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The 6th Screen – the future of advertising IS your head


I vividly remember a Wired Magazine article in 2002. It sparked a million thoughts in my mind and still does to this day. It was about a guy called Jens who suffered two freak accidents and lost the sight in both eyes. In steps medical pioneer William Dobelle with a crazy idea; to drill a hole into Jen’s skull, plug some wires directly into his optical cortex, hook it up to a camera and give him back his sight. Simple. The process itself involved stimulating the visual cortex with electricity so Jens would perceive small points of light in various locations around his ‘vision’. With enough prodding, Dobelle mapped enough points to reliably recreate a crude dot matrix display… directly in Jen’s brain. He added a funky pair of glasses with a video camera in the lens and Jens was set. Ok, so the results were crude, but Jens recognised objects, navigated rooms by himself, drove a car and generally blew my mind.

Roll forward 10 years to today. Visual implants are still experimental but much more refined. In the not too distant future, I can see teenagers begging for the latest iEye. A 50x zoom, Facebook compliant, night vision, colour-changing, augmented data eyes to replace their useless, old, 1x zoom, organic ones. A right of passage like getting your ears pieced maybe.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many a glazed-eyed dinner party guest has had to endure my vision of the future manifesto about the body being the true battle ground for the media revolution. “YOU are the 6th screen!” would be my final battle cry before my wife pats me on the shoulder and whispers “clear the plates dear…”

The ‘screens’ concept has been around for a while. First came the cinema screen. Then the TV. Then the PC. The 4th official screen is the mobile or PDA. Some stretch it a little to include advertising displays as the 5th screen. So let’s be a little bold and officially add ‘you’ as the 6th screen.

There is amazing research out there to make it all happen today. When you think of what media consumption is… you see, you hear, you think, you have emotions, you may even smell. Here’s the news, scientists have already replicated, synthesised or implanted all of them. We know about sight implants already. There are smell implants in trials this year. Hearing implants have been around a while. Look up “Reconstruction from brain activity” on YouTube and you’ll see that your thoughts, even your dreams, can now be recorded like a home movie. Reading words from your mind is positively old skool now. And finally, what about emotions? Yep, we can make those too. Using electrodes implanted under the scalp, scientists can regulate depression and by extension, create happiness.

This clearly had profound implications for society in general but let’s be practical for a moment. I work in the entertainment industry. The future ‘me’ probably does too. So what will the future hold? Here are some starters for ten…

Firstly, forget devices and screens. No need for them. Want to watch a movie? It will be recreated directly onto your visual cortex, with perfect ‘in-head’ sound of course. Depending on which ‘experience’ you bought, it may even come with an emotion track too, giving you goose bumps and making you cry at will.

Can’t afford the latest eye and hearing implants? No worries. The Spotify ad-funded model comes to the rescue. Simply sign up to get the Spotify branded implants for free. In return, you agree to give up your vision for 20 seconds every 5 minutes for the sponsor’s messages.

Walk into a room and your augmented vision would identify friends, LinkedIn connections or groups of like-minded people. In fact, you can decide what they look like as your eyes will real-time substitute everyone’s faces if you want to. Look up “Arturo Castro” on Vimeo if you want to see this in action.

YouTube will have its sister site, DreamTube (don’t even bother, the URL has gone already) where the weird stuff of dreams and nightmares is posted for everyone to see. Just imagine if you had a way of searching other people’s dreams for reference of you. I’d pay for that. There’s your financial model right there.

Those ‘anti-mind-reading’ foil caps that alien abduction types insist on wearing may well be the only way to stop that bloke behind you in the ATM line from stealing your PIN number as you ‘say it aloud’ in your head. Of course, we won’t have PIN numbers, but you get the point.

Alas, like our dinner parties, I sense a gentle tap on the shoulder and my wife whispering, “clear the plates dear…” My final words of wisdom? Buy foil.

You can also find this article on iMedia Connection.

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