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September 16, 2023

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What lies ahead through eyes of an Israeli futurist

Adi Yoffe asked ChatGPT about herself. The artificial intelligence chatbot gave a very long answer, including that she had written two books.

“I only wrote one,” she said, with a laugh.

Nonetheless, that result did not diminish her strong confidence in the future of AI, to the point that “we need regulations to protect human beings.”

The Israeli business futurist published a book “NEXT: A Manual for Disruption” in 2019, in her words “an essential toolkit to help people predict future trends and navigate toward a new reality.”

She teaches a course on trend analysis and forecasting at the School of Business at Reichman University, has worked with many large organizations since 2006, and launched an annual trend report that focuses on visions such as the “future of caving” or “future of pieces” rather than data analysis.

The trend expert came to Shanghai to speak at the recent Pujiang Innovation Forum, and took the time to sit down with Shanghai Daily, interpreting what lies ahead through the eyes of a futurist.

Q: What were your most and least accurate predictions?

A: In 2016, I forecast the “future of caving” that in 2020, we are all going to sit in caves. Some people say I predicted the pandemic. Well, not in that sense, but the pandemic boosted the trend.

Back in 2016, I saw this trend of people spending more time at home. The role of home is changing in terms of the future of work.

Another prediction I’m proud of is the “future of pieces,” which I wrote in 2018. The idea is cutting a product into small pieces of service. I saw the same evolution in several industries. Take the tourism industry as an example, you used to buy one ticket, but now it is cut into the flight ticket and the different choices for seats, meals and suitcases.

Q: What did you miss?

A: The Metaverse.

I really believed in the metaverse.

It fits my idea of the “future of pieces,” with you living in several identities, it is cut into pieces for you to pick and choose. That means shorter, cheaper, more specific and more personalized. That is the trend.

Q: How about artificial intelligence?

A: There is a passiveness in our relationship with technology. We tend to do nothing if technology can do it.

AI is the next step of this trend. It works and writes for us, defeats doctors and lawyers and everyone who has knowledge.

In our laziness, we like to do nothing.

When I think of the implications of AI for humankind, I can’t see any advantage of us as human beings.

The only advantage we have is being human, with human skills.

Q: You sound very pessimistic, what specific human skills are you talking about?

A: Compassion, understanding — warm soft skills. But we are also losing them because we are always talking to apps. Getting friends, knowing each other without the medium of technology is irreplaceable.

So you see a small trend of people switching off technology on weekends.

Q: Well, then we are doomed to lose?

A: The role of us humans is problem-solving. You need to know how to ask AI questions. How to operate AI tools, how to examine their knowledge.

That’s the challenge, and we need the help of regulations to restrict AI from entering some fields, to examine what’s true and what’s fake.

The point is to understand that is the future we are heading to, and figure out the regulations we need and the value of humans in that future.

Q: What is a business futurist? How do you predict the future?

A: I don’t predict based on the past or on numbers, because the world has changed.

In the old days, you opened a supermarket, you drew a line of its retail data and, in a perfect world, you could continue to draw that line and predict how much you would sell the next year, and when you would be able to open a second supermarket.

Not in today’s retail market, which has gone digital, especially in China.

The concept of Chinese retail is far ahead of Western retail concepts, releasing the experience from time and space.

But now, something unexpected happens all the time, so I can’t rely on what has been created in the past to understand how it will look a few years from now. The world is disruptive, and the only way to understand it is to find the trend of evolution.

Q: Your book is a manual for disruption, what is that disruption? Where does it come from? Humans? AI?

A: Every moment there is something new, that is the disruption. This is why we should think more about the present than the past, what’s happening now, what are the big changes.


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