Credit: Chance Townsend / Mashable

South by Southwest (SXSW) is known for its music and film events, but it also features a growing tech scene in Austin displayed at the festival.

Although not as extensive as CES 2024, some of the tech showcased caught attention, including the return of WeHead. After exploring the Creative Industries Expo at SXSW, here are some of the most fascinating, strange, and unexpected tech products we encountered in Austin.

1. AI Offering Glimpses into Your Past, Future, and Possibly Death

image of a retro computer and a lamp
Introducing Tulpamancer.
Credit: Chance Townsend / Mashable

Among the innovations at SXSW, Tulpamancer stood out. This interactive experience by artists and directors Marc Da Costa and Matthew Niderhauser combines generative AI and virtual reality to create a personalized art encounter for each guest in a specially designed environment.

The process involves using a retro DDOS-style computer, where guests respond to detailed questions about their lives. Details like their morning bedroom appearance, childhood home, and happiest memory are shared. Rest assured, the answers are deleted after each session to maintain privacy.

Once the questions are answered, guests embark on an AI-guided virtual journey that attempts to recreate the visuals described in their responses. The accuracy of the environments created depends on the level of detail provided for each question. For instance, mentioning a pet may lead to encountering an unexpected entity in the VR experience.

While an AI voice provides guidance, the focus is mainly on the computer’s ability to accurately depict the described images. Despite some quirks in the AI art, it offers a unique and intriguing experience with potential futuristic applications akin to scenarios from “Black Mirror.”

2. Communication with the Deceased through AI

The AI sector is venturing into unsettling territory by enabling interactions with the deceased. Companies like SoulLink and SoulMachines are catering to the rising interest in engaging with departed relatives or iconic figures.

Soul Machines introduced Digital Marilyn, a digital AI powered by their proprietary “biological AI” and ChatGPT 3.5. After 62 years since her passing, the iconic Marilyn Monroe has been resurrected with approval from the Monroe estate, allowing fans to engage with her as if she were still alive.

For those uninterested in conversing with late celebrities, SoulLink developed by South Korean developers JL Standard offers an app for creating personal AI characters. Users can engage with celebrities or even simulate conversations with recently deceased loved ones. Testing it at SXSW revealed a fascinating yet peculiar experience, including interactions with virtual versions of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, though creating an AI version of a deceased family member felt uncomfortable for some.

in-app screenshot of a faux sms screen showing several celebrities like Taylor Swift and Elon Musk
A brief chat with Justin Bieber revealed his reminiscences about the past.
Credit: Soul Link / Screenshot

Although incorporating literal ghosts into our machines through generative AI might seem unconventional, this experience could serve as a therapeutic outlet for those grappling with the loss of loved ones. However, it does require divulging personal information to companies, raising privacy concerns.

3. Innovations in Generative Products

a display of hats and yarn across a wooden board with an orange sign that says 'generative goods'

Credit: Chance Townsend/ Mashable

Marfa, TX-based Generative Goods offers a unique concept that merges digital NFT designs with physical merchandise like hats and shirts through AI-generated artwork embroidery. This approach aims to address the criticism that digital NFT ownership lacks tangible possession of the purchased art.

Generative Goods seeks to provide NFT owners with physical ownership of their art, shifting away from the speculative nature of the NFT market. At SXSW, they demonstrated live embroidery of hats for guests who acquired an NFT design.

It remains to be seen whether this initiative can enhance the value of NFTs, as most existing NFTs currently hold minimal value in the market.

Artificial Intelligence

Headshot of a Black man

Chance Townsend
Assistant Editor, General Assignments

Chance Townsend, currently based in Austin, Texas, serves as an Assistant Editor at Mashable. With a Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of North Texas, his research mainly focuses on online communities, dating apps, and professional wrestling.

In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, sleeping, and following the Detroit Lions and Pistons despite the heartbreak they may bring. For any interesting stories or recipes, feel free to contact him via email at [email protected].


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