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.

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.

What’s Driving Athletic Wear Sales?

image: Billie Ward (flickr)The athletic wear as regular wear trend has been going for a while. And when AdAge reported that Backpack Sales Rise as Professionals Ditch Briefcases it indicated to me that the “trend” was picking up steam among more than just hardcore fitness buffs.

There are several drivers that provide support to the idea that what we’re seeing is not just a fashion fad, but a longer term shift in consumer demand for apparel that is comfortable and sporty:

  • Healthy Living: For some, sports and fitness are not just daily activities, but a lifestyle. And as consumers are increasingly making plans on the fly, adjusting schedules on a moment’s notice, and deciding where to go, what to eat, and what to do based on real-time input from their friends, family, and coworkers, that means needing clothes and accessories for both “sweating and socializing.”
  • Popularity of Wearables: Many consumers who use wearables for tracking their activity are likely to be candidates for gear that helps them stay active throughout the day. If your goal is 10,000 steps a day, you might be in the market for comfortable shoes.
  • Growth in cities: As cities grow, traffic increases and driving becomes more onerous. Many residents bike and walk to work (and use public transportation) as a means of avoiding driving. This also means more people wanting comfortable clothes to wear on the way to work and clothes they don’t need to change out of once they get there.
  • Time Constraints: We’re constantly pulled in different directions and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. Consumers want gear that adapts to various parts of our lives –  stay in same basic outfit at work, to run errands, to work out, to go out for a drink, etc.
  • Casual Office Spaces: As the nature of work changes to more distributed and virtual tasks, the nature of the traditional office has also changed. The rise in coworking spaces, open layouts, startups, and more virtual work all contribute to a more casual office space which in turn makes it perfectly acceptable to wear sneakers, leggings, and other athletic gear at work.
  • Millennials: The newest generation of workers are the least likely to believe office wear has to be traditional and are more likely to adopt the casual attire of athletic wear. They’re also used to blurring everything, from mixing work time and personal time (such as answering work emails at home) to blending different food cultures, so it would be natural to try to blend casual and dressy.
  • Badges of identity: According to Kevin Osborn at Future in Focus, “People may be using athletic wear (as they use smartphones and certain brands) as a badge of identity, to signal to others who they are (I’m young, I’m fit, I care about my health) and what matters to them.”  It helps that athletic gear is more fitting and makes people look thinner.

All of these drivers influence a broad group of consumers and increase demand for athletic gear and associated products.

Agree or Disagree? Tell us why!



3 Emerging Technologies for 2015—& How to Profit from Them

Originally published at 1776 News

Many long-awaited technologies are set to finally arrive this year. They offer businesses and consumers a wide range of new opportunities for better health, happiness and wisdom in 2015.

Here are a few to watch:


2015 will be the year of personal health devices. The FitBit, Nike FuelBand and Jawbone Up helped consumers track their physical activities, and now manufacturers will release a slew of new devices to help consumers track and monitor their health. These smartphone-enabled devices will measure vital signs, and even perform medical diagnostics from urine, blood and saliva samples.

Millennials likely will drive adoption of these devices as they seek to better quantify their own health and demand more control over their healthcare options. The Cue has been touted as a “lab-in-a-box” that can help users understand their bodies on a molecular level and provide recommendations to optimize health outcomes. The Scanadu Scout has been likened to the StarTrek Tricorder, as it promises to monitor several vital signs and even diagnose several health conditions.

Devices that empower consumers with real-time health monitoring can create a revolution in healthcare as consumers focus more attention on prevention and health maintenance. Devices to provide round-the-clock health monitoring of babies will also gain traction. Much of this monitoring will take place in the home and health monitoring devices will become part of the home’s new information infrastructure.

Business Opportunities:

  • Developing health apps that integrate and synthesize data from multiple devices
  • Introducing gamification concepts to health apps and creating a rewards ecosystem to encourage and promote healthy behaviors
  • Creating online communities for people to share and analyze their health data
  • Connecting patients at home seamlessly with a physician or nurse to interpret diagnostic results via telemedicine apps
  • Creating apps that help users monitor and cope with stress and anxiety
  • Developing systems to monitor the spread of diseases in real-time
  • Designing home and office storage units for medical health devices
  • Designing a health monitoring station specifically geared toward new parents


A number of virtual reality headsets will be released this year for consumer entertainment. The ones that have gained the most awareness are Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and Sony’s Project Morpheus. VR headsets will offer consumers more interactive gaming experiences, as well as the opportunity to immerse themselves in other worlds from within the comfort of their homes.

There are also a wide range of applications for other spaces as well. Schools could use VR headsets to take students on virtual tours of museums or even witness a civil war battle like never before. A football coach could take his players back through a game to help them pinpoint an error—from the perspective of any player on the field. Real estate agents could give virtual property tours and a manufacturing company could do formal employee training in a virtual facility.

Augmented Reality devices, unlike their VR brethren, work by displaying information over a real world environment.  Google Glass captures the lion’s share of attention in this space, but many AR applications are using non-wearable devices to project graphics onto the natural world or use cameras on smartphones and tablets to display an augmented reality. Look for interactive displays at retailers to become more prevalent. An empty wall, floor or ceiling could be entirely reimagined.

Business Opportunities:

  • Filming scenes to create new VR environments (the equivalent of Google street view for VR)
  • Creating the 3-D cameras necessary to film these environments
  • Developing the app store for VR and AR applications
  • Offering the creation of VR environments as a service
  • Creating eye-tracking and eye-control systems that integrate with AR
  • Developing new gestural interfaces for users
  • Creating apps to integrate wearable data with the virtual world (e.g. games that know when you’re scared or a virtual yoga studio that knows when you’re calm)
  • Creating the next platform for DIY projects (e.g. step-by-step instructions on how to change a car battery, make beef stew or even build a cabinet)


The vast majority of the 10 to 15 billion objects connected to the Internet today are smartphones, tablets, PCs and industrial equipment. About 20 percent of the connected devices are the “things” we hear about that will make up the “Internet of Everything.” Over the next five years, that ratio will flip: The vast majority of connected devices will become everyday objects, from outlets to auto parts.

