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The year Ahead for... Technology.

Summary: Smart tech developments that connect the digital world to the physical will see the human race augment itself even further in the year ahead

On 13 June, 1863, The Press news- paper in Christchurch, New Zealand, published an open let- ter from the novelist and phi- losopherSamuelButlerentitled"Dar- win Among the Machines". What is remarkable about this article is But- ler's visionary outlook in a world where Edison's electrical light bulb would take another 17 years to be invented.

In trying to describe how machines will evolve over time, he asked: "What sort of creature is man's successor in thesupremacyoftheearthlikelytobe? We have often heard this debated; but it appears that we are creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are giving them greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race."

One hundred and fifty years on, it would be hard to describe the impact of our current fascination for technol- ogy with better words. The difference between then and now is that what was hypothetical then is now real.There is little doubt that we are in the process of creating our own successors, and we are indeed adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation on a daily basis.

Take a look at the year that has just passed: Google is perfecting its driver- less car; Oculus is developing a fully immersive virtual reality; Motorola invented the Edible Password Pill; 3Doodler launched a pen that can write in 3D; Double Robotics launched the mobile telepresence robot (pictured); scientists at Austral- ia's University of Newcastle regener- ated a frog that has been extinct since 1983; Boston Dynamics engineered the Atlas Robot; Amazon prototyped drone deliveries; we saw the creation of an artificial pancreas and a plethora of new sensors such as Myo, Leap Mo- tion and Emotiv.

Keeping with the Darwin meta- phor, we can argue we are witnessing the 'evolution' of new species, artifi- cial ones and, unlike the ones de- scribed in Darwin's On The Origin Of Species, the evolution of the 'homo ar- tificialis' is so rapid that it requires this type of yearly update.

A beacon for retailers

Location-basedmarketingisaboutto get a big boost in 2014, mostly thanks to a single piece of tech: iBeacon. For retailers, iBeacon is easily the most important announcement made by Apple in 2013 as it will unlock a raft of new types of customer experiences in the coming months. It works by using Bluetooth Low Energy proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier that, when picked up by a compatible app, can be turned into a physical location and trigger a specific action on the device, such as sendingawelcomemessage,generate a discount voucher, unlock a hotel room door or even make a payment.

Amazingly, iBeacon is already avail- able on almost 200 million iOS devices as it came built-in as part of iOS 7. Moreover, iBeacon is not limited to the Apple ecosystem. Indeed, any device with BLE can be an iBeacon, including devices running Android's Jellybean and KitKat systems too.

On 9 January, 2001, Steve Jobs gave one of his greatest Macworld keynote presentations in which he introduced the 'digital hub' concept. He said the 'desktop' would become the hub and would evolve into becoming the cen- tre of the digital lifestyle of the 21st century. Today, of course, the smart- phone is the new digital hub, but it no longer needs to connect to a MP3/ DVD player or digital camera since the smartphone has become all those devices. Instead, it connects to your bathroom scales, your fitness brace- let, your home thermostats or your dog's collar. With the advent of the 'internet of things', the smartphone is the perfect device to connect and con- trol it all since it is with us 24/7.

This is giving birth to a new trend and a new name where applications and accessories are coming together: appcessories. These are accessories that you control using an app on your smart device. Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit, Pebble Smartwatch, Samsung Galaxy Gear, Google Glass, Nest and With- ings are all examples that have emerged in the past couple of yearsand the trend will accelerate in 2014.

In many senses, the foundation for wearable tech has been laid out in the past couple of years (BLE, better bat- teries,miniaturisation,newuserinter- faces such as touch, gesture and speech recognition) and many predict that 2014 will be 'the year' when wearable technologies will go mainstream as they become more affordable, useful

and socially acceptable.

On one end of the 'socially accepta-ble' scale, less visible wearable tech such as fitness bracelets or smart- watches will go mainstream first while more visible wearable tech such as the Google Glass will take longer to be adopted by the masses. However, wearable tech will not be limited to humans; we will see more pet-con- nected objects such as smart collars that you will be able to track and con- trol from your smartphone. Smart tags such as Tile and Gecko should also see wider adoption.

A smart, connected world

The 'internet of things' will also see massive growth in 2014. Nest has proven the model works and we should see more start-ups (and grown-ups) launching new connect- ed objects. Smart objects that are like- ly to be mostly adopted by home users in 2014 are smart locks, smart light bulbs and smart plugs, and this, com- bined with a wider adoption of easy- to-use software solutions such as ifttt. com, will make integration between thedevicesandapplicationsabreeze.

A few Januaries ago, the 'semantic web' was in every year-ahead predic- tion article. Hailed as the next iteration of the web, it now seems to have be- come a bit of a dirty word with inves- tors and consumers.The original focus of the semantic web was great - a vision of a web of interconnected data and meaning - but ultimately missed the big picture, which is that people care less about knowledge graphs and more about the people and current events happening in their social graphs.

While this iteration of the web was critical (search engines would be broken and apps such as Flipboard or Zite would not exist), it now needs to evolve into a web of immediacy and relevancy - a 'synaptic web' some call it - that can deliver current and rele- vant content to users.

There will be more exciting devel- opments for the web in 2014, as it continues its transformation into a critical artificial-intelligence layer for connecting and serving future online experiences via apps and devices of all sorts. Just try Google Now - an array of incredible engineering and AI com- ing together to serve a blistering type of virtual assistance.

Merging the physical and digitalThese emerging technology trends will offer marketers new ways to merge physical and digital experiences.

This newtrend,alsoknownasPhygital,wil leadretailerstocreatenewtypesofex- periences that resurrect the high street thanks to the creation of smart stores that will deliver personalised and en- tertaining shopping experiences.

2014 will also see the rise of 'maker brands', as non-tech companies ac- quire tech start-ups. 3D printing, the miniaturisation of sensors and porta- ble electronics such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino will fuel that trend.

So, as we can see, we are well on our way to creating our own successor as anticipated by Butler 150 years ago. In a way, the current stage in this process is one of 'augmentation'. We are aug- menting ourselves, giving ourselves new power and senses through the use of technology. Augmentation through tech is an interesting para- digm for brands too. It can greatly help organisations transform into in- novative brands by looking to aug- ment their existing products and ser- vices with new technology.

Gregory Roekens is the chief technology officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

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Publication:Campaign Middle East
Date:Jan 12, 2014
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