2016: A bad year for mankind? A great year for customer experience!

09 February 2017 -


The tech highlights of 2016, and what they could mean for customer experience

Guest blogger Professor Steven Van Belleghem

2016 will always be a year that was memorable for many reasons. Around the world we had high profile celebrity deaths, terrorist attacks, refugee crises and political upsets that will make 2016 stand out in the minds of many as a bad year for mankind.

But it wasn’t all bad. 2016 was actually a particularly exciting year when it comes to evolutions in tech, marketing and customer experience. These developments might not have made the headlines in the same way, but here is my rundown of the tech highlights of the year:

AI defeats human in Go

March 2016 saw a significant milestone in the field of artificial intelligence. Google’s artificial intelligence platform, DeepMind, managed to defeat a human being at Go – one of the most complex board games in the world.

The level of intuition and evaluation required in Go meant many experts thought such an achievement would not happen for at least 10 years. However, it demonstrates how quickly the field of artificial intelligence is moving forward, and offers just a hint at how businesses may also be able to use it to offer a better customer experience.

Microsoft purchases LinkedIn

June 2016 saw one of the biggest ever tech deals, when Microsoft bought LinkedIn for a whopping $26.2 billion. The CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, will retain his function but will now report to Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

For the average LinkedIn user, little has changed so far so it may not seem like big news. However, I am extremely curious as to how they will build it to become an even bigger platform, and what the implications might be for businesses and individuals in the coming years. Certainly one to watch.

Pokémon Go is a game changer

Hands up all those who succumbed to the biggest hype of 2016, and gave Pokémon Go a go. I first witnessed it in Seattle and it was incredible to see so many people, of all ages, gripped by the idea of catching virtual exotic creatures. It felt like overnight, hundreds of millions people were playing the game.

Today, the hype has died down somewhat, but it was definitely a “game changer” to the extent that it doubled the market value of Nintendo. Many say it signalled the start of mainstream augmented reality, but Pokémon Go is to AR what the Commodore 64 was to home gaming. There are already more advanced evolutions underway, like “Meta”, which working on a new device that allows people to play games without screens. This dream of a world without screens could also be a game-changer in retail and other industries.

Driverless cars are coming

This year, Ford made a bold statement that its autonomous vehicles (with no steering wheels or pedals) are due to hit the roads in 2021. And it is not just a launch – Ford is talking about mass production of driverless cars in 2021, something they know a lot about! Volvo is publicly sharing similar ambitions, expecting to launch in 2020.

This potentially huge evolution in the mobility industry is happening faster than everyone thought, and even Uber have launched their first driverless car programme picking up customers in Pittsburgh. Of course there are still engineers on board at the moment, just to make sure that everything goes well, but it won’t be long before this will no longer be necessary in the near future.

Are we about to colonise Mars?

As bold statements go, SpaceX founder Elon Musk made a pretty big one in 2016, sharing his plans to get humans to Mars within 8 years. SpaceX wants to colonise Mars, and their plans are surprisingly concrete. Mars will become a back-up planet (because we are probably going to “f*ck up our current planet”) and it would take about 40-100 years to make Mars self-sustaining so we can live on two planets.

Exciting news, isn’t it? Many people are understandably sceptical, but I am big believer in companies sharing big ambitions. It is a great way to get your team and your customers to really buy into your vision, and that is a lesson lots of other business leaders can learn from.

Time for social virtual reality

2016 saw Mark Zuckerberg present his Virtual Reality platform, demonstrating how Facebook is going to make virtual reality social. Until now, VR was a kind of cool tool if you wanted to pretend that you are on a roller coaster, but this development means people can do things together.

Facebook has plans to use VR as a new social network where people come first. Everyone will have their own avatar so you could bring friends into your life or even visit places together. The potential for businesses to embrace this technology is huge.

The death of traditional market research?

The shock results of Brexit and the American presidential elections were two of the biggest news stories of 2016. Nobody expected the results because the polls told us otherwise.

The results undermined everyone’s faith in traditional market research, and businesses are now realising that people don’t say what they think, so they are getting smarter about using behavioural data. Market research is no longer about what people say, it’s about what they do!

Hyperloop is coming

It might sound like science fiction, but Hyperloop will make it possible to move at airline speeds through tubes. They will create a system that makes it possible to transport passengers from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in just 12 minutes in 2017-2018.

Hyperloop was another idea from Elon Musk, but because of a lack of time and resources, he shared the idea on a public platform. The people from the Hyperloop project in Dubai used this knowledge and made the dream come to life.

Professor Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He is the author of the award-winning book When Digital Becomes Human, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99. Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at www.youtube.com/stevenvanbelleghem  or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com

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