Tech Cat Interview with Ari Popper
Lori: Welcome. Welcome to this week’s Tech Cat Show. Wow, we have a pretty rowdy crowd out there today. It’s a little cooler in Las Angeles, perfect timing to get back into the future with this week’s guest who’s the fabulous Ari Popper who is truly a futurist. Ari is the founder and CEO of SciFutures, a technology, research, and foresight agency that literally uses science-fiction prototyping to help companies and brands understand how they’re going to stay relevant in today’s incredibly disruptive times, and I think we’re all used to watching science fiction as a form of entertainment, but the amazing thing—and we talk about this all the time, us geeks—is how Star Trek and Star Wars and all the things that we have seen in our favorite science- fiction franchises, even in the dystopian ones, are all coming true; and we’re starting to see devices in our homes, we’re starting to interact with screens everywhere, all sorts of things are now playing out that we all watched on TV and in movies over the last ten years, and it’s really fascinating. So, without further ado, let’s introduce The Futurist, Ari Popper.
Ari: Hello, Lori.
Lori: Wow, someone just threw underwear at the stage. All right, sorry. Go ahead. Hi, Ari. How’re you doing?
Ari: Hi. Good. Hi. Thanks to the massive crowd.
Lori: Well, it’s hard to keep people back when you have people with accents, you know. You know how the ladies in America love your accent.
Ari: Yes, of course. Well, it’s great to be here, Lori. Thanks for having me.
Lori: Well, where are you calling in from today?
Ari: I am up in San Francisco. I’m actually sitting in a little quiet spot in one of our client’s buildings. So, I’m happy I found a nice quiet place to chat to you.
Lori: Are you allowed to tell us which client you’re hanging out with today?
Ari: I believe I am. It is Visa. You might have heard of them.
Lori: Yes, in fact, I think I owe them some money, to be honest. But, perhaps, Ari, tell us what does SciFutures do? It’s such an interesting combination of things, science fiction and future and making a company out of science fiction. So, what is SciFutures all about?
Ari: Yeah, so what SciFutures are about a four-year-old company, and what we do is we help our clients build and prototype sci-fi-like inventions. So we actually develop sci-fi-inspired innovations for our clients to allow them to understand where their businesses should be going and could be going.
Lori: And is it like laser guns?
Ari: Well, if my client wanted a laser gun, then, potentially, we could create that. Yeah, it’s—typically what we do is a client will come to us and say, what is the future of our industry; and then working with science-fiction story tellers and co-creating with our client, we will help them imagine—it’s a very sci-fi-like future—that is grounded in all the emerging technologies, some of them you alluded to in your introduction, grounded in some of the trends, and we’ll tell stories— science-fiction stories—because any story about the future really is sci- fi. And then out of that will come inventions, new inventions that reimagine in a positive way and disruptive way where our client’s businesses could and should be. And then we’ll build them for them.
We’ll actually prototype and construct these sci-fi-like inventions.
Lori: God, that is fascinating. Do you think when you first meet with clients that they actually understand what you’re going to be doing with them?
Ari: You know, I think they do. I think they do. I think what they don’t understand is the—well, what they don’t realize until they get into it is how profound the times are that we’re living in and what you think will be sci-fi is actually more science fact. You know, the famous saying, the future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed. So, when clients work with us, they understand what they’re going to get, but I don’t think they really anticipate how profound a change is going to be and how it’s going to affect their business. And so by working with us, they get a much deeper sense of how their business are transforming or going to have to transform, and that’s not always a pleasant feeling. A famous person said the only person who likes change is a baby with
a wet diaper. So when our clients start to go through that change process, it is a little physical and painful but tremendously worth it when they go through it.
Lori: So, I know the interesting thing about your background is that you’re coming from marketing and consumer research, and so that’s what makes this really ground-in validity, right, is that you’re really backing up sort of the creative thinking of the science future, that sort of entertainment, creative thinking, but you’re also backing into real data about your client’s business.
