Five key consumer trends unleashed by AI and automation...


Self-driving taxis roam the streets of Singapore and Pittsburgh...


Yuneec's affordable 'selfie drones' follow and film their owners...


Nike has given the world self-lacing sneakers...


French farmers are followed through fields by Naïo Technologies' helper bots...


Nissan's autonomous desk chairs tuck themselves in...

OH SH*T – it's happening!

New technologies are reaching consumers sooner than expected. The autonomous innovations that experts were forecasting for 2020, 2040 and beyond? They're already here.

Robots working in retail. Self-driving cars. AI-powered chatbots.

2016 has seen many consumer-facing autonomous services hit a tipping point.

In the coming months, an avalanche of (fully and semi) autonomous products and services promise to save brands and consumers time and money. Retailers will provide previously unseen degrees of relevance with image recognition and data-powered product recommendations. Creatives will unlock inhuman potential in the arts. Connected and cognitive objects will protect and serve.

But as professionals, you don’t have months to figure this all out, because technology that grows smarter by the day is already reframing YOUR customers’ expectations.

Indeed, the only thing as certain as technological progress moving faster than professionals foresee, is that consumer expectations will accelerate even faster, without breaking a sweat.

The break-neck automation of tasks once performed by people – by intelligent software and physical infrastructure – will bring new expectations of efficiency, value, convenience and delight.

In world of consumer AUTONOMANIA, it’ll be sink or serve for brands.


Three drivers bringing AUTONOMANIA to life.



New technologies create new concerns, from Judgement Day scenarios to mass redundancy. 5.1 million jobs could be lost over the next five years in the 15 global leading economies from developments such as robots and AI (WEF, January 2016).

Yet consumers' concerns around new technologies will melt away once they experience the cheaper/faster/easier benefits it brings. See below how smart brands are already bringing the benefits of AI and machine learning to life and making things look more utopian than dystopian!



AI (and its key ingredients) is the hot field for every post-grad, startup, and tech giant. Think Stanford University, the University of Washington and China's Baidu partnering to push voice recognition to new heights, or Intel Labs and Germany's Darmstadt University training self-driving software with Grand Theft Auto.



For every public sector institution that stifles new technology to protect jobs or placate nervous citizens, there will be a local authority that loosens legislation or provides grants to entice major investment and earn a few headlines. See Singapore and Nutonomy, Pittsburgh and Uber, or New Zealand and Domino's.



If you want to get going (and stay ahead of emerging expectations) get a dose of AUTONOMANIA inspiration from the following five trends.


Five trends bringing AUTONOMANIA to life!

Consumers will embrace the brands that free them up from tedious tasks and allow them to focus on what matters.

Creativity, humankind’s proudest trait, is being automated.

When bots handle consumers’ self-improvement, mindlessness will be the new mindfulness. Enjoy this sneak peek of our full 2017 Trend Report – released October 25!

Retailers beware; shoppers will outsource their smarts!

Today, making connections is easy. Social skills, however, take work… or do they?



Consumers will embrace brands that free them from tedious tasks and allow them to focus on what matters.


Affluent, hyper-connected consumers are SLAVES to tedium...

Set them free!

Self-driving cars are the media darlings du jour, but the opportunities and benefits for consumers stemming from autonomous services go far beyond four wheels. The tasks that consumers are really desperate to outsource to intelligent technology? The ones that are no fun!

Once consumers are fortunate enough to have a roof over their head, a full stomach and the other necessities locked in, they start to notice the REAL struggles in life: paying bills, cleaning the house, tying laces, taking the recycling out, and waiting (whether it’s for a bus or a video to load, waiting for anything is hell ;)

Intelligent products and services will find favor by eradicating lifestyle MONOTONY through AUTONOMY.



World’s first robot lawyer repeals 64% of parking fines

Contesting parking tickets – the scourge of urban living – is time-consuming and awkward.

Extending its services into New York in March 2016, the UK-based DoNotPay chatbot has successfully challenged 160,000 of 250,000 parking fines over a 21-month period. The free online program asks people a series of questions to work out whether an appeal is viable, and then guides the user through the appeals process. The DoNotPay program is also able to navigate compensation for delayed flights.

