The future of pop culture: robot performers, an avatar Drake and a Kanye West superstore

AI, VR and smartphones are changing the way we consume culture, but what comes next? From film to visual arts, we explore entertainment’s new frontiers


You can star alongside Leo when cinema enters its ‘karaoke’ phase

You could be there too. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/20 CENTURY FOX

The blockbuster era will come to a close in about 2042 with the colossal failure of Jedi Transformers V Jurassic Avengers 12: Revenge Of The Minions, an expensive crossover epic that bankrupts all the Hollywood studios simultaneously. By that time, the idea of “going to the movies” will have evolved anyway. Films will no longer involve two hours sitting in a cinema, predicted futurologist Faith Popcorn in The Hollywood Reporter: “They’ll be gameified and will unfold in real time all around you. You pay for a time slot, tune in your technology, and literally become one with the action. Endings and events will be changed as you go; smells, tastes, sensations will all be experienced live. Casts will be comprised of your own avatars; you will be the star.” Something like a cross between Westworld, The Matrix and karaoke, in other words, without you ever having to leave your couch.

The act of going to the movies itself will likely become an expensive, high-culture sort of ritual, like the opera. Hollywood classics will be digitally retooled as VR environments and shown in restored out-of-town multiplexes. And ex-movie stars, desperate for cash, will perform the movies live. So, 80-year-old Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio will reprise their roles in Titanic in real time, while the audience strolls around the deck watching them. In the same way we talk of Jude Law’s Hamlet, we’ll talk of Adam Driver’s Forrest Gump, say, or Jessica Chastain’s Terminator. And they’ll be queueing round the block just like old times when Shia LaBeouf takes up a six-month residency playing the shark in Jaws.
Steve Rose


The album is dead. Long live the album

Got her Björk cut out. Photograph: Santiago Felipe

Fast forward 30 years and music is still in rude health: the Destiny’s Child reunion broke a new record for live touring, accompanied by a 500-hour 3D documentary, and Kanye has just opened his third clothing outlet Kanyefield. But by then the conventional studio album will have become almost extinct. Its shapeshifting has already begun: artists such as Beyoncé and Frank Ocean are playing with the format by hybridising it with visual performance and Kanye now seems to view the album as a living, breathing work in progress, tinkering with it after its release. More dramatically, recent reports state that Calvin Harris will stop releasing albums all together, suggesting a not-even-very-distant future where the majority of artists will just release single tracks, consumed via multi-artist playlists. “We’re increasingly seeing labels and managers embrace the track or EP route,” notes music industry adviser Sammy Andrews. “There’s some resistance from labels and artists, but the ones who understand the new landscape are adapting release strategy accordingly.”

The album won’t die completely: you’ll still get lengthy bodies of work from the likes of rhyming funsters Yorke and Björk. But they’ll exist as the exception, rather than the rule: a prestige, ultra-fetishised indulgence where fan demographic allows. The album of the future, as a concept, will occupy a similar semiotic significance to vinyl in 2016. And don’t get too attached to curating those playlists. “In the future you won’t even have to think about playlists,” suggests Lou Ellerton, brand expert at Mash Strategy. “Spotify will anticipate your mood, where you are in the house and what you’re doing. That digital learning will create your soundtrack: the equivalent of Hive for your music.”
Peter Robinson


Forget VR, it’s all about AR

Augmented reality. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

In the old days, video games were the preserve of technically inclined early adopters, AKA nerds. Games’ current position at the forefront of popular culture is mostly to do with the ubiquity of smartphones, but even in a world where everyone’s effectively got a games console in their pocket, games themselves remain obsessed with shooting, fighting and driving. That’s because the artificial intelligence needed to simulate interesting, emotionally resonant human conversations is still quite a few years away, but when it does arrive, the really interesting stuff will happen when that enhanced intelligence meets the other incoming revolution: augmented reality.

