Our Insights


SXSW 2023: Are we moving forward or was the future already here?

Jochem Lubbers
Jochem Lubbers
28 Mar 2023 - 3 min read

This year's South By South West Festival (SXSW) was more crowded than ever, with the fear of COVID-19 largely over and people free to fly to the beautiful city of Austin in Texas. Looking back at last year, a year filled with exciting new tech and trends, we can see how far we've come.

In 2022, we saw the rise of Web3, NFTs, and the broadly interoperable Metaverse. Web3 promised to be the new era of the internet and when can we live in the Metaverse as was promised by Mark Zuckerberg? If we look at the Gartner Hype Cycle of Emerging Tech, the Metaverse and NFT’s got quickly over the top of the cycle and is moving down. Although the Metaverse was a separated track at SXSW, it had not the same attentions as last year. It had to make room for Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI).

AI and the future of technology

The new hot buzzword was Artificial Intelligence (AI) again. Almost every topic was based around the new development from last year from the company OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT and DALL-E. These innovations have caused a stir in the field of artificial intelligence and have become the center of discussion for many experts and enthusiasts alike. Over the time at SXSW a lot of companies introduced new version of new implementations of Gen AI. ChatGPT-4 got announced, Google launched their version Bard and Adobe introduced their creative generative AI models Firefly for their products.

However, as American futurist and tech trend reporter Amy Webb points out, these AI tools don't have intuition and can only reflect the data they've been fed. As we increasingly rely on these systems for school, work, and governing, we must consider ethical and copyright issues. Even Greg Brockman, OpenAI's founder, attended the festival to provide perspective on the future of Gen AI. He spoke at length about the company and the possibilities for the future. But the ethical and copyright issues that needed more attention, because there came more question then answers from the interview. He beliefs that the new generation will figure this out.. He is very opportunistic about the future.

Recycled trends

Besides the comeback of AI, it felt like the whole festival had a common trend for all the talks, films and music. We have a dutch saying “Oude wijn in nieuwe zakken” (Old wine in new bottles). It means that we are reusing old things and repackaging with a new wrap. The question is; Are we really moving forward with new tech or are we looking at the same tech but with a different name? For example, Photoshop has had AI built in for many years with features like filling blanks, and chatbots and voice assistants were a real hype back in the day.

Even the new evolving Metaverse trend seems to refer to things that have been done before. Many people are referring to Roblox, an open-world game or platform where the new generation comes together to socialize, as the Metaverse. But didn't Second Life, a game or platform from 2003, do the same things? Even for me World of Warcraft back in the days was a pure digital social platform with a game element and I’ve made many friends there.

The same phenomenon can be seen in music. Every year at SXSW there is also a lot of music, upcoming artist, new bands and many genres to pick from. But this year was also packed with some older band, like New Order and The Zombies. There was documentary about the underrated succes from the band The Zombies. Their succes began after the band stopped in 1967 after a frustrated lack of success of there album. Many years later their album became succesvol but there was no band left. Their music got a new life in the 00’s and is still relevant to this day for many people.

Moving forward or...?

So, are we moving forward or was the future already here? SXSW was fully packed and crowded this year, and I believe that we are indeed moving forward with all the new tech. I'm curious about what the future may bring. The evolution of technology is based on proven trends that have survived the hype cycle. In my opinion, gen AI represents real innovation in the tech industry. It's not just a hype; it will stick around for a while and have a big impact on us as humans. Additionally, the metaverse may survive the hype cycle and make a comeback in the near future, but wil be more on the background probably. 

I'm excited about what the future will bring at next year's SXSW!