South By Southwest: Secrets, spying, chef Watson

Mar 11, 2014 by Barbara Ortutay
Edward Snowden talks during a simulcast conversation during the SXSW Interactive Festival on Monday, March 10, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Snowden talked with American Civil Liberties Union's principal technologist Christopher Soghoian, and answered tweeted questions. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

FOMO —or the fear of missing out— is a common complaint at the South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas each year.

It's here, after all, that "Girls" creator Lena Dunham spoke on Monday at the same time that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden gave a teleconferenced talk. All the while, 7-11 trucks handed out free pizza in exchange for a tweet, and IBM showed off the capabilities of cognitive computing in a language anyone could understand: food.

Here's a sampling of what you missed if you weren't able to make the annual geek pilgrimage:

— WATSON IN THE KITCHEN

IBM served up a six-course tasting menu and gave out food samples to show off Watson, the computing system best known for winning "Jeopardy" three years ago. What happens when you ask a computer to analyze thousands of recipes and match chemical flavor compounds that are most likely to surprise people —but also taste good? Recipes a human would have never dreamed up, says Carly DeFilippo of the Institute of Culinary Education, whose chefs created the recipes inspired by Watson. Input a region—be that Russia, Kansas or Ecuador—a main ingredient or two and a type of food, such as soup or pie. The output: Creations such as a creamy Czech pork belly moussaka with peas, parsley root, cottage cheese and dill, or Kenyan Brussels sprouts with sweet potato puree, ginger and almonds.

IBM is quick to point out that Watson is not meant to replace chefs. Rather, the project is meant to get people thinking about real-life applications for .

— WANT TO KNOW A SECRET?

An app called Secret is no longer hush-hush at South by Southwest. Launched just 40 days ago and especially popular in tech circles, Secret lets people share their deepest and darkest thoughts with the people they know, without their names attached. Co-founder David Byttow is quick to point out that Secret is not anonymous, per se, nor is it necessarily about sharing secrets.

"The best things I see are not secrets but things that are meaningful," he says. The company set up a special South By Southwest feed of secrets its users are sharing in Austin this week. Here's one: "I used to bring out cocaine to share with people to help make new friends. Now I bring a really big phone charger. #getting old."

Lena Dunham gives a keynote during the SXSW Film Festival on Monday, March 10, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

— LOW BATTERY

Portable smartphone chargers may well be the event's hottest commodity this year, as attendees rush from panel to meeting to party and more meetings with little time in between. Jessica Latterman, a marketing director from Washington DC, overnighted a small Anker charger to herself the day before leaving for Austin.

"It's my third time here and it's such a huge bummer when you lose battery life," she says. "It's kind of disrupting to go back to my hotel. I realized I had to do this, it was as if I was out of soap."

Mike Edgell, vice president and creative director at Toronto's 76 Brand Films, described a tangle of cables, battery packs and plates of barbecue ribs at dinner with a group of some 10 people.

"My phone was nearly dead," he says. "Two seats over my colleague offered a charge. It's almost like going back to the time when cell phones had ."

Edgell thinks the battery problem will be resolved—it has to be.

"If there is any place in the world to present a problem like this, it's to this crowd," he says.

— STANDING OVATION FOR SNOWDEN

Speaking via Google Hangouts from Moscow, Edward Snowden told a packed audience Monday: "I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I saw that the Constitution was violated on a massive scale." He received a standing ovation after the hour-long talk with the ACLU's Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian.

"The most interesting point that was emphasized is that (regardless) of how you feel about what he did, it has improved security," says Kent Larson, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.

For Daniel Miller, CEO of London creative agency Human After All, seeing Snowden talk gave a clearer idea of the man behind the news.

For someone whose "entire life has been destroyed," Snowden could have been "an angry guy shouting, ranting," Miller says. "He had done something very interesting but I had no idea he was an eloquent person, a nice guy, dignified."

Explore further: Snowden, Assange top bill at Texas tech gathering (Update)

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Snowden: NSA leaks fueled needed debate on spying

Mar 10, 2014

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said Monday he has no regrets over his leaks about mass surveillance programs, saying they sparked a needed public debate on spying and data collection.

Recommended for you

Google to test cars without a driver

Sep 16, 2014

Google plans to begin testing its new prototype of a self-driving car - which, unlike earlier models, doesn't require a back-up driver - at NASA's Ames Research Center, just a few miles from the tech company's ...

Self-driving cars now need a permit in California

Sep 16, 2014

Computer-driven cars have been testing their skills on California roads for more than four years—but until now, the Department of Motor Vehicles wasn't sure just how many were rolling around.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

alfie_null
not rated yet Mar 11, 2014
"The most interesting point that was emphasized is that (regardless) of how you feel about what he did, it has improved security,"

No. Not in any meaningful way. There are still lots of ways to infect my phone, my computer. There are still lots of vulnerabilities in lots of corporate intranets, still lots of Internet-smart things with lots of security flaws that won't get fixed. Lots of badly designed and implemented web sites. Rogue access points and cell phone towers. A growing level of criminal activity on the Internet.

What he did had little to do with technology, and much to do with simply exploiting lax security practices. Things we have known were bad for years in any case. Compartmentalizing, duty rotation, etc. Security, no doubt, is now better at the NSA. But not for the rest of us.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 11, 2014
No. Not in any meaningful way. There are still lots of ways to infect my phone, my computer. There are still lots of vulnerabilities in lots of corporate intranets, still lots of Internet-smart things with lots of security flaws that won't get fixed.

Well, I do think people have become more aware (and wary) of what the government (any) does. Especially if anyone had ever the illusion about their country's government being 'right' or 'better' or 'more benign' than anyone else's...then that at the very least should have been put an end to.

Security, no doubt, is now better at the NSA.
The security (or non-security) of technology was never an issue with the wholöe Snowden affair. It's simply about breaking the (most fundamental) laws of the US by government organizations. De facto making it no better than pre-Berlin-Wall east germany when it comes to surveillance of its citizens.