The exuberance for new design and technology has been a dominant feature of #SXSW, with thousands of badge-wielding attendees lining up to see the latest innovations in artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and gaming at the annual conference in Austin, Texas.
But the enthusiasm has dimmed this year as the downsides of technology — including the failure of social media to deal with the damaging effects of fake news and the dangers of artificial intelligence — have raised concerns about the industry’s prospects.
At #SXSW, The New School — a progressive university committed to confronting real-world problems through design — emerged as a leading voice on this issue. In presentations and workshops throughout the conference, faculty members and alumni called for a critical examination of the ethics informing the design and implementation of new technologies. They argued that by applying a human-centered lens to the latest innovations, we can better people’s lives and build a better future.
New School thought leaders on ethics and technology included Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice, who spoke on the need for digital sanctuary and the expansion of broadband access for low-income communities of color; New School faculty members Eiko Ikegami, Peter Asaro, and Ed Keller, who explored ways that artificial intelligence can be used for social good during a workshop with XPRIZE; Open Style Lab, a Parsons School of Design-housed organization that presented technology-based wearable solutions for people of all abilities; and a Parsons faculty-alum team that showcased a project — a portable shelter for Syrian refugees — that was named an honorary winner of the SXSW EDU Learn by Design competition.
Despite the skepticism surrounding new technology, it’s not intrinsically harmful, faculty and alumni argued. It’s up to humans to decide how it’s used.