Accountability is a funny thing, isn’t it?  Every leader wants it in their business and we expect it of our colleagues (even if some of us are a little light on it ourselves).  And in a world where fake news is now a thing, we certainly expect it of the media, of brands and of our politicians (well, maybe we live in hope).

But what about those who claim the title of being a futurist?  This is one of those job titles that I find absolutely fascinating.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the future and I love technology.  And I really admire people who are willing to share their knowledge and offer their guidance on what they see happening in the future.  One might question though how much a futurist’s prediction is genuine, and how much is influenced by their investment portfolio.  But perhaps that is just me.

Does this wearable make my butt look big?

Today I would like to focus on the prediction made by a number of futurists about wearables.   You know, the devices that started off as fitness trackers but then suddenly became real-time wellbeing assessors and state-of-future-health predictors.  I remember reading the articles about how these devices would revolutionise the world of work, the only difficulties coming in the form of privacy aficionados who simply didn’t get it.   Millions of workers would be wearing them!

How awesome is that going to be!  I will know in advance when I am getting ill, medicine will arrive at my door before I even know I need it, and insurance companies would be climbing over themselves to offer me discounts if I kept myself in great shape.


And then I read this article about Fitbit’s recent decline, article here.

For those of you who don’t want to read the article, here is the bit that got my attention…

Those waiting for the major technological leaps that will give us science fiction-type functionality such as Star Trek’s Tricorder are likely to be disappointed. A competition run by Qualcomm with a US $6 million first place prize to find a “tricorder-like” device, required only 70% accuracy of 15 different measurements.

The finalists produced kits that combined existing technologies such as glucometers, spirometers, heart rate monitors, etc and packaged them in one box. Whilst this brought these devices together to function with a single app, it did not fundamentally advance any of the individual components.

Before I go on, this is not an article singling out Fitbit, in fact, I have one that I use when exercising to monitor heart rate.  This is an article about being human.  The human body and mind are far too awesome to be understood using a wearable device.  Sure they measure some cool things (I am still impressed by heart rate), but they can’t possibly measure the myriad of complex relationships between an infinite number of variables that combine to make us human.

Why are we trying to be less human?

The futurists are using terms like ‘predictive’ analytics which is where one might want to double check what that term actually means.  The coin in my pocket can make a predictive choice between two alternatives with 50% accuracy, which in the world of predictive analytics stacks up rather nicely.  What we are probably referring to is probability or statistics.  Not even google, with all of its data sources and combined intelligence, can predict anything to do with humans with 100% accuracy.  Is anything less than 100% predictive?  There is nothing wrong with artificial intelligence, but it is still very much artificial, ironically programmed by humans in the first place!

In a world where we are doing our best to reduce people to, in some cases a single measure or quadrant or prediction (how many of these can you think of in a minute?), perhaps it is time to also appreciate that individuals are individuals and reducing them back to a number or segment is done so at one’s peril.

The future will reward those who keep this in mind.  Perhaps I just became a futurist?

Jason Buchanan – General Manager; Insights & Innovation

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