Since it first rocked Austin, Texas in 1987, South by Southwest (SXSW®) has attained an almost mythical status as a gathering of creative and innovative minds. While SXSW began with discussions around the future of entertainment and media, it has grown to embrace technology and education. Its reputation is so strong that it’s often enough to just say “South By” to evoke visions of an eclectic journey of creative discovery.

It was a huge coup for Sydney to be chosen to host the first ever SXSW outside of Austin. SXSW Sydney® takes over the International Convention Centre and much of Darling Harbour from October 15-22 2023, with parties, showcases, activations and an expo bursting at the seams with tech and innovation across pretty much every imaginable sector. 

“It’s a world away from the standard conference where you have people in suits wandering around, and that’s a good thing,” says Sophie Gilder, managing director, blockchain and digital assets at Commonwealth Bank. “It’s a real melting pot of personalities and ideas, which is fantastic for creativity. CBA has a huge technology focus so it’s no surprise that we’re involved in SXSW because the whole event really represents the power of diverse thinking.” 

Gilder says she is keen to hear from startups and creators who are looking to challenge the status quo. “We’re always open to fresh thinking and want to meet people with different perspectives,” she says.

Immerse yourself in deep tech

The technology track opportunities at SXSW are many and varied. It will be almost a year since the launch of ChatGPT and Luiz Pizzato, executive manager of CBA AI Labs, anticipates a lot of action on that topic at SXSW Sydney. 

“I’m sure we’ll see a lot of people showcasing how generative AI is helping their business,” says Pizzato. “For example, how they’re using that technology to communicate better with customers, accelerate processes and perform a lot of intelligent tasks that, in the past, we thought only humans could do.”

There’s undoubtedly going to be a lot going on around AI and one area Pizzato will be tuning into is anything around privacy-enhancing technologies. “This includes technologies such as homomorphic encryption (which enables complex maths to be performed on encrypted data without compromising the encryption). I know it seems quite niche but it’s a space that is exciting and of course will be really important in the future.”

He’s also looking forward to discussions around advanced AI techniques, large-language models (LLMs, such as ChatGPT) and robotics. “All those LLM sessions will be packed out. In terms of robotics – even if they’re not yet living up to the hype – who couldn’t get excited by robots?”

Look outside your world

The CBA team will be at SXSW with their own exhibition and panel sessions and will be eagerly exploring innovative thinking that’s worlds away from banking.

“There’s so much value in the wide range of topics at SXSW,” says Pizzato. “If you only look at your area all the time, you’ll miss out on inspiration. For example, there’s sports, which is very different to banking but there’s potentially a lot to learn for us there. I imagine things like how teams are organised in sports and how could you apply it to a corporate setting? The crossover ideas that will happen at SXSW are unique and present a great opportunity.”

SXSW is renowned for changing things up. “As well as those diverse voices, it encourages contrary views as opposed to groupthink. That’s super valuable,” says Gilder. “All of us will walk away with fresh ideas and expanded views on all sorts of topics, like decarbonisation, biodiversity and banking. Imagine the impact possible when you have everyone from corporates to disruptors to indie bands, filmmakers and founders all coming together.”

To learn more from leading industry experts, head to CommBank Foresight™ – insights for future-facing businesses.

Things you should know

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