The next wave of digital technology will redefine what it means to be human
“We are at the brink of the next evolution and technological development is the liberator of advancement; however, it is not the driver. The driver is us.” Eileen, Ooi Wei Ling
Humans can perform tricks today that illusionists couldn’t have imagined 50 years ago. Armed with only a tiny device today, our smartphone allows us to access a lifetime’s worth of information, connect with anyone in real time even if they are miles away, overlay our real world with illustrations of emotions, and perform complex tasks like drawing a floor plan within minutes, which previously would have taken hours or days. But the most astounding part of this technological ‘magic’ is the speed at which new opportunities and experiences are emerging.
From generation to generation, we have seen the inevitable connection between humans and technology as advancements are adopted to serve us and improve our quality of life. And the rate of technological progress is doubling every year. According to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, “it is not the case that we will experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century, rather we will witness in the order of 20,000 years of progress.” In other words, the exponential rate of advancement that will take place in the next couple of decades will dwarf the developments of the entire 20th century.
To get a glimpse of the future Ray speaks about, just look at the children of today. Born into a screen-based world, today’s children move in and out of the physical and virtual worlds at ease, believing that each world is “real” to them. They can put on a virtual reality headset and explore continents or space – dimensions that previously took years for explorers to reach. To them, there is no difference between the offline and online realms. To them there’s only one world; a world where both physical and virtual collapse and merge.
And that’s not the only change to become mainstream; twenty years ago, who would have thought that we would be walking with robots and cyborgs? With the advancement of technology, we humans are embracing digital technologies to enhance and extend our senses and capabilities. Take Moon Ribas and Neil Harbisson for example, they are the founders of the Cyborg Foundation, which aims to help humans become cyborgs, defend cyborg rights and promote cyborgism as social and artisitic movement. Both Ribas and Harbisson are cyborgs, with Ribas having a seismic chip implanted in her arm so she can feel earthquakes all around the world in real time and Harbisson, who is colour blind, has an antenna implanted into his skull to allow him to perceive visible and invisible colours via sound waves. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has recently granted citizenship to Sophia – an AI-powered robot.
This is only the beginning of beginnings; as we continue to spend more time with machines, the more they will become embedded in our lives. Technology already feels like it has a mind of its own, and over the next two decades, this will become even more pronounced. Machines will eventually become as intelligent as us, and while today they may just live in our pockets, tomorrow they could be in our blood stream (though nanobots) and our minds, linking us to the cloud. And as this gap separating humans and machines continues to close, we will reach a point where we become indistinguishable from one another. Technology and humanity will – both symbolically and literally – fuse together.
We call this the Merge.
While the above narrative may seem too futuristic to many of us, just remind yourself of the unbelievable progress we have achieved over the last few decades. If you told anyone in the 1950s that they’d soon be able to fit the world’s knowledge in their pockets, they’d think you were mad. And even if we told someone in the 1990s that they could play a game of catching ‘monsters’ by overlaying a virtual lens onto the real world through their mobile phone, it would seem insane, and yet Pokemon reached 50 million users in just two weeks.
Hence, what we need to remember as marketers is that technological progress is speeding up, not slowing down. Kevin Kelly, a visionary and the founder of Wired, once said: “Much of what will happen in the next 30 years is already set in motion and driven by technological forces that are already in place.”
So, come the Merge, will your head be plugged into the cloud, or buried in the sand? Here are five steps to prepare yourselves (and your marketing campaigns) for the inevitable future:
It is only natural that you are skeptical of the evolution, of the new buzz words in technology or marketing. However, look beyond that (and your own fears of the unknown) and evaluate the possibility and the scalability of the technological development in question. Move past denial and assess its potential impact and value when integrated into your marketing plans.
2. Don’t wait for successes, make your own
The speed of change is happening so rapidly, that if we follow the old model of looking for past data or proven successes, you may have missed the opportunity. Technology allows us to test and learn on-the-go, to correct plans dynamically, to generate impact immediately. You don’t have to test at scale, and the specialties of various technologies allow marketers to make tweaks and test a specific element out of their entire marketing plan. Identify areas of opportunities and start testing today, so that you will have your own learnings when the Merge arrives.
3. Start plugging into a connected ecosystem
It is important to start integrating and connecting the critical elements of the marketing ecosystem, such as data partners, agency suppliers, offline channels, CRM and research – otherwise known as the marketing stacks – in order to take advantage of the technological advancements. All information should be “tagged”, aggregated and automated to grasp the full potential of AI. Marketers will need to think hard about the types of product data to tag, and what types of offers make the most sense in different contexts, in order to deliver a highly filtered and personalised world to consumers.
4. Not the power of 1, but the power of 2
Whilst machines and AI will develop deep-learning capabilities and become sentient, they will serve to improve efficiencies and expand our capabilities and opportunities in using data, particularly in areas where humans are incapable of conceiving. However, machines alone are no better than humans alone. It’s not a question of them versus us, but rather humans plus machines equates to stronger and better together. As marketers, we have the power and opportunity to marry both together, leveraging the exponential power of science that technology offers today and the power of humans’ instincts, creativity and empathy, in order to yield a far more superior marketing plan and product.
5. Trustworthiness and empathy become differentiators
When the Merge happens, innovation isn’t the only factor that will dictate the future relationship between humans and technology. Cultural, political and societal issues will also play a role. Therefore, marketers have a delicate balancing act to perform over the next phases of this evolution. Brands must be transparent, honest and always have the consumer’s interest at heart. Since data will be the fuel of our future, we will not be able to advance without it, and in order for brands to collect it, they will need to earn the trust of their consumers.