Joyspan, Emotional AI Bumpers, Persona Designers, & More Wild Concepts Bound to Become Commonplace Plus Where High-Tech Entertainment Brings Us
Society takes a leap whenever wild concepts become the norm. Let’s explore a few candidates for transformation of norms, discuss the future of entertainment, and wrap with some missives and mentions.
Edition #13 of Implications.
This edition explores forecasts and implications around: (1) wild concepts bound to become commonplace, (2) where “The Sphere” leaves us wanting, and how the high-tech re-imagination of entertainment will make us crave non-scalable experiences, and (3) some surprises at the end, as always.
If you’re new, here’s the rundown on what to expect. This ~monthly analysis is written for founders + investors I work with, colleagues, and a small group of subscribers. I aim for quality, density, and provocation vs. frequency and trendiness. We don’t cover news; we explore the implications of what’s happening. My goal is to ignite discussion, socialize edges that may someday become the center, and help all of us connect dots.
If you missed the big annual analysis or more recent editions of Implications, check out recent analysis and archives here. A few highlights include collapsing the talent stack and persona-led growth, the upcoming personalization wave that I am particularly excited about, modern mechanics of brands, and 12 realizations on running (even relevant for non-runners). OK, let’s dive in…
Wild concepts bound to become commonplace.
What edges today will become centers over the years ahead? In Edition #9, we explored such ideas as “the transaction graph,” “cars gone wild,” “autonomous businesses,” and “micromarketing.” These ideas prompted a number of conversations and one, in particular, influenced the outlook I shared at Adobe’s MAX conference around the future of marketing. So, here’s another round of wild terms and concepts that may find their way into the mainstream based on how technology and society are progressing these days. This is a fun way to chronicle, in a short and pithy way, implications for a bunch of trends I’m observing and pondering. Not hard to imagine…
Jail-Breaked & Offline Appliances: It’s becoming increasingly clear that we’ll be able to interact with everyday appliances and devices with natural language. As locally run LLMs become more efficient and powerful, the prospects of having a conversation with your coffee machine in the morning aren’t unreasonable. After all, who wants to tinker with buttons and dials before their morning coffee anyways? Bigger picture, as all of our devices - from lighting, pill bottles, and microwaves to beds and lawnmowers - become intelligent and connected to the internet (and the cost of connection goes down to near-zero), all sorts of new use-cases will emerge. These devices will know us and no longer require a learning curve. They will provide data and proactive suggestions to improve their usefulness. We’ll be offered remote trouble-shooting and loss prevention services. But I am sure we’ll also get annoyed. Why does my pill bottle keep supervising me? Why does the pool keep thinking my five-year-old can’t swim? This era of connected devices will feel, to many, like surveillance. Such a sensation may give rise to the popularity of “Jail-breaked” and “offline appliances” for consumers who wish to opt out of an assisted life with less privacy. “Dumb” appliances may gain a cultural premium in such a world (much like to allure of an artisanal coffee maker).
“Persona Designers” & The Emerging Field of Persona Design: If every e-commerce and digital experience ultimately has an AI-powered agent that greets us and assists us throughout our experience with the brand, then tone is the UX of the natural language era. The personality, the sound, the sense of humor, the inflection, the sound effects and musical undertones punctuating the experience - these details have the potential to transform the user experience of these applications. But today we’re still thinking about the persona and tone of computer-assisted experiences the way we thought about graphic user interfaces (GUI’s) in the 1980’s - basic, somewhat monotonous, and we’re not even staffing people to explore and innovate better experiences. I anticipate the rise of “persona designers” that specialize in distinguishing a brand and digital experience through the use of all the characteristics that distinguish interactions with people. Perhaps the future “design system” will include a persona profile for the brand that centralizes all of these attributes for consistent experiences across surfaces?
