The technologies that will reshape customer experiences in the next decade
In Professor Steven Van Belleghem's latest book - Customers The Day After Tomorrow - he explores how the consumer world will change in the coming years. Here, he highlights the technologies that will be most influential.
In the next decade, there is a big chance that we’ll move from the somewhat artificial and highly orchestrated current commercial market into a situation where there will be very little ‘buying’ left. Our needs will be automatically met in the form of ‘outcomes’ rather than products and services, and if we do not watch out, this could turn very dark.
Luckily we are seeing signs of companies that are integrating ethics into their culture and processes. But if we do it right, the possibilities for humans to focus on their hopes and dreams, and the future of the planet will be endless, as they will be freed of the burden of having to manage their basic needs.
The internet all around us: The rise of the Spatial Web
In the coming years, the most impactful and paradigm shifting technological invention of the last 30 years - the internet - will disappear. It will be everywhere, of course, but it will also be mostly invisible. We’ve seen signs of this, for instance, in shops like Amazon Go where tech is everywhere and yet at the same time (almost) nowhere to be seen. Screens will become scarce and what follows from this ubiquitous “primordial soup” (as my friend Mickey McManus from Autodesk calls it) of technologies – camera’s, sensors and AI - will completely change how we behave, and how we buy.
This Internet of Everywhere - or the Spatial Web as some like to call it - will grow into something that is very close to natural, something almost organic. It will be about a convergence of technologies, surfing on the waves of high-bandwidth 5G connectivity: the hardware of the trillions of sensors and camera’s that will feel end see us, the software of artificial intelligence that will make sense of what the former measure and interfaces like voice and augmented reality. Everything around us will become, receive and give information.
The Internet in us: The rise of Brain Computer Interfaces
Developing simultaneously with the spatial web (though for the moment not as advanced) is an evolution that may be even more exciting: that of the BCIs or Brain Computer Interfaces, systems that connect the human brain to external technology. If the trend above was about the ‘Internet all around is’, this one is about information and the ‘Internet in us’.
You only have to know the names of some of the companies dabbling in this area - both the invasive (inside the brain) and the non-invasive (as wearables) version - to realize how big this will become. Facebook has been working on its own brain-computer interface for a number of years now. Their non-invasive wearable device is meant to one day allow users to type by simply imagining themselves talking. And let’s not forget Elon Musk’s company Neuralink which is developing a chip connected to wires which fan out into the human brain, capable of both recording brain activity and stimulating it.
In a first phase, it will be used for people with neural conditions and disorders, but it could enable human "symbiosis with artificial intelligence." Even DARPA has been funding programs that leverage machine learning and other AI technologies to adapt BCI tech for future military purposes for two decades. And there’s this whole world of fast growing startups too, like Emotiv, Kernel, MindMaze, Neurable and many, many more. The race for the control over our brain is on. And should this turn out to be a category king type of end game, you’ll understand why they are fighting so hard.
No more trade-off between convenience & privacy
Of course, if we want to avoid all of the above taking a really dark turn, the algorithms ruling our lives will also have to become open and transparent about how our data is used and stored. If misuse of data is already a problem now - Cambridge Analytica anyone? - just think of what it could mean when every last one of our moves and thoughts is monitored and mined.
We really need a solid system to keep this connected system from falling apart, one where the entire chain is involved: from companies to governments to the consumer. It would be grossly unfair if everything is open and transparent from the consumer side, but closed from the brand and company side. It’s an understatement to say that we are not ready for a world in which BCIs are a reality. Privacy-wise, I mean.
Luckily, we are seeing movement in this area. The consumer is tired of having to make a trade-off between convenience and privacy and many companies are undertaking steps in their direction. The Google Home Assistant, for instance, now allows consumers (ironically) to delete data with a simple voice command.
Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs, which is, for instance, developing this huge smart city project in Toronto, will help establish a government-sanctioned data trust, governed by transparent data-use guidelines. And it will create new methods of protecting data collected in public areas, where residents and visitors aren’t actively consenting to its collection. Apple, too, is continuously fighting to make privacy part of its brand. And at Facebook’s annual developer conference beginning of this year, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg primarily focused on the company’s shift to privacy. We’re certainly not there yet, but it’s good to see the efforts of companies in that direction.
Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He’s is an award-winning author, and his book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is out now. Follow him on Twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at www.youtube.com/stevenvanbelleghem or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com.