Movie stars, tech moguls and music artists are among those converging in Austin, Texas, starting this week, as part of South by Southwest Conference and Festivals.
Known by its shorthand SXSW, the nine-day event, now in its 31st year, mixes music, film, comedy and digital entertainment, as well as technology and politics.
The event in the Texas capital, normally a low-key tech hub, has become an important nexus where the already successful mix with the aspiring. New movies premiere, music acts perform and startups pitch their wares. Twitter gained traction at SXSW in 2007, putting up flat-panel screens in the hallways.
But not every new tech or its CEO can call SXSW experience a success. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg struggled through his keynote interview in 2008. Meerkat, a video streaming app that took off in SXSW 2015, quickly faded.
This year, among the actors, musicians and tech celebrities, Buzz Aldrin, the former astronaut who walked on the moon in 1969, will speak about human space exploration.
U.S. government officials and American politicians also come to mingle with the celebrities and tech executives. At last year’s SXSW, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama spoke to the festival-goers.
FBI Director James Comey was expected to speak at this year’s event, but he canceled. In his place, James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel, is scheduled to discuss the “intersection of national security, technology and First Amendment rights.”
On Sunday, Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president, will speak about his work on cancer research as part of the Biden Cancer Initiative.
The intersection of politics and technology is one major theme this year, with SXSW organizers creating a “Tech Under Trump” series of discussions. Topics include immigration, self-driving cars and the effects that artificial intelligence may have on jobs. One panel, “Startup investing in the Trump years,” will look at how the Trump administration could affect the investment landscape.
Some panels tout how technology can be used to achieve goals such as helping people seeking faith. Yasmin Green, head of research and development at Jigsaw — a technology incubator that is part of Alphabet, Google’s parent company — will discuss how technology can be used to fight extremism.
Other sessions focus on bleaker possibilities, like how technology can potentially hurt people, such as robots taking jobs.
Ultimately, SXSW this year, as in the past, is a giant party with thousands of people looking for the next big thing.
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