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Thinking the unthinkable: Six evolving technologies set to take the world by storm


By Jessica Davies, News Editor

January 4, 2013 | 9 min read

Technological advancement once again gathered pace in the past year and looks unlikely to slow down in 2013 or beyond. Jess Davies takes a look at what to expect...

By 2036 the mobile phone will be the size of a red blood cell and a billion times more powerful than any mobile device available today. This statement, made by AdMob Europe founder Russell Buckley, formed the backdrop of a series of jaw-dropping predictions about how and what evolving technologies will shape the world during The Drum’s 4 Minute Warning event on 5 December.Buckley joined a string of academic and marketing experts who debated everything from the value of augmented reality, Google Glass, and 3D printing to the ethics of tracking people’s movements and emotions via their mobile devices to predict future behaviours. The Drum gives a break out of the ones to watch. Augmented reality (AR)The rapid development of AR has seen it move from ‘gimmicky’ towards being an increasingly important part of the media mix. Brands see it as a potential new revenue stream given its ability to bridge traditional and new media channels and bring static, print or outdoor media to life in a way that can be measured using the accountability of the web. Mobile-based AR platform Aurasma, which claims 10,000 partners and 4m downloads worldwide, uses image-recognition technology to detect images, symbols, and objects in the real world and then meld the physical image with an animation or video, audio or web pages. Top Gear, GQ, Debenhams, Reebok and Clarks are among the brands to have incorporated Aurasma AR into their campaigns to more seamlessly tie together off- and online marketing activity, with GQ launching its first ever AR cover-to-cover edition for its September issue last year. Via a new app called GQ Live, every ad featured print-to-mobile content extensions, including 3D modelling, video and click- throughs to social media and ecommerce sites. Aurasma’s head of global partnerships Matt Mills says publishers are seeing positive results from using AR. “It’s moving away from being gimmicky to something that is useful and can be measured. Magazines using Aurasma, for example, can tell how many people have engaged with their pages and their ads. They can also make more money from advertising, as they can charge more for linking their offline and online advertising together,” he adds. Google Glass: Due in 2014Many have tipped Google Glass as the technology that will springboard AR into our daily lives. Simply put, it is a wearable computer, built into the frame of a pair of glasses containing a half-inch display. This will let the wearer capture videos of pretty much everything they see, and in doing so effectively make AR part of our daily lives. The display, which comes into focus when the wearer looks up and to the right, will also let people take and share photos, video-chat, check appointments and access maps and the web. Mobile: The gateway to understanding and predicting human behaviourThe sheer volume of data now trackable in our daily lives has brought about a revolution in the academic world, according to Dr Mirco Musolesi, senior lecturer at University of Birmingham’s School of Computer Science. Data captured from numerous sources including social media, mobile devices, and sensors embedded within the fabric of cities such as cameras, is presenting a host of opportunities as well as challenges for the likes of Musolesi’s research teams. Essentially all these data feeds can be filtered to determine actual motives of human behaviour, he said. “Once we have motives we can then predict movements,” he said. Mobile devices are always connected so can be used as a gateway to collect information from people’s environments. Cameras themselves have proximity, voice, and light sensors, all of which are aiding teams like Musolesi’s to reconstruct people’s environments and their place with in it. “Using these sensors you can build apps that can reconstruct your context. They can detect if people are sitting, walking, or out at a party and even emotions. They can detect music, whether you are with a group of people, and location – all in real time. This can help us build maps of communities,” he said. A person’s emotional sense can be estimated from the tone of their voice, which in turn helps his team determine the dynamics of said person within a group and can target people according to their mood and location. “The phone can therefore be used to understand the intentions of people,” he added. Any form of tracking individuals’ behaviour and movements immediately raises ethical issues, but this functionality will always be opt-in, according to Musolesi. The opportunities for brands if privy to such data could offer rich insight into their target audience’s behaviour, but to do so there must be a defined value exchange and level of transparency required. 3D printing: Flash in the pan or a real game changer?Hailed by The Economist as the “third industrial revolution”, 3D printing is making serious headway in areas including health, engineering, construction, decoration and aeronautical sectors. In short, it’s relevant to just about everyone. Although some way off being a mass market product there are already examples of where 3D printing has already been used to recreate human organs, vital replacement spacecraft parts for NASA’s astronauts, and even the Aston Martin in the latest James Bond movie Skyfall. Experts including Melissa Sterry, head of technology at Earth 2 Hub, believe brands which ignore the rise of 3D printing do so at their peril. Get involved with the science of technology is her advice to brands. “There are no words to explain just how fast technology is developing - we’re on the brink of quantum computing. I’m really surprised more retailers aren’t being more experimental, they need to be afraid of what they will miss out on if they don’t experiment,” she said. If they don’t the UK is in danger of being outpaced by developing markets which are innovating more quickly, including Russia, India and China, according to Sterry. “There is this exponential growth developing in emerging markets including China and Russia and in the UK, and to some extent the US, there is an assumption we’re on top of it because we are leading economies, but we are seeing more disruptive technologies coming up in developing countries than in the UK’s back yard. We mustn’t fall behind,” she said. Web-TV convergenceThe dawn of web-TV convergence has finally arrived after years of brands paying lip service to the concept. Technology has advanced to the stage where actual convergence of the TV and web can occur and broadcasters including the BBC are throwing their weight behind it. Its newly launched Connected Red Button service is the first example of a truly converged service from the public service broadcaster, designed to provide a more seamless viewing experience between its online, TV and radio content via connected TVs. It will initially roll out across 1.2m Virgin Media’s TiVo homes, with the view to launching on other connected TVs and platforms, including YouView, next year. Virgin Media’s web-enabled TiVo service also features a host of web apps on its interface, providing converged, branded content opportunities for advertisers. Meanwhile YouView itself remains an interesting proposition, despite its multiple setbacks which saw it launch years after its planned debut. The joint video-on-demand venture between the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV, ISPs BT and Talk Talk, and Arqiva, aggregates all the TV catch-up players via a single set-top box. The technology has been designed to be open to other online content creators, letting them sidestep the traditional cost barriers of reaching a broadcast TV audience. Humanity 2.0: The future of mankind and machinesWith the kind of exponential growth expected in the coming years, by 2036 the mobile phone will be size of a red blood cell and a billion times more powerful than your mobile phone today, according to Russell Buckley, founder of AdMob Europe and former marketing director of ZagMe – a start-up that specialised in location-based marketing in the year 2000. This same rate of growth will pave the way for the theory of ‘singularity’ – a new era in which computers become the centurions of the human race predicted to occur by 2045. This concept is nothing new of course, it’s been documented in numerous sci-fi movies and novels, but the fact is it is possible if we continue at this level of exponential growth, said Buckley. We need only generate the machine that is capable of generating the next generation of machine and so on and so on, so the final iteration of computer, which can essentially run itself and the human race will be generated by its predecessor. Another theory is that we will merge with machines in some way – what Buckley referred to as Humanity 2.0. “We will have enhanced intelligence and bodies as there will be a blending of humanity and machines, which will create a hybrid race of super humans. A third theory entails evolving our brains, described by Buckley as “organic computers” to live in the cloud. “Surely we should be able to digitise what is going on in our brains and then put that in a virtual world. Our brains could live in the cloud and therefore there would be no constraints on resources, no need to breed even.” This feature is published in the 4 January issue of The Drum.
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