This morning at the Search Engine Strategies Conference 2006 in San Jose, Danny Sullivan interviewed the Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, in the conference’s main keynote session. Others such as the Search Engine Roundtable have reported on  most of the content of that session, but one little thing Danny mentioned particularly grabbed my attention. Read on, and I’ll elaborate….
Danny was mentioning the recent AOL gaff  where tons of users’ web search data was provided out free without sufficient scrubbing of identifiable information, and how there were other privacy issues/concerns such as the government desiring unlimited access to the Google search logs. Danny said something like “…and the government would like access to the data so that they could use it like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel, where they might be able to find someone guilty of pre-crime…”
I immediately wondered if Danny was a reader of PKD, but I’m supposing he’s likely only seen the Minority Report film, starring Tom Cruise, which came out in 2002, and featured the “Precogs” — precognitive individuals who could see visions of murders prior to them happening, allowing a specialized police unit to arrest the flagged potential perpetrators prior to committing the acts. The issues raised in the film seemed particularly apt in the wake of 9/11 when we began arresting and imprisoning individuals for planning to perpetrate terrorism.
If Danny Sullivan is mentioning PKD novels before a packed SES audience and joking about Google brain implants, it seems that I’m not the only one who’s seeing the parallels between science ficiton’s cyberpunk novels and the issues arising in contemporary society due to the impacts of rapidly-evolving technologies. (You may recall that I’ve blogged about the paradigm-shift impacts previously in Towards a New Cyberpunk Reality  and Through the Scanner Darkly. )
Eric Schmidt unwittingly further channeled cyberpunk concepts when he raved on about the potentials of car radio media and advertising. Schmidt stated that the potential for targeting of radio ads hadn’t been fully realized as of yet — that the radio ads of the future would be better targeted towards the individual listener. He further went on to say that all advertising would be best when targeted to the unique interests and needs of each individual, rather than spamming large groups of people with all identical ads. He said that this would be a better way since we’d be presented with only ads of things we’re interested in, rather than “wasting our time” with ads that don’t apply to us specifically.
Whether he knew it or not, he was describing precisely the scenes in Minority Report where the character, John Anderton, is being shown specific ads for products (such as new Lexus model cars) targeted to him or his demographic, and the ads are custom-delivered, speaking to him by name. The cyberpunk concept of one’s environment constantly identifying one’s self and modifying itself in response, is already happening, and will happen further and in more media than juse the online, if Google continues to be successful.
Maybe Google and the technical industries should form an ethics policy group well in advance of these brave new developments? The rate of technical advancements may be fast outpacing our ability to consider the ways in which things should be done. After all, I’m not sure whether it’s going to be a good idea for me to have an interstitial ad to appear in my mind between one thought and the next.