What to expect from the next year in… Creativity and Technology
As we talk to some of those working at the forefront of technology – from creatives working with AI, interaction design, CGI, AR and VR – we see that the gap between the digital and the physical has been steadily shrinking.
In recent months here at It’s Nice That, we’ve started to take a closer look at the range of projects that have pushed the creative potential of technology, along with a reflection of its limitations and assumptions. Looking forward to the near future, a few themes emerge from the increasing awareness that the public, artists and creatives have on what it means to interact with the world through technology.
As we talk to some of those working at the forefront of technology – working with AI, interaction design, CGI, AR and VR – we see that the gap between the digital and the physical has been steadily shrinking. In the future, there are calls for greater nuance in creating work with technology, meaningful engagement through community building, and a move away from hyperreality towards more abstract digital work.
Tea Uglow, Creative director at Google Creative Lab
It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in creative technology you would like to see this year?
Tea Uglow:I’m waiting for creative technology to grow old. There is so much interesting work to be done, and I feel like the elders of our industry are just beginning to reach a point where they can truly understand the challenges of our age that can be addressed by technology and creativity. The dotcom veterans, who ignited the world wide web are going to launch into old age with IOT. As part of that I’d love to see a wholesale shift away from screen as a dominant communication form and into other under-utilised parts of the sensory cortex. Understanding that we have always processed millions of information points and will lose that capacity if we don’t find ways to place information into space around us in new ways. For me the default reliance on visual interfaces is deeply underwhelming, but I guess things feeling obvious is also exciting too – there is so much overlooked and underdeveloped space to explore and play with. All of the ARCore and ML depth and auditory tools are bringing real reality into, well, focus if you like.
INT:Is there something in particular you would like your field to discuss or tackle as in 2020?
TU:I’d like to see creative technology start to take a more reflective attitude towards its impact on community and understand the secondary and tertiary impacts of the tools we build, the work we make, and the messages that we send. Our disposable culture is ethically unsustainable all the way down to the belief that the images, games, and/or words that we create somehow have no impact beyond the desired one, or that they simply disappear. I think that what we say matters and that we could reflect on that a lot more. It isn’t that there is one right way, just that there is no neutral path. Ethics and values matter more and more; creative tech should price that in.
INT:Can you tell us about a project that you saw from last year that perhaps shows the direction the Creative Lab is going in 2020?
TU:I loved Live Caption – a project that started out in NYC as an accessibility idea to auto-transcribe videos on the fly so you could read what was being said. In February that became the app: Live Transcribe. Last year its big brother – Live Caption – launched on Pixel 4 providing captions for any media on your device that has audio content (even when you have no data connection). I love that project because it is simultaneously life-changing for some of us, yet also rather handy for many more of us. Literally win-win.
I was also a huge fan of a project the team in London launched with a series of experiments aimed at our digital wellbeing. A collection of ideas and tools “that help people find a better balance with technology”. These are terrific because it shows that we can build tools and make work that is mindful of each other and ourselves and that seems to me to be something we should all be trying to do – so I hope that is a trend we will continue. Quite often these smaller experiments lead to bigger things, so we shall see. Even at Google it’s easier to imagine a better future when someone draws you a sketch of what that might involve.
INT:What would you like to personally do within your medium in 2020?
TU:I don’t know. I wish I knew because then I could do that. Generally, if you know what you are going to do and you stick dogmatically to it then it distorts everything you actually find yourself doing in this strange, fast-changing world that we live in. We all exhaust ourselves in the pursuit of resolutions that we set before we knew what we were agreeing to, often at the expense of authentic challenges and interesting opportunities. I have a book, an anthology of queer speeches, coming out in May – not messing that up is a personal goal.
But mainly what I would like to do personally is stay open to the people who appear and have coffee with me, and always remember that every single person sees the world through their own eyes, their own neural pathway, they hear their own voices, live their own experiences. We are, it turns out, all different and yet we seem to think we all should see each the world the same way. If I could use my medium to articulate that idea fluently, then I would be very pleased.
Stephanie Dinkins, Artist
It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in new media art, or art about technology that you would like to see this year?
Stephanie Dinkins:I’ve been thinking a lot about Afro-now-ism. It is the idea that we speculate about a future and spend every effort to create the future we want and need to see – in the here and now. It is a wilful practice that imagines the world as one needs it to be to support successful engagement. It means acting from a critically integrated space of free, expansive thought instead of from opposition, which often distracts us from more self- and community-sustaining work.
That said, the change I would like to see in art made with and about technology is more people of colour making it. By adding works and platforms that help shape knowledge and culture with specificity and nuance, we stretch the technologies we depend on in the direction of better outcomes for everyone. This is true of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, and so on.
INT:What trends or stylistic attributes do you think we’re going to see in critical AI art and new media art in 2020?
SD:Trends in AI art are hard to name. We will probably see more of the same: more platforms that automate and hide how AI processes data and to produce outcomes visual or otherwise. In the process, we become more consumers of prescribed AI methods that provide quick access to AI-informed output. By providing shortcuts to prescribed outcomes, such platforms often limit our learning about the systems and often result in replicated cookie-cutter results.
