Robert Scoble’s “Google, the freaky line and why Moto X is a game-changer” describes the significance of its always-on voice recognition. Under the heading, “the joy of context”:
Moto X is just one in a string of products and services that will bring radical new functionality to users. Examples? Google Now, Google Glass, and the new Moto X phone that keeps the microphone open full-time. The Xbox One, coming this winter, will have a 3D sensor on it so sensitive it can see how fast your heart is beating just by watching your skin.
These new contextual, sensor-based features are game changers and I’m hearing Google has a raft of other product announcements lined up that will turn on even more freaky features. Why? Because the more Google can get you to communicate with your phone, the more context it can slurp up.
The more sensors it can turn on, or put on you, the more it can learn about your intent and your context. Today your phone doesn’t really know that you’re walking, running, skiing, shopping, driving, or biking, but in the future, Google will know that and will be able to build wild new kinds of systems that can serve you when doing each of those things.
Naturally people have a variety of reactions for different reasons. You may find it yawningly predictable, or alarmingly freaky, or something in between. You might not mind Google slurping your data because you gave consent, but be creeped out by NSA contractors wrapping their lips around it uninvited.
But at bottom what’s the motivation behind this push for “context” and “intent”?
Why does Google want such a complete picture of us? To increase our economic value to them. The better Google understands what we want — and when and where we want it — the more they can charge companies who want to sell us stuff.
Simple example: If you sell pizza, you’ll pay more to reach people who want pizza (a) now and (b) near you. Much more than you’ll pay (if you’re smart) to do traditional advertising.
And to the extent this allows a company to form and sustain an ongoing relationship with you, it becomes even more valuable.
Let’s extrapolate, William Gibson style — hold down the fast-forward button and skip to the end. (SPOILER ALERT!)
If we keep moving the “freaky line”, we quickly arrive at a basic question: Why even faff about with all this technology? Why not simply give Google power of attorney? That way they can decide on our behalf what we want, procure it for us, and deduct the money from our bank account. Done. Sorted. Issue closed with pushed commit.
All this stuff with sensors, context, and intent is wonderful geekery. As technology for its own sake, it’s awesomely awesome. But truly, it’s a typically over-engineered solution to the problem of parting us from our money.
Google, if you want to know us deeply — know us, shall we say, biblically? Rather than passive-aggressively fap with sensors, be up-front and say you want to do the deed. Give us the power of attorney form and a blue ink pen: tell us to press hard, make three copies. What’s that? You’d rather sample our DNA using the retractable swab in the phone microphone? Well…OK. You asked honestly. We won’t judge you.
In case it’s not clear:
Am I being completely serious? No. But I’m not being completely un-serious, either.
Although Google isn’t alone in this, they’re a leader, so I think it’s fair to use “Google” as an abbreviation.