SXSW: A Year Of Innovation And Introspection

SXSW is always a mix of the serious and a bit of a journey into the unknown. This year, Austin was alive with possibilities and complexities. I spent four days jumping from one conversation to another, and a theme emerged.

The opening day of the SXSW Conference was also International Women’s Day. Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, joined the panel “Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen” alongside Katie Couric, Brooke Shields and author and sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen in a conversation moderated by Errin Haines, host of “The Amendment” podcast.

Said Markle: “At the Archewell Foundation, we work with the Social Media Victims Law Center, which is very important and heartbreaking work. It’s parents whose children have taken their lives because of what was happening to them,” with “the level of online harms that are there when you have these beautiful, vibrant children that are either being so aggressively bullied online or, frankly, these young girls who are going online and they’re drowning in this world of comparison, that suddenly their sense of self has become so small that they don’t see a value in being alive.”

Next, we went to see: “Beyond Big Tech: A Landmark Youth Movement to Thrive Online,” with Emma Lembke and Zamaan Qureshi of Design It For Us, Trisha Prabhu of ReThink Media, and Sneha Revanur, Encode Justice

Said Qureshi: “The way that we think about our work is that we obviously have a lot to do to push back against the system. The system is the social media companies and the networks that they’ve created throughout the regulatory space and throughout Silicon Valley, that allow for them to basically just be unfettered super-giants in our hyperconnected world.”

Then we headed over to “Realizing Inspirational Futures with AI: An Evening with the Future of Life,” whose mission is to steer transformative technology towards benefitting life and away from extreme large-scale risks. There, Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen spoke.

“Right now, it’s one in eight girls between the ages of 13 and 16 who say they received an unwanted sexual image in the last week, right? You know, if we ask people, did you witness hate speech? Did you witness violence? Did you witness these things? That’s the experiential experience of these products,” she said. “We need to radically change the performance of these platforms. “

And finally, we ended up with one of the forefathers of the modern internet: Vint Cerf. Cerf was talking about AI, but it all comes down digital safety. “What we have now is the artificial ego and the artificial ID,” said Cerf in an accent meant to mirror Sigmund Freud’s. “But what we are not having yet is the artificial superego to control the uncontrollable impulses of the artificial ID.”

This year there was lots of excitement about AI, and lots of concerns. As for social media and how it harms children, well, that was an issue mentioned everywhere. A year of innovation and introspection, for sure.

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