot from indigenous communities who are using technology in ways that challenge the profit-driven systems that control it.

Karen Palmer, the Storyteller from the Future, put together and moderated this fantastic panel and was also a guest on Creativity Squared. For her interview, check out Episode 21.

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: Embark on a transformative journey into the new frontier of AI at SXSW, where the societal implications of Artificial Intelligence are explored through the powerful lenses of decolonization, eradicating bias, indigenous AI, techno-activism and futurism as activism. Join esteemed experts Ruha Benjamin, Jason Edward Lewis, Kambale Musavuli, and Karen Palmer (Storyteller from the Future) for an immersive experience that challenges existing paradigms, ignites critical conversations, and envisions a future where technology serves as a catalyst for justice, equality, and liberation.

The HistoryMakers, Documentation, Storytelling and Black AI

🔑 HELEN: Embrace cutting-edge technology to streamline processes and make content more engaging; content is available for licensing — not scraping! Enjoyed hearing Renetta McCann, Founder & President of The HistoryMakers discuss “The HistoryMakers, Documentation, Storytelling and Black AI.” Her platform is nation’s largest African American video oral history archive as well as the digital repository for the Black experience. She embraces cutting edge technology to streamline the archiving process and make the engagement with the content more robust…and the content is not available for scraping but for licensing!

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: Over the past 23 years, The HistoryMakers (www.thehistorymakers.org) has grown into the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive as well as the digital repository for the black experience. Storytelling, technology, preservation and AI are leading the way. The HistoryMakers is committed to making AI inclusive and informed and in turn AI is helping to fast track the preservation, accessibility of this one of a kind, unprecedented digital repository.

The Metaverse

Ready Player One Creator & Readyverse Studios Co-Founders Bring IP/Brands to the Open Metaverse

🔑 HELEN: Don’t write off the metaverse — the “Ready Player One” real-life open metaverse is here! — In Creativity Squared Episode 41 with Domhnaill Hernon, Global Lead for the EY Metaverse Labs, he shares why you need to pay attention to the metaverse. Readyverse Studios made an extremely exciting announcement at SXSW: they’re bringing to life the fictional metaverse OASIS as described in Ready Player One to life! I gushed over this more in a blog post titled The Real-Life Version of the ‘Ready Player One’ Open Metaverse is Here: The Readyverse.

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: Visionary futurist and creator of the groundbreaking franchise Ready Player One Ernest Cline envisioned a future forever changed by technology in his best-selling novel and the Academy Award nominated blockbuster film adaptation that followed, amassing a global fan base and inspiring the transition from science fiction to reality. Now, that future is upon us. The recently announced Readyverse Studios was co-founded by Cline, Ready Player One producer Dan Farah, and Shara Senderoff and Aaron McDonald, who co-founded Futureverse, a leading AI and metaverse technology and content company. Readyverse Studios is building a definitive destination for fans to explore their favorite IP in the metaverse, leveraging web3, metaverse games and experiences, augmented reality, and VR technologies that will shift the course of entertainment and technology.

This panel features Readyverse Studios Co-Founders in their first public appearance to discuss the importance of interoperability in the metaverse, the technology required, and their insights on the significance of IP and brands to the open metaverse, which they view as the next phase in the exciting evolution of the internet.

OpenAI Sessions

🔑 HELEN: OpenAI humanizes the people who work there in their sessions — Two folks from OpenAI were on stage: Peter Deng, who is VP of consumer product and head of ChatGPT, and Che Chang, who is OpenAI’s General Counsel. Overall, nothing too new was said at either session. Both speakers seemed like they had a lot of publicity training and reminded us of their kids often. Neither session mentioned hallucinations. When Josh Constine asked Peter if artists should be compensated, he replied, “That’s a great question. I’m hearing from the audience that they do.” While Che did point out how, in some respects, OpenAI goes above and beyond some of its competitors with tools for artists like the one where artists can opt out of training future models, there’s certainly a lot more that can be done to support artists (e.g. Adobe’s GenAI tool has an algorithm that calculates how much artists will receive in compensation based on their consented works that trained their models, exemplifying the best of ethical and commercially safe A.I.).

🔑 HELEN: A.I. to enhance not replace humans — Most of the A.I. posturing and vibe was around A.I. augmenting and accelerating human creativity, and not replacing humans. This was certainly highlighted in the OpenAI sessions.

🔑 HELEN: Wider Content Credential adoption and awareness are needed — Content credentials came up in a handful of sessions (I was usually the sole person clapping and cheering at the mention!), which speaks to the fact that more awareness of the benefits of Content Credentials is needed along with its growing adoption.

AI and Humanity’s Co-evolution with OpenAI’s Head of ChatGPT

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: AI is changing us from creators and answerers into curators and askers. In this provocative talk with OpenAI’s VP of consumer product and head of ChatGPT Peter Deng, we’ll explore the role of humans in the age of AI. What are AI’s practical and philosophical implications? How will it change our perception of ourselves? And are we all destined to become prompt engineers or happily unemployed artists? Deng will bring his background leading product at Instagram, Uber, and Airtable and as a dad of 4 to this fireside with Josh Constine, consumer VC at SignalFire and former TechCrunch editor.

Rewards and Risks of Multimodal AI what OpenAI’s General Counsel Che Chang

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: This session will be a fireside chat where attendees will hear about the exciting ways in which enterprises and individuals are using OpenAI’s services. The discussion will include: how enterprise accounts differ from consumer accounts; how risk is allocated between developers of AI models and users, and whether this has accelerated the adoption of these tools; OpenAI’s newly release features and their approach to balancing legal risks and user expression when testing and releasing these features; and the current state of the laws on AI and what impact they’ve had on OpenAI and users.

Che Chang is the General Counsel at OpenAI, where he oversees legal issues related to AI technology development and release. Previously, Che led the AI legal team at Amazon Web Services (AWS), and before that he worked at Silicon Valley law firms and startups.


‘Where Should We Begin?’ Live with Esther Perel Featuring Trevor Noah

🔑 HELEN: Humor is a beautiful communication tool for human connection — Loved hearing Esther Perel and Trevor Noah discuss why humor and laughter are great for human connection. Their conversation was for a live taping for Esther’s podcast #WhereShouldWeBegin. And how is humor like sex? You’ll want to listen to the episode to find out!

🤓 SESSION DESCRIPTION: Join iconic psychotherapist Esther Perel for a live-taping of her weekly podcast, Where Should We Begin?, where every Monday, real people in search of insight bare the raw, intimate, and profound details of their stories. From breakups and open relationships to workplace conflicts and fractures in the family, it’s a place to hear our own stories reflected in the lives of others. So…where should we begin?

Featuring guest Trevor Noah, comedian and former host of the two-time Emmy® Award-winning The Daily Show on Comedy Central

As part of the Vox Media Podcast Stage at SXSW.