Carnegie Mellon University

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March 10, 2017

Cutting-Edge Entertainment: CMU Heads to South by Southwest

Annual SXSW Festival Celebrates Innovative Film, Music, Technology

By Laura Kelly

Carnegie Mellon University faculty, staff and students will once again participate in South by Southwest (SXSW), the premier annual entertainment and technology festival, March 10-16 in Austin, Texas.

"SXSW is a forum for thought leaders in film, music and technology to meet every year," said Jon Nehlsen, associate dean of Partnerships and Communication Strategy at CMU's Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. "At CMU, we have quite a bit to say about all three of those things, and it's important that we participate, both to alert the world to what we do and to help shape the ongoing dialog."

First-year students in the Master of Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM) Program, which is a joint partnership between the College of Fine Arts and the Heinz College, spend spring break networking with industry insiders, and SXSW is the destination of choice.

"SXSW is a positive experience to get familiar with what's happening in the industry," said MEIM Program Director Dan Green. "Students really enjoy being submersed in people eating, drinking and thinking entertainment."

Throughout their first year, MEIM students travel to industry destinations to meet executives at NBC Universal in New York City, and at National Geographic and the Discovery Channel in Washington, D.C.

Emily Ellis said she was pumped to attend SXSW.

"We're getting out of the classroom and getting to see the people in the industry and how it actually works," Ellis said. "With the Heinz program, we've learned the foundational skills like accounting and finance so we can go out and do anything in the industry."

MEIM student Jordan Hiebner owns the record label We're Trying Records in Austin, which is hosting a showcase on Wednesday, March 15. He said the MEIM program gives him options he wouldn't get anywhere else.

"I was able to take a class from Benjy Grinberg of Rostrom Records and he was really inspirational. These experiences and lessons from the MEIM program are things I can apply to my own record label," he said.

Students from the Master of Educational Technology and Applied Learning Science (METALS) Program attended SXSWedu earlier this week to inform members of the educational technology community about CMU's Simon Initiative.

"This helps the industry become more aware of what is possible when utilizing learning engineering which enables their products to demonstrate actual learning gains. The students also make critical contacts in the industry for employment opportunities," said Michael Bett, managing director of the METALS Program.

Norman Bier, executive director of CMU's Simon Initiative and director of the Open Learning Initiative, also will be in attendance.

"In our conversations, we explain that METALS graduates are learning engineers who are at the crossroads of software engineering and instructional technologies. Our graduates can apply the learning engineering processed pioneered at CMU and advocated through the Simon Initiative, making them able to research, design and apply evidence-based resources to develop and create effective instruction and educational technologies," Bett said.

Artificial Intelligence

Leaders from CMU's School of Computer Science (SCS) will spend their time at SXSW discussing the future of artificial intelligence.

SCS Dean Andrew Moore will give a talk at an Intelligent Future Presentation, "AI In America: Preparing Our Kids," at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 15, which will be livestreamed.

"When we look at K-12 education and we look at the pipeline, who's going to be studying computer science? We have to prepare our kids because if we don't, it could become a world of the haves and the have-nots," said Mark Power, SCS director of marketing & communications.

"Regardless of where these kids are, do they have access to computers, do they have access to the right STEM education to get them started? Students may be interested in AI, but not understand basics. Our goal is to get them to understand how it works," Power said.

Mark Stehlik, an SCS teaching professor and assistant dean for outreach, focused on ethics and problem-solving in AI during this week's SXSWedu, which focused on education issues.

Additionally, Mark White, a principal in Deloitte's Technology Services, will interview Moore at a March 15 CMU alumni event in Austin, titled "Between Two Thistles."

"We're happy to partner with CMU on this event," White said. "The talent we're able to draw out of Carnegie Mellon and the insights and relationships we have help us understand and respond to technology trends in the marketplace. We take digital, design and data to scale, and the School of Computer Science touches all of that."

Civic Innovation

Carnegie Mellon's Traffic21 Institute is a multi-disciplinary research center that is designing, testing, deploying and evaluating technology-based solutions to solve real-world problems facing the transportation system in Pittsburgh and beyond.

Last year, Traffic21 and the City of Pittsburgh teamed up for the Smart City Challenge.

"The partnership with Traffic21 was really instrumental in the Smart City Challenge and helped the city punch above its weight class," said Alex Pazuchanics, a City of Pittsburgh policy adviser and a student in Heinz College's Master of Public Management Program. He is among the presenters for the SXSW "Smart Cities Sound Off: The Future of Transportation" panel on Saturday, March 11.

"What's really important, and what I hope other cities get out of this is how to prioritize and operationalize how to address the unique challenges of their cities," Pazuchanics said. "Pittsburgh used to be known as a rust belt. Now, it's a smart belt." 

Pazuchanics also will participate in Smart City Day at SXSW on Sunday, March 12. In a related activity, the Mayors Matchup pitch session will include CMU spinoff RoadBotics. Courtney Ehrlichman, chief commercial officer of RoadBotics and also the deputy executive director of Traffic21, will present.

"I will be pitching our crack and pothole detection AI that can give cities near-real time information about the quality of their road surfaces," Ehrlichman said. "This gives them the chance to move beyond citizen complaints to be proactive about budgeting, prioritizing and managing their road surfaces."