From the Black Mirror series to the recent Terminator sequel, Hollywood keeps showing us pessimistic visions of the future. It’s all too easy to buy into the idea that tech is out to rob us of our humanity. But the trends of 2020 from global thought leaders and TransUnion data paint a different picture: that technology is actually allowing us to reconnect with our humanity.
How close are we to the Internet of Things becoming a reality? It’s already here. Organisations like SqwidNet have been quietly laying the infrastructure for IoT in South Africa for the last few years. Now, all we need is the connection to take full advantage. With ICASA set to license 5G spectrum, expect to see plenty of enterprises connect to 5G over the next year. This is the final frontier of our digital leapfrogging journey, where inexpensive edge computing and hyperspeed connectivity come together for a fully connected Africa to emerge. Imagine a society where every single person is connected, not just to the internet, but to each other. Where sensors are so ubiquitous that objects can communicate with each other instantly - think cars warning other cars when they’re about to crash. The promise of always-on connectivity isn’t faster internet - it’s the opportunities for empowerment and positive change.
Nowadays, people are using automation to make their lives easier in nearly every industry, from medicine to mining. Clevva uses AI advisors to assist sales teams and technical consultants. Aajoh helps doctors make better use of their time by streamlining the diagnosis process. Mining companies are using augmented reality and digital twin technologies to create safer, more sustainable smart mines. With South Africa’s power issues taking centre stage for 2020, this is a chance to deploy augmentation in the energy industry. Augmentation isn’t just improving productivity - it’s freeing us from low-value tasks so we can focus on our customers and employees. The more we start treating AI as our partners, the more space we will have to practice our humanity and empathy.
According to E&Y, at least 46% of SA companies are actively piloting AI initiatives, with 96% of businesses expecting to gain significant benefits. In 2019, Google opened its first AI intelligence lab in Africa, laying the groundwork for greater skill capabilities on the continent. In 2020, expect to see artificial intelligence finally live up to the ‘intelligence’ part - what Forrester calls cognitive automation, where machines are able to self-learn, self-diagnose and self-govern. That means less time spent developing and baby-sitting applications, and more time spent enjoying the rewards. What used to take 100 hours might now only take 10 - what we need to be asking ourselves is how we can make the most of those additional 90 hours.
For consumers, who have seen their personal data get commoditised and misused, trust is at an all-time low. The fact that so many people believe Facebook is secretly listening to conversations shows how deep the erosion of trust goes. Winning back consumers won’t just be about ticking the GDPR or PoPIA boxes. It will take embedding a culture of trust and human empathy in everything, from basic user privacy policies to how your AI applications are designed and deployed. The development of this trust culture is going to be one of the biggest challenges for organisations in 2020, especially as emerging platforms like wearables, voice search and facial recognition introduce new user privacy challenges. Only by making intentional choices to prioritise the wellbeing of your people - be they customers, employees or users - will you be able to win back their trust over time.
In a world where digital and physical are one and the same, information overload is a real possibility. And, short of completely removing yourself from society, there’s no real way of opting out. Consumers are embracing a more purposeful approach to technology, cutting out the white noise and sticking with the parts of the connected world that add the most value to their lives. Who needs 10 apps when one superapp can do it all? And why spend more money on features you’ll barely use when you can spend less on those you use regularly? In 2020, we’ll see a return to ‘less is more’ approach as consumers seek more streamlined, simplified experiences. For businesses, this means reimagining the customer experience, finding ways to engage with their customers more meaningfully. It also means practicing their own digital minimalism, dropping bells and whistles in favour of simpler solutions that will have a greater impact on their customers.
For the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about design thinking and user experience. Yet while many organisations are talking the talk, there’s been little real commitment to this outside of the occasional side project. That’s set to change as advanced customer analytics become more accessible. Soon, everyone will be able to use data to understand how people use their services and products. The ones who stand out from the pack will not be those with the latest features, but the ones who understand and design for their customers’ emotional needs. More organisations need to take a page from the Apple playbook on how to spark joy in every engagement. Rediscovering our humanity means focusing on the empathy of what we do - how we can delight, pleasure, and bring joy to people through our products and services.