Of course, as we approach total AUTONOMANIA, your vehicle will be smart enough to avoid getting tickets in the first place.



The Roomba has been finding its way around homes for over 15 years

The Roomba, iRobot’s pioneering autonomous robot vacuum, has been cleaning houses, chasing ducks and getting into trouble (see the picture for an illustrated map of what happens when a Roomba runs over dog poop) since 2002.

But expectations often only take off once the product or service in question is widely affordable.



Affordable robot vacuum cleaner launched in China

In September 2016, China-based Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Robot Vacuum. The device retails for CNY 1,699 (around USD 250) – a third of the price of a high-end Roomba 980. The Mi Robot Vacuum can map a room’s layout with its laser sensor, adjusts its height automatically to boost suction and, of course, has sensors that prevent collisions or it falling off a drop.

To repeat: we’ve seen this technology before. But once it is affordable enough to free up time for millions of consumers around Asia you’re dealing with a whole new level pressure for brands to outsource monotonous tasks!

Unique users of digital virtual assistants are set to rise from 390 million in 2015 to 1.8 billion worldwide by 2021.

Tractica, August 2016

Google Trips

Travel app recommends destinations and plots the fastest route between them

When it comes to vacation planning, there are some consumers that relish the process. For the rest of the world, they just want to get there and have it all figured out!

In September 2016, Google launched Google Trips, a vacation planning app*, citing research that found 74% of consumer found the most stressful aspect of travel to be figuring out the details (GoodThink, December 2013). Google Trips is available offline and, once users connect accounts, is automatically populated with relevant bookings and reservations. It offers tourism suggestions in 200 cities, and when users select the destinations that interest them, it plots an itinerary with the most convenient route to take between them all.

* The same month also saw Google release Allo, a messaging app with an AI-powered Google Assistant.



If you want to improve consumers' lives and find your way to their hearts, hunt out tedium and eliminate it. What boring, time-consuming activities can intelligent software complete on the customer's behalf?



Creativity, humankind's proudest trait, is being automated.


AI is already being deployed for creative applications...

Expect skepticism and excitement as 'artificial' does battle with 'artisanal'.

Apart from the odd gifted elephant or singing parrot, humans have enjoyed a long reign as the planet’s only creative class. So while we know that technology will master all manner of monotonous or physical tasks and make laborers redundant, many creative people have taken solace in the fact that machines will be no match for human creativity.

Yet in 2016, it has become clear that intelligent software can assist (and indeed will likely outmatch) us creatively, too. Damn. It’s not all bad news however. See how the innovations below give us a glimpse of an AI DESIGNED future.


Recognition, Tate and Microsoft

AI used to curate art from gallery collection

Is there any job more reliant on humankind’s unique artistic sensibility than that of the gallery curator?

Recognition is an artificial intelligence program that won a contest held by UK gallery the Tate and Microsoft. The program matches photos of current events with comparable artworks from the gallery’s extensive collection through a combination of object, facial, pattern and context recognition. The pairs of curated images are visible in a virtual gallery and the Tate’s real-world exhibition that opened in September 2016.


20th Century Fox and IBM

Trailer for science fiction movie edited by IBM Watson

This film studio (aware of fears regarding new technology getting out of control) was as innovative as it was mischievous in using AI to make a trailer for its sci-fi thriller ;)

In August 2016, to promote the new science fiction movie Morgan, 20th Century Fox released a trailer that was compiled by IBM Watson. Utilizing experimental Watson APIs and machine learning techniques, the system analyzed hundreds of horror and thriller movie trailers. After learning what keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, the AI system suggested the best moments from the movie to use. A human editor still stepped in to create the final version, however the entire process was completed in 24 hours, versus the typical 10 to 30 days.



Algorithms generate a completely new 'Rembrandt' artwork

The old adage ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ is music to the silicon ears of this new AI-rtist.

April 2016 saw ING unveil The Next Rembrandt: a 3D-printed painting created based on big data and generated via computer algorithms. Data scientists, engineers and art historians were involved in the project, which resulted in scanning Rembrandt’s complete body of work to create a painting mimicking the look of an actual new work by the artist. Designed to create a conversation about the relationship between art and technology, the Dutch bank’s portrait consists of over 148 million pixels, based on 168,263 painting fragments. The Next Rembrandt won Grands Prix in both Creative Data and Cyber at Cannes Lions 2016.


