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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Future of Cinema

The Future of Cinema

The person who goes to a movie today has pretty much the same experience that movie viewers had 74 years ago when The Wizard of Oz was made. But technology may cause some big changes in the motion picture game. Let's look at some coming attractions in the cinema (pun intended).

CGI Characters Indistinguishable From Humans

CGI stands for computer-generated imagery. CGI is widely used for special effects, and also for generating onscreen characters. Movies such as Toy Story, Shrek, and Finding Nemo use CGI for creating onscreen human and animal characters. As software and hardware power advances, before long we will probably see CGI representations of humans that are indistinguishable from photography of actual humans. You may see a movie in which the male romantic lead is human, the female romantic lead is human, and the meddlesome father is computer generated. We are almost there already. In the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and the recent Star Wars prequel trilogy there were important characters who were entirely computer generated, and who blend with humans. The characters had unusual anatomies that made them distinguishable from humans, but before long you will probably leave a movie asking yourself: which of the lead roles were played by humans?

Augmented Reality Movies

The idea behind augmented reality is that you see basically what you would see without a computer's help, plus you also see some additional things that are created by computer software. An example of augmented reality would be: you are wearing something like Google glasses, and you walk by a store. Suddenly you see floating in the air some glowing ghostly signs that say “Save 50% here!” The sign images are sent to your glasses as part of the augmented reality. Someone not wearing the glasses could not see the glowing signs.

This type of technology could be integrated into a movie experience. Theater goers could be given special glasses to wear (or there would simply be augmented reality that works for anyone who is wearing Google glasses or a similar system). Then at certain points in the movie, you might literally see things bursting out of the screen. For example, when a spaceship explodes in the movie, you might see fragments seeming to fly out of the movie screen. Or when a house catches on fire in the movie, you might see crackling flames flying out of the movie screen. The things that would seem to fly out of the movie screen would be the software-generated augmented reality projected onto your glasses.

Electrode Enhanced Movies

Movie directors use music to manipulate the emotions of viewers. You will feel sadder when watching a tragic scene in a tearjerker movie if the background music has sad, slow violin music, just as you will feel more enthralled listening to blaring trumpets during the exciting climax of a movie. But there is perhaps a more efficient way to manipulate the emotions: electrical stimulation of the brain. Scientists have shown that different emotions can be generated by attaching electrodes to the brain, and sending in electrical currents to specific regions of the brain. 

 Credit: J. Contreras-Vidal/University of Maryland

We can therefore imagine a new type of movie in the near future: what could be called an electrode movie. Upon entering the motion picture theater, you would take your seat, and place a skull cap over your head, a cap with many electrodes leading to a computer next to your seat. At appropriate points in the movie, electrical impulses would be sent to specific parts of your brain. At that tearjerker moment when the hero dies on the battlefield clutching his sweet fiancee's picture, an electrical current would be sent to all the skull caps, causing the entire audience to cry like babies. When the happy ending arrived, another electrical current would be sent to a different part of the brain that might cause the audience to feel such joy that when the movie ended, the audience would seem happier than a bunch of kids splashing in a water park on a scorching summer day.

Electrical stimulation of the supplementary sensorimotor area has been shown to produce laughter. We can only imagine how such a possibility could be exploited by movie makers. At any point in the movie that was supposed to be funny, a little electrical current would be sent to the skull caps of the audience members, triggering laughter. Even the weakest comedy script might have the audience rolling on the floor with laughter.

Movies Made With Sensation Recorders

In the classic novel Brave New World Aldous Huxley imagined a type of movie called a Feelie which engages the sense of touch as well as the senses of sight and hearing. We can take this idea a little further and imagine a type of movie in which you see, smell, taste, hear, and feel everything that the protagonist is seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling.

Such a movie could probably be experienced only by someone who had an implant in his brain, one allowing a flow of sensations that would override the normal flow of sensations from a person's eyes, ears, nose, and skin. But there might be various other reasons why people of the future might have a brain implant, so this type of movie might work with a standard brain implant that had been created mainly for other purposes such as accelerated education.

To make this type of movie, producers might use a technology that could be called a sensation recorder. A sensation recorder would be kind of like a video recorder that records all of your sensations at once: everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and feel. 
Such a sensation recorder might work like this: imagine you are a young man making a tourist trip to New York City with a beautiful young woman. Whenever you had some pleasurable sight, sound, smell, taste, or feeling, you would turn on your sensation recorder. So you would make sure to turn on your sensation recorder when you got to the top of the Empire State Building. But you would turn the sensation recorder off during the boring wait in line before you got to the top. If you then had a delicious meal at a great restaurant, you would turn on your sensation recorder, but only when you were eating the best parts of the meal. Unless you were making a family movie, you might turn on your sensation recorder when things heated up with your date (assuming you had her permission).

Movie viewers could then experience a Feelie type of movie, in which they experienced in two hours all of the best sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch sensations of your trip to New York City. To watch the movie, a viewer might need to plug a wire into his brain, connecting with a brain implant added earlier.

One can only imagine how vivid such movies would be. For example, if the plot involved the hero escaping a fire, you might actually feel the heat of the flames as you watched the movie. Whenever the movie's hero plunged into water, you would feel the same sensation of water splashing on to your skin. Once you started experiencing such movies, you might ask: how did people get by watching movies with only sights and sounds?