The Technological Revolution is Upon Us

By zooming out from our day to day, immersive experience makers can embrace (& forge) the future.

Sophie Larsmon
Any One Thing

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Having attended both the Immersive Experience Network’s first Huddle (‘Writing* Immersive Experiences: From blank page to production’) and Innovate UK KTN’sGlimpse of the Future: Emerging trends Networking Event’ last week, I’m feeling energised. I found glimmers of optimism radiating throughout both events and I’m feeling excited about what tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow might bring for the immersive experience sector.

The Immersive Experience Network (IEN) has been set up as a catalyst to support creators making new work, developing new audiences and growing financially sustainable creative companies.

I am 100% up for buying into the IEN’s belief that by finding ways to collaborate, share knowledge and work together, the overall sector will become stronger and start to gain the recognition that it deserves. I also think, however, that we need to take heed of what Futurologist Jonathan Mitchener said at the ‘Glimpse of the Future’ event:

Disruption often comes from a collision of different sectors and technologies.

Mitchener, Futurist + Innovation Lead for Horizon Scanning + Emerging Technology at Innovate UK, is responsible for National Investment Strategy for the future technologies that will power innovation in the UK. Attending the event made me appreciate that we need to be open to collaborate with each other and also with technologists, scientists and engineers if we’re going to succeed in being the fastest growing creative sector in the UK. Annie Walsh — Any One Thing’s Producer + Junior Developer — and I sat on a table with professionals from the worlds of Property Tech, Building Management and Energy as Mitchener provoked us to think beyond our day to day worlds and into an exciting (and disruptive) future landscape.

“Disruption often comes from a collision of different sectors and technologies ” Jonathan Mitchener tells leaders from various sectors at The Glimpse of the Future Networking event

According to Mitchener, there are two types of people: the disrupters and the disrupted. Most people are the disrupted; the world happens to them and they’re left in a position where they are forced to respond in order to survive. The few who are brave enough to forge ahead in unknown territory are the ones who can shape change.

Two other people have been rallying a similar cry recently. Last week saw the publication of Sir Tony Blair and Lord William Hague’s ‘A New Public Purpose’ Report. Love ’em or hate ’em, it was hard to ignore them as they did the rounds on the radio and TV, putting party politics aside to promote their joint report on “the vital steps that need to be taken to secure the future of our country” [The Times, 22.02.23]. You may or may not agree with their ideas (their call for digital ID for citizens is particularly controversial), but it’s hard to argue with their guiding principle that:

We are living through a 21st-century technology revolution as huge in its implications as the 19th-century Industrial Revolution.

It’s imperative to Blair and Hague that the UK isn’t left behind as “humanity enters the fastest and most comprehensive period of innovation in the history of human civilisation”. Likewise, the immersive experience makers of the future must be ready to ride this tidal wave of change. By being aware of the latest advances in science and technology, we too “can innovate rather than stagnate in the face of increasing technological change”.

So what is around the corner?

With all technologies it is hard to predict the future [Blair + Hague]

Jonathan Mitchener’s job is to do just that. His provocation to sector-leaders was packed full of the weird and wonderful, from responsive toys and machines capable of mimicking human emotion, to hybrid-humans with bionic-features to Augmented Reality Contact Lenses to advances in biological computing where cells can turn themselves off and on again. It was inspiring and fertile ground for ‘speculative’ fiction — so many potential stories and experiences were bouncing around my head during and after the event. I believe that the progress with the most direct impact on our sector, however, is that of the growth of ubiquitous computers.

We’re moving towards a world where there’s an ecosystem of computers everywhere. As Mitchener put it:

There’s a shift in where computers are; a shift in how computers are used; a shift in the way computing intervenes.

The physical and digital landscapes are going to be even more integrated than they are today, and the amount of real-time data which will be generated at these digital touch-points is going to grow exponentially. How do we manage the huge amounts of data that will be generated and captured?

The answer is Artificial Intelligence. AI will be integral to data management as there’s simply going to be too much for humans alone to understand. But how do we get an understanding of what this data and AI can do? We need to be grappling with this now. We need to be reading, asking questions, attending events like Big Data + AI World, undertaking R+D, working in partnership with computer and data scientists. This revolution is happening anyway — we can’t ignore it — so let’s try to understand and utilise it.

