Published: January 3rd, 2018

Even the world’s most forward-thinking consumers are freaked out by the idea of human customer service being overtaken by machines, according to the latest Ericsson consumer trends report.

Based on an online survey of 5,141 “advanced internet users” from around the world (but no Canadians), the Swedish multinational telecommunications firm’s annual list found that, among other things, three out of four consumers believe smartphones will be able to shoot virtual reality-compatible photos within five years; more than half of augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) users believe that immersive ads will eventually replace the experiences they’re advertising; and 50 per cent of respondents believe that “not being able to tell the difference between human and machine would spook them out.”

“Our research indicates that consumers are increasingly moving towards a paradigmatic shift in how they expect to interact with technology,” the company’s researchers wrote in the December 2017 report, which focused on internet users between the ages of 15 and 69 with an “urban early adopter” profile – that is, high average use of new digital technology such as intelligent voice assistants, virtual reality headsets, and augmented reality applications.

While the researchers acknowledge that the consumers surveyed represent only around 30 million of the 180 million residents who live in the 10 cities included in the study (Johannesburg, London, Mexico City, Moscow, New York, San Francisco, São Paulo, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo), and therefore a small fraction of consumers globally, “we believe their early adopter profile makes them important to understand when exploring future trends.”

Each of the 10 consumer trends highlighted in the report involve technology in one way or another, and feature insights that executives and channel partners alike should consider. They include:

  1. Your Body is the User Interface: Among the respondents who currently use intelligent voice assistants, more than half believe that we’ll eventually use body language, expression, intonation, and touch to interact with devices, with two in three believing this will happen within three years. Reliable Wi-Fi will also become more important, the authors note, “given that one in three intelligent voice assistant users think that eventually they will not be able to open doors, cook food or even brush their teeth without an internet connection.”
  2. Augmented Hearing: Half of the survey’s respondents think that earphones which let you select the people you want to hear clearly and the people you want to mute will be
    mainstream within three years, and that earphones which charge wirelessly, so that you never have to take them out, will be mainstream within five.
  3. Eternal Newbies: Almost half of the survey’s respondents think technology will make learning advanced professions quicker, and that it will lead to what Ericsson itself calls a “never-ending rat race,” with 55 per cent of respondents believing that technological change will accelerate the pace at which workers are expected to learn new skills.
  4. Social Broadcasting: “Consumers are well aware that social networks are increasingly becoming the scene for standardized broadcast messages that are more designed to spread an opinion than to invite dialogue and reciprocity,” the researchers wrote, noting that half of respondents said they would be interested in an AI-powered assistant that checks facts posted on social networks.
  5. Intelligent Ads: Ads that use AR and VR risk becoming too smart for their own good, the researchers warn, providing users with app-like access to experiences so realistic they could replace the products themselves. “For example, you might experience a beach destination in a VR ad and realize you do not need the actual vacation anymore,” they wrote.
  6. Uncanny Communication: Is there a limit to the level of interactivity we want from our devices? Ericsson concluded there was: 50 per cent of respondents said that not being able to tell the difference between human- and machine-led customer would “spook them out,” while 40 per cent said they would be frightened by a smartphone that reacts to their mood.
  7. Leisure Society: Forty-nine per cent of respondents said they would be interested in a universal basic income, receiving a monthly salary whether they worked or not; one in three believed it was okay to not have a job provided their economic situation wasn’t compromised; and 32 per cent of students and working people said they did not believe they needed a job to develop a meaningful life. “One in three would like having everything handled by intelligent robots, giving them all the free time they could ever want,” the researchers wrote. “And almost a quarter of respondents even see a future where intelligent robots take control of everything.”
  8. Your Photo is a Room: Three out of four respondents (why Ericsson used this metric rather than 75 per cent of respondents is not addressed) believe that smartphones will be able to shoot VR-ready photos that users will be able to walk around in within five years.
  9. Streets in the Air: With traffic choking their streets, 39 per cent of respondents think their city should consider a road network for drones and flying vehicles – though a nearly equal number worries that a drone would drop on their head.
  10. The Charged Future: Fifty-six per cent of respondents expect smart battery technology to ultimately change how we power not only phones, but Internet of Things (IoT) devices and even vehicles (48 per cent believe batteries should eventually power airplanes). More than 80 per cent also believe the long-lasting battery technology needed to power this utopia will be developed within five years.

You can read the full report here.