Transhuman Singularity

 In Insight

Parallels between networked technologies and our natural realm reign supreme in critical thought. Though the line between valuable output and gimmick is seemingly all too fine.

Exponential development of ‘the internet of things’ suggests that it’s only a matter of time before we must confront our relationship with technology. While this poses challenges in fields that range from the analytical to the ethical, there are a number of issues that incite our skills in creativity: how do we normalise our perception of a hyper-connected, artificially-intelligent, augmented-reality world? Will the average person naturally embrace such extraordinary change without guidance, perhaps even intervention? And what happens to subjectivity and identity in a quantified, data driven economy?

It shouldn’t take an army of autonomous AI vending machines, swarms of confectionary wielding drones and a sarcastic ATM machine to enlighten us to the fact that our industry sometimes loses touch with reality. However, technology can be used constructively. Horus Technology for example developed a wearable headpiece (pictured above) that makes the invisible audible, it could help some 285 million blind people worldwide. Communicating this idea is a challenging task, but within two months of the campaign, the brand had been written about in 190 articles, worth €2m in earned media, alongside coverage on national TV and 600,000 Youtube views. This generated donations that exceeded their targets by 150% as well as helping create new international partnerships with other technology companies to further develop their products. They did this by getting well-known Italians to create Youtube videos, showing them going about their everyday professional tasks blindfolded. This simple idea confronts the reality for blind people living without the technology, highlighting its necessity and importance.

“This didn’t win anything [at Cannes] as an ad campaign… So, what did win? Well, a gadget that tells you which way to steer on a bicycle. And a boot you put on your baby, which let’s you know when it’s unwell. C’mon seriously?”
– Directory

Flying, buzzing, whirring tech is often the most titillating, but it’s connectivity & communication between devices and us that are frequently cited as the most fundamental and important advancements. Vodafone know this and to drive that message home, they developed an initiative to train up a pair of Romanian grannies’ (pictured above) tech skills so that they could share their cooking advice with the world, and more importantly young students, who were much in need of cheap recipes. The campaign generated 380m media impressions and 430,000 Facebook fans for the grannies, but more importantly it tripled the social media adoption rate among Romanians over 65. A pretty smart move for Vodafone, especially armed with the knowledge that people over 55 control 75% of the worlds wealth, yet only 5% of advertising is directed at them.

‘Ingress’ is an ‘alternative reality’ mobile game in which players interact with the real world, competing for territory and discovering portals. The game uses AR technology as well as GPS, encouraging everyday interaction with the world away from a console. AXA wanted to position themselves as being the first insurance company to protect people in the physical and virtual world, so they worked with the game’s developers, Google Niantic Labs, to intergrate 20,000 AXA retail outlets into the game. The idea was simple: AXA’s stores provided gamers with an ‘AXA Shield’ (pictured above) that protected them in the game. The new element encouraged 400,000 people to visit AXA Agencies in real life. 2.8 million AXA shields were deployed which encouraged 1.9m game interactions with AXA per day. The project shows expert use of tech, offering a wide spread element in-game, in exchange for real life footfall.

Street musicians have noticed a slight slump in spare change recently; it’s because people simply don’t carry it around anymore. To overcome this obstacle, Visa gave buskers an NFC collection hat (pictured above). The StreetTaps campaign was shared on Twitter and Facebook, receiving over 13.5m impressions and 2.7m views.

Everyday 160,000 tonnes of waste is dropped in Hong Kong. Identifying that the issue was exacerbated by being unable to catch culprits red handed, ‘Hong Kong Clean Up’ developed a system whereby they’d collect DNA from the litter to phenotype an image of the offender, using DOOH screens to display those images (pictured above). The 14 day campaign reached over 3.9m people, creating a connection between technology and its environment.

The World Press Photo Awards has honoured the best photojournalism from around the globe since 1955. It seemed a little ironic to plaster its yearbook (pictured above) with text given that it’s advocating the power of photography to tell a story. The solution was to sandwich a polymer between two polymeric electrodes within the paper, the spine of the book equipped with a computer chip with sound files loaded on to it. The technology effectively turned the pages into loudspeakers enabling the book to read to its ‘reader’. The concept challenges conventional interaction with printed media while producing a stunning, image-driven book. The project also inspired 300 articles, reaching 16m people.

Other brands using tech well include: Green Nation, who convinced 50 large Brazilian corporations to install software that changed users’ background images, and depending on how often they printed documents, images would change from a lush green forest to a diminished, unhealthy one. L&PM who, to encourage subway travellers to read more, changed their tickets into small, beautiful books, which quickly became collectors’ items. Brake, as part of national road safety week in New Zealand, wanted to show the devastating effect of not only losing a loved one in a road accident, but losing what they could have become. To do this they used Weta – a world renowned SFX company – and a forensic age progression specialist to generate images of grown-up versions of children lost to traffic accidents (pictured above), publishing them online and in print with the age at which they died. Your Future View use VR headsets and Go Pros to give future students tours of university campuses. Lowe’s, a home improvement store who’ve deployed OSHBot robots that can greet customers at the door and show them to the right spot in store. The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (Softbank) have also released an autonomous workforce, NAO (pictured below) is a friendly droid programmed to deal with in branch financial services.

Put simply, there’s one distinguishing factor that rules a line between the good and the bad when using tech in creative ideas: usefulness. If it provides the consumer with something genuinely useful and isn’t merely a gimmick, it can work. The Oxford English Dictionary defines technology as: “The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes” The ‘practical purposes’ part is absolutely fundamental to a worthwhile idea, something that’s missing from campaigns such as printing your face on a bag of crisps, #CokeDrones or 3D print your friends and family on a cake.

But if we make technology more useful, won’t the robots come along and steal our jobs? According to the BBC’s handy new ‘Will a robot take your job’ tool, we, in the ad industry, are pretty safe. Account Managers are at a 33% likelihood of having their jobs taken by robots, designers at 5%, artists 4%, while directors are at 3%. Strangely, at 9%, the BBC think our CEOs are more at risk of being replaced by robots than the creative teams. This alludes to a philosophical perspective on artificial intelligence, that can be expressed through a thought experiment designed by John Searle. The experiment asks you to imagine yourself a monolingual English speaker “locked in a room, and given a large batch of Chinese writing” plus “a second batch of Chinese script” and “a set of rules” in English “for correlating the second batch with the first batch.” You “get so good at following the instructions” that “from the point of view of someone outside the room” your responses are “absolutely indistinguishable from those of Chinese speakers.” Just by looking at your answers, nobody can tell you “don’t speak a word of Chinese.” Searle’s experiment shows that merely replicating programmed instructions only simulates understanding and therefore a computer is unlikely to achieve true human understanding, let alone think creatively or laterally, much to the distaste of Google Deepmind. However, it’s perhaps less useful to think of technology as a threat, but to embrace it as a part of nature, an idea Google’s Deep Learning projects attempt to build upon, programming systems to ‘learn’. A ‘transhumanist’ is a person whom would dispel Searle’s ‘Chinese Room’ theory in favour of deep learning, claiming that Weak AI relates to that of simulated understanding while deep learning, goes someway toward ‘Strong AI’, a form of artificial intelligence much more similar to that of a human being’s. Though even a transhumanist would deny that we’re not quite there yet, dubbing the moment when humanity and technology work truly harmoniously as ‘the singularity’. The ‘internet of things’ may be one step toward that, but there’s still a long way to go, with many more challenges to overcome.

Conclusion: first understand the technology, then put it to use with a practical purpose.

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