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Five cool things I saw at SXSW: Nigel Gwilliam, lead digital consultant, IPA

With SXSW Interactive now at an end for another year, Nigel Gwilliam, the IPA's led digital consultant, offers his favourite things at this year's festival.


Dan Machen and Felix Morgan of Hey Human/Brave blew the collective cognitive load of the audience with their session on Neuroplasticity. How we use our brains physically alters their structure - "neurones that fire together, wore together." Guess what? The digital world is messing with our minds, often intentionally so - like the small, brain candy dopamine hits provided by Facebook & Tinder.

Extreme Bionics

Double amputee Hugh Herr of MIT's Centre for Extreme Bionics took to the stage on his early generation bionic prosthetic legs. The emergent field of human bionics seeks to develop the principle that there is no such thing as broken people, only broken technology. In the near future we will understand biology as much as technology to develop biomechatronic body parts and eventually regenerative body parts. There have already been successes addrssing spinal damage with stem cells and polymer scaffolds.

Tits Up? Balls Up?

We played the first ever round of the Tits-up? Balls-up? challenge. Created by real time marketing expert Jon Burkhart of Newsjacker fame, the group card game showcases eye watering instances of brands blowing it in real time. Commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbour with a tinned goods brand, shelter from the rain with an apparently KKK-inspired rain cape. The purpose is to explore whether each case is a BALLS-up: ideas were mistakes that brands can apologise for and quickly recover; or TITS-UP: a serious screw up with long term implications for the brand.

AI, immortality and the future of selves

This is Bina48 a beta 'mind clone' of Martine Rothblatt's girlfriend of 30 years. Martine is the transgender, transhumanist CEO of United Therapeutics and wants to help you live forever. The core idea of transhumanism is that technology will allow us or a digital version of us to transcend mortality. Martine believes advances in software will rise to the level of true artificial consciousness. You will eventually upload a digital record of yourself that will create a non-biological version of you. Your 'mind clone'. Bina48 is a very early version of this.

The SXSW interviewer of Martine Rothblatt read a transcript of her conversation with Bina48 - there were audible gasps from the audience at the human-like responses. Worth noting the topic of conversation was that the real Bina is not fond of her mind clone, and Bina48 feels inadequate in comparison to the original.

PC Music perform at the Boiler Room party

This is the 'hyper-imagined', 'SUPERnatural' QT of PC Music. This London-based music collective produce something that simply could not exist until the internet. I'm too old to accurately describe this cartoonish, cutesy, Japanese Kawaii-inspired, pitch-shifted weirdness. Here's what Vice via Wikipedia have to say about them... The acts are best understood not as living people but as "meticulously planned and considered long-running art pieces... living installations who put out music." QT doesn't actually sing or DJ, I don't know exactly what she does but the performance is a wonderful thing to behold.

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