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Amy Webb - A futurist's notebook

Every week I open my research notebook and share artifacts from the adjacent future.

The Future of...Ambient Proximity

Amy Webb

 

 


If you traveled through an airport during the holidays, you were probably being tracked at some point by a beacon––a tiny device that can be programmed to push information to (or receive information from) your mobile phone. You might remember seeing a monitor showing security wait times: TSA Pre was only 8 minutes, vs the regular line, which was already up to 31. If your phone's bluetooth was activated, it was being used in the background to predict how quickly the line would move. In fact, you were the sensor. When you passed by a beacon––which may not have been obvious or even visible––the system recorded, encrypted and timestamped your device’s MAC address. The time that elapsed between beacon pings helped the airport to estimate the wait time in lines and to redirect passengers like you to less congested areas. Maybe you took that airplane to Orlando, to visit Disney World with your family. You might have opted in to Disney's MagicBand, which not only served as your room key and wallet, but also fed data back to park managers in real-time. Your ambient proximity to various points informed a complex system of how, where and at what speed people were walking, standing and waiting throughout the Magic Kingdom. As you triaged family complaints (210 minutes isn't THAT long for Space Mountain!) data analysts were already sending Mickey and Minnie to adjacent locations and opening up nearby attractions in an effort to distract you. These two scenarios may not seem all that shocking to you. But what if I told you that soon, beacons will be obviated by the Internet of Things over WiFi? Beacons won't be necessary once our mobile phones have the ability to interact with any connected device, whether that's a classroom blackboard or your car's rear tires. Data from everyday items will enable entrepreneurs, HR managers, travel agents, security agencies and more to make smarter real-time decisions. Here's an example from the near-future: Let's say you're in a store looking for running shoes. You're willing to buy either Under Armour or Nike. You stop at an in-store display, picking up a few shoes before deciding on two to try on. You eventually decide that you prefer the way Nike fits, so you make a purchase. That entire time, data is being collected on your physical movements and gestures––which shoes you considered, which you put back down, how much time you spent with them, and what you ultimately tried on. That information will be sent, lightening-fast, back to Under Armour and Nike. Your data will be compared against others who shop in the store as well as with customer data in other regions. And then you'll receive a notification on your mobile device––it's from an algorithmic Under Armour sales associate. She will ask you what you didn't like the UA shoe you had considered, and she'll suggest a different model to try on before you complete your purchase. If the store is out of stock, she'll direct you to purchase a pair online. In the farther-future, ambient proximity will catalyze deep personalization. Everything will be on-demand, and digital agents will vie for your immediate attention. Analysts (human and robotic) will track your location data to understand what makes you happy. A few companies are already experimenting with ambient proximity to predict the likelihood of an employee leaving for a competitor. It turns out that there’s a strong correlation between job satisfaction and the frequency an employee stops by a colleague’s desk or eats alone in the breakroom. In the coming year, I expect to see a new ambient proximity ecosystem bloom, providing value to both the consumer and the organization tracking data. But as with many emerging technologies, there is little discussion about privacy implications for the average consumer. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

Close To You

 

Get A Little Closer Now

#Longreads that are worth your time.

  • Preternatural Machines: To a medieval world, they were indistinguishable from magic by E.R. Truitt in Aeon. Read here.
  • The Post-Binge-Watching Blues: A Malady of Our Times by Matthew Schneier in the New York Times. Read here.
  • The True Story of Roland The Farter, And How The Internet Killed Professional Flatulence by Linda Rodriguez in Atlas Obscura. Read here.
  • The Shape of Things To Come by Ian Parker in the New Yorker. Read here.

Nerdness

Ever sensed the presence of a ghost? An apparition within your ambient proximity? It turns out that ghostly presences––feeling as though someone is near you when no one is actually there -- is just your brain trying to untangle conflicting information. According to science:

Here, we performed lesion analysis in neurological "feeling of presence" (FoP) patients, supported by an analysis of associated neurological deficits. Our data show that the FoP is an illusory own-body perception with well-defined characteristics that is associated with sensorimotor loss and caused by lesions in three distinct brain regions: temporoparietal, insular, and especially frontoparietal cortex. Based on these data and recent experimental advances of multisensory own-body illusions, we designed a master-slave robotic system that generated specific sensorimotor conflicts and enabled us to induce the FoP and related illusory own-body perceptions experimentally in normal participants. These data show that the illusion of feeling another person nearby is caused by misperceiving the source and identity of sensorimotor (tactile, proprioceptive, and motor) signals of one’s own body. Our findings reveal the neural mechanisms of the FoP, highlight the subtle balance of brain mechanisms that generate the experience of ‘‘self’’ and ‘‘other,’’ and advance the understanding of the brain mechanisms responsible for hallucinations in schizophrenia.

Download the full PDF. It's interesting!

 

IRL
Lots of things to share! Our annual tech trends report is now live, and it's been viewed 110k times in just the past two weeks. I wrote about tech trends for business leaders in the Harvard Business Review and talked trends with Alex over at the Huffington Post (read), on the Kojo Nnamdi show (listen) and also on the VOA (listen). We launched our 2016 Foresight Program––if you want me in your office once a quarter talking trends, take a look. I'm at American University on January 19th giving a public lecture about the future of journalism and technology, and I'll be at Harvard on the 20th talking about the future of technology, media and society (that one is a closed session).

 

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