The future of brands in a post-human world

Tracey Follows: "media has bought 'robot takeover' narrative"
Tracey Follows: "media has bought 'robot takeover' narrative"

Will the much-touted robot takeover of the future dull our senses and leave brands based on logic and algorithms to rule, or is there a credible, alternative scenario whereby our development of biology outshines that of technology with brands becoming 'living systems', asks Tracey Follows, founder and futurist at

The media has bought the 'robot takeover' narrative and after Sky’s week of robot programmes, this week the BBC embarks on more of the same - pumping out the post-human scenario that the world is about to be transformed by the exponential growth of artificial intelligence. It goes something like this: it’s a world in which between 35% and 80% of the human population is unemployed due to the mass automation of many jobs and entire industries. It is a world in which super intelligence has taken over everything else. If we are no longer required for jobs, either we exist on basic incomes or develop a heightened sense of creativity to differentiate ourselves from the bots.

This is a world in which brands relate to us in an automatic, algorithmic and anticipatory way, based on personal data that they constantly collect and process about us. A world in which everything is rational and programmable – nothing is emotional. Our senses are dulled because only intelligence really matters and that can always be augmented by technology anyway. Algorithmic companies keep our planet – and our personal worlds – spinning.

This is a world in which brands relate to us in an automatic, algorithmic and anticipatory way, based on personal data that they constantly collect and process about us

In this world, it is hard to imagine brands that promise anything other than higher and higher performance; it’s difficult to see how brands could trade in human values and emotions, rather than merely logic and efficiency. But we know that is what brands are for – for making real connections with human beings rather than machines. So, what now for brands in a post-human world?

It’s time to present an alternative scenario, one in which we have developed a world that harnesses biology more naturally than technology. In that world, we manage to connect humanity with the other species around us, and the environment as a whole, and that includes our own planet as well as the environment of the whole solar system. It means that rather than becoming machines, we become more in tune with ourselves, and our environment, and possibly more human than ever before. And for brands, there is an alternative narrative to ‘brands as operating systems’, which is ‘brands as living systems’. is currently carrying out four research pieces. Here is an extract from the first full report:

"Alternative Future of Brands in a Post-Human World: Brand as Living System"

The world of work is automated and machines run lots of the routine tasks in our lives. But that hasn’t meant that we’ve forgotten we are flesh and blood not silicon.

Sure, some people augment their physicality aided by bionics, and smart drugs help our brains work a little bit better in an important meeting or before an exam. But we recognise that underneath all that we are still very human too: we haven’t given up on humanity, or morality - or humility come to that.

We see ourselves as just another species, one of many, and even though we now have more scientific control over how we evolve, we carry out genetic editing in a highly humane way.

The goal is to bring us closer to the rest of nature and our environment not separate us by making us into machines. We are not machines, because we have a special kind of agency they don’t have.

In marketing communications the new kids on the block are the ‘Internet of Agencies,’ those dealing in product relationship marketing conducted directly between the products and the users. Except we don’t call them users any more, we call them ‘choosers’. That was felt to create too much of a disconnection between people (the humans) and the service (the algorithms). And anyway, the ‘personal data insurers’ insisted on the word ‘chooser’ because it reminded people that they had agency in deciding what personal data they would and would not share.

Nearly all of our brands have evolved to become more human too. People had feared that brands would be so data-centric that they would become extinct. Who needs a brand pumping out information at you night and day, that’s annoying and stressful. But brands actually evolved to become less technological and more biological, aiming to understand every human as a whole: mind and body, thoughts and feelings, physical health and mental well-being too.

As a result, all brands are now bio-brands: they use one’s DNA, know one’s genetic editing, one’s GP and hospital records, daily vitals, and exercise routines to work out what’s best for every individual to keep them fit and well. It has saved the government a fortune. The food and drinks brands only use the best of ingredients or at least the ingredients that are best suited to each individual consumer, and some of the synthetic food brands are more trusted than the old-fashioned contaminated foods of the past.

To read or download the full report, researching the implications for the Future of Brands, click here

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