Inside the filter bubble

Have you ever thought of the relationships we have with our Facebook friends? Out of a thousand connections, most of us have few relatives, a narrow core group of friends we are very close and talk regularly to, and a massive amount of acquaintances which we have stumbled upon throughout our lives, but with whom we have very weak ties. What is interesting is that that this architecture of connections, with its core of many friends and a few relatives, is a simple yet truthful reflection of our real-life social networks.

The ‘friend over kin’ predominance in social networks is actually a quite recent pattern in the history of our species. Even if, by nature, humans are social animals and have always had a propensity for non-kin affiliations, we traditionally prefer to populate our social networks with relatives. The evidence of this dates back to the early history of our evolution: in hunter-gatherer societies, for example, the average member of the average group was related to about three-quarters of the group members. Only the other, remaining quarter of the group members were not recognized as relatives. Social networks’ primary purpose is that of performing collective actions say, hunting together in 10,000 BC or having a functioning public transport in 2019. One, main issue that kicks in when performing collective actions is the so-called “free-rider problem”: a member of the group benefits from this joint effort without giving his contribution.

The mechanism of kin-selection is a solution triggered by evolution precisely to avoid the free-rider problem, as blood ties make it less likely to happen. But there is a second mechanism that evolution invented to tackle this issue: reputation. Such a dynamic relies on the high levels of clusterization, meaning that the connections one has are also connected to one another, as seen directly in kin-based social networks. Let me give you an example, to be clearer: if you have two brothers, you are affiliated to both with a 100% probability; we can therefore say with without a doubt that they also are affiliated to each other with the same level of certainty. Something that could not be said for two friends of yours: if you are a friend of A and also of B, still A and B are not automatically friends. They could be, but the probability of this connection is not equal to 100%. That reduces the clustering coefficient without having fewer social connections.

This high level of interconnectedness, which we’ll call from now on the “clustering coefficient”, makes reputations spread at a fast pace in your social net: if you cheat on someone (read: are a free-rider) and your social network has a high clustering coefficient, everyone will know quite quickly. If your social network were to be composed of non-kin mainly, instead, reputation wouldn’t run as fast through the nodes, as very few of them are interconnected.

Now, this social framework has been greatly unbalanced because the demographic transition of the last centuries, driven by decreasing fertility, has caused a ‘shortage of relatives’, provoking a crisis in the mechanisms we used to use avoid free-riding: collaboration with kin and fast-traveling reputation. How, then, do we keep our social network populated enough to perform collective actions effectively? Incidentally, humans all over the world began utilizing the same solution to this: they began replacing relatives with like-minded friends.

Today we have too little kin to make kin-based networks; instead, we base it on like-minded friends. If kin networks relied on blood ties, non-kin connections are based on a common vision of the world, political views, and opinions. On one side, this tension between like-minded members in populated networks makes sure the clustering coefficient doesn’t drop down by too much, meaning that the friends of our friends will more likely than not be our friends – allowing them to be still able to rely on evolved reputation dynamics. On the other, however, this mechanism generates very tight-knit, homogeneous networks that ultimately cause the “filter bubble”.

Society becomes extremely clustered, and these clusters are based on common opinions. Opinions suddenly become highly important and provoke a mechanism which does not happen in kin-based networks: if you have, say, a different opinion than that of your brother, he will still be your brother even if he strongly disagrees with you – something that can’t be said of friends. So your social network depends on you signing up to the truths of your group – and the group is more important than ever, because it’s where you feel safe and loved, and can perform collective actions with.

With non-kin based social networks, we all live in an alternate reality that exists within our circle only. If you look at the bigger picture, society becomes polarized, fragmented: there’s us, and there’s them, our truth and their truth, our (alternate) reality and theirs – which we don’t know, and which we never come into contact with. This is happening worldwide: we have these localized truths within a tightly knit net of mostly friends in which membership is dependent on similarities. We are often more aware of the alternate realities (does fake news ring a bell here?) others live in, but we rarely acknowledge the one we ourselves are potentially buried in. It should be clear by now how social media is not the origin of this “filter bubble” effect – but in this realm, it is more obvious and predominant. They do most likely exacerbate them also, but they’re not their cause – lowered fertility rates are.

Now, polarization and fragmentations are just the bigger-picture, more general effects that these low-fertility-generated, non-kin based social networks are causing. We know the cause, we know what’s happening, and we know some consequences (enforcing fake news, small world effect, filter bubbles, alternative truths) but we don’t know what the solution is (or if there even is one). So let’s not blame social media for something millennia in the making: it is not as important as that.

An image paints a thousand data

What is Heuritech and what’s its purpose? 

Heuritech is the first solution for predicting trends and the desirability of products that utilizes the eyes of millions of fashion influencers and consumers. Our goal is to help brands be ahead of consumer expectations, to fuel creativity and produce better at all steps of the collection development.

Our team has developed an industry-leading visual recognition technology that accurately analyses 3 million social media images every day. In any image, we can identify more than 2,000 fashion details, from a specific bag model, to a color or a pattern. We aggregate all of this data into an easy-to-use platform designed for merchandising, product and marketing teams of brands.

 How did everything begin? 

