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5 Futuristic Technology predictions for Digital Marketing and eCommerce

I was fortunate to spend part of 2016 with Singularity University at NASA’s research centre in Silicon Valley. I was at the futuristic think tank along with 79 other technologists and entrepreneurs from across the globe on the global solutions program.

Whilst I was there immersing myself in cutting edge technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, digital biology and other technologies of tomorrow, I couldn’t but help but draw connections to the industries I know in digital marketing and ecommerce. I started to observe key trends on where I believe these sectors are heading and I recently had the privilege of keynoting these ideas at the UK marketing conference, Performance Marketing Insights.

So what does the accelerated impact of technology on society mean for the 5 years ahead in ecommerce and digital marketing? Further more, where are the opportunities and risk areas? Here are five predictions.

1. Mixed reality and Voice will be how we shop in the future

Mixed reality is defined as applying augmented reality (AR) to our physical world. With recent technology advances, it’s time is set for centre stage. Facebook announced the coming of Facebook glasses at their recent F8 Developer conference, we have the top secret MagicLeap and soon to be launched Microsoft Hololens.

Along side this, voice recognition in the home is not only going to be important, it’s going to be how you control your home in every way. Amazon Echo, Google Home and a few days ago, China’s version DingDong has just launched.

DingDong

Beijing DingDong, China’s Echo

So why is this important for ecommerce ? When I use Amazon Echo in my home, I’m just not comfortable with the concept of talking to it and buying products. I want to see products before I buy. Well imagine that you can use voice command to materialise 3-dimensional objects overlaid on the physical world around you. In your living room, you can magically materialise purchasable products right in front of your eyes.

In this home setting, I believe we will see mixed reality and voice go hand-in-hand. Literally, you’ll voice command to materialise a viewable purchasable product — pinch, expand, flip and then say ‘Buy’. This isn’t as futuristic as you may think. Microsoft Hololens have carried out tests of visualising the Volvo in 3d using their Hololens technology. Now image the car materialise in your drive way where it could live. You open it, view the engine, test different colours of exterior and interior, then, you say ‘Buy’. Not so many year’s ago, we marvelled at people buying beds on mobile phones. This too will be normal in the coming years.

Volvo & Hololens

Visualise your Volvo in 3d using Hololens

Online shopping will be reinvented and importantly specific eye wear wont be needed at all. We’ll be talking ‘interfaces’, not just ‘screens’. Plugging into ecosystems such as Echo’s will enable startups and brands alike to take advantage of this next wave.

2. Delegation of work to your mobile

We have super computer in our pockets and today we use them as simple tools. Tomorrow, we’ll use them as a partner to delegate work to.

This will be enabled by the dawn of personal assistants and all the big names have their hand in this world, Cortana from Microsoft, Assistant (formerly Now) from Google, Siri from Apple and M from Facebook. It’s also good to see smaller smart players such as Hound and Viv.

Viv

Viv has a bold vision, an open architecture and was just acquired by Samsung

Viv is a really interesting case. Their founders were the team who developed Siri and they have already sold the business to Samsung which will enable them mass distribution. Watching their demo this summer, I got a glimpse of how they are trying to play out their mission to radically simplify the world by providing an intelligent interface to everything. With an open architecture for third party products and services, you can say ‘Pay Steve £20’ and with one click to confirm, it’s done. So we can expect by 2017, the ability to undertake more complex shopping research such as ‘Find me 3 of the best water proof boots for under £75 and on offer’.

Why is this important for ecommerce? Well, crucially personal assistants will be used to save consumers time. If a computer is doing your product research for you, price and ratings will become even more important. After all, a computer doesn’t care about inspiration and experience. We will see a rise in traffic to marketplaces such as Google Shopping and Amazon. Plugging into open architecture, products such as Samsung’s Viv, will enable brands to connect with customers in ways unimagined today.

3. Super intelligence becomes a utility

Literally 4 years ago, Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability struggled with comprehending the difference between a cat and a dog on YouTube. Today, some of Google’s search rankings algorithms are updated by AI rather than by a smart human. Facebook, earlier this year, announced that their AI capability DeepFace is now better at facial recognition than human. This really is moving at an exponential pace.

