It was almost an eerily quiet day in Austin. With the interactive track of SXSW 2019 -- a multi-day series of conferences and festivals around interactive, film, and music industries -- coming to a close, many participants were today treated to the sights and sounds of brand activations being dismantled.

But it wasn't all equipment tear-downs and sad goodbyes. Today was still full of informative sessions, interactive experiences, and tacos galore. So, while this marks our last daily recap of the week (please, don't cry!) -- we have some great highlights to tell you about.

Want more event coverage? Check out our SXSW 2019 hub here.

Spotify on Its Bet for Podcasts and the Content Creator's Future

From music-streaming platform Spotify's acquisition of narrative podcast network Gimlet and distribution platform Anchor, to this month's launch of Luminary, a subscription-based podcast startup offering premium content -- audio doesn't appear to be bowing out of the entertainment landscape any time soon. 

That's why today's session on "The Second Golden Age of Audio: Podcasting" was one of the SXSW 2019 agenda items we were most excited to see. In conversation with Alex Heath of Cheddar, Spotify's Chief Content Officer Dawn Ostroff was joined by Gimlet's Matt Lieber and Anchor's Michael Mignano for a conversation on the growth of podcasting for consumers and businesses.

Spotify has offered a selection of podcasts to users for some time, and even began to produce its own podcasts -- available exclusively on the platform starting in 2017 -- but was, up until recently, primarily known for its music streaming services. So, what was the main catalyst behind its acquisition of Gimlet, a narrative podcast network, and Anchor, a distribution and discovery platform for podcast creators?

IMG_6662-1"The Second Golden Age of Audio --Podcasting" panelists at SXSW 2019 | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot

"If we want to be the world's largest audio platform, podcasting has to be part of that," says Spotify's Ostroff. The combination of Gimlet's quality content, and Anchor's tools to help creators distribute and monetize their podcasts, helps to support that goal.

In a way, this idea of encompassing multiple audio entertainment formats aligns with some of the other items we've seen at SXSW 2019 -- and building new channels where brands can create and distribute audio-driven experiences.

This week, for example, Bose introduced Creator Tools for its Frames audio AR glasses -- which brands can use to create experiences for the Frames in a similar way that developers can create apps or skills for Google Home and Alexa.

Brands need an audio strategy.

- Michael Mignano, Co-founder & CEO, Anchor

For that reason, Anchor's Mignano could be right when he says, "Brands need an audio strategy" -- as we witness a quickly-growing number of audio-specific distribution channels and resources being built for creators and brands to leverage.

"Spotify's mission is really to connect creators to users," says Ostroff. "When you think about what Anchor represents and all the podcasters who can go onto the platform, and then be able to connect them to listeners around the world ... that's what our mission is."

An AI (And American Sign Language)-Powered Coffee Shop

An ongoing theme of conversations happening at SXSW 2019 is how to make technology more inclusive. Today, we saw how one company -- Stradigi AI -- is using artificial intelligence (AI) to make something as simple as ordering a cup of coffee more inclusive to individuals who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

Hugo Thibault, Stradigi's VP of Marketing, explains that one in every 20 people in the U.S. have a hearing impairment, pointing to the importance of using technology to create new resources that can improve day-to-day routines and activities within this community -- like ordering a cup of coffee.

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Such initiatives in this area include the opening of U.S. store locations where employees are able to communicate using ASL. But what about coffee shops that aren't staffed accordingly?

That's where Stradigi's technology comes in. Using AI and machine learning, systems equipped with cameras are taught to recognize ASL and can process coffee orders accordingly.

At SXSW, visitors can stop by the coffee shop and order a latte strictly using ASL, providing a glimpse into how the camera recognizes the language's movements and gestures.

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Making Music in a Cave Without a Light

Entertainment and electronics company Sony also had interactive experiences on display at SXSW, some of which also touched on its efforts to make technology more inclusive.

One of those experiences was its Cave Without a Light exhibit, in which participants were descended into a completely dark cave where they could not see anything at all. The idea: to create music as a group, without the help of eye sight, and navigate the experience based on the sense of sound alone.

The experience, which was curated with the help of an audio engineer who is deaf, was one that Sony says was designed for everyone to experience, regardless of any disability.

Once descended into the cave without the light, participants were guided by an exhibit ambassador to engage with nearby surroundings based entirely on their senses of sound and touch, where they could clap, bang on bongo drums, and with the help of ambient sound effects and music, create a song together.

Thanks to the help of a night-vision camera installed in the exhibit, we were able to catch our own Cave Without a Light experience.

 

 

But Sony's interactive experiences didn't end there -- and much of the technology on display in its brand activation was meant to showcase the company's advancements in AI.

One example of the company's AI capabilities was the latest edition of Aibo: an artificially intelligent robot puppy that, with the help of a camera installed on its nose, can start to recognize its human owners after the course of several days. And, thanks to machine learning, Aibo can be personalized to learn a new name assigned by its owner, trained to learn a number of tricks, and taught behavioral reinforcement with voice commands like "good boy," "good girl," or "good puppy."

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Playing with Aibo at Sony's SXSW 2019 brand activation | Stephen Fiske for News & Trends by HubSpot

Finally, Sony also had a new generation of robots on display that use AI to form their own language and communicate with each other about -- and based on -- the external stimuli that they see and hear.

What are they saying, exactly? It seems that we mere humans may never know -- but in the meantime, the exhibit incorporated a video element where the words and phrases uttered by the robots were cast onto a screen as they were speaking.

IMG_6683Sony's AI robots on display at SXSW 2019 | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot

Much like Aibo, it seems that there's a certain emotional element to how these robots function, in that in some cases, they seem to "follow" and "watch" the stimuli that interest them the most. Case in point: This particular robot seemed to take quite a liking to our video producer, Stephen, and moved around consistently to "see" what he was doing.

IMG_6692A Sony AI robot takes interest in our video producer | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot

That's a wrap on this year's daily SXSW recaps. Check back for more reflections and in-depth stories on what we saw here in 2019.

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