This Week in Business and Brands: Rise of the Machines, Lessons in Adaptation, and Questioning the Human Element

Evolution can be a marvelous thing. It brought amphibians out of the ocean and onto land, and apes down from the trees and into Starbucks. As today’s coffee-sippers continue to evolve their behavior faster than ever, companies look to technology and innovations to get a (bionic) leg up. But here’s the catch: these technologies are now even outpacing the creators they were meant to serve, making for a spiraling feedback loop of competitive speed and relevancy. Who’s feeling the effects most this week?

Burger Flippers and Financial Advisors: From fast food to investment strategy, robots will be the driving force behind the “fourth industrial revolution” occurring over the next 20 years. The bad news is that translates into 47% of US workers at risk of replacement, most of who are located at the bottom of the income scale. As robots will also be significantly cheaper to hire than even outsourced workers in developing countries, and with widespread “deep learning” providing expert-level advice, no profession is safe…

Taxi Drivers and Their Bosses: While livery AI has yet to completely replace Uber drivers themselves, some say it’s already taken on the role of their boss by using algorithms and passengers’ ratings as effective middle management.

You: On the social level, pretty soon Google will even be drafting email replies for us. This begs a new Zen koan: if an auto-reply makes plans with another auto-reply, does anyone actually show up for brunch?

Evolution in Progress

In the meantime, Generation Z is eager to assume its place as the species’ next evolutionary phase, five screens in tow and boasting an attention span of eight whole seconds. What to do with them? Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey certainly has his work cut out for him, as these post-Millennials are abandoning traditional social networks like Facebook in favor of the more ephemeral. And in an attempt to keep up with that on-the-go, no-time-to-waste Impatience exuberance of youth, the new Starbucks app is letting its users skip the line (and consequently adds “Café Cashier” to our list above).

Oddly enough, and in complete opposition to the natural order, Amazon went backwards and opened an actual bookstore in Seattle this week. While it may seem like a strange move to go against the tide of total digitization, let’s not forget that the company has a big finger in the pie of cloud computing, which itself could be worth a whopping $160 billion.

Lessons in Adaptation

This week also gave us an education in survival, heeding the evolution of individual brands that chose to change themselves instead of going extinct. For the adult arcade chain Dave & Buster’s, that meant taking its show on the road through mobile gamingworth extra tickets. As for Turo, a car-rental platform that teethed on the sharing economy (and vice versa), it meant a total rebranding: name, logo, apps, and website — the works. Finally, as we near the end of a year chock full of trend mutations and anomalies, Forbes has already mapped out the top 10 marketing movements for 2016so we can be fully prepared.

Whether you’re excited or terrified about the imminent rise of the machines, when it comes to the researchers behind these innovations, you gotta hand it to them: the technology is remarkable. We look forward (with some caution) to what’s in store next week!

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