4YFN stands for “4 Years From Now” and it is the sister event to the Mobile World Congress that takes place in Barcelona every year. Unlike its older brother, targeted to the audience of large technological corporations, 4YFN promotes startups and entrepreneurs who try to figure out the new business models called to disrupt the status quo.
It is remarkable that even the name of the event is oriented towards the future and stimulates forward thinking: How will the world be like in 4 years from today? Answers to that question is key for organizations that want to avoid introducing to the market an obsolete product. Considering the future when designing the present is fundamental.
This is how Siri was conceived. Its originators imagined how an “intelligent assistant” would be even before the technologies needed to make it possible were available. Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Singularity University, tells this short story:
Today, large technology companies speculate publicly about the future to test the design before writing a single line of code. For example, Amazon applies a type of fictional design called Working Backards. Their Drone Delivery service or Just Go Technology are a clear example of a hypothetical near future that allows them to learn today about the future:
These videos highlight a possible future of a service in a very present experience. In their narrative, the line between reality and fiction is very thin, which allows to test hypotheses: How would the market react? What concerns will uncover? If we really want this future, how can we make it become real? Those are just some of the doubts that Amazon now can answer.
At BBVA Data & Analytics we use these Design Fiction techniques to establish a tangible vision of the futures where we want to operate (see Experience Design in the Machine Learning Era). We aim to understand the implications of AI and Machine Learning technologies, the language used to describe them, the rituals, the magic moments, the moments of truth or the potential frustrations. It helps the different stakeholders of a project to engage with essential questions to understand what the desired experience means and why the team should build it.
Design Fictions act as a totem for discussion and evaluation of changes that could bend the visions of the desirable and planning of what is necessary.
These approaches are not exclusive to large companies. In fact, startups, which are of a smaller size and have less legacy, have more agility to speculate about future challenges and opportunities. 4YFN presented a unique opportunity to connect with data analytics startups from all over the world. Many of them apply machine learning and related technologies to perform location analytics, text analytics, code analytics, all kind of bots or user profiling among other applications. For instance:
Sentiance is working towards what they call the internet of you. Their solution analyses data coming from sensors (mobile phones, wearables, home thermostats, etc.) to understand the user’s context to adapt it to him/her.
A different approach to the same vision comes from the UK with Pixoneye: instead of using sensor data they base their user understanding from the analysis of the pictures stored on the camera roll.
A french startup Moore has crunched out an algorithm that promises making the limitations on data storage space something from the past. Its machine learning algorithm learns how users use their data to predict which files they are most likely to use and seamlessly tiers inactive data to the cloud, even without Internet connection.
The team of Estimote are known for democratizing the use of beacon technologies in retail stores. On their mission of creating an OS for the physical world, at 4YFN they presented the Estimote Mirror that enables a seamless interaction with objects and screens:
These are just a few examples out of the more than 500 startups that attended 4YFN this year.For large companies, being close to startups has been proven to be of vital importance:
While large companies cover the present, startups allow to see the future.
Working closely with startups is part of a company’s open innovation strategy and can be done in many ways: through entrepreneurial competitions such as the BBVA Open Talent, through corporate accelerators like Telefonica’s Wayra or through corporate investment funds such as Google Ventures just to name a few . At 4YFN we found the concept of Corporate Clienting that BMW Startup Garage proposes: the best way to work with startups is through being their agile client so they streamline the process of buying startup products without having to buy company’s equity.
But not only open innovation nurtures big companies’ innovation. Cultivating internal innovation programs has proven to be equally or more cost-effective than open innovations strategies. In this sense, companies like Samsung with its internal innovation program C-Lab, or our analytics innovation initiatives that employ design fiction to create visions of potential futures.