Facial recognition

Instant facial recognition now better than a human

AI and it’s super intelligence is fast becoming a utility where soon we will be able to pay a small fee per use just as we would buy small blocks of cloud computing power cheaply on Amazon Web Services. It’s also becoming democratised. Google, Facebook and Amazon have launched open-source toolkits for their AI and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities. Companies such as Kaggle are enabling businesses to run competitions for data scientists to compete and solve challenges.

There is an opportunity for ecommerce players to use democratised AI and ML to utilise their data, learn more about what their customers want and generate increased revenue and loyalty. Companies such as Increasingly, which I cofounded, are leveraging this democratisation of AI. Our product is harnessing machine learning to grow average order value for ecommerce retailers.

4. Robots transform consumer shopping

Tomorrow, we are going to see robots prevalent in our factories, homes, schools, in old age homes and even in our stores.

Take Fellow Robot, a company I met on campus at NASA. They have a partnership with Lowes, the US hardware chain, where they are providing in-store robots. The robots greet you as you walk in, they guide you to what you are looking for and if unavailable help you order online then and there. This is really interesting technology to me because of the potential to have a truly data centric in-store experience that is connected to online. For example, you will be easily able to match the physical visitor to the online visitor and re-market to them.

Amazon Go was also launched as a concept this month. It entirely automates the in-store experience using sensors and machine learning.

Convenient user experience and efficiency gains are clearly positives to robotics and machine learning in our stores but there are also implications for retail workers. I researched the wider negative implications of what’s known as technological unemployment and its solutions here.

5. Driverless cars, free time and cheaper prices

Earlier this year, Uber announced that driverless taxis would cost one tenth of the cost of taxis with drivers. Cost reduction is also the vision for transportation of goods by Otto, a driverless truck company, that Uber just acquired.

Otto Budweiser

Otto self driving trucks testing with Budweiser

In a world of cheaper transportation of goods and local manufacturing using 3d printing, cost of goods sold is set to decrease for retailers. If this is passed on to consumers, we will see cheaper prices.

From a consumer perspective, cheaper goods and increased free time as we are chauffeured around in driverless cars means consumer buying patterns are set to change. For starters, the monday morning spike is conversions could move to sunday night as you’re driven home.

Technology is impacting society at an exponential rate and affecting countless industries. Without a doubt, ecommerce and digital marketing will change and fast. This presents huge opportunities to those who understand the future and time it right.

Share your comments and questions and be part of the future world discussion! If you’d like me to speak at your conference, please get in touch. Thanks! @srisharma

Robots, AI and the future of your job — inspired at Singularity University, NASA

My time at Singularity University on this Summer’s global solutions program has taught me many things but one thing is for sure, sci-fi and reality are getting closer faster than we think.

Take Matternet (a Singularity University company), who have just signed a commercial agreement with Mercedes to provide autonomous flying drones that will deliver parcels to your door from a delivery van near you.

  • Matternet and Mercedes drone enabled Vision Van

Take Otto, the driverless truck software company, who, within six months of launching have been acquired by Uber for $680 million dollars. They enable truckers to keep trucking even when the driver is resting in the back.

Otto self driving trucks

Otto’s self driving truck software acquired by Uber

Or recently launched, Amazon Echo, the voice activated home controller hoping to transform in-home automation. I recently bought one to test it out and whilst still glitchy, voice controlling my Spotify, Nest and 5 minute meditation sure is handy.

Amazon echo

Amazon Echo — their master plan for a connected home

To the technology fan and entrepreneur in me, these examples all highlight massive progress. Technology can solve real problems, provide value, better prices for consumers and without a doubt enables positive impact across the board in fields ranging from energy to food to health.

