IndustryDiversity, AI and Accessibility at SXSW Interactive

Faye Bridge
writes on March 13, 2017

It’s been another fantastic few days of SXSW Interactive, and as a team we’ve been inspired and fascinated by all we’ve seen. We’ll be sharing more of the takeaways with you soon, but in the meantime here are a few highlights.

Diversity in Tech

We were looking forward to attending talks focused on the importance of building diversity as it’s something we’re passionate about at Treehouse. At both SXSW Interactive and SXSWedu we heard valuable perspectives on how and why tech poses an opportunity for people to help make the US and global tech communities more diverse. In a panel of industry leaders in diversity, Maya Beasley—who runs a diversity consultancy company—stressed the importance of companies being genuinely interested in diversifying and explained that the only way things are going to change for the better is if enough people are willing to take the risk and feel uncomfortable—a perspective also shared by John Maeda during SXSWedu.

On the same panel, diversity advocate, Robert Murray, shared that “it’s been proven that having more diverse teams creates better and more robust products.” On a panel that explored the future of jobs and how to Keep Your Company Human in 2030, Shane Mac also focused on diversity and highlighted that “you need to have diverse perspectives when you create computers so they reflect humanity as a whole, not just one perspective.” A strong takeaway from Mac and all of the speakers we heard was that with the evolution of tech—particularly within specific areas like AI—diversity is fundamental to our success as an industry and we all need to be taking action now.

It’s proven that having more diverse teams create better and more robust products. – Robert Murray

The future of AI

Whether we were exploring the SXSW Interactive Tradeshow or attending talks, AI was a common theme and interest for the SXSW community. As Helen Todd, CEO of social media agency Sociality Squared, opened with on her panel, “we’re on the precipice of the most disruptive and transformative change in technological progress we’ve ever experienced”.

If you don’t think you’re interacting with AI yet, you’re likely mistaken. If you’re a Gmail user, for example, then you’re interacting with it every day. But what’s important to remember is that humans are fundamental to ensuring the success and value of AI. “AI can empower people, but it’s also about people,” explained Chris White, Principal Researcher at Microsoft.

Joshua March also perfectly summarized the opportunity, “the human + AI combo is the best that can exist”. In other words, AI won’t be able to replicate how humans think (at least for now), but when it collaborates with human thinking, it becomes a powerful tool to help us achieve incredible things. 

The human + AI combo is the best that can exist – Joshua March

The importance of Accessibility

With the rise of new technologies, we also heard a common theme of accessibility at SXSW Interactive and the need for tech companies to value making their products accessible to everyone. The idea that you need to be tech savvy and literate to use certain products or features is disappearing. Instead, tech should allow any ordinary person to use it, take the example of voice interfaces. But for accessibility to be successful, it’s important for everyone within a team to be invested in achieving it.

We’ll be diving into our takeaways in more depth later this week, so be sure to check back in! In the meantime, if you’d like to see more from Treehouse at SXSW, check out our Instagram.

What We Saw on the First Day of SXSW Interactive

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