We’re speaking to Alex Book, COO of Arcade, a digital practice that connects people to places using augmented reality. Today we explore the notion that attractions need to visualise their visitors more like players, rather than guests.
We're leaping into the future with today's podcast guest - talking to Alex Book, the Chief Operating Officer at Arcade.
Arcade specialise in using augmented reality (AR) to help visitor attractions engage their audiences more meaningfully. They're experts at creating immersive experiences designed to guide, educate, entertain and, most importantly, connect us more to the world and each other.
Alex is a big believer in "experience is king" - which we discuss at length in the interview along with why it might be time to say goodbye to the 'visitor'.
We experienced a few technical difficulties with this recording - but nothing that takes away from Alex's insight.
What we discussed:
Ready Visitor One….? Why it’s time to say goodbye to the ‘visitor’
Kelly Molson: Find out how we can create a better experience for you and your guests at rubbercheese.com. Search Skip the Queue on iTunes and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more over on our website, rubbercheese.com/podcast. We hope that you enjoy these interviews, and if there's anyone you think we should be talking to, please do send us a message. Alex, welcome to Skip the Queue Podcast. Thank you for joining us today.
Alex Book: Pleasure be here. Thank you for having me.
Kelly Molson: We had a phone call a few weeks ago after I did that terrifying thing sending a scary LinkedIn message. Do you know why [inaudible 00:03:11] so terrifying, but I sent a message to you because we wanted to connect with you as an organization, but we'd come across an amazing case study about one of your projects, and it was Roxy the Ranger, which is the world's first AR chatbot in a visitor attraction, and we thought, "This is pretty cool. Let's talk to these people." Now we are. We really want to find out what is Arcade, tell us what happens there and what you do, and then we'll know.
Alex Book: The sorts of work we do, as I'm sure we'll talk about in more detail, it is the kind of stuff that seems to create some interests, create some headlines, get people excited and talking. If there's an opportunity to go a little bit deeper into that and describe what we do and see how it might help the organizations and places and brands that you guys work with, then so much the better.
Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Well, let's start there then. Well, tell us a little bit about Arcade. Obviously, we know that our audience may not be that familiar with you at the moment. But we know that you're a digital practice that connects people to places. So tell us a little bit more about that.
Alex Book: Yeah. We use augmented reality to do exactly that. It's about connecting people to place. We call ourselves a digital practice because that's a bit of a nod to our heritage and our background in the dual worlds of architecture on the one hand, and a digital agency on the other. When you put those two together, so you've got architecture which is all about an appreciation of and a passion for place and physical space, and put that together with 15 years or more of running digital agencies. It turns out that when you do that, you're pretty much defining augmented reality, which is the placement of digital content, digital experiences in a physical space. Using that, not just for its own sake, not just because it's a new better tech, not just because it's really exciting and cool though it is, but actually for purpose, and to use for a specific purpose, which for us is exactly that. We're connecting people more meaningfully to the physical spaces around them.
Kelly Molson: What is your role within Arcade?
Alex Book: My slightly grand title is chief strategy officer, and as with most tech [inaudible 00:05:43] there's lots of chiefs, but my role within that I think dovetails quite well with the guys that are my co-founders, John and Simon, who one of whom takes more of a role on the ... or a lead rather, on the dev side of things, the other more on the design side, and so my role within that is to bring, as the title suggests, a bit of a strategic view to things, and that's both in terms of the work we do and really being the guiding hand or the hand on the tiller if you like, making sure that the work is strategically led.
Alex Book: I think we'll probably speak a bit about the conflicts between the desire to use tech to show off and create these incredible mind blowing experiences, versus using technology to actually solve problems and create solutions to challenges that places and attractions and brands and other organizations face every day. It's to do that, but it's also to try and ensure that Arcade itself is strategically placed. This is a really exciting emergent industry, and there are lots and lots and lots of things that you can do with the technology. The question is what should you do? What's it best use for it, and how can we best position ourselves within that? So I would say that my role is in the day-to-day, but also in the big picture.
Kelly Molson: This is interesting because this brings me to one of the things that you've said in the past, which is the tech industry often gets a bit carried away and forgets that the experience is king and not the technology.
