Focusingfuture.com interviewed Elina Hiltunen, a renowned futurist and author of three foresight books, and AJ Bubb, the lead for US Accenture’s Wearables and Industrial Internet of Things to get insight on their opinions on the future of wearables industry. Although, both experts belong to different schools of professional and intellectual backgrounds, both shared the same vision for the future of wearables, have a curious mind and wish to make the future better.
Wearables will split our realities
Elina, you have investigated the future of technology and published a book “Technolife 2035” with your husband Kari Hiltunen. Future living is an actual part of your life. Can you share with us your vision for the future of wearables?
In the future, we will have wearable technologies all over. As for today, we have fitness trackers, and it has been a huge thing for the last couple of years. There are many ways to have wearable technology implemented in our lives. Smart tattoos, contact lenses, sensors implanted in your body is not a futuristic thing anymore. You can find on crowd funding websites sneakers that can change the color and pattern of the shoes via a phone application. It is enabled by electric ink. Clothes get different technological features. This kind of technologies become more attractive and accessible in the nearest time. Even if today, innovative wearable technologies might feel a bit odd or futuristic, in the future they will become common and ordinary pieces of everyday life.
Future of technology follows a familiar adaptive pattern. If to think how we got used to mobile phones for example. When they first appeared, I personally was laughing at the invention thinking that I will never get one for myself. And a decade later, my kids and I have one. Even toddlers already know how to use tablets. Similarly, it will happen with wearables – a new normal.
AJ, what do you see as the most important technology that will spin the world?
I have two opinions about it. One is the Smart Home. In the future, there may not even be a need to have wearables. For examples, the home itself can detect your presence. The environment becomes more immersed, knowing what is going on around - Internet of Things.
The second one is the transformation of healthcare. Wearables have a tremendous effect on the development of health services and science. And, of course, enterprises adopt are keen on adopting new technologies, which are revolutionizing areas such as manufacturing and field force.
You speak about healthcare. How will wearables improve our health in the future? Do you have an example which will be close to our nowadays life?
In the US, as a system is now, hospitals and doctors are penalized for re-admittance. With new digital technologies, we are getting to point where doctors can leverage patient information remotely. Doctors can see the patients progress without the need to schedule an exam. As a result, we are getting better patient recovery time and more data to develop healthcare.
Moreover, health trackers improve other things like aging in place, which is enabling the elderly to stay at home as long as it is possible. However, they need constant monitoring, which wearables now can offer. For example, fall detectors. We have fall detectors implemented into bracelets that determine and notify a caregiver if the senior citizen in the house has tripped. Also, it provides health benefits, nudging people to take care of their health. I gave one of those to my grandfather, and now he checks his steps. With these new technologies, he can stay at home as long as he wants. It is not just young people who benefit from health trackers. Wearable technologies have no age limit.
Elina, what is the most important wearable on your opinion?
It is definitely a Virtual reality. Future will split our realities. We are going to have a real on and virtual reality. It will be something that we cannot imagine at the moment. I had an opportunity to try VR myself. Once I was the main character in the movie, or I have visited Jurassic Park, walking next to the dinosaurs. I was able to see their skin, their size, hear their voices. Adding smart gloves to the experience and would be able to touch them, to feel the pattern of the skin. Virtual reality is getting smaller, more efficient, available for mass market. We see 360-videos trending, and in 10 years from now, VR headsets will be a standard household item.
It sounds like VR will change the way we live. What will happen when VR fully enters our daily life?
It is a fascinating question, how will VR influence our lifestyle. Why would anyone go to movies, when you have VR helmet at home? Will this limit how much people are moving and commuting? Will people be staying at home doing virtual outings? When I am thinking of new generation, like my kids. The communication between peers has changed so much. They are interacting with the gaming world, using Minecraft and communicating via Skype while in the game. It is a shift from physical to virtual communication. There will be no need to go to a shopping mall, when via VR you can enter the greatest most amazing shopping mall ever and have the same experience as in real life. There is a tremendous potential in the virtual reality world.
The nature of work is going to change in the future. Already today we witness that the line between work and life is blurring. What is your vision for the work-life balance in the future?
Work and life will be more connected in the future. To begin with, there will not be that much work in the future. Automatization and robotization will enter the daily life. I am not worried about the physical robots. However, what is behind the artificial intelligence? How much of expert and white-collar jobs will it substitute? Already a century ago blue-collar work started to decrease because of industrialization. Already today we are seeing AI layers, customer service, and even doctors. In the long run, Virtual Reality will be able to give human such an extreme experiences, which people would like to be fully immersed in it.
At the same time, there are anti-trends going on. So part of individuals would prefer to be as close to nature as possible. And it will be another market, where no technology is accepted. People will be serving others for the most intimate human experience.
Nevertheless, when speaking about the future nothing is certain. It is important to consider different varieties and scenarios.
The line between work and life is already fragile. We already see it today with mobile phones, right? What I noticed from my interaction with people who have an iWatch, for example, their emails go straight to their watch now. There is no need to check the phone, and most of the tasks can be performed using the watch. It only proves that the lines between work and personal life are blurred. As it becomes easier for people to be connected, work related tasks are entering all the time regardless the time of the day. Such technologies surely will not be helpful with work-life balance. However, people will always be connected - the culture is going this way. Tech companies are simply satisfying this demand.
