You’re busy at work when an urgent video call comes in. You excuse yourself from the meeting to hear your daughter beg for money to help get her home. It looks like her, (exquisitely filtered as usual) sounds like her…but, hang on, you spoke with her earlier. Of course, it’s just another scam. 

Back in the meeting you ask a couple of questions about the hefty report your colleagues are pretending to pore over. No one can answer. Clearly another piece of AI generated bumpf which no one’s even bothered to read. Genius.

Last night’s news still rattles about your brain. Are we really sending troops to the Ukraine or is this another AI generated slice of propaganda made to enhance a particular narrative? Leaving work you call your daughter to make sure she’s ok. You exchange the safe word and agree to change it the next time you meet in person. The satnav voice warns you of huge delays on the bypass out of town. Is it telling the truth or are you being sacrificed to help thin out the traffic for everyone else?

Within a few very short years we shall all live like this. Everything we see, everything we are told will be adjusted, enhanced, exaggerated or just downright fake: either a straightforward money making scam or a distortion of the truth to help nudge us in a specific direction. At this rate, eventually everything will be fake.

The News

Most of us are already aware that the mainstream media, if only by omission, fails to tell the full story on a daily basis. Even the most genetically supine amongst us will at the very least be slightly more cynical of government diktats than they were, say, three years ago. But now, supercharged with the power of AI, the doors to outright, full blown, relentless factual distortion are wide open and beckoning us to play. Presidents declaring war and prime ministers caught cussing off camera, are nothing but the opening salvo for the onslaught of fakery that is about to engulf us. Even previously vanilla news items will be leveraged for political gain. Weather warnings will be relished and eagerly augmented, air quality levels exaggerated, travel warnings amplified and even gardening advice politicised. The apocalyptification of absolutely bloody everything will become the norm. I guess we’re pretty much there already.

In January this year, China brought in strict new laws on the use of deepfakes. Just imagine how even handed their authorities will be when they can choose the definition of ‘disinformation’. More worryingly, here in the UK our own Online Safety Bill will very soon be able to censor, fine and ban anyone who strays into the world of ‘mis’ or ‘dis’ information. The bill also gives Ofcom the power to force companies to scan private messages for ‘illegal material’. In the current climate where light sarcasm has already been misconstrued and weaponised, things ain’t looking so rosy in the free speech department.


I’m guessing most of you have heard Johnny Cash’s version of Barbie Girl. Brilliant isn’t it? So much better than his prophetic A Boy Named Sue. He’s also covered Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. In the twenty years since his death his work really has embraced a veritable cornucopia of cultural styles and tastes, thanks to AI, of course. Considering this clever tech has only been around a few months the results are pretty uncanny. Will The Beatles release a new album? Obviously. Will you be able to see them in concert like Abba’s Voyage? Oh yes. All our cultural idols, icons and artists will be digitally disinterred and regenerated for eternity, that’s obvious. Everyone but Mick Jagger of course. He’s already immortal. 

As contemporary culture matures and weans itself off three and a half minute pop nonsense the past will continue to be revitalised, regurgitated and reconstituted for all those who missed out on its heyday.


Although thankfully still alive and well, Tom Cruise, like Johnny Cash, has been super busy over the last few months, especially on TikTok. Alongside his career in multi million dollar blockbusters he’s made quite a name for himself dancing embarrassingly in people’s gardens and generally showing off with celebrity impressions and magic tricks. What we are witnessing, in reality, is a series of mini trailers for completely AI generated movies. The era of virtual production is just beginning and it’s a giant leap forward from the CGI we’ve become accustomed to. If you have any doubt about its potential check out the burgeoning choice of Text to Video software such as Synthesis, Hour One or Pictory. Real time render allows you to type a description of the scene you want to see while ‘live’ video appears, instantly adapting as you write. Clearly it won’t be long before we can download the latest James Dean/Marlon Brando/Marilyn Monroe movie. With a musical score by The Beatles, naturally.


Back in 2019 I wrote here that we were already cyborgs in that our smartphones bestowed upon us access to the sum of all human knowledge.  No matter how obscure or trivial a question, it shall never be suspended awkwardly in limbo ever again. But when our AI assistants bring us constant and instant audio and visual feedback, everyone will be an Einstein. You can even make Einstein your personal assistant if you wish.

Service & Hospitality

How would you rate our service? Excellent or just extremely good? If messages like these annoy you now, just imagine how irritating it will be when every establishment you dare visit calls to ask about your experience. She will sound dreamily gorgeous of course, for it will be a she, and we will quickly learn how to ignore her seductive tones and cut short her needy pleas for constant affirmation.

Moods & Personality

Elon Musk’s Neuralink program is working hard to create a brain-computer interface. No surprises there. This is exactly the sort of thing we expect when a fifteen year old science fiction geek suddenly becomes a billionaire. On route to the big goals of solving paralysis and blindness however, it seems more than likely our brain implants will be able to adjust our moods according to requirements. Press ‘serious’ on the Neuralink app before an interview, or ‘witty’ before a blind date. What could possibly go wrong? 

