What will happen in the not-too-distant-future when an ordinary pair of glasses comes with its own operating system?
Virtually anything you want, according to Creative Control, a new movie that opens March 11. In the film, a young advertising creative named "David" (co-writer-director-actor Ben Dickinson) uses augmented reality technology to create his own customized world that turns into something of an addiction. While working on an ad campaign for a startup called Augmenta, David tests out the company's flagship wearable device, a pair of eyeglasses with a highly immersive VR interface, and quickly becomes obsessed. (Dickinson, whose previous film First Winter focused on an apocalyptic blackout, based aspects of the story for Creative Control on his experience working with ad agencies as a commercial director.)
Augmenta's product is much more than a fashionable version of Google Glass. The device comes with a variety of sophisticated apps controlled by hand gestures that make all forms of digital communication feel like second nature. It's only after David hacks into the operating system to create an avatar version of his friend Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), however, that a bizarre relationship with a virtual person takes over his life.
If that sounds like science fiction, it's worth noting that Dickinson doesn't see the world in which Creative Control takes place as being particularly far off. The important tipping point for the technology will arrive when VR/AR devices become wearable and fashionable, according to the director.
"I think that's the threshold of entry for an average person to be using it [the same way] they use their smartphone now," Dickinson tells Inc., adding that one of his inspirations for making the film was thinking about what Google Glass should have been.
"I could tell that Google Glass wasn't a good product, but I could see where it was going." As Inc. has reported, one of the flaws of Google Glass that ultimately led to its demise was the fact that users either could focus on the display or the world around them, but couldn't do both at the same time. (To help immerse himself in the world of Creative Control, Dickinson even wrote a fake product manual to go along with Augmenta glasses.)
One of the most interesting story lines in Creative Control is the idea that the developers who come up with new technologies are not the same people tasked with figuring out the best way to use them. "They need artists to show them why," Dickinson says. "That's the relationship between commerce and art that's pretty exciting."
In the film, Dickinson's ad agency hires multimedia entertainer Reggie Watts (playing himself) to experiment with the Augmenta technology and report back on what he sees as the most compelling way to use it. "We might have a new art form on our hands," David says optimistically to a room full of ad execs. Anyone who's familiar with Silicon Valley startup culture will chuckle knowingly at the dynamic between the technologists and the artists.
While Creative Control makes several predictions about what technology in the future will look like, Dickinson is quick to point out the uncertainty surrounding how VR/AR will ultimately be used.
"Nobody knows what VR will be, and that's what's exciting about it," he says. Still, he sees the movie as a cautionary tale about what can happen when humans experiment with new technology without regard for how it affects their lives. "It's up to us to decide how much we want to allow technology to shape us and how much we want to shape it," he says.
In the end, David faces just such a dilemma, but instead of resolving it, Creative Control ultimately leaves viewers to answer the question. The uncertainty you're left with feels a bit like a cop-out. On the other hand, it's only a small let-down considering how much the film accomplishes in the way of imagining a future that is both utterly strange--and all too close to reality.
For a peak inside the world of Creative Control, check out the movie's trailer, below.