Alex Book: Yeah. I think it's exactly that, and it's for good reason. I mean there's, I would say, a disproportionate number of geniuses within the tech world. I think it attracts lots and lots of incredibly smart people, doing amazing things and always has done, and hopefully it always will. But when you create really amazing things, then the temptation is to run around and get very excited and see what you can do with them, and I think that's right, that makes total sense. But the danger of it is the classic hammer and nail analogy. If all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and you end up using it for purposes that perhaps just aren't quite right.
Alex Book: Don't show it off in its best light, and therefore [inaudible 00:07:54] what I think has happened to a degree with immersive tech generally where you create experiences and people look at them, see them, hear them, feel them, and are a little bit underwhelmed. I mean you go to conferences, tech conferences or brand conferences, attractions conferences, and as I'm sure you have, and often people are starting to talk about immersive technology, which is great. One of the questions that often gets asked at the beginning is a sort of audience engagement one around who has had an AR experience. I think it's quite clear that we're going into a world where very soon people of course will have had these experiences, but for now, it's a question worth asking.
Alex Book: But the followup question is often right, and who thought they were any good? The reality is that I think for lots of people, though they can even create a real sense of, "Wow," and be really impressive, you're still left off and with a sense of so what? So I've seen a panda on the floor next to me [inaudible 00:08:50] Although it is incredible, I think trying to understand and learn and work out as an industry but also as a society, what this incredible technology is really for, how can it be most effective? I think that's the key. Then when you start talking about designing experiences, let's design it from the audience first, the point of view of something that's going to be really rewarding and rewarding in a way that's most useful to whoever it is that is actually staging that and who's putting it on.
Alex Book: So finding that balance of objective between starting with the audience's perspective, starting with the objective of creating something that is going to be fit for purpose and be something that can be genuinely enjoyed, and balancing that with the interests of the organization itself. What are you trying to achieve as, let's say, an attraction? What is it that are the challenges that are keeping you awake at night? And if AR and digital technology more generally can fill that gap and create that link, then I think you've got something really powerful.
Kelly Molson: I think that this is one of the reasons why their case study around Roxy the Ranger really we stood out to us, because this ... I'll let you share that story with us. But for so many reasons, the technology had such an incredible effect on [inaudible 00:10:13] but it married up so seamlessly with the environment that it was in as well. I mean it's [inaudible 00:10:20] If you wouldn't mind sharing about Roxy the Ranger, I'd really love to hear about it. It is such a great showcase for exactly what you've just described.
Alex Book: SEA LIFE is a good example of a challenge where the client was actually pretty clear on what it was they were trying to achieve. SEA LIFE, the brand that [inaudible 00:10:42] if you like, for them is all about amazing discovery, which is about a fun, interactive learning, and they bring that to light in all kinds of incredible ways. [inaudible 00:10:52] is an astonishing organization. The specific aquarium [inaudible 00:10:57] we were working in is the one in London, South bank, which again is an amazing space, and it's got these incredible creatures in there. For us then, the opportunity was to understand how are you going to measure that? How will you know if you've been successful using this technology to further this idea of Amazing Discovery?
Alex Book: It was really all about families, and how can we create an experience that was designed to motivate family groups to spend longer and find new ways to engage with these incredible creatures? Importantly, it wasn't about trying to add a digital experience that replaced the engagement, and these amazing animals all around them. It was absolutely to support families, particularly young children, in learning more and doing it in a really fun way. So the result became Roxy. As you say, Roxy is a ranger and she's effectively a virtual expert. She pops up in augmented reality and challenges and educates and entertains kids, and it turns out, by the way, not just kids. It turns out [inaudible 00:12:11] for people of all ages to interact with, and then she rewards them.
Alex Book: There's a really nice balance of her imparting knowledge, but also setting these challenges and even getting the kids to almost reverse the natural role, so rather than children being told everything, they're encouraged then to start quizzing their grownups, which they absolutely love as you can imagine. The result of all of that is something that really hits those measures that we were tasked with. So it encouraged families to spend longer there. That was measurable, ended up spending about 25% longer inside the aquarium. As a paid attraction in particular, that becomes really important because as we know, if you pay a not unsubstantial amount of money to go into a space like that, if you're back out again at the end, half an hour later, you'd wonder about really important things like value for money, and that has a knock on effect for would I recommend it to a friend and for the other forms of advocacy.
