After Day 1, Day 2 of SXSW started as planned. I got my shuttle in extra early and wondered around Austin for a little before heading to my first session #brainhack. This was a session led by two professors from DARPA. Immediately we were all engaged. Our first speaker was not only a highly interesting professor he was also hilarious. My favourite quote from him was “I am owned by the government. The only difference between me and a mailbox is that dogs don’t pee on me”. This was going to be a great session. Indeed it was as he proceeded to introduce the first FDA approved prosthetic limb, which the wearer moved using movement. This was amazing stuff. But then he took it one step further. He then introduced the brain chip and showed us test done with a couple of paraplegics. In the first one a young man, with no movement below the neck was able to move a robotic arm using his thoughts alone. The arm was not attached to him but through thinking he was able to move the arm up and down, left and right. Off script his girlfriend then said she would love to shake his arm, even though it was not his she still felt like this was the first time they could physicially really interact. He shook her hand. Stunned silence. In a room packed with standing-room only where there is always background noise you could have heard a pin drop. This was truly the most amazing, emotional technological thing I have seen. This made coming to SXSW worth it. I left the room full of awe and inspiration. There is so much more out there.
My next session also left me walking away in awe. Here were more professors showcaseing their work – this time around the impact of gaming on the brain. Whereas I had always poo-pooed war and action games as pointless it turns out they actually have a far more positive impact on the brain than other games. In fact they demonstrated the positive cognitive improvements that could result from gaming, to the extent that some of these games are now in clinical trials with large pharma companies like Pfizer and Shire. This was the new frontier of clinical trials – no pharmaceutical products but technology making the changes required for positive outcomes. Again I was blown away and totally inspired.
Full of inspiration I headed to the Fast Company Grill to meet up with Jackie and Veronica and another #hcsmeu member @ideagoras who was also in town. I last saw Angel in Madrid end of last year so it was fantastic to see him again so soon. During the very delicious, and free, BarBQ lunch we listened to two inspirational female entrepreneurs, before we each headed off out to our next sessions.
Next up I went to a couple of sessions I just had to attend – meeting Tuna the dog and Lil Bub the cat. In case you don’t know them they are both internet sensations and mega cool. As my cat has his own facebook page and I myself volunteer in animal rescue I had to see these two rescues that have managed to carve a name for themselves online. Both were real superstars and I felt honoured to meet them and their parents. Lil Bub was also gracious enough to support an online campaign going on at the moment to let Romania know that the world is watching – a new slaughter of strays (via bleach injection and bludgeoning to death) is due to start this Saturday and I hope that this little photo will in its own way help make a difference.
After Lil Bub I then dashed back to the hotel where I had to present at ACC via skype on the power of social media for patients. Here technology failed me – rather distressing giving that I was at a technology event! I ended up having to sit in a corner holding my tablet in order to get enough reception to skpe – which totally blew me and I apologise for those at ACC who watched. It was not the smooth presentation I had wanted but it was a very passionate one and I hope that made up for it.
After all this awesomeness I had to meet the ladies for a drink so we all headed to the Fast Company Food & Grill for some free food and vodka. I was on a total high so when the light-weight ladies decided to call it a night and go home at 8pm I stayed on and met new people, having some intellectual conversations, and some less so. As the evening carried on I then got talking to two local ladies who I totally clicked with. When the Grill closed I then moved off with them to the Kettle One party, and when this finished onto some local bars where we met some lovely local guys. At this point everything was closed so we proceeded to go to one of the guys apartment and drink some famous moonshine. Awesome stuff! Finally at 8am I made it to sleep. I am nearly 40 years old and I would never ever have even remotely guessed I would have had the energy to stay awake that long but the sessions I saw inspired me to much I was on a total high. I had definitely got my SXSW ROI. I had seen mindblowing, life-changing technology, met internet sensations, been out on the town with locals and partied like a 22 year old. My money was well spent.