Our devices have always listened to us, but in the past, they were a bit hard of hearing. Indeed, they were downright deaf and dumb. Being deaf, you had to poke, prod, push, or otherwise kick them around before they would do anything. But they got more attentive as time went on, and they eventually began to respond to the dog whistles of our remote controls, but with the uncertain and limited range of pet tricks of your family dog. Presently, they are getting the rudiments of brains, or at least a proper lexicon, and addressing them by keystroke or voice, they can fetch not just a thrown ball, but calculate its velocity and trajectory, tell you where the balls are, whose got the balls, who’s throwing a ball, and display a nice selection of balls on Amazon.
Our devices in short are beginning to truly listen to us, and unfortunately, they are beginning to understand us too well, because unlike our friends, family and peers, we can hardly feign the places we want to go and the things we want to see and know.
We are telling the truth through the record of what we look for, and this if often at odds with what we say to others, and even ourselves. Like that furtive glance to our credit card bill that tells us the financial damage wrought from we really did purchase, we have a reckoning with our true natures, and Google leads the way. Google Trends, which is Google’s tool that enables the analysis of the aggregate of google searches, has along with similar tools allowed marketing firms to scholars to the just curious to note what we really are like and what we really want, but are too embarrassed or repressed to admit.
Given these new insights, we end up more prejudiced, more weirdly sexual, and much simpler minded and banal than that our self-images and aspirations hold. Well, maybe. Trends, by their very nature, involve correlations, and correlations are not explanations. This means that your interest in gladiator web sites or videos involving trysts with your mother in law does not necessarily mean that you would love to see actual men smash each other in the head with hammers or have your mother in law actually come on to you. We are more than the sum of our web clicks, and that is what the web, and by implication the machine learning that underlies the web, cannot understand because it is not built to understand.
And naturally, our discovered peccadilloes, whether real or inferred, are grist for the marketing mill, and proceeding with the presumption of what you really, really want, marketers will not hesitate to pander to our worst impulses, now that they seem to be easy to find. So, if you get a marketing email hawking to you a set of balls or a new use for your balls that you would never mention without blushing, know that it is a result of a simple monitoring of you and others like you in your endless search.