Alex Book: If you can get people to spend longer and if you can get them [inaudible 00:13:15] the overall satisfaction, which the researcher did, then you've got something really, really good. I suppose the final points on that links in a way to not getting carried away with the technology that we've just talked about. So the temptation would be to say, "Well, we've got this incredible character called Roxy. We can have her doing all kinds of incredible things with you all the time." Now, bearing in mind that we're using principally mobile augmented reality, so it's based around the phones and devices that people have got in their pockets rather than using headsets or anything else.
Alex Book: The last thing we want is to create this permanent barrier of the mobile phone itself that gets in between the family, the child, the parents and those creatures and their experiences. Instead, it's becomes all about understanding the impact that AR content, digital content, that it's only revealed when it's viewed through these devices, what that can have. What I mean by that is if you can show somebody, even just for a few seconds, that there's this amazing person, this virtual ranger in this case who's there in the space with, if you've seen them in that space, and if you've interacted them in a particular part of the aquarium, then it's enough to know that they're there.
Alex Book: So we tasked Roxy with setting these challenges that explicitly involve putting the phone away and spending time completing those challenges by looking around, by engaging more with creatures, so that then when you see her again a bit further on, you can reengage them at that stage, but you feel as though she's been with you throughout even though the device has been effectively back away in your pocket again. So understanding how these digital immersive experiences work even when they are just in small bite sized chunks.
Kelly Molson: I guess it feels like it's a choice whether you engage rather than a necessity in there as well?
Alex Book: Yeah, exactly, and that's another wonderful part of using this technology, is about empowerment. You're putting the user, to use that word, in control. You absolutely, as the audience there, you have the option to do what you like, you have agency in many ways. It's [inaudible 00:15:30] that what we think is a really interesting switch-in mindset for places like SEA LIFE and other types of visitor attraction where you think of these audience, and obviously, they're lots of debates over years about what the right word is for people who turn up to these places. Are they visitors or guests or audiences? What are they? What's the best way to think of them?
Alex Book: Well, there's an interesting way of thinking about them, which is that if you imagine that we're giving people a role to play, so you become much more participatory than maybe it's been possible in the past, then it might be useful to start thinking about people who come less as just guests, but as players, as participants. They're engaged. It's an experience built around them and what they do can affect their experience of it. Maybe that doesn't mean they're in that player mode all the time, but I would certainly be very interested, and do challenge attractions and other places to consider what would happen, what would change if you thought of the people who had turned up as players. What would you do differently?
Alex Book: Just maybe, that opens the door to a slight shift in mindset, which could have quite a profound effect on the way that you look to engage people who are increasingly [inaudible 00:16:51] believe looking for more active roles, looking to be more immersed. So we think it's a really interesting way to reconsider who they are, what they do, and absolutely giving them that power and that choice.
Paul Wright: When the [inaudible 00:17:04] approach you for your services, what are they looking for? Is it they know they need an immersive experience so they come to you guys or is it something else? Imagine it's a challenge for you guys going in there and then knowing when they need you.
Alex Book: Yeah, I think, we certainly see a full spectrum. Taking the view that I've been describing, where it's all about solving challenges, I think there's a huge amount that we can add really early on. Before you've even thought AR or even digital or technology of any kind, what are your challenges just as an organization? Within those challenges, there will be some that perhaps naturally lend themselves to [inaudible 00:17:46] businesses like ours to be really clear and honest about the ones that aren't appropriate, because we've all been there, we're building businesses, and if there's an opportunity to do something that can bring some revenue in, the temptation is always to say yes.
Alex Book: I think it's really, really important going back to that point of doing things for purpose and not just for the sake of it, that we are able to either say no or at least challenge whether or not our technology is right. But if you can find that alignment where there is a natural challenge and say, "Well, have you considered this sort of approach using immersive technology?" And for us, that's AR in particular, then you can have some really great conversation. Typically, we find that very rewarding, very fruitful, although we have to accept that those conversations tend to take longer. So from [inaudible 00:18:41] perspective, that's a slightly longer game to play. But it can be very rewarding and it certainly means that you can be part of the strategic build up to a project rather than simply the supplier on the technology side.
Alex Book: That said, when a client has already gone along a big part of that journey already, which was pretty much true for SEA LIFE, true for some other projects that we're working on, clearly it's much, much quicker. There's still an opportunity to offer a sense of course correction if you like, if that's required, or at least to have an input into refining the challenge and refining therefore a solution. I think you could still do that. But yeah, that's a long answer to your question, but I think people, potential clients, existing clients, that they're on a full spectrum of start point from, "We know we need an AR experience," the very detailed, very specific and through to, "I've got a bit of a challenge. I don't know how to solve it. Do you fancy a chat?"
