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News flash: Your reality is already augmented

17 June 2024

This article first appeared in Little Black Book written by, Rob Leeks, Creative Director at Imagination London.

But just because it looks real, it doesn’t mean it is.

As emerging technology develops at an exponential rate, the lines between reality and fantasy are blurring like never before. At Imagination, we’ve always designed world-class ‘realities’ that transport visitors from the world they know to transformative environments, telling unique stories in innovative ways that blend both physical and digital worlds.

The march of digital progress has given us a host of incredible new tools to enhance the world in totally unprecedented ways, and provide even more layers of ‘magic’. It means we can give our clients the opportunity to build unprecedented layers of interaction with their brands, and it’s allowed our creative teams to think in whole new, vastly more expansive ways.

In a recent live poll at our ‘Spark Month’ innovation event, the audience voted sight as being the most important sense to design for. It would seem therefore that seeing is still believing. And with the advent of ‘Reality’ technologies - Augmented, Virtual, Mixed and Extended, our eyesight has never had more to process. Add to the mix the other tech tools we use; AI, face filters, real-time rendering, haptics and algorithms, there’s a creative digital arsenal available now with the potential to create highly augmented versions of the real world, with phones acting as turbo-charged portals into it.

This ability to skew reality allows us to generate very compelling and effective content, a great example of which is our recent social teaser post for the MLB Trafalgar Square Takeover, featuring a giant baseball bat leaning against Nelson’s Column. We’ve seen over 2.3million views and counting on Instagram in less than a week, with tens of thousands of comments saying people wanted to go and see it - even though it was just a highly augmented piece of video - proving just how powerful and believable this type of content can be.

And that got me thinking.

With social media fast becoming the de facto source of information for large swathes of the global public, there are wide potential ramifications for the way we all look at the world. In the wrong hands, the ability to readily generate hyper realistic artificial content is becoming a tool to manipulate public opinion with a level of sophistication we’ve never seen before. In a very real sense, reality has never been more malleable, and at a time when elections are due and socio-political tensions are high, that should be of real concern.

So what does that mean for those of us in the creative and tech industries using this stuff, and for our clients? I think we need to ensure that any of this kind of work is done with a healthy view of the potential consequences. Before hitting ‘deploy’, we should ask ourselves if we’re creating eye-catching content, designed to drive views in this attention economy. If so - great! That’s our job! But if what we do starts to tip into masking the truth to sell a false narrative, idea or agenda, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back from the digital ‘toybox’ for a moment. As gatekeepers of the skills and tools to do this work, it's so important to make sure we hold each other to account and call out instances of unsavoury digital artifice when we see them.

In a world where we can now create almost any version of reality and post it freely for public consumption, it’s worth remembering these two checkpoints:

As a maker - ask yourself what the intent is behind the brief, and how the work might be received. But perhaps more importantly, as a viewer - just because it looks real, it doesn’t mean it is.

Email info@imagination.com if you’re interested in learning more about emerging, creative technologies and how we can use them to help build worlds for your brand.

We’ve developed a set of principles for people using Generative AI in their work. Designed to support an experimental, share and learn approach to extend our creativity, whilst prioritising confidentiality, transparency, fairness and removing bias.