Only time will truly tell us what technology will be in play in the year 2037, but until then it doesn’t hurt to get a little imaginative about some of the possibilities. While virtual reality and augmented reality are budding technologies now, will they become a vital component in the future? Will virtual goods become as valuable as physical goods? This week in the Future of Ecommerce series, we travel to the future, 20 years out, to see what may be widely adopted within the industry.
Note: Blue Acorn doesn’t have a crystal ball, and 20 years out is an extensive period of time. We make no claim to the following being set in reality, so take much of it with a grain (or mountain) of salt.
The biggest change in technology is more of a software-driven one, but will have a drastic impact on hardware as well. Artificial Intelligence or AI is loosely a marketing buzzword for the time being, but within the next 20 years it will likely become a reality. To mistakenly call a chatbot or messenger bot AI and then look back at where we are in the year 2037, it’ll be the difference between a sending a man to Mars and the first person traveling in a motorized vehicle. In simplest terms, our AI is essentially a form of rule-based automation, and most of it does not consist of machine learning. Systems like IBM’s Watson is one of the better-known examples of where we are headed, a platform that learns based on how we interact with it.
So what will AI give us in the future? Real voice assistants, which in turn means shopping without screens or displays; backend systems that know the exact moment to suggest a person buys or replenishes their inventory; automated shipping warehouses that can predict when an organization needs to up production and manufacturing, and an endless replacement to repetitive tasks.
If humans can’t achieve some sort of teleportation device in the next 20 years and 3D printing hasn’t been improved to be used for things other than rapid prototyping, the next best-case scenario is pinpoint shipping. Currently, shipping is based on setting a specific address or location and an item shows up there. While the current focus is on improving the availability of shipping so that items get to us quicker, in the future, shipping will be focused around each person and their expected location at a specific time. This is far more than a hardware outlook as it requires the full adoption of automated vehicles, our lives integrating with technology and machine learning to predict where we will be, and incredibly intelligent AI and other logistic software to further reduce any friction in the last leg of an online sale.
Solar and Renewable Energy
What are the biggest contributing factors to shipping, something that affects both supply and demand? Shipping and people. In 20 years much of the human factor in shipping can be replaced by automation and robotics, but shipping still costs quite a bit for us as we use fossil fuels. In the future, and even today, we are seeing a rise in the need for renewable energy and advancements in solar power. Combine these two components with shipping logistics, and that is one more way consumers will be able to save, which in turn will drive future revenue and higher conversions for brands.
Localized Manufacturing (3D Printing)
It’s hard to imagine what is essentially a hobby now could become the future of how many of our household goods will be created in the future. In 20 years it would be difficult to call the 3D printer of today the same thing as what will be available then, but there are two likely scenarios, but are akin to laundromats.
For those with enough space and enough money, there will be various specialized machines within their home or on their property that can produce everything from furniture to food. For everyone else, there will be local manufacturing centers that produce the same thing, but likely with slightly higher quality and output time. The question regarding what exactly can be created through these devices will remain to be seen, but if someone were to attempt the system now, it would only be for rapid prototyping. The 3D printers of today can produce components for cars (Local Motors), full homes, pizza, toys, and specialized hardware or parts. This is primarily due to the limited materials each machine can work with now, but each month has seen new innovative additions with the latest being glass.
“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
What was once a sci-fi oddity, and to this day has been dreamed about by every nerd on the planet, will eventually become a reality. Holograms in today’s world are either a mix of smoke and mirrors (quite literally) or augmented reality. But as lasers and other technology advances, we’ll be able to project true 3D builds of a person in space without the use of monitors or specialized lenses. This one is a bit far-reaching, but think about how easily this will help with inventory control and security when the product doesn’t have to be stored in mass. Will holograms become reality in 20 years? Probably not. The most likely scenario is a better adaptation of augmented reality.
Robots, Robots Everywhere
Robots are not necessarily the android looking robocop humanoid types that may first pop into your mind, but what we see today will play a pivotal role 20 years down the line. As automation and AI accelerates over the next 10 years, we’re going to see the rise in both components replacing jobs. For years more and more automated robots have been replacing humans from car assembly to food production, and now are even replacing them in security-based positions. But what happens as AI and machine learning advances? Production speed is improved, logistics becomes cheaper, products are fulfilled more so by need and less by want at the same time as AI can bolster marketing campaigns through data.
It will all start with the replacement of delivery systems that require a human piloting or driving products to shipping centers and direct to consumers. Will cyborgs replace your house-to-house mail person? Probably not.
Biometrics? Something Security
If humans are going the route of integrating their own bodies and minds with technology (hey, it could happen in 20 years), we’re going to need better technology. Biometrics is one such possible way that people can secure their digital currency, and we’re not talking fingerprints. Facial recognition is one possible route, with another being iris scans or even RFID implanted chips. Whatever technology we do end up with in 2037, hopefully security tech will finally outpace it as our current track record is a constant issue to both ecommerce brands and consumers.
Bye Bye Paper Money
Will Bitcoin be the future of payments? We’ll take a stab in the dark and say no; however, it did produce the Blockchain, which in turn has been a foundation for numerous important security-focused innovations. While Bitcoin and Dogecoin won’t replace a good ole’ $100 bill, the necessity to produce and maintain paper money will eventually be replaced by that of digital formats. This can come in the form of simply using secure credit and debit cards, NFC chips with associated account information, or some other kind of digital medium. As technology, especially in the security space, becomes more advanced, the pros will quickly start to outweigh the cons and in-kind make paper money too costly to maintain.
Interstellar Delivery (Probably Not)
By the mid-2030s mankind is set to take their first few steps on Mars. Among the Elon Musks and other private industries that will no doubt throw their names into the ring, the first steps for Mars will be colonization. Will there be interstellar delivery by 2037? Probably not, at least not without some form of more cost-effective space travel and rapid colonization effort. Some of the furthest reaches of our imagination tell us that eventually there will be a need for interstellar delivery, but that is likely far outside of the 20-year window.
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