The introduction of these devices into our homes, offices, vehicles and even unexpected places will help us paint pictures of our lives in ways never seen before. These devices will leave data trails about everything from our consumption habits and health activities to work and leisure. Consumers will get a better sense of the way they use resources; they will have more control over their environments; and they will find new opportunities to improve their health, wealth and happiness.

Consumers will likely eschew privacy concerns for the convenience that many of the devices offer, but be prepared for a backlash if sensitive data leaks out.

Business Opportunities:

  • As more data is generated, helping consumers and businesses visualize data will be a growing opportunity
  • Developing new apps to integrate all types of devices into a unified platform
  • Transforming pure product plays to service businesses (e.g. from selling glucose monitor products to selling glucose monitoring as a service)
  • Selling conservation as a service. As businesses get more insight into their consumption, they are likely to pay a percentage of what they save to do so
  • Helping companies increase their product transparency through tracking from raw ingredients to final product (e.g. the origin of every ingredient in a snack bar to prove it contains no genetically modified organisms and perhaps beefing up certifications through data trails)
  • Finding niche areas that will need help analyzing copious amounts of data
  • Teaching and training workforces to sort and parse the reams of data being generated to find what is needed or usable

These are just a handful of the emerging opportunities we’re seeing. What do you think?

@MikeVidikan, Future in Focus

Microsoft Now Accepts Bitcoin

Gastev flickr

Today Microsoft officially joined the list of companies accepting Bitcoin payments.

According to BitPay chief commercial officer Sonny Singh,

“Microsoft has a long-term vision for bitcoin, BitPay and the blockchain. Starting with digital goods in the US is the logical first step, however, they want to expand to Europe and globally and add support for other products as part of that rollout.”

This could be a major event that pushes others to accept Bitcoin payments and propels the cryptocurrency toward mainstream acceptance. At the very least, in the immediate future, others may join suit just for the free press.

In lieu of these events, I bought $1000 worth of Bitcoin. I can’t recommend it as an investment, but I’m comfortable holding it for a while.

@MikeVidikan, Future in Focus

Save your Business by Destroying it

The military have long used “red teams” to test their battle strategies and defenses. Corporations have used this technique more recently to test IT infrastructure against cyber-attacks. But what if you created a team to figure out ways to put the entire company out of business? Would your leadership appreciate your ideas and move quickly to counter these potential threats, or would they toss the report, bury their heads, and maintain the status quo?

It’s quite clear that we’re in the midst of a global economic transformation. Real-time sharing of information is speeding up the pace of innovation across all industries. Hundreds of millions in developing countries are rising out of poverty to join the middle class faster than ever before. Scrappy startups are taking advantage of reduced barriers to entry offered by the Internet and mobile platforms to disrupt Fortune 500 businesses.

In order the survive and thrive, businesses need to understand where disruption is coming from and how to harness it. Figuring out what could kill your business might be the only real way to save it. Here are some steps to help.

First, identify emerging technologies such as 3D printing, virtual reality, UAVs, and other emerging platforms, and explore how they are changing the business landscape and changing consumer behaviors. Which technologies pose the biggest threat to your company and industry?

Second, identify trends and factors shaping consumer lifestyles such as the increase in responsible consumption, the sharing economy, and the rise of women in society. Which trends could threaten your growth opportunities?

Finally, merge the two to see how emerging technologies will play off consumer trends or how consumer values will impact the way technology is adopted to see what these changes could mean for society and for your business.

What you find might scare you and your executive leadership, but great challenges also present great opportunities.

@MikeVidikan, Future in Focus

Time for a Life Hack Backlash?

There seems to be an opportunity for companies to make fun of Lifehacking. Lifehacking is all about improving efficiency and finding shortcuts to be more productive. There are all sorts of blogs devoted to this subject and thousands of images on Pinterest that share ingenious tips and tricks. Lifehacking is closely related to the DIY movement as it offers tips on making everything from homemade zit creams and bleach wipes to storing onions in pantyhose to extend shelf life.

I recently came across this Lifehacking Internet gem:

“Keep cake moist by just eating the entire thing in one sitting.”

life hack cake

It occurred to me that some companies could take this opportunity to show Lifehacking gone wrong and suggest to consumers that it would just be easier and safer to use their product. Or suggest that savings from all that DIY could be used to splurge on a vacation or luxury good. It’s important to remember not to attack the DIY movement, just help consumers laugh at its eccentricities. Laugh with them, not at them.

Let me know if you can think of any good examples for this.

@MikeVidikan, Future in Focus

Sales of SUVs and trucks will continue to soar

It might come as a surprise to some that sales of compacts, electrics, and hybrids are falling behind crossovers, SUVs, and trucks. The biggest winner is Jeep, while the biggest loser seems to be Volkswagon. But why? What happened to the boom in environmentally friendly vehicles?

Perhaps the consumer that is drawn to smaller, more environmentally friendly cars is also being drawn to newer alternatives like ride-sharing services, Uber, and bicycles, while the consumers buying these larger vehicles don’t have a replacement yet for carpool, grocery runs, and dependable comfortable transportation to and from the suburbs.

Seen in this light, car companies that invest in improving the fuel economy and entertainment packages in SUVs and trucks will see the most benefit for quite some time.


Future in Focus