A top Silicon Valley futurist on how AI, AR and VR will shape fashion’s future
By: Maghan McDowell
Date: 28 January 2020
X Prize founder Peter Diamandis outlines the key technologies expected to change fashion and shopping in the next few years.
Entrepreneur and investor Peter Diamandis predicts that the future of shopping will be “always on”, thanks to ubiquitous augmented reality.
Artificial intelligence is in position to streamline and personalise the process, while virtual reality shopping can be successful if it creates a more social experience.
Brands should prepare for far more data collection by asking the right questions and using AI to correlate more details.
SAN FRANCISCO — Here’s the future of shopping, as Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Peter Diamandis sees it: augmented reality glasses will present an “always-on” shopping mode, artificially intelligent digital assistants will know your taste better than you and clothing will be made exactly to your measurements.
And it could happen faster than one might think, he says. Diamandis’s book, The Future is Faster Than You Think, out today and co-written with Steven Kotler, outlines his vision for how a number of converging innovations will drastically and imminently change industries like retail and advertising.
On the fashion front, Diamandis outlines three key developments on his radar: shopping through virtual reality, in which an AI fashion advisor is there to guide you; AR shopping that is supercharged by AI and 5G; and 3D printing and just-in-time manufacturing.
The proliferation of AI and AI assistants, he says, will play a significant role in intuiting what people want and influencing purchasing decisions.
“The question is, can AI ultimately become a better fashion adviser to me than any human can? I believe the answer is going to be yes because AI will know me even better than myself,” he says. “But this decade is less about AI displacing humans [and] more about AI-human collaboration.”
Here is what Diamandis thinks fashion should be thinking about in the 2020s. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
AR and VR are two of your core pillars influencing fashion, but it seems that AR has so far been leading the charge.
If you look at comments by [Apple CEO] Tim Cook and others, they expect that augmented reality will be 10x the opportunity of VR. That’s true.
We talk in the book about turning on “shopping mode”, so as you’re walking down the street [wearing AR glasses], rather than seeing what the shop owner puts in the window, your AI knows what you’re shopping for, your size and your favourite colours. Imagine looking into a window and seeing what’s in the store that you might actually like. Even more interesting is if you’re looking at a friend’s dress or jacket, and if you’ve got shopping mode on, the price and the designer pops up, and you can buy it right then.
What I find fascinating is being able to determine how the world sees you. Like [having] different ringtones depending on who is calling, imagine having a digital wardrobe so that when this group of friends sees you, you’re wearing [one outfit], when strangers see you, you’re wearing [something different].
So why hasn’t fashion been successful with VR? Three years ago, everyone in fashion was really excited about it.
VR has failed from the lack of being a social experience. But that’s going to get solved. When you walk into a VR store, an AI fashion attendant will say, “What are you looking for?” And you can see in front of yourself a fashion show where everyone on the runway is you.
And there’s also a digital twin of everything you own, which is fascinating. You can say, “What is that going to look like with my shoes, my handbag, my tie?” or whatever it might be.
A lot of these technologies are years away from becoming mainstream. Are there any specific technologies that a fashion brand should invest in now?
It’s all about data and asking great questions, and I can start to ask AI to analyse it.
There is already a combination of sensors and networks, and we’re heading toward a world where it’s going to be possible for you to know anything you want, anytime, anywhere. Now, you can look up the GDP of Ghana in about 30 seconds, but if I asked you how many red sports cars have driven down the street in the last half hour? That’s unlikely — but the information is there.
We’re heading toward what I call a “trillion sensor economy” … which means that there will be cameras everywhere. So if I’m a fashion designer, I can ask, “What colours are most popular today walking down Madison Avenue? Does it correlate with the temperature or the weather? Does it correlate with any fashion campaigns or Vogue covers?”
While some of this technology might already exist, customers might not be ready to adopt it. How can brands navigate that without moving too fast?
The reality is for consumers to adopt; there really needs to be a 10x better price-performance improvement. It can’t be a little bit better. It has to be a lot better. Sometimes you have to do that at your own cost to get people to shift over.
Amazon prioritised speed, cost and variety over profitability, but they won the world. But, it’s important to note, the adoption rate for technologies is accelerating.
Your book references the success of Amazon, but it hasn’t yet mastered luxury fashion. Is Amazon well-positioned to offer luxury concessions?
Amazon’s brand stands for cheaper, faster, more variety — which is the opposite [of luxury]. Amazon is a global fulfilment house and a front-end for search. They’ll have to do luxury goods through someone else’s brand.
I mentor CEOs about “software as a service” and “AI as a service”. Every company today needs to rethink how they’re building their organisation. You’re not hiring the same old groups of people and building a giant org chart stuffed with people. You’re now building an organisation where you have layers of software. Your fulfilment layer may be delivered by Amazon; your customer service layer may be provided by Amazon; your marketing may be provided by Amazon. And you’re really at the top of the stack deciding what products you want to provide, shaping your brand.