Finding the hidden melodies in consumer technology trends
Creative leaps in business, science, art and beyond usually involve two things:
- Spotting a problem and solving it well; and/or
- Drawing inspiration from other areas or disciplines to spot a gap and fill it.
I’m hardwired for an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving as I was born with Synesthesia. It’s a neurological condition where the brain makes unexpected connections – the senses mix together – and it affects around 4% of the population.
My version is particularly intense: hearing music generates colours in my mind’s eye; eating delicious food unleashes symphonies and roller coasters whack every receptor I own up to a bright white maximum. But it’s more than just a light show. The colours I see in my mind’s eye when hearing music help me to understand every note. The music I hear while eating helps me identify most of the ingredients in my meal. Inspiration is everywhere – a constant flow of listen, remix, compose.
Making unexpected connections is pretty much how everyone generates new ideas, and it’s a practice easily seen in consumer electronics. Before the World Wide Web, the ‘smart’ revolution and Internet of Things, phones didn’t come with cameras, speakers didn’t come with built-in AI Assistants, and home heating systems didn’t come with internet connectivity. Remixing technology is now commonplace.
So what’s next? Of course I have several thoughts about our future, from Artificial Intelligence and Automation to Mixed Reality and Retail. At this moment, mid-2019, we’re at the edge of a user interface revolution. With technology friendly enough for even a hardened technophobe to consider installing, the smart home will slide into normality in the same way that microwaves now sit unobtrusively in a kitchen.
Here’s a thought – speaking to our machines creates huge data sets ripe for mining. And with data analysis becoming easier and cheaper, smart speakers may soon move from fulfilling requests to making suggestions based on what they have learned. Alongside emotion recognition, AI assistants could even scrape data from other smart devices to tailor those suggestions to create an even more personal experience.
I see a future where my AI and my fitness monitor have been chatting; after deciding I haven’t exercised enough that day, they’ve locked the fridge and put an hourly reminder in my calendar to lay off the cake. Not that far-fetched, as the technology to accomplish this already exists. And if this sounds strange at first, consider that some of us happily stand up for a minute when our smart watches say so. It’s why I’m certain attitudes will warm toward AI-assisted decisions – Listening to our own personal AIs will eventually become as acceptable as dressing according to the weather forecast that morning.
Predicting the future accurately is fine, but the real competitive advantage is being ready to adapt when it arrives, and have a good idea of when to get ready. As well as my neuro-atypical brain, drawing from innovative areas like music technology, startups and internet subculture gives me a unique view of what’s to come, and it’s great fun sharing these ideas on stage and TV.
For me, it’s a natural leap from understanding music to predicting technology trends. When I play 2 songs at once on the piano, I’ll notice the similarities, in melody, tempo, harmony; or more obscure attributes like orchestration, tonality, sentiment. And I believe (with a little encouragement) everyone can access the power of sensory cross-wiring to some degree, and find inspiration in the most unlikely of places – perhaps even discover new ideas that set off waves of creativity – or even finally realising the steps needed to solve a long-standing problem.
Addressing the changing needs of our own landscape doesn’t have to be fraught. Inspiration doesn’t have to be elusive. Making unexpected connections, listening for the music that’s all around us, could be all we need to generate the next and best step in our journey.
LJ Rich is a technology presenter and musician. To book her (or any other speaker) for your event, contact JLA here.