I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with Global Futurist Chris Riddell recently. I was interested in getting his unique insights into the future of technology and how businesses and individuals need to adapt to stay ahead of the curve.
Chris has been an international full-time global futurist and inspirational speaker for the past five years. He shared with me how he moved into this niche as a result of the time he spent working in businesses that were on the ‘bleeding edge’ of emerging technologies. His role was to identify new trends and help shape how homes and businesses adapted and incorporated them. From here, it was a logical step to move into a more visionary, future-looking role.
Q. At what age did you become fascinated with technology?
My first engagement with technology came in the form of the Atari games console, which was revolutionary in its day. My family’s really expensive first home computer – an IBM 386 – had a ‘massive’ 1mb of RAM! Computers were enormous, but you could see the potential of how this technology was going to change the world.
Before Dad even brought the computer into our house, I was making lists of what I was going to do with it and the programs I was going to make. I was as excited as all hell and we hadn’t even got the technology yet! When it arrived with Windows 3.1 and that was the beginning of the end – I just loved it.
At the time, technology was very complicated and there were only a few people who could understand what it could do. The perception back then was that it was only nerdy, weird, techy people that did technology – today that’s not the case at all. Now, the coolest and richest people in the world are tech people and the biggest companies are tech companies.
Tech companies have morphed since those early days. Facebook is no longer a social media company anymore, it’s a media company that’s disrupting the media and advertising industry. You’ve got Elon Musk disrupting the entire automotive industry and he’s a tech guy. And tech companies like Google are flipping things on their head, like in healthcare, and changing the world.
Q. What are your thoughts on Elon Musk?
Rumour has it that Elon Musk is an alien from outer space and he’s here to educate us minions here on earth! He’s an entrepreneur – he’s wanting to use technology to change the world in a very good way. The important thing with Elon is he doesn’t see any limitations, or an end point to anything. He just goes ahead and does it and now the world is starting to take notice of him.
Elon has some visionary projects, including the Mars mission and the Hyperloop super-fast transport system. Cities will no longer be isolated communities separated by distance. Using the Hyperloop, for example, you get communities joined together because of technology.
Q. What’s the smartest thing he has done?
The smartest thing Elon Musk has done is to show the world you can literally do whatever you want and how rapidly you can get things off the ground. Many people have come up with concept cars over the years and they’ve failed miserably, due to problems with logistics and manufacturing. But Elon overcame that exceptionally quickly with Tesla – it’s a game changer.
Q. What’s the next industry to be disrupted the same way as AirBnB or Uber?
The healthcare industry is the next one ripe for significant disruption. The key factor driving this is the exponential data we have from so many touchpoints in our lives and how this data converges with technology such as wearable devices. The future will be less focussed on retroactively treating illness and more on proactively managing our health before problems appear.
Q. How important has the rise of the smartphone been?
Mobile has changed the world we live in. It has taken us on a journey that has been revolutionary. The last thing we do is speak on our phones, whereas this used to be their primary function. We use it for texting, instant messaging, social media, browsing and banking – everything is done on this massively powerful computer in our pocket.
Mobile has allowed us to connect to whoever we want, whenever we want.
Q. Where do you see mobile evolving to?
Mobile is central to the convergence of augmented reality and artificial intelligence. For example, Apple is launching its 10-year anniversary phone
which is rumoured to have a strong augmented reality component.
We are moving away from having a physical device that we interact with, to having content contained in a wearable device which is a lot more passive, where we activate artificial intelligence using voice commands through programs like Siri. It is a lot more immersive and gives us a much higher experience.
Sure, but I guess I never saw Google Glass as successful… it was rejected by a lot of people on the basis of privacy.
People say Google Glass was a failure. As humans, we don’t like change or new things. Google Glass was an exceptionally new concept and it created a lot of discomfort because people didn’t know what the technology was doing. Google Glass was the first play into our world with a continuous camera sensory experience that was immersive. I don’t think it was a failure; it was designed to prompt discussion and it did that. It has been relaunched recently because we’re more ready for it now.
The augmented reality game Pokemon Go was successful because it didn’t have a marketing focus. It was rich and experiential and got people engaged and active by using technology to blend our real and digital worlds.
Q. Is technology evolving too fast for humans to keep up?
Humankind is at a crucial crossroads now – a potentially dangerous one. The decisions we make over the next few years will have a huge influence over our future. Just because we can do something with technology doesn’t mean we should.
The artificial general intelligence concept suggests one computer will have the intelligence of all of mankind. However, we are at least 30 years away from this and just because this is possible, doesn’t actually mean we should get there.
We’ve actually had artificial intelligence around for years, with things like machine learning, which recognises patterns in complex data. We have to be careful not to eradicate the need for humankind. We don’t want a power imbalance between humans and technology.
Q. How can technology contribute to efficient energy and environmental sustainability?
Google, as a result of other, unrelated scientific efforts, now has more insights on weather than any meteorological company and has balloons running 365 days a year. We will see businesses like this use data to make the world a better place.
In a short period of time, we won’t need to be taught languages – tech will do the job for us. It’s ridiculous that kids are still being taught languages in schools – technology will break this barrier down. It will help us understand and interact with each other better.
Some industries have undergone transformational change because of disruptive companies like Uber and Airbnb. The taxi industry could have evolved by itself and not been shaken up by Uber, the hotel industry could have created a hospitality network the same way Airbnb did – but they didn’t. This is because incumbents reach a place of comfort and they don’t see the need – or have the appetite – to transform at the pace that’s required.
Q. Will we see a resurgence of traditional marketing techniques?
I can’t wait for a world where I stop being fed irrelevant advertising. Digital advertising is supposed to be targeted and intelligent and we’re still not doing this correctly. If I was served content that mattered to me at that moment in time, I would view it and find it interesting.
Relevance is the key. It’s essential to get relevant content to your customer at an individual level. Traditional marketing channels like billboards still have a role to play, but the experience still needs to be personalised, using technology like augmented reality via a wearable device.
The challenges will always be the same: Right content, right place, right time, right person.
Q. What about concerns around privacy?
People are concerned about privacy issues related to technology where they don’t see any benefit from it. People are willing to share their data through wearable devices, but you have to give them something substantial back in return – not just a targeted advert. Once benefits start becoming more visible, we’ll start to see more people open up their digital lives to reap the rewards.
Thanks for your time Chris – it was pleasure to meet you! Fascinating stuff ahead and I look forward to chatting again in due course.