The evolution of communications

Back in the day, people talked in person. Communications was exclusively synchronous, complete with sight, sound, and even smell (both good and bad). Then came the breakthrough technology of letters, and before we knew it, communications became possible on different channels.

Today, we now use dozens of different synchronous (live) and asynchronous communications channels at home and at work. These include everything from ink on paper letters to emails and from chat and messaging apps to social media.

Interestingly, at this point of communications evolution our asynchronous text-based messaging — thanks to the rich media of photos, videos, audio, emoji, and stickers — enable us to engage our senses (with the notable exception of smell, so far) more than a live audio conversation does.

This, combined with the sheer speed and convenience of being able to express our every thought, feeling, and opinion anytime and from anywhere, has made text-based messaging our most frequently used method of communications.

Which industries are affected by this evolution?

Pretty much all industries will over time be affected by this constant evolution of communications. But there are some which have communications as their core DNA and therefore will be disrupted first.

Telecom Companies

While all telecoms offer internet packages, often with unlimited access to our choice of different messaging services through their pipes, customers still perceive them as being voice-driven. As a whole, telecoms have not yet managed to move up the value chain to be perceived as innovators, value creators, and service providers for how people want to communicate. Many millennials view the telcos in the same way as previous generations view electric utilities — dull, but necessary. What matters to them is their device, not who powers it or how it connects to the internet.

There is a huge opportunity for telecoms to reposition and rebrand themselves to better engage current and future generations.

Postal Companies

Suffering with increased costs, decreased margins and the immense pressure of the world as a whole moving away from postal to electronic communications, postal companies are gravely affected by this communications evolution. With few exceptions, they have little or no history, experience or technology when it comes to pushing for a more digital world.

That said, they know where people live and who stays in one household together. Consequently they have an unique ability to leverage identities in a physical-digital world fabric. However whether they can eventually make use of this opportunity remains to be seen.

Device Manufacturers and Software Companies

Interaction with technology is greatly changing alongside the evolution of communications – both in terms of hardware as well as software. In software we’re seeing the rise of chatbots and hardware is getting a personality makover of its own. This is driven by design thinking and human device interaction: so far we literally had to be “in touch” with our devices in order to operate them, but now communications and control is available from our smartphones via the same messaging platforms which push chat bots and manage our human to human communications electronically already (refer to “How People and Machines communicate in Future” for more detail).

Therefore it is an enormous opportunity for both makers and developers to accelerate their development and offering by having an innovation strategy in place which is aligned with the evolution of communications.

Becoming an enabler for IoT – the Internet of Things

No matter which industry you’re in, the ongoing evolution of communications will touch your work and customers. The easiest way to not get disrupted in the process is to be aligned with the current phase of this communications evolution, to see and to seize the opportunities that come with it, and to potentiatlly even become a force for disruption in your own industry.

In the current state of this evolution, IoT plays a dominant role. Becoming an enabler for IoT, or, at the minimum, having a strategy in place which supports those enabling this next phase would certainly create new opportunities but at the very least could simply ensure survival.

The above example industries could all be key influencers in IoT. Telcos could be part of the “I”nternet’s infrastructure, postal companies manage the “o”f identities between man and machine and device makers and software developers naturally develop “T”hings for IoT.

The glue which brings it all together is “intelligent IoT messaging”. It’s easier (and safer!) for smart, connected machines to talk with humans using text-based messaging. Technologically speaking, the apps we currently use to control and manage our smart devices are all API-driven anyway. Therefore – for now – text trumps voice recognition as it eliminates the problems of understanding different voices, accents, and dialects.

Eventually of course there will be an Artificial General Intelligence (or “AGI”) powered interface which rules them all – whether that is messaging, voice or thought (see below “Future Outlook”) based – but that is likely still years away. Often it is not technology which isn’t ready, but our behaviour in society. For instance it would still be awkward (at best) for you to host your next dinner party while yelling at all of your appliances as you entertain your guests.

In the meantime text-based messaging offers us the privacy and security of controlling our smart devices and having them communicate with us without others even noticing. Your appliances, for example, could tell you when each food is ready.

Future Outlook

Research tells us the generation currently entering the workforce prefer text-based messaging for communications in both their human and their machine relationships.

I predict, however, that the next generations, those born after 2020, will prefer voice. After seeing their parents glued to their screens, they will long for voice-based interaction and (following) its easy, intuitive commands driven by AGI-powered personal assistants.

Latest 2040, I believe thought-based communications will start to be en vogue and then making the channel use irrelevant. This certainly guarantees that each generation will become even more impatient than the last.

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true” – Charles Dickens

The takeaway for makers, researchers and developers?

For the next five years, focus on text integration rather than building an app; and latest from 2020 on, focus on direct voice integration with AGI-powered assistants.

The underlying technologies of AGI and intelligent IoT messaging will evolve over the next decade so developers can continue to create the next generation of messaging technologies alongside the ongoing communications evolution.

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