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Is 2017 the year brands call "Peak Tech"?

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By Lawrence Weber, partner

January 20, 2017 | 5 min read

The avalanche of 2016 technology trends is probably over now and most of you hopefully avoided being buried by them.

lawrence Weber

Lawrence Weber

I voluntarily piled them up and read them, partly to save colleagues the trouble, partly to save me from working in the first week back. Whatever the reason, the experience was mostly pleasant but unnervingly consistent.

Brexit will be big and Trump bigger, Google and Facebook can't get any bigger, VR probably won't be but AR will, Alexa is inside everything and AI underneath it and because of that voice control will be loud, interfaces small and cars and houses will broadly control themselves, coldly indifferent to our presence.

Possibly simplistic and very possibly facetious, but a reasonable summary. All of the technology above, it seems, is in a state of progression, relative to itself in the last 12 months and against other technologies.

One thing though is surprisingly consistent about all of the trend soothsaying and that's a lack of questioning. A lack of questioning about the nature of that progression itself and most alarmingly about whether consumers really want to be almost unwitting cyphers for the progression of those technologies.

Certainly this progression of technology has brought a whole heap of benefits to brands and consumers, whether by lowering the barrier of starting a business in the first place through to the product and service innovation that consumers will enjoy through the creation of new brands.

However what’s clear is that progression and it’s puncher cousin disruption bring less positive consequences too, for the brands we work for, the customers we encourage brands to serve and ultimately all of us.

The last three months alone have brought examples of the unwanted consequences of AdTech- the more serious fake news and the ongoing amusement of badly targeted programmatic- of general automation of the work place- witness Japanese office workers starting to lose their jobs to AI- and of technology perhaps not really being wanted in the first place- witness Autocar’s recent research on autonomous driving that suggests that the car buying public is less than enthusiastic about their cars being turned into self-driving pods with large screens showing lots and lots of ads.

More significantly, if you talk to those in the world of politics, they’ll confess that part of the reason for Trump’s success and maybe even Brexit is growing public concern that technology and the changes it’s created have gone too far.

It's becoming clear then that to completely exclude the human from decision making is not an aspiration that many outside of the Valley are striving for. In part that’s because we’d like to believe that humans offer a chance for empathic checks and balances and in part- however safe you feel your job is- we fear that we might also lose out.

There is not a huge amount of political leadership around this issue- at least not in the UK- so it will fall to commercial brands to find a way to shape and reflect public opinion in particular around AI. I am now going to somewhat hypocritically proclaim that 2017 will see some brands proudly declare that they are 100% in with new technology and others proudly say that they aren’t, often in the same sector as a way of creating a unique brand voice for themselves.

For example, in the past banks have played the authenticity card by claiming their call centres were all located in the UK and all answered by a real human being. In the age even of app only, AI driven banks who will be the first brand to proudly claim that their customer service is 100% AI powered or on the contrary to claim it 100% isn't?

Finding a brand’s place in the complex world of technology is clearly a huge challenge from both a product and perception point of view, but for me it is the biggest tech trend of the year and in case you are struggling to right your own predictions in 10 months time- in 2018 too.

Lawrence Weber, Managing Partner Innovation Karmarama- an Accenture Interactive company

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