Open standards. Open Web. Open future. Mix those themes with the spectacle that is SXSW Interactive (SXSWi) and suddenly, innovation and new horizons find the support of a community eager to embrace and nurture the technology of tomorrow.

I used to dream of attending the South By Southwest festival, also known as SXSW. For years, I heard about the innovation that streamed from this unique event, which creatively combines technology (the Interactive portion), music, and film in a 10-day experience that takes over Austin, Texas.

This year, I no longer stood as a distant SXSW attendee wannabe and finally participated in a series of events that would exceed my expectations as the newly elected president of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA).

Each day, I was in awe of how this event attracted so many young trendsetters and experienced innovators—visionaries freely sharing their viewpoints on technology’s future. I witnessed the pioneering of new ideas and models that aim to and will indeed change life on a global scale.

The SXSWi experience was invention at a much higher level, with discussions of augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT), social robotics, body hacking, and more. While it’s one thing to examine these concepts in the form of panels and sessions, it’s entirely different to see them in action. Google’s wearable, ubiquitous hands-free computer—simply known as “Glass”—was remarkable to witness in person, and I will be one of the first in line to get one. 

Working alongside my IEEE-SA colleagues, who were among those leading discussions of these disruptive technologies and concepts, further enhanced my SXSWi experience. And it all started when I arrived in Austin on Saturday, March 9 at 2:00 in the morning. 

Day One

The day opened with a keynote presentation from Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. His speech, titled “Open Web Platform: Hopes & Fears,” laid the foundation for discussion of a more open technology future and was the perfect way to get the day started.

Later, I moderated a panel discussion titled “Digital Telepathy: When Every Thing Connects,” which helped fuel conversations on the IoT, nanosenors, energy proportionality, opportunities for intelligent optimization, and so much more. It was terrific to engage with the audience of engineers, technologists, designers, media, and others who came to hear about where the IoT will take us.

In the afternoon, I joined Tim Berners-Lee for the “IEEE and W3C Open Future Meetup” where a large SXSW audience enjoyed thought-provoking discussions on future technologies, the benefits of OpenStand, and how this modern paradigm for standards has furthered innovations.

An open, globally relevant movement that increases innovation and allows greater participation in creating the next generation of products built on sound technical standards, OpenStand puts a name to the way market-driven standards radically improve how people develop, deploy, and embrace technologies for the benefit of humanity by keeping the future of technology development open.

Of course, the highlight of the day was spending time with Tim, an innovator whose work has changed so much for our world. It was my honor to speak with him repeatedly during conversations that I won’t soon forget and will consider career highlights.

Day Two

My second day in Austin was reserved for expanding my horizons and receiving an education on new and exciting opportunities in technology innovation.

I attended two sessions: “Copyright and Disruptive Technologies” and “Charismatic Machines & Robot Comedy.” Both were fun and entertaining, yet opened the door to discussions of how frontier technologies like social robotics will indelibly impact our lives. Where else can you discuss elements of copyright and how they affect today’s technology landscape and then watch a wisecracking robot dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? Only at SXSWi.

For me, the high point of the day was sitting down with and interviewing Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet and Metcalfe’s Law, who managed to be funny, charming, and brilliant all at the same time. Yet again, I met the creator of a major technology that fundamentally changed the world as we know it. Amazing!

Days Three And Four

With my IEEE-SA colleagues joining other industry pundits, the crowd’s appetite for thought-provoking discussion was profound. 

On day three, I discovered the world of body hacking by attending “Hack You: The Human Body is the Next Interface,” while day four brought heightened discussions focused on AR at the “Omnipresent: When Virtual Meets Reality” panel.

As time allowed, I also found myself on the expo floor where I discovered more examples of innovation and companies moving to expand consumers’ horizons.

SXSW was the perfect portal to usher us to the doorstep of what’s around the corner and beyond. Indeed, it’s an open future.

Karen Bartleson is the senior director of community marketing, at Synopsys Inc. She has 30years of experience in semiconductors, joining Synopsys in 1995 as standards manager. Her responsibilities include initiatives that increase customer satisfaction through interoperability, standards support, university relationships, and social media engagements. She also held the position of director of quality at Synopsys for three years. She was elected to become president of the IEEE Standards Association for the 2013-2014 term. She holds a BSEE from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Calif. She was the recipient of the Marie R. Pistilli Women in Design Automation Achievement Award in 2003. Her first book, The Ten Commandments for Effective Standards, was published in May 2010.