Future Dualities: Automation & Serendipity

Our brains are on autopilot while our souls seek surprise. This is part five of our Future Dualities series. If you’re new here, see the intro, parts two, three, and four before reading on.

Eden Dotan
Lasse Underbjerg

Thinking ahead is messy. In futurism, it's a widely accepted fact that we can't predict one true future. There is not one direction forward, but many different — sometimes contradictory — directions happening at once.

Paradoxically, we humans still love a simple story; Good and bad. Us and them. But more than ever, we need to shift away from simplified, binary thinking. If we want to design truly sustainable futures for both planet, people, and profit, we need to stop oversimplifying our choices. Explore the continuum, present and beyond. But it's not an easy feat.

To start, we interviewed thinkers and creators from across the world and across competencies to get a deeper and wider perspective on the possibilities and pitfalls ahead. Our conversations led us to five overarching dualities through which we can view, explore, discuss and even begin shaping strategies for potential futures.

This article will dive into the fourth of these five dualities: Automation & Serendipity.

Automation: Everything is smooth sailing

Automation has enabled individuals and organisations to make decisions and take smarter, simpler, and more efficient actions.

We are on autopilot, as algorithms increasingly do the thinking for us: telling us what music to listen to (or even creating the perfect personalised soundtrack), where to invest our money, how to develop new pharmaceuticals, and even who to court. We can spend less time on menial tasks and more time pursuing new value frontiers.

'AI and machine learning are going to affect all of us in the coming years. The way we give out personal information. They know more about me than myself.' — Anders Carving Eikenes, CEO and co-founder, Oivi

But as our decision-making is taken over by machines, our humanity is being challenged. With the spread and optimisation of automation, our daily experiences, interactions, and relationships with brands begin to feel monotonous and machine-like — and our very purpose is called into question.

'AI is a true inflection point. The best of the best humans will continue to be relevant — the rest of us will have a lot more free time. What will this all mean for our social codes and set of values?' — Zvika Orron, Partner, Viola Ventures

Consider the implications for your organisation. In a future on autopilot you can pursue new kinds of value.

  • What kinds of relationships can you form with customers when their interactions with you are limited?
  • Can automation serve as a catalyser to advance your workforce rather than replace it?
  • Is there room for creativity in automation?

Serendipity: We just want to feel something

In a minimum-friction, maximum-function world, our daily experiences are simple, seamless, optimised.

'Our lack of serendipity is minimising the number of our interactions. You don't get to have these comfortable and uncomfortable exchanges.' — Etienne Fang, Principal Researcher, Amazon

Though we benefit from this functionality, it leaves us thirsty for emotion, imperfection, and surprise — the very things that make us human. We still want a relationship with the banker who has known our family for years. To turn the tattered pages of a book. To find love on a whim and not through an app.

'COVID has led to accepting the humanity of failure. Sharing things on the go, seeing everyone live, witnessing mistakes. Creativity comes from randomness.' — Gaston Lisak, Founder of Random Happiness

'Because our phones are so ubiquitous in almost every aspect of daily life, we're increasingly drawn to physical books as an escape. Indeed, some independent booksellers agree that digitisation has actually made people crave physical books more — their look, their feel, their smell.' — VOX, 2019

But craft and serendipity require more time, more effort, and a certain amount of risk — none of which are easy for businesses to scale or sustain.

'The future is not so clear. If you want to remain open to unplanned possibilities, you are taking a risk. And most corporations will not take risks, so they prefer rigid structure.' — Gloria Duran, artist, activist and professor of feminism

Consider the implications for your organisation. In a future of serendipity, you don't just meet your customers' needs; you engage with their emotions.

  • Does your brand make people feel something?
  • How could haptics and sound take your business to the next level?
  • Can friction spark positive emotion?

Of course, there is a range between a life on autopilot and a life ruled by humanity and chance. MIT researchers are developing an approach for job recruiting that uses algorithms to allow for greater exploration and experimentation in the hiring of new candidates. Given their existing data, the team's algorithm assigns an 'exploration bonus' to identify candidates whose unique qualities the firm knows the least about. These candidates might be rare based on their education, work history, or demographics, but they all share one thing in common: because the firm knows so little about them, it stands to learn the most from giving them a chance.

Possible futures lie on each end of this spectrum and at any tension points in between. Each of these futures carry implications on diverse industries and markets. And we can begin to understand and explore these implications when we turn imagined possibilities into tangible artefacts.

We use dualities to inspire tangible future scenarios that get designers and businesses thinking, feeling, and beginning to devise and test strategies for the future.

The entertainment of tomorrow.

An industry increasingly captivating us all as we spend more time-consuming content at home. What will entertainment look like in a future where individual data and personalised predictions determine everything? What will it look like in a future determined by chance?

Take a look at the possible future scenarios below. What implications could they have for the entertainment industry? What responsibilities and opportunities could arise for your own organisation?

The ending you need, guaranteed.

Forget the fastest route. Take the surprising one.

Stay tuned. Our final article in the Dualities series is about Distribution & Centralisation. How are we seeing this duality play out today? How could it shape a particular industry in the future? And what questions should you be asking about your organisation moving forward?

Interested in giving the futures of your business some more thought? We’d love to have the conversation. Get in touch.