Everything started with a friendship. Heuritech’s founders, Charles Ollion and Tony Pinville, met at the Pierre and Marie Curie University where they were doing their PhD in Machine Learning. They shared the same interest in bringing science outside the laboratory and applying it to the real world and to real people’s needs. More specifically, they wanted to bridge the distance between technology and business. That’s why in 2013 they founded their company and started working in various sectors (agriculture, banking, etc.), developing tailored solutions for the firms which were their clients. They entered the fashion industry mostly by chance.

 Then what happened? 

In 2015 Louis Vuitton contacted them, asking Tony and Charles to be members of a jury tasked with evaluating innovative projects at a Hackathon. Talking to people working in this industry, they realized that there was huge potential for a tech company in the fashion industry since millions of images are shared online every day. That’s when Heuritech was born.

Did it require a new business model? 

We started as a self-funded company, then in 2016 received €1.1 million from a venture capitalist, Serena. This helped us grow a lot. Louis Vuitton was pivotal in another way. In 2017, Heuritech won the LVMH Innovation Award, and that was a crucial turning point since it brought us visibility, press coverage and ultimately new clients. We have been growing a lot from every point of view: revenue, customer base, and people employed. We grew from 15 people in 2017 to 32 people now.

What were your priorities in hiring new people? What kind of job profiles were you interested in the most?

We first needed product and marketing professionals because we had to understand the challenges and needs of the firms in the industry, and build a product that addressed their needs. But once you know who your clients are and have built a technological product tailored to their specific needs, you have to promote it. So we hired business development professionals along with a team of customer success specialists, to take care of our clients. Furthermore, we reinforced our technology by hiring data scientists and AI research engineers.

Speaking of AI, what type do you use the most at Heuritech? 

We define Artificial Intelligence as intelligent programs that achieve tasks that are usually tackled by humans. The specific branch we use is Deep Learning, a breakthrough that has revolutionized artificial intelligence since 2010. Thanks to it, the machine can autonomously learn to recognize concepts that make sense for us humans, such as a landscape, handbags, a smiling face, etc. Our industry-leading visual recognition technology accurately analyses 3 million social media images every day. Thirty-five per cent of our team members hold PhDs in Artificial Intelligence.

What is the process you apply to achieve your results? 

We count on three criteria to define a fashion trend: the intensity, the propagation and the velocity of a trend, and have created our own methodology to assess the relevance of any trend in the market. We start by segmenting audiences to differentiate early adopters from mass customers. We then monitor the spread of a trend, applying our algorithms. This allows us to classify behaviors into trend patterns. We can recognize fashion trends defined by type of product as well as its key features: colors, patterns, textures or shapes. Our research has shown that social media is ahead by months, for trends. According to a McKinsey study, an AI-based approach for demand projection could reduce forecasting errors by up to 50 per cent, while overall inventory reductions of 20 to 50 per cent are feasible.

Is it more challenging to build a classification or a clustering model, why? 

Both can be challenging, depending on what we want to cluster or classify. However, since clustering models are unsupervised, they have an additional, difficult component: there is no direct way to measure the performance of the algorithm since there is no labeled test data to assess the quality of the model. That’s why we build extra labeled test sets to measure the performance of clustering models.

There has been much talk about the disruptive effects of AI in the fashion industry: do you think these fears have some ground? 

I believe it’s necessary to have talks like these to really understand the effects that AI will have in the industry. However, I regret that these talks sometimes lead to fear: for me, AI will just be a tool to help decisions. AI is never going to replace designers, who are the ones who have the intelligence and emotion to really sense what’s happening in the market. It will never be capable of having emotions, and thus will only be a tool to accelerate. There is so much more we could do with AI to help the fashion industry become more sustainable: for example, demand forecasting and stock forecast. That’s our goal at Heuritech.

Your thoughts on Amazon? Is there any fear? 

It’s a very interesting question especially since a study published by WWD in November 2018 showed that only 38% of fashion executives are fully versed in AI and that industry executives fear the competition from Amazon. However, I don’t believe that Amazon is such a threat: consumers nowadays want to shop brands they feel they belong to, brands that share their same – that’s why so many digitally native vertical brands succeed so quickly. Brands have this very strong competitive advantage!

Looking forward, what new technology could be a game-changer in your field, and why? 

Blockchain is the next revolutionary technology. Especially because many fashion brands are faced with counterfeiting. This technology will significantly help fight counterfeiting by tracing products accurately. Artificial Intelligence, through image recognition, can also help, and both technologies can go hand in hand!

One day gamers will be old

“People born in the ‘80s will remember spending entire afternoons playing cards with their grandfather or listening to the football game on the radio, game sheets at hand. Those born in 2050 will have a completely different memory of their childhood: that of their grandfathers busy with their consoles, probably playing a timeless classic of the past such as Call of Duty for the nth time. At the bar, other than Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s football tricks, people will recall the twenty-year domination of Korea in the Starcraft Championship, or the heroic deeds of Team Evil Geniuses with DOTA 2”.

