SXSW Wrap-Up: Insights and Inspiration from the Eye-Opening Festival

Creativity, kindness and AI — the future is looking pretty bright.

The inaugural SXSW Sydney wrapped recently — and what a whopping week it was.

From Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Dylan Alcott to Chance the Rapper, Charlie Brooker and Amy Webb, we saw local and global heavyweights share their insights on topics as varied as film production and social trends to menopause, disability, the rise of AI and the importance of making a difference.

Despite the massive range of topics, a common thread throughout the festival was looking towards the future — one that celebrates diversity, upholds innovative thinking and game-changing ideas, supports emerging artists and overlooked communities and champions a more inclusive and creative world.

In partnership with CommBank, we’ve compiled a wrap-up of some memorable takeaways from the panels, so you can carry these transformative ideas with you long past the festival.

Innovation & Tech

AI was an inescapably hot topic at SXSW Sydney. Despite the doom-and-gloom depictions of AI in films like The Terminator or Blade Runner, the general consensus was that AI is an exciting tool to amplify creativity and enhance our experiences, rather than a detriment to society.

“The biggest misconception now is that AI is dangerous, but what they don’t realize is that AI is actually the solution — we can actually combat abuse and misinformation with AI,” said Luiz Pizzato, Commonwealth Bank’s Executive Manager of Artificial Intelligence.

Executive Director of The Ethics Centre Dr Simon Longstaff highlighted how human intent matters in shaping AI, which was supported by CommBank’s General Manager of Cyber Defence Operations Andrew Pade, who said, “We get an opportunity to shape it. We get to make it, not just to have it thrown on us.” Even Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker suggested that AI will not produce original ideas, but can only emulate what we teach it.

As educator, futurist and CommBank panellist Yasmin London summarised, “What we’re seeing at the moment is AI is going to be complimentary to our human experience. We’re going to have to have human moderation and a human lens over everything.” This also means that organisations need to commit to using AI to benefit consumers, like CommBank’s use of AI in combating fraud and strengthening cybersecurity.

As part of our festival wrap-up, we spoke to President and CEO of INVNT GROUP Scott Cullather, who shared his excitement about rising tech like VR and the metaverse and doesn’t see it as a threat to reality. “The metaverse is another extension of our imagined realities, storytelling, and creativity — a welcome and fun stimulation away from the chaos that afflicts the real world. It will be really interesting to see in the next couple of years if there is even a virtual SXSW,” he said.

At the end of the day, people remain largely optimistic about how AI will progress to solve problems and improve our day-to-day, whether it’s reminding us to buy groceries, making our cities safer or helping us save money. 

First row top of Charlie Brooker with Julia Zemiro, first row left of Charlie Brooker, first row right of Cindy Gallop; second row left of Yasmin London, Andrew Pade, Rita Arrigo and Bastien Treptel. 


With hundreds of live music performances by rising artists, premieres of global films, thrilling game demos, immersive brand activations and cutting-edge startups, there’s no denying that creativity was an integral part of SXSW Sydney.

Both Academy Award-winning actor Nicole Kidman and legendary advertising luminary David Droga emphasised the importance of making mistakes as part of the creative process. While careful planning is still vital, it should be treated as a fallback — errors and imperfections are what foster original ideas and imaginative thinking, and cannot be replicated by AI or other technological advancements.

“Despite new tools and technologies at our fingertips, evolving by the day, authenticity will never die. I’m excited to see how humans and machines will operate together in an alchemic way, and the fantastical new stories that will build future communities in exciting new ways,” expressed Cullather.

His key takeaway from the festival? “AI can be an enhancer of creativity, not a killer. New technologies now allow for unprecedented breakthroughs, which is so exciting.”

Fashion stylist and creative director Andrea Wong similarly doesn’t fear the rise of AI. “I like to think of it as a tool that I can use to co-create,” she told us. “I’m still my superpower. I’m my biggest asset. And I don’t think anyone or any bot can replace that.”

In the music realm, TikTok creator and DJ Derrick Gee is excited to see how music will evolve with AI. “There’s a lot of fear around robots and AI, but I think it might bring a new creativity. It’s exciting,” Gee expressed. “Every major musical revolution comes from people taking up technology and then figuring out a way to make it their own.”

In the face of rapid technological advancements, human-generated content and creative thinking will always remain highly valued and will not easily be replaced by AI or machinery.

Top image by Paul McMillan; first row left of Nicole Kidman; second row of Scott Cullather by Shane LaVancher.

Social Responsibility

From combatting misinformation to advocating for minorities and championing diversity, the festival shed light on unpleasant and difficult conversations and rallied audiences to do their part in creating a more cohesive society. 

So what can we do when we get caught in an echo chamber of one-sided ideas and ensure that the information we’re consuming is accurate? Here’s Concrete Playground Sydney Editor and SXSW Sydney panellist Ben Hansen’s advice: “Try to find a trustworthy source that’s taking a different angle towards that story. If you can read both sides, then you’ll have a whole picture and you can feel like you’re not just being manipulated.” 

“We all have to skill up. It’s our responsibility to be super careful about what we’re looking at and reposting. We actually have the power to counteract that trend,” says award-winning journalist Ange Lavoipierre. “Check the source before you share. There are hallmarks of AI-generated content that has had minimal human input. If the language is a bit wrong, if it’s been slapped together in a hurry, if it seems like it’s overly optimized — there are all these red flags.”

Meanwhile, in a poignant exploration of disability, Paralympian and advocate Dylan Alcott revealed that marketers are missing almost 20% of the population by not including and addressing people with a disability. He questioned why disability can’t be viewed as innovative, sexy and cool, shedding light on how many inventions that we currently benefit from, such as electronic doors and texting, were created for accessibility.

Actor Naomi Watts also hosted a frank conversation about menopause and normalising uncomfortable topics like women’s health, while Chance the Rapper dove into his experiences growing up in South Side Chicago, concluding with how we all have the opportunity to make a difference in the world and make choices that benefit others.

Leading social trends researcher Dr Rebecca Huntley echoed this sentiment, urging people to think of the human behind an action or idea — whether it’s a negative social media comment, new technology or a business. Similarly, Kidman ended her panel with a reminder to choose kindness and be mindful of where people are coming from, as you never know what will come around. Here’s to dodging karma!

So would Cullather recommend that people attend SXSW in future? “Absolutely, it’s a festival that everyone should attend at least once.”

The festival’s massive program means that everyone can discover something new, regardless of their industry or professional level. “You could curate your personal program tailored to your specific interests … Anyone can benefit from the festival as they explore their passion points, use their imaginations to bring original ideas to life, and explore what creativity specifically means to them,” said Cullather.

Fingers crossed that SXSW Sydney will return for another year.

Top image of Amy Webb; first row left of Dylan Alcott, Josie Mason Campbell, Sarah Jane Johnson and Paul Nunnari, first row right of Dylan Alcott; second row of Chance the Rapper and Nicole Kidman; last row of Scott Cullather with Daniel Stricker, Betty (from Deadfellaz) and Kerry Murphy by Mitch Hay Photography.

All other images throughout by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images for SXSW Sydney.

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