IntelligentX Brewing Company

Beer recipes perfected through algorithm that processes customer feedback

Can something as magical as brewing be perfected by machine? In this instance, the brewery uses a combination of human feedback and an automated recipe system to master the art.

In April 2016, the IntelligentX Brewing Company launched a beer brewed by artificial intelligence. The UK-based company utilizes an Automated Brewing Intelligence algorithm to develop recipes and collects consumer feedback via a Facebook Messenger bot. Data received is then used by IntelligentX to adjust beer recipes and brewing methods.



While initiatives like The Next Rembrandt and Watson's Morgan trailer challenge our notions of originality and creativity, the implications of AI DESIGNED concern more than art...



The mega-trend towards authentic, small-batch, artisanal products in recent decades has been based largely on the assumption that anything hand-crafted – from mustard to jewelry – is somehow 'better' (coming from the hand of an expert) and therefore worth paying a premium for.

But as the IntelligentX Brewing Company's AI-tweaked beer shows, will that assumption hold if/ when AI-RTISANS dream up better recipes than the experts? Could – gasp – flannel shirts and beards fall out of fashion?! Something to muse on as you plug into Mubert, a stream of electronic music composed by an algorithm in real-time.



Thanks to AUTONOMANIA, mindlessness is the new mindfulness.


Self-improvement is a universal desire.

Yet even those consumers that wear their yoga pants everywhere still struggle with motivation.

[This trend is a sneak preview from the 2017 Trend Report – available in its entirety, exclusively for TW:Premium clients]

Regular readers are now very much aware that self-actualization is THE status currency for many consumers. But in spite of the boom in activewear, cold press juices, coding-for-beginners courses and meditation apps, willpower hasn’t become any more abundant.

But there’s new hope for anyone who’s overwhelmed, busy or indeed just human (i.e. all of us). Even, if in a somewhat ironic twist, that hope will be in outsourcing to AI the motivation, planning and data-rich coaching needed to become the person we want to be.

87% of participants in a weight loss study with access to an automated, virtual personal coach reported feeling guilty if they skipped an online appointment.

Center for Connected Health, 2012


Emotion tracking wearable provides actionable insights for improved mental wellbeing

The next frontier for wearables? Moving beyond physical activity data to emotional data. And not just collecting emotional data, but also providing actionable insights on how to be happier and live better.

Raising over USD 260,000 on Indiegogo in July 2016, Zenta is a personalized physical and emotional wellbeing coach. Powered by a biometric band which converts physical signals such as heart rate, perspiration, respiration and temperature into emotional insights, Zenta plans to help users improve their wellbeing and efficiency by identifying moments of stress, distraction and unhappiness, and suggesting exercises to avoid them. Created by UK-based wearable technology brand Vinaya, Zenta is priced from USD 249.



Device uses AI to provide personalized fitness plans and adapt workouts in real-time

As consumers have discovered, tracking personal data is nice, but it’s not enough. Real-time adaptive feedback on said data? That would make a difference.

Raising more than USD 1.7 million on Kickstarter in July 2016, Vi is a personal training device that uses AI to help users meet their weight loss and training goals. The neckband device uses biosensing earphones to collect data, and creates personalized fitness plans in real-time, based on the user’s location, speed, heart rate and cadence. Vi can relay real-time data such as breathing and heart-rate on request, and also offer real-time advice to help a user keep pace or know when they should slow down due to fatigue. US-based makers LifeBeam say the Vi is ‘the world’s first AI personal trainer’.



Intelligent assistant helps users form healthier eating habits

Keeping a food diary should be as easy at snapping a picture (standard behavior for many now ;)

US-based AVA is an intelligent assistant that – through combination of image recognition, AI and input from nutritionists – helps users eat healthily. Users take a photo of their food, send it to AVA and receive nutritional and caloric information about their meal. Data is automatically added to a personal food journal; AVA also generates meal suggestions, based on individual habits and data drawn from a database of 50,000 meals. In June 2016, AVA raised USD 3 million in seed funding following a private beta launch in Q1 2016.



