Cannes looks to science for cutting-edge thinking

From astrophysics to GNR to 'human augmentation', science is playing an increasing role in creativity. By David Benady.

Holden: explored transcension, genetics, nanotechnology and robotics in a Cannes seminar
Holden: explored transcension, genetics, nanotechnology and robotics in a Cannes seminar

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity sees itself as more than an advertising awards ceremony.

Creativity can mean many things to many people and, this year, the Palais des Festivals played host to an array of sessions. This ranged from the actor Ralph Fiennes in conversation with The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, to Ogilvy & Mather’s chief creative officer, Tham Khai Meng, in a seminar on "cosmic quandaries and creativity" with the celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Some believe this kind of thinking is more important than ever. As technology progresses at breakneck speed, everyone needs to soak up insights from as wide a palette as possible to ensure their thinking does not stagnate.

Mark Holden, the planning and strategy director at PHD and the man who brought gamification to Cannes last year, provided "Mindtrip: a complete reboot of the way we see the world" in 2014.

The session featured the US TV presenter and futurist Jason Silva discussing subjects such as transcension and envisioning a world where genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (GNR) combine to forge a new type of biologically engineered human.

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds – Google has hired the futurist Ray Kurzweil as a director of engineering. He believes that the GNR revolution will eventually change what it means to be human.

Holden admits he did not understand Twitter when it launched as he saw it through the lens of text messaging: "Today, there’s so much wearable technology and I don’t get it. So that is why it is really important to think about where we are going."

In O&M’s session, Tyson, who rose to fame after declaring Pluto is not a planet, said creativity and scientific discovery are strongly linked. Pointing to two well-used phrases – "he has it down to a science" and "he has raised it to an art" – he suggested they are "kindred souls" when it comes to making something great.

Tham said agencies were increasingly hiring scientists such as cartographers and "all kinds of storytellers". He noted: "We have this eternal pursuit of knowledge – it’s cultural; steeped in our civilisations. We are trawling everywhere like these guys [the astrophysicists] are trawling stars and planets – it’s very much alike when you think of this whole cosmos out there."

Tyson urges creatives to think like scientists: "We are all basking in the moving frontier of cosmic discovery."

Elsewhere, Dentsu’s exe­cutive creative director, Yasuharu Sasaki, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories’ Jun Rekimoto provided examples of science creating new forms of "human augmentation", with consumers "jacked in" to computerised interfaces that enable them to experience or control "out-of-body" experiences.

What the implications could be for advertising – or even society at large – remain unclear, but it is fascinating to watch these trends unfold.

Holden likens the feeling to viewing a catwalk show – fashion designers’ extraordinary creations may not be suitable to wear, but they give you ideas about the direction the industry is heading.

"If you have a future-minded perspective, you see things differently," he points out. "We’ve heard most of what the industry has to say about storytelling and brand engagement; we are now having to reach outside and bring in new perspectives."

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