SXSW 2024 Days 4-9

by Jay Cuthrell
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See also: Notes Before SXSW 2024
See also: SXSW 2024 Days 1-3
See also: SXSW 2024 Days 4-9

Disclosure, as of this update I work for IBM. As a reminder, for SXSW 2024, IBM sponsored the Artificial Intelligence track and I posted updates on my LinkedIn to capture these amazing moments during discussion about A.I. and quantum computing.

A personal note…

My shared content enjoyed high engagement but my most popular post from SXSW 2024 was a professional update for me.

Yes, I’m looking for my next career adventure.

If you are reading this and want to work with me again or know someone that I should speak to, please reach out to me.

Or, if you’d like to catch up or compare SXSW 2024 notes with mine… let’s chat.


Grab some coffee. I have detailed notes to share but I’ll break down a few key themes first.

  • ⚞ Convergence is coming
  • 🚨 Privacy is fragile
  • 📉 Friction is decreasing
  • 🏗️ Brands are building

When I reviewed my Obsidian notes it was clear that a handful of sessions captured my imagination. I’ll share them in context and deep link where possible.

⚞ Convergence is coming

I went to college in the 1990s to study Materials Science and Engineering. I graduated and then attempted graduate school but ended up getting into Linux, the Internet, the web, computation, data storage, networking, telecommunications, and what is now “the cloud”.

At SXSW 2024, the number of references to materials science was undeniable. Materials science even appeared in Amy Webb’s talk.

When I wrote Precision Time Protocol That You Love (2022), I couldn’t have imagined the topic would be front and center at SXSW 2024. Thankfully, I was able to overcome FOMO for overlapping sessions and attend It’s About Time for A Quantum Leap in Timing.

Above all, the panel was balanced and complimentary. To paraphrase, if science fiction is rooted in physics awaiting the right time, what is primitive today can become products tomorrow.

  • Historically, telling time better than before is fundamentally about the physics of matter interaction.
    • Soon, rack-sized equipment associated with precise timekeeping will be shrinking to fit in ever smaller device subassemblies and microchips.
      • Cesium clocks and hydrogen masers are big and not very rugged.
      • Lately, there are quantum devices of interest to be more rugged and smaller devices.
    • Miniaturization of clocks. 19” is now smaller due to MIMs and can fit on silicon.
    • LIDAR and sensors require PTP within cars and in the future, this will make the stop light obsolete.
    • To paraphrase a panelist, time measurement is based on what societies agree upon as the change of events taking place.
    • Yet, large distance synchronization is a fairly recent modern ability made possible through communication networks to disseminate via GPS (Global Positioning System) and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) — like the mobile phone you are reading this one of the one in your pocket.
  • Increasingly, cybersecurity is about timing.
    • Cybersecurity sees the regularities within fabrics of time as strong indicators for where outliers may give insights worthy of attention and actions.
    • Sync as a guarantee of the location of transmission becomes a basis for non-repudiation within a developing protocol in spatial and temporal attestation.
    • Every nanosecond matters for precision triangulation (thank you Grace Hopper) and for the system math we rely upon in our modern world.
      • Quantum networks are using entangled photons in pairing as abilities to send messages and ensure copies are not possible.
      • To disseminate the time expected, picoseconds are the new realm of precision.
      • This requires immense scale to increase compute capacity as we move to a single atom as a bit.
      • As such, consider the possibility of satellite warfare that impacts navigation and devices that rely exclusively on GPS or are sensitive to time synchronization drift.
      • Even locally and terrestrially, GPS jammers are problematic.
    • As a sobering reminder:
      • 55 elections take place this year and voting can take hours, days, weeks, and months which opens time for disinformation dissemination.
      • Timing hackers will use novel techniques like Generative A.I. for extraction to get around timestamp anomaly detection.
  • Time tag and radar through coordinated birds to gain higher resolution faster.
    • Understanding the rise and fall of water, mineral extraction, etc is a large-scale geodesic measurement.
    • Gravitational shifts of 1mm are measurable by clocks that can tell if there is boring tunneling or magma bubbles.
  • RF distributed systems operate to achieve coincidence and derivatives application for autonomous vehicles that teams known spaced receivers to synchronize to a fraction of a wavelength.
    • Radar on a car would have fractions tenths of a degree for imaging
    • Which requires better local clocks, sync, communications, and signal processing
    • ie the dark knight echolocation cell phones

🚨 Privacy is fragile

In strong SXSW tradition, Amy Webb’s talk was both celebrated, dissected, and possibly even micro-lampooned.

Webb wasn’t the only speaker to make repeated reference to Large Action Models (LAMs). LAMs have always been part of the predictions for future applications of applied machine learning. After all, if the market wants great products and services, it requires beneficially trained models intended to simulate, iterate, and approximate an understanding of actual consumer intent that can help predict what subsequent actions to take that delight the consumer.

If that sounds like a model that is hungry for potentially invasive vacuuming of consumer data to train upon, you might be 80% of the way to understanding. The remaining 20% comes from understanding the potential role of synthetic data and the comingling of other data sets that form the basis for hyperpersonalization of the consumer.

Privacy norms will change. Privacy terms will become dizzyingly explicit.

Webb’s point on privacy was simply that, for products and services, market supremacy is the goal. Privacy is only a regulatory hurdle that varies in size based solely on the geopolitical proximity of a given market.

Also, read more of what Dr Maggie Smith is writing and recommending to read.

During Beyond the Hype - Policy for Keeping A.I. in Check I also took copious notes and noted the privacy implications again and again. Everything was so topical and timely that I found myself going back into Obsidian to append.

