Now that CES has wrapped up and we’re seeing what’s anticipated in new tech for the future and direction of company investments, it’s clear that the themes of 2022 – both at CES and in general – have gone by the wayside. This time last year, web3, the metaverse, blockchain, crypto, and NFTs were all the rage. Visions of a future where the blockchain was the key to everything seemed to permeate through the starry eyes of visionaries, futurists, and corporate CEOs. While it's normal for trends to come and go, the question is why these ‘certainties’ for the future of technology now suddenly seem altogether uncertain?
I don’t like to be cynical, but I never fully embraced that these platforms were unequivocally the ‘future of technology’. Because I work with technology all the time in my day to day – admittedly, in between old-school emails, meetings, and Zoom calls – there was something lacking in these visions. Whether it was trying to leverage new tools over old infrastructure, or companies adopting new technologies without thinking through how they could best be used and integrated with existing structures and business plans, or simply new ideas that may be slightly ahead of their time, visions of what the future could bring exposed those unclear areas in implementation where those visions failed. But so many resources were being thrown at these new concepts that it almost felt like we could crest over the technology gaps and actually make it happen.
In hindsight, obviously, those visions have not yet become a functioning reality. Cryptowinter soon settled in and the cracks in the foundation of what many had touted as the future of the financial markets started to appear. Today, we’re talking about the billions of dollars lost in the crypto-exchanges, doubts that some of the surviving ones can make it through, and the lowest levels that crypto-currencies like bitcoin and eth have seen in years.
We also saw the start of the problems around NFTs and the crypto wallets where they are kept. Problems arose with NFT investment scams, privacy issues, and crypto wallets containing NFTs the owner never purchased (including, sometimes, obscene images). NFTs lacked the simplicity of buying and selling art the ‘traditional’ way, so many NFTs did not trade as much or incentivise artists to move more into using it as a part of their digital strategy.
DAOs (distributed autonomous organisations) also lost their way or maybe never had the full capacity (as of today) to become what many hoped would be more democratically managed groups of people working for a common good. Instead, many of them fell into scam territory as they issued requests for funds in exchange for voting tokens that did nothing at all.
The metaverse was probably the most successful emerging technology of last year, especially with the funding that Meta (the company) had announced at the end of 2021. Operating without the web3 (blockchain) technology, the concept of the metaverse brought online gaming to the forefront (it recognised that virtual worlds already existed). It developed places to go to in the metaverse that didn't require specialised virtual reality equipment (which, it turns out, is still too heavy on your head and can trigger motion sickness in some people). The idea that there could be other places outside social media where people could congregate was an idea that took hold in 2022. Social media companies are going to have to figure out what is next for them in 2023, because gamers and others in the metaverse want more than to just scroll through images or get into fights with perfect strangers.
The dark horse of the emerging technology trends was probably the least celebrated: artificial intelligence. While AI technology has been simmering for a while in tech companies (you can read my earlier reports on AI here), the second half of 2022 seemed to bring out more ‘discoveries’ and announcements of what AI could do for the masses. The idea that we could render an image in the style of a famous painter or have it write our mid-term history paper was amazing. This was artificial intelligence becoming much more accessible than ever before. With this, however, we continue to see its limitations (AI is not perfect, after all) and the ethical questions surrounding its use continue to rage.
For the advertising industry, we’ve already seen many of our creatives starting to use Dall-E 2 and Midjourney to help them render quick images as prototypes of a final product. ChatGPT and other products like it are helping copywriters come up with first drafts of ideas or roughing out a brief that someone can then take and polish. AI is increasingly becoming a tool in our arsenal and the more it learns about advertising, the more valuable it will become. For example, the latest innovation is a tool that is taking all the Cannes and Effie winning campaigns and learning how to build and suggest work based on those high-quality, award-winning ads.
By revisiting and realigning visions of the future for more pragmatic applications in the coming year, the technologies showcased at CES 2023 demonstrate that some of the hype around the emerging technologies is turning into feasible options for companies. This may be the year that AI becomes a mainstream tool and creative agencies use AI tools to supplement their creativity. 2023 may herald a more integrated approach to using the metaverse as in advertising, rather than as an attention-getter with little follow-through. Even blockchain, through NFTs or web3 and the like will have to find a way to become more reliable, to become more relevant.
It will be interesting to see if these technologies can really help inspire and promote better creativity and better solutions for marketers, or if we will see another winter of discontent in the climate change of technology.