South by South West Interactive 2012

It’s not easy to wrap up all the information I’ve been absorbing these days in Austin during the biggest Tech Festival on Planet. Let’s start by getting an overview of my phone activities these days (pretty insane I would say – including the 4’ AM wake up on Wednesday – scale is from 0 to 60).

 my phone's activity over time

Our brain has a quite discreet function of content summarization based on concept tagging and here is the first list that pops up to my mind (order is random):

  • Synesthesia is a perceptual condition of mixed sensations: a stimulus in one sensory modality (e.g., hearing) involuntarily elicits a sensation/experience in another modality (e.g. vision) – the speaker of the amazing talk was David Eagleman and he really dug quite brilliantly the mysteries of our minds; with scientific proofs and a series of effective optical tests on the audiences he asserted that we perceive reality just as we perceive dreams. There is a lot more here to be said and if you’re interested here is a link to David’s latest book “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain”;
  • Moral Psychology: the combination of Big Data with Psychological Values and insights ( – the speaker was Ravi Iyer and what I liked about this talk was the sense of seamless convergence between the quantified world and the intrinsic psychological values of our species – Ravi’s work can be found on his blog;
my movement path
  •  Social Functional MRI: the Phone is a Sensor Platform and we can finally create a “Virtual Image Chamber” using a framework called funf and developed by the MIT, the data collected for this post (like the movement path above) is indeed the result of the test I conducted these days with the Journal App (a very basic android app to collect a large number of data from your phone’s sensors) – Leon Festingers 3.0;
  • Big Data…here you’ll find some highlights on Becky Wang’s (aka @gnostica) talk “approaching predictions with #bigdata and neural networks” – for sure Big Data has been one very significant protagonist of the whole event (from Nike launching its FuelBand and the free APIs to a wide range of discussions on the topic);
  • Computational Intelligence and the updates its creator (@stephen_wolfram) shared with us was a blast; in few words: WolframAlpha (WA) is going Pro and it’s starting to take your data as input, WA processes your data, takes natural language queries  and provides a full report. It’s a major step forwards in Stephen Wolfram’s endless quest for computational knowledge – Wolfram is going Social (in its own way). I’ll be back with another post on the talk I had the honor to have with Stephen on WordLift 2.0 and our research on semantic web technologies for blogs;
  • Biohacking, Buddha and the Internet of Things it’s clear the tech community is getting closer to a deep understanding of the self by leveraging the massive amount of data we’re collecting on a large scale: humans behavioral patterns, cognitive processing and social phenomena became visible. What’s next? Buddhist and spiritual freaks of all kind have been working for millennia on the technologies of the mind and it’s time we get prepared for what I like to call the Internet Yoga. The purpose of a technology becomes central: what’s behind the design of an application? How are we establishing connections with our peers? How do we connect one another with other leaving beings and with the environment? Does the stone age of our ego doom us or are we ready to sense the World and taking part of the flow? It’s quite paradigmatic that the talks the touched these topics had an enormous success at SXSW – the lesson learned here is: Interconnectedness (for buddhist) = Internet of Things (for geek). One interesting link is;
  • DRC – speaking about success this was the least successful talk, almost deserted and yet extremely crucial: how important is to buy conflict-free devices? How much are we all responsible of the outrageous violence happening in Congo in the last ten years? To find out more, visit;
  • StreetBump being Rome one of the cities where the major has been elected by campaigning in favor of smooth road driving I found this app quite essential and I’m sure that if we all collect enough data on our roads conditions there will be  good chances Alemanno will resign (…just kidding of course); for sure we can help the city improves our roads – this is Open Data 2.0: get the data, analyze it and possibly act on it with your peers;
  • Data as Narrative and Spam 2.0 the good news here is that email spam is becoming a memory of the past, the bad news is that SPAM can completely change the perception of our digital streams; we assisted to various twitter SPAM attacks hitting real-time the hash tags of the panels, have a look at what happened here – this is emblematic and deserve our attention – the stream most of us rely on is extremely fragile and so are our digital identities (3 unknown friends are enough to take over your Facebook account);

“I’m interested in things that have one foot in fantasy and one foot in reality” Bruce Sterling 

  • Google, Micosoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook are all stacks of inclusive technologies and they will all die (@bruces). Each stack includes operating systems, dedicated hardware (mobile and fixed, private and public) and a comprehensive series of cloud services to continuously extract cash, acquire private data (DNA included) and reselling it to the legitimate owners (ourselves) or 3rd parties. Sterling’s conclusions are sharp as a knife – the purpose of all the stacks is wrong, they generate value transforming our private data in a products that eventually they resell to us – it’s a vicious circle and it will miserably dry itself out anytime in the next coming future. Stacks are fighting heavily to keep us inside their perverse logic and the upcoming generations will have big trouble understanding how possibly we had let these companies be so much in control of our lives;

This post is dedicated to our marvelous hosts Stephanie and Davide – hospitality is a sign of great wisdom, letting 5 people coming from Europe spend a week in your apartment is a sign of kind holiness and I’m very grateful for that 😉  


Ahmed ElMeligy

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