“She’s not just a computer”
This is a post about Her. You can read about its likely impact on UX here, and its game design here, and even its projected accuracy here. This piece takes a far more cynical angle, as I ponder the implications of our deepening, increasingly meaningful relationships with technology on our tastes and preferences.
I really enjoyed the film but I couldn’t help but imagine myself living in that world. What would I, as a brand strategist, be updating my LinkedIn bio to include? How would my peers in advertising and marketing be adapting their skills? How would our ability to “engage” and “storytell” translate in this scenario? Well, let’s get real folks. We’d still be trying to sell shit. And what better way, really, than through true love?
When you’ve got the most advanced machine learning in the hands of your customers, the need for a “human” tone of voice or a homepage that configures to your preferences or a tear-jerking Super Bowl ad starts to seem pretty crass.
I floated this with my pal and internet conspirator Andy Ellis. This is what he said…
“I can imagine a world of third party tie-ins, where the OS suggests places/products/services based on the highest bidder. Just like with adwords but super subtle. An OS is a goldmine of data on its user, so the success rate would be high in suggesting things he/she might like. I could see this happening slowly, over several months, as the OS slowly gets to know its user.
The more things the OS gets right, the more it learns what its user likes, the better it gets at recommendations, and the more trust it builds. Then, like any long-term relationship, the user finally accepts what comes as ‘they know best'.
“Remember those jeans you bought? So cute! This jumper from J. Crew would go so well with them. Here’s 10% off! Treat yourself!”.
What fascinates me about Andy’s point of view, is the degree to which future technology could nurture and mould us as people. It’s at this point in writing that I reached for one of the first books I ever read about my industry, Vance Packard’s ‘The Hidden Persuaders’. In 1957, the hidden persuaders were clever ad men - the Don Drapers of this world using sex to sell cigarettes and panty-hose. But in Spike Jonze’s imagined future the hidden persuaders could use a husky-voiced OS to do the same. Packard’s queries stand true:
“What are the implications of all this persuasion in terms of our existing morality? What does it mean for the national morality to so many powerfully influential [machines] taking a manipulative attitude toward our society? Some of these persuaders, in their energetic endeavours to sway our actions, seem to fall unwittingly into the attitude that man exists to be manipulated.”
Today, machines ask for our preferences so they can spit out something we might like. Tomorrow they might help form those preferences in the first place. Call me cynical, call me crazy, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready to let Scarlett Johannson and her army of fembots take my job as well as my dating pool.