Ari: Yeah, absolutely. This is a very—although we have a lot of fun, and it’s cool and it’s kind of a sexy space to be in—it’s a very serious business because ultimately what we are talking about is innovation and meaningful innovation. And if you are able to—if we are successful and able to help our clients create meaningful innovation, what that is going to transfer into is generating tremendous value for our clients and wealth and future wealth. So, yeah, although it is fun, it is also a deadly serious business because ultimately it’s about ensuring that our clients are successful in this rapid change in the next five, ten, fifteen years.
Lori: Can you give us just some examples, because I know I’ve watched this business grow. I mean, in all full disclosure, your business partner is actually my husband; and I knew you, I’ve heard of you before, and I’ve interviewed you before and told folks this, but I had heard about you from quite a few different people because we were both looking at the future. I was running a technology lab for a large marcom company, and you were doing forms of this before you officially formed SciFutures as well, so can you talk a little bit about, like, some examples of how this has played out with clients?
Ari: Yeah, some of the work that we do—well, actually a lot of the work that we do is confidential because when you’re talking about future strategies, and particularly innovation strategies, it’s very top secret. We call it secret science fiction. But there have been some instances now in the last four years where we are able to publicly talk about the work that we do. So a couple case studies were for Hershey, the big candy—
Lori: The chocolate people. Ari: Yes!
Lori: We all like chocolate.
Ari: Yes, we do. Yeah. And Hershey’s a very interesting company because they have been quite deliberate in terms of understanding disruptive, emerging technology and how it could change their business, in particular in the space of 3-D printing. So Hershey had formed a relationship, a partnership with 3D Systems, which is one of the most successful, one of the largest 3-D printing companies in the world, to figure out how to 3-D print confectionary and ultimately chocolate. So we were brought in to help Hershey imagine and understand what the implications of their business could be and maybe should be if you can 3-D print confectionary. So it’s not just from a consumer point of view, from a customer point of view, but also from the entire business-supply-chain point of view. So that was a fascinating project that resulted in the creation of new innovations that could tap into the power of 3-D printing. And if you’re familiar with 3- D printing, it’s a bit of a misnomer; it’s not a good name, because you’re not really 3-D printing—well, you are, but what you really are doing is making stuff out of nothing. And it removes a lot of friction in distribution, and it gives you, pretty much, a very broad degree of degrees of freedom in terms of what you can print. You’re not restricted to a candy bar in a certain size; you can create and design really wonderful articulations of the imagination and 3-D print it. So, anyway, so that was a great example that we can talk about. And another one is—
Lori: But before you get into another one, because we’re going to have to take a break in a minute, but I actually got to taste some of this and to see it play out at last year’s Consumer Electronic Show, and it’s literally fascinating because you can imagine in the future having a Hershey printer in your house and you have some kids over and you could just press the button and print any candy you want.
And, actually, if your kid’s a diabetic or if they’re gluten free or whatever, you can imagine that you would start to program this, correct? Like, really dial into the nutrition of the product you’re printing.
Ari: Yeah, exactly. And then you add in other emerging technologies, like Internet of Things, smart homes, and all of a sudden your home is analyzing and understanding what you need based upon the amount of guests you have, the type of guests you have, the weather patterns, big data analysis; and all of a sudden it’s not just 3-D printing a chocolate bar; it’s 3-D printing something very smart and very tailored towards each individual.
Lori: God, it is absolutely fascinating. So, you’re literally bringing all the latest technology options and then sort of mapping it to this science-fiction storytelling around the brand so that what will come out of it is something that has never been born before.
Ari: That’s exactly right. We do the visioning and the ideation, but, really, what we are is a prototyping company. We want to and most of— our goal is to ultimately create something, whether it’s a new product, a new service, a prototype of how our clients could do business in the future. Our goal is to give them something tangible.
Lori: God, that is so cool. When we come back, we’re going to get a little bit more into what are some of the trends that you’re actually seeing from a technology perspective that you’re leveraging. Like, what are some of these really emerging platforms, really science- fiction-like tech that you’re bringing to clients for the very first time that will ultimately turn into chocolate, for instance. So, when we come back, more Ari Popper and the future.
