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  • Marcella Larsen

A day out at the inaugural SXSW in Sydney: AI and Evolution in the making

Guest Article | Marcella Larsen, Founder Woven

Marcy Larsen is a great friend and collaborator with the RX team. Based in Sydney we asked if she could fill us in on her experience at the first SXSW held outside of Austin in Sydney and what insights she uncovered on AI.


When I heard that Sydney was hosting the first SWSX outside of Austin, I was excited about the possibilities. The event promised to bring together art, tech, entertainment, and pop culture in my hometown. In an ideal scenario I would have been angling to speak but I came with a curious mind this potentially game-changing event for globally minded antipodes and our APAC neighbours. Excited for many friends and past colleagues featured in the line-up.

Tickets were steep at $1400 but most attending seemed to have secured their pass as a sponsorship. I did not actually meet anyone who had invested in a full pass experience. The real value in the event was in reconnecting with global thought leaders, hearing their SWSX experiences and the opportunity to leverage the SXSW event as a platform for side meetings. It was the year to dive in for testing and learning to understand how to navigate for the future. To get a sense if the true spirit of Austin could make it to the far-flung city of Sydney and if our Asia Pacific neighbours would be drawn in to add an “international flavour” to the experience.

Here is my wrap from a day at the Tech Expo, industry keynotes and collective insights from those connections I made at the conference. My sense is that Austin offers a different experience entirely and that we are building a new chapter in Sydney. Give it time and it will evolve and become more global in nature. Leverage the platform for phenomenal sessions, plan well, set aside time for serendipity. Most importantly attach yourself to a 2023 veteran to plan for 2024. My hope is for a collective aim to move ANZ beyond a fast follower mentality to innovator.  To export the “best of” SWSX Sydney to Austin.

·       The 2023 SXSW Conference showcased phenomenal sessions, recurring themes of interest those that explored the world of AI, Data and Experience. Global innovators and creatives gathered not only to talk about advancements in tech but to examine its societal impact. Giving the opportunity to take in differing and sometimes conflicting viewpoints – beyond the usual big tech narrative.

·       The conference sessions highlighted the many layers of AI and how it is reshaping our world. Experts discussed how AI can impact human relationships, create immersive and personalised experiences in the Metaverse, solve problems that are currently unsolvable, but we need to be prepared.

·       Many sessions touched on the importance of designing ethical and human-centred AI systems, inspired by OpenAI’s Co-founder and President Greg Brockmans talk at Austin on the ethical guardrails that come along with this new era of innovation.

·   Although AI has become ubiquitous at any conference in the past year, at SXSW it crossed into the creative realm. Not all speakers were optimistic on the role it will play to disrupt entertainment and consumer experiences.

·       Charlie Brooker, the creator of the Netflix series Black Mirror who has an ongoing narrative on each episode of the potentially terrifying impacts of technology, says he found AI “boring and derivative” when he attempted to leverage ChatGPT to write the script for an episode about technology gone wrong.

Image credit: James Gillham

·       Amy Webb, CEO of The Future Today Institute, the red thread headliner featured in Austin and Sydney offered a daunting view on Generative AI to those who work in CPG or retail. “This completely destroys your businesses.” She spoke of the death of search and endless 'aggressive' recommendations that override brand choices. This only reinforced my view that these innovations will radically alter the way consumers discover new content, products and experience and how brands build relationships with their audiences.

As goes with a fringe exploration of SWSX I most enjoyed the “invitation only but no full pass required” side events such as the AKQA session at WPP House diving into accessibility in Sports media, entrepreneurship in large corporates, exploring the creative POP UPS around Darling Harbour and hearing from start-ups at the eclectic Tech Expo. Fascinating to get a sense on how new use cases they have codified where AI can add value to the business. I aim to return to SXSW Sydney in the future, knowing momentum will build. To dive into more of the creative elements to break through memories of past tech and industry conferences that haunt the ICC.

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