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Our future selves, and a flux capacitor

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a financial services conference in London.

I was asked to speak about ‘consumer engagement’ and how the approach we’ve taken with Be-IQ helps inform how employees engage, and stay engaged, with their retirement plans. I also discussed the behaviours associated with long-term planning, and the inability for people to make accurate predictions about their future (which, by the way, is a key reason behind every broken New Year’s resolution).

The future-self versus the present-self predicament fascinates me. My interest in this was first piqued when I watched Back to the Future 2 in 1990. In the film Marty McFly and Doc Brown visit the future (quiz answer – they visit the year 2015) to prevent McFly’s son from going to prison. I remember thinking at the time, if you could really interact with your future-self, would it make a real difference to your present-self?

It’s long been known by psychologists that both the present-self and the future-self are in constant conflict, with the present-self firmly in command. It’s notoriously difficult for the future-self to gain the upper hand, and in doing so, have any impact on the dominant force that is the present-self.

Even when the future-self does miraculously manage to seize control and attempts to influence the present-self, it lacks the required level of strength to hold on. This provides the present-self with the ideal opportunity to take back control, and knock the future-self… Back to the Future (sorry).

I’ve often wondered how we can help the future-self become more dominant in the decision-making process. How can we help people see and feel the impact of the present-self’s decisions on the future-self, and make it meaningful enough for them to take note, and perhaps alter their current behaviour?

Some experts believe the reason the present-self is such a powerful force is down to the fact people struggle to imagine themselves getting old. While people know they are going to get old, it’s not easy to imagine themselves when they are old.

ENTER THE FLUX CAPACITOR

While speaking at the event mentioned above, I was fortunate enough to meet a guy called Michael Olaye from a technology company called Dare.

I sat and listened to his ideas on how to solve this present-self/ future-self dilemma, and became both deeply intrigued with the ‘how’ (the scientist part of my brain) and excited about the opportunities it presents (the creative part of my brain). He made me realise for the first time we are now living in an era where we can, metaphorically speaking, build a flux capacitor to interact with our future-self.

His suggestion is we should look at using augmented reality (AR) which, for the record, is not the same as virtual reality.

Augment, a firm which specialises in AR, defines it as a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it. AR is developed into apps and used on mobile devices to blend digital components into the real world in such a way that they enhance one another, but can also be told apart easily.

The company defines virtual reality as an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life environment or situation. It immerses the user by making them feel like they are experiencing the simulated reality first hand, primarily by stimulating their vision and hearing.

AR allows us to create an environment where people can see their future world in front of their own eyes. It’s used by brands such as Ikea, whose AR smartphone app can place any item from its catalogue inside your own home, so you can actually see what it would look like once in situ. Think about the interaction and engagement this delivers, not to mention the potential reduction in returned, unwanted goods.

Listening to Michael, I started to think how cool it would be if we had a realistic future-self who could digitally interact with the present-self through AR. A future-self who automatically appears to offer a visual reminder that the decision I am about take has an impact on me.

Imagine if with every decision we take (not just money related), the AR version of the future me dynamically adapts, showing the present me how my life is shaping up based on the choices I am making. Choices around health, diet, nutrition, money, employment – the list is endless.

This may sound very sci-fi to a fair number of people reading this, but think about it: if we can create a fully immersive world that helps shape and guide a person’s life for the better, helps them make better decisions, and helps deliver a brighter financial future, then surely that would be an amazing outcome. And we don’t even need a DeLorean to do it.

At last year’s Nucleus conference, Dr Greg Davies talked about ‘commitment devices’ – processes put in place to help people make better decisions. I can’t think of a better commitment device than my future-self intelligently helping and assisting my present-self to become a better decision maker.

All of this could mean when I eventually reach my future life (which of course would then be my present life), I won’t need to waste time reflecting on past decisions, or wishing I’d done something differently.

I’d be in a happy place, a place that both my present-self and my future-self helped construct, working together, in harmony. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like bliss to me.