Lori: All right, and welcome back as we continue chatting with the fabulous Ari Popper, CEO of SciFutures, which is a technology, research, and foresight agency that literally uses science fiction and prototyping to help companies understand the future. And so if you’re sitting on top of the future and looking at science fiction and trying to imagine where a company is going to go, you’re obviously looking at new tech all the time. So how do you do that? How do you continuously look at new tech?
Ari: Yeah, it’s a great question because it’s this rapidly evolving, fairly ambiguous space where you’re not quite sure what’s real, what isn’t, what’s tangible, what isn’t; but, yeah, everyone who works for us is constantly reading, scanning, developing relationships with startups.
We follow the technology press and the startup community very, very closely, as well as the incubators and universities. And we’d all be doing that even if we weren’t working. We just love it, and we’re just fascinated about it. So we use that to ground and inform where emerging technology is happening and where exciting things are happening. And it’s all around us, and it’s really cool. So some of the areas that we were following really early, and almost three, four years ago, before Oculus Rift, the virtual-reality headgear, was even bought by Facebook, it was still on Kickstarter, we were deeply imbedded in
the whole 3-D augmented reality, virtual reality ecosystems. And so now looking back three years later, it’s fascinating to see how much interest and how big that industry is becoming, and, obviously, it hasn’t even started yet. But we do a lot of work in VR and AR. The other areas that I think have the potential to be even larger are Internet of Things, as devices and everyday objects become smart and have sensors put on them and become connected with each other.
We’re getting this tremendous Internet-of-Things ecosystem that’s developing. That’s [unclear] very, very quickly. And then you look at things like the data in AI and biometrics. So that’s using machines to monitor human beings and understand them and understand their biometrics. When you combine all these different technologies, you can throw 3-D printing in there and autonomous vehicles, throw all of them in, what you get is this very rich and dynamic ecosystem of where the world could be going. And so our job is to take that content and tell stories about it and say, okay, if this is the environment and these emerging technologies are now more ubiquitous and available, just like electricity is, just like indoor plumbing is, what does it mean for a business; what does it mean for how people shop, how people engage in our clients’ brands. And the best way to do that is through storytelling, through science-fiction storytelling.
Lori: Do you find that, in terms of the Internet of Things, because I know everybody likes to talk about that, but I’ve seen a lot of things like connected toothbrushes and sort of silly things like that. That’s not really what we’re talking about, right? Or are we?
Ari: It is and it isn’t. Yeah, so, if you look at the evolution of technology, you look at the evolution of emerging technology, it starts out to be quite clunky and silly, so, yeah, you do get silly application connected toothbrush is a silly example today, but as the technology matures, it goes through that hard cycle into something that’s quite profound and interesting, and it’s almost so profound that it becomes uninteresting; it’s just ubiquitous. But, yeah, we’re looking at all of that, and what we’re trying to do is give our clients an early opportunity, an early read, on where they could and should be, where they can add tremendous value. So if you have a better understanding of the Internet of Things ecosystem, if you have a good, intuitive, deep understanding of what their business needs to do to be successful in that evolved and more mature ecosystem, and you can start working on that today, you can really get ahead of the game and almost invent and create that preferred future before anyone else or set the rules. So, yeah, a lot of it is gimmicky and stupid and silly, but that has a role to get us ultimately where we need to be.
Lori: I mean, I love one of the things that we’re using in our house right now, and I think I talked about this the other week, is the Amazon Echo, which has named itself Alexa, where you walk into the room and you just talk to this little tower, and you tell it to play music and to give you the news. And I know some friends of mine are using it to turn the lights on in their house and start to connect it to connected home stuff, so that makes sense to me because that has utility and it’s adding value to my house and to my life, and it’s really interesting. I mean, the challenge is always discovery, like, I can’t remember always the linguistics around how to ask it to play a certain playlist, and I can’t even always remember what playlists I created.
So I wish that discovery would get even more detailed where I could just say, emotionally, I’m in the mood for something morning-like, you know, but it’s not quite there yet.
Ari: No, it isn’t, but it will get there, and it’s going to be really interesting where it begins to anticpate your needs, right? So, it could read the bio—
Lori: Yeah, that would be awesome.
Ari: Yeah, like biometrics. You know, okay, Lori’s a little down today and she’s got a radio show in a few hours, so we’ve got to pep her up. I don’t think that’ll ever happen. You’re always peppy, Lori.
