As a culture, we are in the middle of an evolution in our relationship with technology. But what will this new paradigm look like once physical interfaces have given way to voice, gaze, and gestures? Technology is now tuned to intuitively reflect our creativity, ethics, biology, and behavior. Given that integrating these emerging technologies into our lives could fundamentally transform the world we live in, I believe our focus should be on ensuring that these breakthroughs ultimately augment our humanity.
China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, recently unveiled its first news anchor enabled by artificial intelligence (AI). A digital version of Xinhua’s regular flesh and blood anchor, Qiu Hao, the innovation was met with a mixed response. Some viewers admitted to feeling a little reluctant to accept a digital entity as a source of their news. However, it was an impressive and almost poignant reminder of the ease with which the latest technology can assume almost human-like behavior and function. Looking back on how some of the most common technologies of today made their debut, I have to wonder how long this experiment will remain a novelty.
Several AI applications are quietly making their presence felt, even if they are “making news” less obviously. For instance, numerous instances of research have demonstrated a direct correlation between customer experience and hard metrics like customer retention and revenue. Enhancing customer experience in an increasingly digital environment is becoming challenging as social messaging and anytime-anywhere interactions put greater pressure on service expectations.
Harnessing technology like AI and infusing it with human qualities could create an appropriate bridge between the augmented and the human world. I believe such innovations are inevitable, as businesses grapple with the challenges they face in our highly digital world. Only the intervention of technology can help companies place true customer-centricity at the heart of everything they do, from product design to sales and support.
Integration that goes beyond interfaces
The transition from “tap and type” to “hear and see” is imminent, as human bodies become the interfaces that enable our digital interactions. The rising uptake of voice search, image recognition, virtual reality, and similar sensory-driven technologies is indicative of this growing trend. For such possibilities to truly be empowering, digital elements must move from being accessible through devices into being discreetly overlayed onto the physical experience.
Leading industry analysis firm IDC anticipates that the augmented reality (AR) and VR market will be worth $18.8 billion in 2020. This represents a staggering 78.5% increase over the year before! It is my belief that these impressive numbers do not merely reflect the use of technology as an attention-grabbing gimmick. To my mind, they represent the gathering momentum towards an entirely new way for humans to interact, communicate, and operate.
Empowered individuals will redefine the collective
The relationship between businesses and their customers, governments and their citizens – and even between the individual and society – will be far more tactile, immediate, accessible, and personalized as a consequence of this next generation of technology.
Digital disruption holds the power to refocus human civilization on the community, as well as the individual. In other words, the “human” elements of our civilization. The true promise of a technologically enabled, empowered, and augmented humanity lies in the restoration of the balance of power between individual aspirations and collective goals. In my opinion, reorienting society towards the individual pursuit of fulfillment and happiness is the most exciting aspect of what emerging technologies can enable. I think we should aim for nothing less than empowering individual lives, within the context of the most desirable big picture solutions.
A personalized world
Customized and personalized experiences are becoming the linchpins of the new Economy of Me powered by people and smart interactions. Our ability to augment everyday activities with wearables and the Internet of Things will invite technology into our lives as never before. Much like mobile phones and social media reshaped the way in which we share and shape opinions, the intertwining of the digital and physical experience will fundamentally alter our interactions and behavior.
As customer experience becomes central to customer service perceptions and customer retention, companies will rely on technology to deliver a fast, smart, and convenient customer experience (CX) that meets service expectations. Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Retailing 2020 report predicts that businesses will need “near perfect” CX to remain relevant in two years. Embracing augmented humanity, i.e., technology with a purpose and infused with elements that make the customer experience more human, will definitely be the edge businesses need to achieve this.
Technology in the service of ethics
As boundaries between the physical and digital worlds collide and erode, a new code of ethics is emerging to govern this “phygital” space. With the sharing economy emerging as an alternative, the consumer world is also increasingly demanding a democratized market that offers “brandless” high-quality products that are accessible to all.
It is often said that human beings sink to their lowest behavior in a mob and rise to their greatest potential one by one. The subtext of subscription models, personalized service, and direct-to-consumer models of business is the re-establishment of individual concerns at the center of human society.
It is my belief that restoring the power of individual opinion empowers ethical behavior, as well as truly democratic and community-driven decision making. While ethical concerns have reshaped business behavior to some extent in recent years, we are at the brink of a world in which these influences will have the defining voice.
Creativity as the central activity of augmented humanity
AI-created art, content, and installations have intrigued researchers in recent years. While the ability of algorithms to be creative within existing genres and styles is already evident, true originality is still somewhat more mystifying for technology. The truth, of course, is that technology has been generating creative solutions and assisting humans in their choices for some time already.
The human creative impulse is often cited as one of the defining characteristics that separates us from other life forms on the planet. What possible creative heights might we scale when brilliant and flawless execution becomes as easy as conveying our preferences?
The finest instances and examples of human creativity most often come about through the coming together of both craft and imagination. What astonishes us about great artists is that their technique seems effortless until their unique perspective commands our attention.
For millennia, human societies have tried to inspire each new generation with the message that they must embrace their uniqueness. While we may not all suddenly find ourselves able to create masterful works of art, creativity itself – the most unique of human characteristics – will find greater expression than ever before. To me, this empowerment of our collective creative potential is the most exciting aspect of technology becoming truly integrated into our lives.
Collective, collaborative, and community-driven
Essentially, we are entering a new age in the story of human civilization. The power to cooperate, to enable true and instant reciprocity, and a real possibility to create an effortless synergy between the pursuit of individual goals and the collective good can be achieved. A truly collaborative model of human civilization that empowers both the individual and the collective to an unprecedented degree is now a possibility.
When technology becomes discreet and infused within the user and the environment, we will not merely be looking at a powerful tool. We will, then, have manifested an augmented civilization and an augmented humanity.
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