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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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Apple Is Donating 9 Million Masks To Combat The Coronavirus

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Topline: Apple will donate 9 million N95 protective masks to combat the coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, making Apple one of several California tech companies pitching in as hospitals across the country report a shortage of protective gear.

  • Pence thanked Apple for agreeing to donate 9 million N95 respirator masks to healthcare facilities across the country during a press briefing on Tuesday.
  • Pence’s remarks come after Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted over the weekend the company was “working to help source supplies for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19” and “donating millions of masks for health professionals in the US and Europe,” but did not offer more specifics.
  • N95 respirators are masks that form a protective seal around a wearer’s mouth, filtering  out at least 95% of particles in the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which makes them necessary to protect healthcare workers from being exposed to the disease from patients.
  • Facebook has also said it is donating its stockpile of 720,000 masks purchased during the California wildfires last year, which degraded the air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes asking if all of the donated masks were stockpiled because of the wildfires or if the company got them from somewhere else.

Chief critic: Teddy Schleifer, a reporter at Recode, wrote that health systems shouldn’t rely on the generosity of big tech companies to make up for the failures of the federal government. 

“But there is a risk in relying on corporate philanthropy—rather than the government—in solving this problem. For starters, it depends on the voluntary generosity of these companies to deal with an unprecedented emergency, an altruism that could vanish at any time,” he wrote.

Crucial quote: “And I spoke today, and the president spoke last week, with Tim Cook of Apple. And at this moment in time Apple went to their store houses and is donating 9 million N95 masks to healthcare facilities all across the country and to the national stockpile,” Pence said.

Key background: Apple is one of several California tech companies to give away N95 masks. In addition to Facebook, Salesforce, Tesla and IBM have also announced mask donations.

News peg: Doctors and nurses are sounding the alarm that they don’t have enough masks to protect healthcare workers. Not only does inadequate protective gear put important frontline health workers at risk, public health experts say, any situation endangering medical personnel may only further depletes the U.S. health system which already doesn’t have enough capacity to handle a surge in cases. State officials in New York and Illinois have criticized President Donald Trump for not stepping in to force companies to manufacture masks or allocate masks from private companies to ensure that states don’t outbid each other for the same supplies.

Rachel Sandler, Forbes Staff, Breaking News

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Video Games Are Being Played At Record Levels As The Coronavirus Keeps People Indoors

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Topline: With school closures, mandatory work-from-home policies and lockdowns taking place in the U.S. as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, gaming has seen higher engagement, especially over this past weekend.

  • Steam, the most popular digital PC gaming marketplace, reached new heights Sunday, drawing a record 20,313,451 concurrent users to the 16-year-old service, according to third-party database SteamDB.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released by Steam-owner Valve in 2012, seems to be the top beneficiary of the increased engagement, breaking it’s all-time peak on Sunday with 1,023,2290 concurrent players, topping its previous peak last month by a million, which itself beat the record set in April 2016.
  • Like other esports, CS:GO has had to cancel events due to the virus, particularly the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice earlier this month, though its peak viewership reached over a million, making it one of the most watched tournaments in the esports’ history.
  • Activision Blizzard’s new free-to-play battle royale spinoff Call of Duty: Warzone, launched March 10 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is also likely benefiting, drawing in a staggering 15 million in three days, besting the record 10 million in three days by last year’s battle royale sensation Apex Legends.
  • These new heights follows similar effects of the virus on China and Italy: Telecom Italia’s CEO told Bloomberg it saw a 70% increase in traffic over its landline network, with Fortnite playing a significant part, while Chinese live-streaming service Douyu experienced increased viewership of the country’s most popular games, according to market analyst Niko Partners.
  • While gaming was considered “recession proof” during the 2008 market crash, stocks aren’t immune to the current historic drops: software developers like Activision Blizzard are facing a 9% decrease in price year-to-date, while hardware companies that rely on Chinese manufacturing like Nintendo are seeing bigger drops of 24%.

What To Watch For: If these records keep rising as the closings and lockdowns continue. Arriving this week is Nintendo’s long-awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch console, a relaxing “life-simulator” that’s set to have a big day with many fans not-so-jokingly asking Nintendo to launch early.

Surprising Fact: Plague Inc., a game that tasks players in creating a virus that wipes out humanity, surged in popularity late January, becoming the top-paid game on the Chinese app store at one point, but the game has now been removed in China at the direction of the government.

Further Reading: So You’re Suddenly Working From Home And Want To Try Gaming? Here’s How To Get Started.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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Amazon Hoping To Hire 100,000 New Employees To Deal With Coronavirus Demand

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Topline: Amazon announced Monday that it would be opening 100,000 new full-time and part-time positions to deal with increased buying demand as people practice social distancing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

  • The company will also increase pay by $2 in the U.S. from its current $15 an hour, £2 in the UK and €2 in Europe for those working in fulfillment centers, transportation services, stores or people making deliveries, amounting to a total of $350 million.
  • Amazon last Friday shared that the increase in online commerce has unsurprisingly resulted in shortages for household essentials and delays in shipment times.
  • Monday’s statement also noted that “We continue to consult with medical and health experts, and take all recommended precautions in our buildings and stores to keep people healthy. We’ve taken measures to promote social distancing in the workplace and taken on enhanced and frequent cleaning, to name just a few.”
  • Last week, Amazon told all of its employees to consider working from home if they could, according to CNBC; for its fulfillment centers and delivery services, it also launched a $25 million relief fund that lets workers diagnosed with the coronavirus apply for  grants equal to two weeks pay, as well as unlimited unpaid time off for all hourly employees until the end of March.
  • Amazon currently employs 250,000 people at 110 fulfillment centers.

News Peg: According to Johns Hopkins, 181,200 people have been infected with the coronavirus, with 7,115 deaths reported. School closures, lockdowns and curfews have been put in place to promote social distancing, with the White House today recommending to avoid groups of more than 10 people.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Games

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