Isobar has an innovation NowLab, where our team is exploring and pushing the boundaries of emerging technology. About a year ago, the NowLab held an office-wide VR hackathon. The team competing on behalf of the Boston office didn’t include a Developer. We chalked it up to a win because they were able to focus on the idea, rather than the limits of technology. Following that, we collaborated with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios, Viacom and Tiltbrush artist, Danny Bittman to produce Aeronaut, a Virtual Reality music video for William Patrick Corgan’s latest single (a.k.a Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins). For this effort, Isobar was a finalist at the MITX Awards (Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange) in the Best AR, VR or Mixed Reality Application category.
The Boston-based award show, in its 22nd year (!), shines a bright light on innovation and technology pioneers. Amy Quigley, President of MITX, was impressed by the overall diversity in entries this year: “We are seeing amazing ideas coming from a variety of verticals, including financial services and healthcare. Brands and agencies are pushing what is possible creatively, and as a result consumers are winning.”
We uncovered an interesting dichotomy of emotions surrounding the future of tech innovation in Boston. While there’s excitement about the future and all its possibilities there’s also some question about how the growth will impact folks individually. Some may question, “Growth is good overall, but is growth good for me?” or “Will we become like everyone else?” and “Am I still special and will this limit my potential?” One thing is certain, attendees felt strongly that by working together – collaborating and empowering one another – the future of technology and innovation in Boston will be bright.
Steve Myers, Vice President at Isobar (and Boston-based ad guy for 25+ years), shared his thoughts on the topic: “Given the growth we are experiencing, I’m hoping that as an industry we will look ‘inward’ and leverage all of this amazing thinking to help solve for the challenges we’ll face as the population and footprint of our city continues to grow.”
In Boston, innovation isn’t a novelty. It’s the norm. The results of the MindSight study prove that we as an industry are not shying away from this, but rather embracing this exciting future. At Isobar we believe the toughest questions are best answered with collaboration and creativity.
Unable to attend this year? Don’t worry. Our colleagues from Isobar US had on the ground team and shared an in-depth recap of everything you need to know and look out for in 2018 and beyond.
Another year, another Consumer Electronics Show. Once again, attendees head home with sore feet, sniffles and an outlook of what the next year is going to deliver in terms of new gadgets and larger trends in the consumer electronic marketplace.
The last half-decade has seen a steady progression of devices that have gone wireless and become connected and integrated with other products and services. We’ve seen processors get smaller and faster, screens become bigger and brighter, and memory get cheaper. We’ve witnessed the concept of companion mobile apps for consumer electronics become commonplace. We now have batteries that can outlast a day on the CES show floor and (if not), fully recharge in just an hour. But now, thanks to our friend Alexa, a new battleground has emerged – one for our voices.
Isobar predicts that 2018 will be the year of Augmented Humanity, a year where technology enhances and scales our most human attributes. In 2018, technological interfaces will become more natural and instinctive, technology will automate repetitive tasks to free up time for creativity and compassion, and artificial intelligence will meet emotional intelligence.
Isobar’s innovation and strategy experts from around the world have defined five key trends that explore this evolving relationship between humanity and technology and predict a harmonious future. Augmented Humanity explores the ways in which technology enhances and fuels our most human attributes – the ability to recognise and trust each other, to adapt to changing circumstances and the power to deliver true creativity.
Jean Lin, Isobar’s Global CEO, comments, “Artificial intelligence is great, but humans score on emotional intelligence. The power of being human is in empathy. This cannot be automated or outsourced. Augmented Humanity will use technology to scale everything that is best and most powerful about human interaction.”
The report argues that we may one day view the era of anonymous, one size fits all transactions as a temporary blip in our evolution, and that as technology advances it will become more human, not less. It will return us to a time where voice will be the primary way we interact with the world, where we will be recognised and rewarded in stores, and where we will buy more directly from trusted suppliers.
Isobar’s five key trends for 2018 explore this intersection of technology and humanity, magic and the machine, code and conscience:
1. Body Talk explores the body as an interface, as our eyes and ears replace touching and tapping. 2. Powered by People tackles the shift from customers to communities as technology turbocharges the sharing economy. 3. The Economy of Me looks at the power of AI to deliver ever more personalised products, prices and places. 4. The Ethical Algorithm tackles technology as a force for good; in a world of fake news and algorithm bias is there such a thing as moral code? 5. The Makers and the Machines explores the extraordinary union of art and technology to create outputs we could never before imagine.
Within each theme, Isobar unpicks key sub trends and explores how they come to life today, in the future, and what they mean for businesses and brands right now. The report celebrates the importance of emotion at every touchpoint; in this new landscape it will no longer be enough for technologists to ask “how does it work?” – they need to consider human emotion and drivers and ask “how does it feel?”.
