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‘Robots Will Curate Our Best Futures’

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Renowned New York-based futurist Faith Popcorn was in South Africa recently when she also spoke to FORBES AFRICA about the trends that will shape the future. Here are some of her mind-boggling predictions.

She is the TREND-SPOTTER who famously coined the word ‘cocooning’ in 1981, and got most of her predictions right. Faith Popcorn was in South Africa in November at a Virgin Atlantic and Investec event titled ‘Business Is An Adventure’. As the founder & CEO of Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, a future-focused trend consultancy, she applies her foresight to reposition established brands and create the products and services of tomorrow. The best-selling author lives in Manhattan and Wainscott, New York, with her two Chinese daughters. We ask her to tell us more:

What are the Top 5 trends for the future?

Being Alive: We are a wellness-obsessed culture – it’s our way of feeling in control in an out-of-control world. The era of the ‘quantified self’ means we can parse our biometric data to find out exactly what will optimize our health, and emotional and spiritual wellness are becoming critical. Tech and AI – ‘embeddables’, ‘swallowables’ and AI – will anticipate our needs and help us achieve optimal health. A little chip will sense, ‘oh, bad mood coming… let me dose you with CBD or change your brainwaves to get rid of that’.”

Save Our Society and AtmosFear: This pairing of trends recognizes that our planet is in peril – beyond peril, it’s dying – and says we must do anything and everything to save it. Values are the ‘new value’. No person, brand or business can survive in the coming years without a commitment to heal our earth. If that means solving for fossil fuels or building an asparagus farm on Mars – just do it.

EVEolution: I thought this would have accelerated beyond where it is today, but in the years ahead, it will be absolutely primary. The biggest wealth transfer in history – over $20 trillion – will mostly benefit women. Women are earning more degrees than men at every educational level, are starting businesses at two times that of men and refusing to put up with oppression – look at #metoo and #timesup as the seeds of this. In the future, the discussion won’t be about parity and closing the gender gap. It will be about women superseding and leading men.

Vigilante consumer: If you thought the consumer was already at its peak demanding accountability and transparency, brace yourselves. Companies will have to divulge everything. Your consumer will demand to know about your inclusivity policies on staff; what your political values are; they will know your recycling and plant-friendly policies in full detail – and when you’re green-washing. Many conglomerates will flounder and fail due to this… and disruptors will be waiting to dive in and take their business.

What do the terms ‘gender fluidity’ and ‘gender-free’ mean to you?

Gender fluidity means the person, regardless of what gender they were assigned at birth, feels that their identity fluctuates from the old, binary norm. So maybe you are a man who one day feels feminine, wears earrings and nail polish; another day, you feel macho and wear a suit. Or maybe you feel somewhat feminine all the time… but you do not adhere to the old-school gender norms. This is not about sexual orientation, to whom you are attracted. It’s about how you feel in your own skin, relating to the world. Gender-free is the response to gender fluidity. It’s why P&G removed the female Venus symbol from menstrual products to be inclusive of trans-men. It’s why Mr. Smith makes haircare for all; Jecca makes cosmetics for all; and the Phluid Project in New York sells clothing for all. Doesn’t matter what your chromosomes say – express yourself however you like. I think we need to stop thinking of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ product aisles and recognize a third, gender-free aisle will soon rise and take their place.

How will robots evolve?

Right now, robots are fairly limited and clunky. They are not the intuitive, anticipatory, seamless partners, friends, advisors and care-givers they will be soon. Their form will become miniaturized and ultra-mobile, with articulated limbs that can complete all kinds of chores. Thanks to AI and what i call Emo-Surveillance (they will read our expressions and body-language cues), they will be able to comprehend our moods and respond before we articulate our needs. IoT and biometric data will let them know if we are stressed, sad or sleepy, and they will be there with a kind word, an elixir, a pep talk, a nap programmed with a fabulous, uplifting dream. They will become the curator of our best futures.

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