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A rather futuristic breakfast

Our latest thought leadership breakfast fell on a cold and dark January morning. However the early start was quickly more than made up for as we were privy to the incredible intellectual agility of our speaker, Tom Standage, Digital Editor of The Economist.

Joined by an audience of retail leaders, we tucked into our breakfast as Tom filled us in on what to expect for the disruptive technology trends of the future.

“The future’s already here it’s just not evenly distributed”

Tom began his talk with the idea that it’s possible to glimpse the future in the present. Quoting the futurist Paul Saffo’s theory that “it takes 20 years to become an overnight success”, Tom suggested that ideas that we currently regard as a bit mad may pan out very differently than we suspect, meaning that it’s very hard to predict the extent of a new technology’s disruption. With that in mind here are Tom’s 5 futuristic trends that might have more of an impact than we think:

1.  Driverless cars  - This is a technology that’s going to become commonplace much more rapidly than people think, and is a great example of something very quickly going from sci-fi to doable. For example in 2005’s DARPA Challenge to build a driverless car all but 1 of 23 vehicles finished the course, showing just how advanced this technology’s become.

What’s going to happen?

  • When cars are driving themselves you won’t need to own them anymore – at the moment it doesn’t make much sense that down many a London street you can find rows of expensive bits of metal that aren’t used very much
  • When considering driverless cars not only does the design of the car change, so does the way we sell and insure cars
  • Town planning will also be effected –  for example in some American cities almost a third of the space is made up of parking spaces which will no longer be needed
  • Upcoming generations won’t need to go through the costly ordeal of taking their driving test!

Perhaps in 2025 we’ll think that it’s mad to own cars and even more mad that we once let people do such a dangerous thing as drive their own cars!

2. 3D printing - There’s been a buzz around 3D printing for a while now – but the scope of what can be produced is massively increasing. For example, Airbus has found that innovative 3D-printing technology can help produce parts that are 30-55% lighter and stronger than traditional methods, which dramatically reduces manufacturing and energy costs. The world’s largest 3D printer belongs to the Chinese, and they have even created 3d printed seats for astronauts so that they perfectly fit their derriere! Large amounts of dental braces are also being produced each year buy 3D printers.

What’s going to happen?

There’s been scepticism that 3D printing will move manufacturing back to the developed world – but Tom suggests that although it will bring some manufacturers closer to where things will be sold, there'll actually be a hybridisation on what to mass produce and what to 3D print. The real shift will be a premium on design skills.

3. Augmented reality - As computers get smaller and closer to our bodies it’s clear that wearable technology is here to stay but the introduction of augmented reality technologies goes far beyond that. In fact, Microsoft’s recent launch of HoloLens is an indication of what’s to come.  This new technology will be able to project a whole image as an overlay on the world as you see it, for example imagine requesting directions and your route lighting up as if it’s painted on! Google glass will soon be to augmented reality what huge mobile phones of the 90s are to today’s smart phones.

What’s going to happen?

It’s hard to imagine what this technology will do to lots of industries as it will basically allow them to sell overlays onto the world.

4. Mapping the human genome and medical data  - Technology will also be very disruptive in the medical world. In our increasingly data driven society we’ll have the data to crunch to figure out causes of health problems and how to prevent them. This will be particularly prevalent in genome sequencing, and the exploration of medical histories to look for genetic patterns.

What’s going to happen?

At the moment we expect all drugs to work for all people (although this is by no means true) however advancements in technology will mean that you will be able to review if a specific drug will work for you. This will be particularly disruptive in America, or according to Tom “political kryptonite”, as you would only pay for drugs that you specifically know will work for you. This also means that that people who know that they won’t have medical problems will stop buying insurance.

5. Payments and ways of using devices to manage or give away your information - Apple Pay has managed to reduce payments to the smallest number of interactions, and although some retailers have responded by introducing their own systems, adding the need to register online renders them far less attractive.

Tom compared Apple Pay to Doctor Who’s psychic paper – or for those non-Whovians among us, paper that shows different things to different people. This is essentially what Apple plans to lets you do, as you can biometrically insure that it’s you making the payment and just release the information that you want to the retailer. This is as much as about identity and control of information than payment.

What’s going to happen?

At the moment people aren’t worried about breaches of information but it’s likely that they will become so in the future. A huge selling point is that Apple keeps information private, as opposed to other well known companies who gather as much information as possible and sell this on to advertisers.

Tom’s presentation was followed a lively Q&A session, and he parted on the message that the ways that people think they’re going to effect the world probably aren’t the ways they’ll change the world. The implications are in fact more subtle as there’s a much wider possibility space around these emerging technologies  - so keep your eyes and mind open for these 5!

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We run our thought leadership breakfasts throughout the year, so if you're a leader of a Retail or Technology firm and would like to come along to our next breakfast please register your interest here.