13 #SXSW2016 Interactive Panel Recommendations


South by Southwest is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year! We couldn’t be more excited as we get ready for SXSW Interactive that kicks off the conference this Friday, March 11. Also known as “geek spring break,” tech nerds from all over the world will converge in Austin, Texas, to share, learn, connect and geek out about the latest technology trends and innovations.

Hundreds of panels are scheduled featuring topics from social media (our favorite!) to artificial intelligence (AI) to space exploration. The best part? Sociality Squared’s CEO, Helen Todd, will be on one of those panels! She’s got a few recommendations for what else to look forward to at SXSW this year – read on for her recommendations.

Helen’s 2016 SXSW Interactive Panel Recommendations


1. Stay True to Your Craft and Online Brand 

What: Here’s our self-plug for the panel Helen will be on! Join to learn strategies to build your personal brand and social currency. Whether you’re doing what you love or thinking of a career change to align with it, join us and be inspired to communicate and stay true to your craft. You’ll discover how to you tell your story in a way that truly expresses who you are and what you do AND helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace of ideas and innovations. Of course, stop by and say hi to Helen afterwards too!

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon J at 500 E 4th St on Sunday, March 13th starting at 5 pm

The Panelists: Helen Todd – @helenstravels; James Burns – @jamesyboyburns; Jey Van-Sharp – @JeyofMyUberLife, and Martin Waxman – @MartinWaxman

Panel Hashtag: #TrueCraft

2. Testing Your (Artificial) Intelligence 

What: If you missed it, Mark Zuckerberg announced on January 3rd of this year that one of his personal challenges for the year would be to focus on AI, specifically developing an entirely voice-activated system for his home to do everything from turning on the lights to recognizing friends’ faces and unlocking the door for them. This is kind of a big deal — that’s why we’re excited about this panel. Alex Lebrun, head of Wit.ai at Facebook, is one of the four panelists that will be discussing the future of natural language technology.

From asking Siri what the weather will be tomorrow to asking your house to lock all the doors before bed, natural language technology is rapidly developing and will certainly impact how we will live in the future. We can’t wait to get the inside scoop! 

Where: Austin Convention Center in Room 8ABC at 531 E 4th St on Sunday, March 13th starting at 11 am

The Panelists: Alex Lebrun- @lxbrunDimitra Vergyri- @SRI_Intl;Raj Singh- @Raj_Singh_PR; Dror Oren

Panel Hashtag: #AITakeovr

3. The Next Three Billion People on Social

What: It’s hard to imagine not having the Internet. The reality, however, is that billions of people don’t have access to what some of us take for granted every day. Facebook’s Internet.org project, Google’s initiatives, as well as others, are looking to change that. Soon, three billion people will be experiencing the Internet for the first time, and that means big change. This panel will be discussing that future, and what happens next. We’re excited to hear how the fabric of our global community online will change as we welcome the 3B new members!

Where: JW Marriott in Room 303-304 at 110 E 2nd St on Saturday, March 12th starting at 3:30 pm

The Panelists: Alex Kantrowitz- @Kantrowitz; David Godsall- @dgodsall;  Ebele Okobi-@EbeleOkobi; Jonathan Donner- @jcdonner

Panel Hashtag: #thenext3b 

4. What the Ethics? Ethics of Data Decision Making 

What: Almost every industry has a Code of Ethics, so why should data trades be any different? The panel will focus and discuss what an Ethical Code should look like in the data industry and will explore the humanization of data, how we interact with algorithms, and classifying and understanding data-centric decision making.  

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon H at 500 E 4th St on Sunday, March 13th starting at 11 am

The Panelists: Sudhir Venkatesh-  @sudhirvenkatesh; Tim Rich- @PublicisNA

Panel Hashtag: #dataethics

5. When Your Photos Become the News 

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon F at 500 E 4th St on Friday, March 11th starting at 5 pm

What: Is everyone with a camera a photographer these days? This panel will discuss how the publishing industry is being affected as we become more and more entrenched in image-based social media and the “you can do it, too” attitude. 

The Panelists: Anna Dickson- @annagdickson; Marc Janks- @janksmarc; Wajmah Yaqubi- @photowaj; Bryan Van Dyk

Panel Hashtag: #content

6. Occupy Mars

What: NASA, NASA, NASA, NASA! We’ve all had visions of Mars, whether it be in the movies or in books, but how hard is it really to get there? Even more important to some, how hard is it to LIVE there? Have these questions answered and more by this panel of  NASA technologists. Seriously, don’t miss this. It’s NASA.

Where: Austin Convention Center on the Next Stage at 531 E 4th St on Tuesday, March 15th starting at 12:30 pm

The Panelists: Ian Clark, Jeffrey Sheehy, Michelle Munk, Molly Anderson- @NASA_Technology @NASA

Panel Hashtag: #NASA

7. Exploring a Holographic Mars 

What: Okay, we are nerding out about all this space talk. So you can’t go to Mars yet, but NASA has built “the most accurate 3D reconstruction of Mars ever.” By partnering with Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, it will seem like you are actually on Mars. Right now, we can’t think of anything cooler than that. Check out this panel and find out more about this project and the future of virtual reality space exploration.