Wearables ecosystem provides AI coaching

The more connected consumers’ lives become, the more data sources they’ll be utilizing. AI is perhaps the only way that all these inputs can be processed into something actionable.

India-based Boltt are developing an ecosystem of wearable devices – including smart shoes and a wristband – that allow users to track and compare health and fitness data on one platform. The start-up is also developing an AI-fueled personal coach that will crunch user data and offer real-time advice across a range of self-improvement areas, including fitness, nutrition and sleep. All the programs were developed in partnership with coaches and trainers. Boltt is set to launch in Q4 2016.



AI-powered life coach motivates users pursue their career goals

Another chatbot? You bet!

BOLDR is a chatbot that acts as a virtual life coach for users. It was developed by a team split between the US and UK, and the beta test began in September 2016. The three main objectives of the bot are to help individuals boost their self-awareness, gain new skills, and define their personal goals. The service’s target audience is compromised of entrepreneurs, founders and freelancers.


You'll undoubtedly face skeptics who will ask, 'will people really learn from, and be motivated by, an AI-powered bot?' The answer will be yes, if they see results. Remember Moneyball? The Oakland A's were ridiculed until their data-driven approach helped them beat richer baseball teams. Julius Yego won a silver medal at the Olympics after learning to throw javelin watching YouTube. Those were last decade's technologies.



Once people see AUTONOMANIA making others healthier and happier, more successful and generally living better, they'll be quick to jump on board. Indeed, most people won't even notice that they're being nudged by 'artificial' intelligence, just as we no longer notice (or care) that our typos are automatically corrected. Most of the time ;)



Retailers beware; shoppers are outsourcing their smarts!

Digital superpowers get supercharged.

Peer input gave shoppers a welcome helping hand. But now, their best ally in the retail arena isn't quite human.

Shoppers lust after digital technologies for one simple reason: because the digital shopper is a super shopper. Knowledge is empowering, choice is wonderful, transparency reduces doubt, relevance saves time.

Think back: consumers ventured online to find they now had the ability to hunt out product reviews and the lowest prices. What a brave new world! But this is all now expected. Soon, shoppers will find their abilities further supercharged as they get access to truly intelligent services which provide them with more powerful and intuitive routes to find the best products, plus automatic (even retroactive) access to the best prices.

Indeed, where the onus has been on the customer making the best decision using the information at their fingertips, now they will be able to shop increasingly carefree, safe in the knowledge that they are supported by CLEVER COMMERCE platforms and services.



AI solution reads product reviews so shoppers don't have to

Remember when product reviews changed the face of retail? Shoppers were overjoyed at their newfound ability to make informed purchases. Now, consumers are sick of reading reviews, it’s become a chore.

Created in India, FeltSo is an artificial intelligence engine that reads thousands of customer reviews and automatically filters out fake ones to provide impatient shoppers with a concise yet customer-powered analysis of a product. In July 2016, FeltSo published the results of its first research on the top 10 mobile phones available in India – with results compiled from 100,000 reviews.



Developments in image recognition provide new forms of product discovery

OK, this was one trend we called waaaaaay too early, flagging POINT-KNOW-BUY back in February 2012 (even if we did say that there was a long way to go)! However, the underlying technologies are finally reaching a tipping point, and we’re seeing startups, retailers and marketplaces around the world (from Pantone to Pinterest) utilizing improvements in image recognition to help direct consumers to relevant products.

Zilingo is a fashion and lifestyle m-commerce marketplace in Thailand and Singapore. In April 2016, it announced the launch of visual search features that, thanks to a partnership with, allow shoppers to search for similar products that match the color, pattern or style of a photo.



Service auto-files price match guarantees for users so they can shop carefree

FYI – Paribus’ Marc Atiyeh will be speaking at our Trends for 2017 event in Chicago this November 10!

Headquartered in New York, Paribus is an automated plugin which connects to users’ email, scans their online purchase receipts and files price adjustment claims on their behalf, whenever it spots an opportunity. Users sign up via their mailbox – Paribus works with most email providers – and the plugin allows them to claim money back from various retailers. The plugin tracks and price matches etailers including Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target and Macy’s, taking a 25% commission on any savings secured. In July 2016, Paribus announced it would be automating the price protection that is included, yet largely underutilized by shoppers, on certain credit cards.