It’s Daniel Schmidhofer speaking, founder and CEO of ProGaming, the leading Italian organizer of esports events and Italian licensee for global esports giant ESL. “Grandfathers, children and grandchildren: the idea of having three generations unite in their passion for video games might seem revolutionary. Having them all play together would prove that video games can restore an emotional and cross-generational connection that today seems hardly possible, if not entirely impossible”, Schmidhofer adds.

To tell the truth, such cross-generational connections have already occurred a few times in the past   always  triggered by technology and, in general, by widespread innovation processes such as the adoption of television, rock music, computers, the internet and smartphones. Little by little, a radical transformation of our habits worked its way into our lives – at first surrounded by the skepticism typical of older generations, incapable of grasping the extent of the change. “When televisions made it into our living rooms, our parents and grandparents didn’t really know what to do with them. But it’s through developments in technology that change goes global”.

Without us realizing, gaming grew to such an extent that it quickly went from being entertainment for its own sake to a proper full-time job among millennials. A profession that requires several hours of daily training and months spent between international gaming houses and tournaments. Over the years, the most talented among these gamers have built up what have become stellar careers with mind-boggling salaries and world-wide fame.

Now, tens of thousands of people, mainly between 14 and 34, gather in stadiums to cheer with tears in their eyes for two teams of gamers competing against each other. It’s a recurring scene that is widely covered live on Twitch or, more recently, on both Facebook and YouTube – just like what is done for football, baseball and basketball. It’s not a fad, but a deep and visceral change in habits. ProGaming trusts that the esports industry will do nothing but grow at lightning speed at least for the next 20 or 30 years: “Esports will be competing with other forms of entertainment (television series, music, movies, etc.) rather than with traditional sports. Fifteen years from now, video games will be the number one sport in the world, even more widespread than football.”

Daniel vividly remembers the moment Atari and Intellivision, the first mass-market consoles, were launched in the market. They were early days: video games had no target market yet, and consoles were expensive and limited to a niche of enthusiasts: “In the ‘80s, video games were much more storytelling-oriented, they were treated as interactive movies. Over time, the competitive factor took over and became one of the strongest, defining features of the gaming industry: nowadays, people play because they want to compete with other players, while at the beginning they played in the same way they watched a movie, indulging in the storytelling”.

With the arrival of the 5th and 6th generation consoles, parents began to seriously worry if their children would spend whole days playing video games, often paying heed to those who argued there was a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior. This led to the certain limitations and restrictions being enforced, mostly caused by the misunderstanding of where the phenomenon came from. In the ‘90s, gamers had to fight daily against the stereotype of the asocial nerd with an unhealthy passion for fantasy characters. Even today, many consider video games as something for kids.

The spread of the esports phenomenon is reversing this perspective. Today, competitive video games offer the chance to make a professional career out of them, and soon there will be no difference between a football player or a “League of Legends” jungler, making it more natural for people to choose between a basketball match, an evening of Netflix binge watching, or two hours spent watching gamers trying out a new videogame with a livestream on Twitch.

“Now that esports are a mass-market phenomenon, players are not just socially accepted, they’re even admired” stresses Schmidhofer, “They’re the celebrities of our time: in many Scandinavian countries and South Korea, for example, the backs of cornflakes boxes don’t have pictures of sportsmen, but those of videogamers. This isn’t surprising if you think that YouTube gaming has an audience of 250 million users (two and a half times that of Spotify) while Twitch has almost reached 200 million people (twice the subscribers of Netflix)”.

Given that movies and music streaming platforms have radically changed the entertainment culture, what do the figures tell us when it comes to esports? They tell us of a flourishing industry that will exceed $1 billion in 2019 and which is part of a sector which last year was worth around $135 billion. As of 2019, the total worldwide audience of the esports scene is made up of 453 million people, a number which includes both those taking an active part and those simply following the esports events every week.

A striking example is the 2017 League of Legends finals in China which, in addition to filling a whole stadium with tens of thousands of fans, reached an audience of 58 million live viewers in one single evening – an impressive number when contrasted with the audience of the NBA finals the same year: a mere 32 million in comparison. The overtake of esports over traditional sports has, to some extent, therefore, already occurred. In Italy, it’s a still young phenomenon, but it already has a significant following, with over 1 million people regularly watching esports and a turnover of about €13 million in 2018, 24% more than in 2016. This is a new world that is still largely unexplored and which holds great potential.

Brushing esports off as just another form of consumerism would be naive: it is crystal-clear that a cultural evolution, shaping new attitudes, behaviors, methods of communication, aggregation and sociability, is taking place. A development which will affect the way we perceive our free time, but also how we use our financial resources. “I’d rather have my daughter play a video game with her friends than watch television”, Daniel says. “Television is passive, you don’t need to make use of your focus or strategic thinking abilities. Video games, instead, stimulate dialogue, and encourage you to learn English. Being part of an organized group of gamers implies taking care of the division of tasks, managing social relations and timing and both understanding and following rules. Which, incidentally, are the skills company managers are supposed to have.

Just like the market, the traits of the average gamer are continually changing. Today, the typical gamer is 34 years old, a millennial who’s become an adult, has a full-time, stable job, a family (or is planning to have one), and has achieved good personal independence and spending power. There is a balance between the genders (55% of gamers are males), but there are differences when it comes to choice of games: Counter-Strike, for example, has a largely male audience, while Candy Crush, Just Dance and Overwatch are also appealing to the female audience. The time when video gaming was a geeks-only pastime is part of the past.

