“There are many possible futures ahead of us. The road we’ll end up taking is still ours to choose.” With these two sentences, Jonathan (JC) Oliver, global creative officer of Unlockd and speaker at this year’s BrainScape, set the tone for PHD’s annual thought-leadership conference in Dubai. While we may be facing a period of unprecedented disruption, there is enough clarity about what is ahead of us to anticipate accurately and plan effectively.

Attended by some 300 marketing professionals, the eighth edition of PHD’s annual event explored the theme of ‘Merge: The closing gap between technology and us’, inspired by the global network’s latest publication. As well as Oliver, Elda Choucair, CEO of PHD MENA, Dave Coplin, founder of The Envisioners, and Dr. Noah Raford, Chief Operating Officer of the Dubai Future Foundation, championed collaboration rather than conflict in their talks. They shared a common view that this technological boom is not to be feared but embraced.

They painted a picture of greater collaboration through the growing reliance on technology, between man and machine, of course, but also between departments in companies and between the public and private sectors. Dave Coplin spoke about how we must ‘imbue’ the right transformational culture in each company, giving rise to ‘intelligent organisms’ rather than organizations. Empowering employees to work alongside emerging technology then creates more of a strategic partnership.

Dr. Noah Raford emphasized how governments do and must continue to foster a culture of innovation, something quite evident in Dubai. “Using technology to push ourselves to even greater heights, collaboration between the public and private sectors will converge with transformative innovation and human need to shape the future of our societies,” he said. Raford explained how through government initiatives, the public sector was prototyping transformative technologies and creating markets around successful ones, taking the kind of risks the private sector could not.

Another reason to welcome the rise of ‘intelligent’ machines that learn from observation and analysis is that they will improve our capabilities through greater automation of cognitive processes. With data seen as the renewable fuel source of the future, Coplin suggested that the third computer age belongs to AI, as humans no longer instruct computers, but ask them to learn instead. “In the same way that language doesn’t follow rules but patterns, computer capability relies on probability. Adding this to human ability through collaboration will create the best possible outcome.”

The ease of interaction with machines will keep on improving as well, as we will communicate with them in an almost human way.  “Not only will we interact with AI-powered devices, like the Olly Smart Robot with its evolving personality, conversationally, they will become more and more a part of us, ultimately becoming insideables or implants in our bodies,” explained Elda Choucair. Technology will evolve to the point where actual devices will disappear.

So, what place is there for brands in all this? Choucair referenced nine areas to watch in her presentation, focusing on the emergence of mixed reality and intelligent layers, or data overlays on the reality around us. Accessed through augmented reality (AR) glasses and then contact lenses, these layers will be opportunities for brands to embed contextually and individually relevant messages, services and information. As technology matures, futurists believe our brains could be connected to each other, enabling us to reach a stage of thought or emotion-based brand communication. “Technology has already started to shape our physiognomy and biology”, acknowledged Oliver. In the meantime, these developments will allow brands to create experiences in the shape of immersive interactions that will make consumers think, feel and do.

“Hollywood has often painted a dystopian view of the future and while it is a valuable source of inspiration in terms of technology, we are ultimately in control of the route we’re going to take. BrainScape allows us to peek into the future and consider what we can do with what scientists are cultivating in their labs,” Choucair commented. “In today’s session, our speakers opened many doors and presented many opportunities for us to take advantage of what’s coming up. It illustrates how we must capitalize on technological developments and consider the future with a renewed sense of excitement and expectancy. Instead of being an art, anticipation is fast becoming a science and this enables us to be actors, rather than victims, of the future.”

The 2017 edition of PHD BrainScape was produced in partnership with MENA Marketplace and sponsored by Digital Venture and Mediaquest.

This news was also featured in MENA Herald.