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The (Distant) Future Of Marvel, Disney, And Entertainment

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I like to talk about the future. I don’t claim to have any special insight, but I suspect I give it more thought than most. I also believe I tend to think farther into the future than most. Whether it’s contemplating the future of how we’ll organize our society or how our sex lives will evolve, I try to contemplate possibilities beyond the next iPhone upgrade.

One aspect of the distant future that concerns me has to do with boredom, namely how it may become a much larger problem and how we’ll go about alleviating it. I’ve done plenty to argue that boredom can be a dangerous force, from creating immortal super-villains to subverting the very concept of Hell. If our future is to be stable, prosperous, and fun, we’ll need some form of entertainment.

With that critical goal in mind, I’d like to speculate on a potential brand of future entertainment that ties directly with the industry that we know today. Specifically, I’d like to imagine how big entertainment companies like Disney will continue to function in world where advanced artificial intelligence, brain implants, and near-universal access to the internet is a thing.

I feel the time is right to think about such things because just last week, Disney radically altered the entertainment industry by purchasing Fox. Beyond just getting the X-men and Fantastic Four rights back for Marvel, Disney bought a massive library of intellectual property that is potentially worth billions. Being a successful business with shareholders, and all, they’re going to want to make billions more.

How exactly are they going to go about that, though? That’s a question worth asking because the answer for the near future is probably not going to work for the distant future. Sure, Disney will probably rake in plenty of profits at the box office, just as they’ve done with Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. However, the movie and toy industry can only go so far.

While box office revenue is up, actual ticket sales are way down. More people are opting to stream their content directly, bypassing pay TV and theaters entirely. The same is true for print media, including comic books. Even toy sales are in decline. This is not good for a company like Disney, which has built its empire on media and merchandise.

That’s not to say things are dire. Disney has been around for almost 100 years. In that time, it has adapted through plenty of upheavals. If it’s going to survive another 100 years, though, it’ll have to adapt to a radically different landscape. Buying Fox is likely part of that process. Disney has already made clear that it plans to start a streaming service to compete with Netflix and Amazon.

That’s a good start, but a streaming service is probably not going to be enough, especially in a future where people live longer, work less, and can share more than just text messages with one another. If Disney wants to continue being at the forefront of entertainment, it’ll have to innovate in ways that leverage future technology in new ways.

After the purchase of Fox, though, Disney may actually be in the best possible position compared to every other entertainment company that exists today. That’s because, unlike its competitors, it has a wealth of intellectual property that it owns outright. From Micky Mouse to Marvel heroes, the library of Disney-owned characters is truly staggering.

In the past, this gave Disney the ability to make or license movies, toys, and games for billions. In the future, those mediums won’t be nearly as profitable, but not because those things will fall out of style. I believe that for Disney to make more billions, it’ll utilize its intellectual property in a very different way, one that will likely require an entirely new approach to entertainment.

Think, for a moment, about the current experience you get from a movie theater, a TV show, or even a life show. You sit in a seat and you just watch. You take in the sights and sounds. If done right, it creates a spectacle that you enjoy. However, the fact that the spectacle only utilizes major senses is somewhat limiting.

What if, instead, you weren’t just an audience member sitting in a seat? What if it actually felt like you were there? What if you felt like you were standing next to Captain America as he battled the Red Skull? What if you felt like you were there when Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy all broke out into a joyous musical number?

I’m not just talking about better animation or virtual reality. I’m talking about a form of entertainment that makes your brain actually feel as though you’re experiencing something. It’s not quite like the holodeck on “Star Trek.” It’s more like plugging into “The Matrix,” but for reasons other than learning Kung Fu or having existential breakdowns.

Unlike “The Matrix,” though, you wouldn’t be the catalyst for the story. That’s something Disney would take care of, providing only the world and the vast array of sensations that come with it. Instead of paying for a movie ticket, you pay for an experience that lets you interact or feel part of a story involving Iron Man, Micky, or Buzz Lightyear.

