Loz Maneschi’s SXSW Diary wrap-up

| | No Comments
Loz Maneschi’s SXSW Diary wrap-up

SXSW 2023 has wrapped. Cocogun creative Loz Maneschi reflects on the festival’s major themes of AI, ethical use of tech and equality of representation, exclusively for Campaign Brief.


South By Southwest, the iconic festival of cutting edge tech, film, music, education, and culture, has offered an intriguing peek into our near futures.

As I alluded to in Diary #1, Artificial Intelligence has been a primary focus. Overall, the conversation hasn’t just been around how AI is the most transformative technology of our lifetime, but about the need to ethically and intentionally build AI systems. The failure of some AI systems is “not a software problem, but a socialware problem”, said speakers on the How Purpose Can Guide Responsible Tech panel. True representation comes from diversity of engineers and AI training data: the inclusion of 26 languages on OpenAI’s recently announced GPT-4 was cited as a step in the right direction. It’s been reassuring to hear panels unpacking how the potential dangers of AI can be mitigated to ensure the technology benefits humanity.

One remarkably impressive AI tool I learnt about in a panel was Wonder Studio. The founders described how they used Artificial Intelligence to make the VFX and CGI process faster, more efficient, and more accessible for both established studios and independent filmmakers. I’m curious to see how tools like this will impact the film and television industry.

Turning science into accessible human stories is at the centre of how NASA meaningfully connects with their audience. In a talk titled Combing Art & Science to Connect we heard from NASA creative leads about their challenges in getting scientists (their clients) to write them a comprehensible creative brief for visualising data and new findings, putting the woes I sometimes experience with complicated briefs into sharp perspective. The projects these creatives work on last for decades: one of the panellists, the Animation Manager at NASA, did the concept art for the Webb Telescope in 1993. I can only imagine how rewarding it was for him seeing the new image of a massive star on the cusp of death, unveiled on Wednesday’s keynote, 20 years later.

Some of the most enjoyable sessions were the keynotes. The audience weren’t furiously scribbling notes, but rather soaking up the lived wisdom of industry leaders such as William Shatner, Tilda Swinton, Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. RuPaul’s Drag Race legends Jaida Essence Hall, Symone and Gottmik took the main stage for Don’t Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen (and yep, there was a “slay” count going). It was a particularly powerful talk in light of the heated political LGBTQI+ discourse in Texas. The Queens were as insightful as they were fabulous.

Finally, I’ll leave SXSW reflecting deeply on the sessions that got to the core of human experiences. We heard from a renowned Death Doula in a talk titled Who Do You Want To Be When You Die?, who is leading a movement to reclaim end of life as a cultural rather than clinical experience. The calming, reassuring energy this Death Doula exuded over the whole room was remarkable. And the Disability Representation in Future Stories panel emphasised the responsibility we as creators have in storytelling when it comes to challenging casting stereotypes around people with disabilities.

What a week. I’ll be leaving Austin more motivated than ever, and excited to bring what I’ve learnt back to Sydney. Speaking of home, after my experiences here, I’ve got no doubt Sydney’s SXSW in October will be immensely eye-opening and inspiring.