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SPADA 2016: Framing the Future

At this year’s Big Screen Symposium, NZFC CEO Dave Gibson introduced GPS2026, a loose programme of presentations and sessions featuring people with at least one foot in the future. Frances Valintine, earlier this year named one of the top 50 in the “Makers and Shakers of Education Technology Index”, certainly fit the bill.

Formerly head of Media Design School, Valintine took a moment to acknowledge director, producer and former MDS tutor Paul Swadel, one of those who had appeared in the In Memoriam reel during the Conference opening.

Valintine left MDS to set up the Mind Lab, which teaches kids 21st century skills, and also now teaches their teachers.
Frances Valintine – ranked in the 10 most influential women in New Zealand by Idealog Magazine in 2015; and named one of the top 50 EdTech Educators in the world, as well as been recognised as a New Zealand Blake Leader – explores exponential technological change and its effect on the screen industry.

Valintine was brought up in Hawera, where her father grew plants. When Utu shot there, he supplied the plants. Frances worked on the film as a fern planter. “My pay was a free ticket to the local cinema for a year. I think I lived on Snifters.”

The world is changing, and the pace at which it’s changing is accelerating. When the telephone was invented, it took 75 years for 100 million people to have one. When the internet came along, it took seven years to reach 100 million. Facebook: four years. Instagram: two. Pokémon Go – 24 hours.

Much of the interest in Pokémon Go fell away quickly but it was, Valintine claimed, evidence of the scale of hunger for something new. Valintine has worked at the pointy end of tech for a while, and has been on the boards of Auckland’s CDC and the NZGDA among other organizations.

She noted that the changes here and coming would affect all of us, and all aspects of life and professions. “If you’re in banking,” she said, “you’re terrified. If you’re in freight, you’re terrified. 3D printing means all you’re going to shipping is raw materials.”

It’s possible to reproduce classic wines from water and DNA, and synthesize milk. Apart from industries that require being physically present, like tourism, a substantial number of NZ’s major earners could be gone in a couple of decades.

Even tourism isn’t entirely safe. While Valintine wasn’t offering up Total Recall’s memory implants, but did offer up holoportation as a way to visit distant relatives without incurring jetlag.

Holoportation (jump in at 2.00)

There are plenty of people who’ll be frightened by the prospects of major change – Valintine predicted 40-60% of the jobs we now have disappear over the next couple of decades as robots take those jobs over. Driverless cars are here and safer than cars with drivers, and not only because robots don’t drink and drive.

Valintine noted that the five biggest companies in the world now were tech companies – including Facebook, Amazon, and Google’s parent Alphabet. Five years ago only one was in the top five.

“We just need to navigate the new world,” Valintine said. “I’m excited about where we’re going.”

Turning more specifically to the screen industries, Valintine spoke about some of the disruption going on, in terms of opportunity and challenge. She offered some examples of work being done, including short Adam, rendered in realtime by game engine Unity;

Adam

Fox asked IBM to use its AI robot Watson to watch Luke Scott’s feature Morgan and create a trailer. It did. Machines that can make decisions for themselves and Terminator (sticking with Arnold Schwarzenegger references) get a step closer.

Morgan

Valintine also cited Auckland Uni’s Mark Sagar, a two-time winner at the Academy’s Sci-Tech awards. Sagar has been working with AI on Baby X for a number of years in an attempt to create “computational consciousness”.

Chinese media and the BBC used AI bots to report from the Rio Olympics earlier this year, and in the US an AI machine watched 600 hours of soaps, and then began to predict accurately what would happen next.

Two years ago Amazon spent US$1,3 billion on content. Last year it spent over US$3 billion. Netflix took on the video stores and won. Now it’s taking on the networks and spending $5 billion on content. So, Valintine said, “Content is king but the people who make it are different.”

Put less charitably, content is king – distribution has become King Kong.

Her enthusiasm as a cheerleader for emerging tech and opportunities is encouraging, although it pays to remember a lot of what she’s talking about – whether it’s on a drawing board, in development, in beta or even finished – doesn’t always end up where people expect.

Five years ago we were all supposed to make 3D content for TV because there was a crying need for it. We were all supposed to replace our TVs with ones with curved screens. But those who didn’t so either saved themselves some money and didn’t get left behind.

As Valinitine noted, there’s no doubt the game is changing. The trick is picking what the new rules will be. And, if your job can be automated, it’s time to be thinking about something new.

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