9This year I was able to attend South by South West in Austin, TX. What I experienced was truly surreal and left me in awe of our past, present and future through simply listening. Below highlights a few memorable sessions and lessons learned.

Putting the US back in the USA

Throughout the SXSW conference, speakers touched on division in the United States. Some even stressed the need of government eradication. While some speakers urged their audiences to “get to the polls,” Roy Spence, founder of GSD&M, had a different perspective.

Spence described how he and his team are taking on the United States of America as their client. “We are going to market the best of the best to America with the Promise Land Project.”

What qualifies Spence? He is famously known for purposeful and compelling PSA’s, including I am an American (post 9/11 unification PSA) and One America Appeal (president PSA 2017 hurricanes).

Spence is compelled to take on America as a client because he believes that by unleashing purpose-inspired messaging, we will bridge the cultural divide in this country. His project’s goal is this: “When America turns 250 years old in 2026, we will be celebrating America’s birthday — as well as the rebirth of a culture of US. As in [US]A. Rebirthing the best US by becoming the best us. When we do that, there will be no stopping us.”

How will this be accomplished? By getting purpose-inspired people into the arena to “become public servants driven by purpose and not politicians driven by power.”

At the end of the keynote, Spence received a standing ovation. This wasn’t due to Matthew McConaughey’s in-person support of the project (which also happened), but rather the audience’s hunger for something positive in a sea of accusatory division.

What to look for next? Matthew McConaughey is going to North Dakota with the project and I definitely will be keeping my eye out for that.

Artificial Intelligence that Listens

From speakers on stage to the trade show floor, SXSW was abuzz with excitement for the impact of artificial intelligence on the world. Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, spoke to the current state and future of self-driving cars (For reference, Waymo is an autonomous car development company and a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. Google).

Krafcik shared that currently 1.25 million people die every year in car accidents around the world. He said “it’s like 140 people dying in a 737 crash every hour of every day. That’s the total global fatality count.” Waymo knows that people deserve better and they are determined to lead the way.

Following his sobering statistic, a never-before-seen video was shown displaying people’s first experience riding in a Waymo car – the 40-second video can be found here. In the video, you can see people smiling, taking selfies, then yawning and closing their eyes. After their initial hesitation, riders relaxed. They connected with their fellow passengers and enjoyed the ride.

What makes this technology so reliable? These cars can register three-football-fields worth of surroundings, and are able to detect and react to people, strollers and other cars coming their way.

In addition to the impact of reducing car fatalities, Krafcik shared data on how the self-driving car will transform land use. “Currently, the U.S. has many more cars than licensed drivers. Each car has four parking spaces. So, you have about 300 million cars at 1.2 billion parking spaces, some cities have 20-30 percent of total land space dedicated to the automobile. That’s a massive stock of capital. And 95% of the time, they’re just sitting there.”

So, when Waymo cars come to your area, will you be a “yawner” or a “selfier “OR will you be working with your community to redefine green space? My mom always taught me repurpose, reuse and recycle. ♻

We can’t do it without all the US

Equality, women’s rights and the globe. I was lucky enough to stumble into a session with Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent and a SXSW key note speaker, where she touched on all this and more.

Amanpour began to share that she is starting a new series titled Sex & Love Around the World, and began to share the stories that inspired her. Her passion seeped from every pore. Here are a few inspirational quotes:

  • “Young people are bursting out of the confines of their culture, of their context, of their religious morays, particularly young women.”
    “While the #MeToo movement in the west is happening, it’s quietly been happening around the rest of the world. Not defined by #MeToo, but by education and economic empowerment. The future of these countries will be built on the backs of women.”
  • Amanpour made a point to express her optimism of the younger generation of people who have “a level of tolerance and acceptance and a respect for consent in gender relations” that she finds hopeful.

Well, I can get behind that! You can watch the full talk here.

Memorable SXSW Quotes

“We cannot do this without our male relatives, our bosses, our colleagues. This isn’t about men against women.” – Christiane Amanpour

“If you are doing good and you are not happy, you are not doing good. And if you are bad and you are happy, than you are doing drugs.” – Roy Spence

“You can’t spell but you can write; I don’t want you to spend another minute doing what you are average at.” – A message from Roy Spence’s mom

“There is a drought of ideas in courage.” – Daniel Roumain, Sozo Artists

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” – Cheryl Miller Houser, Founder & CEO Creative Bread

Here’s to 2019 SXSW, I can’t wait.

Molly Costello is an Account Executive on Global Health and Social Impact Team in Washington, DC for Porter Novelli.