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The Robots Are Coming . . .

12 Jun
Persona Synthetics

( Channel 4 )

 

As it becomes more and more advanced, our relationship with humanised tech and Artificial Intelligence is fraught with tensions and anxiety – there is a fine line between helpful and straight up scary. A phone that can crack jokes? Great! A watch that tells me when to get up and have a little walk around? Yes please! A hologram woman greeting me as I enter Kings Cross station? Hmmm . . . a bit creepy. This cultural anxiety is explored in Channel 4’s upcoming drama Humans which takes us into a parallel world in which people can buy human-like “synths” to look after their houses and their children. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t look like it ends well.

The adverts for the series were disguised as adverts for Persona Synthetics, the synth manufacturer, and the company even has its own website, confusing some people into thinking they could actually buy a robotic assistant. It seems that this series is cutting close to the bone by making us face a reality in which you might really have a human-like robot living in your house and doing your laundry. This was followed up by bringing the concept into the real world, creating a pretend shop front with interactive robot images which could wave at passers-by. Unnerving stuff. Especially as the adverts heavily suggest that the robots get really clever and go rogue.

We were scared enough by Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with a husky-voiced operating system in the film Her, but now Humans places a reality in front of us which doesn’t even really feel that far off. It flags up to us that whilst brands are, and should, readily embrace the advances in technology that allow them to create super personalised products and services, it is important that they bear this cultural anxiety in mind. It will be interesting to see how brands navigate this delicate situation – and whether they manage to avoid scaring their customers.

Flourishing Curiosity

19 Jan

People are hungrier than ever for knowledge and discovery. They are pursuing learning for pleasure – craving mental stimulation and enlightenment. Knowledge is valued for its enhancing qualities – to learn more about the world, and to enrich and define your character through skills and ideas. The thriving life of the mind is treasured more and more.

 

We are seeing this expressed in culture around the globe:

The Lost Lectures are a Europe- wide series of underground lectures that push the boundaries of knowledge.

www.lostlectures.com

(lostlectures.com)

Serial is a new podcast that tells a complex, intellectually stimulating story. It has become the most popular ever, and sparked ongoing debate.

www.serialpodcast.org

(serialpodcast.org)

Hendrick’s Gin hosted a Carnival of Knowledge that featured experts sharing their knowledge insights and ideas.

uk.hendricksgin.com

(hendricksgin.com)

 

Therefore we think that brands should consider the importance of connoisseurship, enabling a learning process whilst not being patronising. Check out our Cultural Themes website for more information.

 

Cool Science

18 Nov

Science – sadly – used to be for geeks. It was the arena of the expert,  the technical boffin who could understand equations or decipher endless pages of code.

But things are changing. We have seen over the last year or so that science is becoming not only cooler, bur far more accessible.

We’ve seen t-shirts in Topshop declaring the wearers love for Chemistry or Physics, and now we’re seeing it go even further. Rosetta’s recent landing on Comet 67P provoked glorious reactions of joy from Twitter users, and the box office success of Interstellar is putting the realm of the scientific firmly into the spotlight.

(newsdiscovery.com)

(newsdiscovery.com)

Scientists themselves are also becoming beacons of fascination. Recently released film, The Imitation Game – starring Benedict Cumberbatch – tells the story of overlooked code-breaking genius Alan Turing, and in the new year The Theory of Everything – starring dreamboat Eddie Redmayne – will tell the story of Stephen Hawking.

(timeout.com)

(timeout.com)

Science is increasingly being looked to not only as a place of incredible discovery, but a place of beauty, of joy and of creative inspiration.

Cultural Trends 2014

20 Jan

Welcome to 2014

Our job is to look at big cultural shifts, we can see that 2014 is going to be a year where consumers demand more than ever.

Check out our fantastic trends video,  and see for yourself.

Can Gaming Save the World?

5 Sep

A new wave of so-called ‘serious games’ are mobilising  the collective intelligence and imagination of gamers for real-world benefits in the diverse fields of science, politics and social development.

This is repositioning gaming as a productive enterprise, rather than merely passive, escapist, or simply a waste of time. Research suggests that gaming will dramatically transform the way that we communicate, build communities, and solve complex problems. The ‘collective intelligence’ of the world’s gamers has been elevated as a valuable resource, which can be mobilised for strategic thinking and problem solving – outweighing the power of a supercomputer. The game ‘Foldit’ uses this collective intelligence to solve complex scientific problems which are beyond the capabilities of individual biochemists.

Gamers (mrtoledano.com)

Gamers (mrtoledano.com)

Jane McGonigal – a prominent figure head in gaming development – has designed several influential games such as ‘Superbetter,’ which includes personal challenges to improve health or support depression. The game ‘The World without Oil’ encourages players to imagine their responses to an oil shortage,  generating content within an on-line community.  At present, as a planet, we spend 3 billion hours a week gaming – what if it was possible to transform these gaming hours from a leisure activity into labour. And what if that labour was part of a collective effort beyond each participant’s cognitive ability?

 

Out of this World

23 May

Astronauts have always been heroes. And ever since Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind, astronauts seemed to become more real, more accessible and more broadcast.

Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield

The last months have provided extra entertainment from out of space, since the witty Commander Chris Hadfield used modern communication to show us down here how things work out there. He showed us how astronauts brush their teeth and even explained how a spaceship toilet functions. Almost 1 million people followed him on Twitter and learned how life feels when there is no gravity. He ended his space odyssey by performing a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and delivering what we Earthlings now call the first music video filmed in space. The video has already had over 12 million views on YouTube.

 Yet, we don’t need to look at viral video numbers to guess the popularity of space. All it takes is for us to believe the unbelievable: that around 80.000 people subscribed to win a one way ticket to Mars, in the most literal way possible. Mars One is a project that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2023.

