Technology, trust and market research: opinion piece written for IMPACT magazine, January 2018

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Taken from “Trust in us: can relationships between businesses and individuals be improved by new technology?” – a special report in the January 2018 edition of IMPACT magazine.

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Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. More fail than succeed.

The trap we fall into is extrapolating present trends, meaning we are blindsided by the revolutionary. As Mark Earls said at conference this year “There is a natural human tendency to ‘impose linearity’ when thinking about cause and effect – A leads to B.” The reality is more complex.

Think about it. The app industry is less than 10 years old. In 2017 it is an industry worth $77 billion servicing a market of 2.3 billion smartphone users, employing over 12 million people.

No-one would have been able to predict this in 2007, and for good reason. The metaphors and analogies at our disposal at the time were blunt tools, unable to carve out a vision of this future.

Or to put it another way, you can’t paint the future with the colours of the past.

So, if you are asked in 2017 to make predictions for 2027 you would be wise to explore a range of imagined futures.

  • As an industry, the landmarks by which we get our bearings are changing. AI, machine learning & big data will push us professionally. But the brain is the best algorithm. It will be for years to come.

 

  • The great Bitcoin experiment may fail, but that’s beside the point. The proof of concept for blockchain technologies is a pull-and-push on the status quo. Its emergence could involve many unintended consequences. As Adam Greenfield points out in his book Radical Technologies such technologies of distributed consensus may eliminate the need for an intermediary in transactions of value; smart contracts may eliminate the need for authorities to enforce agreements; and the reduced cost of enacting binding agreements mean they can be deployed in new contexts. We may soon be living in a world where your car key stops working if don’t keep up your repayments.

 

  • And we forget the human in this equation – with all of our limitations, fickleness and fallibility – at our peril. Look backwards again. In 2007 Bebo was the teen’s social network of choice; in 2017 the teens I researched only talked about Instagram. Facebook occupied the middle years. You’d be brave to bet against them but our platform monopolists may ebb as well as flow. Envisage a world where Facebook’s growth ambitions are limited not by a data breach or scandal, but by the fact that teens see it as something “for old people – like mum or dad…”

 

New technologies will challenge our ethical boundaries. Whether we’re clients, agencies or consultants our perspective needs to be clear. Ultimately this is not about individual technologies, platforms or daily commentary of whom and what.

This is about our values. What do our organisations stand for? What principles do we abide by? How do we want to be treated as individuals? How does that carry over to our participants, customers and partners? The only prediction I make is that our integrity will be challenged on a regular basis on the road to 2027. To stand a chance of making the right decisions each and every time, our people need to know what our values are – and what they are empowered to do.  

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About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at an insight consultancy. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
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