It’s easy (and lazy) to have bad associations with these concepts. I speak from experience. When I first got involved with Any One Thing, I was presented with a script for a piece called Recollection by Richard Pucci. The piece explored surveillance capitalism. The antagonist was a company that harvested human memories in order to train a neural-network using deep learning techniques to generate the most valuable commercial capital of all, human emotion. The piece was heralded for tuning into a post-Cambridge Analytica zeitgeist, warning audience members to be more aware of what they knowingly (or unknowingly) shared online.

Framing the story: ‘Souvenir’ explored who gets to piece together your story with the fragments of data we create throughout our lifetime.

Souvenir took this a step further by thinking about who curates the story left by our data-imprint after we die. Again, not exactly cheery stuff: moving, chilling, provocative, but still leaving one with a sense of suspicion associated with “data”. From a storytelling perspective, I leant into the dystopian trope of AI being the tools belonging to the bad guys, as data being a currency used to fuel corporate greed or coercive behaviour. From a maker’s perspective though, the use of audience data (all GDPR-compliant I must add) was an essential tool and one that elevated the experience:

The most impressive element, though, and what makes ‘Recollection’ stand out from its competitors, is the way it incorporates the audience’s own information into the show. The Stage

We mustn’t be scared of these tools. The downstream effects of a more concerted data-collection and curation effort could be transformative of our sector.

IEN aren’t scared of the ‘d-word’. Their mission is to support the development and growth of the Immersive and Interactive Entertainment Sector in the UK and beyond. In order to do this they openly want to “support the commercial sustainability of new experiences by providing solid commercial data on the size and growth of the sector, along with detailed audience profile data to assist creators marketing their work.”

I’d argue there’s a third important use of data which builds on what we do at Any One Thing — using audience data to assist in the creation of work. The exciting — and potentially revolutionary — way of thinking about data lies partly in the repositioning of how data can be captured via the ecosystem of computers that Mitchener mentioned at his event. I’ve started researching this and am sharing my thoughts via these blogs (this one for example). Future posts will include more on what I think we can do with AI.

Both of last week’s events indicated that there’s appetite and willingness to break down pre-existing barriers between sub-sectors of industries and indeed between different industries entirely. Blair and Hague will the government to update their “‘Accountant’ mindset of the Treasury” citing its current structure of micromanaging small, siloed pots of money as a key impediment to growth. We’d do well to keep this sort of thinking front of mind as we look to grow our sector.

“While there are many challenges to confront, we must not be pessimistic about our future.”

This is our chance to have a once-in-a-generation shift in our operating model and a transformation in how we create and deliver our work. I agree with Blair and Hague when they state “while there are many challenges to confront, we must not be pessimistic about our future”. Ahead of us is the opportunity to make the fastest growing creative sector in the UK, and in turn ensure the UK is a creative force for the next century — it’s an opportunity we must seize. Let’s not be disrupted; let’s be the disrupters.

In the spirit of collaboration and collective intelligence, this is a call to those working across the various immersive genres to reach out and tell me what technological advancements in different sectors you think could be game-changers in our’s.

Thus far I’ve looked into Generative-AI (in terms of writing, acting and user-generated content) and how advancements in the TravelTech, Smart Home and HealthTech sectors can be adopted by makers. To date, I’ve focused on how these developments can be used by immersive theatre makers as that’s what I’ve cut my cloth in, but I’m more than willing to broaden my scope. I naturally want to hear from other immersive + interactive theatre-makers, but I’m equally as interested in hearing from those who make scare attractions, alternate reality games, transmedia experiences, escape rooms, experimental art, immersive audio, live action role play, location-based AR + VR, themed attractions, social-VR games and experiential brand activations.

If we are up for disrupting, the future’s bright. What do you think is going to disrupt our world? I’ll explore how we can embrace these changes rather than be scared of them. Leave a comment to this piece or reach out via @sophielarsmon on IG, facebook or LinkedIn to tell me what you’d like me to investigate.

To see what I’ve been exploring thus far, check out the Any One Thing publication.

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Sophie Larsmon
Any One Thing

Creative Producer & Director of Live Experiences, fascinated by how emerging technologies can foster human creativity