The Good News

The Kardashianisation of culture may be a decade old but things are about to get decidedly freaky. Social media is already awash with avatar filters that turn us into fantasy figures, cartoon characters and superheroes, and the enthusiasm for fake identities isn’t likely to wane any time soon. (Read my piece on The Insufferables coming down the here. However, by way of some reassurance, Newton’s Third Law is alive and well: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more our lives are lubricated, managed and entertained by the magic of AI, the more we will seek out signs of genuine humanity. The more we are inundated with filters and immersed in fake hospitality, the more enchanted we’ll be by imperfection, sincerity, wit, humility and even sarcasm. 

All the things AI is crap at.

Join me on X  @retailfuturist  for random retail-ish ramblings

  Howard Saunders   Oct 18, 2023   big data, Blog, face recognition, Future, Retail, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized, woke   0 Comment   Read More


It was over Sunday lunch back in the winter of 2022 that we had the heated family argument over all this. Dad was on one of his ‘hell in a handcart rants’ and was convinced the government wanted complete control over every aspect of our lives and we should resist at every turn. What he failed to see was any of the positive side: the health benefits, the increased security and even our own longevity for that matter. No, he certainly wasn’t right about everything.

Take the ApMan system, for example. Yes, it tracks everywhere I go but it also nudges me to take more exercise or even drink more water. It lets me know when the air is safe and even recommends the safest route for a daytime breather. After ‘consumer traffic’ was banned in cities in 2030, carbon monoxide levels have thankfully plummeted, but levels of ozone and PM (particulate matter) can still be dangerously high, so it’s best to stay indoors, even for an amber warning. No need to take unnecessary risks.

Traffic levels are historically low but there are still plenty of autonomous trucks and cabs running around so the PSS (Pedestrian Signal System) keeps us safe. I seriously cannot imagine how treacherous the roads were back in the day when Dad used to drive around in his own car…and without any guidance control! Terrifying.

When occasionally we do venture out on foot it’s so much safer these days, even if you do get fifty quid knocked off your UBI for cutting the corner at a zebra crossing. You soon learn to stick to the allocated routes and zones.


ApMan is indispensable, frankly. Obviously you need it to get into a bar, store or a gallery, but now that it’s linked to my personal genome it advises me on what’s best to eat, how much, and at what time of day. Following his advice also gives me a serious discount off my health insurance, so it really is a win win. Over indulge on anything and it will vibrate annoyingly for hours so there’s very little drunkenness anymore, at least not for the tracked and healthy. Pubs are more highly regulated than anywhere, so you’d be crazy to flout ApMan’s advice if you want to stay off the trouble maker list.

Restaurants are pretty strict too as they have to follow so much of the latest legislation, so it’s easier just to order from one of the dark kitchens. There’s so much more choice than in the restaurants anyway, and it’s a hell of a lot safer than mixing with everyone, that’s for sure. Every day there’s news of yet another outbreak in a bar or a brasserie that’s then forced to shut down for disinfection. And it often takes months for full Green Clearance.

I remember the local food markets we had around here until they were eventually banned for being the proven source of countless infections and viruses. No one wants to risk their health like that anymore. I think it was the long, hot summer of 2025 that the Hygiene Squad swooped in to close ours down. Quite an exciting day that was!


London is so much cleaner and impressive looking than it was in Dad’s day. All the architecture is tastefully illuminated at night and the roads are so much quieter too, with PSS embedded into the pavements everywhere and distress buttons every few hundred metres or so. The heated underpasses do fill up with the homeless in the evenings, but above ground the city looks better than it’s ever looked, I imagine.


I haven’t used the Tube in years but apparently it’s almost exactly as it was fifty years ago, complete with some of the (now protected) posters and ads for fast food and alcoholic drinks. Some E-friends of mine made a Youtube documentary about it not long ago. London’s Underground really is a piece of subterranean living history, shuttling cleaners and sanitary workers beneath the city right around the clock.

Back at home my children are pretty well balanced, all things considered. Their bi-monthly Social Wellness tests put them in the top 20%, even though they both spend most of the day in the Metaverse. They go to concerts there as well as educational classes and lectures in order to boost their home studies, so it isn’t all e-sports and shoot-em-ups. Sam’s actually got a paid job in there, managing some digital entrepreneur’s identity or something on an Ethereum retainer. It’s all a bit beyond me, to be honest.

So you see, what my father couldn’t understand was that giving up a bit of our independence would in return help make us so much safer, healthier and more financially secure than ever before. Dad might not agree but I believe that’s a price well worth paying.

I promise my next blog will be a tad more upbeat. Meanwhile please follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and wry retail based musings.

  Howard Saunders   Nov 15, 2021   advertising, city, discount, face recognition, Future, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More


Looking back it was obvious really. Ridiculous rents and rates marching onwards and upwards meant eventually something had to give. For years our high streets were kept teetering on the edge, terrified of change and too poor to try anything new. Switching off the global economy in 2020 resolved all that overnight. Yes folks, the retail reboot is here.

