The future of automation (Part 1)

Tribes Research 24th April 2017
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The advances in technology and the digital platforms we interact with are constantly pushing forward, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re a technophile or modern day luddite, you simply cannot ignore the impact the online world and electronics have had on you and the influence they will continue to have on your future. It will affect everything we do, including our online interactions and the way in which our online communities evolve.

It’s the substance of futuristic sci-fi films where androids exist in harmony with us; cars, trains and planes are self-piloting, robots do your household washing, cooking and cleaning, and artificial intelligence systems detect what food we are short of, lightbulbs that will soon fail and automatically order replacements. The level of automation and adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), means humans can concentrate on other, worthier endeavours.

This article examines the state of play now with smart devices, self-driving cars, delivery drones and digital personal assistants, looks a little further ahead to a fully automated Nirvana or purgatory (depending on your point of view), and considers what it will mean for market research.

The state of play now – smart or stupid?

The chances are if you reached in your pocket or jacket right now you’ll find a smartphone there. We’ve readily accepted these devices into our lives because they go beyond just making calls. They are no longer just a phone but a small computer that happens to have calling capabilities attached to them. They connect us to everything from the latest news to our grocery shopping.
The need to adopt newer technologies is high; certainly among millennials and post-millennials, but is all this ‘smart’ technology making us stupid?
I will happily admit that I tend to ‘Google’ questions at the drop of a hat when I can’t instantly recall a piece of trivia. Given a few seconds I can recollect the information naturally, but there’s a desire to have the information instantly, so why wouldn’t I use this powerful tool that I possess? I don’t even have to type the question, I can simply ask, but is this making my brain lazy?

The very technology we’re embracing could be hampering our own individual progress and development.

Smart devices

The Internet of Things is a phrase that we are hearing more commonly today. It’s not just your smartphone or tablet that is connecting to the internet; your TV and other household appliances, and even your house can talk to connected services. These days, your boiler tells you when it needs to schedule maintenance or is becoming faulty and automatically alerts your supplier.

Whilst some smart devices are designed to make the home safer, they can be a security risk. Security experts are pushing those creating connected devices to consider the potential for hackers to take control. A hacker could use the information from your lighting or heating to detect when you would be home so securing these smart devices becomes just as important as your phone or home computer.

In October 2016, a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) took out much of the internet access for those on the east coast of the U.S. and even affected Europe. A prominent manufacturer involved blamed consumers for not changing the default passwords on their web cams allowing easy access for anyone, or any hacker, that could find those unsecured items. Millions of devices were hacked and used as slaves to run programs they weren’t originally intended for.

The manufacturer is recalling many of its products and patching the software involved, but there’s certainly a level of responsibility that lies with the consumer in setting up and maintaining their devices and what they are exposed to.

Self-driving cars

The headlines are littered with stories about self-driving vehicles and the issues that are coming about from allowing an artificial intelligence (A.I.) to be in control of our motorised metal killing machines – or cars as they are more commonly known. Recently, a self-driven car couldn’t distinguish between the sky and the bright glare from the side of a white truck and drove underneath the trailer. Is this the fault of the A.I. itself or our limitation of what we are currently capable of programming into it?

In a recent poll conducted with one of our online research panels in the U.S., only 19.4% of those voting confirmed they were comfortable with the concept of driverless cars. Some of the angst won’t have been alleviated given the recent headlines.

There are some schools of thought that suggest we are the problem in this equation, and until we can develop a truly self-aware intelligence that can learn all on its own, we will not be able to move to a completely automated society.

Digital personal assistants

The progress being made in A.I. is coming along in leaps and bounds with many different players involved around the globe each working on their own project in the bid to become the first to control your lives.
This is not as horrifying as it sounds. Scaling it back a little bit, there’s a lot of things we are getting access to ahead of having robot masters.
Amazon wants to deliver your goods by drone within moments of you placing an order using their voice controlled assistant, Alexa, which doesn’t just stop at placing orders.
Along with the Google Assistant and offerings from Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and others, there is a huge push for automating our lives by having these virtual assistants enter our home and allowing control over our heating, lighting, not to mention our TV and media viewing habits, and beyond.

Delivery drones

delivery drone, automationOn Tribe Village (, our UK based market research online community, we ran a study looking at what the public thought of delivery drones with regards to safety, privacy, and several other factors. Only 22% of participants were in any way comfortable with having them flying around and possibly less surprising was that 34% of those more accepting were millennials. It may be due to lack of experience or purely down to excitement with new technology, but it will be these early adopters who lead the way for everyone regardless if it is a good thing or not.

The fully automated future – heaven or hell?

We’re not too far away from a future where you get home from work and have your automated home system working on a series of tasks without you lifting a finger. It’ll switch your lights on because it knows that you’ve just pulled up because of your phone or smart band talking to it. As you walk in the front door, the heating has already been on for 30 minutes because it knew how far away from home you were and adjusted the timings to get the temperature you like. Your deliveries will arrive in an hours’ time and land on the dedicated landing pad by the back door. Your car is being put on charge and cleaned ready for your next journey, and maybe your pre-loaded music playlists are being altered because your stress patterns were elevated on the last trip and need to be more calming.

Perhaps you’ve also got guests due for a party that evening so your front gate is already set to automatically allow in those you’ve invited and you get a warning of who is about to enter your front door with an audible piece of advice on awkward topics to avoid from the home assistant. Your food is served by an android servant that has prepared haute cuisine food with everyone’s allergies and ailments considered. Food waste is obsolete as your android is aware of how much you have been eating throughout the day and previous week and has already factored your meal choice to be the right calorific value whilst still being nutritious.

At the end of the evening, once everyone has gone home and you’re laying down to sleep in your self-adjusting bed, your home will be busy clearing up after you with little robot vacuum cleaners gently making their way around the house and then placing themselves on charge ready to do your automated bidding the following day.

All those devices and systems in your automated life are talking to each other, exchanging data, and making decisions in real-time to make your life better.

As market researchers, it’s the proliferation of data that interests us, specifically how this can be utilised, analysed and monetised. We will discuss this in Part 2.

The future of automation (Part 2)