7 serious sessions at Austin’s SXSW that make Gamergate panels look like child’s play


The biggest event in Texan technology, SXSW is promising another big year with a full schmorg of panels and speakers covering some of the most critical topics at the intersections of technology, economics, society, and of course this year politics (really makes Gamergate look kind of stupid, huh?).

That controversy dominated SXSW talk last year and exhausted many people trying to focus on other aspects of the conference. But this is a forum that covers everything and attracts everybody. SXSW hosted President Obama last year and will play host to the apparently tech-savvy Pope Francis (who knew?).

Here are just a few of the more notable sessions you should try to sample.

1. Basic Income: Can Giving Away Free Money Save Us?

Including Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute, Catherine Cheney of Devex, and Michael Faye of GiveDirectly, this will directly address the contentious sociopolitical earthquake that would be “basic income,” or a universal stipend that future unemployable citizens would receive in a world of automated labor. Sam Altman of Y-Combinator is piloting such a project in Oakland, as are some in Finland. On the other hand, former President Barack Obama advised against the idea despite saying it was an important conversation. This should garner a large crowd and if it doesn’t it would be a shame.

2. A Conversation with Buzz Aldrin and Jeff Kluger

MAR 14, 2017 | 3:30PM – 4:30PM

Jeff Kluger of Time Magazine will interview former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, whose Apollo 11 moonwalk has made him legendary. He has become the most notable advocate for human exploration of space, especially getting astronauts to Mars. Expect the conversation to focus on that, but to also reference updates in pursuit of that goal as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others continue to make new announcements.

It’s definitely hard to oversell this one.

3. Covering POTUS: A Conversation with the Failing NYT

MAR 12, 2017 | 9:30AM – 10:30AM

First off: what a title. Featuring Dean Baquet of the Times, the conversation will discuss the proliferation of misleading fake news, the disparaging of the press, and how those things add pressure to an already squeezed business model facing competition from microblogs and social media.

4. DARK DAYS: AI and the Rise of Fascism

MAR 12, 2017 | 5:00PM – 6:00PM

Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research will explore the possible misapplication of new technologies for oppressive means.

“As recent investigations have shown, there are hard problems of bias, discrimination and privacy when we deploy these systems with human populations. Just as we are reaching a crucial inflection point in the deployment of AI into everyday life, we are seeing the rise of white nationalism and right-wing authoritarianism in Europe, the US and beyond.”

5. Disrupted: Ending Bro Culture and Bias in Startup-Land

MAR 10, 2017 | 3:30PM – 4:30PM

This is actually a keynote by Dan Lyons, the author of Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble. There is always controversy when a panel relevant to the inclusion or treatment of women in the workplace is dominated by men, but if it’s a single speaker. That being said, Lyons has strong views on workplace culture in Silicon Valley that have once again entered headlines thanks to a month of awful PR for Uber.

6. How Technology is Improving Human Performance

Featuring the NFL’s Demarcus Ware and Nike’s Ryan Flaherty, this will be a showcase of applying new analytics technologies to sports performance and coaching. That will also cover the advances in sports medicine.

7. Imgur’s Fight to Keep the Social Internet Authentic

Featuring the brother-sister duo of Alan and Sarah Schaaf, the title somewhat sugarcoats Imgur’s anonymous social platform as “a mission to democratize entertainment.” The brief description does not allude to any tough questions, particularly over the proliferation of (mostly political) spam on Imgur’s platform and how that might be influencing attitudes among users.


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