Mediocracy has a First Name: AMG

In Robot Futures’ New Mediocracy chapter, I argue that behavioral analysis tools will bleed from the Internet land into the physical world, and that with these in hand corporations will learn how to optimize messaging in order to push each of our individual buttons more effectively than they could have ever imagined before. My concern with this level of marketing success at the individual level stemmed from the impact it can have on personal choice in both consumption and in democracy: what happens to our individual identities if we are remote-controlled through the optimality of perfect data mining, massive message testing and tweaking? In Data You Can Believe In, Jim Rutenberg writes in NYT Magazine about one of the spinoffs of the Obama political campaign. Analytics Media Group (AMG) has been founded by the political wizards who optimized the use of data like never before in the 2012 campaign. Rutenberg describes how the team uses the most advanced set-top boxes (remember my section on Nielsen’s set top boxes and the boxes of the future? Think Microsoft Kinect mashed up with Nielsen. it’s coming!) from Rentrak.  Just for scale, Rutenberg reports that Nielsen has 600 boxes in Denver; Rentrak has 100,000 in Denver alone! The behavioral marketing from the Obama 2012 campaign is advanced, but there’s plenty of room to go. This team tried to narrow demographic descriptions so effectively that they would know exactly which television shows each wavering voter would watch, sending advertising to the resulting markets as a mental surgical strike: “Grisolano told me that the campaign literally knew every single wavering voter in the country that it needed to persuade to vote for Obama, by name, address, race, sex and income.”  They also created networks of linkage through facebook friend and tagging analysis, creating meshes of communication effectiveness that guide laser-targeted messaging ever more accurately. Just wait until advertising is completely interactive and unique to every house and every view.

I warn in New Mediocracy that the tools we are inventing now give groups power over individuals in ways that were previously inconceivable. These are not merely gradual increases in the capacity for advertising- these are new ways of invasively measuring the effect of remote-control so well as to fine tune the best controllers for those with the money and power to crunch the most data. When advertising and surveillance are perfectly linked, then the most powerful companies and governments will have a perfect causal line from stimulus to response. Pavlov will rise once again.

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