It’s no wonder some people are freaking out over Google’s $3.2 billion Nest Labs acquisition: it’s another step towards a future when Google has enough access to lives of high-income consumers to gain psychological insights that no company has ever possessed. Nest’s Learning Thermostat can track movements and activity of people in their homes, an ability no doubt improving by leaps and bounds. If you combine this with analysis of email and search patterns, as well as smartphone GPS mapping of movement outside the home, you get to an exceptionally sweet spot for building an intimate profile of not only current consumption patterns, but of likely future choices as well.
Do you live alone and go to bed after 1:00 a.m., sleep in until 11:00 a.m. on the weekends, access porn more than two hours a week and visit the fridge eight times a day? Ads for therapy, depression medication and weight control measures may be in order. Are you visiting neighborhood bars at least twice a week and bringing back different dates between two and four times each month? Durex and Valtrex may be popping up in YouTube videos you watch with increasing frequency.
Combining information of what happens in our homes with search data and email keywords can be an incredibly potent combination.
Most people are unaware how certain facets of daily behavior correlate with various mental disorders and personality traits. Things like depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior, impulse control problems and addictive personality can be easily sussed out by analyzing sleeping, eating and social behavior patterns. With coordination of Google’s existing profiling power and Nest’s awareness of daily routines, advertising industry psychologists could not only build eerily accurate profiles of consumers, but even time marketing messages to cyclical peaks and troughs of manic and depressive phases of certain types of personalities.
With intimate mapping of search and email keywords, Google already knows more about you than you will probably ever realize. Your YouTube clip choices influence the ads you see while reading Atlantic Monthly. Your tendency to use the words “Galt” and “Dagny” in your emails at an above average frequency exposes you to Rand Paul fund-raising drives.
Of course, granting Nest access to your life will be entirely voluntary and Google will inform you of the privacy issues in exhaustive detail. Most people won’t mind — just as most people don’t mind combining Gmail, YouTube and search information into an intricate psychological profiles. This does not have to be sinister. Isn’t it more pleasant to receive ad messages that actually suit your interests? What if Google can actually improve your life by accurately reading your mental state and helping you buy services and products that are a good fit?
It’s becoming clear that whenever machine sentience finally arrives, it will most likely happen at Google or Amazon, companies intricately involved in mapping out the individual psychology of 200 million of the most affluent people on Earth. No university research program can compete with the size and sophistication of these companies. I doubt we’ll ever notice when that threshold is crossed.
The birth of global machine consciousness does not mean we all end up working in lunar server farms or coastal plains harnessing tidal energy to feed Google’s computational needs, though. It might just mean we will be gently prodded and motivated towards becoming optimal consumers with phenomenal accuracy, getting precisely correct ads at exactly the right moments. All of us living increasing productive lives, earning more and spending more, feeding Google’s massive, globe-spanning ad intelligence that permeates every moment and facet of our lives.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?