Discovery Futurist Adam Zuckerman on emerging trends and the attention economy

Currently visiting from the USA, we spent some time with Discovery Channel's US Director of Ventures & Innovation, Adam Zuckerman, to find out what he sees as the emerging trends to look out for and the role AI will play in the industry.

What are the top three emerging trends you predict in the next five years?

Since the late 16th century humanity has undergone three industrial revolutions. The first (~1785) yielded advancements in mechanization and energy, mainly from steam. Imagine a step change from making quilts by hand to having a first generation loom at your disposal. The second industrial revolution (~1870) enabled mass production as electricity powered assembly lines. The third (~1970) saw the rise of automation, computers, and electronics. Today, we’re now on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution. However, whereas the past three cycles frequently enabled siloed or standalone advancements, the fourth industrial revolution will likely be viewed as a great convergence of systems and things. The age of the internet of everything is upon us and a convergence of technology (fuelled by 5G networks and artificial intelligence) have the potential to give way to advances in humanity and society never previously possible.

Over the next five years we’ll continue to see the foundations set in place for modular human-computer interfaces, off-brain storage mechanisms, and bioengineering (which will force us to question what it means to be “human”, low latency 5G networks that have the chance to reshape global interaction (eg: remote robotic surgery, real time translations, multi-view live HD video, synchronized smart cities with high degrees of autonomy in the form of services and transport), and smart connected “everything” that have the ability to take advantage of cloud based neural networks that have the ability to “think” on their own.

With the rise of the attention economy, how can we adopt new technologies to better engage with audiences?

In 2015, a study from Microsoft that surveyed 2,000 participants and used EEGs to analyse the brain activity of 112 others found average attention span of participants had dropped from 12 seconds in 2000, to 8 seconds in 2015. That’s right, some people now have shorter attention spans than a goldfish. When it comes to better engaging with audiences, three courses of action immediately come to mind.

First, it’s important to understand factors surrounding engagement.  In terms of media, try asking questions such as, “where and how are people consuming, creating, and sharing media?,” “what form factors, devices?,” and “in what apps”, etc... Second, it’s increasingly important to create an ecosystem that ties your offering together, and bolster that ecosystem with data.  Lastly, accept that the quality of one’s content remains king.

What role do you think AI will play in our industry over the coming years?

Artificial Intelligence (AI), or the broader concept that enables computers to carry out tasks in a “smart” way, the field of AI study and application called “Machine Learning” is likely going to have a larger impact on industry in the long term. Whereas AI systems are able to carry out complex tasks based on a set of rules (often imitating step-by-step actions set forth by human programmers), machine learning uses statistical techniques to learn from data it encounters and adjust its actions based on its analysis. Effectively, machine learning systems are able to teach themselves. There’s no doubt that AI and machine learning will make many jobs redundant in the future, however, a significant number of new jobs will be created as a result of the advancements. With that, a word to the wise… if your job consists solely of repetitive steps, consider learning something new.

I had a recent conversation with an algorithm based equities trader who recounted a story about a colleague’s father who sent her a cartoon of a computer replacing a stock trader. His message was simple, “The computers are coming for your job!” Their response… “don’t worry dad, I am the computer.” After all, someone sets the program’s constraints and can pull the plug… for now. 

What future thinking is in the pipeline for Discovery that you can share with us?

While I won’t get in to many specifics here, Discovery recognizes the importance of staying abreast of future facing technologies. We maintain relationships with innovation groups at many Fortune 500 companies, frequently engage with startups, and have multiple teams focused on topics ranging from technical specifications to consumer facing hardware. With innovation pervasive throughout Discovery’s culture, we continually test and implement future facing technologies to improve our offerings. Whether its creating a new “total video” metric for measuring linear, digital, and social media engagement for our partners, experimenting with “deepfake” videos that could empower viewers to insert themselves in to custom content, or something else altogether, we will continue to seek out opportunities that have the potential to impact our industry for years to come.

Whilst in Australia, Adam took us through some new technologies to look out for in the not so distant future. Watch the short video below!