Empathy, inclusion and fempowerment: the future is human at SXSW 2018

Beyond new technologies, the discussions were focused on key reflexions for brighter futures

in brief

SXSW, more than a set of festivals, has been the launching pad for revolutionary ideas and technologies for the past 30 years. A melting pot of experts and curious edgy minds, who nurtured us about possible futures for our societies, through formal and informal discussions from 9 to 19 March in Austin, the single Democrat city in the heart of a mostly Republican Texas.

Resolutely transversal across all industries, SXSW has seen the launch of companies such as Twitter and Foursquare in the past, and has brought together many personalities, from Elon Musk to Karlie Kloss, to Melinda Gates. If the event, for two years now, have not seen any new giant of the web make a shattering entry, it is nonetheless the cradle of key reflections around the world of tomorrow.

The product: Bose AR

The event focused on ideas, the actual substantive topics, rather than on the technologies themselves. Artificial Intelligence, robotics, immersive technologies, Blockchain and crypto-currencies have of course stirred everyone’s minds, but always from the point of view of Humanity, empathy, inclusion and sustainability. In this context, our attention focused on a product concept, and more specifically on the approach of its creator, Bose.

The sound expert came up with a hardware and software technology capable of broadcasting audio information in relation to the user’s gaze. A prototype pair of sunglasses that we had the chance to try. Housed inside the branches, motion sensors record what the person is watching and couple that information to the associated smartphone’s GPS (via Bluetooth) to broadcast contextualized audio information without using any cameras.

The most interesting in this concept is the collective and collaborative approach in which Bose designed it: the brand has created a $ 50 million investment fund to finance developers willing contribute to the development of its applications. MIT, New York University, ASICS Studio, Strava, TripAdvisor, TuneIn and Yelp are already partners, and will all work to build the platform associated with this new interface. The brand calls all those who would like to contribute to this project to make themselves known to the Partnerships team.

A product that fits within the “No Screens” trend that we hadd already spotted during the last edition of the festival. To (re)discover its trends, see our SXSW 2017 report in partnership with DEFI.

The keynote: Beyond Fashion Tech

Designer, speaker and advocate, Céline Semaan believes that fashion can bring social change. Through her projects, she defends a vision of an industry respectful of both our environment but also its workers, and consumers. The Library is a new kind of lexicon for sustainable fashion, shaped through the reinterpretation of iconic pieces. The Slow Factory, a 100% online brand of clothing and accessories coupled with a Fashion Tech lab is set to bring the message of activism on pieces whose supply chain is 100% clean and fair trade.

Recalling alarming figures on the topics of modern slavery or forced child labor, Semaan unveiled projects she has carried out with communities of refugee children in her home in Lebanon, and has also challenged us on the harmful consequences of an unbridled race for innovation. Indeed, if the future can be connected, it must first and foremost be clean, and according to Semaan, we should first focus on the possibilities offered by new technologies to respond to real and urgent problems, rather than continue to be distracted by gadget innovation. And this is an important point, we are not yet able to recycle a large part of our electronic waste, so why do we want, at all costs, to integrate it into textiles? According to Semaan, such products must integrate, from their design phase, a reflection around their end of life, or even better, a solution to integrate them into a circular system.


“We have forgotten that electronics are not designed to be recycled: 77% of landfills have toxic waste that ultimately impacts our lives.”

Yes, we inevitably end up eating our own waste, swallowed beforehand by our future food. So how could we use technology to reduce this impact? Sorting the items before sending them to recycling? According to Semaan, it is necessary to put a circular and inclusive process in place, she advocates in particular that ecologists, activists and sociologists should be involved in this process of innovation.

At the end of the conference, I asked Semaan about her ideas of arguments to convince people on the necessary behavior change that we must adopt, as consumers, and beyond the shocking images that we know more and more (see The True Cost, Riverblue, or Cash Investigations – in French – below…). How to convince fashion students to change their behavior against the giants of fast fashion? According to Semaan, the way fashion is taught today, still lacks environmental, social and political context. According to her, the system must be redesigned to no longer teach in silos (which is one of the reasons for cultural appropriation, she added). Yes, the current options are still too expensive compared to fast fashion, but guilt won’t inspire people to change their behavior and their relationship to clothing, she said. The speech must therefore be resolutely positive, inclusive and motivating for it to be taken seriously and lead to real change.

IN BRIEF | Core Trends: Empathy, Inclusion, Sustainability and Women’s Place

“The Future is Female” could we read proudly sported on many t-shirts during these ten days of festival. This year, if the technologies that are agitating the world were present (from quantum computing to immersive technologies, through artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain), it is in a more down-to-earth context that we immersed ourselves in the future.

Anchored in fundamental reflections around the future we want to build, the festival is a testament to the fusion between our real and digital lives. Connectivity is no longer a question, the issue now is about finding a way to use the technologies in our hands to build a better world. Despite the growing popularity of brands, which is often criticized, SXSW remains the cradle of ideas and connections for everyone’s contribution to an inclusive, respectful and sustainable future. See you next year Austin!

If you want to know more about the technologies, startups or prospective reflections we identified during this SXSW 2018, our team is preparing exclusive reports: insights, startups and prospective trends – to know more, do not hesitate to get in touch!
This post was written in partnership with DEFI France, as part of its support to innovation and fashion companies.

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