Floris van Eck is CEO of Imaging Mind, an agency that is “dedicated to uncovering the future of imaging and how it manifests itself in technology and society”. On November 28th they are organizing the Photo Hack Day in Berlin, a 24-hour coding marathon where developers, designers and visual artists prototype new photo applications. We asked Floris about his work, disruptive qualities of visual culture and what technologies will dominate over the next few years.
Floris, can you tell me a little bit about you and your career?
I studied International Business & Management. Graduated when I was 21 years old, immediately started working, which I regret a little bit in retrospect. Spent 5+ years in corporate sales. Extremely challenging but also extremely valuable in terms of learning and direct feedback loops. I have always been more focused on the future, so after a few years in sales [I] actively solicited innovation jobs. [For] the past few years I worked as a business developer at a regional incubator. Imaging Mind is a spin-off of sorts and it combines my 3 passions: the visual, adventure and the future.
On the homepage of your agency you talk about the disruptive capabilities of visual culture and technology. What do you mean by that? How can visual culture be disruptive?
At Imaging Mind, we zoom in on the intersection of culture and technology. Our core belief is that technology and culture directly influence and shape each other, but you never know which one is leading. It’s like a passionate dance. That’s why I often tell people that I work as an anthropologist. Understanding human behavior is crucial to predict the future and assess the value of technological advances.
From a technological perspective, an exponential technology like Virtual Reality will have a massive impact on society. It will disrupt education, healthcare, entertainment, sports, travel and basically every other industry in this world. Maybe not in the next 3 years, but definitely in the next 10. Every business should start experimenting with that technology today and prepare for a different world where people go on virtual holidays, or doctors from India treat patients in Germany in a virtual space through imaging technology and robotics.
Visual Culture can be equally disruptive. Human brains have a bias toward visual content. We process visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Visual Culture (e.g. photos, billboards, architecture) will influence how we see ourselves, what we buy and who we identify with. If our exposure to visuals increases (and it does), how will that change, or even disrupt humans? A good example is the current refugee crisis in Europe: the picture of the drowned boy on the beach completely shifted the public opinion in Europe.
New technologies and applications such as EyeEm, Pinterest or Snapchat are more and more visual. How have they changed the way people communicate and interact with each other? Also, what effect does this have on the way we perceive the world around us?
No doubt about it.
Visuals are the true universal language of the world. And the internet made this even more obvious. Emoji’s, animated gifs, photos and videos allow people from all over the world to communicate with each other. I believe that visual technologies are a transformative power that can bring the world closer together. You can experience any place in the world at any given time through imagery on EyeEm, YouTube or Google Street view. Or even in real-time. Periscope allows us to experience the world through the eyes of another person on the other side of the planet – all in real-time. The downside is that through the same technology, we also become more aware of the cultural differences. People in the middle-east have different habits and cultural norms than most Western countries and being confronted with that is not always pleasant or desirable. But ultimately, I believe the positive outweighs the negative and over time this insight will result in understanding and compassion.
Are new, visual technologies also changing our work life? If so, in what way?
What we are witnessing is the emergence of visual intelligence. New apps like Xpenditure or Xpensify allow us to snap pictures of receipts which are then processed by machine algorithms and automatically filed as expenses. This saves a huge amount of time which was normally wasted on manually processing. New visual communication technologies like virtual reality (avatars with life-like animation and facial mapping), combined with real-time voice translation and advances in robotics (autonomous cameras that follow us around) will kill most business travel in the next decade. Also, tons of information can be derived from networked (security) cameras e.g. how many people are in my shop, what are the traffic bottlenecks in a city. Satellite imaging is also very disruptive, e.g. real-time monitoring of crops in the field or deforestation in the amazon rainforest. No expensive field trips necessary. Skybox Imaging (acquired by Google) and Milestone Video (acquired by Canon) are two examples of solution providers in the visual intelligence space. And this is only the beginning… imaging will transform the world.
What technologies do you think are going to dominate over the next few years. What languages should developers be learning and why?
My money would be on exponential technologies – and especially when more than one come together in new products. I expect a lot from virtual reality (telepresence, visual time travel, immersive storytelling), machine vision (visual search, automated curation, augmented reality) and artificial intelligence or AI (virtual assistants, self driving cars) and robotics (self driving cars, drones, industrial robots). Two other technologies that I expect to completely reshape our world are solar energy and biotech (e.g. nanobots).
I think the most important thing is that you know how to code, even when you are not a programmer. Languages related to machine learning and vision are going to be in demand. More on the edge, programming the human body (biohacking) is an interesting new area. Bill Gates has stated that he would be studying that if he were a young ambitious student today.
The 4th Photo Hack Day is coming up. What is still going on in that area? How much innovation can still be expected in photography?
If you ask me, never before in history has photography been this exciting. If you look back at the history of the medium, it transitioned from analog (still alive today!) to digital via social and connected to where we are today: the era of intelligent imaging. More and more, the focus is on the underlying metadata encapsulated within the image. Entirely new experiences can be generated around that data. What is also interesting is that cameras are becoming more intelligent (e.g. HDR, augmented reality) giving us an augmented view of the world. The other interesting development is that cameras are getting smaller and are morphing into all kinds of new form factors (e.g. GoPro, Drones, stick it on the wall cameras, camera lenses). As you can see, the camera is shifting from a single-purpose device to an embedded feature on other devices. Soon, every object in the world will be able to see.
What are you personally expecting from Photo Hack Day?
I learned not to expect anything since every time I have some expectation of what people will create I am always proven wrong. Participants’ hacks always exceed my wildest expectations of what I think can be done in 24-hours. This is what I love about hackathons – time pressure and constraints really do wonders for human creativity!
Photo credits: Floris van Eck, Imaging Mind, Photo Hack Day