Some of the data collected so far on generational clusters are quite revealing: in the United States alone, 38% of the over-50 group members call themselves gamers, with women prevailing over men. Out of these, 60% play multiplayer online – competitive games that are expensive in terms of time, focus and energy. Four out of ten gamers game daily, three out of four play at least once a week. “The curve of interest for gaming is similar to that of football: it has a spike when you’re young, slows down/decreases as you grow up, as work and study take up most of your day, increases again when you manage to carve out some time, and eventually leads to going back and playing in a different, less competitive way, thanks to a genuine and unchanged passion”.

If the baby boomers’ generation – who got into video games relatively late and when the industry was still in its embryonic stage – are such creatures of habit when it comes to gaming, what will happen when it comes to millennials and Gen Zers? “I truly hope to see grandparents and grandchildren sitting together on the sofa, playing the AAA title of the moment in the future. I like the idea of old people telling the younger generations about the ‘good old days’ when joypads had just two keys. Maybe they’ll talk about how the ‘First-person shooter’ or ‘Battle Royale’ genres evolved, or about how some other genres faded away as time passed. What’s sure, is that in 2050 it will be almost impossible to meet a person who does not know what esports are or who doesn’t play video games”.

Banking is dying

Once upon a time there was a world in which banks were alike to churches, instilling a sense of solemnity upon entrance and ran by a priest-like cast of technocrats – with their own liturgy and vocabulary which, by design, was aimed at keeping the man on the street out of the loop. Today we can perhaps thankfully consider this world gone, as disruptive technologies are banging on the doors of banks and large financial institutions.

In part, this is because the 2008 financial crisis tarnished their reputation, advances in technology sealed the deal. The combination between the rise of the digital economy, fresh payment systems and disruptive technologies created an environment that is home to a growing consumer segment who have lost faith in the banks of old.

 Enter the challengers

The revolution is being appified. Apps such as Money Coach, an AI powered money tracker and trainer app which helps normal consumers, freelancers and startups to manage several accounts simultaneously, track expenses and plan their budgets with ease – are at the forefront of the change. Another app, Mobills promises “the financial pece of mind” by tracking expenses and managing budgets. It also sends reminders when bills need to be paid, similar to Mint.

Credit Kudos, a startup which uses machine learning, works out new data from individuals’ bank accounts in order to measure credit risk in a more accurate and reliable way than the traditional models. This technology is particular appealing to peer-to-peer lenders – another feature of the post brick and mortar bank era. Lending Works, is such a lender and has recently teamed up with Credit Kudos.

Further proof of a shift can be found last October, when the Hong Kong Monetary Authority unveiled its new faster payment systems and, as explained by monetary economist J.P. Koning, for the first time it was open to non-banks and fintechs. In this, Hong Kong followed in the Bank of England’s footsteps, as the British central bank has granted access to credit ratings to a non-bank (TransferWise) earlier that year.

Business opportunities 

Artificial intelligence, Quantum Computers and Big Data will inevitably have a disruptive effect on the banking system but, thanks to lowering costs and improving efficiency, banks can also find new business opportunities. For instance, through Small and Middle Enterprise-tailored apps, banks can provide SME with value-added services (such as payroll software), specialised expertise to help manage an M&A or even external accounting services. By exploiting their financial power and their consolidated relationships, banks should be able to build an ecosystem that place themselves at the very centre of it.

So far, many banks have created apps and found a new digital life but in the future they will become entirely “digital native” and mobile oriented. Many already exist today, and mobile-only banks such as Atom Bank allow their clients to access fixed saving, over accounts, credit/debit cards and mortgages all through a simple app which uses face and voice biometrics, AI and machine learning to improve the customer experience.

N26 is another mobile-only bank, whose app sends notifications each time a payment is made or a sum is withdrawn. The bank also offers fee-less withdrawals throughout the Eurozone, issues a 3D Secure N26 Mastercard and allows money transfers between clients which are simple, free and as instantaneous as sending a Whatsapp message.

A smartphone-shaped revolt  

The smartphone then is the device which is in many ways fuelling this revolution. But it’s not only a question of technology. The internet, after all, was not invented yesterday and banks have started offering home banking services a long time ago. Instead, it is a question of philosophy as the smartphone has drastically changed our relationship with technology. We are getting used to having almost anything done through the technology and this is something banks and financial institutions, willingly or not, are coming to terms with.

The banking system’s future then, will be smartphone-shaped – with fewer location-based providers of specific sets of services to become aggregators and sellers of products and services, integrated both vertically and horizontally, tailored to their clients’ current and future needs.

If you can’t beat them, join them 

A February 2018 report stated that 63% of US adults already already has one financial app, while the average smartphone user has 2.5 financial apps (3.6 among Millennials). This is particularly true for the younger generations who are more tech savvy and keen to embrace the solutions offered by a growing number of Fintech startups. Incumbents know, as this Fico report shows, that the consideration for non-traditional payment providers or for solutions – such as P2P lending – decreases with age, so their most loyal base is shrinking because of certain demographic realities: in 10 year’s time, Millennials will outnumber the Baby Boomers (by 2030, they will be 78 and 56 million people respectively), and will then eventually be outnumbered themselves by the Digital Generation, who will not even know what traditional banks were.

