SXSW in Austin probes how automotive technology will change our culture

I recently spent an interesting weekend in Austin, Texas. It was interesting for two major reasons: 1) It was Austin and 2) It showed just how close we are to a revolution in the way we move, live and think. The future is CASE.

Tony Molla

All of that insight was provided courtesy of our friends at Messe Frankfurt, who invited me to attend the Connected Mobility Conference. The Conference was held this year as part of the well-known South by Southwest Conference (SXSW), a celebration of the arts of many different disciplines that functions as a combination of creative think tank and crystal ball. It’s worth a visit to if you’d like to see more about the program.

Dr. Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler, gave a compelling session on how Mercedes-Benz is working on the next generation of map technology and how it will change everything by allowing a new paradigm: fleets of Connected Autonomous Shared Electric vehicles (hence, CASE). Development of this technology will allow a totally different business model to emerge where traditional carmakers provide mobility services as their primary transportation product to the public.

Zetsche pointed out that we spend most of our time in three places: our homes, our workplace and our vehicles, going from one to the other. Being able to make this movement process more productive, comfortable, safe and efficient is something that will not replace the automobile, just change the way we interact with it. You’ll use an electric vehicle that arrives on command, picks you up, drives itself and can be sent on errands. What an app!

The discussion on 3D-map technology revealed one of the enablers of all this magic, and raised the interesting possibility that we’ll eventually get our flying car (but probably more in the form of smart drones). In the near term, this 3D mapping will open up the third dimension in mobility services, with applications that will no doubt amaze us and increase the population of Millennial Millionaires. And when does all of this magic start happening? Think three-to-five years to perfect the technology. And they just might do it in two.

Leveraging all of these new technological possibilities will require creative thinkers who can adapt and navigate the data streams to manage and protect the voluminous amounts of information this vision of our near future will generate, one of the subjects discussed by none other than Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban at SXSW.

I had the pleasure of meeting Cuban at the Rattle Inn, a downtown Austin establishment co-opted for the evening by ZEIT Online. ZEIT’s chief editor, Jochen Wegner conducted the interview.

Although Cuban stressed the value of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) when asked how we should educate our children for this new world, he basically described critical thinking skills that will find new ways to translate the massive amounts of data available into intelligence. “All things being equal,” he said, “the smarter team wins.”

Just as personal mobility is being evolved by technology, so, too, will our perceptions of the value of traditional education methods and benchmarks. Is the true MBA the one who demonstrates absorption of conventional wisdom and established norms, or the one who knows how to use technology to achieve the same functional capabilities in new and unique ways? Interesting questions, to be sure. Cuban described a near future where machine learning and things like neural nets change our society, providing everything from better medical care to a redefinition of what it means to work.

The future is closer than we think.