Back in 1909 – almost 100 years before the launch of the first iPhone – Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla envisioned that one day we would all have personal wireless devices that would enable us to send messages all over the world. In 1865, French novelist Jules Verne not only predicted man’s 1969 moon landing – but also the name of the ship, the number of crew on-board and the feeling of weightlessness they would experience in space.

In today’s hyper-connected world, technology is advancing exponentially; in the next 20 years, computers are expected to be up to a million times more powerful than they are today. And speculation is rife over what this might mean for us.

Today, predictions that sound as far-fetched as Verne and Tesla’s insights once did are being widely-referenced the world over. From using AI to “reincarnate” people that have died to driverless cars filling our roads, there is no shortage of theories on what our future will look like.

But the fate of many of these predictions depends in part on consumers’ willingness to embrace them. The concept of driverless cars might seem cool, but do people trust them enough to allow our roads to be full of them?

Connecting predictions to consumer expectations

As part of London Tech Week this year, Sabre conducted new research to gauge how consumers feel about various new technologies in order to help the travel industry understand how to gain its customers’ trust.

We asked 2,000 UK consumers whether or not they agreed with a number of widely-cited futurists’ predictions about technologies like artificial intelligence, driverless cars and 3D printing. Results found that the majority agreed with statements relating to 3D printing and driverless cars:

However, they were less optimistic about some of the more forward-thinking statements – particularly those relating to artificial intelligence.

Despite the apparent rejection of artificial intelligence, the capabilities of this technology today suggest that “radical” predictions like the above are perhaps not that far-fetched; we now have AI systems that are capable of learning from vast amounts of complex, unstructured data and turning it into actionable insights, for example. This is, of course, already used by companies like Netflix, Amazon and music site Pandora.

It's all about a lack of trust

The lack of belief in artificial intelligence forecasts could be down to an absence of trust.

A recent study by insidesales.com found that 42% of Americans don’t trust AI. It’s not hard to imagine why. Hollywood has had a long-running obsession for dystopian AI narratives; starting way back in the ‘twenties with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – and going on to include brilliant but disturbing classics like 2001: Space Odyssey, Terminator and The Matrix – it’s little wonder the term artificial intelligence invokes a certain “wariness” among the average consumer.

According to world-renowned economist Rachel Botsman, getting people to believe in some of the more “radical” technology predictions would involve something called a “trust leap” – when we take a risk to do something new or to do something differently from how we’ve always done it. “People don’t want the entirely new; they want the familiar done differently,” she said at a recent Sabre event.

A study by insidesales.com found that 42% of Americans don’t trust artificial intelligence.

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Consider how to communicate benefits of new tech

What does all this mean for travel companies that are looking at new ways to serve travellers through technology? How do we persuade travellers to take a leap of trust? Our research found that consumers are generally indifferent towards the use of new technologies by service providers. However, almost one in three indicated trust would diminish in their companies upon the introduction of emerging tech.

For any company, it is important to convince consumers of the benefits of new technologies in order to win their trust. For travel companies, artificial intelligence is just starting to become a reality in 2017. For example, Hilton uses AI in its Watson-powered Connie robot, various airlines use Sabre’s Intelligence Exchange to turn customer data into contextual interactions, and Sabre’s Labs team recently created a prototype Facebook Messenger bot that can answer travellers’ questions about their trips. Persuading consumers to trust - and therefore adopt - these technologies lies in focusing on explaining the benefits of using them, such as ease, convenience and intuitiveness.

The above images are extracts from new Sabre research that was part of its London Tech Week event, TTX London – an industry discussion on the future of distribution and technology in the travel industry.  For the full report, please click the banner below.