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From EVs to AI: Takeaways and triumphs from SXSW 2024

From EVs to AI: Takeaways and triumphs from SXSW 2024
From EVs to AI: Takeaways and triumphs from SXSW 2024

Now that South by Southwest – abbreviated as SXSW – has come to an end, the event leaves us with insights that promise to shape technology and society. Uber showcased plans for greener transportation while Waymo announced its planned expansion. 

But the focus wasn’t just on automotive tech. A debate raged on the ethical considerations of AI, marking a poignant moment of reflection at the future-centric festival. 

SXSW recap

This year’s event took place from March 8 to 16, 2024, in Austin, Texas. It’s one of the oldest tech events in the world, with the first conference held in 1987, and only taking a break during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The nine-day gathering covered everything from tech, film, TV, music, and more. The agenda was packed with powerful keynote presentations from industry leaders and creatives. 

Uber’s green horizon

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced Uber’s plans to reduce carbon emissions and increase driver access to electric vehicles (EVs). Khosrowsha held a fireside conversation with Austin Mayor Kirk Watson about the ridesharing company’s newest project – Emissions Saving. 

The #sustech (sustainability technology) feature promises to help “customers better quantify the emissions impact of going green with Uber.” The app feature shows users how much CO2 was saved “by taking Uber Green and Uber Comfort.” 

It also provides examples in a neat graphic of how their emission savings add up. The app largely focuses on Gen Z and Gen Alpha usage, since Uber “knows that the environment is their top cause.” The feature is available for Uber teen account holders too.

Waymo expands its AV reach

Meanwhile, Waymo said it expanding its ‘Waymo One’ service in four major cities. The rollout began in Los Angeles on March 14 and Austin is next to get access to the company’s fully autonomous ride-hailing services. 

Taking the stage at SXSW, CEO Tekedra Mawakana said the “once unimaginable future” of autonomous driving is now “a real-world way of getting around for tens of thousands of people each week.” 

Waymo says going forward, the rollout will be consistent with how they’ve expanded their services in other cities. It will focus on “community partnerships, engagement with policymakers and first responders, and incremental expansion supported by rigorous safety standards.”

To date, Waymo AVs have driven “over 10 million miles without a human driver behind the wheel.” Billions of additional hours have been spent in driving simulations to train the AVs. 

The AI debate

In addition to sustainability tech and transport progress, filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – known collectively as DANIELS – returned to the event. The duo initially appeared at the 2022 conference to promote their Academy Award-winning film, ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’

DANIELS shared insight into AI technology’s ethical considerations, and societal impacts. As reported by Tech Crunch, they said the “inevitable rise of AI” is both “amazing and terrifying.”

“It’s magic,” Kwan said. “It’s probably going to solve cancer. It’s probably going to give us a lot of climate solutions. […] But I’m really terrified of what this new story we’re going to have to tell ourselves in order to accept this new convenience, this new progress.” 

He said as marvelous as it all sounds, it will still exist in “this current system,” which brought us “climate change, inequality, and a general lack of gratitude and understanding of our worth and the worth of those around us.”

SXSW will return to Texas on March 7, 2025. 

About the author

Cheryl has contributed to various international publications, with a fervor for data and technology. She explores the intersection of emerging tech trends with logistics, focusing on how digital innovations are reshaping industries on a global scale. When she's not dissecting the latest developments in AI-driven innovation and digital solutions, Cheryl can be found gaming, kickboxing, or navigating the novel niches of consumer gadgetry.

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