The UK’s small businesses will be run by personal avatars by 2050 thanks to powerful advances in artificial intelligence (AI) in the coming decades, according to a new futurology report commissioned by Virgin Money.
The ‘SME 2050’ report, which includes a series of predictions by UK futurologist Dave Coplin, describes a future SME landscape where intelligent, virtual clones, driven by AI and machine learning, will be able to manage workload while business owners focus on priority tasks, enjoy some downtime, and even sleep. Avatars will be programmed by SME leaders using their business persona and will be fully independent and authorised to operate and make decisions on their behalf.
Dave Coplin also suggests that all small businesses will be global businesses by default, staffed by an army of virtual specialists who are able to do business anywhere in the world, regardless of location, language and time-zone.
In addition, SME business owners will be ‘human computers’, equipped with advanced cybernetic implants that will give them instant access to all the information in the world as well as being able to speak whatever language is required as the implant translates words in real time. Cybernetic eyes will allow them to take photos and record footage, a brain-to-computer interface will give them the ability to download and upload information, and embedded microchips will unlock doors and facilitate payments.
As part of the futurology work commissioned by Virgin Money, a new survey has revealed a robust appetite among SMEs for new and advanced tech to save time and grow their business. Over three-quarters (77%) of UK SMEs are likely to use tech that will save them time to reinvest and plan for the future, and 85% said they’re likely to adopt new technology in the next five years to support growth. SME owners said they plan to use data science (39%), AI (31%) and virtual reality (26%) to help build their business.
However, one third (30%) of SMEs say lack of time and 39% cite lack of money as key reasons preventing them from using advanced technology.
Dave Coplin said: “While most business owners would love to have a crystal ball to predict future opportunities and barriers, the reality is in the past 30 years our lives and businesses have undergone dramatic change that very few people foresaw. In the 1990s, businesses sent letters printed on dot-matrix printers or faxes to communicate, unable to predict we’d be having the daily virtual meetings we’re so used to today. The next three decades are likely to be similarly transformational, so SME leaders should focus on building their capacity to adapt their business in response.”
Recognising these challenges, Virgin Money has launched a new, free business banking service, M-Track, which enables its current account customers to collate their banking information with data from other systems they use to help run their business. This single online dashboard provides an at-a-glance view of their financial health to help customers save time in the day-to-day running of their business.
Kash Ahmad, Head of Business Banking at Virgin Money, said: “The look-back to the 1990s in our report demonstrates that predictions of the future should be taken with a pinch of salt. What we do know for certain is that technology use will continue to accelerate and we want to help ensure our business customers are well placed to take advantage.
“Our research reveals that SMEs are busy and have a lack of time to invest, so they want a partner who can help them access financial information and solutions quickly and efficiently to help their future growth. That’s why we’ve created M-Track, which provides an online dashboard for customers to track their business’ health, marking a further step forward as we create a market-leading digital business account.”
By connecting all of their separate business applications into one platform, M-Track provides customers with a snapshot view of their business’s position, with personalised insights, drawing together data from their current account, accountancy software, e-commerce platform, social media and other business tools.
This makes it much simpler for small businesses to manage their money and business performance, saving them time and giving them control. Connections to their business applications can be set up in minutes through M-Track, with almost 20 different services available to be linked at launch, with more to be added over time.
M-Track also includes free access to Fluidly, a cashflow and forecasting tool which uses data within the dashboard to predict the future and help businesses plan, which would normally cost £49 per month.
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Notes to editors:
Full details about M-Track can be found at https://uk.virginmoney.com/business/ways-of-banking/m-track
Dave Coplin, Futurologist
For over 25 years, Dave Coplin has provided strategic advice and guidance around the impact of technology on a modern society (both at work and in play) to help organisations and individuals envision the full potential that technology has to offer. Dave is an established author and public speaker on topics surrounding the future of work and our relationship with technology. He has written books on a new working environment based on collaborative and flexible working, and on the future potential that technology offers our society if we take control and learn to harness not hate the digital deluge.
Case Study – A Day in the Life of a Small Business Owner in 2050
It’s the year 2050. Roz’s daughter Sam is awoken by a gentle buzzing behind her left ear. The implant, placed subcutaneously, monitors her blood chemistry and brain patterns, and has identified this exact moment as the perfect moment in her sleep cycle to wake up. She gets dressed and heads to the kitchen.
As she steps through the kitchen doorway, the room sparks into life. The walls transition from plain surfaces to large displays. A colourful interactive dashboard has a range of information covering her health, news, weather, commercial updates for her business and her day ahead. As she works through the details, the food appliance kicks into life triggered by her presence and fills the kitchen with the aroma of freshly ground coffee. There isn’t a coffee bean in sight however, just an array of hoppers containing protein and plant-based matter which the machine blends with fresh ingredients from the adjacent vertical farm unit and water.
Her subscription gives her access to her favourite brands and is programmed to synchronise with her medical implant to provide the exact balance of nutrients to give her blood chemistry exactly what it needs to start the day. She asks for the overnight report and Sam’s avatar, a near-perfect digital copy of her, appears right next to her. Sam’s avatar has been programmed with her business persona, is fully independent and authorised to act on her behalf in the metaverse. Sam’s avatar talks her through a deal she’s been working on while Sam slept. Her virtual bank agent put them in touch with an opportunity in the Netherlands, where the local council wants to upgrade their virtual agents to improve engagement with citizens. Sam was indebted to her bank.
It was through their mentorship that she found a niche market, making virtual agents feel more human to improve their interactions with humans. The bank had pulled together anonymised insight from across its network and helped Sam identify areas of opportunity that matched the capabilities of her business. Sam had discovered the secret to creating the perfect virtual agent. While the big tech companies were focused on making virtual agents flawless, the bank helped her identify that such perfection only decreased effectiveness. Sam’s business creates minor personality flaws for digital agents. Nothing huge, just a mispronunciation here, a mis-spelled word there, tiny little flaws that Sam had found were just enough to make the human interacting with the agent feel more at home and a little less intimidated.
Business had been going well, but it was all a bit hand to mouth. She often felt like she was working all day just to stand still. If she could win a big contract and create a long-term client relationship, she could finally scale up. Sam’s digital avatar gave her more detail on the potential deal. It was going to be huge, but more than Sam could cope with on her own. The extra development resource would be easy because she was already part of a huge global network of developers that were easily contracted, but she would have to buy some extended processing time on a quantum computer to generate a wide range of believable digital personas and that wasn’t going to be cheap. It was more than she could cover from current cash flow.
The opportunity started to feel out of reach until her avatar chimed in to say, “the best bit is we’ve already been pre-approved for finance from the bank.” Sam’s bank was focused on leveraging their position of being connected across a broad range of industries and companies to find insight and investment that would help their customer’s businesses grow. The bank had predicted this scenario and had already done the math.
It was through this predictive, pre-emptive partnership that the bank was able to minimise both risk and cost while simultaneously helping customers like Sam navigate through a rapidly changing environment. It was the best of all worlds, a group of mutually supportive physical and virtual agents working together to drive business value. Sam’s avatar had already pulled together a client-ready briefing, waiting for Sam’s final approval. Sam reviewed it, gave it a big thumbs up and started the rest of her day.
About Virgin Money
Virgin Money is a full-service digital bank, serving 6.5m customers across the UK. It offers market-leading products and services to meet the full range of customers’ retail and business banking needs. Virgin Money aims to provide a consistently world-class experience for customers through its leading technology platform, telephone banking and a national network of innovative stores and business banking centres. By making banking better, Virgin Money seeks to deliver on its purpose of ‘Making you happier about money’.