Lori: Yeah, I need print outs of some chocolate to get really high from the sugar, unless I decide to make it sugar free, but that’s where you see brands then sort of attaching brand attributes to that utility so that maybe a brand will come along and you’ll download the Hershey playlist on the Amazon Echo and so I’ll hear really, really peppy music to reflect confectionary or something. Do you think that’s how it might go down?
Ari: It could. I mean, I think the future of brands are algorithms, I really do.
Ari: And what I mean by that is I think that brands are going to be— because brands are ultimately about expressions of what people want to think and feel about themselves in any kind of moment, so you choose a certain brand to reflect what you want to think and feel. So, I think when big data and IoT and AI has become sophisticated
enough—and this isn’t overnight, this is in a while—algorithms are going to plug in and brands are going to understand wherever you are in a point in time and they’re going to sponsor that moment. And the algorithm is going to understand that, to your point, Lori, this is a Hershey moment, this is definitely appropriate for me to be here in this space and time. And that could be a moment of joy or a moment of connection or a moment of happiness, or a moment of sophistication with other brands, and so the more sophisticated the algorithms and the better it is able to understand where you are and what space you are, the more accurate and the more natural the fit is with the brand, the more powerful, I think, that kind of brand bonding and connection is going to be. So I know it sounds a little ambiguous right now and a little high level, but ultimately as the world becomes even more digital and more connected and more data driven, brands are going to have to be algorithms. They’re going to have to understand that data and where they fit in.
Lori: Yeah, I mean, I totally understand what you’re saying, because the truth is that we all have affinity for brands right now for different reasons; and if they can continue to drive value in this modern world, then why wouldn’t we lean more to them? So if there’s a device that fulfills a need, of course I would be more prone to engage with that brand if they were providing that, right? So if Hershey is providing me the ability to bring nutrition into my home and personalize it, then I’m going to choose Hershey, because they’ve created this avenue for me.
Ari: Yeah, and you will begin to associate Hershey with nutrition and understanding of my needs in an intelligent and absolutely perfect way, and the more you begin to trust that relationship and that association, which will be determined by the strength of the algorithm. So the better the algorithm is at predicting what you need and delivering on it and the more you trust that algorithm and that association, the stronger your relationship will be of that brand. Yeah, absolutely. So if I’m looking for a wild and adventurous fun moment, I will trust the Red Bull—that’s an algorithm—because it delivers that and it knows how to deliver it to me in a unique way that’s really appropriate to me. But very, very interesting, and I think a little scary, too.
Ari: Because it brings up a lot of privacy issues and a lot of personal freedom issues, but it’s the sort of thing we’ve got to look at and really understand.
Lori: Well, privacy is just an illusion anyway. I mean, I try not to think about it too much, but the truth is that you like when things are personalized and they’re relevant and contextual to you. So I don’t want to think too much about how that happened or why it works, because I think it would freak me out. So, a little bit, I’m sticking my head in the sand about it, but when a personalized, relevant experience is delivered to me that actually makes my life easier, I totally dig it.
Ari: Yeah, I think so. I think you’re right, and I think we’re living in a time where the frogs are in the pot and it’s slowly boiling and we’re not kind of realizing it’s getting hotter and hotter and our privacy’s kind of [unclear] gone. Before we know it—
Lori: We’re boiling frogs. Ari: Yeah, I think so.
Lori: And you do know a lot and you’ve always seemed to have an understanding for what’s coming, so when we come back, I’d love to find out, like, how do you keep up with everything, and I know we all read a lot of trade magazines, both on the brand side, advertising side, tech side, but it almost takes more than that right now, right, to keep up with this chaos, because you almost can’t sleep. I mean, do you sleep?
Ari: Probably as much as you do, Lori, or very little.
Lori: Everyone’s aware of my sleep deprivation. Yeah, I mean, there’s so much to be thinking about, and, also, I feel like because of the amount of newsletters we all get and because of all these different folks who are claiming to be the providers of that curation, it’s hard to know what to read and what to believe, what is real and what isn’t real. I mean, almost like we’re all trying to craft our own personal algorithms, too, for how we get through our day with information.
