24 Apr 2013

Making digital real...and real digital - an IPA review of SXSWi

Attended a fascinating presentation from Nigel Gwilliam, Digital Director at the IPA this morning.

It's the third time he's come to Edinburgh to share key insights from Austin's legendary SXSWi festival. Condensing thousands of hours of Alpha Geek future gazing into 90 minutes is no mean feat but Nigel achieved it with aplomb and a dash of humour.

Some of the things that stood out for me this morning:

The Geek really shall inherit the earth. I knew about Elon Musk's SpaceX project but hadn't realised the breadth of his ambition and the way he's attempting to disrupt space travel by removing 90% of the cost base by creating re-usable rocket stages. Watch this and let your inner sci-fi geek rejoice. 

But that was a sideshow really to the meat of the deck which centred on how Alpha Geek culture is pretty much over social and mobile (that's now in the hands of the IPA - more on that next month) and has moved onto blurring the lines between digital and real.

First up, 3D printing. The Invisalign braces that aren't braces show the potential of 3D printing to disrupt, and improve, current practice. While, at the horrifying end of the spectrum, the much talked about 3D printed gun showed how we might not have matured enough for this kind of technology yet.

Wearable computing has taken mighty leaps recently as Google Glass picks up steam and rumours of a haptic watch from Apple build momentum. Probably the most interesting discussion points around both developments relate to what to do with all the data these devices throw off and how privacy issues might be dealt with - how will we know whether someone is filming us with their glasses? There was some lively discussion over this point at the end of the session where the Guardian Witness app came up as another example of how traditional fiefdoms were being challenged by open source networking.

Everyone (especially the creative and gamer types) got very excited by the concept of the fantastic LeapMotion. 200 times more sensitive than Microsoft Kinect for XBox this signals the death knell for Minority Report references in presentations (finally!). See for yourself here:

Here's designer Golden Krishna (yes, really) talking about how the best interface is no interface (not quite convinced by this yet tbh).


The Internet of Things raised itself from the dead again and it seems like we might finally be reaching a tipping point here as Nigel pointed out practical application of it in surgery wards in US hospitals where they implant chips in surgical sponges to make sure they don't leave them inside patients. Or the way that Leicester Tigers Rugby Club are working with IBM to anticipate player injury by linking them up - Robo-Rugby! Don't know what I'm talking about? Watch this:

The session closed with some discussion of how innovation is more about how we change behaviours than how we change technologies. Which reminded me of this:

It really was an awesome and inspiring jaunt through the minds of some of the smartest people on the planet. more from the IPA on SXSWi here.

Thanks to the IPA and Nigel for putting on such a good show. If you get the chance to see him on the rest of  his tour I suggest you grab it with both hands. Dates are here.