I was Fooled by an Artificial Intelligence Assistant

It started with a simple email: “My assistant Amy can find a time that works next week.” And then Amy emailed me and said she’d be happy to find a time for us and suggested a day and time. Amy was an AI personal assistant. It said so in her signature. Amy Ingram (AI) – Artificial intelligence for scheduling meetings.

But I didn’t notice. I agreed to the first day and time she recommended and accepted the calendar invite. However, I got sick (stomach flu sick!) and needed to reschedule. I emailed Amy and told her I the stomach flu and needed to cancel. She said “ok” and offered a time the very next day. I responded that I would need more time to recover — the following week might be ok. She offered a day the following week. She even followed up after I didn’t respond. I accepted and told her to send my apologies to my colleague. No response other than the calendar invite.

That’s when I realized I’d been fooled. She didn’t acknowledge I was sick, didn’t tell me to feel better, and wanted to reschedule the meeting while I was still deathly ill. It was odd and kind of rude, but people are stupid so I didn’t think much of it. When I finally noticed that line in her signature after the fifth email exchange I was impressed and a bit embarrassed.

This incident was the perfect example of something I’ve been following closely — automated work. Robots get a lot of attention in this area, but AI-enabled automated decision makers could take over duties in a wide range of fields, from nutrition, fitness coaching, and medicine through accounting and financial planning to reporting, law, and logistics.

Amy is just a foreshadow of things to come. Check her out: https://x.ai/


Michael Vidikan, michael@futureinfocus.com

CEO, Future in Focus

We help our clients understand how emerging issues and technologies will impact their business with a 5-10 year time horizon. You’ll find some free content on our site, but premium subscribers (and consulting clients) get access to so much more.


Random Business Ideas

Tinder for Food – Tired of searching endless menus for something to eat? I bet a lot of people are too. Here’s an app idea: Have the user select their favorite foods, cuisines, stuff they don’t like, etc. – then show them a single image with a description from local places. Swipe right to order it. If they reject it, ask why to collect data for better suggestions.

Zillow meets Waze – Imagine getting real-time tracking of pedestrian foot traffic to see which areas are getting more popular. Place some cameras on street corners to count pedestrians. The data can be anonymized so there won’t be privacy issues. Commercial real-estate companies can get a better sense the market and businesses can identify ideal locations for new locations.

Virtual Reality Snacks – Snacking in virtual reality might require snacks in a different format since players definitely won’t be seeing what their eating. The snacks should be easy to eat and grab a hold of.


Are You Prepared for a Trump Presidency?

We’re less than 3 weeks out from the election. Have you spent any time analyzing what a President Trump could mean for your organization?

This is a provacative question, but I am not trying to be political and I am not making a forecast. It’s a test. I pose this question so you can confront a hard truth about how well you prepare for the future. This election represents a common scenario I’ve seen play out. Many smart people do dumb things when it comes to strategic planning, like ignoring possible future scenarios that are difficult for them to deal with personally. People get uncomfortable planning for a future they don’t want to see, so they don’t plan and hope for the best.

“Hope for the Best”

Scary how often we hear that phrase, isn’t it? What’s worse is that we hear it from people that are supposed to be in charge.

Trust in institutions is declining around the world. There’s also an international anti-globalization groundswell taking place. The Trump campaign suggests the Brexit vote and the anti-FARC vote in Columbia are clear signs that Donald Trump will ride a populist wave in November.

Again, this is not meant to be a political blog post. But I am saying that many people have entirely written off the possibility that Donald Trump could win and have decided not to even plan for such a scenario.

However, this is not unusual behavior. I speak to many business leaders who are reactive instead of proactive. The excuse I hear most often is “I’m too busy dealing with the present to think about the future.” What I really hear is “I’m afraid of the future.”

“I’m afraid of the future.”

Fear can be a great motivator when harnessed in the right way. Dale Carnegie famously said “If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

So put aside a few hours to really think about what the results of this election could mean to your business depending on who wins the election. Write down some concrete actions you’ll want to take. And then find more time to think about all the other trends and issues you’ve been avoiding. I’m here to help.


Feel free to email me: michael@futureinfocus.com

Michael Vidikan, Future in Focus

Future Restaurant Concepts

I love food and I love technology so these are some fun restaurant concepts I thought up:

Virtual Restaurant 1 – You heat up a frozen meal at home, pop on your VR set, and voila! Instead of seeing a soggy meatloaf, you’re sitting at the Ritz, wearing a tuxedo, surrounded by beautiful people, eating your soggy meatloaf (except your brain thinks its a delicious looking meatloaf!).

