I’m back from another SXSW – and thank goodness it’s back in person, some events just did not translate well to being fully remote, and this was one of them. From breakfast tacos (I mean come on, they’re amazing), a programme that would give the most relaxed individual total FOMO (am I in the right session of the possible 50 other things I could be attending right now) to the brand-experiences. Not to mention the house takeovers, the surround sound of music on the streets and the odd sighting of film stars (Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway all sighted on this trip – not bad), all make for a great event.

So, for those of you that didn’t attend, and for those of you that did but were in completely different sessions to me, here are a few of my key takeouts: 

1) I’ll have an NFT with that.

This was the Web3 breakout year – NFTs this, DAOs that, POAPs here, Tokens there – a combination of in-show talks, official programme house takeovers to a whole host of fringe events – some where you could only get in if you were a coin holder or NFT holder. Yes, I had FONT (fear of not having a token). Beeple, the infamous NFT artist, had a prime mainstream stage slot where he opined on the power of this new technology to the world of the digital artist (easy to say when you’ve sold a piece for north of $70m). But the Web3 connection to SXSW made complete sense – it is this “creative economy” that the industry is looking to enable through technologies like NFTs. Expect to see this get louder and louder in forthcoming SXSW’s.

2) What goes up must come down.

Scott Galloway, who is always great value, hit the attending community hard on day one with his pretty pessimistic outlook on technology. He lamented that space tourism is ridiculous, predicts huge waves of layoffs in Unicorns over the next 12 months as their valuations catch-up with revenue (he thinks stock positions for many will continue to head down not up), and mused that Web3 today is more like Web 2.1 – still very centralised and controlled by a few powerful people. Not quite the utopian decentralised dream some would have us believe.

3) Are you in a DAO yet?

So DAO’s were a big theme of this year’s event, with many talks on/around the topic. For those new to the concept it’s Decentralised Autonomous Organisation – an organisation represented by rules encoded onto a blockchain and often governed by token – think about the high-profile examples of the attempt in the US for a DAO to buy a copy of the US constitution. We heard from all kinds of DAOS, including Krause Haus a DAO working hard to one-day buy an NBA team, and a VC DAO just set-up to collaborate and make decisions on how to invest their capital on other Web3 companies. I predict 2022/23 being a big year for the DAO.

4) Are we the cat?

Amy Webb, the futurist, is always a must-attend session with her pacey style and gripping predictions for the future, and this year didn’t disappoint. She gave time to three trends this year, AI, Metaverse and Synthetic biology. She believes that AI is already permanently altering our perception of reality and we’re getting close to generalised AI making decisions without us. She demonstrated AI progression by showing what the world was excited about in 2012 i.e., neural nets that could recognise cats in an image, and comparing it with today, where AI can create an infinite amount of fake lifelike cats. In ten years from “that’s a cat” to “here’s a cat”. Back in 2012 where AI’s were being trained on cat-videos, we – our lives captured in digital forms – are the cat videos as the AI engines learn more and more about who and what we are.  

5) No more suits at work, unless it’s a space suit?

The Metaverse was definitely one of the buzzwords of the event this year, with many chances to attend sessions on the topic. One that piqued my interest was on the Metaverse and the future of work. The takeout being it’s all about Gen Z who are now flooding into the workforce, a generation that have grown up already socialising in virtual environments or in gaming online by default – they are used to collaborating and communicating in a very different way. When millennials hit the workforce, they brought a more consumer-minded approach. This resulted in a “bring your own device” mindset. The next move we may well see is “bring your own experiences”. A move that could involve more companies creating virtual campuses in places like Sandbox, Decentraland, or in the case of this session on the Moon Valley (where everyone walks around in a space suit). Will we ever see a Fortnite for work? Much like we saw a Facebook for work? Now there’s a thought.

6) It’s protein but not as we know it.

Here’s a scary stat I overheard at SXSW. On Superbowl day over 1.5bn chicken wings are consumed, that’s 750m chickens to produce the nations favourite half-time snack. And whilst protein is tasty, it is also about energy – our current animal-based forms of protein are really inefficient – something like 9 calories of energy goes into chicken farming to create 1 calorie of energy consumed (it’s much worse as the animal gets bigger). The solve? Synthetic proteins – not farmed but grown in labs, from fermentation process. One company on stage can literally create energy out of air. The point being there are now many companies like Perfect Day Foods who have been able to recreate to a molecular level protein (in this case dairy i.e. Whey) to then create affordable products (in this case ice cream). Expect in the coming years many more companies and an increasingly diverse range of products. If they taste as good as meat, and cost less, will it lead to the change in behaviour?

7) Can’t shake Advertising.

We recently saw Disney announce it intends to introduce an advertising funded version for Disney+ (as Disney would make a lot more from advertising than it would the price of subscription) – why is this important? Content is very expensive to make, and based on current subscription pricing that just won’t sustain the demand for quality content. In a great session exploring the world of streamers and content creators, the former CEO of Disney, Kevin Mayer, guaranteed that Netflix will move to include advertising within two years “they will have to” he said. Something they’ve said they’d never do.

8) Capture that carbon.

In a talk from the author of Snow Crash, and the inventor of the term the Metaverse, Neil Stephenson talked about the climate change emergency – the premise of his latest novel. The point he was keen to make is that we need to be investing as much capital and time into the sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere as we do in reducing our emissions. He believes it will be necessary if we’re going to control the rising temperature and that we have capabilities to do this today that just need to be scaled globally – as he said we need factories that s**t out bricks of carbon.

Justin Westcott is Edelman’s European Head of Technology and COO for the UK & Ireland.