The year is 2030. Connectivity has become even more of a ubiquitous, embedded presence in our lives, as essential as it is invisible. It powers every aspect of life, from health to mobility to education, and powerful connected access is guaranteed even in the most remote locations, thanks to layered infrastructure like low earth orbit satellite constellations and 5G drones. Look closer, and you’ll see how this connectivity runs a radically different type of web than the one we know now: In just a decade, users’ calls for privacy, security, and control—as well as truly smart personalization—have finally found answers and renewed trust through technologies like blockchain.
This isn’t fiction, but a structural paradigm shift that is set to take place over the next 10 years. We’re moving from an internet of the masses (the same channels, offerings, and—crucially—companies behind them) to an internet of the individual. Entirely personal data ownership will drastically change the way we connect with each other and with companies, paving the way for entirely new services, business models, and interactions.
In this two-part blog post series we'll look at (1) how this shift will take place; and (2) the impact of what we’re calling "Me2B" on businesses today.
1. A Movement Is Underway that Will Give Us Full control of Our Own Data
Imagine being able to regain full ownership of all the bits and pieces of data that are currently spread around the internet—from websites visited to credit card purchases to tastes and preferences—erasing them from the servers of the different companies that have collected them and storing them in our own personal clouds. Picture not having to compromise between real privacy and great services. We will be able to select exactly which data to temporarily and anonymously share depending on the service we want to use on the internet, but ownership will remain entirely ours.
This dream scenario is already a reality, through services like Solid, an attempt to “fix the web” through data decentralization by its very inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. But many other initiatives sharing the same intention—getting back the control, trust and ownership of our own digital existence through structural, future-forward approaches—are underway, from Permission.io’s goal of monetizing data to Waves’ calls for blockchain-powered revolution.
It’s a multi-layered and collective movement, sometimes referred to as the Internet of Humans, that is gaining momentum, both through citizen enthusiasm and institutional support. It's starting from the EU itself, which is already working on policies and initiatives to facilitate and enable this radical shift. The potential is clear: Mitigating Big Tech’s overblown power and bringing back citizen trust. In turn, this will translate into big opportunities for the businesses that already have a strong presence in people’s everyday lives and homes (with incredible opportunities for telcos first and foremost), with the ability to offer complete support in managing our own secure, personal data.
2. Our Digital Twin Will Be the Key to Our Whole Identity and to Hyper-Personalized Services
So, we have gathered all of our data in one place. Now what? What we have in our hands is our (self-sovereign) digital identity. A digital twin of our own life, connecting the dots between different types of information like our taste in music, fashion, food; our biometric data; our physical and emotional health nuances; our ideas, values, beliefs—even our fears. It will be like looking in the mirror, or like having a perfect photocopy of ourselves, and we get to own the only copy.
Companies right now promise hyper-personalization in return for information; but most of the time they need to work with only one small aspect of our identity like our sizes, or our previous purchases. Think of the level of personalization they will be able to provide customers if they can have (anonymous and temporary) access to our digital twin. Brands can access more information to make better products, services, and experiences—without retaining any of our data, or necessarily knowing our full identity. Imagine being able to signal your interest in new eyewear and get the most perfectly tailored pair in response: An exact fit thanks to biometrics like pupillary distance and the exact curve of our nose bridge; a custom frame design based on our style icons and ideals as well as our face shape; a lens coating that matches the level of sunlight in our part of the world as well as the requirements of our job.
3. Our Personal AIs Will Help Us Handle Complexity
If all of this sounds cool but extremely complex, it’s because it will be. Managing the exchange of information as well as the myriad of choices we’ll need to make will not be simple: There will be thousands of entities, from companies to associations, from public administrations to micro-content producers, to interface with daily.
This is why we will need a (very personal) support. We will no longer need to interface directly with different brands and entities: This task will be delegated to our own AI. Imagine no longer having to worry about entering our data for the umpteenth time or imagine having our grocery shopping done for us with our nutritional, ethical, and taste must-haves in mind. Our smart personal assistant will learn our preferences, update them over time, and manage all of our personal data—while always respecting our wishes, values, and attitudes when it comes to privacy. It will also be able to predict our future needs, anticipating our requests, connecting us with the right microservices, and taking care of micropayments.
This shift is already well underway. In the last few years, conversational AIs have seen growth across all industries, but the real step forward is still yet to come. The goal is transforming virtual assistants into something more than automated user commands: A system able to solve complex problems and be as predictive as a human assistant, and able to make sense of our shared data. The first use cases that promise next-gen AI without compromising on privacy are starting to emerge. Companies that are able to protect user’s security and privacy while augmenting them with artificial intelligence capabilities will be at the forefront of this change.
The impact of this Era of Me is set to reverberate across all sectors of business. The relationship between consumers and producers (of products, services, content) will undergo a fundamental change: Instead of businesses providing customers with an offering (B2C), customers will actively signal their needs to businesses and expect an entirely individualized offering (Me2B).
Stay tuned for Part Two, where we’ll explore the role of Me2B more in more depth and envision its potential real-life impact across different domains, and where the big opportunities for disruption lie.
Image by Federica Bagini