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon A at 500 E 4th St on Friday, March 18th starting at 3:30 pm

The Panelists: Jeff Norris- @DrJeffNorris; Victor Luo- @victorocks

Panel Hashtag: #VRARTrack


8. Mars Experience VR 

What: Did the idea of experiencing Mars via virtual reality (VR) just get you really pumped? Then don’t miss this panel either. Collaboration between NASA, MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory, FusionVR, and development by members of Bioshock Infinite’s technical team brings an interactive VR experience to life. The panel will discuss the technology, education, and science used to develop this project.

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon A at 500 E 4th St on Wednesday, March 16th starting at 2 pm

The Panelists: Julian Reyes- @humanjulian; Justin Sonnekalb- @Ryvar; Zvi Greenstein-  @nvidia; Sydney Do- @mitaeroastro; Patrick Troutman

Panel Hashtag: #VRARTrack

9. Next for NASA: The Journey to Mars

What: All this hype over Mars exploration, the next question has to be “What’s Next?” NASA has you covered for that topic, as well. In this panel, NASA specialists will discuss the world’s most powerful rocket, Space Launch System, among other plans to venture into space and on to Mars. If you can’t tell, Helen is REALLY excited about all of the NASA panels!

Where: Austin Convention Center Room 6AB at 531 E 4th St on Tuesday, March 15th starting at 12:30 pm

The Panelists: Nujoud Merancy- @nujoud; Victor Glover- @VicGlover ; Chris Crumbly-@NASA_SLS; Yves Lamothe- @NASA

Panel Hashtag: #NASA


10. #SCIENCE: A Revolution in Science Communication 

What: Science has gone viral. We are constantly talking about science on social media, sharing new developments and our hopes and dreams for the future — and that’s making a difference. It is actually changing the way scientists DO science.

NASA social media team lead, Aries Keck, NatGeo’s digital news director Laura Helmuth, former leading scientific journal, Science, digital strategist Meghna Sachdev, and Reddit’s r/science moderator Nathan Allen come together to discuss how we talk about science, why that’s important, and how it affects the field at large.

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon F at 500 E 4th St on Monday, March 14th starting at 5 pm

The Panelists: Aries Keck- @Aries; Laura Helmuth- @LauraHelmuth; Meghna Schdev- @megsachdev; Nathan Allen- @anguschemco

Panel Hashtag: #science

11. Cause and FX: The Good and the Bad of VR for Causes 

What: This panel will discuss the ramifications of using VR to promote social causes. We’ve been seeing these campaigns recently ranging from texting and driving scenarios to “Perspective,” the Sundance 2015 VR date rape experience, to “Project Syria” which put viewers in a bombing and refugee camp. The question is whether these VR experiences could be traumatic to viewers and turn people away from the causes they are trying to garner empathy for, and is the “gamification” of these experiences putting too much levity and making them distasteful? 

Where: Austin Convention Center on the Next Stage at 531 E 4th St on Monday, March 14th starting at 3:30 pm

The Panelists: James Pallot- @jpallot1; Kevin Althans- @wearereelfx; Michelle Holmes- @mekuckelman; Morris May- @speculartheory

Panel Hashtag: #socialgood

12. The Eyes of Robots and Murderers 

What: First of all, it’s JJ Abrams. JJ Abrams is known for his use of practical effects and wonderfully realistic sci-fi films. Andrew Jarecki from HBO’s “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” joins him in this panel to discuss the long-time friends’ journeys and how using the eyes of robots and murders to tell the story and look into the souls of the characters they create and expose is important to their work. They will also be showing unseen clips and introduce KnowMe, a new mobile video platform for authentic self-expression. JJ Abrams, Robots, new platform for expression – what’s not to get excited about?!

Where: Austin Convention Center in Ballroom D at 531 E 4th St on Monday, March 14th starting at 3:30 pm

The Panelists: Andrew Jarecki- @andrewjarecki; JJ Abrams- @bad_robot

Panel Hashtag: #storytelling

13. Presidential Keynote Speakers: Barack and Michelle Obama

What better way to celebrate 30 years of SXSW than with the President and First Lady, a first for the conference! Technically, these are two panels we’re lumping together for Helen’s 13th recommendation, but this is because you have to enter a lottery for the chance to see President Obama’s keynote. If you haven’t already, be sure to watch him talk about why he’s visiting SXSW here.

President Obama will join Evan Smith, CEO/Editor in Chief of The Texas Tribune, to discuss civic engagement in the 21st Century, and speak with individuals in the audience that are responsible for this engagement. If you don’t win the lottery to watch it in person, don’t worry because everyone still has the opportunity to view the conversation as it will be live streamed in a few locations around SXSW.

The First Lady will be discussing the Let Girls Learn initiative, “which aims to break barriers for the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school today, more than half of whom are adolescent.” This event is open to all registrants of SXSW, but we recommend getting in line early as it’ll probably be really popular and fill up fast!

Safe Travels to Austin!

We know Helen had a hard time picking what panels to recommend and put on her itinerary out of the plethora of thought-provoking options available at SXSW. If there are any that you’d add to the list, do let us know! For SXSW coverage from Sociality Squared, be sure to follow Helen on her Instagram and Twitter accounts. Of course, feel free to say hi to her in person, too! Stay tuned for more coverage, recaps, and lessons learned from SXSW.

If you’re going in person or following along online, here’s to making SXSW 2016 the best yet!

– Emily

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