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Editor's Note: Could ABBA Change The World?

By Vicky Janowski, posted Sep 27, 2021
Vicky Janowski
Over coffee one morning, my husband and I talked about ABBA and whether the Swedish pop group might be the next big digital disruptor.
 
“Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia” – that ABBA.
 
The hit-generating supergroup formed in 1972 hasn’t released new music in 40 years. But in conjunction with its upcoming album in November, ABBA’s been working on a live show that makes the holograms we’ve seen in sci-fi movies look like kid scribble.
 
Working with George Lucas’ special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic (yes, ILM for short), the band members spent weeks filming their songs and movements in front of 160 cameras to create something ILM Creative Director Ben Morris describes in a video about the project as “digital characters.”
 
It involved filming the band now, whose members are all in their 70s, but recreating them in their younger, 1979 versions.
 
“We are creating them as digital characters that we will then be using performance capture techniques to animate them and perform them and make them look perfectly real,” Morris explains.
 
So, if you go to see the show – in an ABBA arena they’re building in London to hold the light and technology, by the way – you’re seeing digital versions of real people “on stage,” not quite avatars, not quite holograms. Something else.
 
“… light and audio and this environment is going to be a unique space to be in, which is neither digital nor physical,” said producer Svana Gisla.
 
Wrap your head around that. Does your brain hurt yet?
 
The ABBA leap got my husband and I on the what-if rabbit hole.
 
What if one day this meant the kids could talk to a digital version of grandma in a room in your house instead of a boring video call or pedantic hologram projection, seeing her expressions in real time?
 
What if Zoom meetings (think they’ll still be around by then?) could bring everyone’s digital forms together? Would it help get over the collaboration hump with online meetings? We both agreed this would only work if you had the option to change your digital version’s outfits so not everyone’s digital selves show up in workleisure.
 
What if you made your digital version look different than you really do? What if someone used your likeness without your permission? And other ethical questions that come up anytime new ways to share information arise.
 
What if? That’s the question that drives tech advances, innovation, entrepreneurship and even small-business creation. Someone asks, “What if?” and the gates open. Sometimes it makes it into the world, and sometimes ideas fall by the wayside (sometimes for good reason).
 
We ask, “What if?” a lot at the Business Journal. The magazine you’re holding in your hands right now is the result of one of those. I won’t throw anyone under the bus by sharing the ones that haven’t seen the light of day yet.
 
And as you flip through this issue’s pages, consider the “What if?” at the origin of many of these stories: What if we could better leverage the region’s coastal activities? What if we build more industrial buildings, will they come (yes, that’s a popular misquote of the line)? What if we turn to hemp to create businesses and jobs?
 
So take a cue from ABBA, ask the next, “What if?” and remember, “The winner takes it all.”
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