Ari: I agree, and I think the interesting for me is not so much what is meaningful, what isn’t meaningful, what’s real, what isn’t, but what do we want it to be and then how do we create it, so knowing what’s emerging, knowing what opportunities and what technologies and what opportunities are out there. Using our imaginations, to answer your question, if we use our imaginations and create a story of where we would like to be and how we’d like it to be, that to me is really the
exciting thing about the times. We’re not passively following trends; we’re actively creating our preferred futures by taking a stake in what we believe and going out and building it. Those are the clients and those are the projects that they’re really excited about because-
Lori: That’s great.
Ari: You can really get things done—
Lori: Ari, we’re going to be coming right back in a moment to hear more about the future and how we keep with it and also, maybe, what’s coming up to be excited about. When we come back, more with Ari Popper.
Lori: All right, we were talking about algorithms and the future, with Ari Popper, CEO of SciFutures. So, Ari, one of the things that I often feel, and I’m sure many of our listeners feel, is sort of overwhelmed, like, by all the new stuff and who do we believe and what’s real and what isn’t real and what should I invest in. So where you do get your inspiration from so that you know what you’re reading and what you’re consuming is real enough to act on?
Ari: Yeah, that’s a really hard question to answer because it’s— Lori: I only ask hard questions, by the way.
Ari: You know, we don’t evaluate. We’re not putting trends, technologies, opportunities side by side and doing a big logical evaluation of it. I strongly believe that’s a fool’s errand because things are changing so quickly that by the time you’ve evaluated, something else has come up, or you’re evaluating it through your present-day lens, and it warps the potential of where it could be. What we do is we say, okay, this is what we think are the really exciting core emerging technologies and trends, things that are happening around us. Now, let’s use our imaginations through storytelling and create those future for us, grounded in emerging technologies, and then let’s pick the one or the ones that we really, really like, and then let’s go out and build it. Let’s go and see if we can actually make that happen, and that might mean building and prototyping something very tangible and physical that’s very sci-fi-like, and what we’ve found over the four years that we’ve been doing this is that you can build it. You can actually create sci-fi-like prototypes that come straight out of your
imagination. It might not be exactly how you intended it to be in your original incarnation. It might be even more sci-fi-like. But that’s the way that we approach—that’s the paradigm that we look at it. So, rather than trying to keep up, it’s more about, let’s build and create what’s preferred for us.
Lori: And I know one of the things that you did two years ago that got a lot of press was building a sort of holoroom almost, holodeck, like in Star Wars—Star Trek—I’m getting my Stars mixed up—Star Trek—oh my god, Patrick Stewart will never talk to me again—Star Trek—where you would walk into a Lowe’s room and be able to build the future of your kitchen or bathroom or whatever it is, and that’s a real practical application of very future technology, especially two years ago, which is a virtualization of your rooms in your home. So that’s a great example of you taking a future idea but mapping it to a current need, right?
Ari: Yes, exactly, absolutely. I mean, at the time when we wrote the future of home improvement story, it was quite a while ago, three and a half years ago, that it still had a very sci-fi light, so the idea that you could step into any room in your house and change out, in real time, redecorate in a digital, virtual-reality environment. And then once you’re happy with the room that you’ve designed, you can wave your hand and the next day or in the next few hours a Lowe’s truck appears. They pull out the old stuff and put in the new stuff, and when it’s renovated it looks exactly how it did in your visualization. So that feels very sci-fi-like, but actually when we started to prototype, we actually found that it wasn’t that difficult. And now today with virtual reality and with the ability to create 3-D digital objects of almost everything quite easily, or a lot easier than it was in the past, that future is not as difficult and not as far away. So there’s an ad right now on TV that Home Depot’s actually showing of people using their smart phones to change the walls in their room in real time. So you hover your phone over a wall and you can change it from beige to orange or whatever.
Lori: That’s cool.
Ari: That’s sort of holoroom-like, isn’t it, or holodeck-like.