Innovation has been a focus for our Singapore team this year, with their most recent innovation being the V-Showroom, a first-of-its-kind mixed reality dealership for our global client General Motors. We spoke with the minds behind this work, Stan Lim, Regional Creative Director and Chye Yong Hock, Innovation Director as they stepped off the stage at Spikes Asia 2017.
[For the people who didn’t make it to Singapore for your presentation]
What were key takeaways from your talk at Spikes Asia?
Stan: The key thing that we wanted people to take away from our session is to think deeper about what you can actually do with experiential tech and not just limit it to consumer-facing implementation. Where innovation started out was really to create nice brand experiences and delight consumers. But there’s so much more to experiential tech than that, and if done right, I believe it can create real business value.
Chye: A lot of people at Spikes were talking about how experiential technology and machine learning have influenced the marketing landscape in general. But fundamentally, we wanted to show people that technological advancements will be more prevalent in the future as long as we focus the end point on delivering something of tangible value to the client. We also shared best practices for Innovation projects, for example how we approach them, and what was the process is for kick-starting these projects with clients based on our past learnings. It’s a very different process from pure-play marketing projects.
[Please can you include the best practices so we can link to them?] — Actually the GM work is probably the only best practice that we can share.
With AI and data advancements dominating industry conversation, does creativity still matter?
Stan: Of course it still matters, but AI & Data has changed the process involved in creativity. AI and data will impact how we have to be creative in order to solve a client’s problem. But AI & Data isn’t the end point — we will still need to create delightful experiences for people.
Chye: These days there are a lot of companies in the tech and innovation space, so it’s creativity that sets an agency apart. If digital agencies didn’t own creativity, we would be just like any other tech solutions provider or vendor, where everyone is selling just one product. But we tell clients “don’t think about the tech you want to use. Rather, think about the problem you want to solve” and from there, we can figure out what we need to create, and what tech we use.
And it’s no longer just about creative marketing alone — we need to blend it together with tech solutions and services in order to be truly effective. But the challenge a lot of agencies face is how much clients are willing to invest — proper implementation of some of these new technologies are big investments. And to use tech for only one campaign is just not worth it. That’s why we are focused on experimenting with technology that has longer-term potential, for example improvements that can be made to the customer service industry just makes more sense. Strategically choosing areas of experimental focus is an agency’s biggest opportunity for delivering great value to clients.
What’s the latest in the digital and creativity in Asia-Pacific?
Chye: It’s shifting; the advertising landscape is changing a lot, and it’s to do with how APAC clients are spending their money. For example, in Asia social has largely become a low investment staple of the marketing mix. Clients have set how much they want to spend and how they want to do it. So, they’re less open to new ideas.
Clients’ investment is slowly diverting to experiential tech to help them retain customers — this client demand has increased a lot more this year. Many companies now have innovation teams, and they are treating it just like a marketing division. So, they are definitely going to spend more on innovation and experiences in the near future.
Stan: Generally, I think APAC clients have matured in their approach to innovation and in some cases the clients are more aware of what technology can do but not how to deliver it. But when you’re facing a client who might be thinking “there’s no use for tech beyond marketing” not many agencies can jump in and leverage the opportunity. In APAC, we still have a lot of catching up to do.
Why should businesses and brands investigate what innovation can do for their business today?
Stan: It’s the risk of being disrupted. Entire categories are getting replaced on a monthly, and sometimes, weekly basis.
Chye: Brands and businesses need to understand that tech and innovation is a part of the working world today, and it is not something you buy off the shelf. They need to understand how it can power their business.
Lots of brands and businesses are already investing in creating an innovative culture. They are rethinking and maturing in the way they approach innovation projects. And companies like Kickstarter have helped foster the start-up culture to make brands and businesses more accepting of trial and error, and the mantra “fail-fast”.
Also, the customer demand is there. Take the car industry for example, people want the latest technology in their cars now, so automakers have put more innovation into producing cars in the last two years than they have in the last twenty. But this takes learning and can’t be completed overnight. So, you need to start the innovation process early.
Stan: Disruption is not an event, it’s an ongoing process. So, the day you realise you are being disrupted is the day it’s too late to do anything — As Chye mentioned, innovation needs to start now to prevent yourself from being disrupted six months down the road.
In the mid 1990’s, neuroscientist Vilyanur S Ramachandran conducted a series of experiments on patients with phantom limbs. One of such patients felt as if his phantom fingernails were digging into his clenched fist, an agonising sensation that had no apparent cure. Ramachandran placed a mirror between the patient’s arms and asked him to open and close both his hands (his healthy one, and his phantom one) simultaneously whilst looking at the reflection of the healthy limb. The patient’s brain, fooled by the trick, released the phantom limb’s clenched fist almost immediately.
