Virgin Money: By 2050, SME businesses will be run by avatars while we sleep

Virgin Money: By 2050, SME businesses will be run by avatars while we sleep

The UK’s small businesses will be run by personal avatars by 2050 thanks to powerful advances in artificial intelligence (AI) in the coming decades, according to a new futurology report commissioned by Virgin Money, owner of Glasgow-based Clydesdale Bank.

The ‘SME 2050’ report, which includes a series of predictions by UK futurologist Dave Coplin, describes a future SME landscape where intelligent, virtual clones, driven by AI and machine learning, will be able to manage workload while business owners focus on priority tasks, enjoy some downtime, and even sleep. Avatars will be programmed by SME leaders using their business persona and will be fully independent and authorised to operate and make decisions on their behalf.

Dave Coplin also suggests that all small businesses will be global businesses by default, staffed by an army of virtual specialists who are able to do business anywhere in the world, regardless of location, language and time-zone.

In addition, SME business owners will be ‘human computers’, equipped with advanced cybernetic implants that will give them instant access to all the information in the world as well as being able to speak whatever language is required as the implant translates words in real time. Cybernetic eyes will allow them to take photos and record footage, a brain-to-computer interface will give them the ability to download and upload information, and embedded microchips will unlock doors and facilitate payments.

As part of the futurology work commissioned by Virgin Money, a new survey has revealed a robust appetite among SMEs for new and advanced tech to save time and grow their business. Over three-quarters (77%) of UK SMEs are likely to use tech that will save them time to reinvest and plan for the future, and 85% said they’re likely to adopt new technology in the next five years to support growth. SME owners said they plan to use data science (39%), AI (31%) and virtual reality (26%) to help build their business.

However, one third (30%) of SMEs say lack of time and 39% cite lack of money as key reasons preventing them from using advanced technology.

Dave Coplin said: “While most business owners would love to have a crystal ball to predict future opportunities and barriers, the reality is in the past 30 years our lives and businesses have undergone dramatic change that very few people foresaw. In the 1990s, businesses sent letters printed on dot-matrix printers or faxes to communicate, unable to predict we’d be having the daily virtual meetings we’re so used to today. The next three decades are likely to be similarly transformational, so SME leaders should focus on building their capacity to adapt their business in response.”

Recognising these challenges, Virgin Money has launched a new, free business banking service, M-Track, which enables its current account customers to collate their banking information with data from other systems they use to help run their business. This single online dashboard provides an at-a-glance view of their financial health to help customers save time in the day-to-day running of their business.

Kash Ahmad, head of business banking at Virgin Money, said: “The look-back to the 1990s in our report demonstrates that predictions of the future should be taken with a pinch of salt. What we do know for certain is that technology use will continue to accelerate and we want to help ensure our business customers are well placed to take advantage.

“Our research reveals that SMEs are busy and have a lack of time to invest, so they want a partner who can help them access financial information and solutions quickly and efficiently to help their future growth. That’s why we’ve created M-Track, which provides an online dashboard for customers to track their business’ health, marking a further step forward as we create a market-leading digital business account.”

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