More eyes, more design, and transparency in Accenture’s annual Fjord Trends report

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For anyone in technology, few reports are as exciting as the annual Fjord Trends. The report highlights what Accenture’s design labs believe will emerge and grow in the coming year.

The Fjord Trends 2018 came out this month with some amazing predictions. One of my favourite was that after years of so much focus on digital, the physical world will become more important to our lives again. In fact, Accenture’s Fjord team believes we will see more and more instances of physical events have digital impacts and vice versa. I highly recommend you check out that report’s microsite.

One interesting note about this year’s Fjord Trends report is the impact of Dublin. Director of the Fjord Studio in Ireland, Lorna Ross tells me they took over responsibilities that traditionally were done out of London. It’s a big responsibility that shows the broader impact Dublin can have in the global technology discussion. Check out my full interview with Ross earlier this week.

Note: this interview was edited for clarity.

Dublin Globe: It seems like one of the biggest things to pop up in the report is “design.” Just about every topic either focuses on design or has design as a solution. Take me through the process for why you think design is such a critical part of the changing environment for 2018

Lorna Ross: The Fjord Trends try to look at the landscape that comes out every year from different points of view. I think its not necessarily that we exclusively believe that design is the answer for everything. We try to bring a design voice. So it’s important that we speak with a design voice. We say from a design perspective, we identify some emerging topics or trends that we think are significant. Accenture publishes tech trends throughout the year, so Fjord global trends look through a design eye. We look at what’s happening socially, culturally, and with technology. These are the things we think are really important to pay attention to.

Dublin Globe: For an Irish startup or a Dublin company, what are the most important takeaways to get from the Fjord 2018 forecast?

Lorna Ross: There’s a strong story around the intelligence emerging in technologies we’re building. We were in the digital era with digital tools and digital services like web-based services. We spent the last decade building those tools. Now, those tools are becoming so much more intelligent. We’re moving exponentially away from making subservient tools. Those are tools that are designed to do something for you, but you tell it to do one thing.

It does one thing successfully in a predictable way. We’re moving toward having really autonomous tools. I think that’s fundamentally really different for what we’re going to be building. Autonomy and intelligence in the tools. That will make things more complex. It will also mean we have to get more and more comfortable with data and how we use it as the fuel to drive what we use. It makes things more volatile and dynamic.

The tools we have now are persistent and pervasive, running 24/7 in the background. For any tech company or anyone working in this area, there are a lot of game changing things happening right now.

Dublin Globe: One of the most fascinating sections was about artificial intelligence. It was forward thinking: AI is going to happen. But it wasn’t the alarmist mentality that we have it comes to AI, robots are going to take our jobs and destroy our lives. So how did your team reach the conclusion that yes, AI will impact us, but collaboration will be more important than confrontation?

Lorna Ross: It’s helpful to zoom out. From a design perspective, we built tools for so long. Every time we build a tool, we amplify our potential and then we move on. It’s part of our evolution is that we don’t physically change ourselves, but we adapt our environment to sustain ourselves in it. That’s our history. AI is just one new set of tools. In that context, they are intimidating, because they are part of a journey that we’re on. For us, telling the human story first is really important.

Every time you introduce a tool, they appear to be challenging the traditions. The printing press challenged the way we thought about the world. It proposes change, so we have to ask how we think about change. So the conversation, really, is about how we feel about the change now. Perhaps because it’s happening fast, there are concerns.

We’ve built tools to mimic our own intelligence, which is very intimate. We’ve modelled them to think. Software behind them is based on the brain. They’re actually like us. People may find that a little creepy. I find that absolutely fascinating. That means we’re getting closer and closer to the tools we built. They are more like us.

That’s a good thing. The level of collaboration will be seamless. For so long, tools have been very hard to use. It should be easier and easier. I think the full idea to amplify human’s ability is the conversation we should be having right now.

Dublin Globe: Tell me about what the Dublin team did in particular on this Fjord report?

Lorna Ross: Our studio is about a year old. We’re kind of the unicorn studio in that for the first time, they put our studio into an Accenture lab like this. The Dock is a research and development centre. Most of the other studios have been standalone and held a traditional model of design. We’re more embedded in the business. We used this to establish ourselves within the Fjord family.

The level of fluency and comfort we have when talking about the emerging technology is strong, because we work with them every day. We adapted our language and process to work along the analytics guys and the software people. The design here is very hybrid-y. The way that the trends emerged is that studios pitch up what they’re seeing in their regions. So we pitched what we saw emerging from the dock.

What I heard back from [co-founder and chief client officer at Fjord] Mark Curtis was that we had a very strong influence about AI, analytics, and blockchain. It was more than other studios, because we were close to it. For that reason, they asked us to shape the trends, here at the dock. It’s the first time for that. They’ve always been done out of the London studio. That was a huge privilege and absolutely terrifying to take on, especially since we are a young studio and are still looking for our identity.

It was a huge honour to receive the trust from Mark and the team. We’ve worked daily with that team. They knew we had a comfort level with the topics that we’d be able to navigate them.

Dublin Globe: In your personal perspective, what do you take away as the most important trend you’re noticing for 2018.

Lorna Ross: It’s like asking which of my children is my favourite! The transparency and blockchain one is really interesting.

It’s interesting how the idea of trust, in a time when trust in traditional systems is eroding and people don’t know what to believe, that a technology is emerging to create global or universal language around trust. Blockchain creates a level of transparency that we creates a whole new way to know what trust looks like.

It’s not based on the idea of trust. It’s based on the evidence of trust. I think it’s funny that as traditional models of trust are eroding, technology is emerging that creates a new construct around whether something is true. I think that’s fascinating.

I was talking with a friend, and we asked whether people trust the technology? That’s the question. We were working on a project called ID2020, a collaboration with Microsoft and the United Nations. It’s about creating identity for displaced people. How do you create a safe and globally trusted system to return an official identity to people who were displaced and have no proof of their original identity? We worked on that for a couple months. It surrounded how do we know what to trust.

The technology appears to be stable. So, how do we propose it to a group of people in a refugee camp to create trust? I find it fascinating, how a lack of trust is pulling apart socially and culturally, and a technology is emerging that’s potentially offering a solution. There’s still a question about whether people are comfortable with that. From a design perspective, we have to think about how would we design a tool that people could understand enough.

Dublin Globe: A lot of the trends we’re seeing are focused on those with a lot of technology. The next billion people in the world are not going to come from places like Ireland and Western Europe. They will be coming from places like Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, where the technology and bandwidth are not as available. What solutions do you see coming to give the very high tech “tip of the spear” to people who may not have as many resources?

Lorna Ross: I think generally, technology is getting cheaper, more pervasive, and more accepted. I would look at some of the trends we’ve identified in general with analytics and AI. A lot of them are maturing because of things like the cloud and sensors. I am not sure if the barriers to entry are what they were.

I think the emerging technologies are globally and universally acceptable, because they are less about real expensive elements that are exclusive. I think they are interesting because they are not that exclusive.

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