Futurist helps us look ahead

By Lyse Comins Time of article published Nov 15, 2018

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Durban - Imagine a future where robots are among your colleagues, where shopping malls are repurposed into educational spaces and where you will be able to order custom-made food depending on your DNA.

Sound far fetched? Not according to Doris Viljoen, futurist at the Institute for Futures Research at the University of Stellenbosch. Viljoen gave the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual gala dinner guests a taste of the future in business, retail and the workplace.

The event was hosted on board the MSC Musica in the Port of Durban last week.

Viljoen shared her list of “What’s Next?” in business, from the need for “digital concierges” to “packagineers” and “cobot integrators” who will help humans get along with their robot colleagues.

Digital concierge: Viljoen said that with so much information on the internet, people would need a “digital concierge” - a real person to help them access information. “If you look at education, there are so many changes and there is a disruption of the ladder of learning where you leave school, do your first degree, start working and then retire - that is breaking up.”

Viljoen said there was a shift to people learning skills and earning a digital “badge” for it.

Attraction specialist: “An attraction specialist would be a person who puts together a multidisciplinary team that turns a physical space into an attraction. Many people, especially millennials, would rather spend money on an experience than buying a product.”

Food customiser: Viljoen said people want to be identified as unique, and in retail and business, customers will expect to be treated as individuals. “Food will be on this list and what is enabling it is the maturing of DNA analysis. In Asia, if you give Nestlé your DNA they will give you an individualised meal plan.”

Repurposers: In South Africa we have seen rooftops become solar energy generating spaces and flat roof tops in cities turned into gardens. Next, we will see shopping malls repurposed. “If we follow international trends, many of our malls might go empty, but we still need space, so there is a huge field for repurposers. We have a rapidly urbanising population that needs education spaces and spaces to live.”

Packagineer: The massive global resistance to single-use packaging and plastic will ensure a niche for designers of environmentally friendly packaging.

Grey care: The number of people living to the age of 80 and older will grow, but South Africa doesn’t have the social structure to provide services.

Robotics and the cobot integrator: A cobot is a collaborative robot that works with people. “It can act and react, answer your questions and assist with tasks. We will probably see more and more of those in work places.”

The Mercury

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