Public Status Indicators 2.0: Wearables are proliferating our lives, along with location-aware devices. Our “status” has evolved from offline and online - or busy and not-busy - to rested, tired, excited, exercising, as well as where we are and who we are with (Zenly captured this last one quite well and brought it into Snap post-acquisition). When AI works with all of the modern data sources that can be used to deduce our status, we will have a new level of granularity of “status” to share with our friends and family - or even with our colleagues. Are you having a bad day after just receiving some bad news about a loved one? Did you not sleep well last night? Is your headache to blame for a slow response time today? Our status is an invaluable indicator to our peers and managers, but it is rarely known or shared with others. Ultimately, if we can get over the privacy implications, this new level of context and understanding unlocks a step-function more empathy for each other. Perhaps emails will be delivered and meetings will occur when we are most receptive? Perhaps our managers will have empathy for the physiological underpinnings of something that occurs in the workplace? I expect a new generation of status indicators that augment our relationships with others.
Lifespan vs. Healthspan vs. Joyspan; Quantified Trade-offs: David Sinclair originally introduced me to the concepts of lifespan (how long you live) and healthspan (how long you are healthy) that distinguish between how long you technically live and how long you are HEALTHY and ACTIVE. But the rise in bio-hacking and the practice of spending a significant part of your energy on longevity research, health, and withholding from many of life’s pleasures does prompt the question of trade-offs. We’re at the dawn of an era of endless vitamin cocktails, life-enhancing surgeries, daily injections, blood transfusions, pharmaceuticals, and other means of life extension that compromise daily happiness via bouts of nausea, loss of appetite, caloric restriction (living a life without donuts, just the thought!), and social scorn. Perhaps “joyspan” is the other critical factor to optimize for alongside healthspan and lifespan? Sacrificing our happiness and sanity for a longer healthy life is a heavy cost to pay. Over the coming years, we will start to understand these trade-offs better and, thanks to better measures and AI-assisted ways of interacting with our own data, be able to decide what we are willing to do to optimize for longevity — and what we aren’t. I also expect the quantification and maturity of longevity technology - alongside the long list of other enhancements — to drive further scrutiny of wealth inequality and the implications of people being able to reliably buy more life if they’re able to afford it.
“Emotional bumpers,” powered by AI, will emerge for decision making in business and investing, and major life decisions. “Greed and fear are contagious. AI is immune. Emotion dictates investment decisions. AI is immune. Impatience demands action. AI is immune.” This was the take-away from Doug Clinton’s recent “Contrarian Mindset” newsletter. Doug is also an early adopter of AI to manage trading portfolios that are consistently, he claims, outperforming the indexes. I’m not sure whether these models are able to outperform general investors at any reasonable scale, and without a lot of human interference along the way, but I agree with the fact that AI will counter our natural human biases with a degree of focus and impenetrable discipline. Emotion is what makes us human, for better AND for worse. Can AI blunt the risks associated with emotion while allowing us more time to do what humans do best: the emotionally-driven, soulful, creative work that is less about data crunching and more about curiosity and pursuing mistakes of the eye that lead to breakthroughs? Ideally, the future of humanity is about capturing the upside of emotion while minimizing the downsides. AI is a perfect instrument to help us achieve this balance.
“Personalization Contracts” and “Agent-to-Agent Disputes”: As we have discussed in a previous edition of Implications, digital experiences in the future will be hyper-personalized. These experiences, from e-commerce visits to restaurant experiences, will be personalized using the preferences that your personal AI Agent provides on your behalf (and within milliseconds) to the AI Agents at third-party vendors. Our personal agents will agree to share information about us with other agents using a contract that stipulates what information is shared, how it is used, whether or not our data can be used for further training, and how long it is retained. Most often, these Personalization Contracts will be straightforward and allow for a seamless flow of hyper-personalized experiences that also respect our privacy. However, occasionally we will be forced to get involved when the AI-powered agents that represent us fail to agree. Upon a stalemate that inhibits our experiences from being personalized, we will need to get personally involved. I suspect these will be called “agent-to-agent disputes.”
The high-tech re-imagination of entertainment will leave us longing for more shared, authentic, and non-scalable experiences.