  • Question: Is privacy protected by the pen, paper, policy, procurement, purchasing, power of the purse, as well as the people?
  • “You are either a social engineer or a parasite”
  • Policy from 2023 and going into 2024 is in heavy flux and we are questioning the applications and use cases of A.I.
    • A.I. and tools used in conflicts is no longer theoretical
    • Dr Joy’s talk was referenced in that it does not matter where you are in the world for the tools to impact you i.e. A.I. bias is not solved
  • Hype and narratives
    • EPIC: A.I. is so smart it will solve humanities problems - hype is wrong
    • Public Knowledge: A.I. can make us better humans - hype is wrong
    • OPAT NTIA: Disinformation and detrimental use of A.I. is exaggerated - hype is wrong
  • Executive Order, agency, and addressing A.I. with privacy
    • EPIC: While it is challenging to be from the US when internationally our foundational privacy laws are so poor, the focus on government systems misses the private systems.
      • Get out of your bubble.
      • Design of our systems must include more perspectives.
      • Example: sentencing algorithms.
      • Fatalism around A.I. inclusion in everything being inevitable is bunk and social change is real.
      • Look at what The Berlin Group is doing and what US states are watching for as inspiration.
    • Public Knowledge: Biden’s executive order shows a whole govt approach is needed around data privacy and A.I. Bill of Rights but we are far behind the EU.
      • Get more voices to the table that are outside of the beltway.
      • Dedicated digital regulator agency is needed.
      • “A facet of afrofuturism” means invest in black communities.
    • OPAT NTIA: Section 4.6 recommendations are drafted for late July to ensure the purchasing power of the government can impact private systems through the power of procurement for large scale dual use foundation models used in terms of national security (potential use, risks, and implications).
      • Systems must comply with laws but optimization of systems have and will likely bake in biases and institutional biases with the history of discrimination.
      • Ensuring civil rights are not stripped away by these systems must be a conscious and deliberate requirement to enshrine in policies we as a people agree must be a norm.
      • Look at IAB in EU as what state govt may pull forward. Data privacy law has not intersected with development challenges yet (synthetic data).
      • Smart people are working on this within the administration and they want your comments and submit them.

📉 Friction is decreasing

You’ll recall I am deeply committed to the ruthless removal of annoyances (RRoA). This is a product management mindset to go from possible to permissible to sustainable to repeatable to advisable.

During Analogpunk, or, Tools, Shoes and Misery, it was clear that friction in product management is decreasing. We can look forward to a Cambrian explosion of new products and services.

My notes for Bruce Sterling are probably going to make sense to me and a few other readers so here we go:

  • Luxury multitool: Luxurious tools = science fiction = oxymorons
    • Luxury Tactical knives and Joachim Murat the Napoleonic winningest dandy
    • The 1980s pocket survival tool is now the luxury multitool born of Cold War ideation
    • Luxury Objects and those that can and will be customized and personalized
    • Variegated tools vs Swiss Army knives that were status symbols used by officers for managing the needs of the horse riding experience
  • Are you a gear queer, knife nerd, or a culturati?
    • Read more Slavenka Drakulić
    • Luxury utility sliders are deeper indicators of social and cultural transformation
    • Laura Kampf’s multitool collection and the future role of a flea market analyst
    • Shibboleths of the pentalobe cyber model to enable others
    • Vitrine museum manifestations vs Nike in Milan vs handmade aristocrats’ shoes

During Unconventional A.I. - Exploring Orthogonal Strategies, I found myself taking multiple notes of case studies and real-world examples of A.I. that are less about dystopian futures and more about how friction is decreasing.

  • Case study: supplement sales in the time of semuglutides — sellers using LLM alone is not enough. By including a LLM with a feedback loop you get a 300% increase in effectiveness for retail sales.
  • Case study: sleeping solutions - A.I. positioning as a team effectiveness vs team efficiency tool to avoid the fear of being replaced. Surfacing solutions typically come from the grassroots and edge and not from the leadership structure.
  • Case study: furniture company shifting from creativity to customer loyalty models
  • Case study: candidate questions startup using Generative A.I. to get outside of their defaults and assumptions
  • Call center example of impact vs the person that is scared of a keyboard until they realize it can suggest cookie recipes (but need to drive back to a work use application) as an admission of the true step change and we are human beings.
  • M&A is ripe and consolidating is inevitable.
  • LLM feedback from field and marketing can assist product management vocabularies both in expansion, awareness, and effectiveness
  • Values are shorthand for behaviors and correlation to success metrics is only possible with iteration to the point where measurement is only required to ensure it does not drop (Example: Collaboration)
  • Creative peanut butter questions from the audience were about expanding thinking beyond the datasets using the example of a toy company where Generative A.I. helps as creative ideation primers

Lastly on the product management friction front, if you don’t think strategy maps are getting closer to the design community — think again.

🏗️ Brands are building

There were many familiar brands at SXSW 2024. I also learned of brands that were new to me and those that are partnering.

A favorite brand of mine is Delta Airlines. Working at 37k feet is something I’ve done for as long as inflight Internet access was offered and I’ve paid a premium for that access.

This year and into 2025, Delta Airlines will roll out Delta Sync which offers free inflight Internet access as part of a wider vision for inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) via Ka-band GEO satellite-based services from Viasat.

I can’t wait to travel again and experience Delta Sync to see what has been built and what’s next.

Films and Bands

This post is already at +2000 words so I’m going to leave out films and bands. If you want to compare notes though or are looking for recommendations, let’s chat.


I am linking to my disclosure.

p.s. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate getting snail mail. If you have time to drop me a postcard that would be amazing. ✉️


✍️ 🤓 Edit on Github 🐙 ✍️

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