VR, holograms and drones: The future of film

From sound to television, the film industry has always had to confront technological advances or face oblivion. So far film has managed to evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant, but can cinema maintain its rightful place at the head of popular culture?

In order to do so, film will once again have to fend off challenges from infant technologies, while simultaneously adapting what it does to meet the needs of an increasingly connected audience.

So for your viewing pleasure, we look at how the world of cinema as we know it is changing.

Automatically generate video from text

Have you ever found yourself arguing with someone about whether the book or the movie is the better version of something?  Well, if Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold have their way then there may be no further need to discuss the matter.

The technological duo have patented a device which can create a video or visual representation of any random selection of text.

Potentially, this could mean that there would be no need for lavish reproductions of our favourite books, because we will instantly be able to see what they would look like on screen.


Computer-generated actors

Actors may not be a necessary part of the future film industry. Paul Walker’s posthumous appearance in the seventh film in the Fast and Furious series has caused some to question the need for actors, especially if the technology were to develop sufficiently and allow them to be recreated from scratch.

The technology used in Fast and Furious Seven was developed by Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital studio. To create the effect they used a combination of digital reconstruction techniques, as well as using Paul Walker’s brothers as stand-ins for the recently deceased star.

The cinema of the future could see actors — from both past and present — digitally constructed and inserted into films. If that were to happen, we may be spared scenes like this from American Sniper:

The cinema screen as just another platform

Cinema has faced competition from another platform before with the advent of television. But now film has to contend with television, tablets, phones and pervasive social media platforms.

The director Christopher Nolan has commented on cinema’s need to innovate and come up with bigger, better and more visually appealing ways of sharing film. “The audience experience is distinct from home entertainment, but not so much that people seek it out for its own sake,” he said.

“The experience must distinguish itself in other ways. And it will…These developments will require innovation, experimentation and expense, not cost-cutting exercises disguised as digital ‘upgrades’ or gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing.”

Perhaps in the future this could lead to theatres moving away from projecting a sequence of two-dimensional images in a darkened room and evolve into large-scale public attractions. For instance, we’ve already seen cinema move outside, with open-air cinema. Imagine where it could go in the future.


VR: entering the Matrix

We are just beginning to realise virtual reality’s capability, but the technology could be used to move audiences from witnessing events unfold to a world where they actually participate in them.

Just as theatres will have to innovate to maintain interest so will filmmakers, if they want to capitalise on the opportunity VR presents for immersive filmmaking.

At this point in VR’s development an off-the-shelf VR camera of true cinema quality doesn’t exist and the editing systems for VR are rudimentary. Most people working in VR are creating their own solutions. This leaves a massive opportunity for directors and filmmakers who excel when coming up with creative answers to technological problems.

So at this point in time, VR cinema needs its George Lucas or James Cameron: someone who can come along and redefine the technology.

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

Drone cinematography

VR isn’t the only technology in development that could aid the film industry. Drones could eventually be a cheap and simple way of capturing aerial and crane shots, and in some cases are already being used.

Remember the aerial shot of Julie Andrews that opens The Sound of Music? That could be filmed with relative ease by using a drone. Hollywood studios are aware of the possibilities for drone technology, where previously tough and expensive shots are getting easier to produce.

However, the technology isn’t just useful to makers of fiction. Documentary filmmakers can use drone technology to reach areas that human camera operators cannot go, which is what happened in the capturing of this aerial shot of a waterfall in Norway:

Cinema is a still a young art form, and we are only just beginning to understand how to control, manipulate and share visual and aural perceptions. But by utilising new technology, cinema will find new ways of stimulating the senses.

XPRIZE launches contest to build remote-controlled robot avatars

Prize fund XPRIZE and All Nippon Airways are offering $10 million reward to research teas who develop tech that eliminates the need to physically travel. The initial idea is that instead of plane travel, people could use goggles, ear phones and haptic tech to control a humanoid robot and experience different locations.

Source: Tech Crunch

NASA reveals plans for huge spacecraft to blow up asteroids

NASA has revealed plans for a huge nuclear spacecraft capable of shunting or blowing up an asteroid if it was on course to wipe out life on Earth. The agency published details of its Hammer deterrent, which is an eight tonne spaceship capable of deflecting a giant space rock.

Source: The Telegraph

Sierra Leone hosts the world’s first blockchain-powered elections

Sierra Leone recorded votes in its recent election to a blockchain. The tech, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology,” said Leonardo Gammar of Agora, the company behind the technology.

Source: Quartz

AI-powered robot shoots perfect free throws

Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun has reported on a AI-powered robot that shoots perfect free throws in a game of basketball. The robot was training by repeating shots, up to 12 feet from the hoop, 200,000 times, and its developers said it can hit these close shots with almost perfect accuracy.

Source: Motherboard

Russia accused of engineering cyberattacks by the US

Russia has been accused of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted critical infrastructure in America and Europe, which could have sabotaged or shut down power plants. US officials and private security firms claim the attacks are a signal by Russia that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities.