To face this challenge, banks have been by closing branches, halving their personnel head counts, and investing enormous resources in FinTech to stop mitigate risk of becoming usurped. This is seen most when it comes to emerging markets with millions of unbanked people to seduce. Through technological solutions, banks can begin to reach those thought unreachable in the past, expanding their business by targeting sectors once believed to be too risky.

A common enemy 

A platform like Destacame offers a credit score based on the client’s payment history. BBVA Bancomer chose to partner with it to try to expand credit to previously unbanked low-income customers, a new target which giants such as Microsoft, Vodaphone, Mastercard, Coca Cola are already chasing (see M-Pesa project in Kenya, Aahdar in India or NIMS in Nigeria are all examples of how emerging markets are coming up with new initiatives for populations to be able to have better, more secure relations with finance).

Some do say however that, in the long term, the war between banks on the one side and Fintech on the other will rage again. The former has the scale, important connections to governments and an established reputation. The latter are faster in embracing change, have lower fixed costs, and are technologically-driven. When incumbents will have filled the technological gap and challengers will have the scale, maybe the battle will start anew.

However it could go another way, with the two forced to join forces to resist other formidable challengers: the tech giants. It’s no mystery that players such as Apple, Facebook and Google are considering to make a leap into the finance industry. Amazon already have done so with Amazon Lending and are rumoured to become the third biggest US bank if it plays its cards right. Regarding Alibaba, it is already in the industry through Alipay. They all are technological powerhouses with an almost unlimited budget to develop whatever technology they need or acquisition any startup they view as necessary for their goal. These giants also hold a solid (largely positive) reputation not tarnished by scandal and have millions of loyal consumers –consumers they know better than anyone thanks to the masses of data they have on them.

These are traits which no bank, non-bank or fintech will ever be able get in their current form. In this sense banking is indeed changing, but will it thrive, survive or dive in the years to come? That is up to the banks, us men and women on the street will have to wait and see.

Employees are not assets

Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR, believes that this must change, we spoke to her about how we can go about doing that: ensuring that HR continues to live up to its namesake in the years to come.

Lucy states that her life was always centred around Human Resources, and that the motivations and aspirations behind HR have always been aligned with her own. However over the course of time, as many industries and businesses have seen massive disruption, Lucy explains that HR has been almost been entirely ignored and lost its way.

In fact, HR has been operating in very much the same way since the 80s – taking the role of the critical parent more so than anything else. For one thing, employees are not children, but for a long time, HR has viewed them as anything but adults. This is reflected in the habit of HR to sit down with employees once a year to give them a rating on their performance, emails which spoon feed simple information and the general hate that HR seems to attract the world over.

A lot of this, Lucy explains, stems from the fact that HR has over time become more closely tied to finance than to anything else. With a focus on numbers, deliverables and the objective rather than feelings, personal journeys and the subjective. This is wrong she says, and the use of the very strange, pseudo-dehumanising notion that employees are assets only further emphasizes this point. Computers and desks are assets, employees are people.

People who have individual wants and motivations, and require tailored care rather than an all-encompassing universal system that views them as simply part of the herd. By the same token, these individuals often suffer for any mistakes the lowest common denominator in a company might make, with the rules enforced often being both irrelevant and alienating for the majority.

After a decade in the business, Lucy founded Disruptive HR to right these industry wrongs. For one, HR should no longer be associated with finance, we should instead look to marketing for our inspiration. In marketing, through the use of data and reiteration, marketers discover the intricacies of what their customers’ needs and facilitate scenarios that are in win-win for all parties involved.

Such re-imaginings have led Lucy and Disruptive HR to a realising a more people-centred philosophy, EACH: Employee, Adult, Consumer, and Human.

Adult in the sense that HR is neither a police officer nor nurse of company employees. Instead, employees are responsible for their own onboarding processes when joining a company, once joined they are then given the trust, and therefore the freedom, to undertake their roles in the ways they see fit. Innovative organizations across the world today have already begun to understand this, and if HR does away with yearly reviews, instead opting for a more healthy ongoing dialogue, they are easily equipped to engage in that working style if it for whatever reason it fails to deliver.

Consumer goes back to siding more with marketing than finance in the future, particularly in regards to onboarding. Onboarding is a crucial filter for which companies must sift through talents in order to obtain those who are the best fit with their organizational values and vision. Today, in our hyper-competitive environment, onboarding is more of a broadcasting exercise. The modern day workforce values flexibility, transparency and purpose. Onboarding today is about sharing these values with the world and engaging with potential employees in a manner that fosters a common understanding between both parties before they have even joined. From there, it becomes much clearer how to aid these individuals, and the business, once they are part of the company.

Finally, Human, the underpinning value which should act as the cornerstone for any HR project. As HR became closer to finance over the decades, it also picked up some of its cold, mechanical methodologies. Performance management today is designed with metrics in mind, not the actual individual in question. It should come as no surprise that metrifying people doesn’t boost production.

