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This is the second in a two-part series of consumer trends to watch in 2016. Click here to read part one, which includes the bump of climate change, data security, consumer empowerment and more!

Tech Transformation

The only thing more dependable than death and taxes is that technology continues to change at a mind-blowing pace. Industries, categories, and lives are all in tech-enabled transition and we as citizens can adapt, adopt or ignore. No matter your choice of approach, how we consume, how business works, how people tackle their jobs and how we create is once again up for grabs, pushed by the tides of Information Age change.

Let’s start with the nucleus of the transformation: Our connectivity. By 2020, there will be 80 billion connected devices worldwide.  Imagine what more devices and more access will do for businesses and lives, closing the gap for the developing world and opening up new markets to new people. We’ll become even more dependent on them as our context-rich, vital virtual assistants, performing tasks we never could.

Uber and AirBnB are old-news disruptors, soon to be usurped by Apple’s ad blocking tools, 3D printing democratizing manufacturing (think microfactories), Hololens’ augmented reality device, collaborative work tools like Slack, and of course Amazon’s drone delivery. Key to making all of this work are our devices, they make IoT and Big Data possible.

Translation for business:

Who can keep up? It’s equal parts fun and nerve wracking. Innovations and more are adding to the list of long-entrenched industries shifting and reshuffling to make marketers and CEOs nervous everywhere. Upheaval is now on every business’s agenda. How will you plan for what’s coming down the road? Are you a shark? Or are you about to be eaten?

Reemergence of the Tribe

For a while, in the early stages of social media, publishing your every thought online felt like a freeing phenomenon. But as people have grown into (and grown up with) online sharing, what we decide to make public has changed. From personal group chat (on Snapchat or GroupMe) to ad hoc work and social groups, people still pour their hearts out online, but they’re connected more tightly with small groups of friends and less willing to let it all hang out.

This is signaling a collective exhaustion. Most people only want to talk/create/argue with a close-knit group of people. Not future employers. Or friends’ parents. Or the world. This is not a retreat to an echo chamber, instead more of a shift to more manageable conversation spaces. Through this simplicity people find a sense of security and the safety of like-minded people in confusing uncertain times. From a generational perspective you’ll see more Millennials here than older gens.

Translation for business:

Peer groups are more important influencers than ever. Word-of-mouth has been made incredibly efficient. But many consumers tire of talking to and arguing with the whole world. People have moved in the direction of tight-knit, fluid groups that represent a safe space to talk and share. Those safe spaces don’t rule out companies, though. Businesses with credibility in a space can be in-the-mix when it comes to closed loop affinity groups. How can your organization be a participant in these free-flowing conversations?

Prime Time AI

After the noted scientists signed a letter warning of the dangers of autonomous weapons last summer, the story line from Ex Machina and the notion of singularity didn’t look so far-fetched.  Safety remains a key issue in AI circles. Even so, Artificial Intelligence is seeping into everyday life and presenting new opportunities for business. From Amazon’s Alexa (a speaker that listens to your conversations and helps you out around the house) to Google’s self-driving cars, to more immediately practical applications like use in healthcare, security and fraud, AI is finally hitting primetime. Think about efficiency; machines that learn and adapt and process big data in ways we can’t and in ways that make our lives and jobs easier. We see machine learning — devices that become smarter as they gather data about us, from us – and autonomous agents — Siri, Google Now, and driverless cars only widening their influence in the coming year.

Further, Kasisto and Kensho each have products that serve as friendly computational assistants, solving problems, and helping with work challenges anywhere you happen to be.

What else? Quill can produce content adaptable to tone and style that they claim is indistinguishable from the real journalist produced article. (Disclaimer: Quill had no hand in the writing of this article!)

Translation for business:

Big data is just the beginning. Companies on the cutting edge of healthcare and financial services are focused on the leading edge, machine learning. Any planning for a future of AI must focus on the most important task—the considerations and decisions that only humans can provide.

A TechCrunch article last September quoted Tractable founder Alexandre Dalyac’s concise description of AI as “Algorithms compared to humans can usually tend to solve scale, speed or accuracy issues.”  That fact leads any discussion about AI to focus on how increased efficiency could destroy jobs and cause social restructuring and economic disruption. That kind of fallout, by the way, is the case with any big technological advance, from the steam engine to the rise of factories. With that in mind there will be focus on the many ways that AI can improve lives and help business grow.

Culture Shock

TIME magazine’s recent cover story was titled “World War ISIS.” The brutality and horror certainly has the markings of war. Mass shootings have become more frequent, seemingly random and are feeling even closer to home. Geopolitical tensions are on the rise. Inequality, still firmly in place, will be front and center during the upcoming American presidential campaign. Bankers that caused a global economic crisis are back to making monster bonuses. Racial tension is being ripped open, revealing decades of injustice.

Read the news and it can easily seem like the world is spinning out of control. Consumers and citizens are scared, fed up and mad as hell. As more icons and institutions fail us, we look even more diligently for extreme solutions. That a reality TV star and a self-proclaimed socialist are among the front-runners for president is evidence of a frustrated and angry populace.

We will continue to see protests, unrest, and partisanship as we struggle to manage this cultural schism. Technology will continue to connect those who have been isolated and empower those who want to organize.

Translation for business:

Maintain open lines of communication and an inclusive company and corporate strategy. Don’t be afraid to take a stand for what you believe. Make sure you do what you say and say what you mean. People are expecting even more from the brands they support and the companies they work for, and now we have the tools to find out when companies are hiding something or, worse, lying.