That will likely be the most valuable resource of future entertainment, powerful experiences that give customers the rush and fulfillment of being there. Instead of going to a theater or theme park, they would just plug something into their brains, possibly through an implant like the ones Elon Musk is developing with Neuralink. From there, the experience will be directly streamed right into their brain.

It may sound invasive, but we already share so much of ourselves online, from what we had for lunch to the most intimate aspects of our personal lives. We’re already in the early stages of merging our technology. We already see our smartphones as integral parts of our lives. Why wouldn’t we do the same for brain implants?

Unlike a smartphone, a machine/brain interface can’t be dropped into the toilet or left behind by accident. That same interface won’t just augment the ability of our brains to access the entire wealth of human knowledge. They’ll allow us to directly stimulate the areas that forge our entire perception of the world around us.

This has huge implications, some more profound than others. For companies like Disney, though, that link will be critical with respect to maintaining its place as a dominant entertainment company. People already pay for powerful experience, be they movies, video games, or a full-body massage at a spa. Disney could simply cut out the middle-men while leveraging its vast library of intellectual property.

Sure, in the future, you could probably pay for fancy experiences like those offered in “Total Recall.” However, if you want an experience that allows you to be a Jedi, an Avenger, or a singing animal, you’ll have to go through Disney and they’ll be happy to sell you that experience for a price.

Every week, you’ll be able to select from a range of intense experiences the same way you navigate your Netflix queue. For some, you don’t need to leave your bed. You just plug a device into your brain and let it go from there. For others, maybe you travel to special venues that function like the holodecks in “Star Trek.” There, you could share the experience with others, making it a communal experience.

Disney would still likely need content-creators to craft those experiences. That means people like George Lucas and Kevin Feige will still have a job in this future. The particulars of those jobs would be very different, but the goal would be the same. They would create experiences and stories that people are willing to pay for.

As unpredictable as the future is, it’s still safe to assume that people are going to want entertainment. Wherever there’s a want, there will be a business willing to provide it. There will be competition. There will be billions, if not trillions, to be made in profits. Not every company around today will survive that competition. Disney, however, is already in the best possible position to thrive.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, media issues, movies, Sexy Future, War on Boredom

The Appeal And (Major) Implications Of “Westworld”

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When most people think about the future, they imagine all the ways that technology and progress will solve problems and make our lives better. I’ve certainly imagined that. I’ve even written about it, with respect to how future advances will make us smarter, protect us from disease, and even help us love each other better.

As intriguing as those possibilities may be, it’s also worth taking a moment to contemplate the implications. I’m not talking about the potential existential crisis we may face with advancing technology either. I’m referring more to the practical aspects of a future where disease, suffering, and toil are largely mitigated by technology.

Beyond just living in a world with less suffering and less struggle, how exactly would we entertain ourselves? That may seem like a mundane question, given the more serious implications of advances like genetic engineering and advanced robotics, but it’s one of those issues that effects individuals on a personal level.

If we’re always health, physically strong, and have our basic needs met through some universal basic income, then what exactly are we going to do with all that free time? I’ve expressed concern that this may create an epidemic of boredom that’s every bit as serious as any major pandemic. No matter how strong, healthy, or affluent you are, boredom can have some pretty debilitating effects.

Enter the fanciful world of “Westworld” and all its implications, sexy and otherwise. For those of you who don’t get HBO, it’s a TV show inspired from an old movie produced by Michael Crichton, also known as the guy who wrote “Jurassic Park.” It’s no “Game of Thrones,” but it has a fair amount of gratuitous violence, nudity, and sex, albeit with much less incest.

Graphic content aside, it’s the underlying concept behind “Westworld” that makes it such an intriguing show. That same concept also has even greater implications for what the future may hold in terms of immersive entertainment, managing artificial intelligence, and how we treat sex robots. For once, I’m not going to focus entirely on the sex robots, since I give that subject plenty of attention.

The appeal of “Westworld,” as both a concept and a show, is built around a company called Delos Inc., which offers its high-paying customers a chance to immerse themselves in a unique experience. For a while, they get to leave civilization, modernity, and all its associated infrastructure behind and live in rugged, lawless world of the old west.

