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  • Jack Lau

Behavioral Changing Technologies


Happy New Year, Everyone.! Let us wish you all a very prosperous and happy year to come.

Over the past few weeks, a few people we have talked here in Hong Kong asked me what we think is the most important technology for years to come. Over a few bottles of wine, we have come up at least two. (Surely, they may be more. But, these come up pretty quickly.)

  1. DNA editing Technologies; and

  2. Behavioral Changing Technologies.

Our first choice should not surprise anyone. We have written a few blogs about the significance of technologies such as the CRISPR. Sure, there are obstacles still, such as unintended side effect, but the benefits of these to individuals are enormous.

Our second choice, though,does raised a lot of eyebrows….

No, we are not talking about a Frankenstien electric chair or a big shot of crazy chemical needle you see in a thriller movie. But, before we go further, let's us tell you that one of the people who asked us the question is a property developer who owns a number of shopping malls in the region. He asked us what he should fear most. (Being in Hong Kong, we thought the smart answer to that question would be that he has too much money coming… ha ha).

But, really, after much deliberate thoughts, we said, "what if no shop wants to pay that kind of high rent at your mall?"

But how can that be possible? With the best locations in town, are those malls like a must-go place for tourists and locals alike?

Well, what if we paint you a futurist (or is it already here?)scenario. In this scenario, you go to the shopping mall as usual. You still go to your favorite shop. You are just as thrilled as you used to be when you see something you like. But, wait….. Rather than taking out your credit card now and buy, you take a picture of the product with your smart phone. The smart phone immediately analyzes your product and tell you that this product is available on the on-line store, and will be delivered to you in a few hours --- at 30% or more lower cost! So, you leave the store empty handed. You would rather save 30%. It makes no difference to you. In a few hours, the product will be delivered to you anyway.

After walking around a bit longer, you get hungry now. You want to grab something to eat. You take out your phone again and realize that high tea is being served at the hotel nearby. If you book now, you will get a guaranteed window seat and a special discount. And guess what, with another button, you can even order a car on line to take you there and home afterwards.

By now, some of you probably crying foul… No way are people such a cheapskate. In fact, people just like the convenience and will never do things like that --- the habit of shopping is unbreakable.

Well, sorry to say this, look at what Amazon has done to brick and mortar bookstores. (By the way, Marks and Spencer just announced today they will close down their stores in Hong Kong. Go figure.)

And, the most recent Nobel prize in economics was awarded to Richard Thaler, a well-known Behavioral Scientist. One of his book, Nudge, famously illustrates how one can create scenarios to alter end consumers' behavior. In his book, for instance, he mentioned how a university cafeteria can "nudge" students to eat healthier by making the healthier choice more accessible than the "bad food".

The experiments were so well articulated in fact governments around the world such as Spain, UK, and the United States tried to take cue to "nudge" citizens into certain behaviors.

In Spain, for instance, to encourage citizens to be organ donors, citizens have to "opt-out" of donating, rather than "sign-up" to donate. The experiment was hugely successful.

Going back to our conversation with our real estate friends….

Imagine that now, with some sort of technologies, the consumer behavior is changed. So how?

Remember the movie FOCUS, starring Will Smith?

In the movie, Will Smith was betting with a Asian and wanted the Asian to think of the number "55". So, what did Will Smith do? Will Smith "programmed the subconscious". Everywhere the Asian went, he saw and heard the number 5"5". On billboard there would be a number "55" appearing. He got to stay on the 55th floor. Even on the lapel pin of the doorman, it said "55". He would also be fed with song that sounded like the Chinese "55".

Clearly, our behavior can be "manipulated" or "changed". What if? What if there appear to be technologies (non-bio medical of course), that will systematically change our behavior, nudging us into doing things without us even realizing it?

We think that we are getting to that point sooner than most of us wish to acknowledge. The combination of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Social Media can easily be manipulated into what we traditionally called "advertisement technologies".

We have always known that advertisers try to influence our perception on products. This is year 2018, we think that the advent of these technologies, plus a great understanding of behavioral science, will lead us into an area that we have never thought of. And, we call this "Behavioral Changing Tech".

Granted this is not easy, but nothing is easy. CRISPR is not easy. Let's keep an eye of this trend. At the end of the day, if there are ways one can change another person's behavior, the incentive is too attractive for many to pass.


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