Kelly Molson: I want to go back to something that you said earlier, which is around how we address the audience. Are people an audience or are they guests or are they players? There's a brilliant blog that you directed to me to after we had a chat that Arcade wrote, and it's called Reade Visitor One? Why it's time to say goodbye to the visitor, and we will put links to all of these books in the show notes so everyone can access them. But it's a really excellent article which completely challenges the definition of visitor, and how expectations from an experience are really changing.
Kelly Molson: I think, for me, I really loved this changing terminology because I think there are so many attractions that you go to where you just want to play, you just want to have fun. One of our applicants is Eureka, The National Children's Museum, and [inaudible 00:20:26] it's learning through play. So I guess it really resonated with us, and I just thought it was such a refreshing way of looking at the terminology that we use for people that are coming into these attractions and how do we engage with them. I thought it was excellent.
Alex Book: Thank you. I mean the title's slightly [inaudible 00:20:46] I suppose. It was around the time Ready Player one came out, [inaudible 00:20:49] the film, which by the way is the film of an incredible book well worth reading anyone who hasn't. But I think the principal is certainly something as you can tell that resonates with us, and it might be a little bit overstated. I think it's deliberately pushes the idea to its conclusion, but we definitely think there's something in it because, like you say, it's about reflecting the shifting expectations of people. We are spoiled as a society in terms of ways of spending our time, and the notion of spending time is exactly the right phrase.
Alex Book: It's an investment, it's a very, very finite resource and there are so many things that we [inaudible 00:21:29] Everyone's very familiar with this, but as an attraction of any form, it's very, very hard to stand out and be the best choice for somebody at a particular point in time. So how do you respond to that? We certainly see a society where there is much greater interest and desire for experiences where I've got a role to play, where it's not just about being passive, switching off on receive mode. They will always be a space for that. Of course, there will, the kind of sit on the sofa and switch off. There will always be space for that.
Alex Book: But increasingly, we're seeing the growth of this experienced economy, and that's about participation increasingly, Escape Room being the most obvious example. Massive, massive growth, massive interest, and that's because you kept that notion of play and you take it out into the world and you get to do it, you get to be a part of it. It's all about you and your role and your choices. I think within that evolving set of expectations, there's a real opportunity for places to consider, in this new way, who these people are who we're trying to attract in the first place, and the notion of players, which is inherently a very active idea, very active notion.
Alex Book: It's all about engagement, active choice, participation, fun, is perhaps an interesting way of thinking about who they are as opposed to some of those more traditional terms, guest, visitor, which are by comparison, much more passive. So we're certainly big fans of it as a concept, and as I said, I just really recommend that even without our help, just spend a bit of time thinking about what might change if we thought of our visitors as something more active as players.
Kelly Molson: How do you think that that goes across to visitor attractions that are within the cultural sector, so more museums or heritage organizations? Do you think that is a terminology they [inaudible 00:23:36] off in any way?
Alex Book: The traditional view of a stereotypic traditional sector like heritage is that there would be no resistance to that. Yes and no, and it's certainly in our experience, there is a massive, massive appetite within the heritage sector for exploring new ways to attract audiences, to engage with new audiences that they wouldn't necessarily be able to access, to find ways of repositioning in people's minds what heritage experiences are all about, and as a result of that, I think there's actually a tremendous appetite, and quite a bit of time being invested into exploring innovative ways of achieving those goals.
Alex Book: We've been lucky enough to do some work with the Heritage Alliance, we did a lovely little piece for the Ragged School Museum last week, which was about bringing a Victorian school teacher to life, which we did through AR, and to bring those playful experiences into spaces that are otherwise perceived as old fashioned, static, dusty, dare I say boring, I think actually to almost counter-intuitively is the sort of space where something like AR can have almost the most profound effect because it's such a big challenge to what you might otherwise expect in a space like that. I think there is a real appetite for it.
Alex Book: The one space that I think is a really interesting challenge, and this isn't unique to heritage but you certainly think encounter it there more, [inaudible 00:25:11] concern and it's absolutely justified concern about more role, a greater role for digital devices for the phones that we carry around with us, while we're finding extra ways to rely on them, to provide us with [inaudible 00:25:27]
Kelly Molson: Sure.