Ultimately, Lucy believes, HR needs to start innovating as other industries have, and put the human back into the equation. By sticking to the principles of EACH – they might just do that.

Bringing the soul into the future

Futurists are often said to be tasked with theorizing and mapping out what is yet to occur. Since the scientific revolution, we have relied on empirical data to reach our conclusions. While I think that empirical and scientific approaches to the future are important, I also feel passionate about bringing the ‘soul’ back into the future.

Today, the scientific angle to futurology is well-reflected in the body of knowledge called Future studies. This is good, but it must be balanced by a more creative and imaginative side. A future without creativity is anything but desirable, and in our pursuit of a desirable future, I believe it is imperative that it is co-created between the engineers and the poets.

This dynamic relationship is one I envision becoming increasingly important in the future. I do not think of Futurists as mere professors working at universities or in corporations. Instead, my idea of a futurist is one which includes the science fiction writers and the people who can tap not into only their own but also our collective imagination. There’s something about the human mind that is particularly potent: we often find future trends are mapped long before they fully emerge in reality. It is known that often artists tap into major discoveries years before science. The US surgeon and inventor, Leonard Shlain, proposes in his book  Art and Physics that the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to envision the world in a new way. This is then almost simultaneously followed by a revolutionary physicist, who discovers a new way to think about the world.

The human mind is incredibly important in relation to the future of humanity. It’s interesting that many neuroscientists today are delving deep into Buddhist practices, and that science is fast catching up with what mysticism has detailed for thousands of years. The stateless Alexander Grothendieck, a leading figure in the creation of modern algebraic geometry, for example, was Buddhist, whilst Einstein painted and would often ramble around the Alps, looking for inspiration for his theories. It is these free-thinkers, who dare to move outside of the empirical limits, who are really important. Like the romanticized inventor of old, without this artistic touch, it is impossible to innovate in any way that sits outside of the present dogma. This is what I mean by bringing the soul back into the future.

This concept has intrigued me for the last couple of years, and the notion that we all have an individual destiny, a place in the world has had a very powerful effect on me as well. The future should not only be about technology, or about making faster trains, planes, and automobiles. A desirable future is one wherein we don’t have an epidemic of heroin addiction or 20% of the American population hooked on opiates. One in which we don’t have high suicide rates or a global mental health crisis. These are not problems which are stemming from solely a monetary phenomenon, but something more profound than that. It’s a misunderstanding on the part of the individual of what our place in the world is: what am I here to do?

When I talk about bringing the soul into the future, I’m talking about finding what it is that makes us alive. A wise man once said that we shouldn’t ask what the world needs of us, but what makes us come alive – as that is what the world needs: people who are really alive. I don’t know many people whose calling is to drop bombs and destroy things. I believe there is a vast untapped potential in humanity. Imagine what the world would look like if we all followed our soul’s calling.

We need to have artists and poets at the same table as the technologists and the CEOs to bring the human factor back into the equation. Currently, we are witnessing the re-emergence of the polymathic, similar to beginnings of the Renaissance wherein we had wonders such as Leonardo da Vinci: a mathematician, a scientist, an artist, and a poet.

When I graduated from University, you had to be a specialist. In the end, I spent many years as a generalist masquerading as a specialist. In the future, I believe that it will be an interdisciplinary understanding that marks one path to success. For the least a decade now, educators have been increasingly aware of this; the National Academy of Sciences defined interdisciplinary research (IDR) as “one of the most productive and inspiring of human pursuits – one that provides a format for conversations and connections that lead to new knowledge” back in 2005. This is not only encouraged, but generally evident by the best-sellers in today’s bookstores, they tend to bring together many fields. Could we be entering a new form of Renaissance in thinking? I believe the answer is yes. However, the Renaissance period was both long and varied: with ups and downs throughout. The next ten years will certainly not be all rainbows and unicorns. In my past life, I was an investor and I still look at financial trends. There are huge imbalances in the financial system – another financial crisis is expected soon. Yet, out of chaos arises opportunity so new paths to progress will arise during these down periods.

The futurist Alvin Toffler once wrote a book called Future Shock. In short, future shock is the idea that you don’t have to move to Tokyo to experience a culture shock. You can stay where you are and if change happens at an accelerating pace, you might be shocked as much as if you had moved to another country! Rather interestingly, Toffler died about a month before the Brexit referendum in the UK, followed by a lot of future shock in the UK, Europe and USA.

I’m optimistic about this possible new era of creativity, but I am certain that we will also experience widespread future shock. One hallmark of the Renaissance was explorers going out and discovering new frontiers. Perhaps in our time, we will witness humanity making the leap to becoming a multi-planetary species.

Multi-planetary or not, what is important to remember is to bring the human factor into how we aim to reach a desirable future. A future without a soul is not worth thinking about. One in which art, science and spiritually intertwine and create a cacophony of creativity, joy, and wellbeing. Let’s reach for that.

What is the future of sex?