With all these gains there have to be some costs. One for sure is our jobs. Based on international statistics from the World Bank, 57% of jobs are at risk because of automation enabling technologies such as AI and Robotics. Also, the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report predicts 5 million jobs to be gone by 2020 based on surveying 65% of the world’s workforce. Unsurprisingly, the technology sector that creates these products only hires a small fraction. According to Comptia in the US, it’s 5.7% .

With this kind of change on the horizon, I found this topic so important and set about talking to experts and researching the field.

So what does the future look like for us humans and our place in the workforce? Here are three areas I think are particularly crucial and interesting.

Up-skilling becomes more important than ever

Building the Robotics and AI of the future will take time and clearly human involvement. That said, skills to be successful in the workplace and the jobs of the workplace are already changing fast.

According to the World Economic Forum’s top 10 skills at work at 2020, creativity is set to rise in importance as is emotional intelligence. Clearly job complexity is on the up.

WEF Top 10 skills

World Economic Forum Top 10 skills in the workforce

Also, the job families of administration and manufacturing are set for massive decline in the next 5 years. These are the same job families that Robots and AI are set to be deployed to first.

WEF jobs outlook

World Economic Forum employment outlook in major economies, job changes in thousands over 2015 to 2020

Could technology be utilised to help? We certainly hope so. That’s the goal of my classmates’ recent startup Udexter. They are launching an AI system that can help anyone re-skill and re-job.

Governmental policy changes

Speaking to two of the speakers at Singularity University, Vivek Wahdwa, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, and Dambisa Moyo, a leading global economist and author, both were adamant that the solution has to come from government policy. In my opinion, this makes real sense as I struggle to see a future with enough jobs for everyone.

So what’s being tested today at a policy level? The Netherlands and Finland have pilot projects to test universal basic income in the pipeline. Finland will test providing up to 10,000 people with an income of €500 to €700 per month which is below the average income of €2700 per month. Their experiment is set to measure if the ‘no strings attached’ income leads to greater employment given that unemployment is at a 15 year high. US isn’t ready for universal basic income testing but the technology startup incubator YCombinator has set about experimenting with basic income in their Californian neighbourhood to see what positive impact it makes.

Basic income debate

A giant poster in Geneva encouraging the universal basic income debate

Sweden has just moved to a 6 hr work day. Their research has shown that you can be as productive in 6 hours as in 8 hrs and it’s being implemented by different national employers. Working less hours can be part of the solution to technological unemployment where logically we just don’t need to work as much if automation is able to do it for us.

A time of greater creativity and entrepreneurship

This may be the utopian view but if people have enough money to meet their minimum needs or have greater free time, they can then choose to create a life they wish to lead. Some may choose to be with family or support their community. Others may choose the arts or creativity through the rising maker movement. The entrepreneurs will set-about looking to solving problems they see in the world. To me this would be a fantastic outcome – imagine millions more people from different backgrounds and experiences working together to solve problems that matter to them.

The futurist Glen Hiemstra, predicts that in 2050, we will let machines be smart for us while we will focus our energy on being creative and using our empathetic skills to help others. He suggests that we will see a rise in artists, entertainers and teachers.

With a four times increase in freelancing predicted by 2020 in the US, work as we know it is already changing. Whatever people choose to do, if it leads to a greater sense of personal purpose, it no doubt leads to greater happiness. This has to be good for society at large and likely reduce demands on national health and social services.

What technology can do for us is amazing. However, every gain has a cost. In this case, it’s our jobs. No doubt a complex issue, but one for which we need solutions …for everyone’s sake.

Get involved. What are your thoughts, questions or comments. Get in touch below or at @srisharma !

Notes from Nasa — my time at Singularity University

For the last three weeks, I have been at Singularity University at Nasa Research Centre, Silicon Valley. I was so honoured to be selected to this 10 week innovation program on a scholarship along with 79 other entrepreneurs, innovators and change makers from across the globe.

First off about the program. We are all on here on the Global Solutions Program at Singularity University where our job is to deep dive into exponential technologies such as Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Biology, Digital Fabrication and Nanotechnology. With this knowledge we are tasked with conceptualising products that can solve the grand challenges of the world and impact a billion lives in 10 years.

