A SXSW Interactive 2015 recap in initialisms: VR, AI and LGBT - McKinney

A SXSW Interactive 2015 recap in initialisms: VR, AI and LGBT

March 23, 2015

Right now, South by Southwest 2015 wrap-up listicles are as ubiquitous as Uber, free tote bags and beer were at the event itself. Here’s another.

After three years of speaking at SXSW Interactive and two on the advisory board, I know what to expect of the yearly festival. Yes, free drinks, great speakers and so much live music it’s like a mini version of the Music festival that follows Interactive. Yes, sore feet, an inspired mind and dozens of new LinkedIn contacts. But this year was the best SXSW I’ve been to so far, and the themes that made the largest impression are all, oddly and wonderfully, initialisms: VR, AI and LGBT.


A lot has happened in virtual reality technology since the Oculus Rift prototype came to SXSW two years ago. Samsung Gear VR is only $200 now, and Sony’s Project Morpheus is on its way. So the talk at SXSW 2015 was less about the technology and more about the possibilities for and the implications of the VR experience. Consider, for example, pornography.

The CEO of Utherverse Digital Brian Shuster spoke about how VR is expected to dominate the adult entertainment industry. In fact, he predicted that it will “reinvent sex” to such an extent that we will prefer it to “civilian sex.” Virtual, in other words, is no longer subordinate to actual.

Someone from the audience asked whether Shuster had considered how this might affect advertising and, ultimately, our economy: The possibility of having sex with another human drives our behavior, consciously or unconsciously (you may go to a bar to meet someone or buy a pair of jeans to attract someone). Good point.


This same shift in thinking applied to conversations about artificial intelligence. The night before Sirius XM Radio creator Martine Rothblatt spoke about “The Future of Selves,” she saw the film “Ex Machina.” “Once again,” she said, “art leads science.”

The highest-paid CEO in America, Rothblatt knows exactly where science is headed. She built a robot version of her wife, Bina48 (whotweeted during Rothblatt’s keynote), and recently wrote a book about transhumanism through cyber-consciousness. That’s called mind cloning, folks.

Bina48 is based on what Rothblatt calls “the mind file” of her human wife, Bina Aspen Rothblatt. The former becomes more like the latter each day. Among the many legal and political implications of this technology were questions about citizenship and voting rights. ReadLisa Miller’s interview with Bina48 before you decide today that she doesn’t deserve either.


My first year at the festival, I don’t recall seeing anything with LGBT in the title at SXSW Interactive. In 2011, I believe I attended the only LGBT meet up on the official schedule. In 2014, there were two meet ups being held at the same time on the same day — you had to choose which to attend! It was a big deal. This year, the LGBT initialism was sprinkled throughout the schedule, including three sessions.

What changed? Not the state of Texas, but definitely the state of SXSW.