IFA+ Summit wraps with four radical takes on the future

Delegates learn about life as a Cyborg, the interface between technology and human perception, VR and intimacy and consciousness storytelling

While at most IFA stands, visitors can see products and services that are just about to hit the retail market, attendees at the 2018 IFA+ Summit were given some fascinating insights into the kind of futuristic technologies and innovations that are likely to transform society over the next few decades.

Poppy Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, used her talk, The Post Poker Face Era, to explore the interface between technology and human perception. Her basic thesis is that technology is on the cusp of being able to decode the subconscious signals that people give out – through their vocal tonality, body heat, facial expressions, chemical signature and so on. As a result, she said, “technology will know more about us than we do and be more in tune with us. It will lead to unprecedented authenticity”.

Crum was asked by a member of the audience (Yale University’s Wendell Wallach) to summarise some of the dystopic downsides of such developments, and referenced potential concerns around personal privacy. However she preferred to focus on the positives, such as the potential benefits in medical diagnoses. She argued that the technology would enable early warnings of conditions ranging from depression to diabetes. “This revolution is going to happen and we need to be proactive because the results will be worth it. We need to have a discussion about how we want things to change.”

After Crum, “consciousness storyteller” Karen Palmer took the stage to discuss her work on lms that respond to audience emotion. She showcased a lm called Riot, which has three different narrative paths that are triggered according to whether the watcher shows fear, anger or calm. Palmer’s thesis is that mainstream media lacks consciousness and that this leads to reduced empathy among consumers. She sees a role for AI-based storytelling that can help empower people in their daily lives.

The next speaker Rachel Sibley gave an impassioned talk on the potential benefits of VR in terms of helping people become better at intimacy. While she acknowledged that “there is a fear that VR takes us down the rabbit hole of isolation” she said VR opens up a scenario where “a kid from England can play with a kid from Indonesia on the streets of Paris”. She envisaged a world where VR content can help people empathise more easily with other genders, ethnicities and age demographics. “I watched a VR lm called We Are Alfred which taught me more about the aging process in seven minutes than I had learned in years of interaction with older relatives. It was such a powerful experience, it was like living it.”

After Sibley, dancer and choreographer Moon Ribas gave a thought-provoking talk in which she discussed what it is like to be a cyborg. Ribas has had seismic sensors implanted in her feet so that she can feel earthquakes whenever and wherever they happen around the world. She said the vibrations mean that she now experiences what she calls an “earthbeat” that is “part of my identity”. She has explored cyborg art forms and lobbied for rights on the part of people who self-identify as cyborgs.