Amy Webb is an author
and futurist and the
founder of the Future
Today Institute, a leading
forecasting and strategy
firm. Follow her on Twitter:
AMY WEBB ; LEADING EDGE
and most never connected the dots. A world of opportunity
awaits companies that ask their customers to opt in to sharing
their data—imagine combining a customer’s data with her
location and real-time weather information ahead of a big
winter storm, and sending her a personalized reminder to stock
up on her essentials: co;ee, avocados, de-icing salt.
Our passive data can also be used to predict what colors,
shapes, and designs we’ll be attracted to in the future. IBM’s
Watson used data from New York Fashion Week, along with
human attributes from hundreds of photos—how models
moved down runways in various apparel, for example—to
make accurate clothing-trend predictions for the fall of 2017.
The same system could be used to anticipate new forms and
styles for consumer technology, kitchenware, and furniture.
As more connected devices launch, entrepreneurs will have
access to even more data, allowing them to forecast customer
needs and desires further into the future. The CubeSats from
Planet Labs—miniature satellites that can record and beam
nearly real-time visual data back down to Earth—will help
businesses get a sense of how people move around towns,
cities, airports, and seaports. And connected workout apparel
from companies like Supa and Sensoria, along with “earable”
in-ear devices from Bragi and smart pills like Abilify MyCite
(data-collecting devices are embedded in both items), will
continue to enter the mainstream from the fringes, creating
more passive data all the time.
In the next few years, you’ll start to see simple dashboards
that will help you extract meaning and learn from the crowd.
You won’t need to be a research scientist to see your future in
all that data. And what you can do with all that information—
and how to build your business to meet the changes just over
the horizon—is a project you can start thinking about today.
n the past 24 hours, you’ve
passively shed more data than
you can possibly imagine. Tiny
fragments of the physical and
virtual you are strewn across all
the places you’ve been: the unique
keystroke patterns entered as
you’ve typed on your computer;
the subtle intonations in your
recorded call to customer service;
the biomatter you’ve left behind in cars and public bathrooms.
On their own, these bits of you aren’t particularly useful. But
collected with everyone else’s data, then mined and refined
with powerful artificial intelligence systems, your passive data
can be used to tell the story of your future.
By now, you’re no doubt familiar with crowdsourcing:
asking the public to contribute their ideas to help you solve
problems or to weigh in on decisions. But what if you could
harness the wisdom of the crowd without asking them any
questions? What if you could hold an intensive focus group—
or an exhaustive store walk-through—at scale, and without the
usual cadre of customers and pricey influencers and experts?
Researchers now know that making such observations
from our passive data can be much more informative than
interacting with us directly. This is “crowdlearning”: using the
vast volumes of data we shed or are otherwise available (our
online activity, our locations, the biodata in state and federal
health records) to learn or understand something new.
Crowdlearning can be used to predict what new products
will be needed in the marketplace and what services customers
will want—well before they know themselves. Companies adept
at understanding the intersection of data and human behavior
can learn how much time their customers spend on various
websites, what triggers their decisions, and what media they’ll
consume within the context of life events such as marriage,
moving into a new home, or starting a family.
Target infamously used crowdlearning to infer when certain
customers were pregnant—and then marketed baby-related
products to them. While some customers bristled, many didn’t,
Forget Crowdsourcing. Cool Companies Are on to Crowdlearning
The future of your business lies in what we leave behind.