Cannes Lions 2016: Wired’s Kevin Kelly on Virtual Reality, ‘Virtuality’ and AI

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Cannes Lions Kevin Kelly Wired

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is a great place to check out what’s going on right now in creative industries all over the world—but what can it also tell us about the future?

In his presentation at this year’s event, Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired, talked about the forces of change that will shape all of our lives over the next 20 years. The two topics he focused on are both critical areas that brands are looking towards more than ever: Virtual Reality and AI.

Virtuality is the new reality

According to Kelly, who tested some of the earliest VR tech in the 1980s as a journalist, it’s still going to be a number of years before VR is widely available, a staple in the home and consumer-friendly. “In the short term it’s overhyped, but in the long term it’s underhyped,” he observed.

Thanks to advancements in now ubiquitous smartphones, however, the accelerometers, screens, tracking software and processors that were once unaffordable are now all cheap and readily available, meaning VR is on the brink of becoming a household item.

VR can take many forms. Immersion VR is the more traditional form, where it’s like you’re watching a 360-degree movie. But augmented reality and mixed reality are going to open up the widest frontier of possibilities. AR and mixed reality are when you’re still looking at the real world but with an added layer of virtuality: digital objects, screens or other people appear for real-time interactions.

VR is trading on the sense of an experience, and so experiential approaches, language and principles are going to become even more crucial for brands to master if they want to enthrall customers.

Kelly emphasized that telepresence—the experience of having another person in the room with you—is going to be one of VR’s hallmark experiences. VR will not be about everyone becoming isolated, locked away in their rooms with goggles on, lost in fantasy worlds. Instead, it will become the most social of social medias, he feels. Nothing is as intriguing as another person—and it opens an array of possibilities.

Working remotely becomes even easier because you can have one-on-one performances and training in your living room, and brands will be able to re-enact in-store, interpersonal customer experiences anywhere in the world.

Cannes Lions Kevin Kelly Wired

Intelligence is the new electricity

AI always sounds like some far off sci-fi concept, but Kelly pointed out that AI is here. Once we get something to work, we don’t call it AI anymore, we call it machine learning or neural networks. Anything we haven’t achieved yet, we call AI.

AI won’t ever be perfect, and it’s unlikely that we willl invent an AI that is better than humans at everything. But we don’t need it to be—we just need AIs that are empowered with the right kinds of thinking to solve the right problems.

“Thinking different is the foundational skill in the new economy. We will make as many different species of thinking as we can.”

Cannes Lions Kevin Kelly Wired

The other half of this development is how we use this AI to power our lives holistically. Kelly likened it to the industrial revolution. First, we used artificial power to do what humans can’t do on our own. Now, instead of adding electricity to manual tools, we’re going to add AI to existing tools.

In this AI-driven reality, IQ will be a service that flows like electricity and you’ll rent mind-power from the cloud for whatever task you need accomplished at an hourly or daily rate, says Kelly.

This doesn’t mean we’re all going to be replaced by machines. Robots will create more jobs, it’s only the tasks that require efficiency and productivity that will be replaced. Those that don’t—art, science, innovation, human experiences—will not. In fact, we’ll have even more time to pursue them.

All of this is going to have massive repercussions for any brand looking for future growth. According to David Rowan, editor of Wired UK, commented to Cannes Lions TV (below): “AI is going to automate your conversation with your consumer.”
We’ve already seen it with chatbots, and one of the hottest new areas if exploration is how to immerse customer in the brand story with VR.

“You don’t need to be an expert in AI, Data Analytics, or VR,” adds Rowan. “But you do need to understand how quickly that they’re giving your competitors an advantage.”

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