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Lessons from #SXSW: cognitive computing to conversational user interfaces


The marketing and technology community’s annual pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, for SXSW Interactive is a five-day jamboree dedicated to what’s new and what’s next. It’s an opportunity to soak up the future through keynote talks, panel discussions, a trade show floor and networking meet-ups.

In 2015, wearable tech was on everyone’s lips. This time around, virtual reality (VR) and the evolution of transportation, from autonomous cars to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system of ultra-high-speed trains, were key topics of conversation. McDonald’s, Samsung and NASA all had VR experiences on show — as did IBM, which let visitors test out a VR cycling experience, taking the user through different landscapes and terrains. But what felt most fresh wasn’t so much the rise of specific new technologies, but the emergence of how we can work with what we’ve got to make it better.

There was no killer app and no single innovation dominating the conversation on that basis. Instead “collaboration” — something Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet has written about in the context of online fashion retail — was the most important buzzword, replacing the likes of “disruption”.

Nowhere was this focus felt more than in the keynote address delivered by US president Barack Obama, the first sitting president to speak during the festival. “If we use technology, data, social media in order to join forces around problems, then there’s no problem that we face in this country that’s not soluble,” he said in a call to arms.

But alongside this emphasis on collaboration, several other key vectors of change, from the rise of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence to conversational commerce and the ascendance of Generation Z, emerged as key themes with implications for the global fashion industry in the months and years to come. Head over to The Business of Fashion to read the full story.