US trip reveals prosperous future for UK creativity

From his recent trip to hear about the technology being developed by tech giants on the West Coast USA, Nigel Gwilliam highlights the importance of being human, of creativity and of narrative to the success of tech – skills that the UK creative community have in abundance.

"Nobody knows anything … nobody knows for a certainty what’s going to work"

In his book Adventures in the Screen Trade William Goldman used these words to describe Hollywood. They are equally appropriate in describing attempts to predict, certainly in detail, the future. And this remains true even for the titans of Silicon Valley.

What was clear from our west coast mission, and not really news to us, is their vision of a post smartphone era of immersive technologies. Wearables, sensors, the internet of things, and all the realities: augmented, mixed, virtual and hyper.

What was also clear and perhaps more enlightening was the revelation they aren’t entirely sure how we’re going to get there. The evolution of technology and the companies that seek to prosper from it is brutally Darwinian. Most start ups fail. The form factors of future devices is unclear, the precise nature of user interface is unknown.

Oculus is launching an untethered VR headset, the Quest, but it is hard to envisage this or any other current headset as transformative at scale. Voice will be an increasingly important interface but even Amazon champion the need to think multimodal: voice is good for answers, screens are good for choices. Soundwave generated haptics are a fascinating means for screenless interaction but even the leading business in the field, Ultrahaptics, see the near future centred on installations rather than personal devices.

Crucially however, this uncertainty is somewhat irrelevant…

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.

This quote from American novelist Ursula Le Guin was used by Industrial Light and Magic’s xLab. It perfectly captures the eternal importance of being human, of creativity and of narrative. In truth, whatever technology emerges, these skills will remain priceless – this is a truly reassuring epiphany. Some of the most impressive companies we met, like Dreamscape Immersive and indeed xLabs, see themselves as storytelling not tech companies.

Yes, they are absolutely adept at the technology but this is nothing without the layer of creativity and human insight on top. They go as far as to describe their mission as making it possible for people to “Step Inside” their stories and in doing so transition from Storytelling to Story-living. There is a powerful opportunity to deliver experiences but they are dependent on multi sensory installations that via fans, water sprays and rumble boards build a virtual reality experience into a hyper real one.

Others like Xsperiel, whilst very much tech companies, want to empower the creative community by creating a graphical programming language for non-coders. But their vision of a Real World Web that unifies all technology within both digital and physical context is in its infancy.

The more near term manifestation of story-living or at least participation at scale is best embodied by Twitch which their COO Sara Clemens describes as next generation live television.

What started as a gamer’s live streaming platform is growing fast into a worldwide platform for Community Created Content. It’s still currently dominated by gamers watching gamers but it spreading fast into other entertainment genres which are looking to come full circle and return the social element of watching TV. A recent notable example was a community of fans binge watching Dr Who together. Crucially, live interaction is key with live chat a core integration.

So let’s consider these not-so-scary buzzwords:

  • Storytelling to story-living,
  • Community Created Content,
  • Immersive experiences,
  • Next gen live TV.

Yes, there are platforms and data and tech underpinning them, but these constructs feel accessible and relevant to the UK creative community, not a long stretch from what we excel at now.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from our pilgrimage to the West Coast was a renewed confidence that, with an open mind, the world beating British creative community is ripe to prosper from what technology is serving up.

Want to keep ahead of the tech curve? Join our delegates Rebecca Brennan, Managing Director, Cubo; Adrian Gans, Head of iX, VCCP; Simon Harwood, the7stars, adam&eveDBB and IPA President Sarah Golding for deeper insights and discussion at our IPA event from 5-7pm on 5th December. Book your place (free to IPA members £25 to non-members).

Last updated 21 January 2022