It’s not some movie where they just get to see images of scenery. It’s not some virtual reality that just makes them feel like they’re there, either. It’s a fully realized artificial world, complete with intelligent androids that have the look, feel, and presence of real people. Sure, some still act as sex robots, but that appeal goes far beyond that.

This is a world where you can live a different life, experience in a different time, and explore a world that no longer exists. You don’t watch it. You don’t listen to it. You don’t follow along through the eyes of a protagonist. You are the protagonist. You actually get to live out a real fantasy where the participants aren’t just role playing. They’re sophisticated androids that really believe they are what they are.

Now, the operation and function of those androids has been a major source of conflict within the show. As the show has progressed, controlling these androids and seeing them develop a sense of self has made for great drama. I would argue it’s one of the most engaging aspects of the show. It creates powerful moments that reflect real existential issues with respect to artificial intelligence, some of which I’ve contemplated.

While those issues are profound, in and of themselves, I find myself more interested in how “Westworld” may reflect the evolution of entertainment itself. Look past the issue with managing intelligent androids for a moment and think about the business Delos Inc. is employing here.

On paper, it’s not just brilliant in terms of potential profitability. It may very well embody the future of entertainment. Take a moment to contemplate how the entertainment industry has evolved over the past 30 years. We’ve gone from analog to digital, standard definition to high definition, and now high definition to 4k.

I’m still old enough to remember the lousy picture quality of TV shows, the pre-IMAX movie theater experience, and theme parks with less-than-polished exhibits. I still vividly remember going to see “Men in Black” in a theater that was crowded, dirty, and cramped. It was fun, but not that immersive.

Over time, the general trend of entertainment, both with movies and with TV shows, has been to make it more interactive. Movies have done that with the rise of 3D movies. TV shows have done that through things like live-tweeting. Video games, especially, have become much more immersive, both through virtual reality and through online interaction.

This trend reflects the understanding from producers and consumers alike that the most powerful form of entertainment is the kind that offers the most immersion. A game on your smartphone is fun and all, but it’s just data on a screen. It’s not going to engage too many senses.

The same goes for virtual reality, which is basically just putting that same screen over your eyes and bombarding you with sound to make you feel like you’re somewhere you’re not. It also doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have to move your body, exert yourself, or engage in the kind of activity that would lead you to believe that the experience is real. Granted, the brain can be fooled, but only to a point.

What “Westworld” does is logical in terms of crafting an experience that makes people feel like it’s truly real. The customers of Delos Inc. aren’t just observing or following along. They’re actually engaging with this fantasy world. It’s not on a screen. It’s not being projected into their brains. It’s real and they get to be part of it.

That world can literally be anything they Delos Inc. wants it to be. With their resources and their army of life-like androids, they can create all kinds of worlds for customers to explore. These worlds don’t have to be confined by the laws of modern civilization, current social norms, or even notions of reality.

Perhaps they can create an apocalyptic world where participants can kill zombies and live the lives of rag-tag survivors, like those of “The Walking Dead.”

Perhaps they can create a medieval world in the mold of “Game of Thrones” where participants can live the lives of brave knights, lecherous kings, or privileged queens.

Perhaps, if the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, there can be a world where people either get to interact with the Avengers or even get to be the Avengers. As a comic fan, I would definitely pay for that experience. I would be shocked if Disney isn’t working on something like this now, as we speak.

It doesn’t even have to involve an elaborate fantasy world either. Perhaps there’s a world where participants can live the lives of rock stars in 70s and 80s, complete with cocaine, groupies, and massive concerts where they’re the stars.

In theory, there’s no limit to the kinds of worlds a company like Delos Inc. can create. The old wast in “Westworld” is just one of them. The key is making the world perfectly immersive, but still safe to the point where the costumers aren’t ever hurt and face no repercussions for what happens during the experience.