Alex Book: Isn't that the opposite of what we try ... so the need to aim for as a society, and in the role with visitor attractions, the perception that they have [inaudible 00:25:38] themselves is as a space where you can get away from some of that stuff. So I think there's a couple of responses that are quite important. The fourth one is that there this sort of the counter space that you can position within. You can be the anti-device, the anti-phone, the analog space of digital detox. That can be [inaudible 00:26:01] but I think that for most parts, we've only got to look around in the world today and you realize of course that the genie's out the bottle, and it's either you fight it or if you can't beat it, then join it. But do so in a way that isn't simply adding more to that negative perception of what these devices are all about.
Alex Book: If we can do it well and if we can use them in a way the AR is useful for, which is about turning them rather than into the black mirror, the digital abyss. It's often framed as. Instead of that, it's a window [inaudible 00:26:36] to the world that we're standing, it's simply a way, this incredible device that can reveal your hidden experiences, hidden stories, and it's magical when it's done well, because you're not looking at the device, you're looking through it and you're seeing the space around you in a completely new way. I think that can be a really powerful way to, again, shift perceptions of what devices are, never mind what a heritage or museum space is all about. If you bring that together, I think you can create something incredible, really helps those sorts of organizations and does so in a sympathetic way, to challenges, and as I say, very fair challenges about the role of devices in our lives [inaudible 00:27:19].
Kelly Molson: I guess that's part of your role, is to have these discussions with attractions about how they seamlessly adopt the tech, but without it becoming the focus? So they use the tech as a tool, but it's not the focus of what that experience is about.
Alex Book: It absolutely has to be. I think that goes back to the point about experience being king. I think our role and businesses like ours should be to be trying to make the technology as invisible as possible. It should be about trying to create a seamless engagement with the place. When we talk about connecting people to place, that's what we mean. It's not connecting people to technology or connecting people to device. Frankly, society is already good enough at that already. But it's about connecting people to place, and the way we do [inaudible 00:28:08] technology. It's just a tool. It's a new tool, but it can be used to solve really old big challenges. I think that's the best way of seeing it.
Kelly Molson: What projects have you worked on recently or that you've really, really loved working on it, that you've seen has produced incredible results for the attraction?
Alex Book: [inaudible 00:28:28] one we talked about that. We've done other work with Merlin, had a great piece that we launched at Madame Tussauds, which is another of their spaces, which is a really fascinating one [inaudible 00:28:41]. It's a whole brand that is known for static experiences. That's what it's USP is [inaudible 00:28:50] than anybody else. But at go, in the same way that SEA LIFE is [inaudible 00:28:55] all about amazing discovery, for Madame Tussauds, it's about being an alive fame experience. So a sense of life and dynamism is really, really important to where they're trying to get to. So you can imagine therefore that these dynamic digital experiences can be very, very powerful.
Alex Book: We're doing some work actually at the slightly more artistic end of things, which is really interesting. So working with Welsh National Opera. We've actually got a piece that's launching at the end of this week. They're initially at their space in Cardiff, but it's used [inaudible 00:29:29] with the opera that inspired it. The experience is called a Vixen's Tale, and the opera that it was [inaudible 00:29:35] inspired by is [inaudible 00:29:36] vixen, which is also launching on Saturday. It's a really mixed piece that creates a very physical environment. So it was great for us to almost go back to that architectural roots that we've had in design, this very physical experience, something that's had to be constructed.
Alex Book: So the principle part of it is literally wood. It's made and it's a physical thing. But we've also created the augmented experiences that go with it, all device-driven, all about immersing people into the stories, the narratives and most importantly thee emotions of this incredible opera, and trying to create a link between any talk about heritage spaces being quite stereotypically traditional. Opera has its own quite traditional perceptions [inaudible 00:30:23], and it's not perhaps where you'd expect to find this really deeply immersive AR experience. But I think doing that is all about challenging perceptions and creating those links and changing the way people feel about that space. When you're in the area, either as a seasoned opera goer or as a brand new visitor, then it changes the way that you perceive the subject matter of this particular opera and the characters within it, the stories, and as I said, the emotions. So we're really excited about that.
Kelly Molson: Can they take that on tour with them as well? So it's not something that's static in one place, they can take that around the country with them?
