New Mediocracy’s Arrival

In New Mediocracy I argue that robotic sensing is enabling companies to track with ever-greater comprehensive fidelity just what we do, from our frowns and smiles to which aisles we visit in the local store. The world of on-line behavioral analytics is breaking out into the physical world that we cannot help but occupy, and fast. In today’s New York Times, Stephanie Clifford and Quentin Hardy have a front-page story Attention Shoppers: Stores Are Tracking Your Cell.  The article is a good summary of just what the state of the art is in the new frontier of in-store behavior technology that is actually wending its way into real stores, right now. The article title refers to the very same Euclid Networks that I wrote about in Robot Futures. Euclid provided the location data using unique values in shoppers’ cellphones, and though Nordstrom has since stopped their experiment, they are just one of many retailers in the midst of the clamor to achieve “intelligence equity” with on-line retail. Others, including Cisco, provide the intelligence thanks to image analysis of cameras placed throughout stores; and RetailNext goes even further, differentiating gender, age and even returning shoppers.  But wait, it gets better. Realeyes has cameras with such good resolution it detects where you look, what your facial expressions are and their happiness level reactions at checkout. 

But the true revolution, in my opinion, comes from “closing the loop” – from offering advertising then examining with intensity to see just how people respond to the ads, and then tweaking nonstop until the automatic systems achieve a level of demographic-specific success that makes buying an irrepressible act of Pavlovian reflex. This will take a few more years, but Nomi is pushing at the frontier. Nomi identifies the shoppers, provides ads, then does follow-up surveillance to see if the coupons and ads have impact on shopping behavior. All part of our Surveillance Society future.

But wait- you say- folks revolted against Nordstrom. We just won’t stand for this level of intense surveillance. Won’t we? A sobering data point is Placed, the company that gives you coupons if you allow them to track you everywhere, all the time, through all networks. And of course you provide them with all your untraceable demographic information too. They take your life and sell the data to corporations for big money. You get coupons for your cognitive labor society donation. So far, 500,000 folks have signed up for this deal with The Dataveillance Man. Never underestimate the amount of privacy we will incrementally barter for convenience and discounts.

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