Our CEO’s reflections on the Beyond 2023 Conference

Our CEO, Dr. Nick Owen, shares his reflections on the Beyond 2023 Conference held in London this week, developed in partnership with the British Council and focused on the core theme “the global creative economy”.

“International discourse!” “Intercultural fluency!”Better faster cheaper!”:  the creative industrialists were all out and about, alive and kicking and extolling the virtues of all manner of creative technologies at the Beyond 23 conference held in London this week.

XR, VR, AR and of course MR were all out there strutting their collective stuffs in their usual shiny optimistic and slightly crazed ways; although I missed the moments when HR and ER made their brief but, so I’m told, stunning appearances. Whilst it wasn’t too long (about 15 seconds) before AI got its first mention; it took a good two days before we were formally invited to settle into discussing the relative merits or otherwise presented by the Metaverse.

Two days is a mighty long time in these better faster cheaper days and you could be forgiven for thinking that what might have been hot off the press on Tuesday morning was just-so-yesterday by the time the conference closed on Wednesday afternoon.  It’s one of the challenges of assessing the Aladdin’s Cave that the creative technologists open up for us; is the person in front of me the answer to our economic prayers? Or a contemporary example of a Swiftian Projector, who, like their historical peers who tried extracting sunbeams from cucumbers or turning ice into gunpowder, are destined to cheerfully race around the hamster wheel of non-progress for the rest of their lives?  Or for the next week at least?

This week’s Aladdin’s Cave housed all manner of alluring promise, with many genies being let out of lamps of different shapes and sizes.  There was one which conjured up images of how the creative industries could assist the Gulf’s dependency away from oil; another summoned up the installation of 1000 new arts works in Saudi Arabia over the next year; another promised success at winning The Attention Game.

The Attention Game is very difficult to win these days, whether you’re temporarily a resident of this Aladdin’s Cave, or a bored office worker who’s seduced by the promise of weight loss, improved golf technique or total personality restructuring that TikTok offers you during those long boring meetings when no one has anything better to do than scroll through their mobiles and say things like, ‘what we really need to this problem is a creative solution’.

And the trouble with the Attention Game is that its main players are so good at turning your attention away from what’s just captured it, that it becomes a struggle to really understand what it was that grabbed your attention in the first place and look beyond the surface of what it is actually promising.

Those 1000 Art works in Saudi for example; just because you can buy and install 1000 pieces in the time it takes to drill a new oil well, does it really mean that you have the interests of those artists at your heart?  And that promise to tell the story of a nation in a glorious new national museum… wait a moment, whose particular story are you telling here? And your promise to replace your child’s ‘crappy drawing’ from school with an image generated by the AI programme Midjourney: is this really how you want to support your child’s development?

Just three examples over the two days when I wanted to say StopPlease say that againDid you really mean that? But, unfortunately, the pace of change, the impatience of ambition and the busy-ness of business means that those moments for critical reflection were simply blown away by yet more genies constantly being conjured up out of yet more Aladdins’ lamps.

Having the ability to summon up a proliferation of alluring, disposable and readily forgettable content may indeed be inevitable, but like the genie being summoned from Aladdin’s lamp, we’ve got to be careful what we wish for.  Not all genies are like Robin Williams.

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