A leaked internal concept video from Google provides an unsettling look into the dystopian future the company could achieve if it kept a ledger of human behavior and used it to manipulate your decisions and those of future generations.
Created in 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X and co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory, the 9-minute video uses the field of Lamarckian epigenetics as a metaphor for how Google could store current users’ behavioral activity data in a ledger to push the company’s values, offer services and products, and basically dictate the behavior of entire populations.
Generally dismissed, Lamarckian epigenetics holds that lifeforms acquire information from their environment and pass it on in their genes. If we look at the way we use our phones as a representation of who we are, a global ledger of profiles that includes data on “actions, decisions, preferences, movement, and relationships” could be passed on to other users much like genetic information. This information could be sequenced much like the human genome, making “increasingly accurate predictions about decisions and future behaviors."
Taking a multigenerational approach, the video says these data trails have the ability to survive beyond the limits of our lives to benefit future generations.
The ledger has the potential to do more than suggest ways to be healthier or shop more health-consciously. Because it operates via a constant stream of data, Foster says it could use its self-learning capabilities to “plug gaps in its knowledge and refine its model of human behavior”. That extends beyond just you or me and, he says, could reach all of humanity. In fact, the ledger could become so self-informed that it goes beyond suggesting products and starts to propose and build 3D-printed objects it believes you might need.
While the video doesn’t address privacy concerns or potentially negative impacts, it does suggest that the program would provide a “species-level understanding of complex issues such as depression, health and poverty.”
Let’s be clear here: This is a concept video meant to provoke discussion. An X spokesperson speaking to The Verge confirmed that “it’s not related to any current or future products.” That being said, it offers a glimpse into the types of conversations the company might be having, and it aligns with many of Google’s existing products that use AI, for example, suggesting routes in Google Maps, organizing albums in Google Photos, and even composing automated emails in Gmail.
[H/T: The Verge]