The rise of personal reality – Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Wired – Nottingham Digital Summit

Posted on 03/07/2019 by Team Hallam

The first talk on the Albert Hall stage at the Nottingham Digital Summit was Oliver Franklin-Wallis of Wired, who spoke about the rise of personal reality, and how to cut through the fake news.

“The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed” – William Gibson.

Pokemon Go was an early example of personal reality – it combined real life with digital, and brought people together – everyone from children to pensioners were playing it.

Another example is Nura headphones. Everyone hears things slightly differently, and Nura pairs with an iPhone app so that you hear your own personalised listening.

This is none of aural augmented reality. Another example of this is Google Buds – essentially, someone can speak to you in French, and through Google Translate, you’ll hear it in English.

Similarly, Hear One in-ear buds uses augmented reality. If you’re in a bar and want to talk to someone, they filter out the background noise for you.

Everything we consume is different – one person’s Netflix is different to everyone else’s, due to the algorithm that recommends the programmes we should watch. We never listen to the same music, and even online ads are different, because they’re personalised.

Everyone’s perception of the world is unique.

We don’t live in the same world anymore

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram algorithms control what you see. You are profiled and put in a specific bubble, so that businesses can pay to advertise to your specific demographics.

This results in a huge lack of transparency, because as an individual, you have no influence on the company or the algorithms. You probably never even realised how much your life is shaped by this, until you think about it.

This can be hacked, twisted and exploited.


Amazon's fake review


If something on Amazon has 20,000 fake reviews in broken English, the chances are someone in China has been paid to write these. Amazon, IMDB, TripAdvisor and other major companies all suffer from this. Reality is being exploited, and you don’t even realise it.

If we live in a personalised reality, what is the impact on society?

Algorithms and economics reward exploitation. When systems don’t have a five star review, they tend to run on shares and likes.

Trump and Brexit are both great examples of this.

Humans pick emotion over reason

“Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust” – ‘The spread of true and false news online’, Science, March 2018

We love true stories, but we’re much more likely to share stories that evoke emotions – and we’re probably likely to share them before we’ve even read them.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom… false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots are more likely to spread it.” – ‘The spread of true and false news online’, Science, March 2018

The blame shouldn’t be solely be placed on robots. Interestingly, women over 40 are more likely to share stories (including fake news) online – perhaps because they believe that all news they read is true?

Deep fakes refer to videos where people can use an algorithm to map one person’s face onto another person’s body. The result? A deep fake in the form of Mark Zuckerberg, announcing “we’re increasing transparency on ads to protect elections”. Interestingly, Facebook has a policy where they don’t remove deep fakes.

How do we break through?

As a storyteller or producer of content, you can still create breakthrough moments in an age of personal reality. One example is Fortnite – an online game. Hundreds of millions play it, making it one of the biggest games on the planet.

It’s fascinating because it’s an engineered blockbuster – it wasn’t created by accident. When it first came out, it looked nothing like it does today. Another game came out around the same time, and the developer at Fortnite saw how good the other game was, so essentially “stole” to include it in their game. They then did the same with Minecraft.

However, there are ways you can break through this, and give your customers what they want:

  • Listen to what people want: Listen to your customers, see what’s happing in the market.
  • Engage in an ongoing story: Fortnite constantly releases new stories, whenever they see the number of users plateau. TV shows do this too.
  • Help people express themselves: One of the huge successes of Fortnite is the ability to customise your characters, and all the different dances you can do. TikTok, Snapchat – they all let users express themselves.
  • Iterate constantly: The 2016 Trump campaign put out an algorithm for ads on Facebook. Through A/B testing, they used 15.4million variants to see which ads made people angry, engaged etc.
  • Make it accessible to everyone: Fortnite was one of the first ever games that was cross platform – Nintendo, PlayStation etc – literally no one had ever done that before.

Final thoughts about the future

  • Not every technology is going to change the world: Virtual reality is a great example of this. A few years ago, everyone thought it was going to take off… but in 2019, it’s not as popular as people assumed.
  • Companies are going to die: Many companies aren’t ready for the new technology that comes along. Ideas are important. If you’re making decisions about where to invest your money, tell your stories, think about the platforms and specific companies.
  • Beware the gatekeepers: The world is moderated by a small number of companies that don’t have our interests at the top of their mind. They’re not evil companies, but the algorithms and economics take priority, and they influence or lives.
  • Technology is political.
  • Think about who we’re leaving behind.

The rise of personal reality - Oliver Franklin-Wells - Nottingham Digital Summit

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The rise of personal reality – Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Wired – Nottingham Digital Summit

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