To recap:

Earlier this year, I went to SXSW in Austin, Texas for the first time. If you’re interested in hearing more about the festival itself, feel free to read Part 1 of this article. If you’re less interested in the festival and more about how the world is going to change… read on!

Based on the 10 days I spent at the festival, listening to some of the most influential people of our age (including Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil and Sadiq Khan), here are half a dozen of the biggest technological innovations driving future change:

 

Virtual Reality

As you would probably have guessed, VR was a reoccurring theme at South By. VR is huge in gaming – the benefits of which, in providing a far more engaging medium to immerse yourself into, are obvious. But less obvious is how VR is spreading into a number of other verticals. Two of the more interesting of these are healthcare and education.

In healthcare, VR apps are being built to help people overcome certain phobias. People are able to face their phobias head-on so that they can get over them and live a normal life. On the more advanced side of things, surgeons are making use of virtual artificial intelligence to check through a patient’s body so that they can determine exactly where tumors are located and how best to reach them.

On the education side, VR is being used in everything from military training (battlefield scenario planning) to the classroom. In the latter, children are now able to do walking tours of ancient Roman landmarks instead of learning about them from textbooks (sooo 20th century!).

 

3D printing

From its beginning in the ’70s and ’80s (when only big businesses could afford a 3D printer and the technology was pretty limited), things are changed a lot. Nowadays the 3D printing market is bursting with new products that offer a myriad of opportunities. From industries as diverse as design and jewelry to dental and medical, manufacturing and repairs, education and architecture, 3D printing is massively disrupting the old ways of working.

From a marketing perspective, there’s a whole bunch of opportunities that can enrich strategies and push the boundaries of what this tech can achieve. Big brands like Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and Uniqlo have all done some interesting stuff in this space by engaging with consumers through joint storytelling. Also, adidas announced an ambitious project earlier this year to bring 3D printing to the masses – more info here.

 

Autonomous driving

Autonomous driving was a big feature of this year’s festival with Mercedes-Benz a major corporate sponsor for the event itself. The vice president of strategy for Mercedes-Benz gave a fairly uninspiring talk on the topic and more particularly, his company’s roadmap to selling fully autonomous vehicles in 3 to 4 years from now.

Tesla’s Elon Musk however also spoke a little bit about this topic. He predicts that 18 months from now, self-driving will encompass all modes of driving and be at least 100 to 200% safer than a person.

If you’re interested in hearing how this might affect marketing, have a read of this piece from Chris Barcroft.

 

Blockchain

In October 2017, a small UK tech company called ON-Line PLC decided to change its name to ON-Line Blockchain PLC. Within 24 hours, its share price rose by 394% and within 48 hours, its value had grown more than it had over the last 2 years combined. It didn’t change its business model, hire a new executive or announce a new product – it just tacked “blockchain” to its name and suddenly investors threw truckloads of money at it.

Such is the hype behind blockchain technology.

Here’s a (fairly) simple explanation from the guys over at Futurism on how to think about this technology: “Blockchain is like an expanding list of records (ledger). Each record documents a transaction between two parties, and is public to everybody on the blockchain. The data of this ledger is stored across everybody’s computers — so no central authority holds all the records.”

So why is everyone losing their mind about blockchain? It’s got a ton of advantages over the traditional way we store data – including greater transparency, near-anonymity, security and versatility. In the sessions that I attended, there seemed to be no end to the industries or instances that could be improved by this technology – with real estate, the stock exchange and legal contracts 3 often cited examples.

That said, it was the ‘half-true’ case study of Sierra Leone’s use of the blockchain in their most recent election that caught my eye. Although this didn’t roll out exactly as first communicated, it does give you a glimpse into how this technology could enable a more trustworthy democratic process.

 

Space travel

Okay, so admittedly, Elon Musk was the only person at SXSW that was actually talking about space travel… but when Elon Musk talks, it’s hard not to take notice!

NASA, Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are all thinking (and more importantly, investing) in bringing space travel closer than most people realise. A report from NASA estimated that there would be a colony of people living independently on Mars in the next 20-25 years. Let’s just hope that moving is optional at that stage.

 

Quantum computing

To quote one speaker – “When we say an emerging technology represents a ‘paradigm shift’, it’s often hyperbole. In the case of quantum computers, it’s an understatement”.

Here’s my layman’s explanation of quantum computing… essentially, instead of the bits that we use in traditional computing today, where a bit can be either a 1 or 0 and nothing else, in quantum computing a qubit can be a 1 or 0 but also many other things (don’t ask!). What’s important is that its gives quantum computers literally a million+ times more computing power than the most powerful computers of today.

Google and IBM kept coming up as key players in this space – with IBM effectively open-souring their material and platform in order to drive interest and the next generation of quantum computing specialists.

So what can be done with all that extra computing power? Uses of quantum computing are endless, but 3 of the most interesting would be 1) in creating life-saving medicines 2) better forecasting weather and 3) allowing deep learning computers to see, recognize and interact with the outside world. If you’re interested in reading more, I’d recommend reading this interview.

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Mark Byrne

Mark Byrne is Chief Product Officer at iProspect Australia and a member of the Dentsu Aegis Network Innovation Council. Mark’s role is focused on developing iProspect’s consumer-led, data-driven proposition and in turn, delivering business outcomes for our clients.