With the new year approaching and a new decade on the horizon (yes, technically it starts in 2021), we wanted to look at transformations in media that are likely to define the 2020s. Especially in the media and computing fields, the decade proves to be a useful marker. Consider that at the end of 2009, Digital Cinema and 3D film was just being introduced with the release of Avatar, GPU rendering was in its infancy, YouTube was less than 1/20th the size it is today, and Netflix video streaming had yet to be launched internationally. Meanwhile, cloud computing had just started its adoption curve, the first augmented reality print campaign was launched, and blockchain mining was in its first year.
It’s fair to expect that when we look back a decade later, the end of 2019 will similarly look distant - if not more remote with the accelerating rate of change in media and technology. Below are some trends the RNDR team thinks will define the next decade and beyond. Please share your comments and ideas. In the new year, we will be releasing a Part II looking at some even more out there trends that might go well beyond the 2030s — think neural implants, full holodeck, quantum simulation and gaming.
The explosion of 3D production over the past decade has transformed Hollywood filmmaking. In the 2020s, this technology will move from the silver screen into everyday life — with a new generation of spatial media revolutionizing how we consume and share information. Companies such as Apple are developing mass market AR smart glasses for the mid-2020s that promise to be the next “post-mobile” computing interface expected to replace smart phones within a decade, while Light Field Lab is developing ultra realistic glasses-free holographic displays that will literally let 3D content jump out to you on billboards, TVs, live venues, and in retail locations. Already there have been some innovative experiments. The New York Times’ interactive storytelling team created a geolocated data-layer over the real world in order to showcase the levels of air pollution in major cities. Spatial AR enabled for new forms of data to be visualized physically and in real time. Interactively visualizing a concept like airborne pollution ultimately opens up physical space as a new medium for journalism and other forms of disruptive art and culture. Looking ahead to the next decade, this technology will reshape sectors from music, design, advertising, eCommerce, and fashion.
In the 2010s filmmaking went digital, while in the 2020s it will go virtual. Technologies from the gaming and film industries are beginning to converge with more realistic gaming experiences and increasingly interactive cinematic storytelling. Over the next decade game concepts such as “avatars” and real-time content production will become ever more present in the film industry. This year using the Unreal Engine, studios and production companies have been using game engines to produce virtual sets that allow filmmakers to compose live action scenes in previously difficult or impossible to produce locations. This technology was used to replace previs for production on The Mandalorian on Disney+, and Director Jon Favreau also detailed how Unreal Engine was used in creating virtual backgrounds on LED screens, which were able to be adjusted in real-time in order to bring the world of Star Wars to life. The democratization of this technology will open up a new generation of DIY VFX and independent filmmaking - where a wider range of artist have the tools to create Hollywood-level content at their disposal.
Perhaps the holy grail of game/film technology crossovers has come in the form of digital avatars. Over the past year both The Irishman and Gemini Man have used de-aging technology in order to virtually recreate their stars at younger points in their lives, enabling films to be composed almost entirely of flashbacks or with a virtual double. With de-aging, filmmakers can experiment with time as a storytelling element in exciting new ways. Reports of a virtual James Dean being used to finish an uncompleted film Finding Jack is another use of this technology, allowing historical figures to come to life in ever more realistic and convincing performances. Ultimately, this is just the opening of Pandora’s Box and in the 2020s, virtual avatars will move beyond filmmaking to becoming a central part of our information landscape with digital performances becoming increasingly widespread.
Artificial Intelligence + Media
Flying cars aside, Blade Runner (1982) was on the nose with its date set in November 2019 — with the central theme of humanity coming to grips with the ethical questions that are posed with ‘replicants’ — artificial intelligent beings. Advances in GPU parallel computing as well as new approaches like Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) has developed a new generation of AI built on ’80s neural network research. We are seeing some of the results — from #deepfakes to NVIDIA’s GANimals — where AI makes it increasingly hard to tell the difference between real and digitally generated entities — think all of us now in the position of Dekkard in Blade Runner searching for replicants. With new advances in 3D artistic style transfer and differentiable rendering, the automation of video synthesis is only going to accelerate as we move into the 2020s.
Of course with this new technology and the commoditization of virtual performances, there will be an increasing need to understand and develop detection solutions for nefarious uses, like the weaponization of deepfakes to undermine democracy and truth. Blockchain-based digital watermarking and reverse image processing might help, but it is safe to say that one of the groundbreaking technologies of the next decade will be built around image creation and authentication in an age of deepfakes.
The Next Generation Internet Powered By Blockchain
As attribution and verification becomes more important in media, we expect Blockchain technology to evolve from finance applications to next generation digital payment tools that reshape the media landscape — transforming the way audiences consume content and how artists monetize their work. Already Deutsche Bank is predicting that cryptocurrency has the potential to replace fiat currencies by the end of the upcoming decade and this will be driven by applications like smart contract based micropayments for digital media. RNDR Partner Basic Attention Token and Brave Software are making tremendous progress developing scalable micropayment solutions and opt-in ad revenue sharing models for the open web. In the process, they are creating more sustainable content monetization channels for artists and an advertising model for consumers that does not rely on invasive, privacy invading surveillance. Micropayments have been talked about since the late ’90s and we expect them to become a key part of the next generation of media, powering open world virtual experiences, real-time holographic media consumption, post-paywall micro consumption, and new forms of peer-to-peer collaboration. You can read about some of the work RNDR is doing to develop blockchain based monetization tools for the next generation of holographic media here.
Ultimately, smart contract driven micropayments is a fundamental building block of the next generation web, and a key part of an open metaverse.
Looking Ahead: Back to the Future
Though the curve of technological progress is trending faster and RNDR is built around advancing the creation of futuristic ideas like an open and shared metaverse, many things will not change. With technologies opening the door for new forms of virtual creation and with the proliferation of storytelling tools, human creativity will become even more essential. At RNDR we believe, “first principle in the “Render Economy” is that the resonance of authentic human thought, creativity and imagination are the fundamental units of currency.” RNDR is moving ahead with this belief that new technologies will automate easy or mundane tasks, giving artists more power to probe essential questions about truth, art, the universe, and the human condition. Thus, while new technologies undoubtedly pose risks, and will be disruptive to the status quo, they may ultimately place a greater challenge back on us to make these innovations expressive - “remember that even if AI one day powers the entire economy of creating thought and art, the only transactional unit of currency in such a system, will be when we, as humans, render it valuable.”
We wish you a Happy New Year and hope you are as excited as we are for the decade ahead!
— The RNDR Team
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