Amazon has found its way into just about every part of people’s shopping lives. Once a fledgling online bookstore, the tech giant has changed retail as we know it. It has disrupted the selling of gadgets, household goods, and now even high-end groceries, having snapped up Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.
But it’s clear Amazon has much bigger ambitions than just that. With its investment in its popular Echo voice-activated assistant and its ambitions in drones, the company wants to find even more ways to make sure you rely on it to get what you want. As we look at the year ahead, we asked two leading futurists to predict what Amazon will be selling you in a decade.
Virtual reality is the latest obsession in Silicon Valley. Amazon hasn’t done much with the technology, but futurist Dr. James Canton, a former Apple executive and chairman of the Institute for Global Futures, expects that to change. Right now products are shown on Amazon in a linear fashion, but in not too long, customers could enjoy VR-enhanced shopping. “One, they’re going to move into services, and two, build a world that you can enter into with VR to not just buy things but have experiences,” Canton said. “The retail experience in VR will be both tactile and sensory-rich. You’re going to pay for a 20-min ride on top of Everest or surf a 50-foot wave.” You might not even need to make it to a Tesla showroom in order to test-drive its latest model.
A new world of prescription drugs
“The next marketplace is health enhancement,” Canton said. Fears that Amazon could disrupt the lucrative pharmaceutical business have already sent shockwaves through the stock market. As people live longer, the tech giant could play a vital role in managing people’s health, from vitamins and diagnostics to, yes, prescription drugs. “You’re talking about a whole distributed healthcare system they’ll play a role in,” Canton added.
One way in which Amazon could dramatically alter how you take drugs involves 3D printing, which would allow for more customization. “I actually think they’re going to get into 3D-printed pharmaceuticals, hyper-individualized medication,” said futurist, author, and speaker Thomas Frey. “Doctors can prescribe 200 mg, 400 mg of this certain drug, but the ideal dosage for you might be 147 mg on that specific day. We haven’t been able to work with that level of precision, not yet. I think we could easily move into that very soon.”
A much smarter “smart TV”
Amazon has already disrupted Hollywood with its Amazon Studios, behind award-winning shows and movies like Transparent and Manchester by the Sea, which means it’s only natural that it will work harder on how people consume programming. “TV is still such a primitive technology,” Frey said. He often asks himself what the TV of the future will look like. “Will it still be an appliance at the end of the room, or will it be a projection, holographic? Will we be able to interact with it?” Patents have stifled innovators, he adds, but he believes Amazon could very well move the technology forward with a TV “you can work your way around real quickly.” Imagine Alexa, but for the small screen.
“Obviously they’re becoming a leading player in entertainment,” Canton added. He more broadly envisions Amazon developing “new media brands and franchises” that wouldn’t otherwise exist in order to tap unserved markets.
The next generation of Bitcoin
Bitcoin might be the biggest player in cryptocurrency at the moment. But it’s just one of a number of digital assets that use what’s known as blockchain technology for security, which many analysts predict will play a significant role in future transactions. “Not a lot of people realize if you’re a constant buyer of Amazon products, you’ve built up Amazon points, but those are actually digital cash. They’re almost like Bitcoin,” Canton said. “Think of the future of them as Amazon’s own cryptocurrency to not only buy services and products, but also to invest in companies, invest in new ventures. They’re appreciable assets that are tied to blockchain. Amazon will have their own blockchain.” Amazon already enables small businesses and entrepreneurs through its marketplace for selling goods. A blockchain-supported cryptocurrency could facilitate that commerce down the road.
Wearable technology you actually want to wear
Ever wonder, what happened to Google Glass? Well, the fad around it may have died, but companies are still eagerly investing in wearable technology. Rival Amazon could easily help spur innovation in the realm. “This idea of an empty-pockets lifestyle is something that fascinates me. Where we can live without keys in our pocket, without using cash, without having a wallet or cellphone,” Frey said. “Maybe we have truly interactive clothing so that our clothing can actually accept our phone calls and maybe we have glasses on or contacts with some visual aspect. I think they’re definitely working on products in this area because that’s the holy grail.”
Synthetic humans to do everything for you
Alexa, Amazon’s artificial intelligence in its Echo devices, is built to make your life easier. The more questions you ask it or commands you give it, the better for Amazon. Right now, Alexa might still be quite limited, but Canton sees that changing soon. “The whole bot marketplace is going to be dominated by Amazon in 2028,” he said. That encompasses AIs and robots that would potentially provide everything from entertainment to care for the elderly (it also includes those delivery drones). Canton sees “synthetic humans” as the endgame: autonomous or semi-autonomous service bots. “Androids will be taking care of people, serving you in restaurants, that will be telerobotic extensions of people who don’t want to go to work or don’t want to interact for various reasons.”
The secure city of the future
As the world looks increasingly violent and unstable, global security will capture the attention of technology pioneers like Amazon. “Amazon will have drones and analytic capabilities to be able to secure cities,” Canton said. “Half the world lives in cities todays. More than half the world will live in cities in 2028. Cities will be safe places for people to live, to not be at risk, whether it’s terrorism or crime. The world is changing, and as it changes, we’ll need more services to enable that. That’ll be part of what Amazon will do.”
The futurist takes the idea one step further and speculates that Amazon could sponsor its own cities, partnering with governments and brands to offer business opportunities in these havens. It may seem far-fetched, but cities are already competing for Amazon’s presence. What’s next? “Amazon by 2028 will have touched every key domain that make up cities and our culture,” Canton said. “They will be bringing innovation to it, and that will be very welcome.”