In the middle of the 20th century, IBM used its headquarters in New York City as a showroom of tomorrow. Passersby could look into the window and see the newest mainframe on display, promising an exciting technological future. It was the dawn of the computer age, but marketers were largely out of the picture.
It would be hard to explain the the “Mad Men” back in the 1960s that someday those big, hulking machines would shrink down small enough to fit in our pockets, that these devices would have screens and that they would, to a large extent, replace TVs as the dominant driver of commerce.
Today, as Moore’s Law is slowly petering to an end, we’re on the brink of a new era and, in time, marketing will be transformed once again in ways that are hard to see right now. Over the next decade marketers will need to begin to shift to the post-digital world of computing. This next transformation promises to be at least as revolutionary as the last one.
Shifting To New Computing Architectures
The central task of early mainframe computers was to perform calculations that few people had any use for — huge back office tasks like accounting and payroll and complex scientific calculations. However, as computing became exponentially cheaper, marketers began to use it for research. Later came the Internet, banner ads, CRM and a thousand other things.
The two computing architectures most likely to replace digital computing, quantum computers and neuromorphic chips, are possibly even more obscure than mainframes were in the early days. The first, quantum computing, will create incredibly large computing spaces and the second, neuromorphic computing, will mimic how our brains process information.
The first applications that quantum computers will find a market for are likely to be truly massive simulations — such as calculating subatomic energy states — that will fundamentally alter our ability to understand the physical world. Neuromorphic chips will first be deployed in artificial intelligence tasks and, because they are incredibly energy efficient, in the Internet of Things.
In a decade or so, we may start to see the first marketing applications. Much like quantum simulations will enable us to simulate particles in the real world, they may also be able to do the same for consumers. Neuromorphic chips may be able to help us understand the data coming from those simulations and also, because of their efficiency, create sensors that provide more information to analyze.
AI As The New UI
In 1988, Don Norman published his seminal book, The Design of Everyday Things , which is largely seen as pioneering the user-centered design movement. Today, user experience has become a thriving field in itself and marketers have learned, for the most part, that better experiences can be a key sales driver.
Yet the interface itself is changing rapidly. We no longer solely use keyboards, mouses or even touch screens to interact with our machines, but are increasingly using voice, motion and even our facial and biological characteristics to guide technology to do what we want it to. In effect, artificial intelligence is the new user interface.
Over the next decade, technologies like quantum computing and neuromorphic chips are likely to exponentially improve our AI capabilities and our capacity to improve the user experience will need to improve with it. Our ability to gain value through the information and intelligence out of the systems we build will only be as good as our interactions with them.
So a major task for the coming years will be to to design conversational intelligence, including the ability to preserve context, so that our systems understand how our commands and queries relate to previous turns in the conversation. They will also need to seamlessly integrate multiple interfaces, such as touch, voice and biometric patterns to not only respond to our commands, but also our emotions, through changes in facial expressions, tone of voice and other data.
The digital age marked its progress through interfaces. We moved from keyboards, to mouses, to touch and eventually to voice. Marketing systems of the the future will be defined by our ability to make interfaces disappear.
Blockchain As The New Database
In 1970, a researcher at IBM cnamed Edgar F. Codd came up with a new way to store and retrieve data called the relational database. It was a discovery that was so obscure that, in fact, IBM itself didn’t fully understand its implications and the industry it spawned would be dominated by companies like Oracle and SAP.
Now imagine yourself traveling back to say, 1972 and trying to explain the impact of this new technology to a marketer of the time. Relational databases would go on to have a major impact on the industry, forming the basic technological infrastructure for things like research and booking, but none of that would have meant much back then.
Today, we are in the midst of a similar revolution driven by blockchain and the transformation will be just as subtle, but no less impactful. Blockchain is, at its core, a new kind of distributed database, made secure through encryption. Over the next decade, it will begin to replace our existing technological infrastructure and that will have wide-ranging implications.
Probably the most important aspect will be blockchain’s ability to create trust through its audit function, which will enable new models for attribution and consumer opt-in. That, in turn, will give rise to new business models and, most probably, profoundly alter the relationship between marketers and consumers. A trust protocol rewards trustworthy behavior and punishes deception.
The Twilight Of The Digital Age
A decade ago, there were still serious debates about the significance of digital technology for marketing. Banner ads were still the dominant digital medium, social media was still in its infancy and mobile marketing hadn’t really gotten started yet. It is nothing less than remarkable how much things have changed in such a short amount of time.
So it is understandable that a significant amount of marketers’ time and energy has been spent chasing “shiny objects.” Social media, online video, mobile technology and now, artificial intelligence, are each transformative technologies. They have all been introduced in such quick succession that marketers have had little time to catch their breath.
Over the next decade, however, there will be few advances in fundamental technologies, except for artificial intelligence. Advancement in computer chips has already slowed to a crawl. The hiatus will give marketers the time to catch their breath and begin to deploy the present technologies more effectively before the next wave of disruption starts in 10-20 years.
What will have to change is the marketing mindset. The fundamental questions in the coming years will not be how to deploy this or that new technology, but how to can solve fundamental marketing problems, such as how to earn consumers’ trust and how to create experiences that are more impactful, useful, productive and beneficial.
An earlier version of this article first appeared in Inc.com
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Greg Satell is a popular author, speaker, and innovation adviser who has managed market-leading businesses and overseen the development of dozens of pathbreaking products. Follow Greg on Twitter @DigitalTonto. His first book, Mapping Innovation, was selected as one of the best business books of 2017 by 800-CEO-READ.