Google founder Larry Page unveils self-flying air taxi

A firm funded by Google founder Larry Page has unveiled an electric, self-flying air taxi that can travel at up to 180 km/h (110mph). The taxi takes off and lands vertically, and can do 100 km on a single charge. It will eventually be available to customers as a service "similar to an airline or a rideshare".

Source: BBC

World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76. When Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged 22, doctors predicted he would live just a few more years. But in the ensuing 54 years he married, kept working and inspired millions of people around the world. In his last few years, Hawking was outspoken of the subject of AI, and Factor got the chance to hear him speak on the subject at Web Summit 2017…

Stephen Hawking was often described as being a vocal critic of AI. Headlines were filled with predictions of doom by from scientist, but the reality was more complex.

Hawking was not convinced that AI was to become the harbinger of the end of humanity, but instead was balanced about its risks and rewards, and at a compelling talk broadcast at Web Summit, he outlined his perspectives and what the tech world can do to ensure the end results are positive.

Stephen Hawking on the potential challenges and opportunities of AI

Beginning with the potential of artificial intelligence, Hawking highlighted the potential level of sophistication that the technology could reach.

“There are many challenges and opportunities facing us at this moment, and I believe that one of the biggest of these is the advent and impact of AI for humanity,” said Hawking in the talk. “As most of you may know, I am on record as saying that I believe there is no real difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer.

“Of course, there is unlimited potential for what the human mind can learn and develop. So if my reasoning is correct, it also follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence and exceed it.”

Moving onto the potential impact, he began with an optimistic tone, identifying the technology as a possible tool for health, the environment and beyond.

“We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one: industrialisation,” he said.

“We will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty; every aspect of our lives will be transformed.”

However, he also acknowledged the negatives of the technology, from warfare to economic destruction.

“In short, success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation, or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and sidelined or conceivably destroyed by it,” he said.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for – and avoid – the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilisation. It brings dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.

“Already we have concerns that clever machines will be increasingly capable of undertaking work currently done by humans, and swiftly destroy millions of jobs. AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us.

“In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.”

In the vanguard of AI development

In 2014, Hawking and several other scientists and experts called for increased levels of research to be undertaken in the field of AI, which he acknowledged has begun to happen.

“I am very glad that someone was listening to me,” he said.

However, he argued that there is there is much to be done if we are to ensure the technology doesn’t pose a significant threat.

“To control AI and make it work for us and eliminate – as far as possible – its very real dangers, we need to employ best practice and effective management in all areas of its development,” he said. “That goes without saying, of course, that this is what every sector of the economy should incorporate into its ethos and vision, but with artificial intelligence this is vital.”

Addressing a thousands-strong crowd of tech-savvy attendees at the event, he urged them to think beyond the immediate business potential of the technology.

“Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking not only on making AI more capable and successful, but on maximising its societal benefit”

“Everyone here today is in the vanguard of AI development. We are the scientists. We develop an idea. But you are also the influencers: you need to make it work. Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking not only on making AI more capable and successful, but on maximising its societal benefit,” he said. “Our AI systems must do what we want them to do, for the benefit of humanity.”

In particular he raised the importance of working across different fields.

“Interdisciplinary research can be a way forward, ranging from economics and law to computer security, formal methods and, of course, various branches of AI itself,” he said.

“Such considerations motivated the American Association for Artificial Intelligence Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures, which up until recently had focused largely on techniques that are neutral with respect to purpose.”

He also gave the example of calls at the start of 2017 by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) the introduction of liability rules around AI and robotics.

“MEPs called for more comprehensive robot rules in a new draft report concerning the rules on robotics, and citing the development of AI as one of the most prominent technological trends of our century,” he summarised.

“The report calls for a set of core fundamental values, an urgent regulation on the recent developments to govern the use and creation of robots and AI. [It] acknowledges the possibility that within the space of a few decades, AI could surpass human intellectual capacity and challenge the human-robot relationship.

“Finally, the report calls for the creation of a European agency for robotics and AI that can provide technical, ethical and regulatory expertise. If MEPs vote in favour of legislation, the report will go to the European Commission, which will decide what legislative steps it will take.”

Creating artificial intelligence for the world

No one can say for certain whether AI will truly be a force for positive or negative change, but – despite the headlines – Hawking was positive about the future.

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the world that can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” he said. “Perhaps some of you listening today will already have solutions or answers to the many questions AI poses.”

You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted or expected, and to think big

However, he stressed that everyone has a part to play in ensuring AI is ultimately a benefit to humanity.

“We all have a role to play in making sure that we, and the next generation, have not just the opportunity but the determination to engage fully with the study of science at an early level, so that we can go on to fulfill our potential and create a better world for the whole human race,” he said.

“We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be. You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted or expected, and to think big.

“We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting – if precarious – place to be and you are the pioneers. I wish you well.”