From tech to politics: What’s new at SXSW Interactive

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Downtown Austin has been shutdown and transformed, thousands of people have their badges — South by Southwest is officially underway. The two-week festival kicked off Friday with the interactive portion.

The technology conference is billed as an inspiration, idea-sharing, networking event. It’s considered the place to be for creators and tech-pros with a focus on startups, media and more than ever — politics.

For 2017, SXSW made some big changes for badge holders. There’s no longer a Gold badge — instead, organizers consolidated the priced for registration for the three segments: Interactive, Film and Music. It’s a hint to the changes coming over the next few years.

“In the two to four years, there will not be a badge for interactive versus music versus film. It will be one badge for the entire SXSW, getting rid of the silos,” said Hugh Forrest, SXSW Chief Programming Officer.

There’s also changes in the way SXSW shares its content. For those who can’t or choose not to attend, the festival has live streamed the panels and discussions. That is not an option this year. Instead, organizers say they will release edited videos of some of the content.

As for tech — the festival features a handful of creations and demonstrations centered around artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Quenton Thomas-Oliver is showing off his handmade, 12-foot robot programmed to play the drums at SXSW Create at the Palmer Events Center.

“I realized when I couldn’t find a drummer for my band, I didn’t need to find one, I could create one,” Thomas-Oliver says. “We built the machines ourselves in our home and wrote all the software that controls it.”

Tech is becoming more of a lifestyle for people and it’s feeding the way SXSW is run.

“People are fascinated by this stuff, people are fascinated by the possibilities, people are also scared of the possibilities,” Forrest said.

The festival will dive deeper into how Washington could impact the tech and media worlds

“I’m looking at examining the issues of resistance using augmented and virtual reality. That means resistance, counter resistance, organization and surveillance,” said Simon Solotko, CMO of Resilient Grid.

It plays into this year’s ‘stronger than ever’ focus on politics. A handful of panels are centered around president Donald Trump. Organizers even came up with a ‘Tech Under Trump’ track filled with sessions and guest speakers.

“People want to talk about this stuff, they want more information on how– whether you like trump or don’t like trump — how the changes in his administration are going to impact their world,” said Forrest.

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