Google has way too much information about us than we realize. An internal Google video which has leaked recently shows a view of how the firm can use that information to control the user’s behavior. The video shows the scene for a Black Mirror-style future in which the machines will be able to guess your needs before you even do. Following that they will also be able to control us to fulfill their own agendas. Google has also admitted that the video is indeed very disturbing but also added that it is only a thought experiment.
The video was made two years ago by Nick Foster who is the head of design at X and a co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory. In the video, he has imagined sending users towards their goals by using the data which was collected from their devices. The video is titled ‘The Selfish Ledger’ and the 9-minute film starts with a history of Lamarckian epigenetics. This is basically the concept of passing on the traits which were taken during an organism’s lifetime. The concept originated in 1809 when the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck published the first theory of evolution.
He said that the experiences of an organism during its life changed the internal code and the updated version is then passed on to the organism’s offspring. For example, the theory claims that if a person goes to the gym and develop big muscles, his children will also inherit the enhanced strength. This concept was later on proven to be false. Darwin’s Theory discarded Lamarckian epigenetics when he published the ‘Origin of Species’ in 1859. Foster claims that it is a good analog for the use of the data and can explain how the digital information will be used in the future. The ways we are using our phones creates a constantly changing representation of us. This is termed as Ledger.
Ledger can be transferred from one user to another. It contains the detailed data on a person’s actions, decisions, preferences, movements, and relationships. This can be used to control the behavior of people for the betterment of society. Foster said, “User-centered design principles have dominated the world of computing for many decades, but what if we looked at things a little differently? What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose rather than simply acting as a historical reference? What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information? What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as custodians, transient carriers, or caretakers?”
The video presents the concept of ‘Resolutions by Google’ in which the firm is asking users to select goals in life and then helps the user to achieve them by guiding them using the alerts on their phone. The video has failed to mention the privacy concerns. Foster is showing a future where “the notion of a goal-driven ledger becomes more palatable suggestions may be converted not by the user but by the ledger itself.” Not only this ledger will be helpful in controlling the behavior but also it will be able to fill in the gaps in its knowledge about the model of human behavior. Foster said, “By thinking of user data as multigenerational. It becomes possible for emerging users to benefit from the preceding generation’s behaviors and decisions. Sequencing the database like the human genome, and making increasingly accurate predictions about decisions and future behaviors. As cycles of collection and comparison extend. It may be possible to develop a species-level understanding of complex issues such as depression, health, and poverty.”
A spokesman said, “We understand if this is disturbing – it is designed to be. This is a thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as speculative design to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate. It’s not related to any current or future products.”