For most of the age of computing, the most important question has always been, “Is technology meeting people’s needs?”  In their quest to answer this question, engineers and designers sought to make hardware faster and more portable.  Software developers focused constantly on creating software that made humans more productive or engaged them in new, more entertaining ways.

All of these are obviously still important but a shift is happening — the capabilities of technology, especially software, are advancing to the point that they risk, at least temporarily, exceeding humans’ ability to fully benefit from them.

The latest intelligent personal assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana are a great example.  Personal assistants only deliver 100% of their inherent value when users make the effort to help the technology learn about them.  As they are used, more is ‘learned’ about the user.  That knowledge can subsequently provide the context necessary to automate tasks performed on the user’s behalf…  reminders, alerts, and other scheduled tasks that the user may otherwise forget to perform (or simply be too busy/distracted to bother with).  Either way, a failure to have met the personal assistant’s needs results in the user missing out on value the technology was designed to deliver.

As the availability of intelligent, cloud-based services grows, the importance of having humans meet technology’s needs becomes even more important.  Services that run virtually unattended – shopping, for example – will be capable of using big data and a variety of analytics, including predictive.  Software ‘agents’ will act on behalf of both the sellers and buyers, working to achieve expected goals.

Travel shopping is an ideal candidate for the evolution of these types of fully automated tasks.  Selling agents will stream price and availability based on supply, demand, and other factors.   Shopping agents will intelligently evaluate and make purchase/alert/ignore decisions.  The key, again, will be the degree to which travelers’ have volunteered to help the technology by volunteering information on past trips, interests, likes/dislikes, future intent, budget constraints, etc.

The presence of such an automated ecosystem is, in essence, a continuously operating market in which computers are selling to, and buying from, other computers – all while faithfully representing the interests of their human masters.