The future of media, entertainment and movies was naturally front and center at last week’s TEDxHollywood.

But the event—which was based on the theme “technology versus humanity”—also touched on bigger issues such as the future of work, education and creativity.

In an age where automation, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things are not just latent, but manifesting scale, how these technologies will affect everyday life was a pertinent question. This is also a time when various industries, not least advertising, are pondering the impact of this change on human craft, storytelling and, ultimately, their professions.

The conclusion? There will always be room for humanity, humanity is unique, and machines aren’t necessarily evil—they have the ability to be transformative, enhance empathy, and inspire real emotion. Technology is shifting, and will continue to shift, the way we work and earn money. But rather than fear the future, we must embrace it. (I’m sure the truckers and taxi drivers reading news reports about autonomous vehicles will agree …)

For Hollywood, at least, keynote speaker Jon Favreau was optimistic: “Technology isn’t at odds with craftsmanship, it’s just a new tool for filmmaking and storytelling,” he said.

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Jon Favreau speaking at TEDxHollywood

Future of Lifestyle: Drone Racing, Flow State

There’s been rising buzz about drone racing as the new experiential future of computer gaming. What started off as a fringe subculture has been rapidly gathering new fans; so much so that ESPN has just signed a multi-year deal with one of the new sport’s bodies, the Drone Racing League (DRL), to show racing on ESPN and ESPN2. Events have been staged for the sport, in which headset-wearing pilots navigate drones around a 3D stage set at speed in front of audiences. Players operate the controls by means of headsets connected to small cameras atop each drone.

TEDxHollywood speaker Marque Cornblatt, founder and CEO of Aerial Sports League, another Los Angeles-based drone company, believes drone racing is as exhilarating as bungee jumping and leaping out of planes because of its immersive qualities. “It’s a fast track to the flow state,” he said. (For the uninitiated, “flow” was identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of total positive immersion and free-flowing exhilaration.)

Drone racing is one of the latest developments in immersive gaming. More recently the imminent arrival of The Void, the first multi-player 3D virtual reality video game, was announced. In this, players navigate stage sets and experiences are amplified by haptic body suits. More to come.

Nootropics

On the subject of mood elevators, Hacker’s Brew, a nootropic coffee, was served with morning breakfast at the TEDxHollywood event. The coffee claims to help drinkers reach peak cognitive performance and enjoy cumulative long-term benefits. “Hacker’s Brew starts with the highest-quality ingredients, including organic coffee, coconut cream and cacao. We then added a good dose of adaptogens, and extended the half-life of caffeine so that it lasts longer. Full-day performance, with the same amount of caffeine as a normal cup of coffee—this is not your ordinary coffee experience!” promises the company.

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Hacker’s Brew, a nootropic coffee

Future of Entertainment

The Innovation Group has been following the rise of nonlinear, immersive marketing and entertainment for some time. “People are frustrated by frames around stories. They want to leap in to them,” Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion, commented in our recent Frontier(less) Retail report.

This theme was expanded at TEDxHollywood by Ryan Horrigan, CCO at Felix & Paul Studios, the Emmy-winning cinematic VR studio which is currently working with Facebook’s Oculus to produce original fiction and non-fiction VR experiences and series. “People are still adapting content to VR, whereas they need to create content for VR with VR in mind—native VR content. Virtual reality is passive, not active. It’s participatory over observatory. It’s an entirely new medium, so we cannot approach it like video. Experiences have to be intimate, create a sense of access. Context of the viewer is important and sense of presence. There are new rules,” observed Horrigan.

Cognitive, Immersive, Non-linear Movie Experiences

Favreau unveiled his latest project, “Gnomes & Goblins,” an interactive VR experience set in an enchanted forest. It launched September 8 on HTC Vive as a preview, and is still being refined. In “Gnomes & Goblins” there is no object except to wander the landscape, which features hidden miniature cottages, floating fireflies and glowing candles. Players are encouraged to engage with small gnome and goblin characters, forming virtual relationships with them by earning their trust and giving them snacks. “It’s quite emotive,” Favreau said.