Recent studies have shown that people in the US take less vacation and work longer than even Japan, where people are falling and having heart attacks from overworking. To differentiate work and private life, some companies started putting policies in place that after a particular time or during the weekend emails are being turned off. It might be that in future, or already today, we need to have a state authority to step in and prevent people from working so much.
How will wearables change human living habits?
Health Trackers are outstandingly valuable pieces of wearable technology. Being able to gather data about the body and compare it in time or with others is a positive step forward. I would hope these technologies would bring a better quality of life. Especially as we gamify this activity, they become increasingly more attractive.
Anecdotally, I would hope that people would go out more and compete on those platforms like Fitbit. It is creating a circle of people – new communities. It is a positive side of being more connected as technologies increase human interaction. Communication will improve, and experiences will be more human as we integrate technology into life. For example, taking the screens away.
It might have a radical change to our habits as mobile, internet connection and smartphones did. If to think 15 or 20 years back. When it's about the technology, people forget what was the life before digitalization. How was it when there was no internet, and you couldn’t check bus timetable, etc. Wearables as a new normal is when you have digital keys from your apartment with sensors implemented in the ring. You just have to wave your hand in front of the electrical lock, a and door will open itself. It might be that wearables will give us new senses. Smart glasses with sensors will give us an infrared vision to see temperature and other commodities we cannot touch or see with our bare eye.
AJ, You work in close collaboration with enterprises and provide them with smart, innovative solutions. How will business implement the wearable technology?
From the enterprise side, we see more and more workers being outfitted with things like smart watches and smart glasses to help improve their job. Wearables make employees more efficient and improve training. Particularly in the world that changes rather quickly, fast and efficient training programs are essential. In the long run, we are seeing better job performance leading to higher job satisfaction. We are seeing employers do programs where you are awarded – gamification of the workplace.
Enterprises and industry are where we see the biggest opportunity for Smart Glasses. This interest drives a lot of them to the marketplace, especially for companies that have manufacturing, field forces, complex assembly, etc. In this industry, Smart Glasses can provide tremendous value. For example, Over the Shoulder Couching or remote expert. What this means is that if I have an issue when I am in the field or on the manufacturing floor, I can contact someone at the desk, for example, an engineer or specialist, and they can see what I see, providing an instant feedback. The second one is the Visual Work Instructions. The worker can request the text or video instruction for a new task. The third is Integrated Check List, where the worker has a list of tasks, so-called check-list, which instructs and helps to perform work faster and on the top level. All the data is automatically digitalized, so there is no flawful pen&paper work.
Elina, considering that technologies enter all the spheres of our lives. What should businesses do when they plan for future development?
Customers are getting more and more engaged with wearables. Therefore there is a tremendous market potential with many players entering the field. Chinese production is lowering the price of wearables and technology overall. For European and American companies, China is a challenge. The country is advanced in the technological, design and marketing of new technologies. Companies have to look into customers needs today and in the future to stay at the top. Services that wearables can produce in the future are far more important than a technological device itself.
And one of the most important question: the privacy issue.
It is essential to secure all the data going through the wearables. Today people are quite ignorant when it comes to the privacy of the data or cyber security. If one company or organization has some pieces of personal data, it is not as scary as when data from different sources is combined. For example, there is so many data already collected on our location, shopping habits, interests. The threat of the future is having one massive corporation, like Facebook owning many companies, that can combine the information from different sources enable to make predictive analyses for each of us. Only a terrible event caused by wrong use of data will bring attention to this issue. It is only then when society will realize the size of the threat and protective policies will be developed.
As businesses collect all this data, they need to provide the transparency for how it is being used. We are building the culture where people don’t even think about the information they are giving away until something big happens. For example, when a big social media site has a leak. It is going to become more and more important that collected data is secured and ethically handled. Customers have to be aware what they are signing up for and how they are being monitored. When handled with thought, data can give information on people's habits, location, etc. The dangerous side of Big Data is that combining different sources all information becomes identifiable to every person.
And the last question, which is one of the most interesting for us. Where do get your inspiration for your work and your innovative thinking?
I am an extremely curious person. I have a curious mind. If I notice some new behavior it gives me an insight into the future trends. And overall I like asking questions. “How? Why? What for?” this thing or other is happening. As well as being able to notice the weak trends in the world. It is my hobby spotting some small things that are changing in the world. I look into details like stickers on the streets or graffiti.
My life is immersed in the technology. I have one of the greatest jobs in the world: I am always out, I am always meeting new people. I am always figuring out what's going on, what are out current and future needs. All of these processes open doors towards innovative solutions. I see the potential to make lives better, improve the quality of life – this is what drives me forward.
About our experts:
Elina Hiltunen is an inspiring futurist living her life at full. Futurist Elina Hiltunen is a Doctor of Science (Economics) at Aalto University, School of Business, faculty of Organizations and Leadership. An author of “Foresight and Innovation: How Companies are Coping with the Future”, “Technolife 2035- How is technology changing our lives" (co-written with Kari Hiltunen) and soon to be published the book on future of consumers habits, Elina is an engineer of our future.
AJ Bubb, is an expert in emerging technologies such as Wearables and Internet of Things, including Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and systems integration platforms. It is impossible to list all activities AJ Bubb is engaged with. He is the US lead for Accenture’s Wearables and Industrial Internet of Things practices, working with community-focused programs and startups in Philadelphia. AJ is a recipient of Philadelphia Business Journal's Top 40 under 40 and Top IT Pro awards.