5 Trends From SXSW 2019.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a group of annual conferences that takes place in March in Austin, Texas, USA. The conferences include the latest trends in films, interactive media and music. Particularly relevant to us, SXSW Interactive is focused on emerging technology and includes a trade show, speakers and parties.

In 2018, guest speakers included politicians Bernie Sanders, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sadiq Khan with others including Elon Musk and Steven Spielberg. As you can probably tell, it’s kind of a big deal.

We have compiled the 5 most important trends from the 2019 conference below.

  1. Climate Change

Climate change is a given. The environment is paying the price for increasing, and wealthier, populations.

  • The ocean is more acidic than it has been for 2 million years. In the last decade, the oceans have absorbed nearly a third of the carbon dioxide emitted by industrial activity. This has slowed climate change, but at great cost to ocean health.
  • The Great Pacific garbage patch has formed gradually as a result of pollution gathered by ocean currents. The vast dump of plastic waste swirling in the Pacific Ocean is now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined. The United Nations Ocean Conference estimated that the oceans might contain more weight in plastics than fish by the year 2050.
  • The number of people in extreme poverty has fallen from nearly 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 650 million in 2018. As communities become more developed, their carbon footprint increases. This is incredibly bad news for climate change, unless more sustainable ways of living are adopted, and quickly.
  • Currently, 55 billion chickens are killed globally each year. Farming and food production have been, and continue to be, the largest drivers of habitat and biodiversity loss on the planet.


person holding there is no planet b poster



  1. Food and Science

As the world wakes up to the environmental cost of meat production, scientific solutions are receiving increasing investment.

How and where humans get food will need to change in our lifetimes. Recognize these trends early and you could be a hero to your company, and humanity.

Amy Webb, The Future Institute

  • Genetically engineered meat is a controversial topic. Whilst it could solve potential food crises’, many are outraged as it can cause horrendous pain with diseases like early arthritis in many animals.
  • America’s leading meat manufacturers, Tyson Foods, are repositioning themselves as ‘protein leaders’, as they begin to heavily invest in the meat-free market.
  • By 2050, 80% of the world’s population will live in cities. If population growth follows its projected path, there simply won’t be enough land available to farm many of our foods by 2050. A great new solution is vertical farms, which use 99% less water.
  • Using waste products to create new products is becoming increasingly popular. Whilst many companies are creating Whey Protein products, others are using left-over grain from beer production to create delicious snacks.


low-angle of burgers


  1. AI and China

China should not be thought of as a producer of ‘knock-off’ products. Rather, keen to emerge as the next superpower, they are leading the way in AI.

  • China is re-emerging as a superpower. The world’s centre of economic gravity has shifted back towards Asia over the centuries. The trend is likely to continue, so businesses and policymakers must be prepared to respond.
  • Nine companies control the future of AI. These nine are overwhelmingly responsible for research, funding, government involvement and resulting products. University researchers and labs rely on these companies for data, tools and funding. The development of AI is the modern-day arms race and, after missing the space race, China does not want to miss the AI revolution.
  • By 2020, China’s new social credit system will punish or reward individuals according to their scores; a person’s social scores can move up and down according to their behaviour… black mirror anyone?
  • Founded in 2012, Bytedance is one of the world’s most valuable start-ups. ByteDance had over 800 million daily active users in November 2017 and will increase exponentially with the advent of Tik Tok.


Orient Pearl, Shanghai, China taken during daytime



  1. Humanity losing its Poker Face

We like to think that the world can’t see what we’re thinking, but technology is beginning to track our emotions and health. This can be used for good or bad purposes – it’s all about the intent.

We like to think we have cognitive control over what people see about our internal states. We get to have our poker face... or maybe we dont.

Poppy Crum, Stanford University

  • Cars are being developed to respond to our emotions. KIA is developing cars which can sense our emotional states and adapt the car interior accordingly. Mood lighting, ambient music and even potentially scents will be used to calm or appease passengers.
  • Companies like Amazon are developing AI to monitor our emotional and physical health. It will track our coughs, sneezes, tone of voice, our volume and whether our vocabulary is shrinking.
  • Similarly to Alexa, some headphones can detect our heartbeat, meaning they can tell when we are stressed, or unwell.


scattered playing cards


  1. Peak Distraction VS. Team Human

Whilst we become increasingly obsessed with our phones, the elite are now paying to avoid the technology they created. Is this an early sign of a cultural shift of ‘back to basics’?

We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.

Marshall McLuhan, Media Theorist

  • Cosmetic doctors and plastic surgeons have reported an increase in patients requesting to look like filtered versions of themselves – the term ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ has now been coined.
  • 41% of Americans have had an accident whilst using their phone.
  • People are even risking their lives for the perfect selfie, which didn’t end well for a woman who jumped into a jaguar enclosure to take a photo with the beast…

Screens used to be for the elite. Now avoiding them is a status symbol.

NYT, March 23rd 2019

  • Steiner schools, created by philosopher Rudolph Steiner, emphasise teaching human interaction, creativity and love. The American elite in Silicon Valley are sending their children to schools with a ‘back-to-basics’ approach, where no tech is allowed.

Infinite scroll at the very minimum wastes 200,000 human lifetimes a day. That's why I chose a new life.

Aza Raskin, Inventor of the Infinite Scroll

person holding space gray iPhone 7


By Mary Lumley, Strategy Executive at Cogent.