Influence on Society: 5. Conclusion (CH)

In the former blog entry, we have learned that there are basically two likely scenarios for societal development triggered by digital assistants: little to medium influence and disruptive influence.

Based on the variables analysed before, I personally see a tendency to disruptive development. The reasons are the following. First, Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung are pushing their products into the market — mainly by releasing new devices and expanding functionality. The four players are in a race for market share and a likely to “force” consumers to use their services (e.g. consider that Cortana is fully integrated into Windows OS, Samsung placed a special “Bixby” button on their phones, etc.). Accordingly, prices will fall as soon regular supply-demand mechanics kick-in.

Second, society is open for the digital butlers and privacy concerns may vanish. Given the ease-of-use (voice input, interacting with digital assistants while pursuing other tasks), people will start to like their “personal butler” quickly thereby leaving increasingly (tedious) tasks to the machine. Over time, the digital assistant may become part of the household and might naturally be treated as the family’s dog. As soon as younger, less privacy-concerned people will represent the population’s majority, data issues will be less relevant.

Third, existing, beloved devices will vanish over time as more and more tasks are pursued by digital assistants. Radios may disappear, home automation will be handled by the digital butler and the shopping list and tour will be completed within seconds and without human contribution.

In the last step, I would like to shortly dare a look into the future and give my thoughts about how society may look like under the omnipresence of digital assistants. My three hypotheses are:

First, people talk less to each other and more to digital assistants. Instead of asking a person or family member for advice or factual knowledge, digital assistants will be questioned. While emotional advice may still be better given by a human, factual knowledge is the strength of algorithms. The same holds for simple tasks as writing a shopping list or asking for an interesting cooking recipe.

Second, people will become more isolated. I imagine that digital assistants will manage more tasks on their own, thereby creating more spare time for their owners. An easy example could be food and grocery shopping. Rather than writing a list and driving to the supermarket, digital assistants will re-stock automatically so that the postman will deliver the necessities right to the door. Spontaneous meetings with the neighbour while unloading the car will disappear.

Third, people will lose confidence in humans. By interacting daily with digital algorithms — and having success stories with them — trust will be established. Depending on the ratio between human and digital interaction, at a certain point in time people may feel more comfortable with the latest digital assistant whose reaction can easily be predicted rather than with a human who may react fully randomly. Predictability and security will increase while unexpectedness and adventures will disappear.

To conclude, the outlook I just draw is purposely dark while the future in reality might be as light as “dark grey”. However, I am convinced that by establishing such a “worst case scenario”, you, me and the whole society can understand the wake-up call and initiate action — as long as there is still sufficient room for prevention.