What’s The Next Big Thing?
Knowing what the next product breakthrough is might be staring you right in the face.
If you want to know for certain what we will value next in the evolution of products look no further than the mirror.
Why do we invent new stuff in the first place?
To improve their chances of survival, early humans made primitive tools. But until recently, it has not easy for humans to manipulate the world around them without the significant passing in time. Evolution can be painfully slow.
The earliest stone toolmaking developed at least 2.6 million years ago. By about 1.76 million years ago, early humans began to make hand-axes and other large cutting tools.
That’s a million years between the first tool and the next iteration!
Damn, I’m glad I wasn’t the product manager on that team.
But what do these tools actually do for us?
They extend our natural powers. Tools extend our five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. But they also extend our non-visible powers.
Tools give us the ability to improve navigation and orientate ourselves in an increasingly complex world. They add more information to our intuition or perceptions of other people. Tools enhance and amplify our ability to learn new behavior or acquire skills. They accelerate our ability to combine ideas into understanding or insights.
These are all fundamental human powers.
Seen through an engineering lens, senses are the internal and external devices connected to a natural learning machine — the brain-body neurology.
Enhancing what’s already there
Natural powers can be made into superpowers when we add tools and technology. Take for example the power of sight. My ability to see is generally limited by the quality of the light, the distance I find myself from the object, and to my chagrin, my age.
But if I add technology, I can see much further. Telescopes and eventually binoculars were early technological advancements for sight, but what about a camera connected to the Internet that allows me to see hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away?
If I go on vacation in Spain and ‘see’ the inside of my house near Boston via a system of cameras and connections, it’s still sight, just better.
Today, I can literally see through walls. I’m Superman!
My power just became a superpower thanks to a $39 device.
The internet, the devices that connect to it, the data it collects, and the AI/ML that learns how to improve my sensory experience are the extension of my natural powers.
Superpowers already in your hands
Let’s take a look a few obvious examples of how tools have amplified our senses and natural powers:
- Sight — glasses, connected cameras, video conferencing/calling.
- Hearing — the telephone, music apps, embedded hearing devices, video conferencing/calling.
- Touch — prosthetics, robotics, any hand tool in the workshop really.
- Taste — food fusion, chemical enhancements.
- Smell — fragrance development, chemical enhancements.
- Physical presence— GPS, crowd sourced maps and ride share.
- Socializing — social networks, video conferencing/calling, AI/ML.
- Perceptions — wearable devices, security apps, social networks.
The last two are especially interesting to me as we see the rise of apps that take the most sociable animal on the planet and make them even more connected.
While each power, or superpower, can be used in positive or negative ways there’s no doubt that the enhancements will continue. You might not like the inevitable wave of new tools and devices that sometimes overwhelm us but you can see how they are deeply connected to our natural senses and powers.
So if you’re wondering what is the next big thing might be, consider first what our basic powers are, and then ask yourself how that might be turned into a superpower.
Just this week I used several AI apps/tools to find customers, write copy for marketing assets, design advertising, and distribute my clients offers to their target audiences. I didn’t hire a team of people or an agency to do that work, tools did it for me. In essence these tools made me into some multi-brained cyborg doing several things at once.
Without judgement, imagine what it would take to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, navigate, understand and learn at superpower scale.
I’ve listed just a small sample of the superpower products and services out there. These are just the most obvious examples. If you want to dive deeper, I recommend Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable for a comprehensive exploration of what we can expect in the way of new inventions, trends and themes.