Lori: Yeah, yeah, and that was what you guys were doing a couple of years ago. I mean, and when you think about the behavior surrounding shopping for room renovation, and I know that my husband and I fight like cats and dogs about stuff like that, so being
able to have visualization tools, because he’s always wrong, but I think most couples, if you walk into any repair place or fix-it place or do-it- yourself place, the majority of the demographic in there is couples arguing about how to do something, so being able to see it is so practical. So when you talk about a brand coming along, and even small businesses, can they get in this game with you, or do you have to be, like, a Fortune 50 or 100 or 500 to be able to spend a lot of money and engage with you, or can anyone start to innovate now?
Ari: Well, I think we have deliberately chosen to work with Fortune 500s, and we are doing some pro-bono work as well, but on the one hand it is overwhelming, as you say, but on the other hand the barriers to entry, because technology is so disruptive, the barriers to entry are so much lower. So right now there could be somebody right out of school, in their garage, inventing the next industry killer. And the reason why it’s easier to do is because there’s this complete democratization of information, you know, we all have access to information or putting everything online, and the rules of the game are changing. I mean, they’re changing in almost every industry, like Airbnb’s completely disrupted the hotel industry, and, of course, Uber, the transportation industry, and in payments as well. It just seems the new and interesting payment technology’s disrupting. So I think on the one hand, yeah, it is hard to keep up with it all, but on the other hand it’s actually quite easy, with all the developer tools and with the democratization of information for you to be able to create some really interesting innovations.
Lori: But do you have to be, like, a tech geek to be able to play in this space? Do you have to be a programmer and a coder or at least have programmers and coders working for you, or can someone who understands their brand and knows that they have to disrupt it, can they play, too, or do they just have to, you know,–do they read science fiction, like, how do people move through this?
Ari: You know, I think you do need to have some kind of—if you want to prototype some kind of software or some kind of sci-fi-like digital experience, yeah, then you’re going to need access to or at least have the ability to create code into a program. But, no, you don’t have to be a geek, in the true sense of the word. I think what you need is passion for your industry and your idea, and you need to have imagination, and then you need good, old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit and the qualities that inventors typically have had of drive and really wanting to build something and see it happen. If you have all that, then you can find developers quite easily, and there are a lot of
outsourced developer shops that you can hire to work for you. You give them the brief and they’ll build something for you. So, yeah, you don’t need to be a coder or a developer yourself to be able to do this.
Lori: But is this still the area where you have a couple of interns hacking away at stuff, or do you have to have a chief innovation officer or a digital officer? I mean, should someone at a high level in your company be always looking out down the block, and how far out?
Ari: Yeah, I mean, if you’re talking about a Fortune 500 company, yes. I really do believe that. I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of these big companies creating innovation labs, right, which are these futuristic, pseudo, “if our brand was happening in the future, these are the things that would be happening” spaces. And it achieves two things. One, it gives them the ability to play in a fairly safe environment that’s not going to threaten the mother ship, but the other thing that it does is it also gives them the ability to start to learn and apply what these new technologies could do to their business. So, yeah, if the company isn’t do it or isn’t looking five to ten years out a ways in experimenting or even engaging with startups or with millennials or with new developers, then they are in danger of getting blindsided or disrupted. I think what I’m seeing, Lori, is that most of the clients that we’re engaging with now are definitely getting on board. They’re definitely thinking, you know, we need an innovation lab or we need some kind of strategic partnership with incubators and startups; we need to make visits out to Silicon Valley. And so we’re definitely seeing more of that, but I think it could go a ways further.
Lori: I mean, they should all have a friendly, neighborhood Tech Cat on their payroll to help them do this, because I have so many colleagues who are running businesses and they just haven’t made this a budget item, and so even though they know they need to do it, they’re so deeply in the weeds of the day to day and the KPIs that they were assigned six months ago that they can’t seem to wretch themselves out of that. So are you seeing more brands sort of midyear, disrupt their budget cycle, to invest in this, because these budget cycles are yearly, and now a year seems like so long to base one story about your company on. It feels to me like you have to reevaluate that budget continuously.
Ari: I think you’re right, and it’s a massive challenge. And depending on the organization, some are doing quite nicely and some aren’t, but if I were CEO of a big Fortune 500, absolutely I would be looking to
disrupt myself all the time. I would have a dedicated team figuring out how to put myself out of business. That’s what I would do. Yeah.
