As another SXSW Interactive begins today, the world’s brightest and best from across the digital industries are finishing their annual pilgrimages to Austin, Texas, all in the hope of working out which trends are going to be of most importance for the next 12 months.

This year the inevitable focus on AR continues, with content and storytelling representing a huge proportion of sessions. The takeover of SXSW by marketers and brands continues, with huge presence again from Snapchat, Google and more, and there’s a big focus on the next iteration of connected devices.

Happily many of the sessions also show a new sense of practicality; a focus on the realities of implementing many of the trends we’re seeing develop across the worlds of technology, start-ups and brands alike. This is a welcomed step away from the purely future-gazing scheduling we’ve seen in previous years.

SXSW is an overwhelming place, with thousands of sessions across multiple streams taking place over the five days of the Interactive festival, and that’s without the convergence programming that overlaps with the Film and Music sections of the event.

The secret to a successful SXSW is having a very clear plan. With venues spread out all over the city hosting the official events, and a whole raft of fringe events to choose from, you risk getting distracted if you don’t maintain focus.

I think a selection of three to four can’t-miss sessions per day is reasonable. The tricky thing is avoiding clashes, but once you’ve done your planning properly, the SXSW Go app makes it easy to search, navigate and plan your schedule.

My full schedule is accessible here, but there are some key sessions that I think represent the core discussion areas across SXSW and what we’ll see emerge as trends.

1. The trend? Big business aren’t talking to each other; how will everything work on a practical basis? The session? Navigating a Rapidly Changing and Connected World 

Sensors that track a food’s temperature from source to store. Hospitals designed to avoid misdiagnosis. Traffic lights that actually respond to traffic. These are the changes we are likely to witness in the Third Wave; a period in which entrepreneurs will use technology to revolutionise major sectors – healthcare, manufacturing, education and food – and transform the way we live. On March 11th at 9:30 a.m. CST we’ll hear Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and Beth Comstock, Vice Chairman at GE, discuss how to adapt to the changes coming our way.

2. The trend? What’s the future for connected cars? The session? Conversation with Bill Ford on Smart Mobility

Henry Ford sparked a revolution in transportation when he invented the Model T, making car ownership accessible to the masses and transforming society in ways that led to everything from suburbs to interstate highways. A century later his great-grandson Bill Ford is leading another seismic shirt in personal transportation by advocating mobility as a human right and calling on industry & government to rethink how people and goods move on roads that are growing increasingly crowded as population becomes more urbanised.  Doug Newcomb, automotive journalist and founder of the Connected Car Conference, speaks to Ford at 9:30 a.m. on March 13th about why smart mobility solutions are essential for the world’s long-term economic and environmental health, and will bring new opportunities & challenges.

3. The trend? Design-led thinking in healthcare. The session? Personalised Medicine: trends, Challenges & Future

As “one size fits all” care gives way to treatments based on the patient’s genetic makeup, the possibilities – and potential pitfalls – are enormous. We will see seriously ill people clamour to have genes edited by powerful, new technology as more consumers order genome sequencing and biomarker tests to uncover looming health risks. Yet answers to key ethical questions lag about handling potentially devastating information – and paying for it. The expert panel meet at 12:30 p.m. on March 12th, featuring an ethicist, the founder of a pioneering gene editing firm, and a direct-to-consumer testing company. They will discuss the challenges and future potential posed by this new age of personalised medicine.

4. The trend? What’s next for healthcare? The session? Doctoring Up Your Social Media Advocacy

When activated employees share brand content, organisations see an exponential leap in overall engagement, increased exposure to new audiences, and almost 24 times more shares. But what if your employee audience is constantly mobile, distributed and providing life-saving care to patients? This panel, held at 11 a.m. on March 13th, will reveal key takeaways from physician and employee engagement initiatives taking place at Baylor Scott & White Health, and the Mayo Clinic.

5. The trend? How do we balance increasing consumer mistrust in machines? The session? AI and Deep Learning Tech: Are We Ready?

Just as we’re becoming accustomed to an Internet of Things way of life, from wristbands that count our steps to machines reacting to our voices, the more complex world of Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning machines is here and growing. Policy implications are subsequently expanding for both innovators and the government. This panel on March 11th at 5 p.m. will examine the policy challenges of AI with Congresswoman Suzan Delbene (D-WA), a key leader on tech policy, Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s Alexa specialist, and Terah Lyons, a former White House Office of Science and Technology Policy advisor

6. The trend? Convergence in a very real sense. The session? A Scientist, Artist and Engineer Walk Into a Bar

Content creators tell stories, but realising those stories requires cutting-edge technology and creative collaboration. Intuitively, these seem like very different problems; one creative, the other technical. Pixar has found the creative and collaborative process involved in crafting the best stories also enhances the entire production pipeline, from meeting structure to software development. This session on March 14th at 12:30 p.m. aims to explore this as a concept, exploring how the structure of creativity can help technologists and artists craft shots, craft tools and join in a feedback loop incorporating iteration, innovation and individual voice.

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