How AI and Blockchain Will Shape Companies in 2018

Accenture’s design arm anticipates next year will be disrupted by seven trends that reflect how rapidly advancing technology—like machine learning, computer vision and blockchain—will shape and fundamentally change both business and design.

Fjord, the design and innovation consultancy of Accenture Interactive, released its trend report for 2018, identifying trends they framed around the concept of tension. The design consultancy suggests how organizations can maneuver and ultimately capitalize on the changing times.

“Each of our 2018 trends is born out of a fundamental tension – be it a shift, a collision or a parting of ways,” says Mark Curtis, co-founder of Fjord.

“Digital versus physical, human versus machine, centralized versus decentralized, speed versus craft, automation versus control, traceability versus anonymity. Winners in 2018 will be those who best navigate these tensions and seize the opportunity to collectively design the world we’ll be living in,” he added.

Creating Hybrid, Data-Driven Experiences

Fjord suggests that digital and physical experiences will be intrinsically linked, with one no longer taking precedence over the other. Traditional brands are creating immersive experiences by harnessing technology, while digital-first companies are placing new importance on a physical presence.

“This will have huge implications for brands and organizations—both in terms of how their teams are structured, and how they develop products, services and experiences,” writes Scott Weisbrod, head of Fjord Canada.

Shopify seems to be ahead of the curve according to Fjord’s standards as the e-commerce giant launched a new iPad feature that lets shoppers browse in-store and buy products online.

Fjord also said the advent of computers becoming more human-like and cameras now doubling as biometric scanners—such as the iPhone X—means organizations will have new sources of data to create compelling digital services.

“For example, what could a camera embedded in a bathroom mirror detect about the health of the person who uses it that morning, and what services might that inspire?” Weisbrod writes.

New applications of computer vision are debuting in health, security and even the fintech sector where the industry has seen Alibaba piloting facial recognition payments.

Another digital trend Fjord highlighted is how algorithms are now acting as gatekeepers between consumers and brands. This is being realized through recommendation-driven services such as Spotify and Netflix, and even voice controlled shopping through virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.

“There’s a very real possibility they’ll soon sit squarely between an organization and its customers… Existing brands with strong names will have a massive advantage. New brands trying to establish themselves may face an uphill battle,” says Weisbrod.

Collaboration Between Man and Machines, Blockchain to Build Trust

When it comes to artificial intelligence and concerns over machines taking over for humans, Fjord found while some jobs will be replaced at the onset, new jobs will be created. That trend is backed by a global Accenture study that found how people will complement the tasks performed by cognitive technology.

More so, combining human and machine intelligence will generate superior outcomes, noted in the joint-ability of pathologists and deep learning to better identify cancerous biopsies as detailed in recent work from Harvard.

Pulled from Fjord’s report, a Harvard-based team found AI can help medical specialists detect cancer.

“To avoid what has been called by some a ‘robot apocalypse,’ organizations must pool collective ingenuity, intelligence and relentless optimism to invent new ways for AI to amplify our own human capabilities. The key is to plan for a future in which people and machines work collaboratively,” writes Weisbrod.

Perhaps reflecting the political climate in the United States, Fjord stated people’s trust in key institutions is crumbling and examined how blockchain can be harnessed by organizations to rebuild that trust. The technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin allows anyone to see where a piece of information has come from—but that tech is expanding beyond fintech applications to regulated industries like energy and maybe even recreational cannabis.

“Designing services and products with trust as their hallmark characteristic will bring new opportunities—but also challenges. It will require new language and techniques, and it will depend on people understanding what blockchain is, accepting its deployment and trusting it. Otherwise, blockchain’s potential to reverse the general crisis in trust will not be realized,” Weisbrod says.

Pulled into the Political

Another trend pointed to how consumers are speaking with their dollar—now akin to taking a political stance—and how organizations need to be proactive too, taking their once stance on issues that affect their customers.

“Making a difference will soon become a key point of differentiation and the potential for ethics as a business metric is already the topic of some industry debate,” Weisbrod notes.

Fjord’s last trend for organizations can be summarized with “design outside the lines.” While all these trends stem from societal, political and even technological tensions, Canada will be affected by these forecasts too, says Weisbrod.

“Over the past year, we’ve watched a polarization effect weave its way through many areas. While disagreement is no new phenomenon, the current gulf between opposing opinions is remarkable… How we navigate these tensions and design for positive, long-lasting change in 2018 and beyond is more critical now than ever before,” he says.

Fjord has made the entire report, broken down by each trend, available online.