We need to make efforts to dissect and remix algorithmic systems to ensure continued evolution and more fairness in the systems. If nothing else, we must use data that reflects the depth and breadth of society instead of off-the-shelf solutions often embedded with biases of the past and present. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be very familiar with the origin and content of the data used. Data often carries biases; examine the source and quality of information of data employed in AI systems.
I hope artists will find ways to use advanced technologies to lead and create out-of-the-box solutions to the myriad of problems created by AI and data science. Since it will be an election year, I’d also love to see more artists examine the ways algorithms are used to influence the political process (among other things). We cannot afford to leave such important work up to institutions, academia and newspapers alone. We as individuals and communities have the means to make technologies that can compete and call out anomalies in the process, so why wouldn’t we try to do that?
Daan Lucas, Managing director of Random Studio
It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in experience design you would like to see this year?
Dean Lucas:The enormous increase in the consumption of digital data these days has an enormous effect on how we interact with each other and the world around us. More and more, we alienate ourselves from each other and the environment we live in. We spend the majority of our day on social media that offers simulations of connections. Research shows that it leaves people feeling lonely, disconnected.
So, to answer your question, I think experience design should focus on how people connect with each other and the space that they are in. Not look at people as consumers, to harvest their data and to stir themselves towards double-digit growth.
I would love to see experiences that foster real connections, based on equality, mutual respect and interest. Where co-creation is based on a real connection and not another marketing trick. Let experience design be that domain where brands and people share experiences, where they play, laugh, create and connect.
INT:What would you like to personally do within your medium in 2020?
DL:We are very much looking forward to exploring the domain of Interactive Space further. And by that I mean the domain where there is no divide between digital and physical. We believe that by merging the virtual with the physical space we can combine the best of both worlds into one. Embed the rich interactive, real-time digital culture into the physical space where we create meaning, navigate effortlessly, where we touch, feel, connect, love and live. Within this space that we call Interactive Space, we create new experiences that are aimed to connect people, and invite them to play, reflect and explore. This way we hope to invite people to connect to one another and the space that they are in.
Sarah Rothberg, Interactive media artist
It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in augmented reality you would like to see this year?
Sarah Rothberg:I’d hope to see the price of AR headsets come down – or at least see dev kits being distributed more freely. I think there’s a lot to explore with headset-based AR – but it’s quite expensive to even try! I’m also really hoping that the visual problems around object occlusion on mobile devices will be addressed by the engineering smarties out there. Mobile AR makes for really interesting video content, but real world objects appearing in front of virtual objects can really ruin the illusion!
INT:Is there something in particular you would like your field to discuss or tackle in 2020?
SR:I’d love to see the big players in AR come together for a good long talk about what kind of a world might be created if AR were to really take off: how could its infrastructure be co-developed in a way that encourages positive outcomes like connecting people, spreading information equitably, instead of one big scary ill-conceived echo-chamber!
Alan Warburton, CGI artist
It's Nice That:What trends or stylistic attributes do you think we’re going to see in CGI artists in 2020?
Alan Warburton:For a long time, software like Cinema4D, Maya and 3D Studio Max have dominated the production of computer graphics, but now I think games engines like Unity and Unreal are now of a standard to challenge a lot of traditional CGI workflows. Unreal is particularly easy to use, and it really pushes the practice of “worldbuilding” – a theme popular recently in academic and tech circles – into new territory. Unreal just acquired photorealistic asset library Quixel Megascans, so students learning animation or design are finding that they have this intuitive tool at their fingertips, which they can use to quickly populate whatever world they can imagine with hyper-detailed models that seem to adapt seamlessly to whatever scene you put them in. So, we’ll see more “worlds” being built and more projects being constructed in games engines.
But there is a drawback, of course, and it’s something I’ve talked about in my video essay Goodbye Uncanny Valley: When tools automate the production of photorealistic graphics the challenge of “good” or “interesting” art lies not in how accurate your work is – that’s easy if you’re drag-and-dropping Quixel Megascans into a scene – it’s now about something else. Content? Style? Philosophy? In short, the easier it is to produce photorealistic worlds, the more designers and artists have to turn to abstraction and invention – both to distinguish themselves commercially but also to surprise and engage a viewer. And there’s another question worth asking – what does it mean to retreat into hyperreal games and film worlds when the real world seems to be coming apart at the seams?
INT:CGI is being used more and more in the field of graphic design – do you think designers need to take a critical look at this medium before using it?
AW:Yes, but I think most people already do look critically, whether they know it or not. That moment you see the same digital aesthetic reproduced for the 1,000th time on Instagram or an ad agency ripping off the work of a struggling freelancer – you’re thinking critically by asking: “What’s going on here?” Stepping back in those moments is important; you begin to see how technology, aesthetics, commerce and industry are all intimately bound together. We are part of the machine, but what we do with that knowledge is another question.
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About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.