So what’s it like here on Nasa’s campus?

It’s frankly amazing. The class is filled with incredibly talents folk from 40 countries across the globe — future astronauts, social entrepreneurs who have influenced governments, civil journalists and driven entrepreneurs. The venue is on Nasa federal land with giant hangars that had spacecrafts built in them. Obama landed on the airstrip behind us a couple of weeks ago. Crazy.

The university was founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweill. Peter is a serial entrepreneur in the space sector. He is also author of best selling books Bold and Abundance. Ray is a futurist and inventor, director of artificial intelligence at Google and called the rightful heir to Thomas Edison by Inc magazine. The university inception was inspired by Ray’s book, The Singularity is Near where he explores the exponential rate of technology ingenuity and the profound impact on society.

I have had lots of lectures over the last 3 weeks. It’s been pretty much 5 TED level speaker and workshop sessions a day across exponential technologies and importantly exposure across the grand challenges of the world — disaster resilience, food, energy, environment, health, prosperity, governance, learning, security, shelter, water and space.

Today I have been particularly captivated by robotics following some very cool presentations from innovators including Rob Nail and Neil Jacobstein along with building robots myself. Here are 3 areas I find fascinating:

Robots in our homes and in stores

Given that I have a close background in retail and online, I found this area really interesting. Lowe’s and robot startup, Fellow Robot have been recently testing customer service robots. Imagine going into a DIY store and being met by a friendly robot that facially recognises and greets you by name. You ask to find ‘hammers’ and you are taken to the ‘hammer’ aisle. It understand your buying behaviour and recommends other suitable products. Also if the product isn’t in stock it can order it for you immediately and arrange home delivery. Lots of interesting data to leverage plus a connector to online for remarketing offline to online.

Lowes oshbot

In our homes we will not only see companion robots as seen in films like Robot & Frank but we will see robots exhibit the power of empathy . This taps into the field of computing called Affective Computing. Companies such BeyondVerbal are actively exploring this robotic space. For example, think of coming home after a stressful day and leaning on your robot companion for emotional support and guidance. This level of awareness is predicted in the years to come.

Will Robots replace humans in the work force?

Well this is happening already. Chinese company Foxconn recently replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. Tesla have doubled the number of robots they use in the last 3 years.

This trend is set to increase. 47% of jobs at risk of shifting to automated solutions in the US. This figure is set to become an astonishing 77% in places like China. It’s 35% in the UK (but who knows given Brexit …let’s not go there).

Risk of jobs being replaced by automation

So what does that mean? Well, this morning we had a debate around how this will affect society. Should we introduce universal basic income as was debated in Switzerland’s government in June this year? The proposal was declined, by the way, but the debate is healthy. The optimist says the worst was feared in previous technological cycles, such as when computers entered the office. People will simply retool and new jobs we just can’t image yet will emerge. In addition, we will as a society move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because of greater societal abundance. The pessimist says that automation will lead to a mass unemployment and possibly revolt if not addressed carefully. Which ever is true, the reality is that commercial organisations will seek to do what is profitable. Solutions will need to be explored that work for society. I for one want to be part of this debate.

A new chapter, Roboethics

Remember the character, Data, from Star Trek? Human on the outside but robot inside. Its predicted that in not so many years, we will see a world of super intelligent robots working with and serving humans. When we do, we will have to face fascinating ethical questions such as — are robots sentient beings? Do we have the right to wipe clean robot’s memories when we upgrade? Not such straight forward questions when robots start developing feelings and memories (just as we do) and we create emotional attachment to our new companions.

According to a recent report in The Washington Post, this robot tried to escape from a Russian lab twice. It’s highly unlikely that it ‘feels’ sad and is running way but maybe one day:

Lab robot escapes twice

Another interesting ethical question comes up regarding sex with robots. Unsurprisingly, campaigns are growing opposing this such as The Campaign Against Sex Robots.

It’s a busy schedule here and more to come. I hope this is interesting food for thought. Any feedback, thoughts or questions get in touch!