Firmly settled into the new year, we’re already looking ahead at tech trends that lie on the horizon. And who better is there to predict what they might look like than the Labs.Monks, our innovation team? As an assessment of their trend forecast from one year ago (spoiler alert: they got more than a few right) and a glimpse into the near future of digital creation and consumption, the Labs.Monks have come together again to share their top trends for the new year. Let’s count them down!
10. Digital humans get more realistic.
Digital humans may have earned a spot on our list of trends last year, but we haven’t grown tired of traversing the uncanny valley to play with the technology. In fact, the recent explosion of conversational AI will likely inject new life into digital humans and transform the realms of customer service, entertainment and more. Whether used to hand-craft original characters or refine scanned-in digital twins, digital human creation tools are becoming increasingly complex to deliver lifelike avatars.
“We’ll see more competition between Unreal’s MetaHuman Creator and Unity’s Ziva,” says Geert Eichhorn, Innovation Director. In fact, Media.Monks has used Unreal’s tool to create a digital double of our APAC Chief Executive Officer, Michel de Rijk. Because why not?
9. Motion capture becomes more accessible.
Last year, we released a Labs Report dedicated to motion capture and how its increasing accessibility influenced content production for both professional film teams and everyday consumers. New technologies available at consumer price points are helping to bring motion capture into even more people’s hands. Meta’s Quest Pro headset, which released late last year, features impressive facial tracking that will be key to expressing the nuances of human emotion in VR. Move.ai, currently in beta, enables 1:1 motion tracking with a group of mobile devices—no bodysuits, no markers, no extra hardware needed. Using computer vision, the platform allows anyone to make motion capture video in any environment.
8. Mixed reality and mirror worlds mature.
With smaller and more comfortable AR headsets shown off already at CES, we can expect augmented and mixed reality to become more immersive, accessible and practical over the course of 2023 (check out more of what we saw at CES here). The VIVE Flow, for example, includes diopters so that users can replicate their prescription lenses in the device, amounting to a more comfortable experience overall.
But it’s not just about hardware. “One of the major advancements is not in the headsets, but in the software,” says Eichhorn, noting that VPS has the power to pinpoint a user’s exact position and vantage point in the real world. “They do this positioning by comparing your camera view to a virtual, 3D version of the world, like Street View.” We covered mirror worlds in last year’s trend list, but the development of VPS is now bringing this vision closer to everyday consumers.
While VPS currently works only outdoors, we’ve already seen the power of the technology with Gorillaz performances in Times Square and Piccadilly Circus in December 2022.
This innovation ultimately unlocks the public space for bespoke digital experiences, where brands can move out of billboards and storefronts and move into the space in between.
7. More enterprises embrace the hybrid model.
For many businesses the return to the office hasn’t been a smooth transition; while some roles require close collaboration within a shared space, others enjoy more flexible setups that support childcare, offer privacy for focus work or greater accessibility. Given the benefits of flexible work setups and the development of technologies that build presence in virtual environments, Luis Guajardo Díaz, Creative Technologist, believes more enterprises will embrace the hybrid work model.
Media.Monks’ live broadcast team, for example, built a sophisticated network of cloud-based virtual machines hosted on AWS to enable people distributed around the world to produce live broadcasts and events. Born out of necessity during the pandemic, the workflow goes beyond bringing teams together—it’s designed to overcome some of the challenges traditional broadcast teams face on the ground, like outages or hardware malfunctions. It stands to show how hybrid models can help enhance the ways we work today.
6. Virtual production continues to impress.
Virtual production powered by real-time become popular in recent years: the beautiful environments of The Mandalorian or grungy urban landscape of The Matrix showed what was possible by integrating game engines in the production process, while pandemic lockdowns made the technology a necessity for teams who couldn’t shoot on location.
Now, further advancements in game engines and graphics processing offer a look inside the future of virtual production. Sander van der Vegte, VP Emerging Tech and R&D, points to Unreal’s Nanite, which allows for the optimization of raw 3D content in real time.
From concept to testing, the chronological steps of developing such projects will follow a different and more iterative approach, which opens up creative possibilities that were impossible before.
Localization of content is one example. “In 2023 we’re going to see this versatility in the localization of shoots, where one virtual production shoot can have different settings for different regions, all adapted post-shoot,” says Eichhorn.
5. TV streaming and broadcasts become more interactive.
With virtual production becoming even more powerful, TV and broadcasting will also evolve to become more interactive and immersive. “Translating live, filmed people into real-time models allows for many new creative possibilities,” says van der Vegt. “Imagine unlocking the power to be the cameraman for anything you are watching on TV.”
It might sound like science fiction, but Sander’s vision isn’t far off. At this year’s CES, Sony demoed a platform that uses Hawk-Eye data to generate simulated sports replays. Users can freely control the virtual camera to view the action from any angle—and while not live, the demo illustrates the power of more immersive broadcasts. The technology could be a game changer for sports and televised events that let audiences feel like they’re part of the action.
