Meerkat, Makers, + More: The Story of SXSW 2015

We're talking about security, entrepreneurship, and BIG data

Written by Gordon Tam, VP Technology, Canada

The breakout hit at SXSW this year was Meerkat – a magical iPhone app that allows users to essentially live-stream from anywhere there is an internet connection. While it may be quickly rendered obsolete by the launch of Twitter’s own live-streaming Periscope app, it was particularly interesting how the app encapsulated many of the themes at this year’s conference. From a technology and innovation standpoint, mobile live-streaming has many potential uses in the fields of real-time journalism, broadcasting of grassroots sporting events, and entertainment in general. However, it also sparks a wider debate on issues like privacy, security, and over-connectedness.


Technology in Government/Diversity in Technology

In the past year, policy issues around technology concerns such as privacy, security, and net neutrality have dominated the conversation. They have also highlighted a severe lack of “technology talent” in the public sector – an issue that is becoming increasingly critical as we engage in increasingly complex topics rooted in technological advances. Megan Smith, CTO of the United States, along with Eric Schmidt of Google, led an interesting discussion on this topic, touching on the lack of TQ (the technology equivalent of IQ) in the government, and how the lack of equality among males and females in the technology space is hindering innovation. Why do females only account for 13% of enrollment in Computer Science in 2015 (down from 18% the year before)? How and why are the young females of this generation being ingrained with the notion that “math and science are hard”? These are systemic issues in our society that go beyond what the private sector can correct alone and must involve policy makers to help identify and solve the root causes. Innovation and entrepreneurs will fuel job creation and economic growth, and as such, we will need increased participation from a more diverse population in order to maximize our potential as a society.


The Rise of the Maker Generation

In exploring the role of entrepreneurs, it is fascinating to look at the technology landscape surrounding the maker business. With the help of crowdsourcing platforms such as KickStarter providing the funding, and maker-space companies like Tech Shop providing shared access to state-of-the-art manufacturing and prototyping equipment for low monthly fees, we are quickly seeing the barrier crumble for converting an idea or concept into a working product. Prototypes that have in the past cost $100,000 can now be made for $1,000. In light of this, it’s easy to see how a boom in the maker industry may be in our near future, following what has happened in the software and mobile app space. The age of the Internet of Things is upon us, and now anyone with a great idea can be a part of it.


Internet of Things, Big Data, and Predictive Analytics 

As companies big and small are churning out new gadgets, connected devices, and wearable tech, the amount of data being generated and collected will increase exponentially. Big Data is going to be even bigger, and it will be the role of computers and predictive analytics to help us humans make sense of it all. While the notion of an artificial intelligence taking over humanity is likely more science fiction than fact, we will increasingly need to rely on algorithms to mediate data into workflows that we are able to put into action.

Currently, media companies like BuzzFeed and Mashable are investing heavily in technology and data sciences to inform their content strategy. With predictive analytics algorithms, these companies now have the ability to know which stories will be going viral 8 hours before it happens. At the height of the “blue and black dress” phenomenon that swept the Internet last month, BuzzFeed had already produced 52 different content pieces for readers to fuel the fierce debate.


What's Next?

The proliferation of video content, live-streaming, and the Internet of Things. What do they have in common? They all require the transmission of large amounts of data, and none of that is possible without a broadband infrastructure. Continued economic growth through innovation and entrepreneurship depends on this, and so, increasingly it will fall to individuals, with the right mix of TQ and diversity in both the private and public sectors, to ensure communities can invest as needed to speed up broadband and offer consumers more choice through competition.