Most government agencies collect reams of data but it gets ignored because of bureaucracy, said Silver.
"But we should understand that it's hard to take this big data and turn it into progress," he said, no doubt splashing cold water on the many startups seeking to scour databases, such as Twitter stats, for lucrative products.
On the flip side, a Carnegie Mellon professor showed how combining online data with facial-recognition software could reveal a surprisingly detailed dossier on a person, including an educated guess about their Social Security number.
More celebrities (human ones, too)!
When compared to its glitzier siblings, the SXSW film and music festivals, South by Southwest Interactive has until recently been low in celebrity wattage. Let's face it, tech geeks don't walk the red carpet much.
But as more famous people embrace technology -- everyone wants to look smart -- SXSW is attracting bigger names with only tangential connections to the tech industry. This year's event featured talks by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, former vice president Al Gore, Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker and hoops star Shaquille O'Neal.
This trend is not an accident.
"There are a lot of people here, and it makes it easier (on us) if you can get someone like a Rachel Maddow who can fill a big room," Forrest said.
However, the biggest celebrity at SXSW 2013 wasn't even part of the official programming: Viral Web star Grumpy Cat, who posed for photos in the Mashable House and drew lines of fans around the block. That just goes to prove: You can launch the cleverest app in the world, but cats still rule the Internet.