Alex Book: Yeah, which the construction guys were delighted about.
Kelly Molson: [inaudible 00:31:04].
Alex Book: [inaudible 00:31:06] them the plans and said, "Yeah, not only do you need to build this, you also need to build it in a way that [inaudible 00:31:11] fits in the back of a truck." But, yeah, it's exactly that. I think that when you think about everything you can do with AR, it would have been possible to do this entirely virtually and to have these physical ... I say physical constructions, but within the virtual space. But the fact that we didn't, was a really important part of the consideration of audience engagement. So that picking up a device and getting into the tech part of it actually isn't mandatory.
Alex Book: You can have a really important engaging and immersive in an analog sense, an immersive experience without picking up a device at all because of these physical arches. So that democratic approach, making sure it's as accessible as possible, and the plan absolutely is [inaudible 00:31:59] to tour with the opera initially, nationally after it's been [inaudible 00:32:03] for a month or so, but hopefully then internationally as well once it branches out and it starts being produced overseas.
Kelly Molson: Excellent. Even more challenges for the packing people.
Alex Book: Not our problem.
Kelly Molson: You touched a little bit on there, about accessibility, and that was something that I wanted to ask you about the experiences that you create, because obviously it's something that we are challenged with daily, the need to make everything that we develop for the audience accessible for as many different audiences as possible. How do you plan for that in the experiences that you develop? How do you start to look at how to make everything accessible for people who are [inaudible 00:32:43] of hearing, [inaudible 00:32:44] of sight, et cetera, all those kind of things?
Alex Book: Yeah. I think it's a huge challenge, but it absolutely needs tackling head on. Making sure that ... For example, I'll use the national opera, Vixen's Tale as an example, we designed the physical archers themselves and there is a physical space as a specific width within these arches, and it became an important consideration to ensure, for example, that wheelchairs can get through the physical components of that. But within there, it also means you've got to consider people using AR at different heights, that's about obviously just different formed, different heights people, different ages, but also different accessibility challenges. So wheelchair users, again, a really interesting consideration when it comes to accessing that digital AR content.
Alex Book: For sensory loss of various types, and so first of all within the delivery of an emotional experience, audio plays a massive, massive part. Audio AR is often quite underlooked because when we think about AR experiences, they are principally visual, [inaudible 00:33:54] that's the perception. But actually you can do so much with spatial audio, and as we know, the profound effect of music and sound in terms of stimulating emotion and playing its role within narrative and storytelling is immense. So if you can get that role prominent enough so that it almost is a valuable variance entirely on its own without a visual component, then I think you're doing quite a lot for that sense of access and inclusivity.
Alex Book: Other forms, they're challenging. As I say, we principally use mobile devices simply because they are everywhere, so we talk about democratic access in terms of just accessibility of the hardware itself. I think it's broadly accepted that we are moving towards a world in which wearables of some kind, be they glasses, it might be Apple that finally cracks the set of glasses that can deliver AR content and don't make you look like an idiot when you're wearing them. That might happen and it might happen in the next year or so, but for now, there are billions of incredibly powerful computers in people's pockets. So making a choice to primarily use those I think is a big accessibility point as well rather than demanding expensive or difficult to obtain, and so hardware, headsets and so on.
Alex Book: That's the attitude I think in general, it's critical, that sense of providing experiences that feel rewarding, that feel as though they've taken me into consideration is really important. That role, the ability of AR as opposed to physical equivalents of things you could do in AR, it can be very personal. Absolutely can respect and respond to who you are, your needs, whether those are simply interests or whether they are related to your disabilities. I think it can respond in those ways. Accessibility of all forms is really, really important, and it can afford to be very responsive. So AR has the ability to make things very personal to you, whether that's your interests or what you're trying to get out of this, whether it's your demographic, whether it's about your personal ability or disability challenges. You can create experiences that are specific to the user and that's a really important and powerful part of what AR can offer, and has to be incorporated into the development.
Paul Wright: We're in the early days of AR. Where do you see it going and where do you think we'll be in say 10 or 20 years time?
Alex Book: Wow.
Kelly Molson: [crosstalk 00:36:41]
Alex Book: 10 or 20 days, maybe, I'll [inaudible 00:36:47] I think it's one of these areas where it's unusual to have so much alignment in people whose job it is, one way or the other, to predict the future, who are all saying that AR is where it's going. I think that's encouraging. I don't think it's necessarily a complete given, nothing is, and everything's moving so fast that it could be wrong. But there are so many things you can do with that principle of overlaying digital content in a physical environment that it would be very, very surprising to me if it doesn't turn out to be the next generation of digital experience.