Favreau argued that the future of VR in movie making is to make it less overwhelming. “Right now, when you use VR you’re often relieved when you take the headset off,” he said. “It should be about optimism and dreaming. To me, this is partly about scale. Users are always made to feel small in VR experiences currently, whereas we’ve been experimenting with the user being the dominant one in the environment. Hence, gnomes and goblins are miniature. You look down on them. The environment in the experience is dreamy and inspiring.”

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Gnomes & Goblins screenshots

Teleporting and Beyond

CEO and founder of Pinscreen Hao Li, professor of computer science at the University of Southern California, unveiled new technology that pushes the boundaries when it comes to digitizing people. His work includes creating programs that can, in real time, recreate humans as 3D avatars, with mobile facial expressions, hair and gestures, or layer these on to another person. He’s been developing ways to automate this, meaning that real “teleporting” (promised by Facebook by 2020) might actually be possible using VR headsets. In Hollywood, 3D renderers already layer on virtual hair, animal features, or theatrical makeup to physical models or actors in a studio, but this technology could automate the practice. This, Li suggests, could make Hollywood-grade moving digital imagery widely available, in the same way that affordable VR headsets have created a renaissance in the medium.

The Future of Media

Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, and Emmy award-winning TV journalist Abbie Boudreau were among the voices assessing the shift in journalism, celebrity and reporting in a digital age.

“We are living in a media age more than we’ve ever been, consuming more media than ever, and yet there’s never been less trust in media,” said Belloni. “It needs to be updated to reflect the media environment.”

Belloni argued that digital media is completely transforming the meaning of privacy and public interest, and how these should be handled by legislators. He cited Gawker v. Hulk Hogan, along with the case of Giants athlete Jason Pierre-Paul v. ESPN and Adam Schefter, as examples where old rules no longer apply. “In this landscape, ideas like freedom of speech and the first amendment bear little correlation to the complex scenarios unfolding with the digital space.”

Journalism in the Era of Algorithms

In an era where everything is interesting, privacy is freely exchanged for convenience, and information can be shared in a nanosecond, at scale, by anybody (its factual content mediated by the crowd, at times, not an editor), this will only continue to get more complex—not least with the advent of Facebook’s live video function and Periscope.

Boudreau pointed to the impact of digital media and social media on journalism, already eroding the role of the journalist as balanced curator in reporting, while also negatively distorting what is deemed newsworthy. “Facebook and Twitter are changing what is news,” said Boudreau, adding that popularity and populist news has created an era of click bait and an appetite for extremes in news. (This echoes recent arguments by author and academic Danah Boyd about the misplaced trust in algorithms to be neutral in news aggregation.)

Shifting Power in a Digital Age

Belloni argued that privacy, and assumptions about the traditional balance between media, are also less relevant in the digital age. Social-media platforms mean that celebrities have a direct influence on audiences that is far more powerful than that of traditional media, he said. Using Blake Shelton suing In Touch Weekly for falsely claiming he was in rehab as an example, he pointed to the shifting power balance in the digital age. “It’s always been ‘the powerful media.’ Blake Shelton claimed damages, but I’d ask, where are the damages?” Blake Shelton has 1.2 million followers on Instagram and 18 million followers on Twitter. In Touch Weekly has around 324,000 on the two together. “These celebrities arguably have way more power,” said Belloni, pointing out that factual debates also get distorted in this landscape. “A celebrity can say something isn’t real enough times and it becomes fact.”

Future of Work in an Automated World

Art Bilger, founder and CEO of WorkingNation, and technology entrepreneur Zachary Liberman both addressed the future of work in an automated age.

WorkingNation is a national not-for-profit campaign to educate the American public about the looming unemployment crisis in this country and devise strategies to circumnavigate this challenge. Bilger is using Hollywood to spread this message by creating original educational short films and content, as well as “future proof” surveys to help people to assess their skill sets.

Liberman tackled the same subject, exploring what the future would look like in a world where the traditional idea of a five-day work week was no longer relevant: “The reality is people will have a lot more leisure time. They will also need to find new ways to find meaning.” Liberman described a future of not just global youth unemployment, but also of white collar unemployment, and tasked Hollywood with creating a more positive vision of this future. The future, he argued, is often portrayed in narratives as dystopic and dark. We need to reframe how we see it.