“If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”
I have several friends and family members who have introduced smart technology into their homes by way of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, those cloud-based, benign-sounding voice services. While the services can give you a new, high-tech way to have fun, like playing games or music (I may have asked my mom’s Alexa very specifically to play Sutton Foster’s Broadway version of “Anything Goes” once), they do also provide very useful benefits, such as the ability to order groceries online, schedule appointments, and even lock your doors and turn off the lights.
Of course, we’ve all heard the stories about kids, and even parrots, ordering items online using these devices, and while they are cute, funny stories, they’re also a little…dare I say it…creepy? If you agree with my assessment, then hang on to your hat, because things are about to get very Big Brother.
Google recently came under fire for demonstrating its lifelike AI, Duplex, which can take calls, and even schedule appointments, for its actual human users, in a terrifyingly realistic voice. But not long after this demonstration, an internal Google video came to light that’s even more unsettling than Duplex’s ability to ‘think’ on the fly.
The 9-minute video leaked by the Verge, titled The Selfish Ledger, was directed two years ago by Nick Foster, Co-Founder of Near Future Laboratory and the Head of Design at Google’s semi-secret R&D facility, X.
The video, narrated by Foster with background music right out of a dystopian science fiction movie, discusses multiple theories of evolution, centering on the idea, known as Lamarckian epigenetics, that whatever we do during our own lifetime is later passed down to generations of the future.
This theory imagines a world of total data collection, where every single thing we do online could be kept in a constantly evolving database, or ledger, which Google could then use to guide and manipulate users to follow its own values.
“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,” a spokesperson said about the video. “It’s not related to any current or future products.”
I don’t feel much better, even with that reassuring statement. What’s even more disturbing is the idea that Google could then apply this data to 3D print custom, personalized devices for its users.
We all know that 3D printing can be used in our everyday lives to fabricate useful household objects on demand, right? So picture this scenario – you ask Google for some healthy new recipes. Google ‘thinks’ to itself, and immediately starts to 3D print you a bathroom scale. Why? Because Google believes that the only reason you want healthy recipes is because you’re trying to lose weight, and it needs to know how much you weigh first before it can suggest something. Pardon me while I go hide in a cave and shun my electronics for life.
The video describes how this ledger could potentially guide people’s behavior as they work to reach goals, and that it could, over multiple generations, build up enough data to solve major worldwide problems, like depression, disease, and poverty.
One scene shows this Google of the future including a “Resolutions” button that provides users with lifestyle choices, like protecting the environment, supporting local businesses, and eating more healthy.
So, once it’s done 3D printing the bathroom scale that you didn’t ask for, it could then recommend that you purchase bananas which are grown locally…and use Uber’s environmentally friendly carpool option to get to the grocery store.
Perhaps the creepiest segment of “The Selfish Ledger” is when Foster compares this unending record of personal data to actual DNA…which can be modified.
“By thinking of user data as multigenerational, it becomes possible for emerging users to benefit from the preceding generation’s behaviors and decisions. As new users enter an ecosystem, they begin to create their own trail of data,” Foster explains in the video. “By comparing this emergent leger with the mass of historical user data, it becomes possible to make increasingly accurate predictions about decisions and future behaviors.”
The theory of Lamarckian epigenetics has been discredited in terms of genetics, so rest easily there. But, the video is of the opinion that the way we use our devices could create this same kind of multigenerational ledger.
Google later said that the disturbing tone of the video was intentional, and that none of its products are related to anything described in the video. However, I wouldn’t be too sure if I were you…sleep tight.
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[Source/Images: The Daily Dot]