The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

A look at what’s ahead in the future of business, technology and design

2018 Fjord Trends

Ubisoft Montreal recently launched Sam, a virtual assistant for gamers. Sam uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to offer clients a recap of their last game and a personalized selection of YouTube videos to help them improve.

What does this innovation teach us? There’s a wave of change associated with tremendous technological advances (AI, blockchain, and other emerging technologies) currently making an impact in the business world. To help us stay ahead of this transformation and the future business opportunities that will result from it, we’ve identified seven trends to keep an eye on in 2018.

1. Physical fights back

Observation. The digital has enjoyed the limelight for too long; people spend an increasing amount of time interacting through devices instead of in person. The moment has arrived to tear down the barrier between the virtual and the real. Brands are starting to place greater importance on the physical, while making of use of data and technology to improve the final experience.

Inspiring example. Carnival Corporation offers a connected, wearable smart device capable of personalizing preferences and optimizing service for passengers on its cruise ships. The Ocean Medallion guarantees a unique and seamless experience from dining to planned activities.

2. Computers have eyes

Observation.Beyond words, computers can now read images without our help thanks to the astounding progress achieved in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Add this to the ability to integrate cameras in a wide variety of products and you get exciting possibilities for next-generation digital services.

However, safety and confidentiality are crucial to establishing trust and therefore acceptance in users.

Inspiring example. Imagine what services a bathroom mirror equipped with a camera and a screen, like Panasonic’s smart mirror, presented during the 2016 CEATEC, could provide: weather reports, daily news, and clothing, hairstyle or makeup suggestions.

3. Slaves to the algorithm

Observation. Originally, new automated user interfaces—whether virtual agents or voice recognition—were introduced to help people find exactly what they were looking for in a sea of options, saving them time and energy. Users can benefit from the efficiency that algorithms and virtual voice-activated assistants bring—but these assistants are often biased towards their partner brands.

Once the customer is seduced by the product and the pleasure of interacting with systems like Alexa or Google Assistant (instead of directly communicating with your brand), how do you expect to reach the consumer?

Potential solution.Brands will need to successfully assimilate into people’s habits in order to get users accustomed to making requests via product name (e.g. an iPhone) instead of through a generic term (like “cell phone”). Brands whose names are typically used to designate a category (like Kleenex) will have an advantage over their competitors. Strategies that serve to distinguish the brand and its products’ features will have to be perfected.

4. A machine’s search for meaning

Observation. With the rise of digital, AI doesn’t just mean robotics now; it has extended its reach to a wider range of machines. Many are pointing out the jobs that AI will render obsolete. However, the debate is now focusing on new and innovative collaborations between humans and machines.

Some organizations are already using machine as a complement to—not a replacement for—their employees. The best solution is to rethink the ways machines and humans coexist and create a mutually beneficial relationship.

Inspiring example. A recent BMW vehicle design included a pseudo-relationship between the vehicle and its passengers to make them feel safer when being driven to their destination.

5. In transparency we trust

Observation. It’s difficult to recognize what is authentic in a digital universe where identifying the source of information and who has modified it is nearly impossible. Add to that the public’s recent drop in trust in big institutions and it’s clear that we are in the middle of a crisis.

To build confidence back up, some rely on blockchain (the technology behind Bitcoin) since it reinforces the notion of integrity by providing sources for information. It has the potential to create the transparency necessary to rebuilding trust and relations with the public affected by the Internet’s ambiguity. This is why technology is already being used in the financial sector and a growing number of industries.

Inspiring example. Homes that consume and produce energy could buy or sell some directly—and safely—thanks to a decentralized transaction model.

6. The ethics economy

Observation. Some organizations are already taking a stance on issues of general interest, and this will become more common in the next year. Customers and employees are demanding not just that organizations share their values, but that they demonstrate they’re willing to defend them as well. The survival of brands now depends on their reaction to current events. Until now, being reactive was enough. However, it is more and more important to be proactive and display ethical values.

Inspiring example. “Companies are nothing more than a collection of people. So, by extension, all companies should have values.” - Tim Cook, President and CEO of Apple.

7. Design outside the lines

Observation. Design as a discipline is being challenged by three big forces: the proliferation of design thinking, the expected acceleration of product releases, and the potential of emerging technology.

Designers not only have to stay up-to-date and continue to learn about new technologies and evolving work methods, but also defend design as an occupation in a world obsessed with speed and ready-made patterns that result in unoriginal and unimaginative products. Design is the element that gives objects characteristics that can be appreciated and is essential to developing innovative products and services.

Potential solution. Organizations should give designers space by creating multidisciplinary teams where creators work with developers and data scientists. Moreover, they need to recruit or train creators who know how to ask the right questions about data and who can access it.

All of these trends result from a fundamental tension, whether linked to a change, a conflict or a division in ideas. What does it mean for businesses? For one thing, we can see the importance of the strength of information. Thanks to emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, we have the opportunity to access more complete information than ever. The businesses that benefit from this technological revolution will be those that adapt to new technology to take advantage of data while preparing their workforce for the future.

Furthermore, to keep up with technology, businesses must offer continuous training and integrate ethics and transparency into their business plans.

In short: always be ready to learn!