Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
‘Truth’ serums allowing people to read between the lines, and gait detection technology that gauges your religious beliefs and shopping preferences by the way you walk, are just some of the technologies that could transform marketing in the next 10 years.
Speaking at a Sydney breakfast event organised by digital agency Webling, WPP AUNZ chief strategy officer and futurist, Rose Herceg, outlined a number of ‘military-grade’, cutting-edge technologies now being developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The government funded agency, founded in 1958 by the US Department of Defense, has developed many of the most influential technologies over the last 50 years, including the Internet, GPS, videoconferencing, the cloud and voice recognition. Herceg highlighted seven key technologies currently in the works, each with potential to change the way we understand and interact with each other as brands, humans and consumers.
Top of the list was Gait Biometric technology, which uses an individual’s physical gait and walk to ascertain key attributes about the person, such as their religion, political beliefs, the way they shop, and even if they are kind. To do this, DARPA is using scanning machines, which processes multiple images to determine how that individual feels, behaves and does things.
“The military application is to weed out terrorism,” Herceg said. “But just think about what this will do for a Stockland or shopping centre – I could walk through the front door and be recognised as a Chanel purchaser and guided towards the expensive stuff. Or what if you’re a political party and want to figure out which way I’m going to vote? What about if you’re a charity wanting to figure out if I’m a charitable human being? In a decade’s time, this is going to have many commercial applications.”
Brain Image Reconstruction, meanwhile, is about drawing what your brain is visualising. Electrons connect the brain to a software program that uses 3D image technology to visualise what’s inside an individual’s head in real time.
“You can visualise your perfect wedding dress, hair colour and style, or a perfectly designed kitchen for your home,” Herceg said. “Imagine what a fashion brand like Cue could do with this in terms of design, or a Nestle or Colgate Palmolive when it comes to product innovation, or IHG when it comes to designing a hotel room.
“Once we take away the distance between interpretation of what we think to what we can physically draw, things will be incredibly different.”
Arguably, the most invasive technology on the DARPA list is Anomaly Detection at Multiple Sites, a beta serum drug that taps into human intuition and allows people to read between the lines to get to the real story. The obvious use is for law enforcement and at crime scenes, but Herceg also pointed to applications for agencies, the medical profession and even journalists trying to figure out the difference between alternative facts and truth.
“There is a sub-text in every context, and the fact that DARPA is figuring out how this is done with a beta serum drug takes it to the next boundary of human intuition,” she said. “There will be a tonne of discussion about the ethics of all of this… But it’s coming and in a decade, it will be real.”
Another of DARPA’s emerging creations is the Food Circuit Unit, aimed at addressing food safety, food labelling and supply chain auditing concerns. Herceg pointed out mislabelling or lying about the provenance of food products will become a criminal offence in the next decade.
Broad Operational Language Translation was also flagged by Herceg as a game-changer and one of the most interesting of the technologies on her list. A dose of one drug will allow a brain with no knowledge of a foreign language the ability to understand that foreign language on the spot. Tests are underway on the five most popular languages globally: English, Mandarin, Hindustani, Spanish and Arabic.
“Think of the applications for travel and business, efficiency in time and money. Imagine what companies like Disney and Telstra could do with this,” she said. “The idea that we no longer need to go to Rosetta Stone and can just take stuff in that lets us both speak and understand another language is extraordinary.”
Crowd Sourced Legislation was indicative of the “true democracy of the future” and putting the hands of all decision making into the hands of the people, Herceg continued. Two prototypes are currently underway in a precinct in Tokyo, Japan and Portland in Oregon, US.
“It’s what happens when you force people to vote for everything happening in their local community,” she said. “If you want a park to stay a park, you have to vote. If you don’t vote, you lose your right to protect it from being demolished.”
Last on Herceg’s list was Engineered Living Materials, which can grow, self-repair and adapt based on their environment. These combine traditional material attributes with living systems. The applications are far-reaching for property and construction, automotive and more, she said.
“What does this do for insurance companies like Suncorp, or property companies, or a car leasing company?” she asked. “Think about what it does to insurance premiums, business models or to cars.”
All of these potentially pervasive technologies raise significant ethical questions, not to mention legislative challenges. For Herceg, marketers will need to employ “a lot of common sense” when testing any such emerging technologies.
One way of ensuring this is by employing ethicists in teams and keeping these issues top of mind when testing new technologies and approaches to engagement, she said.
“Ethicists have to be included in the tent, and early,” she told CMO. “Legislation will come after that. Often companies move too fast and forget the ethics and legislative questions.”