Unlike virtual reality, AR overlays digital information on top of the real world in a way familiar to millions of Pokémon GO players, their cute, colourful prey superimposed on park benches and street corners. Playing his cards close to his chest, Techland’s Artur Janik – who worked on zombie-fest Dying Light – says: “AR is something we’re all keeping an eye on… all it takes is one outside-the-box gaming idea that will blow it all open.” It will also let games infiltrate the real world, blending believable fictional characters and in-game action with real life in ways you can only currently achieve using strong hallucinogens and whisky.
Nick Gillett


Get ready for the omnipresent A-Lister

Virtual pop star Hatsune Miku.
Virtual pop star Hatsune Miku. Photograph: Toru Hanai/REUTERS

In 2016, we are already at the point where the Kardashians have their own individual apps, so you can pay to hear about the exact contents of the salads they eat for lunch. But futurist Richard Watson says such extreme branding is only the beginning. “We have celebrity perfume, food, clothing and cars so why not restaurants, hotels and sex toys?” he says. “And how long too before lookalike celebrity sex robots or avatars in 3D worlds are here?” That’s right, perverts: with the rise of virtual reality (many phones are now VR-ready), Watson thinks that we’ll be bonking avatar versions of celebs just by staring into handheld devices.

“We’re not far away from seeing the first wholly virtual celebrities arrive,” agrees futurologist Ray Hammond. “Interestingly, wholly virtual celebrities have the potential to be almost immortal, as avatars in virtual reality come to supplement the physical elements of singers and film stars.” So we’ll be sexing a forever-young avatar Drake while the real one ages in an attic, The Picture of Aubrey Graham-style? The future can’t come fast enough.
Issy Sampson


It’s set to reunite with its long-lost twin: science

Unfold by Ryoichi Kurokawa.
Unfold by Ryoichi Kurokawa. Photograph: Publicity image

Art has long been hardwired to the now and what’s next, but increasingly artists and lab boffins are providing new possibilities for the form. The tech that artists are currently using, says Mike Stubbs, director of Fact, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technologies in Liverpool, “is as new as the minute”. Some artists are getting down and dirty with matter itself, such as Yunchul Kim, artist-in-residence at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, whose works resembling alien machines explore artificially constructed metamaterials that can manipulate light and sound.

Not futuristic enough for you? How about artist Gina Czarnecki and tissue culture expert Professor John Hunt’s collaboration, Heirloom: living portraits of Czarnecki’s daughters, where cell samples are grown on glass casts of their faces. Another Fact alumnus, Ryoichi Kurokawa, has turned “big data” generated by astrophysicists into an audiovisual installation interpreting the galaxy’s cosmic history. The possibilities of course are endless, but going by this art-science lot, it might not be long before we’ll be seeing DNA selfies showcased alongside Goya’s portraits at the National Gallery.
Skye Sherwin


The best and worst decades will be celebrated together

Possibly 1985, possibly 2025.
Possibly 1985, possibly 2025. Photograph: Homer Sykes Archive / Alamy/Alamy

Are you ready for the 2014 revival? While Generation X gets high on free drinks from Club Tropicana, their children are already borrowing the best bits of the 1980s, 90s and 00s. “Experiences are much more important to millennials than products,” says brand strategist Lou Ellerton. “And this is the generation that lives their lives digitally so there’s no past, present and future.” Soon you won’t have to wait 20 years for a trend’s revival because the next generation will constantly be looking back, as well as forward, without even realising. If the thought of a Meghan Trainor v Clean Bandit mashup makes you freeze in fear, beware: nostalgia that’s so two years ago is coming.
Hannah Verdier


Live comedy will come back from the dead

A future Live At The Apollo star. Photograph: Ian McDonnell/Getty Images

If standup comedy clubs are still around in the future, there’s no guarantee that audiences will be being entertained by flesh-and-blood performers. Holograms are already being used in music; perhaps the same technology could one day allow Bill Hicks or Robin Williams to make a comeback, or form a virtual reality double act. Or maybe it’ll be robots’ turn for a go behind the mic. Will Jackson, director of Engineered Arts, specialists in humanoid robots whose RoboThespian performed a standup routine onstage in 2013, thinks machines are capable of making us laugh.

