Where does the future come from? To get an idea, we should look for future gatekeepers. Who holds the keys to change? Right now, we can boil it down to a handful of smartphone manufacturers and a similar number of social media companies. The tech giants are presently gatekeepers to the Brave New World and have been so for a decade. But what comes next? Smartphones in the present form won’t rule forever, trust me.


I believe that smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo, with the AI woman Alexa inside, will win growing influence at the loss of the mobile screen. I’m the happy owner of two Echo speakers, connected to the Internet and my Amazon Prime account. When I come home from work, I ask Alexa to switch on the light and play some relaxing music, and she answers: “OK – shuffling songs by Nat King Cole on Amazon Music.” If I want to buy something on Amazon’s website, Alexa puts it quickly in my shopping basket and takes the money from my credit card. Thank you, Alexa.

Alexa is smart, and so are Google’s assistant, Apple’s Siri and Xiaodu from the Chinese search engine Baidu. They learn new stuff all the time, and their sales double each year. Some 60 million homes in America already have a smart speaker, which is a third of all households. China has 90 million speakers that answer back, and the market is expected to explode by 160 per cent this year. Europe follows suit, not as fast because of many languages, but we will catch up. IKEA is betting on smart homes too and has recently launched its own smart speakers in collaboration with Sonos.

Soon, we’ll all have smart speakers and new gatekeepers to the future. If I want to listen to music, if I want to pay a bill, control my heating, watch something on TV or whatever we call the big screen, or when I want to speak to someone, it will go through ‘the intelligent speakers’. We will no longer look down on our silly little screens, but lift our heads and talk straight into an intelligent loudspeaker. The trend we see now is a new platform economy in the making. Prepare for it!

Nils Elmark is a consulting futurist and the founder of Incepcion, a London-based consultancy that helps organisations develop new and braver dreams.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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