Insurance company's virtual assistant capable of providing rapid quotes

Consider all the different pain-points out there experienced by consumers daily. Shopping for insurance is just one area begging to be saved via AUTONOMANIA.

In January 2016, Insurify announced the limited public beta release of its virtual insurance agent, Evia. The US-based online car insurance platform’s customers can take a photo of their license plate and text it to a dedicated phone number. Evia will then ask them additional questions via SMS before sending price quotes from multiple providers, and recommendations for insurance policies. The service relies on machine learning, customer data and natural language processing to deliver estimates.


CLEVER COMMERCE is both the easiest and the hardest AUTONOMANIA trend to apply.

The easiest, because the underlying thinking is simple. Think about what shoppers want (hint: knowledge, choice, transparency, relevance, etc.). Then brainstorm ways to deploy AI to enhance shoppers' capabilities.

The hardest? Because it requires a true commitment to putting your customers' needs before yours.



But before you get disheartened, Paribus told us that retailers on the platform have learned a powerful lesson: proactively offering customers savings might have a short-term cost, but in the long-term, the increased trust and positive brand perception led to more frequent and repeat spending. As if good karma was ever in doubt ;)



Today, making connections is easy. Social skills, however, take work... or do they?

With great artificial power, comes even less responsibility*.

Why AI will help us become kinder, more considerate and bring us closer to others. Effortlessly.

*With apologies to Spiderman ;)

With social apps and constant mobile connectivity, consumers can (and do) connect with friends and strangers at almost any moment. But as every person reading this knows all too well, glowing screens buzzing with alerts tend to distract individuals from the deeper, in-the-moment connections they could be enjoying.

 39% of millennials say they interact more with their smartphone than they do with their significant others, parents, friends, children or co-workers (Bank of America, June 2016).

We’ve explored the expectation that automated services facilitate self-improvement in MOTIVATED MINDLESSNESS. And in a time where social skills are lacking, SOC-AI-L SKILLS – that help bring people closer to others – will be welcomed with open arms.



Forget predictive text. Here comes predictive emoji!

The success of emoji is largely down to how intuitive and easy to use they are (which is why we flagged INFORMAL INFO in our 2016 Trend Report, available exclusively to TW:Premium clients). By now, AUTONOMANIA meets INFORMAL INFO should point you in an obvious direction: prolific chatters will soon outsource even the most casual of communications to automated services such as Dango.

Developed in Canada and launched in June 2016, Dango is a smart keyboard assistant that uses neural networks to learn from the user’s behavior and prompt suitable emoji responses. Fully customizable, the mobile app automatically associates words with particular emotions to suggest relevant emojis to respond to messages with. Dango allows users to upload their own artwork.




App fills spare moments with calls to loved ones

Time-pressed consumers are too overwhelmed to identify when they’ll truly have moments to spare. This service makes it easy to harness those moments and connect with loved ones.

Launched in July 2016, New York-based SpareMin is an app that makes it easy for users to fill spare time with calls to family and friends. SpareMin users can send requests to talk to other users, and decline or accept incoming requests. When a user has downtime, they alert the app, which in turn alerts others whose requests have been approved. If multiple other users want to talk to the person who has signaled free time, then a queue is generated. Calls are limited by default to five minutes, and are recorded.



AI-powered matchmaker automates the online dating process

Of course, given the ease and volume of potential soulmates, it’s become impossible for anyone to navigate the dating landscape without assistance.

Enter Bernie, an AI-powered matchmaker. Users ‘train’ Bernie in their type by making up to 300 yes/no choices to calibrate who they find attractive. Then the AI can head out to dating sites such as Tinder, Happn and Bumble, and use facial recognition software to determine potential matches. The software can also initiate conversation, and send up to three messages, before prompting the user to step in if it appears the recipient is interested in continuing the conversation. Well it’ll certainly make for an interesting wedding speech ;)



Bot sends disinterested responses to break up with people on user's behalf

It may feel dystopian that consumers are automating their breakup texts, yet for some singles in the post-Tinder era this will provide a welcome relief.