Alex Book: I mentioned before that it's still worthwhile at the moment asking whether or not people have had an AR experience. That will not be true for long. We will see in the next year, two years, that it just becomes as normal as accessing the internet is today. I'm very confident about that. What people use it for will also be as varied as what people use the internet for. It's simply a channel. As we said before, it's just a new tool for solving old challenges, for accessing information, for accessing entertainment, for conversing with each other, for playing games. All these things are equally relevant and equally powerful when it comes to addressing them with AR.
Alex Book: What it can do though is just get us to lift our heads a little bit. I think if we think about it in those terms, it can be quite a profound shift from what is typically this heads-down, screen-based world that we live in, to something that is far more heads-up where we are almost reengaging with the physical space around us, because the digital content that we're so reliant on our screens for today becomes available in that three dimensional world around us. That might sound slightly idealistic and poetic, but, but I do think that can be an effect that AR can have, and it's one of the reasons why it seems incredibly likely to me that most of these predictions are true, that we will be in an AI-driven world, but one where it's not remarkable.
Alex Book: I think we tend to even use these words, augmented reality. They, frankly to me I think for a lot of people, sound almost deliberately techy and geeky and Sci-Fi, and for a lot of people, that signal that it's not for me, whereas AR, for all the reasons we just talked about, is the opposite of that. It's absolutely one of the most, or should be one of the most, democratic channels and technologies around. So I think the gradual normal [inaudible 00:39:34] of AR will make [inaudible 00:39:37] very, very commonplace thing, and that's for the better. I think we need to stop overstating how incredible and techy and astonishing it is, and just say it's this great new way of having new experiences.
Paul Wright: It's a massive mind shift [inaudible 00:39:52], isn't it? In the way people look at it and realize how it can be used.
Alex Book: Yeah, it is. This is an old point, but when you actually look at the timeline of the evolution of these devices in our pockets and what we use them for, it's been incredibly recent and incredibly fast. What we have shown is that as human beings, we are incredibly adaptable, almost the [inaudible 00:40:15] forgetfulness. We just put the past behind us incredibly fast. We forget what life was like before the smartphone, before the internet, before computers, before ... rewind and it feels like another age.
Alex Book: But the iPhone has only been with us for 12 years, and some of the more recent abilities that it offers us are within the last 18 months to two years, and yet they become totally normal, totally expected, and we're almost thinking, "Right. Well, what's next?" All the time. Yes, it's a big shift, but I think in a very, very short space of time, it will feel obvious. Of course we can look at things in three dimensions, of course we see digital content in there. Why wouldn't we?
Paul Wright: In terms of AI and machine learning, how do you see that [inaudible 00:41:03] currently, and also where do you see that going?
Alex Book: Yeah. I think when you bring in forms of machine learning again in a huge amounts that it can offer, one of the biggest areas seems, to me, to be responsiveness and personal responsiveness and offering experiencing ... experiences, sorry, in specific contexts that are right for the person who's experiencing it, which I think is very powerful. I mean it takes you into certain both quite astonishing futures where I can see exactly the information that I want, when I want it, where I want it, how I want it. It does also open the door to minority report style dystopias where we're just being completely bombarded by digital information in that physical space, and then it becomes very difficult to get away from.
Alex Book: So there are undoubtedly dangers when we push that over-contextualization, over-responsiveness, attractive though it might seem, but hopefully things like minority report and other dystopian pictures of the future plus our experience of where we've got better at producing internet experiences that are easier, more enjoyable, that aren't too aggressively ad-driven, for example. I think all of that can add together to help us steer clear of some of those potential downsides of AI taking too much control and trying to be, in some weird way, too helpful.
Paul Wright: I notice that you've opened a office in Amsterdam recently.
Alex Book: Yes, that's right.
Paul Wright: Can you tell us more about that?
Alex Book: Yeah, it's a combination of just coincidence, as in it has come around at a coincidentally useful time. Without wishing to get too political, I think [inaudible 00:42:57] and Europe isn't a terrible thing right now. We've also got some links there through staff who've created some really strong links with one in particular who's moved back to [inaudible 00:43:10] and is the MD of the office there. Amazing guy, one of these ambitious young guys who's going to absolutely tear the AR world up, and so he's a very, very good person for businesses like us to hold on to. So we wasted no time in saying, "Yep, off you go. Set up and get going."
