FutureTalk Portland logoFor years now, people have been saying, “It’s only a matter of time before robots are working alongside human beings.” But when the person making such a statement is Steve Brown (aka The Bald Futurist), it’s time to sit up and pay attention. According to Steve—formerly a futurist and chief evangelist at Intel, those robots, and the tech behind them, will soon change your business and your life.

At our latest FutureTalk in Portland, Ore.—co-hosted by our friends at NewTech—Steve laid out his vision for the fourth era of computing: a post-mobile world dominated by data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). In his fascinating talk he painted a picture of the future that was both enlightening and exciting.

Smarter than your average bear

As IoT expands, so will the capabilities of the smart objects in our midst, Steve said. Imagine a teddy bear that can read books aloud to a child. Now imagine it translating an English book into Mandarin as it reads, teaching the child a second language in the process.

This smart bear is an example of what Steve calls “service portals”—objects through which multiple services can be sold. According to Steve, in the future, products will become less important than the experiences to which they give customers access.

futuretalk guest steve brownService portals are particularly powerful because of the “control loops” they enable. With smart objects come a near-infinite quantity of sensors, each generating data that businesses can use to their advantage. One chain of Chinese coffee shops, for example, already chooses which style of music to play for its customers based on the number of smartphones it detects over in-store Wi-Fi: loud and fast at peak times to keep people moving, slow and relaxed during quiet periods so customers linger longer.

People as packages

Hand-in-hand with IoT comes the explosion of artificial intelligence. Whether we realize it or not, Steve said, AI is “already everywhere”—in e-signature recognition, search and text prediction, precision marketing, and so on. In the coming years, it will be even more pervasive and ubiquitous. “Expect it to be transformational,” he stressed.

One example is autonomous vehicles. As we embrace self-driving cars, Steve said, we will also come to regard people as “packages.” That means delivering humans from A to B exactly like a parcel, with tracking numbers, security codes, and so on. He describes a scenario where getting your children to the soccer pitch could be as simple as securing them in a pod and inputting a code shared with the teacher who will be receiving them on the other end—and just as safe as if you were to drive them yourself.

Hope for humanity

So what about those robots we’ll be working alongside? Steve predicted a more intelligent division of labor, with humans and technological systems each deployed in ways that capitalize on their respective strengths while limiting the impact of their respective weaknesses. Machines, after all, are great for strength, endurance, and speed. They’re unfazed by complexity, unbiased, and incapable of being bored by banal, repetitive tasks. Humans, meanwhile, offer creativity, dexterity, and empathy. Your humanity, in other words, is a trait that will stand you in good stead in the job market of the future.

To discover what Steve means by “data spirals” (and why all businesses should embrace them), learn why social media platforms will soon be more accurately described as “life platforms,” and hear why “going with your gut” will likely be a sign of foolishness rather than courage, watch his full FutureTalk in the video below:

Don’t miss our next FutureTalk

On Monday, February 6, 2017, we will be kicking off Portland Startup Week with a tech panel of local leaders sharing the trends they see affecting the region’s tech and startup community this year. Participants include Malia Spencer from the Portland Business Journal, Rick Turoczy from Silicon Florist, and Skip Newberry from the Technology Association of Oregon, along with our own Rebecca Campbell. 

For more information about our FutureTalks series, make sure to join our Meetup group, New Relic FutureTalks PDX, and follow us on Twitter @newrelic for the latest developments and updates on upcoming events.


Christian Sinai is the Community Relations Manager for New Relic in Portland, Oregon. He is the community lead and liaison for our local outreach efforts, and manages initiatives such as the FutureTalks PDX technical speaker series. View posts by .

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