Virtual Restaurant 2 – Every surface is a video screen. One day the place looks like you’re in a balloon floating up to space, the next day you’re in a submarine. A scent machine can add nuance and depth to the experience. No two meals would feel quite the same.

Rx-staurant – You’ve been tracking your health for months by monitoring your activity and diet. Now you want to go further. You start using a health diagnostic kit to learn more about your health on a cellular level. Link up your data to Rx-staurant so they can customize a menu for your exact needs. The meal will provide the ideal number of calories and proper nutrition to counter any vitamin or mineral deficiencies you may have at the moment. Plus, they’ll tailor the meal depending on whether you need to relax, focus, or train for a marathon.

Mr. Roboto – Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto for doing the jobs that nobody wants to. Fully autonomous kitchens and restaurants. Its partly for convenience, partly for show. Everything is customized to order and you see the progress as robot cooks whip up your meal. No human error (except yours). No strange hairs in your food. And the latest sensors will detect any impurities or harmful bacteria before anything can spread. Perhaps the mall food court will become a series of robotic food factories.

Table to Farm – A service that brings you to the farm where they prepare food that has been picked within minutes of cooking. Eat until your heart is content. Then spread out and watch a movie in a self-driving van that will take you back home.

Urban Farm to Table – Look for mostly autonomous robotic farms to be built in densely populated cities. Restaurants will have access to these hyper local foods.

Drones to Go – Hungry? Stuck in traffic? Order food on your mobile app and the delivery drone will track you down and drop the meal in your hands no matter where you are. That 500 car autonomous vehicle pile up is gonna take a while to clean up. But at least you’re not hungry anymore.

If you like any of them or have other ideas, let me know.


Uncommon Partners are the Future

Rick Holman, who leads GM’s global trends network, spoke at the Foresight & Trends conference this week about the potential impact of self-driving cars. Spoiler alert – It’s HUGE! $36 Trillion huge. If cars drive themselves, 3 million people who drive for a living will be out of jobs, including the highway patrol (who are they going to pull over?).

What will people do when they no longer have to sit behind the wheel? Work, nap, apply makeup, shave, watch tv, and whatever else people can think of. So doesn’t that mean self-driving cars in the future will be designed with each of these things in mind?

In his talk, Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, raised the idea of working with “uncommon partners.” Those are partners you wouldn’t normally think about working together (i.e.; Lowe’s and NASA). Its perhaps the right time for all brands to think more about collaboration with unlikely partners.

If we apply the idea of uncommon partners to self-driving cars, we could get some really interesting results:

The Estee Lauder mobile beauty center: A hyper-specialized vehicle for allowing women to apply their make-up perfectly and perhaps even allowing men to get a perfect shave – lighted mirrors, a working sink, lots of compartments and drawers, and comfy seating.


The Best Buy mobile entertainment center: For all of your entertainment needs. TV’s, video games, exceptional speakers to keep everyone occupied, and maybe even a beer fridge.

viano vision inside tv

The Steelcase mobile workstation: You’ve never been so productive on your way to work. It’s an optimized workspace to get shit done!


The Hyatt sleep station: The best nap you’ve ever had on a road trip. Custom mattress, down covers, fluffy pillows, aromatherapy, and an espresso machine. You’ll have a great sleep and wake up to fresh latte. This is the life!

hyatt bed

The Lululemon gym on wheels: Long commute mean no time for working out in the morning? Not anymore. This mobile gym wouldn’t be complete without an amazing shower and changing station (brought to you by Kohler).


At least a few of these brands will laugh at these concepts, but they shouldn’t. Brands will have fantastic opportunities in the future to make uncommon partnerships to wow and surprise consumers. As Stuart Jenkins at Deckers put it, “don’t be so quick to empower your employees to say ‘No.'”


UPDATE: This was originally posted in 2014, but it’s still applicable to so many companies today. Consider how augmented reality will change the way we interact with the real world and what types of unusual partnerships might result. Or the different types of drones and robots that will exist. Stretch your imagination a bit.


The Future of Flavor Contests?

From chips and ice cream to beer and chicken wing sauces, brands use flavor contests to engage consumers and test the market for new flavor ideas.

But what the consumer has in mind for a flavor, and what the brand creates, can be a world apart. Individual flavors can cover a wide spectrum of tastes. Just imagine the tropical fruit of a pineapple. Are you thinking of the sticky sweetness or the acidic tartness? A good pineapple is said to have a balance of both. This distinction is important because many foods have multi-dimensional flavors, combining different aspects of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy. And when two or more flavors are mixed together, there’s an even greater range of possibilities. The interpretation is left up to the brand.