An ongoing theme of this year’s Implications editions is the rising value and impact of “non-scalable” experiences. In the modern era of digital abundance and hyper-connectedness, there is a growing human desire - a craving - for experiences and goods that buck the trend. We should continue to discuss the reasons for this, and the implications.
Money (and cool, breakthrough technology) can’t make the moment. A good friend of mine recently went to the U2 concert at the brand-new headline-grabbing “Sphere” venue in Vegas. Having seen all the social shares and euphoric accolades, I was eager to hear the details. Was this truly an entirely new level of entertainment experience? But my friend felt it was too performative and so saturated with lights and video and stimulation that the technology actually diminished the community and sense of shared connection with the artist that he appreciates most at live concerts. “But,” I asked, “wasn’t the view and experience special?” He explained, “without the communal experience of a live concert, it feels strange. Imagine a private concert with Taylor Swift singing in front of you alone in your living room. Ironically, it actually wouldn’t be so great because it would feel awkward and lonely without a community of enthusiastic fans around you sharing the experience.” Perhaps some forms of entertainment are more about community than we might think?
As our society gets more efficient and tech savvy, we tend to not notice the benefits of community and non-scalable experiences until we lose them. Whether it is the Vegas Sphere or other emerging hyper-realistic experiences like Apple’s Virtual Pro, we should get better at identifying the human components that make experiences feel special. Hearing people laugh makes us laugh. Seeing people around us light up with amazement helps us appreciate the moment and feel amazed. Singing out loud with friends that know the words builds a sense of connection. And knowing that we’re sharing a scarce and sacred experience with others helps us value the experience more. Whether you’re building a brand, a performance, or a digital experience, you need to consider these human elements as equally important design considerations. Much like early video games started solo but thrived when extended to a community of players, I anticipate that virtual and immersive sport and entertainment experiences will only thrive if they become shared, communal, and potentially scarce experiences. Perhaps we’ll still need to navigate around that tall guy in front of us at concerts, and then feel grateful when we finally find an unobstructed view? Maybe digital experiences should still be intimate and ticketed experiences with live people despite the ability to transcend such limitations?
The ingredients of scarcity and authenticity will make a major comeback in the next generation of digital experiences. As anything scales too effectively - from fashion to restaurants to music - the market opens for more non-scalable alternatives. Once Starbucks opens on every block, many of us crave the artisanal coffee shop. Once our favorite Italian restaurant becomes a chain of three, we grow tired of it. Why? First, so much of what we buy and do is tied up in identity (whether we know it or not), and everybody craves some degree of distinctiveness. The other reason is that we crave story and authenticity. The coffee tastes better when we know the origin story of the shop or get to know the barista. The Italian joint feels more special when the owner greets you. No amount of efficiency, scaling, and technology can synthetically create a sense of community and belonging. But there are design and technology choices we can make that drive such sensations. We can embrace imperfections and signals of authenticity - the skip of a record, the dust on a lens, the bloopers of a movie - and incorporate them into digital experiences. We can also make digital experiences rare and thus more appreciated. Perhaps court-side seats for an NBA game on the Vision Pro should be limited? Perhaps digital art should be published in limited supply much like the physical world? While the whole NFT craze has certainly entered its trough of disillusionment, the fundamental technology has a purpose when it comes to adding the element of scarcity to digital assets and experiences. I am more excited about how this technology can be used to increase the value of things we already crave, as opposed to create new (and more speculative) markets of assets that appeal more to traders than fans.
Ideas, Missives & Mentions
Finally, here’s a set of ideas and worthwhile mentions (and stuff I want to keep out of web-scraper reach) intended for those I work with (free for founders in my portfolio, Adobe folks…ping me on Slack!) and a smaller group of subscribers. We’ll cover (1) my recent startup investment themes of interest and the concept of “refinement flywheels,” (2) thoughts on the cost of compounding errors in more advanced AI-powered workflows, (3) surfing waves in a Cambrian explosion, and a few other things that caught my eye and have stayed on my mind. Subscriptions go toward organizations I support including the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Thanks again for following along, and to those who have reached out with ideas and feedback.