However, it’s in that key safeguard in which the implications of “Westworld” get more distressing. It even plays out a few times in the show. In this immersive world of the old west, participants can carry out acts that would be wrong, immoral, or downright abhorrent in the real world.

The androids in “Westworld” may be more intelligent than the average exhibit at Disney World, but they’re still just robots playing a role. If a participant kills, rapes, or tortures one of them, there’s no repercussion. The android can just be cleaned up, fixed, and reloaded with a new program like it never happened.

It’s that kind of moral void, so to speak, that may make this brand of entertainment questionable. Say there’s someone willing to pay a lot of money to a company like Delos Inc. to create a world where they could go on a killing spree, murdering and raping as much as they want. This person is a law-biding citizen who has never acted on any violent impulses. Would the company be unethical in accommodating that fantasy?

There may be plenty of other distressing requests. Maybe someone wants a world where they can live the life of an 19th century slave-owner because they want to abuse slaves. Maybe someone wants a world where they’re the Nazis and they get to commit any number of unspeakable atrocities.

Remember, what they do in this world isn’t done to real people. They’re just paying for an experience. It’s not like the kind they would get in “Total Recall” where they only get memories of an experience. In a world like that of “Westworld,” they actually interact with that world. They make choices and do things, but no matter what they do, there’s no consequence or repercussion.

It raises many disturbing questions that are impossible to answer now. “Westworld” attempts to answer some of them, but there are plenty more that are simply beyond the scope of the show. It may do a commendable job focusing on what happens when intelligent robots start to get a will of their own, but it doesn’t do much to explore the implications that this form of entertainment inspires.

It’s going to be quite a while before we have the technology that we see in “Westworld,” but even if the human race progresses to a point where people and society are free from most conflict, there will be a need for entertainment. The form that entertainment takes may just reveal more about us than we care to know.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, human nature, sex in society, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment, War on Boredom

The Rise Of Augmented Reality (And How It Will Spice Up Our Sex Lives)

I’m sure Apple fans are still basking of the afterglow from the techno-orgasm they experienced at the big September 12th announcement about the future of Apple gadgets. I can’t sway I blame them, either.

Apple events have a storied history of capturing imaginations, loosening wallets, and soaking panties. Love them or hate them, Apple is the 800-pound, half-trillion dollar gorilla in the room. What they do shakes things up. They did it with the music industry. They did it with the smartphone industry. They’re actively trying to do it with the TV industry.

Whatever Apple does, it tends to disrupt established industries, even destroying some. Just ask the makers of Blackberry and Tower Records. It does this while making a boatload of money in the process. Even those who despise Apple have to admit they know how to line their pockets with obscene amounts of cash.

Well, much like irresponsible celebrities that can’t resist spending obscene money on cars they never drive, Apple is never satisfied. It has to keep creating new torrents of cash and with the new iPhone X and iPhone 8, Apple is poised to tap another emerging market that’s ripe for expansion.

It’s part of Apple’s nature. It didn’t invent the mouse, the personal computer, the music player, or the smartphone. It just took those products, innovated like hell, and repackaged them in a way that blew out the competition and spit on their charred remains. Again, ask the spit-stained corpses of Blackberry and Tower Records.

In this case, the product is called Augmented Reality. Like music players and smartphones, it has been around for a while. Last year, it became a pretty big deal with the success of Pokémon Go. Now, Apple is ready to turn peoples’ collective awe at seeing a digital Pikachu on their lawn into the kind of feature that will blow the minds of users, as well as the money out of their wallets.

As part of the latest announcement, Apple has made clear that they’re going long and hard on AR with their new breed of iPhones. Yes, I know that sounds way raunchier than it should. Then again, this is a blog that talks about sexy novels and pro-nudity superheroes so that should surprise no one.

I chose those terms for a reason too because whenever Apple gets involved in an industry, that industry tends to go through rapid expansion. Along the way, that expansion will affect our sex lives and our love lives. If you don’t believe that, then you’re grossly underestimating how many people use Tinder or how many people watch porn on their phones.