Some emerging high-tech kitchen appliances could change the way some of these flavor contests are run. 3D printers for food and flavor robots may offer consumers unprecedented ability to experiment with flavors, shapes, and textures the way commercial test labs can. These gadgets in essence are not much different than the way a Keurig coffee machine works. Consumers will buy flavor pods (or make their own at home), use a simple interface to select how much of each flavor to include, and the machine will do the rest; mixing, printing, and potentially even cooking the ingredients into something that resembles real food (because it is real food).

A home chef will be able to record and share their creations – and they’ll be replicated exactly by a machine in a kitchen on the other side of the world.

Consumers will be able to conjure up new creations with highly nuanced flavors and submit the flavor data file online. There won’t be any doubt what they had in mind. Of course, with so many unique flavors to test, brands may need to rely onrobot taste testers to select the winners.

Want to read more about 3D printed food? Check out http://3dprintingindustry.com/food/

Michael Vidikan is the CEO of Future in Focus, a strategic foresight research and consulting firm. Future in Focus helps organizations see years or even decades into the future so they can make better long-term decisions.

Six Ways the Internet of Things Could Impact DFW in 2016

Dallas Skyline

Check out my latest article over at Dallas Innovates, “an online news platform promoting the region as a hub of innovation.”

The Internet of Things will impact our lives in the future, but I wanted to explore some ways it can impact our lives right now. I highlight some opportunities for businesses in healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail, energy and utilities, and real estate (office buildings).

There’s something here for everyone: http://www.dallasinnovates.com/six-ways-the-internet-of-things-could-impact-dfw-in-2016/

Make People Happy, Make More Money in 2016

Making customers happy is good business, but many companies fail to connect the innovation process with increasing the happiness of their customers. The next time you call a meeting to come up with some new product ideas, try out one of these simple ideation exercises:

1. Think of a small (or big) way to make people happier.

I was at Star Wars last week and there were a LOT of happy people. And rightfully so. They were tremendously entertained at an IMAX 3D screening. As I watched the previews, I wondered whether I really wanted to see every one of those movies or whether I just wanted to live inside the IMAX theater. After further consideration, I think it was the latter. IMAX has found a way to differentiate itself from run of the mill movie theaters and I think their business is not really about better projection and sound technology, its about making people happier. For IMAX, each advance in technology that can bring greater pleasure to audiences could lead to an extra upcharge.

The exercise: Create a box with four quadrants. The vertical axis will be “difficulty to implement” and the horizontal axis will be “cost.” Now write a list of all the easy, hard, and crazy ways you could make your customers happier and plot them on the axes. Consider how to make people who aren’t your customers happy, too (for example, your customer’s children). Which of these will increase customer acquisition and retention? Could you charge extra for any of these services?

2. Help your customers share what makes them happy.

Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook have been successful because they let people share what makes them happy. In addition to sharing pictures and videos, consumers also like sharing their feedback and insights. In 2014, Domino’s in Australia introduced “Pizza Mogul,” an app that let consumers design their own pizzas, share them on social networks, and then get paid a commission every time someone clicked and ordered that pizza. In the first six months of the campaign, 55,000 “moguls” created 160,000 different pizzas. Your might want to consider a mechanism to help your customers express themselves.

The exercise: Look at your website and marketing materials. List all the ways you could make it easier for people to share what they like about your products and services. Discuss new ways to create shareable happy moments for your customers. Outline a contest that could encourage people to share their designs, feedback, and ideas with you.

3. Think of a way to help people relieve stress and anxiety.

I was at Baylor hospital recently for a family member who was undergoing surgery. The hospital had a variety of services and processes in place to reduce my anxiety, including free valet parking that eased my arrival, ample comfortable seating in the waiting area, free coffee and snacks, strong enough WiFi to watch streaming movies during the long down time, and regular patient updates to reduce my concerns. While I wasn’t the patient, the hospital recognized that I was an important part of equation and relieving my stress and anxiety would make me more likely to use and recommend them in the future. From the classroom to the workplace, more people are reporting higher levels of stress. While relieving stress and increasing happiness aren’t exactly the same thing, one can lead to the other. You should consider the ways you could relieve stress and anxiety for your customers.

The exercise: Write out your entire sales cycle on a timeline and identify each area your customer might experience stress before, during, and after the sale. Don’t forget about all the people associated with the customer that might feel stress, too. Now think about how you could go about reducing and relieving stress in all those situations.

The Bottom Line

Too many professionals lose sight of the human component of business and don’t spend enough time thinking about the people behind the transactions. Make people a little happier and you might find yourself a little bit wealthier.