“You can’t go wrong using a robot for comedy,” he says. “Because even if it’s crap, it’ll be funny.” There are some elements of standup that robots are still struggling with: there’s no form of artificial intelligence that can write reliably entertaining jokes, and speech-recognition software isn’t yet advanced enough to deal with hecklers. However, comedy manager Christian Knowles is open to the possibilities. Would he consider booking a robot? “I’d never rule anything out. Their time-keeping would probably be better than most comedians.”
James Kettle


You won’t need to leave the house to go clubbing, says Ian McQuaid

The raver of the future?
The raver of the future? Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images

Recent club closures have led to bleak predictions of the death of nightlife, but VR experts argue that in a decade clubs as music spaces may well be irrelevant anyhow. “Virtual reality festivals and clubs aren’t 10 years down the line, they’re two years, when internet speed is good enough and VR headsets have been widely distributed,” explains Ersin Han Ersin, a designer at Marshmallow Laser Feast, which specialises in creating high-end VR experiences. “In 10 years we probably won’t be going to clubs at all.” Streaming platforms have been watching this tech with interest and working out ways to introduce it to their field. “People are going to increasingly use VR to enter the stream, and what they enter will go beyond standard reality, into enhanced reality,” says Raj Chaudhuri, head of music at Boiler Room. It means that you could soon strap on a VR headset and enter a virtual representation of a club, with visuals overlaid with CGI special effects, without having to leave your living room. “But,” he adds, “I don’t think this will ever be as good as actually being there.”

So perhaps the predictions of the death of physical clubs are over-egged? Tim from streaming site Just Jam thinks so. “Clubbing is getting more corporate, with more ‘experience’ events that are impressive but also expensive. It’s likely that there’ll eventually be a DIY backlash; kids will turn away from massive VR events to underground spaces. It’s going to get prog before it gets punk.”
Ian McQuaid


TV will know you better than you know yourself

The end of scrolling through Netflix for two hours before giving up and going to bed.
The end of scrolling through Netflix for two hours before giving up and going to bed. Photograph: Mike Blake/REUTERS

The original concept of TV has already been thrown out the window. The 21st century is fully omniscreen, with everyone from toddlers to pensioners consuming programmes on phone, tablet or laptop. So surely the next great leap will involve some paradigm-smashing tech advance? Not according to Dr Matthew Jones, senior lecturer in cinema and TV at Leicester’s De Montfort University. “There’s a lot of excitement about hardware, things like 4K and VR, but I’m not convinced,” he says. “Any technological shift that is isolating rather than inclusive, like having to wear 3D goggles, just goes against the social nature of TV. Sooner or later you hit a point where TV stops being TV.”

The really interesting work, he argues, is happening in AI. “Data analytics isn’t particularly sexy but the sheer amount of information being harvested by providers like Netflix and Amazon is incredible. We might seem to spend a lot of time listlessly scrolling through menus but it is possible to imagine an automated algorithm or AI that will be able to analyse and predict our personal preferences in a much more nuanced way.” Truly optimal results would be achieved by obliterating the data and content barriers between rival providers: imagine one monolithic telly entity with access to everything. But doesn’t that sound like the sort of evil megacorp you once read about in 2000AD? “We tend to imagine sci-fi futures as dismal but it doesn’t have to be Black Mirror or Minority Report,” says Dr Jones. “That does ourselves a disservice. TV is all geared toward human taste and I don’t think our individual preferences are going anywhere.”
Graeme Virtue


Steve Rose, Peter Robinson, Nick Gillett, Issy Sampson, Skye Sherwin, Hannah Verdier, James Kettle, Ian McQuaid & Graeme Virtue

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