Forbes: Innovation Beyond AI: Five Big Innovation Themes For 2024 Not About AI

Innovation Disruption
Innovation Beyond AI Five Big Innovation Themes For Not About AI

This article was originally published on Forbes.

The Economist reports that venture capital firms invested $36 billion in AI in 2023, twice what was spent in 2022. Everything in innovation today is about AI, Gen AI, Deep Learning, and the rest. That’s unsurprising given that the opportunity is now said to be worth $17.7 trillion!

However, that can drown out some of the other interesting trends emerging in my conversations with clients and which I see represented in the Consumer Electronics Show that kicked off in Las Vegas this week. Many of these are AI powered for sure, but they tell us a lot about the competitive battles of the future.

The question I always ask myself is: what problem do they solve for consumers? Sometimes, that is hard to follow.

1. Immersive experiences are coming for us all

We are finally moving toward a world where we interact with devices that are more natural and immersive. NAQI’s “neural earbuds” give us the ability to control devices without speech or touch, just using facial gestures. The initial use case is to open access for people unable to speak or touch, but long-term it can break down barriers for all between the physical and digital world. That we can do this without brain implants is a comfort!

Virtual and augmented reality has generated a lot of cynicism. Google Glass finally found a home in an industrial environment because users took control. Apple believes Vision Pro will be different. Certainly, this is more Apple trying to recover its mojo, but there is some seriously important tech at work. The micro-OLED displays that Apple is using bring us 4k resolution in a 1.3 inch square screen and the next generation micro-LED is another massive leap.

It remains to be seen if it can solve a problem that human beings care about. The same is true of immersive “heads-up displays” that convert a windshield into information hubs and dives cars the ability to project movies. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

2. Find new points of integrated experiences

Apple is not searching for the next gadget; it wants to replicate the control point that it enjoys with the iPhone. This is what enables Apple to capture most of the profit in the phone market without dominating share. They were able to integrate an experience in front of the customer and control everyone else’s access to those consumers.

Michael Jacobides wrote a fabulous HBR article in 2013 explaining how firms that integrate experiences in front of the customer are those that capture the most value. The iPhone is Exhibit A, but the motor car is another where the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is significantly more profitable than most of the firms in its supply chain (semiconductor companies are a clear exception!).

This makes it interesting that the battle for the car infotainment system is featured in the CES brochure. In “Revving Up the Future: Automotive as the Next Big Tech Battleground,” the author describes the coming battle for the car’s interior, positioning Google and Apple as the likely winners. Here is a new experience for them to integrate.

Then CES pulls a “Rabbit” out of the hat with a reconceived mobile device that seeks to rid us of the need to engage with multiple Apps and services. It aims to turn “large language models” into “large action models” that can read all the different interfaces on our behalf and execute our commands seamlessly. That’s a new level of integration for the user. I first heard about it from my son. Judging from his reaction this is an offer that is likely to resonate with consumers, especially tech nerds him.

3. Automate our lives

Little Leaf, a brand of packaged lettuce, is grown, packed, and shipped without the touch of a single human hand. What’s remarkable is its freshness, flavor and, except for the excessive packaging, that it is more sustainably grown than other brands. This ability to control the process to eliminate waste and improve quality is what intelligent autonomous manufacturing is all about. It seems likely factories of the future will have almost no human touches. What I like about the Little Leaf story is that it demonstrates this can generate customer value with automation. The next frontier will be care robots to solve the elderly care problem, particularly in Japan, where the population imbalance is so acute.

4. Safety in everything

This is a big AI and cyber trend. I think the tech world has finally woken up to how worried consumers are by threats to personal safety. I have been keeping a personal count of the number of advertisements for AI that includes “safe,” or “respect,” or “secure” in the first line of the text. I am up to 25 after one week. This isn’t just a concern for personal safety, but also motivated by professional and commercial considerations. There is a fight back underway against generative AI’s tendency to acquire IP without permission (isn’t that called theft?). Nightshade is a new tool that “poisons” the gen AI models that seek to replicate images ingested without consent. My wife is an artist, so I feel this personally. You shouldn’t be able to build your own works from those of others without full and proper permission.

5. Sustainability is starting to become a value proposition

We are slowly embracing electrification of everything as a way to increase our use of renewables and decrease dependence on carbon intensive fuels. I bought some new Sony earbuds recently and was amazed by how they were packaged entirely without the use of plastics. There are serious firms working on how to make more products recyclable, recognizing the tremendous opportunities to reuse so many of the resources that we currently send to landfills.

At CES, John Deere, the agricultural equipment company, has a stand devoted to its cloud solution that emphasizes its ability to help reduce carbon footprint and improve soil health. It’s been a long-time coming, but the message of sustainability is starting to penetrate everything. I truly believe that only capitalism can move fast enough to solve climate change; let 2024 be a year in which this trend accelerates faster than all others.

We now know that 2023 was not only the hottest on record since before the last Ice Age, but that it significantly bent the growth curve of the last century. That makes sustainability a must for any firms with the remotest concern for the future of humanity. Let’s make opposing sustainability and denying climate change is not only scientific nonsense, but also bad business.

As customers, we need to let firms know that stopped the planet from burning is a problem we expect them to solve.