Applications are open on their homepage where they also explain more about the project: “Mars One intends to fund this decade-long endeavor by involving the whole world as the audience of an interactive, televised broadcast of every aspect of this mission, from the astronaut selections and their preparations to the arrival on Mars and their lives on the Red Planet.”But be careful when signing those terms and conditions! The adventure goes one way only. There is no coming back from the Red Planet.

All of this other worldy activity will certainly raise the bar for future reality TV shows…

Good Chemistry

25 Mar

We have watched as Science has moved from being the domain of geeks with their graphic calculators to being a fascination for us all. With science programmes on prime time television and the Raspberry Pi encouraging children to learn to code and make their own inventions, people seem genuinely excited about Science again.

Topshop have even turned this interest into fashion, with a range of shirts declaring their obsession with all things technological.

Science Shirts (topshop.com)

Science Shirts (topshop.com)

It seems little surprise then, that in our survey of brands’ cultural vibrancy – Cultural Traction – tech brands rule the roost. Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft dominate, with the highest scores for being inspiring, exciting, visionary and bold. It seems that these brands are able to harness our interest in technology in a way that stirs us to dream, to create and to glimpse the future.

Supergods and a Japanese Jesus

21 Aug

Supergods by Grant Morrison (wired.com)

Science and faith have stood opposed to each other for as long as anyone can remember. The two poles have recently been embodied in public debates between people like the late Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig. The battle is very much still alive and great thinkers both for and against religion continue to hold the public’s attention. But between these two poles we have discovered a third world – a world less polarized and less concerned with the absolutes of organized religion and science.

A fascinating evangelist of this intriguing border world is Grant Morrison, who argues that people are creating new gods – gods agreed as not real, but who act as idols and messiahs nonetheless. His book Supergods takes an interesting and comprehensive look at superheroes, and at the way they’ve shaped and been shaped by generations.

Manga Jesus (eden.co.uk)

We’ve recently come across the wonderful world of Manga Jesus – a faithful, but fantastical, comic book representation of the story of Jesus. Here, ancient scrolls and the modern high-quality printed text are presented in a way that has been traditionally reserved for geeky teens and eccentric collectors.

It all begs the question– is religion moving into a new space? A space of myth and story, where the battles with science matter less and faith is re-contextualised as heroic.

In haircare no one can hear you scream

13 Jun

L’Oreal’s new hair colour, Inoa, has taken an interesting stance on the science and technology often used to talk about beauty products. Their advert is reminiscent of sci-fi movie trailers – complete with glowing orbs, explosions, strobe lighting, threatening music and a naked woman curled in the foetal position as if she has been birthed from some otherworldly creature. It could almost be the trailer for Prometheus.

 

Inoa describes itself as “the hair colour of the future” and sells the fact that it is ammonia-free and odourless – this sci-fi aesthetic seems to us a pretty unconventional way to talk about a product being more natural, and it makes us cautious about putting it on our skin. We might go and see the movie though…

 

The Wonder of Brains

6 Jun

One look at the brain and it’s got to make you wonder. It’s nothing short of mind-boggling that from the ridged undulating pink walnut-shaped mass emerges the taste of a madeleine, the pain of a paper cut, or the happiness at the first day of spring. All from something that looks disturbingly like Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Thankfully, it’s not everyday that we get a peek.

Neuro drinks (drinkneuro.com)

It’s no surprise that neuro is the buzzword of the moment. Neuromarketing. Neuroarchitecture. Neuroesthetics. Neurolinguistics. Neuroscience and the military is a whole battlefield in and of itself. There’s Neuromanagement and even a drink called Neuro.  It is easy to be swept away by the promise of an answer to the questions that have plagued philosophers and scientists for centuries. There is  magic in solving the mysteries and in the physiological complexity that underpins the everyday experiences.

At the Wellcome Collection’s Brains; The Mind as Matter exhibit we were intrigued by its focus on the brain as a physiological organ and nothing else. Implicit throughout is the realisation that however much we have desperately, painstakingly – and often painfully – attempted to understand how it works, we still can’t explain the genius of Einstein, what keeps a memory from disease, what really makes me me. Despite every surgical operation and every experiment, the brain is one of the few remaining parts of ourselves that is not quite fully within our reach.

Brains; The Mind as Matter at The Wellcome Collection (wellcomecollection.org)

When we go back to ‘neuro’ as a buzzword, this is why we worry. Popular science, whilst brilliant at talking to the layman and inspiring generations of budding scientists, can often fall into reductionism. As a culture, it makes it all too easy to design, dismiss, and decide on things purely from the results of a few EEG studies. In the not-so-distant future will advertising be solely based on firing cells in a few test subjects at the business lab? Will we choose future employees, friends or life partners based on compatible brainwaves? Will art and music be created to follow an optimal algorithm of neural creativity? Will we become immobile physical beings, experiencing the fullness of life through virtual interaction, active in our minds only?

Western culture’s obsession with control and logic pounces on any chance to drill down the complicated to a few simple truths, especially when it comes to understanding ourselves. The danger here is that tampering with, or tailoring directly for, the brain removes any chance for human error, spontaneity, or surprise. As homo sapiens we grow and learn by being exposed to novelty, it’s the exercise of our minds. It’s what creates culture; the result of subtle synergies and often chance. By pinning down, say, creativity, as Jonah Lehrer has not inelegantly achieved in his latest book Imagine, we worry that we put shackles to the freedom that lies at its very heart.

Of course, there is a flipside – in this case that the more we understand, the more we can treat disease, illness, even reassess the very definition of mental illness and make the most of what we have. The complexities, and ambiguities of the science need to be communicated and acknowledged, but not reduced, not simplified, and not confined to another buzzword.

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