Google created a creepy video in which it imagines a future where an evolving record of our online data could be used to direct human behavior.
The video was obtained by The Verge and was made in 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at Google’s ambitious research and development division X. It offers an unsettling and controversial vision of the future that would not look out of place on the Netflix show “Black Mirror.”
Drawing on theories of evolution and directly referencing Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” the basic premise imagines that people have an ever-evolving online data record, which Foster calls the “Selfish Ledger.” In the future, he says this could be used so it “not only tracks our behavior, but offers direction toward a desired result.”
Suggestions the eight-minute video offers up include 3D-printing personalized devices that collect more data, multigenerational transactions of data to help solve world problems including poverty and depression, and—perhaps most unsettlingly—Google-set targets for a “user’s ledger.” This could include moving people toward environmental goals, by suggesting they buy local produce.
Business Insider contacted Google for comment. The company told The Verge that the video was designed to be provocative and does not relate to any products currently in development.
A spokesperson said: “We understand if this is disturbing—it is designed to be. This is a thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as ‘speculative design’ to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate. It’s not related to any current or future products.”