Artificial Intelligence takes over for crypto and NFTs at SXSW 2023

Last year at SXSW, attendees couldn’t walk 10 feet without someone handing them a QR code leading to an NFT happening. The blockchain and web3 were in the ether last year, which was a few months before bitcoin crashed, FTX turned out to be a scam, and almost a full year before Silicon Valley Bank went under. But even before then, it appeared that SXSW 2023 would turn away from the crypto space in a big way, as the cash flowed elsewhere in the tech realm. As always, follow the money.

It should surprise exactly no one, however, that in the wake of crypto transforming from buzzword to bad word at SXSW, that other technological leaps would rush to fill the vacuum. This year, it’s a mishmash of tech that skews toward AI. It was frightening, frivolous, and, on occasion, kind of fun.

My first stop was a private brunch this weekend held at Malverde, the upstairs events space for James Beard-nominated La Condesa. Would I like a demonstration of the the Lume Pad 2, the world’s first 3D tablet powered by AI? What else am I going to do on a Saturday morning, hang out with my family?

Arriving at Malverde, I received 30-minute demonstration about the $1,099 super-tablet, shipping in April from Leia. The Android device is loaded with a series of proprietary apps that transform 2D images and videos to 3D using AI. I know what you’re thinking: why?

Much of it is simply for fun: watching 3D YouTube trailers and taking pictures of your dog and transforming them to 3D.

We spent a couple minutes messing around, generating 3D images using voice commands. Marlon Fuentes, community manager at Leia, asked the Lume Pad 2 to create “dancing bears at a Lisa Frank party, 3D octane render.”

In seconds, it spit out a psychedelic 3D image of cartoonish bears, a great party trick.

It’s also probably pretty useful if you create art for a living, NFT or not.

“If you’re learning fine arts, 3D, architecture, photography … this opens up a whole new world for that,” Fuentes told me. 

I almost don’t know what to say about this kind of technology; it’s almost like it lives in a different world than the one I’m in. It’s exciting — 3D Facetime calls seem fun, right? — and AI being utilized for everything besides stealing my job as a journalist is something I can get behind.

Walking around the Creative Industries Expo, I saw a ton of other AI-related booths and elsewhere, on a panel for new Peacock show Mrs. Davis, the creators talked about utilizing AI in the writers’ room

At one point, an enormous hologram of Mark Cuban greeted me. “Appearing” as for HYPERVSN, a company that has created a 3D holographic system for communication, AI is also involved. 

The HYPERVSN SmartV Digital Avatar is a two-way communication system that utilizes AI to enable real-time conversations with avatars. Pretty soon I will be pitching my business ideas to a wall with Mark Cuban’s picture on it.

PlantWave's lounge runs through Thursday at SXSW.

PlantWave’s lounge runs through Thursday at SXSW.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

The most relaxing and least scary usage I saw of AI was a plant music lounge that I almost completely missed while I was sipping on nootropic infused espresso and watching a robot barista drift by at a demonstration for a new, futuristic co-working cafe called VEL.

Plants “played” music for me in the PlantWave Plant Music Lounge. It’s a meditative space atop the Austin Convention Center at which you remove your shoes, walk inside, and relax as AI transforms data from changes in plants to beautiful ambient music.

Unless the AI causes the plants to become alive and eat me, like I’m Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, this is my kind of technology.

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