Hugh Forrest, Chief Porgramming Officer at SXSW, photo by John Davidson

By Laura Lorek, publisher of Silicon Hills News

Author and Journalist Malcolm Gladwell is the latest speaker to join the lineup at South by Southwest.

Gladwell is leading a documentary look at self-driving cars in the film “Autonomy,” which is set to debut at the SXSW Film Festival.

The film examines the world of automated vehicles and includes interviews with industry pioneers. It also examines how automated vehicles will affect society. Autonomous Vehicles could replace taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers, and truck drivers and be a huge disruptor in the transportation industry.

Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, made the announcement about Gladwell joining the latest lineup of speakers during a Tech Talk breakfast meeting at the Austin Chamber of Commerce downtown Wednesday morning.

Artificial intelligence, which is the technology that powers autonomous vehicles and robots, is one of the biggest themes of SXSW Interactive this year, Forrest said. AI has been referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s going to have far reaching impacts on every sector of the worldwide economy.

Automation will lead to massive changes in the workplace. And several speakers at SXSW including Ellen Shell, who wrote “The Job: Work and its Future in a Time of Radical Change” and Kate Crawford, co-founder and co-director of the AI Now Research Institute, will be talking about the future of the workforce.

“A lot of the jobs we currently do are going to be digitized,” Forrest said. “They are going to be outsourced.”

Robots cannot yet think as creatively as humans, Forrest said.

In an age of increasing automation and machine learning, creativity becomes an even more valued commodity, Forrest said.

“And that’s what South by Southwest is all about,” he said.

During his talk, Forrest highlighted 30 speakers who will have a huge impact this year. On the entrepreneurial side, they include Adeo Ressi, serial entrepreneur and founder of Founder Institute and Kevin Systrom, and Mike Krieger, co-founders of Instagram,

Another trend is actors and actress and athletes increasingly turning to entrepreneurship, Forrest said. That can be seen with speakers like Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of GOOP and Zoe Saldana, founder of her own media company, BeSe.

Another highly anticipated speaker is Dr. James Allison, who won the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his immunotherapy cancer treatments. He is also the subject of a documentary film at SXSW called “Breakthrough.”

“It’s a lot about Austin the ‘60s and the “70s,” Forrest said.

Allison went to the University of Texas at Austin and was an aspiring country musician early on. The film is narrated by “Woody Harrelson, and features music by Willie Nelson, Mickey Raphael, and a power score by Mark Orton,” according to a news release. “Breakthrough tells Jim’s story in a way that is inspiring, informative and highly entertaining.”

And the focus on medical technology and health is a trend that SXSW continues to see with the opening of the Dell Medical School at UT, Forrest said.

Another big theme at this year’s SXSW reflects what’s going on in society with a growing digital distrust. Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley investor for 35 years and an early backer of Facebook and mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, has written a just released book: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” His talk should be thought provoking, Forrest said.

Other speakers Forrest highlighted include the husband and wife couple, Author Neil Gaimen, and singer Amanda Palmer, Maria Shriver, who will speak about Alzheimer’s disease and its effects particularly on women, Author Brene Brown and on the music side, T. Bone Burnett, Wyclef Jean and David Byrne.

SXSW, which takes place March 8-17, has 25 tracks featuring panels, meetups, keynotes and more divided between Interactive, Film, Music, and Convergence. Forrest advises people it’s best to have a plan and not just show up and wing it to ensure people get the most of their experience.

Also, there’s a much larger presence of government speakers and politicians at SXSW this year. The talk by U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez is also expected to generate a lot of excitement. In addition, SXSW just announced a two-day series of “Conversations About America’s Future” at SXSW in collaboration with the Texas Tribune. The speakers include Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Gov. Bill Weld, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Governors Bill Weld, John Hickenlooper, John Kasich and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Bigger than ever this year is the number of talks on the legalization of marijuana and the burgeoning industry behind that movement. Last year, SXSW had five panels on the topic. This year, SXSW has 60 panels on the cannabis industry, Forrest said.

“SXSW is always about discovering the next big thing,” Forrest said.