On the morning of 13th June 1863, The Press newspaper in Christchurch New Zealand published an exceptional 'open letter' from novelist and philosopher Samuel Butler titled: "Darwin Among the Machines'. What is remarkable about this article is the incredible visionary outlook Samuel Butler depicts in a world where Edison's electrical light bulb would take another 17 years before being invented. In trying to describe how machines will evolve over time he asked: "What sort of creature man's next successor in the supremacy of the earth is likely to be. We have often heard this debated; but it appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race".
150 years on and it would be hard to describe the impact of our current fascination for technology with better words. The main difference between then and now is that what was hypothetical then is now real. There's little doubt that we are indeed in the process of creating our own successors, and we are indeed daily 'adding' to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation.
Just take a look at the year that has just gone by: Anki launched a driverless toy car, Google is perfecting their real driverless car, Oculus is developing a fully immersive virtual reality, Motorola invented an Edible Password Pill, 3Doodler launched a pen that can write in 3D, MIT is working on Project Inception to make a mouse experience a false memory, Nest launched Protect Smoke Alarm that knows the difference between burning toast and a burning house, Double Robotics launched the mobile telepresence robot, Scientists at Australia's University of Newcastle regenerated a frog that has been extinct since 1983 using DNA from frozen tissue samples, Boston Dynamics engineered the Atlas Robot, Amazon prototyped a drone delivery system, and we saw the creation of an artificial pancreas, exoskeleton, a plethora of new sensors like Myo, Leap Motion, Emotiv, and hundreds more.
Keeping with the Darwin metaphor we can argue that we are witnessing the 'evolution' of new species, artificial ones and, unlike the ones described in Darwin's 'Origin of Species' book, the evolution of the 'homo artificialis' is so rapid that it requires this type of yearly update.
"The iBeacon is for marketers the most important announcement made by Apple in 2013"
Location based marketing is about to get a big boost in 2014 mostly thanks to a single piece of tech: iBeacon. The iBeacon is easily for retailers the most important announcement made by Apple in 2013 as it will unlock a raft of new types of customer experiences in the coming months. iBeacon works by using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier which when picked up by a compatible app can be turned into a physical location and trigger a specific action on the device, such as sending a welcome message, generate a discount voucher, provide information about a nearby object or painting, check-in on a flight or on social media, unlock a hotel room door, and even make a payment. Amazingly iBeacon is already available on almost 200 million iOS devices as it came built-in as part of iOS 7. Moreover iBeacon isn't just limited to the Apple ecosystem. Indeed any device with BLE can be an iBeacon which now includes Jellybean and Kitkat Android too.
"Today the 'digital hub' is the smartphone and no longer the desktop"
On January 9th 2001 Steve Jobs gave one of his greatest Macworld keynote presentations where he introduced the "Digital Hub" concept in which he declared the "desktop" would become the hub and would evolve into becoming the center of the digital lifestyle of the 21st century. Today of course, the smartphone is the new 'digital hub' but it no longer needs to connect to mp3, dvd player, digital camera and pda's like before since the smartphone has become all those devices too. Instead it connects to your bathroom scales, your fitness bracelet, your home thermostats or your dog's collar. With the advent of the Internet of Things the smartphone is the perfect device to connect and control it all. Since it is with us or in close proximity 24/7 it's the natural device to manage all our connected things. This is actually giving birth to a new trend and a new name where applications and accessories are coming together: Appcessories. These are accessories that you control using an application on your smartphone or tablet. Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Pebble Smartwatch, Galaxy Gear, Google Glass, Nest or Withings are all examples that have emerged in the last couple of years and the trends will accelerate even more in 2014.
"Wearable technologies will go mainstream as they become more affordable, useful and socially acceptable"
It is highly anticipated that wearable tech will see strong growth in 2014. In many senses the foundation for wearable technology have been laid out in the last couple of years (bluetooth low energy, better battery, electronic miniaturisation, new user interfaces like touch, gesture and speech recognition) and many predict that 2014 will be 'the year' where wearable technologies will go mainstream as they become more affordable, useful and socially acceptable, with the latter probably being the most important factor for adoption. On one end of the 'socially acceptable' scale, less visible wearable tech like fitness bracelets or smart watches will go mainstream first where, on the other end scale, more visible wearable tech like the Google glasses will take longer to be adopted by the masses. And wearable tech won't be limited to humans by the way, we'll see more and more pet connected objects like smart collars and smart tags that you'll be able to track and control from your smartphone. Smart tags like thetileapp.com and geckotag.me should also see wider adoption.
"Internet Of Things is an area that is particularly popular on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo at the moment"
Internet of things will also see massive growth in 2014. Nest has successfully proven the model works and we should see more startups (and grownups) launching new connected objects. Smart objects that are likely to be mostly adopted by home users in 2014 are smart locks (e.g.: August Lock), smart light bulbs (e.g.: Philips Hue) and smart plugs (e.g.: Belkin WeMo) and this combined with a wider adoption of easy to use software solution like IFTTT.com (If This Then That) will make integration between the various devices and applications a breeze, for instance to connect smart light bulbs to the London transport API and get the light to change colour based on your tube line status when you get ready in the morning. IoT is an area that is particularly popular on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo at the moment and CES this week is full of suppliers exhibiting their latest connected object.
"The web needs to evolve into a pulsing web of immediacy and relevancy, a Synaptic Web, which can deliver current and relevant content to user's social graphs"
A few Januaries ago Semantic Web were on every single year-ahead prediction article. Hailed as the next iteration of the web it now seems to have become a bit of a dirty word with investors and consumers. The original focus of the semantic web was great though, a vision of a web of interconnected data and meaning, but ultimately missed the big picture, which is people care less about knowledge graphs and more about the people and current events happening in their social graphs. Whilst this iteration of the web was critical (search engines would be broken and apps like Flipboard or Zite wouldn't exist) it now needs to evolve into a pulsing web of immediacy and relevancy, a Synaptic Web some call it, which can deliver current and relevant content to user's social graphs. There will be more exciting developments for the web in 2014 as it carries on its transformation into a critical artificial intelligence layer for connecting and serving future online experiences through apps and devices of all sorts. To get an early taste of what's to come just try Google Now, an array of incredible engineering and AI coming together to serve a blistering type of virtual assistance.
"Phygital will lead retailers to create new types of experiences which will resurrect the high-street thanks to the transformation of analog store into smart store"
The emerging technology trends described above will offer marketers in 2014 new ways to merge physical and digital experiences like never before. This new trend, also known as Phygital, will lead retailers to create new types of experiences which will resurrect the high-street thanks to the transformation of analog store into smart store that will deliver highly personalised and entertaining shopping experiences.
"The Maker Movement will see non-tech companies acquiring tech startups"
2014 will also see the appearance, and for some the transformation into, Maker Brands. The Maker Movement will see non-tech companies acquiring tech startups. 3D printers, miniaturisation of sensors and portable electronics like Raspberry Pi and Arduino will continue to fuel that trend.
"We are augmenting our lives, giving ourselves new power and senses through the use of technology. Smartphones and wearable tech are a perfect illustration of this. This can work for brands too"
So as we can see we are well on our way to creating our own successor as anticipated by Samuel Butler all these years ago. In a way the current stage in this process is one of "augmentation". We are augmenting our lives, giving ourselves new power and senses through the use of technology. Smartphones and wearable tech are a perfect illustration of this. "Augmentation" through technology is an interesting paradigm for brands too. It can greatly help organisations transform their brands into innovative brands by looking to augment their existing products and services with new technology.