Editor’s note: WRAL TechWire asked RIoT Executive Director Tom Synder to set the stage for the Internet of Things discussions taking place in coming days during South by Southwest. Synder, who is speaking at the event, graciously agreed and wrote this post while en route to the Texas haven of tech and culture. He will not be alone in representing the Triangle (see story linked below).

AUSTIN, Texas – There are few topics that dominate today’s news cycle like the technology sector. This week will be no different, with one of the biggest tech conferences kicking off today in Austin, Texas.

South by Southwest (SXSW) draws thousands from across the US and around the world to hear from tech CEOs, celebrities, and the hottest startup founders. Podcasters, bloggers, and media outlets large and small will cover every talk, panel, demonstration, and cocktail party, looking for the biggest scoop, like when Twitter launched from SXSW 12 years ago.

While unquestionably, the Consumer Electronics Show (Las Vegas), Mobile World Congress (Barcelona), and others are larger technology conferences – SXSW has captured a position as more important. Why is this?

Austin, like Raleigh, has done admirably in embracing diversity. “South By,” as it is commonly referred, started as a music festival. As it grew, a film festival was integrated, and people have always traveled to Austin for great food. Technology is really a late comer to the event. But it is the diversity of industries – and the diversity of participants who attend – that makes this event unique.

Triangle companies converge at SXSW, pitching Raleigh as best place to live, work

There will be important discussions held all week.  I’m privileged to host a panel Saturday afternoon about how technology is changing our cities and communities, enhancing quality of life and access to opportunity for all citizens. RIoT has been working closely with municipal governments across the state to leverage tech for critical public safety services.

We’re fortunate to have Adam Covati, VP of R&D for Raleigh-based Bandwidth, to highlight what’s being invented on Centennial Campus in Raleigh to support E911 response.

But that discussion would not be as impactful in front of an audience of only technology executives. Positive impact accelerates when people who are not already subject matter experts get a chance to participate, to ask questions, to challenge assumptions, and to remind the tech community that the applications and solutions they create are for a market broader than just the tech sector.

We have seen stories recently of unintentional bias in machine learning training data, which results in existing biases being carried forward to new applications. Search “nurse” on Google Images and nearly every photo is a female. Opportunities to get our tech community in front of diverse audiences provides one channel to change the story.

NC RIoT image


The Internet of Things (IoT), RIoT’s area of focus, is about collection of data from all around us. This enables tech tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence to be grounded in factual, authentic information. Data must be collected from everywhere to have a high-resolution understanding of the world we live in. Discussions on how to ethically and fairly use data must include voices from people of all backgrounds. This is vital to changing entrenched bias and moving our economy forward.

Similarly, there remain outdated biases about North Carolina. Not everyone yet knows how vibrantly Durham has progressed over the past decade, becoming a leading hub for minority and female-founded businesses. Small and mid-sized towns are just starting to learn how visionary Wilson was to provide fiber-optic broadband to all citizens, dramatically changing the dynamic of their economy in less than a generation. We change biases and educate others by getting outside our own borders and meeting new people.

Later this month, RIoT is taking BruVue, a local startup in supply chain intelligence, down to Atlanta to put them on stage at an event focused on how IoT is changing the sports & entertainment industries. By showing off the great things happening in North Carolina outside our own borders, we demonstrate clearly how unique our community is. BruVue did not launch from Raleigh, but moved here to be part of our strong and welcoming network. As we take our success stories on the road, it attracts talent, new business, and investment capital to our region.

This week, I hope you’ll watch for all the great stories coming out of Austin and SXSW and be reminded that many have roots right here in NC.

Raleigh organizations, entrepreneurs team up for South by Southwest showcase