Editor’s note: Tom Snyder is executive director of Raleigh-based RIoT, a growing internet of things business development users group. WRAL TechWire asked Tom to recount highlights of SXSW.


RALEIGH –  RIoT attended South By Southwest last week, using a ticket deferred from the canceled 2020 event.  SXSW is a city-wide celebration of innovation and creativity with hundreds of music, film and technology talks, demonstrations, performances, screenings and panels over two weeks spread across dozens of venues in Austin, Texas.

This was RIoT’s 3rd time attending the conference and first since the pandemic.  Here are the key takeaways from this year’s event.

  • In-person attendance is back. The city was packed with attendees and sessions had lines around the block waiting on limited seating.  There were no late-speaker COVID cancellations (an issue last year) and venues were busy late into the night. But…

1a) Corporate spending is NOT back.  The exhibit floor was barely half the size of past years and the number of corporate happy hours, bar rentals and major exhibitions could not have been more than a third of what we saw in previous years.  The silver lining – the companies that did attend had a captive audience. If your company is considering conference participation, now is a good time to invest.

  • Women are leading the way. The event agenda was packed with rock star speakers, as it always is. This year, the majority were women. A select few highlights from those we were able to see:
    • Arati Prabhakar, Director of the US Office of Science and Technology is leading our nation’s most important technology explorations.
    • Sandy Carter is spearheading our ability to have a single identity across web3.
    • Brittany Kaiser is driving policy to remove the toxicity of social media.
    • Brittany Barreto is revolutionizing women’s health through tech and data. [Editor’s note – She will also speak at the upcoming RIoT FemTech event April 4th in Cary].
  • Computer generated interaction is scaling rapidly. We saw dozens of life-sized holographic assistants. There were robots with video-generated, human faces. ChatGPT was  in use everywhere. Gesture control drove AR interfaces. Demos allowed participants to make AI-generated art.  And some speakers showcased their Metaverse personas as much as their real-life selves.  The convergence of natural language processing, large language models, augmented and virtual reality, generative AI and robotics shows a clear path to highly realistic human-computer interaction on the near horizon.
  • Corporations are seeking help. Rather than spend on flashy exhibits and boozy happy hours, we saw established companies across all market sectors deliberately focused on the startup events.  They held office hours in coworking spaces and scoured the entrepreneur sessions and panels.  There is a clear understanding that startups are developing emerging technology applications faster than they can themselves. Similar to how NCAA teams are leapfrogging forward by scouting the transfer portal, big corporations are increasing their focus on entrepreneurial ecosystems to accelerate their success.
  • Silicon Valley Bank was a footnote. It was fascinating to be at arguably the largest tech-forward conference, as the biggest tech-focused bank failed.  Was it talked about?  Of course.  Did it put a damper on the enthusiasm and optimism for the future?  Absolutely not.  It was refreshing to be at an event laser focused on what technology and innovation can do to benefit society, rather than just make money. Evidence that SXSW has helped to Keep Austin Weird.