When harking back to the liberation of sex during the 1960s and ‘70s, one is hard pressed not to feel a stab of envy at the explosion of experimentation in the arts, music and of course, sex. Following the commercial launch of the birth control pill, women were finally in control of their bodies, capable of making more light-hearted, fun expressions of love without having to risk of derailing their lives without a plan of how to handle them. At the same time, gay rights in the West were making massive waves and same-sex partners could finally show their love without threat of being carted off to jail and criminalised for life. The Summer of Love would then turn into an Indian summer of passion, spreading into the ‘70s and only rescinding when the cold snap of the AIDs epidemic rained on the love parade at the beginning of the ‘80s. But this too, would not last.

How so? Studies have shown that you were seven to nine more times more likely to get laid per year in the ‘90s then you were in 2014. As time has gone by human connection and intimacy have given way to dating apps and online porn, which have sown the seeds of a world characterised by numbness and indifference. In 1999 a major cross-sectional study reported erectile dysfunction (ED) in 5%, and low sexual desire in 5% of sexually active men, ages 18 to 59. 13 years later, in 2012, Swiss researchers found ED rates of 30% in a cross-section of Swiss men in a younger age bracket (18–24). This is all causal, but the researchers note that rates of ED before the rise of porn ‘tubes’ are significantly lower before than they are after.

We are now not only having worse sex then, but also much less too. According to a recent report by the Global Burden of Disease study published in the Lancet, Britain is in the midst of a ‘baby bust’ – as a wide bracket of relatively young people who should be having babies simply aren’t. On the other side of the planet we see Japan, a country which has entered a vicious cycle of low fertility and low spending that has led to trillions lost in GDP and a population decline of 1 million people, all within just the past five years. Sadder still, in 2015, 43 percent of young people (ages 18 to 34) in Japan were virgins. Married people the world over are not having much sex, either: 47 percent said it had been more than a month since they had had sex.

When we examine the past we often view it through red tinted glasses. The present we often particularly critical of, but what about the main point of this piece – the future? What is the future of sex? What form will it take? How will it evolve and what might it mean for us as a species, and for our sexual appetites?

When talking about the future of sex the author of this piece is not referring to CRISPR technology, nor the never-ending supply of new gender identities. What the author refers to is how technologies such as robotics and voice assistants, coupled with the rise of dating apps, are leading to a world wherein human intimate interaction is reaching an all time low, and a reality wherein there is the potential for it to get even worse.

The senior editor of the Atlantic, Kate Julian, pointed towards several reasons why young people are currently in the midst of a ‘sex recession’. Amongst her reasons, she points out that body self-consciousness, distraction and sleep deprivation are some of the things today’s young adults are more likely to experience than in the past: digital tools keep them up at night, and the constant flow of perfected faux-lives are fed to them via social media throughout the day.

Dating apps too, she writes, are not only widely ineffective but are also supplanting traditional means of meeting up. This author would go further, in the #MeToo era, much of what was considered normal in the past – striking up conversations in a bar for instance – is now more likely to be labelled creepy than romantic. When such systems of interaction become problematic, sex will of course inevitably suffer.

But are we not undergoing a ‘woke’ revolution in sex? Are we not all today much more inclined to celebrate casual sex as the tentacles of religion and tradition relinquish their hold over us? In reality, no. A fact which is demonstrated in Lisa Wade’s book,  American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. In her work she found that roughly one third of college students were abstainers of hookup culture, a few more than this were ‘dabblers’ in this behaviour, and less than a quarter of her findings were filled by ‘enthusiasts’ – cheerleaders for more loose sexual encounters.

The good news doesn’t stop there. Between 1994 and 2014, the rate at which women in their late twenties had experienced anal sex doubled from 20-40%, and, as Julia notes in her piece, a whopping 72% of women in 2012 had experienced pain during anal sex. As more and more young people continue to take their lessons from pornography, this trend will most likely continue – cue more people opting out of painful or uncomfortable sex.

And this is indeed the case, from 1992 to 2014, the share of American men who reported masturbating in a given week doubled, to 54 percent, and the share of women more than tripled, to 26 percent. To return to Japan, a recent article in The Economist, titled “Japan’s Sex Industry Is Becoming Less Sexual,” described onakura shops, –where men pay to masturbate while female employees watch – explaining how their popularity is the result of many young  people finding the very concept of intercourse tiresome. The article goes on to state that “services that make masturbation more enjoyable are booming.” It is worth mentioning that Japan is among the world’s top producers, and consumers, of pornography, and as this author mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the country is seemingly suffering for it.

Philip Zimbardo, the much famous (or infamous) mind behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, has undergone a rebirth of sorts and channeled his attention to the damage porn is having upon our societies. In his book, Man, Interrupted, Zimbardo warns against “procrasturbation” and how it is negatively impacting upon young men academically, socially and sexually.

In her piece, Julian also references Your Brain on Porn, a website ran by a man named Gary Wilson. Mr. Wilson held a much popular TEDx talk featuring brain scans which he argued were proof that masturbating to internet porn is addictive and causes structural changes in the brain – producing an epidemic of erectile dysfunction in the process. The increase could be linked to the greater accessibility of porn over time. But they may also be exacerbated by other products and services that facilitate sexual experiences without human interaction become more popular – sex dolls, for example.

