The Future of Technology & Virtually Everything

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Andrew Vorster

Andrew Vorster is one of Meeco’s founding members. Based in London, he works as a Technology Foresight Consultant. He’s also an avid motorcycle enthusiast and self-confessed sci-fi nut. We recently had the opportunity to quiz him about about his technology predictions, his use of Meeco, the future of brand engagement and his upcoming talk at Customer Experience Techfest in Melbourne later this month. Here’s what he had to say.

What does a day in the life of a Technology Foresight Consultant entail?

I have two distinct types of day, it’s either a listening day or a talking day. My listening days are the vast majority of my time, at least 70%. On listening days I read voraciously, everything. I’m always reading. I’ll trawl the internet, I’ll attend conferences, I’ll meet people in person, I’ll network and I’ll ask lots of questions.

“If I notice a couple of odd things and they start clustering together I’ll think, hmmm is that something new?”

The whole point of my listening days is for me is to look around and see what’s happening right now, and there’s just so much happening that it takes up the vast majority of my time! Then to pull all that data together I have a massive white board up in my study with hundreds of sticky notes where I’ll write down things physically and stick them up and cluster them. I’m looking for stories and the patterns that emerge, either to reinforce the current stuff that I’m looking at or to see if there’s anything else that’s coming up. If I notice a couple of odd things and they start clustering together I’ll think, Hmmm is that something new? Is that a new trend or a new direction, a new behaviour? What’s fuelling it? Is it a flash in the pan? That type of a thing. Then I’ll use another listening day to ask other people what they think about it because my assumption is that you certainly can’t know everything there is to know, but I probably know someone who knows someone who knows the answer to the question that I’ve got at the time, if that makes sense.

So for my talking days (the other 30%) I extrapolate from the present, multiple alternative possibilities so that I can share them to either change behaviour or stimulate ideas. I do this by telling stories. I tell lots and lots of stories on my talking days. Some of them will sound like fantasy, some of them will sound like science fiction, some of them will sound like fairy tales with a happy ending and some of them will sound like people’s worst nightmares.

Then I challenge people by asking “Now what?’ – Now what are you going to do about it?” I usually give them a couple of hints but generally the people that I am talking to know their industries and their subject matter so well that I can just sit back and watch them have the light bulb moments, that’s the intention of the stories that I tell.

What’s the headline for your talk at the Consumer Experience Techfest?

The title is “The Future of Technology & Virtually Everything”, it’s a bit of a play on words but it’s exactly that: Technology is having an effect on everything in the world around us; and it’s making everything become virtual.

My talk will focus on the “So what?” – if this is what is going on around you, what are the implications and what are you going to do about them?’

Which technologies do you think will make the most profound impact?

We’ve been talking about it for several years now, but The Internet of Things really is going to change our lives in ways that even the brightest imagineers have not yet been able to grasp.

Essentially, people are lazy. Who wants to do more work than they have to? In anything? Nobody would accuse Mark Zuckerberg of being lazy, but he has admitted frequently that he wears exactly the same things to work everyday so that he doesn’t have to clutter his mind with making a decision about what to wear. Okay, so that’s not lazy but it shows that he wants to remove the friction from his life. The Internet of Things is primed to be able to remove that friction and to remove the mundane things from our lives.

“I am proactively building up, literally, a digital ‘me’.”

The thing that will enable the Internet of Things is robotic assistance. By that I don’t mean a physical robot, I mean an artificial intelligence in the form of an ‘AI Assistant’ that will be my doppelgänger in the virtual world, ready to move in there and get things done for me. It’s a digital version of me that makes sure that all friction is reduced around me in the physical world. The digital ‘me’ will gets things done on my behalf so that the physical ‘me’ can live a much easier life. I think that these two technologies combined will have a profound effect on the average person and significantly change business models over the next couple of years.

Do you ever see Sci-Fi movies playing out in real life?

Yes, I do and I love it. I am a huge sci-fi nut and I think that sci-fi and Hollywood are great because they allow me to be able to point at something where art-mimics-science-mimics-art-mimics-science going round in a circle.

The guys in Hollywood are constantly working with the visionaries in technology. They aren’t trying to portray a picture of something that is completely beyond the realms of possibility, so a lot of it is based on very good science and foresight.

I mean, Minority Report, in that scene where Tom Cruise is running through the shop and these virtual adverts and virtual assistants are trying to offer him things. At the time, everyone was like “Woah, that’s so Hollywood.” and yet, we’ve now got that, it hasn’t even been that many years since Minority Report came out and we’ve actually got that.