Lori: It’s hard to think about it like that, but it really is almost a day- by-day, week-by-week thing. All right, well, we have one more break. We’re going to leave Ari for a moment and leave all of you to be thinking about how you’re going to disrupt your own futures, and when we come back, we’ll talk about some more clients that Ari is working with, some business categories, and who’s doing the most interesting work out there to really keep ahead of all the Ubers and Airbnbs, who, I’m sure, are going to be disrupted themselves soon. We’ll be back soon.
Lori: All right, and we’re back with the fabulous Ari Popper, and we’re talking about the future and how to innovate, how companies can innovate, if they’re small or big, really. And so my question to Ari is, can you just give some examples—I know you’re not allowed to talk clients, but what are some business categories doing right now in terms of activating what you’re talking about, like, what are some of the categories that you think are really going to be leading to the future?
Ari: I think automation, so the automotive industry. So what does it mean when cars are driving themselves? How is that going to—
Lori: And is that going to happen, like, tomorrow or, like, how far away is that?
Ari: You know, I think it’s still a bit, a fair bit away. I think the technologies are getting really close. I mean, they’re not perfect, but they’re certainly getting close. And you’ve got big players like Google, [unclear], and even Uber’s talking about developing their own fleet of—
Lori: And Tesla. I have some friends that are working at a company called Tesloop, where they actually are going to be automating sort of shared car rides from, like, Vegas to LA and Palm Springs to LA and sort of a few hours of driving. So that could be cool. Then I could really be texting while I’m driving, finally.
Ari: And you could get a Vegas holiday started as you leave LA, right?
Lori: That’s right. I won’t have to hide the alcohol now. I’ll just be drinking while I’m driving.
Ari: Yeah, exactly.
Lori: So automative automotive is leading the way, and who else? What other business categories do you think are really innovating?
Ari: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re leading the way but they’re definitely getting into it, but you’re looking at this whole area of quantified self, right, almost being able to monitor your own activities, get data about it, and then make different decisions based on that data. That is really fascinating and pretty much untapped, I think. So for brands that are in personal-care space, whether it’s personal hygiene or oral care, there’re massive opportunities there to use quantified self data to really change the category, because, think about it, up to now if you’re working—you know, the way we brushed our teeth, it really hasn’t changed very much at all, or the way that we wash or groom ourselves really hasn’t changed. But when you start to add in quantified self data, how well we are or how clean we are or, biometrically, what’s going on in our bodies, and you can accurately quantify that, that’s really fascinating, because now brands aren’t just about buying and using them one-off getting a vague sense something’s happened and then going on. You can now really see what’s happening and track it and gamify it. It takes a very kind of passive experience and makes it a lot more active and personal. So that’s an area that I’m looking very closely at and very interested in and my clients are quite interested in, too.
Lori: And that for you, personally, has also been significant, because in the end if you’re a futurist or working with brands, some of this has to connect back to you personally, and you’re an avid runner, correct? So do you use a lot of this tech to track your own data?
Ari: I do, yeah, and then I think that’s partly why the running is the most—you know, the popularity of running has just boomed. I believe that it’s because we’re now able to really get very detailed information about what’s happening on our run, and for me, as a geek, it’s really fun, and I really think it’s brought a lot of new people into not just running but into fitness and exercise in a really big way.
Lori: And that’s, like, knowing, like, how you’re breathing, or is it, like, how fast you’re running, or is it really about, like, what you’re capillaries are doing, like, crazy-detailed stuff like that?
Ari: Not that detailed, but I think, you know, at a very basic level, and there’s some conflicting accounts about how accurate this information is, but that aside, let’s presume you’re not [unclear] accurate, you know, you get the stride length, you get your heart rate, you get your speed, you get your location, you get your elevation. And then it’s just tracking those data points. Over time, you can get your VO2 max, which is a measure of how much—or, basically, how fit you are.
You just add all of the—
Lori: Oh, I don’t know if I want to know that, or not know that.