The LA-based creators of Burner – which provides smartphone users with disposable ‘burner’ numbers – launched Ghostbot in June 2016. ‘Ghosting’ is when an individual gives curt or disinterested responses to an admirer that’s texting them until they give up. Ghostbot lets users assign a number to ‘ghost’, and the app will auto respond until the sender gets the hint.


Of course, there are some (many?) who will find this trend distasteful. Dystopian even. And yes, we'd be lying if we said that AI-facilitated human relationships didn't feel a little false or unnatural. But remember when there was stigma attached to online dating?

In a world of exponentially increasing choices, it's clear we need a hand when it comes to making, managing and optimizing our choices, including those relating to our personal relationships. And, as with all trends, the winners will be those that improve people's lives, and help them feel that their time is well spent. Is that so bad?



First of all… there's still a long way to go.

AUTONOMANIA is really just getting started. While we've shared some early indicators of where things are headed, 2016 has also seen many stories that highlight just how far away we are from a totally automated, intelligent future.

From the frivolous (chatbots that can't hold a conversation), to the concerning (security robots running over children), to the downright deadly (Tesla's first autopilot fatality), while we're hardly locked in an End of Days battle with our robot overlords (yet) we're equally not celebrating our liberation from physical, menial or dangerous labor.



This trend will pick up faster than many people will be able to believe, because of the exponential nature of the technologies at play.


In January 2016, there were 135 ‘skills’ (third party capabilities) in the Amazon Alexa voice app store. By June 2016 there were 1,000, and by September this had expanded to 3,000.

Amazon, September 2016

Tesla collected 780 million miles of driving data in 18 months from its users’ cars. In May 2016, it announced it was adding 1 million miles every 10 hours.

MIT Technology Review, May 2016

The AUTONOMANIA will be a victim of its own success. It will be interesting while it remains novel. Then 'intelligent' services will become banal. Expected even. From the internet to GPS (or even further back: telephones, cars, electricity, etc.) the real impact of any technology is measured in its invisibility.

Your job is to make that happen. While the innovations featured above still feel magical, sit with your team or clients and think about how YOU could apply new intelligent technologies to serve age-old human needs and wants. Create some magic :)



To understand where this trend comes from – and where it's going – it pays to see it in the context of our Trend-Driven Innovation methodology and our Trend Framework.


Spotting trends? It all starts with innovations...

The not-so-secret secret to spotting trends (including the ones in this Briefing!). Stop watching customers, and start watching the innovations – products, services, campaigns – flooding into the market now. Draw lines between similar innovations, and interrogate them for the new customer expectations they're helping to create. There's much more on our end-to-end methodology in our book, Trend-Driven Innovation. So how do we process thousands of innovations we spot? It helps to have a Framework...


The Trend Framework

16 mega-trends that provide structure and context when tracking innovation.

We map all the expectation-changing innovations we spot against our Trend Framework: the 16 mega-trends – that is, the big, slow-moving currents in the consumer arena – that taken together form our complete picture of consumerism today and where it’s heading. All of the 120+ trends we track fall under these 16 mega-trends.

Having a robust and comprehensive Trend Framework allows us to assess the implications of the hundreds, if not thousands, of innovations we receive from TW:IN (TrendWatching’s global network of spotters) every day. 

And when a cluster of innovations doesn’t fit neatly under one or more of our trends, that’s when we know we’re on the verge of identifying something NEW!

That’s how we spot all our trends – including the five trends featured in AUTONOMANIA.


These trends will keep evolving...

The five trends in this Briefing sit within our Trend Framework, which forms the backbone of our TW:Premium service. We constantly track new technologies under our UBITECH mega-trend, but we’re most interested when technologies are applied to the age-old human needs and wants that underpin our Trend Framework.

For example, AUTONOMY > MONOTONY sits under our HELPFULL mega-trend, which looks at the future of convenience and customer service. CLEVER COMMERCE is in our INFOLUST mega-trend, which looks at the new information available to customers. SOC-AI-L SKILLS falls under JOYNING, our mega-trend about human connection. You get the idea ;)

Seeing these trends in the context of the Trend Framework means understanding more about where they came from and where they’re going next.


So you've absorbed the trends. But remember, trends are nothing if you don't APPLY them! Think, discuss, ideate and execute. Our free CONSUMER TREND CANVAS tool will help get you started!