The digital world is all about data, and that data is being gathered in all sorts of unexpected ways, says Dr Pippa Malmgren.
There’s a new augmented reality coming, according to Dr Pippa Malmgren, economist and entrepreneur. “Imagine you will be lying in your bed in the morning and you hold up your phone and the room will be full of augmented reality – me telling you about a lecture I’m giving on economics, Coca-Cola cans, I don’t know what.”
The technological change currently taking place is predicated on data and lots of it, she told the Advertising Association’s LEAD conference last week: it’s being collected from new sources – from CCTV cameras, from smart speakers, from robotic vacuum cleaners able to infer room dimensions, even from clothes containing tiny RFID chips.
“Clothing manufacturers know exactly which is your favourite bar on a Thursday night because you wear your favourite shirt there. This is the world we’re in now – this is not some future possibility.”
Floors have sensors, so where you go and how you walk is visible. Barometric sensors in phones mean it’s possible to establish what floor you’re on in a building. “Wherever you are you are broadcasting all the time,” she said.
And if you take time out to watch a movie, chances are tiny cameras are embedded in the screen. “Why have a test audience when you can have a live audience? You can see exactly the emotional reaction. That data has incredible value to advertisers.”
Now it starts to get really scary. Malmgren advised the advertising industry to study SenseTime, a Chinese start-up worth an extraordinary $6bn. Its facial recognition technology can identify one person in a crowd of 10,000, she reported. “More importantly, it can identify the exact emotional state of every person in that crowd.” All Cambridge Analytica had were Facebook likes, she added.
“Advertisers can now buy up all these siloes of data and use AI to connect the dots and create a psychometric profile of me, of you, that goes way beyond anything Cambridge Analytica could even dream of.”
Banks, meanwhile, can look at a couple’s spending and spot patterns that might point to imminent divorce. “Advertising decisions are being made about you based on information you don’t know yourself – because you don’t know that you’re about to get divorced. The banks are already grinding down the credit limit of the lower earning partner in anticipation of the divorce they don’t know is coming.”
Next up, your internal organs. Nano technology can broadcast what’s happening inside the body at the level of DNA, cells, organs. “The good news is this is where we solve cancer,” said Malmgren, “but we also need to think a little bit about how do we operate in this new environment.
“This is a world where’s there’s you and your digital doppelganger. And your digital doppelganger reveals more about you than you know about yourself.
“Imagine a holographic space full of quadrillions of datapoints – it’s like a crystal ball and it gives you a more precise, more accurate understanding of reality than we’ve ever had in history.
“It’s also a place of radical transparency where you and the organisations you work for are more revealed to the public than ever before. The idea that an organisation can say one thing and do another isn’t going to work.”
Buckle up, she warned, because this world that already exists is about to get turbocharged – with supercomputers and quantum computers. The Summit supercomputer in the US can process in one second what would take a person 6.3 billion years to calculate. “This is the new space race. Nations are racing for who will have the most capability.” A project currently under way in China and due to be completed next year, she reported, will have one million times the computational capacity of the entire planet today.
Using data for advertising purposes is benign when placed alongside China’s intentions, where that data is being used to create social credit scores for every individual. “If you leave your bicycle on the footpath your score does down. If you jaywalk you get a text message with a fine before you finish crossing the street and your name goes up on a big LED screen.” Some 11 million Chinese have been prevented from taking a plane flight because their score is too low, Malmgren claimed.
But a society that scores people this way and which demands compliance with social norms will kill innovation, she argued – and here, at least, the UK has an advantage and advertising has a potential role to play. “Of all the industries, yours is the one that’s all about mood and feeling and zeitgeist,” she said. “People want to see the stars and that’s what advertising is supposed to do – show them where is the hope, where are the stars.”