Ari: But, you know, it just makes exercising fun. So now you can benchmark, you can see where you are, you can track your improvement, and it’s something that you would have—ten, fifteen years ago, would have been just intuitive, or if you had a very sophisticated lab and in a week, actually, you might be able to get that information. But now anyone can have that information, and then you can track it online, and then you can see how you compare to other people, and you can gamify it, and it becomes social. And I think that’s really interesting, and I think that’s why, like I said, that doing so well and all these new digital-tracking companies coming up, but I think everyday brands, like toothpaste brands and like hygiene brands, there’s a massive opportunity there for them to really also tap into that.
Lori: And tap into wellness and expand upon all that data, you know, because the data is overwhelming, but what you’re really saying is it’s the interpretation of the data in a way that both businesses and consumers can understand it, because when you say “big data,” I just want to close my eyes because I don’t know what it really means. But what you’re talking about is, like, insights from smaller data that will impact our lives.
Ari: Absolutely. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You know, you got an insurance industry or even credit card companies—again, we’re getting into some privacy-stuff issues, yeah, but that aside for now, think of the value that they could bring to their customers and consumers by giving them insight into how they live and how they can improve their lives, and not just particularly in the healthwise, but in all levels, and taking their big data—to your point, Lori—and mining it for small data or for insights that are really profound. That, to me, is a tremendous opportunity for brands to create new relationships with
their customers in a really meaningful way, again, privacy issues aside.
Lori: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that will always be the battle. Well, is there anything that SciFutures is doing in the next year that we’ll be seeing or any place you guys are speaking or presenting that we could check out?
Ari: Yeah, so we’re at the 4A’s. We’re doing an event in New York City in November. We’ll be there. We’ll be doing a keynote presentation there. We are going to be doing some work with our client, for Visa, and launching something around what they’re doing. Can’t say more than that, but it’s going to be really fun, really futuristic, and really exciting. Yeah, and we’re always up and about. So go to our website, or—
Lori: Doing interesting things. Ari: Yeah.
Lori: So the 4A’s and then we’ll look out for some Visa announcements, and then, lastly, is there any show or movie of book that you’ve read that you think is, like, really mind-blowing sci-fi, like, what’s turning you on in the sci-fi world right now?
Ari: You know, I’ve been reading some old sci-fi right now, just going back to the classics like Ursula Le Guin, “The Dispossesed,” and I am enjoying some of the sci-fi that’s on TV. I like it more for the articulation of the technology, and some of the storytelling isn’t even that great. But, yeah, we’ve had some great movies. Ex Machina was a really good one, and I really enjoyed that; and, dare I say, Mad Max was probably one of my favorite sci-fi’s, but that’s a whole other story.
Lori: I thought that was really interesting, as well. Do you watch Rick and Morty? Rick and Morty on Adult Swim?
Ari: I have seen a few of them, yeah. I really liked it.
Lori: I just love that for the science-fiction, because I just think it’s taking science-fiction and just plugging it into our culture, our human, very emotional culture and making fun of it, and I think it’s so smart. And that’s on Adult Swim, with Dan Harmon at the head of that, and I think it’s just kind of brilliant, because more and more I think we’re all
looking to science-fiction for the same insights that you guys are actually sitting on top of with SciFutures.
Ari: Exactly. Yeah.
Lori: You know, the average person wants to definitely get ahead of it all. Well, we’re going to be wrapping up the show now. This has been Lori Schwartz, your friendly, neighborhood technology catalyst here, bringing you tech trends impacting your business. And we’ve had the fabulous Ari Popper, founder and CEO of SciFutures. And, Ari, give us a little goodbye with your accent so we can wrap up the show today.
Ari: All right. Lori, thanks very much, and goodbye.
Lori: And if you guys get a chance, check out SciFutures’ website and look out for them at the 4A’s, and check out all the cool things they’re doing and see if you can get some printed chocolate somewhere, right? Hershey’s—some printed chocolate and make your life better, correct?
Ari: Exactly. Well, thanks, Lori. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you again and appreciate the opportunity to chat to you and your listeners.
Lori: All right, everybody. Take care, have a great week, and we’ll see you next week on the Tech Cat Show—Tech Trends Impacting Your Business.