From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2017), pop-culture has been littered for almost 100 years with man becoming besotted with machine. In the US, one company seems to have predicted the rise of this perversion. RealDoll is a California-based company which has unveiled a $15,000 life-size, hyper-realistic, silicone sex doll. This doll is capable of talking, blinking, smiling and, of course, ‘entertaining’. This doll goes by the name of Harmony and she is just one small part of a $30 billion sex tech industry. Sextech New York, America’s first SexTech Hackathon, goes as far as stating that by 2020, there are “some will go as far to say a trillion dollar industry” – however the author of this piece thinks we can take anyone who runs a SexTech Hackathon as more excitable than your average analyst.

In the 2016 report, “The Rise of the Robosexuals” it is stated that “The kind of sex dolls and toys that exist today are objects. If you’re talking about an android that would appear to be another human being, you’re looking at 2030-40.” A year later, Dr Trudy Barber, a pioneer in the impact of technology on sexual intercourse, spoke at the the International Congress of Love and Sex with Robotics and predicted that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) devices in the bedroom will be socially normal within 25 years. With the advances being made only over the past three years in cases such as RealDoll, the future may be closer than we think. More positively, Dr Barber believes that these machines will enable people to appreciate ‘the real thing’, adding that she thinks ”what will happen is that they will make real-time relationships more valuable and exciting”. This seems very much as wishful thinking.

Why? As we have seen, the more technology has permeated our lives, the less sex we seem to be interested in. Worse still, as technology advances, our ability to discern the ‘real thing’ from the ‘fake thing’ will become undoubtedly more difficult. We only need to look to voice assistants, – with which Google now reports  41 percent of consumers who own a one say that it feels as if they are speaking with a friend or another person – to see how this problem can get worse before it gets better.

As sex dolls and dating apps become normalised, and as pornography advances in its accessibility and scope (VR porn becomes more viable by the day), it is difficult to argue that we should soon expect a Summer of Love of our own. Perhaps technology will prove to be both poison and cure, but we should not wait with baited breath when we need look only to Japan for a clear-cut cautionary tale of how a tech-oriented culture can quickly become allergic to the real thing. In this sense, what then, is the future of sex? Currently it looks like there isn’t one.

Self-disruption as innovation

Over the past decades, we have seen companies completely revert their business models in attempts to subvert expectations and shift how industry games are played. In 2007, Apple opted to make their best-selling product, the iPod, obsolete when they released the iPhone. Netflix too, saw that their delivery model used for distributing videos was littered with operational issues that were not the necessary evils they seemed – instead deciding on an entirely digital model and disrupting their market forever.

That said, in 2013, Adobe announced that their multi-billion dollar portfolio of industry-leading creative applications, build over a period of 30 years, would transition from a shrink-wrap and perpetual license model into a cloud-first SaaS-based subscription one.

The reasons why? A combination of an explosion in the amount of content being created for new channels, together with the fact that there was no correlation in increased demand for tooling in order to create content. In general, the previous system was too complicated, inaccessible and expensive for the broader market and the model proved too slow to innovate to changing demands.

The shrink-wrapped product approach Adobe relied on for the previous decades was hampered by lengthy, 12-18 month, development cycles, siloed engineering, and a disconnect between product design and the product teams. This had to change and to reinvent the digital space we emphasized the importance of interoperability in products. Co-dependency and a more open and collaborative process with the user base were also encouraged, allowing not only quicker and more effective responses to user demands, as SaaS allows constant innovation through monthly releases. Design finally had its seat at the strategy table.

This led to a complete product culture shift. Out with the old, isolated, waterfall model with its limited vision, singular purpose and vertical nature. Instead, a new, communal, agile model arose. One with a shared vision, clear line of sight and horizontal nature.

In The Prince, Machiavelli notes that: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or with a less likely successful outcome, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Was this true also for Adobe? Almost certainly. Our 12,000 employees had to witness the restructuring of how the company relates, communicates and manages itself. We introduced an entire new structure, together with new titles, and began to shift our focus to the Emotional Quotient instead of merely the Intelligence Quotient – we are, after all, a creative company, and we ignored EQ at our peril. In this new world, we encouraged individual responsibility by becoming more inclusive than ever: inclusive, two-way communication gave all of our workers a voice.

Design, product, and engineering teams were also encouraged to work together for the first time, facilitating a working environment that was based on collaboration and shared ideas. This codependency enhanced teams as new additions brought new ideas and skills to the process.

Reinventing the physical space was also essential in the transformation of Adobe. This ongoing journey had at its center the notion of neighborhood and had culture as its primary narrative. The space of ideas was opened up to all, and anyone could suggest a new idea if they had one. We also championed workers who got involved and tried to be innovative in everything they do.

The most important question, was any of this successful? The numbers speak for themselves: in 2013, our annual revenue stood at $4.4 billion, by 2017 this had increased to $7.7 billion. Our stock price over the same period increased by $174 to $220 and our employee number has almost doubled to 20,000. Finally, our market cap is now $110 billion, nearly $100 billion more than when we started on this new journey.

At the end of the day, what our story of self-disruption proves is that with great culture, you can derive great success for your business. In this sense, great culture is essential in driving great success in business. Sometimes you must take the leap and be your own competition to make sure you stay ahead of the game.