On the plane out to San Francisco, for the IPA West Coast visit, I watched the recent Solo movie. The critics had panned it, but because Industrial Light & Magic was one of the game-changing companies we were due to be visiting, I thought I’d better be up to the speed on everything happening in a galaxy far, far away.
Anyway, it’s a proper good fun heist movie with a brilliant narrative around how Han and Chewbacca became friends. Like all the good Star Wars movies, the story carried the day. It was only when George Lucas got carried away with the technology did it all go Jar Jar Binks.
Having completed my week among the Silicon Valley giants, I am convinced this truth still holds. The tech guys need the creative guys to give the technologies a human narrative for our everyday lives. If we can’t tell stories with them, the gadgets just won’t fly. It’s our job to work with the tech titans to decide how best to do this. My ongoing conviction that we need each other – that the machines need the magic – has only been cemented.
Take voice. We are all getting excited by the emerging opportunities in voice, as it moves from the home, into the car and beyond. But the team at Amazon are clear that voice must be seen as just one of the many ways we will interact with artificial intelligence. In their parlance, we need to think "multi-modal". Voice is good for answers; screens are good for choices.
Then there’s all the realities we might soon be experiencing. Augmented, mixed, virtual, haptic and hyper, we saw them all as we shuttled between Apple, WhatsApp, Vntana, Twitch and Hyperloop. Each will help us tell a different sort of story. Some will be screenless, some will exist only on personal devices and some will be mass interactive installations. The more we know about what’s good for what, the better we will all be.
Because the single biggest learning for me is this: we are entering a whole new era in human evolution. The storytelling that separated the sapiens from every other species is about to be supercharged into the age of story-living.
The most memorable moments on the trip came at those companies that are already fusing creativity and technology to create this story-living. Our visits at Dreamscape Immersive and ILM’s xLabs were nothing short of mind-blowing. Whether it's mass participations mixed-reality experiences or personal moments hiding in our headsets, the power of story-living is immeasurable and, as a creative industry, something we must harness – fast.
But it’s not just on the West Coast that story-living is happening. It’s already much closer to home, with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
This is a war whose place in history has been set by the storytellers more than the academics or the politicians. WWI is the war of the poets and, more recently the artists, the war of Sassoon and Owen, of Cummings and Deller. But now it’s also the war of the story-livers too. The release of They Shall Not Grow Old sees the ghosts of the soldiers come back to life with the aid of the latest cinematic technologies. Stories we were told at school are now stories we are living with the fallen. And this is just the start.
I, for one, am keen to be a pioneer of the story-living age. I don’t want to watch Princess Leia; I want to be her. And, just like her, I believe the technology offers our industry a new hope.
Top 10 buzzwords from the trip
1. Haptic technology (haptics)
Recreating the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations or motions.
An experience in a fixed location where a virtual-reality narrative is supported by haptics (fans, water sprays, rumble boards) to be truly immersive, currently in a fixed experiential location.
The perceived future of media. A collective term for ubiquitous, always-on computing supporting interactive augmented/mixed/virtual/hyper-reality.
Currently, the most powerful immersive experiences are delivered through (tethered) headsets that are attached to powerful but bulky computers. The future of immersive is untethered headsets probably delivered via the coming 5G network.
5. Branded utterance
Utterances are the specific phrases that people will use when making a request to a voice assistant. Branded utterance is for the commercial/promotional versions of these.
6. Think multi-modal
Amazon's call for combining voice and screens (and other interfaces) to best effect given their individual strengths.
A young person who has an aptitude for computers and the internet.
8. Community created content
How Twitch describes the future of live TV for screenagers.
Solutions that combine AI with people to be more proficient than either in isolation.
10. The tyranny of rendezvous
Life is getting more complicated and diverse, exacerbating a modern version of the "rendezvous problem" for businesses. Just connecting with your clients/customers to best effect can preoccupy a business.