When it comes to predicting what’s next for our town and city centres the general consensus seems to be that everything will shift online apart from the edge of town space-age supermarket, manned by robot shelf stackers and illuminated by Minority Report style hologram-ads. But rest assured, this is the vision of the techno-nerd, and techno-nerds are experts in misunderstanding humanity. Their vision of the future won’t happen for one simple reason: we don’t want it.

But we have changed. Lockdown, has taught us a lot. We probably bake a bit more, or read more than we did previously. We’ve learnt how easy it is to buy online and have it delivered the next morning. Posing with our feet next to a parcel for a doorstep snap has become part of our daily routine. But lockdown has also taught us what we secretly knew all along: that shopping was never just about buying stuff, it was about getting out and having fun.

What’s more, now that we’re armed with that magical little black slab of glass, (that smart device that carries the sum of all human knowledge with us wherever we go) our expectations are primed for take off faster and higher than Elon Musk’s Space X. We have access to everything now, we compare notes too, and cannot be suckered by your seductive advertising like we were a mere decade ago. Today we’re connected, we live at the centre of the universe with our eyes wide open, and we’re crying out “whatever you’ve got for us, it better be good!”

The world has changed too. There’s no doubt that 2021 is the year retail sheds its skin. It’s also the year we draw a line under the ever-rising rents and rates that thwart fresh blood from flowing through the arteries of our towns and cities. Call it the Great Reset if you like.

But while we’ve been stuck at home watching Netflix, the cleverest brands have been plotting and planning new and exciting ways to tell us their story, entertain us, inspire us and put us at the centre of their universe. They know that the online world alone can never do that. And they know that they cannot simply reopen their stores the way they were in 2019. They’ve learnt a lot too and very soon they will gather up all their online knowledge and data and drag it into the real world to create truly immersive brand experiences that know exactly who we are.

So, in our cities the rich multinationals, (the brands that sell us the stuff we want but don’t need) will build spaces, places and pop-ups that make a mockery of that little word retail to encompass events, exhibitions, social spaces, work places, leisure hybrids and workshops to provide us with an ever changing array of branded entertainment. The old model (product in the window, stock on shelves and out the back) will make way for engaging spaces that immerse us in a brand’s story. Their job will be to get into our brains and our bloodstreams, not to sell in the conventional sense as they won’t care where or how you finally get hold of their precious wares.

We’ve already witnessed this from global behemoths Apple, Samsung and Nike who have created ‘stores’ that are part town square (Apple, Chicago & San Francisco) stores that are more of an events venue (Samsung, New York & London) or stores that are ever-changing exhibitions (Nike House of Innovation, New York & Paris).

These are the places where technology can really enjoy itself. Stores will be aware of your arrival, know how many milliseconds you paused over their new product on social media, know your tastes in fashion, music and how often you exercise in order to direct you to things that can be tailored especially for you: limited edition, numbered, tracked and even insured… all you have to do is swipe your thumb. Here, the online and offline worlds will meld seamlessly, with you at the epicentre.

More flexible leasing will finally allow brands to show off and have a bit of fun without signing up for ten years at a time. So our shopping centres will become venues for product launches, branded experiences and pop-up exhibitions like the Samsung Experience in London and the Adidas Originals exhibition in Seoul, shown here. The empty boxes left by our dearly departed stores will open up a thousand opportunities. Some will be converted to digital interactive leisure concepts such as Toca Social’s football based games (opening at the O2 this summer) or e-racing concepts from brands such as Zwift ( These brands will kickstart a retail revolution tentatively entitled ‘competitive socialising’. Other big box spaces will become health and beauty hubs offering fitness and yoga sessions, lunchtime botox, teeth whitening and de-stress injections.

By contrast, much of the future will also be about reinventing the best of the past. Back in our towns and suburbs you may have already noticed that the age of the independent is returning. Your local butcher, baker (and candlestick maker) have been given an electrifying lease of life, heralding a decade of young innovators and entrepreneurs desperate to revitalise our communities now that rents are set to be somewhat more sensible. They’ll open funky new bars, delis, health food stores and restaurants on more flexible terms, which in turn will make for a more dynamic local retail scene. Our luckiest towns might even see their moribund concrete shopping centre replaced by a glazed market hall, brimful of fresh produce and eateries, not unlike the Victorian ones we demolished in the sixties.

So don’t listen to the techno-nerds. The stage has been cleared and new players are waiting eagerly in the wings. The audience has greater expectations than ever before and, oh boy, we’re determined to get out and enjoy ourselves. We want to experience things we’ve never even thought of. We want to see pop-ups and wacky brand collaborations. We want to hang out in big, breathtaking dining halls and cosy, artisan coffee shops and delis. We want our fast fashion chains to host start-ups and our favourite national brands to promote young talent in their branded incubators. We want to go to concerts, exhibitions, product launches and festivals of music, food and culture, and we want to join local clubs and go to workshops in the evening.

Above all, we want to live again. It’s obvious really.

This article was commissioned by my good friends (and loyal client) Aptos.

  Howard Saunders   May 06, 2021   Apple, Food, Future, Retail, San Francisco, shopping, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More