4. Metaverse moves become more strategic.
“2021 was a peak hype year for the metaverse and Web3. 2022 was the year of major disillusionment,” says Javier Sancho, Project Manager. “There are plenty of reasons to believe that this was just an overinflated hype, but it’s a recurring pattern in tech history.” Indeed, a “trough of disillusionment” inevitably follows a peak in the hype cycle.
This year will challenge brands to think of where they fit within the metaverse—and how they can leverage the immersive technology to drive bottom-line value. Angelica Ortiz, Senior Creative Technologist, says the key to unlocking value in metaverse spaces is to think beyond one-time activations and instead fuel long-term customer journeys.
NFTs and crypto have had challenges in the past year from a consumer and legal perspective. Now that the shine is starting to fade, that paves a new road for brands to go beyond PR and think critically about when and how to best evolve and create more connected experiences.
A great example of how brands are using Web3 in impactful ways is by transforming customer loyalty programs, like offering unique membership perks and gamified experiences. These programs reinforce how the Web3 ethos is evolving brand-customer relationships by turning consumers into active participants and collaborators.
3. Large language models keep the conversation flowing.
With so much interest in bots like ChatGPT, the Labs.Monks expect large language models (LLMs) will continue to impress as the year goes on. “Large Language Models (LLMs) are artificial intelligence tools that can read, summarize and translate texts, and generate sentences similar to how humans talk and write,” says Eichhorn. These models can hold humanlike conversations, answering complex questions and even writing programs. But these skills open a can of worms, especially in education when students can outsource their homework to a bot.
LLMs like GPT are only going to become more powerful, with GPT-4 soon to launch. But despite their impressive ability to understand and mimic human speech, inaccuracies in response still need to be worked out. “The results are not entirely trustworthy, so there’s plenty of challenges ahead,” says Eichhorn. “We expect many discussions over AI sentience this year, as the Turing Test is a measurement we’re going to leave behind.” In fact, Google’s LaMDA already triggered debates about sentience last year—so expect more to come.
2. Generative AI paints the future of AI-assisted creativity.
If 2021 was the year of the metaverse, the breakout star of 2022 is generative AI in all its forms: creating copy, music, voiceovers and especially artwork. “Generative AI wasn’t on our list in 2022, although looking back it should have been,” says Eichhorn. “The writing was on the wall, and internally we’ve been working on machine learning and generating assets for years.”
But while the technology has been embraced by some creatives and technologists, there’s also been some worry and pushback. “These new technologies are so disruptive that we see not only copywriters and illustrators feel threatened, but also major tech companies need to catch up to not become obsolete.”
In response to these concerns, Ortiz anticipates a friendly middle ground where AI will be used to augment—not erase—human creativity. “With the increasing push back from artists, the industry will find strategic ways to optimize processes not cut jobs to improve workflows and let artists do more of what they love and less of what they don’t,” she says. Prior to the generative AI boom, Adobe integrated machine learning and artificial intelligence across its software with Adobe Sensei. More recently, they announced plans to sell AI-generated images on their stock photography platform.
Ancestor Saga is a cyberpunk fantasy adventure created using state of the art generative AI and rotoscoping AI technology.
We’re suddenly seeing a very tangible understanding of the power of AI. 2023 will be the Cambrian explosion of AI, and this is going to be accompanied with serious ethical concerns that were previously only theorized about in academia and science fiction.
1. The definition of “artist” or “creator” changes forever.
Perhaps the most significant trend we anticipate this year isn’t a tech trend; rather, it’s the effect that technology like generative AI and LLMs will have on artists, knowledge workers and society.
With an abundance of AI-generated content, traditional works of art—illustrations, photographs and more—may lose some of their value. “But on the flip side, these tools let everyone become an artist, including those who were never able to create this kind of work before,” says Eichhorn. This can mean those who lack the training, sure, but it also means those with disabilities who have found particular creative fields to be inaccessible.
When everyone can be an artist, what does being an artist even mean? The new definition will lie in the skills that generative AI forces us to adopt. Working with generative AI doesn’t necessarily eliminate creative decision-making; rather, it changes what the creative process entails. New creative skills, like understanding how to prompt a generative AI for specific results, may reshape the role of the artist into something more akin to a director.
Eichhorn compares these questions to the rise of digital cameras and Photoshop, both of which changed photography forever while making it more accessible. “The whole process will take many more years to settle in society, but we’ll likely see many discussions this year on what ‘craft’ really entails,” says Eichhorn.
That’s all, but we can expect a few surprises to emerge as the year goes on. Look out for more updates from the Labs.Monks, who regularly release reports, prototypes and podcast episodes that touch on the latest in digital tech, including some of the topics discussed above. Here’s to another year of innovation!
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