Why We Really are Going Back to the Future

    One day in 1885 German designer Carl Benz unveiled his Benz Patent Motorwagen and, in doing so, set in motion a trend that, in 2021, sees more than 1.4 billion cars clogging up the world’s roads, car parks and driveways.

    It’s hard to imagine, let alone believe, that we might now be on a rebounding trajectory taking us back (or should that be forward?) to a time when most people will not own a motor vehicle.

    Recently I was talking to an Uber driver who told me the app-based cab company is forecasting that by 2025 only a quarter of people living in a UK city will own their own car.

    This is would seem to be borne out by fleet agency Fleetpoint who issued a report a year or so ago that predicted that future demand for travel would be increasingly met by on-demand services that give people immediate access to a vehicle without the need of car ownership.

    From a consumer perspective this has obvious advantages: no fuel costs, minimal – if any – insurance requirements, no road tax, no congestion or environmental charges. There’s also an obvious wider environmental benefit as the dirty combustion engine slowly stops choking the planet.

    This got me thinking to the other significant consumer or technology changes we might start to see over the next few years – and the things that will slowly start to disappear from our day-to-day lives.

    • No more opening the curtains


    One obvious area where we’re going to see greater innovation is in the Internet of Things. This is the world of smart technology that is slowly removing the need for us to get out of bed or out of a chair to accomplish everyday tasks.

    We can already close or open blinds and curtains, turn lights off and on and control our central heating with a voice command or a clap of the hands.

    Smart fridges know when we’ve run out of milk and work with voice-activated apps like Alexa and Siri to add staple ingredients to cloud based shopping lists.

    Expect to see a significant uptick in the proliferation of voice- and app-controlled home entertainment systems, white goods and appliances between now and 2030.

    • No more grocery shopping


    All the UK’s major supermarkets now offer either a click and collect or home delivery service, or both.

    Tesco and Amazon have now launched their first every till-less stores, which uses customer apps to debit the cost of food ‘purchased’ from their accounts without even having to scan a barcode.

    Not only will the technology accelerate the customer journey, it will also drastically reduce store overheads with a reducing need for humans to facilitate transactions.

    Whilst the impact on the job economy of these technology-based initiatives and others like them is open to question, we can also expect to see the Alexas and Siris of this world sending dictated shopping lists to be fulfilled and delivered by online retailers through increasingly automated systems.

    • No more talking


    If you’ve read my recent blog on automation, you’ll know my thoughts on how human interaction is being designed out of customer engagement.

    At YCG we believe this has a negative impact on business, but the march of technology is never going to be halted by objections from the likes of me, so we can expect to be having fewer human interactions in our consumer journeys.

    Chat bots are now becoming the preferred default comms solution by which businesses try to manage their CRM and customer service, and as online fulfilment across more and more industries and sectors becomes possible, we can expect to see these continue to expand.

    • Fewer offices


    I was talking to a friend recently who is a contractor with a big multi-national UK-based business that at the start of the pandemic maintained two very large premises in Victoria, London.

    This employer – operating in close to 100 countries and employing half a million people worldwide – had always been very traditional in its operation: the working day started at 9am, hours had to be accounted for, a strict half hour lunch, home time at 5.30pm, and very little flexible working.

    Within six weeks of lockdown starting in March 2020, the business had sub-let one of its buildings and taken the decision to make remote working the substantive practice for all its London staff.

    The explosion of reliable video conferencing, collaborative software and faster connectivity means the commercial property sector is likely to be the biggest non-human casualty of the pandemic as non-manufacturing businesses and those that don’t rely on footfall shed the cost of expensive workplaces.

    • No one flying you


    The number of unmanned aircraft in the sky is already staggering – from missile technology to rocketry and military drones, the skies are full of more objects that contain no human presence than you might imagine.

    But life is about to get even more interesting.

    The advent of unmanned cars, unmanned trains, and unmanned passenger jets is just around the corner. Driverless cars are already in wide use (relative to their nascent lifetime) in Japan and selected parts of America.

    But as driverless technology becomes more advanced, more versatile and more reliable and safe, we can expect to see more scenes like the one in Demolition Man where future-located cops Sly Stallone and Sandra Bullock are being ferried around in an automated police cruiser. Unmanned taxis are expected to debut before 2030.

    And passenger jets? Well, they already ply their trade through the skies without much human input.

    Technologically speaking, fly-by-wire systems can get a Boeing 777 into the air, fly it and bring it down safely on any suitable runway anywhere in the world without a human having to do anything at all. And while human-free cockpits are unlikely to be here before 2030, they’re not far away.

    Ultimately, the trends we’ve seen over the last 20 years and those we see over the next 20 are all designed for consumer convenience and cost efficiency.

    From a social and health point of view, I have doubts about whether this technology is always in our own interests. But however pervasive or invasive it is or becomes, here’s something else to think about:

    Most, if not all of it, will be controlled by your mobile phone.