Paul Wright: Oh wow.
Kelly Molson: Did you have any kind of [inaudible 00:43:32] or an event or anything that you'd like to share with our audience before we say goodbye?
Alex Book: We're in a very busy period, which is a great thing. There's some fabulous work we're doing with the London Borough of Camden, which is quite a long running project. That's all about effectively turning the borough or key pockets within it into a huge open, we use the word museum, but it turns the borough into a huge space of augmented reality-driven arts and cultural experiences. It's for a thing called-
Kelly Molson: Oh wow.
Alex Book: Yeah, it's for a thing called Camden Alive, and we're creating something called the Camden People's Museum. This is going to challenge perception of what a museum even is. We were talking about the world of heritage before, and this way, we're effectively turning the entire borough into one big open museum. It's all about collaborations between residents and artists, it's telling the stories and revealing the characters and the heritage of one of London's most iconic boroughs, and turning it into something that we sometimes refer to, which is a playable place. I've not mentioned that.
Alex Book: It is one of the core ideas that we have, where if you can do this well, if you can use AR effectively, if you can bring in that sense of education and entertainment and challenge and reward, which we hope the Camden People's Museum absolutely will, then you've got something that we refer to as a playable place, which we love as a slightly counter intuitive but very ... I certainly find it a very evocative thought. How do you make a place playable? That links back to what we were saying about players rather than visitors. But when you can do that on a quite a grand scale, for example, across a London borough, that becomes incredibly exciting. The first few experiences within the Camden People's Museum are going up within the next month or two, and there'll be more coming into the new year.
Paul Wright: I have to ask, how do you make a borough look ... How'd you do that?
Kelly Molson: How is the question.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Alex Book: How? Well, you can either start with the massive vision of trying to work out how to make the entire place into one big playable place, or you can make [inaudible 00:45:54] and you can start with some quite specific areas which we were able to do because of the scope of the product itself, which is to focus on the ... I think it starts with initially about 10 of the estates across Camden, and pairs them with artists. So you already start with these specific areas within a borough, and each one of those areas will have its own experience and its own artwork that we bring into life. But then part of the challenge becomes linking those together and motivating, we'll call them players if you like, to visit more than one of those spaces.
Alex Book: What happens if you do go from one to the next, and how do you get there and what's your experience been when you've had two or three? Let me tell you about some more that are being released in the coming month or two, come back for a new experience that's just been launched. All that kind of thing where you've got these specific areas, but you can also create a connected narrative that links them all together.
Paul Wright: Do you bring gamification into that as well?
Alex Book: It's a very loaded word that, isn't it?
Paul Wright: It is.
Alex Book: It's one of those [inaudible 00:46:59] that is absolutely right. It's bang on, it's accurate for what you're trying to do. Unfortunately, it gets tarnished because it makes it feel like it's being dumbed down and it makes it sound like it's just getting a bit silly. But when you break it down, all gamification means is how do you use the mechanisms that have been made popular by gaming to motivate and entertain, and as I said, challenge and reward people. That's what games do.
Paul Wright: Absolutely.
Alex Book: Now it gets to the heart of a really core human driver, which is play and fun and engagement. But it is all about that kind of sense of challenge and reward. So in that sense, absolutely. I think it's a really important part of these sorts of experiences. They don't need to be games in a traditional sense, although they can be, but even just by harnessing the characteristics of games and building them into these experiences, then you can turn something that would normally be quite passive into something much, much more active and much more [inaudible 00:48:02] I think as a result.
Kelly Molson: Alex, we have had the best time talking to you this afternoon. Thank you so much for coming on Skip the Queue, and thank you so much for sharing all of these incredible projects.
Alex Book: An absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Paul Wright: I feel like there might be an update at some point, the next couple of years [crosstalk 00:48:20]
Kelly Molson: We need to check in [crosstalk 00:48:23] 10 year prediction.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Alex Book: [inaudible 00:48:23] No, absolutely, and maybe sooner, maybe sooner. We've got a lot of good things coming up so I'd be great [inaudible 00:48:30]
Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Thank you again for your time.
Alex Book: Thanks guys.
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