The precedent is already there. Back in 2013, Google tried to give AR a boost with their goofy-looking Google Glass. Naturally, the first instinct for some users was to make porn with it. One major porn studio went so far as to cast real porn stars for a true, AR porn experience. It wasn’t quite as sexy as it sounds, but it got the ball rolling.

While Google Glass failed, Apple will likely succeed. Four years of refinement, coupled with the success of Pokemon Go, means AR will find all sorts of new uses and some of those uses will be pornographic. Even tough Apple has a long-standing policy against porn, that has not and will not stop people from using its products to make sexy content.

It’s hard to say what form that content will make, but with VR porn already a thing, it’s going to find some way to enter the market. AR is special in that it blurs the line between the real world and the digital world without having to wear those goofy-looking Google Glasses. Porn, being a fantasy, thrives on blurring those lines.

Think of your favorite porn star and celebrity. Don’t deny it. You probably have one. You’ve probably even watch ed them do all sorts of sexy stuff on your computer screen. That sexy stuff has probably gotten you horny and given you an orgasm. Now, imagine that sexy stuff taking place on more than just a computer screen.

With AR, you’ll be able to create the kinds of experiences that make it seem as though your favorite porn star or celebrity is right in your bedroom, office, or car, if you’re feeling kinky. Just hold your phone up and suddenly, they’re there, wearing the sexiest underwear you’ve ever seen and saying the kind of dirty stuff that would get them fined by the FCC.

That’s the potential AR can have. It can create more than just sexy imagery. It can make us feel like we’re part of the action. Suddenly, we’re not just peering through a digital window. We get to be part of the process. If you don’t think that appeals to some people, then you’re underestimating how kinky our minds can be.

Beyond the porn industry, and it’s sometimes hard to get beyond a multi-billion dollar industry, AR can do many other wonders for your sex life. To explain how, I’ll need to recount some of the more awkward moments from our collective sex lives. I apologize for this, but I’m afraid it’s necessary.

Think back to the first time you had sex. If that’s too hard or distressing, think back to the least satisfying sexual experience you’ve had. For some people, this will be painfully easy. What was it about your partner that made it so unsatisfying? What did you do that just didn’t seem to work? Did it feel like you and your lover’s body just weren’t on the same page or even the same zip code?

Well, AR could’ve prevented this because, like I said, AR blurs the line between the digital world and the real world. With AR, you don’t have to learn about the intricacies of the male or female body through a poorly-worded, poorly-drawn textbook that was given to you by a pastor, mullah, rabbi, or celibate monk. Even if you live in Texas, you have access to a more comprehensive understanding of the human body.

It even goes beyond knowing where a clitoris is. What if, before you got frisky with your lover, you could “practice” with a digital version? Say there’s an app that can take a picture of your lover, impose it over your phone like Pokemon Go, and let you get comfortable talking dirty to them. If you think that won’t have an impact on your sex life, then I think you’re underestimating the power of dirty talk.

AR basically gives people their own private domain, of sorts, to refine their intimate skills and their knowledge of human anatomy. That means those awkward moments you have when you and your lover first get naked are a lot less awkward. That means you have a bit more comfort and confidence when the time comes to get intimate. That’s as big a net positive as you’ll find for your sex life without bionic genitals.

Even if you already have a lover, AR means you’ll be able to do more than just send dirty texts and explicit nudes. Once AR becomes more refined, nudes just won’t cut it. You’d much rather have an image of your naked lover imposed in the chair right next to you. If nothing else, that’ll make meetings at the office less boring.

These are just some of the possibilities. There are likely many more that I haven’t even thought of, but others have contemplated. I like to think my experience writing erotica/romance novels has given me a pretty keen sense on these kinds of sexy issues. Unfortunately, there are limits to that insight.

Technology has always impacted our sex lives to some extent and will likely continue to do so for years to come. A technology like AR that is just starting to grow, thanks largely to Apple, means that change will come sooner rather than later. Yes, I know that’s another poor choice of words, but I challenge anyone to think of a more fitting vision for AR’s sexy future.

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