Product development has people at its heart: it’s all about uncovering human pain points and desires, and creating a physical or virtual solution to address them.
The rapid rise of trends like wearables, AI-powered programs and genetic personalisation speak to the desire of Man to improve through the use of products and services that apply sophisticated technology to the enhancement of humanity. But this begs the question, what exactly is enhancement? Who determines and defines what an improvement on the human condition is? It is fair to say that different brands have their opinion and provide what they believe to be the best solution.
UNDERSTANDING OUR BODIES
Human enhancement is the ability to understand how our bodies work to then improve their performance: by providing information into how our bodies work and how best to use them, we can be empowered to improve. According to industry analyst firm CCS Insight, the market for wearables – which includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, ugmented and virtual reality headsets, and wearable cameras – will be worth $25 billion by 2019, with around 245 million devices sold that year alone. Smartwatches will be the most valuable segment with 60% of the market value, but fitness and activity trackers will remain most popular, accounting for over 50% of unit sales. A more invasive approach is provided by the likes of traditional hearing aids, devices that directly modify our body functions to better suit a particular need. Wearables tap into consumers’ desire for maximum optimization – even that of their own bodies.
The steep rise of gene-led product personalisation has also tapped into ‘human enhancement’ and has seen products from all categories provide tools to understand how our unique DNA or genetic build up affects our interaction with the world, and how to best use that information to our advantage in our relationship with products. Depending on your genes, you can enhance your body through means that are unique to you – which is an extremely powerful concept.
Another approach to enhancing our humanity is by attempting to improve consciousness. Technologies like literacy and the telephone tapped into the idea of separating our thoughts (and voice) from our body, and the Internet has only enabled further dissociation between the two, relegating bodies to the background. Intelligent personal assistants like Siri or Alexa are designed to adapt to users’ individual language usages and preferences so they learn from the user and self-adapt, even Facebook was forced to shut down an Artificial Intelligence experiment after two programs started communicating with each other in a new language that only they understood. Machine learning is the ultimate tech form of consciousness enhancement, especially as it takes place without the need for a human body.
Finally, there is a middle ground between both approaches, where Google Glass – for example – is currently lodged, with both a physical and consciousness enhancement: Google Glass, paired with an app called Holli, becomes a social skills coach for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by having the user’s glasses listen to the other person in a conversation, processing it as text and then generating an appropriate set of responses to maintain the flow of the conversation.
THE INTERNET OF PEOPLE
Consumers are naturally evolving towards self-enhancement through the use of sophisticated technology and yet there is a consumer tension between the trend of enhancing our bodies versus the trend of freeing ourselves from our bodies and living virtually, through technology. Brands can tap into either one of those trends – or even both – but need to very clearly understand consumer desires and fears, and the underlying human desire that fuels them both. So this begs the question, what is a desirable enhancement? What is progress? How much control do consumers want to forfeit in order to gain some of it back? What are the implications for the future of personal tech?
Will the IoT become the Internet of Bodies?
Maria Pálla Valiente, Associate Consultant, 12.10.2017