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SXSW Interactive: Robot petting zoos and a bionic man

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Marketplace host David Gura checked in with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson to get the latest on this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference.

“Brands come down here to gain visibility among a really large media audience: actors, venture capitalists, music fans,” Johnson says.

It makes sense that established brands — as well as startups — would want to make an impression at SXSW.

“There have been some big things launched here, like Twitter many years back – now a public company with a market cap of $30 billion or thereabouts,” says Johnson. 

According to Johnson, the interactive portion of SXSW is really about “an exchange of ideas.”

What are some of the prominent topics at this year’s SXSW Interactive? Johnson says privacy and virtual reality are getting a lot of attention. And a robot petting zoo

“But one big idea this year is bionics. And more broadly, when and how our bodies will actually merge with technology,” says Johnson. 

Hugh Herr of MIT’s Media Lab Center for Extreme Bionics, presented at SXSW as part of the IEEE’s “The Future of Identity” series, and wore what he called the “world’s first powered ankle foot prosthesis.”

Johnson says, consumers won’t necessarily see any of the bionics at this year’s SXSW any time soon. But that doesn’t mean big companies aren’t listening to conversations about the future of bionics.

“The more those discussions happen they get closer to reality,” Johnson says.  

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