shots 159: N is for Next 25 Years
Amy Kean, head of futures at Havas Media Labs, predicts the future.
Amy Kean, head of futures at Havas Media Labs, predicts that the future of creativity will be blowing our minds – in a good way.
Is it because we hate the present? So exhausted with the monotony of the everyday that we collectively enjoy imagining a time when there could be peace, hope and possibly even flying objects whizzing around in the air? (If there’s one thing I can confirm about the future, it’s that there’s going to be a lot more whizzing.) Perhaps it’s because humans like to be in control… we hate surprises, we thrive on having life mapped out so that we can plan, save money and mentally prepare accordingly. In a Western world that’s becoming increasingly dominated by secularisation, futurology is arguably reaching religion status, with futurists (mostly white, middle-class, middle-aged men) prophesying new forms of transport, politics and relationships that we will need to adapt to (although very rarely do these modern-day Yodas emphasise the role that we common folk play in creating these futures).
Futurology is a science; it requires a wealth of data, testing and imagination. But the interesting thing about cultural and industrial forecasts is that they’re generally based on the mentality and aspirations of the time. So if you’ve ever read Nostradamus, who was writing during the dark, dark days of the 16th century, his predictions were about governments being overthrown, kingdoms being built and destroyed and he foresaw more deaths than even the Final Destination movie franchise. He focussed on power, and men.
If we move along through history, the beautiful science fiction of the 19th century was powered by steam; their machines of the future were elaborate, dramatic, romantic and representative of an era dominated by discovery. Much of this, of course, influenced the steampunk trend we enjoy today.
And then came The Jetsons, an animated TV sitcom that ran from 1962 to 1988 and was essentially the American Dream set in space. 2.4 children and a robot housemaid (the jury’s out on what race Rosie the robot was intended to represent). Now of course we live in an age of science. So when we make predictions about the next 25 years everything’s faster, smarter, more efficient and more mind-blowing. And it’s the blowing of minds that I’d like to concentrate on.
“It’s widely predicted that by the year 2040 the most deadly global disease won’t be cancer, HIV or Ebola, but depression.”
The growth of grey matter
Over the last 25 years, society’s fascination with the brain has increased: we love to learn about its malfunction, about sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists and addicts, while geeks with big brains – your Zuckerbergs, Schmidts and Musks – are worshipped as technoGods. The brain is the most complex computer known to man, so designing technology that replicates it is the ultimate goal. Alphabet/Google is investing heavily in artificial intelligence but that’s not where the mind-blowing stops. The fairground ride Neurosis is the world’s first rollercoaster you can control and ride with your mind… who needs a theme park when you have a virtual reality helmet and some electroencephalogram transmitters to play with?
But the future’s not all fun and games. The brain is a sensitive machine – some might argue more sensitive than the bones and skin that surround it. It’s widely predicted that by the year 2040 the most deadly global disease won’t be cancer, HIV or Ebola, but depression. Mental illnesses, so often ignored or reviled, will overtake physical ailments among the general public in most international markets. This needs to be taken into account now so that the creative industries can plan for the impact this change is going to make.
Think about our current relationship with technology. We’re so close to our mobile phones that to be away from them causes genuine fear and anxiety – a psychological condition known as nomophobia. It’s likely we’ll have robot lovers in the future, not because people find robots attractive per se, but because people are going to get lonelier. Driverless cars will exist not because people don’t like driving, but because humans cave easily under pressure and become vulnerable in the face of fatigue and dangerous when exhilarated.
“Using neuroscientific technology, brands will be able to transmit life-affirming sounds, lights and messages that promote a healthy – yet aspirational – sleep. Think Red Bull bringing you flying dreams or the Lottery delivering dreams of wealth.”
Cuddling up to technology
So in my opinion, the creative industry needs to become more meaningful, mentally. Rides such as Neurosis show that technology means very little to the consumer unless it’s peppered with creativity and imagination. Over the next 10 or 20 years creative technology won’t just be used for fun, we’ll be using it to make a difference. Virtual reality will evolve to become an aid for people with depression or mental conditions such as agoraphobia – rich creative executions that can help the user feel freer, happier, more enriched. Microsoft has already begun making waves with holographic technology via its HoloLens [see page 96] but over the next 25 years holograms will utilise artificial intelligence to create ‘companions’ with a range of functions, from medical to recreational. You could have branded entertainment delivered by your favourite stand-up comedians performing in your living room – you’ll even be able to heckle and receive a real-time response.
Samsung is already leading the way when it comes to using mobile technologies to make lives and minds better – its Look At Me mobile app game was developed by ad agency Cheil Worldwide to help young children with autism improve their ability to make eye contact and read facial expressions. In the future augmented reality will also be a common tool to help other mental conditions. For example, it’s already being used to help sufferers imagine spiders or snakes as part of therapy to help overcome phobias.
And when it comes to the subconscious, it’s likely that the industry will take it one step further with ‘dreamvertising’, ie marketing that infiltrates the sleeping mind. Using neuroscientific technology, brands will be able to transmit life-affirming sounds, lights and messages that promote a healthy – yet aspirational – sleep. Think Red Bull bringing you flying dreams or the National Lottery delivering dreams of immense wealth, even Lynx could deliver a subconscious experience that enhances your dealings with the opposite sex. If we can get our heads around using technology to get even closer to the mind, then we can start to make a real, positive difference. But we, as creative individuals, bear the responsibility for where this goes.
Within this industry, we have the power to act for the greater good. Advertisers have always been experts at mind control and manipulation but every industry needs to evolve, and over the next 25 years there will be different consumer problems that we need to solve – not just hunger, thirst or other physical needs. So, unlike Nostradamus I’ll make some positive predictions. Over the next quarter of a century I think technology and immersive creativity is going to get better at blowing people’s minds, but will also have the power to put them back together again.