A Vision of the Dark Future of Advertising
Companies will know more about you than you can even imagine
It’s obvious that in 50 years the amount of data collected about us will be much, much larger than it is now. By the middle of the century, all of us will leave a comprehensive, high-definition, information-rich digital exhaust everywhere we go. As the cost of adding computer chips to objects falls, our baby monitors, coffee machines, Fitbits, energy meters, clothes, books, fridges, and facial expressions will all create data points. So will our public spaces, lampposts, storefronts, and traffic lights. A 70-year-old in 2069 will have had most of her life datafied. This is what most analysts complaining about Facebook or Google miss: The profiling and targeting of people has only just started.
Far more powerful computers than we have now will crunch through this. Though Moore’s law, the “golden rule” dictating that computing power doubles every two years, has recently slowed, it’s a safe bet that future computers will be several orders of magnitude more powerful and cheaper than ours.
Far more data plus far better computers equals significantly more sophisticated ways of understanding you. Much of this will involve pattern spotting — supercomputers churning through vast fields of random information to draw weird and unsettling correlations between the data you create and what you like. Though this kind of targeting is already obfuscated to some extent — it can be hard to understand exactly why a particular video has been served to you on YouTube, for example — these correlations will eventually make even less sense to us, creating new ethical problems.
People do things, feel things, think things, and buy things for reasons they don’t understand.
The driving force behind this is a simple but powerful point: People do things, feel things, think things, and buy things for reasons they don’t understand. Who knows what correlations will be thrown up? I have no idea, and neither will anyone else. All that matters is that these correlations exist. There is no truth anymore, the experts will say, only inputs and outputs.