Over a decade ago I had the experience of working with the technology platforms that underpinned the emergence of online mega-portals. Back then, behavioral tracking of visitors to these sites, using active and passive data collection, was a standard infrastructure feature and enabled portals to change their behaviors according to who you were and the way that you interacted with their site.
At the time it was a revelation to me that the internet was not experienced by everyone identically.
Since then, the technologies behind active and passive data collection have become far more pervasive and refined, to the point that we are now seeing data collection on a massive scale, changing the individual online experience and leading to the rise of shadow technologies aimed at exploiting this information.
You could be forgiven for thinking this is limited to online. None of us should be new to the idea that we are the product and that our information is being readily shopped around to those that would seek to utilize it.
However, what about when this starts to impact the physical world in which we inhabit?
The explosion in edge devices courtesy of Internet of Things (IoT) has led to potentially massive scale data collection from barely detectable edge devices. We are seeing this already in advertising and retail spaces. These edge devices can be embedded almost anywhere and complex data collection devices with full scale, internet-enabled logic boards can resemble items no larger than a cigarette packet.
In turn these devices can connect directly to the web and access deep learning platforms such as Affectiva and Azure. They can track your movement, eye-sight, emotions, gait, age/gender, blood pressure and a vast array of other information through non-invasive passive data collection. All this, in a barely detectable edge device. It is therefore only a matter of time until this technology becomes pervasive and can be used to change the physical environment around you. Ambience, music, lighting, menus, air conditioning, control systems….even today can be easily made to respond in real-time to active and passive data collection with only a trivial amount of integration.
Off-the-shelf edge devices and platforms, fully connected and accessible to widely-accepted protocols and programming languages make the technology more accessible than ever, coupled with ease of access to intelligent cloud products providing AI as a service capabilities. Essentially, anyone with some basic programming skills, access to the internet and some rudimentary circuit design can achieve incredible things.
Where then shall we see this being utilized? Immigration, airports, screening, gaming and interrogation rooms? Seem like obvious choices. How about retail, restaurants, meeting rooms, public spaces and in your home?
What about the dark Internet of Things? It would be foolish to think that such widely accessible technology would not be subject to the same malpractice as everything else.
It is completely practical that a meta-environment could be tuned to respond to crowd detected behavior. Could you cool an angry mob? Manipulate a crowd’s collective emotion at a rally? Soothe your workforce when they become impatient? Optimize the age dispersion in a public space? It’s all possible.
At the intersection of the Internet of Things, Deep Learning, Behavioral Analysis and Passive Data Collection exists a brave new world that regulators and the general public have barely begun to understand. Technology that will become so pervasive, that it will melt into the very fabric of your reality.
Will what you see and experience, be the same as everyone else? Are you being manipulated? Is your mood your own? Do you have free will? Is your car altering its reaction and dampening systems based upon your mood? Maybe. Maybe not.
When I see the recent Mark Zuckerberg testimony to US Congress and witness the limited understanding some lawmakers have of the pervasiveness of the internet, then, what shall they do about the ‘Internet of Things’? What shall they do about Reality 2.0?
What will you do, when you realize that the very world around you is being manipulated and there is, effectively, no ‘opt-out’ option.
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