Tuesday 10 March 2015

Smart Luxury

This essay was published in Luxury Briefing in February 2015

Smart luxury
by Alexander Gallé
10 February 2015 

We're now 15 years into the 21st century.  It's worth taking a moment to think about the expectations we have from this century, or at least the next 15 years or so.  Luxury and the future have in common that thinking about them highlights our aspirations to an ideal life.

The year 2000 was in itself a huge future landmark for decades prior to it, a year into which we projected our wildest dreams.  Colonies on the moon and household robots in the year 2000 were pretty much guaranteed, back in the 70s.

Since then, however, many people seem to have become rather shortsighted about their expectations for the future.  Henry Ford once said: "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses".  Today, it seems that many people would just ask for faster internet connections.  

Just as an automobile is categorically different from a faster horse, so the internet will soon be categorically different from just "faster connections".

In 15 years' time, the bandwidth used by internet connections between objects will completely dwarf the connections between people.  The internet of things is just in its infancy, so if you can remember the explosion in internet functionality that started in the late 90s you should get an idea of the scope of things to come in that domain.

The level of artificial intelligence that will be embedded in those connected objects will be off the charts by today's standards.  Self-driving cars are already safer and more accurate than humans, today.  Give the system a few years to upgrade and you'll have AI drivers picking you up from one side of town within seconds of you ordering one, driving through the city at a steady 100mph, all the while coming no closer than 2 feet from any other car or person, and dropping you off just a couple of minutes later on the other side of town.

The great news for our industry is that intelligence in objects and services is exactly what luxury is about.  The idea of creating an intelligent user experience - one that combines the efficiency of the machine with the soulfulness of human interaction - is one of our main aspirations, whether we're designing new cars or new hotels.  So far, it's the tech sector that has learned from the luxury sector, as demonstrated by Apple's rise from near bankruptcy in the late 90s to the world's number one company in 2012, or Tesla's rise from an electric car company to one of the world's best cars.  It's now time for the luxury sector to learn from companies like Apple and Tesla, and take the users' aspirations a few steps further.