Though I don’t know enough about the brain to even attempt to understand the importance of such a discovery in the field of neuroscience, one thing is evident: tricking the brain can be easier than we think.
Yet for every piece of VR promise, there seems to be a never-ending list of hurdles to overcome, aspects that are stopping most virtual reality explorations from becoming truly realised, comprehensive and, most of all, convincing experiences.
For one, there’s the physicality of it: you can move to a moderate degree, but unless you’re willing to strap yourself to a cumbersome, expensive and awkward circular treadmill, that’s about it. Then there’s touch: haptic feedback is a very rudimentary attempt to bridge this gap, but it doesn’t come close to the nuances of our somatosensory system. Smelling, a sense that seems to have proven too difficult to emulate in any other media, is also absent from most conversations around VR.
So, if VR’s intent is to trick our brains, how far can it go before revealing itself as prisoner to its own limitations?
If you go to Zero Latency, in North Melbourne, you might find yourself at odds with what’s on display: a huge, empty warehouse, nothing but black walls and concrete floors, framed by a network of cameras. In the middle, a group of people, each strapped to a VR headset and armed with a two-handed gun, walk around in apparent disarray. They talk to each other, and yell, and laugh, and unless you’re experiencing what they are, act in a manner that seems to make no sense. For outsiders, it likely reads as an episode from Black Mirror.
Places like Zero Latency continue to trend around the world, spaces where people have the opportunity to step into a different reality. Whether you’re in it for the thrills or the exploration, for shooting at robots or walking on walls, they offer experiences unlike any other. These establishments are working towards what is arguably the very first significant step since the re-birth of VR: free-roaming worlds.
It isn’t until you feel like you’re about to fall down a 20-story building, or your sense of balance goes off-charts when walking upside down, that you truly realise the potential that VR has in the way we can perceive, create and modify the reality around us.
With more tinkerers willing to invest in the technology, and more people being welcomed to make use of it, it’s not hard to imagine the shape of (some of the) things to come.
The Kindle of reality
In 2007, after a decade of other companies’ failed attempts at making e-books “a thing”, Amazon launched their Kindle e-reader to tepid reviews and skeptical appraisals. Today, ten years later, many consider paper books a romantic notion, much like vinyl records. Kindles didn’t kill the book the same way video didn’t kill cinema: they just offered people a different vehicle to access and consume the same content.
A similar parallel can be established between virtual reality and actual reality. In its current form, the technology can photo-replicate simple locations, giving us the opportunity to explore certain places that would otherwise require us to travel halfway around the world to reach. Imagine visiting the Louvre without having to deal with long flights and jet lag, price tags and nosy tourists: all you have to do is drive to your local VR shop and strap on a headset for a few hours. In essence, VR could do just as good a job as going to the real place, if not better. And so, inaudibly, the question sets in: is this virtual reality any less real to our brains?
It’s a fascinating premise, one that will most likely divide opinion: if you could live in a lucid dream, would you choose that instead of reality? For the outsiders, the unsleeping audience, it’s a no-brainer: that’s not reality per sebut a weird simulation that your brain likes to create when you’re unaware. But for those inside of it, for the dreamers, it’s as real as it gets, only better: you can fly, and any one thing can be multiple things at once, and it’s all so bright and vivid and brimming with feelings. Your brain considers that to be as real as this, your own physical reality.
Will there ever be such a tipping point for VR? Will it ever be able to replace, or rather, mimic, reality in a way our brains cannot distinguish? The short term answer, the one that our current technological limitations dictate, is rather simple: no. All of those things we still haven’t figured out about VR are expensive and difficult to solve, and might never be fully cracked. And yet, if Moore’s Law is anything to go by, we might get there after all, and quicker than we imagine. Solutions to the “simple” problems are on their way: better screens, wider depths of view, lower latency rates, smaller, less cumbersome headsets, wireless technology. And then there’s the rest: graphics are improving by the minute, we’re getting better at synthesising smells, we’re exploring ways in which we can touch what’s not really there, AI is becoming more conversational and quickly learning how to sound like us.
When (if) these reach moderate success and make their way into our headsets, what will then be the difference between walking through a realmarket in Bali, and going to a warehouse somewhere in your own town where you can strap a headset on and have a near-identical experience, one where your senses can be stimulated in the right ways? Because when what you see looks like the real thing, and the conversations you can have with AI beings are indistinguishable from those with friends, and the smells imbue your surroundings, then that reality, that complex combination of astounding technical prowess and our brains’ disposition to be tricked, will be just as real as anything else. And then, maybe, some kinds of physical reality might become a romantic notion, much like paper books are after Kindle.
Augusto Jacquier, Studio Lead & VR Enthusiast
This article was originally published on Isobar Australia’s blog.
Text credits to Augusto Jacquier, Senior Designer – Studio Lead, Isobar Melbourne.