Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Product Placement 3.0

A New Yorker article from last January keeps resonating in my head. It covers advances in computers' ability to read emotions, with applications in mood-based TV advertising, car insurance (lower rates if you behave at the wheel) and other Big Brother stuff.

Here's one example:
"Not long ago, Verizon drafted plans for a media console packed with sensors, including a thermographic camera (to measure body temperature), an infrared laser (to gauge depth), and a multi-array microphone. By scanning a room, the system could determine the occupants’ age, gender, weight, height, skin color, hair length, facial features, mannerisms, what language they spoke, and whether they had an accent. It could identify pets, furniture, paintings, even a bag of chips. It could track “ambient actions”: eating, exercising, reading, sleeping, cuddling, cleaning, playing a musical instrument. It could probe other devices—to learn what a person might be browsing on the Web, or writing in an e-mail. It could scan for affect, tracking moments of laughter or argument. All this data would then shape the console’s choice of TV ads. A marital fight might prompt an ad for a counsellor. Signs of stress might prompt ads for aromatherapy candles. Upbeat humming might prompt ads “configured to target happy people.” The system could then broadcast the ads to every device in the room." 
It could also call the Thought Police.

Another bit:
Software developer and entrepreneur Rana el Kaliouby "predicted that before long myriad devices will have an “emotion chip” that runs constantly in the background, the way geolocation works now in phones. “Every time you pick up your phone, it gets an emotion pulse, if you like, on how you’re feeling,” she said. “In our research, we found that people check their phones ten to twelve times an hour—and so that gives this many data points of the person’s experience.”
Did you hear that?
" “What people in the industry are saying is ‘I need to get people’s attention in a shorter period of time,’ so they are trying to focus on capturing the intensity of it,” Teixeira explained. “People who are emotional are much more engaged. And because emotions are ‘memory markers’ they remember more. So the idea now is shifting to: how do we get people who are feeling these emotions?” "
"Sony had filed several [patents]; its researchers anticipated games that build emotional maps of players, combining data from sensors and from social media to create “almost dangerous kinds of interactivity.” "
"There were patents for emotion-sensing vending machines, and for A.T.M.s that would understand if users were “in a relaxed mood,” and receptive to advertising."
The article ends with Kaliouby musing:
“I do believe that if we have information about your emotional experiences we can help you be in a more positive mood and influence your wellness,” she said. She had been reading about how to deal with difficult experiences... “I think there is an opportunity to build a very, very simple app that pushes out funny content or inspiring content three times a day.” Her tone brightened... “It can capture the content’s effect on you, and then you can gain these points—these happiness points, or mood points, or rewards—that can be turned into a virtual currency. We have been in conversations with a company in that space. It is an advertising-rewards company, and its business is based on positive moments. So if you set a goal to run three miles and you run three miles, that’s a moment. Or if you set the alarm for six o’clock and you actually do get up, that’s a moment. And they monetize these moments. They sell them. Like Kleenex can send you a coupon—I don’t know—when you get over a sad moment. Right now, this company is making assumptions about what those moments are. And we’re like, ‘Guess what? We can capture them.’ ”
My advice: This is all based on the assumption that we are all always and willingly plugged in. All we have to do is unplug. And tape over the damn camera lens watching us on every device.

Raffi Khatchadourian
We Know How You Feel
The New Yorker

January 19, 2015

Stanley Kubrick
A Clockwork Orange

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