How did you discover Meeco?

I have been actively looking for ways to take agency of my own data. When I read Meeco’s manifesto I thought, Yes, this is the kind of thing that I want. I want to own my data and I want to broker my data, or at the very least I want to have a clear and explicit agreement with the agent that will be brokering that data on my behalf.

I don’t mind if people are brokering my data, so long as I know the context and have control over which bits of data they are brokering and the purpose of that relationship.

How do you like to use Meeco?

I am proactively building up, literally, a digital ‘me’.

So when I was talking about brokers and agents and artificial intelligence, one of the key things I need is something that represents me, that is accurate as can be digitally possible. So I use My Life and My Brands to methodically build up a very rich digital profile of me, all in one place. I trust that when the time is right, I will be able to come to an agreement with Meeco to broker aspects of that data that are relevant to a particular transaction, or a particular point in time, or for me to get something.

“I’m happy to engage with brands.”

Would you use Meeco to engage with brands?

I have used My Intentions to flag my intent to buy a new car, so that when the time comes, I will be able to broadcast that intention via Meeco, privately and anonymously.

I’m happy to engage with brands, I really am happy. I am one of those people who really believes in certain brands. I like to engage with them but I just want it to be done in the right way and I want to be getting something back from that. I don’t want to benefit to be all on their side and I certainly don’t want them prostituting my data around the place and me not getting any benefit from it.

With the example of my car, all the seller needs to know is that I am interested in their brand. Or that actually, I’m quite passionately interested in their brand because I’ve used My Brands to flag that I:

  • Love the brand and don’t use it
  • (or) Love the brand and use it (existing customer)

I am prepared to let them know how much I am using their brand and how loyal I’ve been to it in the past. At the same time I would like to give them an indication of my capability to buy, my affordability of the car, without giving them my bank account details and my salary and everything else. Then all they need to do is ping the bank and say – “We’re having a conversation with somebody that we believe is a client of yours and they say that they are going to be able to buy this very expensive Bentley, can they afford the monthly repayment?” And the bank just says yes or no.

“I think that we as a global internet population and consumers have been quite naive.”

If the bank says yes, then they can actually go “Okay well we’ve got a qualified buyer who is actually very interested in us.” Surely that’s worth money to the brand.

So the brand would be willing then, to share some of that money to Meeco to pay its infrastructure costs and all the rest.

What I get out of it is a relationship that cuts through all of the friction and all of the noise so I can get straight to the point with a particular car seller saying “Yes, I am interested in a car, I’m down to a shortlist of 3, you’re one of the 3, you know I can afford it, now what are you going to be offering me?” Then it’s only when we are ready to complete the transaction, that they actually get to know my name, address, inside leg measurement, social security number, passport and everything else.

Whereas today, if I landed on that brand and wanted to engage with them, they would expect to get all sorts of information that are not relevant at all. Plus what they don’t get is a whole lot of information that is relevant because they can’t get that data brokered to them in context.

So I’m looking forward to a time when Meeco will be able to act as an agent to broker my information, safely, securely, privately, in chunks that make sense for people to be able to mash up. I don’t know how far away that is, but I am willing to persist because right now as they are the only ones I see that are on the path to get there.

What about privacy, do you think it’s is dead?

No, but is in a coma in a hospital bed, waiting for a breath of life by consumers!

As much as the internet has been around for years and we are very tech savvy, I think that we as a global internet population and consumers have been quite naive. We’ve been so attracted by the shiny shiny of ‘new’ and chasing down this yellow brick road towards the pot of gold going “Yes yes yes! We want that, we want that!… Oh, you want all my data, that’s okay! Just gimme gimme gimme!”.

“We need to reach an understanding of whose data it really is.”

We’ve been so enamoured with all of this, we’ve had a love affair with technology that has blinded us to all of the implications. The honeymoon period is over now and people are beginning to get the inkling that maybe they’ve given away a bit too much too quickly and they are trying to find ways of clawing it back.

There is a small and slowly growing group of people who really do understand that privacy on the internet needs to change. We need to reach an understanding of whose data it really is. There should never be any question about that. It’s mine as consumer. If I didn’t exist, the company supplying me the service would not have a reason to exist in the first place. Once we have got that straight, we can start to negotiate a fair value exchange for our bits of data within those parameters. But this is not something that the vast majority of people understand yet, because there isn’t a better way of doing it or there hasn’t been a better way of doing it or they’re not very well known.

You can catch Andrew at Consumer Experience Techfest, on next Thursday (30 July) in Melbourne, or follow him @AndrewVorster.

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