Eight billion sellers who love us

Posted on Nov 21, 2022


in the soap opera to control, from PW. Singer and August Cole, one of the protagonists, trades very expensive data obtained for free, as he himself says:

“We know more about Americans than about their own government. Sensors in your Viz Glass (connected glasses). Sensors in your heartburn medicine. Implants in their homes. Implants in your kidneys. Fleas on your cats. fleas on your fleas🇧🇷 All analyzing this data over an ever-expanding network and reporting anything and everything to the cloud. We can then cross-reference and explore this almost endless information until we acquire knowledge that people do not imagine in their wildest dreams.

In their most disturbing dreams, including revelations about their psychological profile, their personality, so much so that the algorithm knows more about them than they do themselves. And if we charge companies for the fruits of that harvest, people to give everything for free (not just what they do and think, but the means to change what they do and think). They give us unreserved control of their lives in exchange for free access to services and goods for which we charge a high price…”

Science Fiction Romance?

Yes and no because these technologies and what they enable, as well as consumer behavior, already exist today.

The best example is the proliferation of these “personal assistants” like Alexa (Amazon) or Google Assistant. Forecasting analysts at Juniper Research predict that these assistants will be 8 billion by 2023, more numerous than the Earth’s population!

The study also predicts that the development of these personal assistants will negatively affect the mobile applications market because the interactions we have with mobile applications will be replaced by conversations with voice assistants and consequently will reduce our screen time.

And some already see this, and PW Singer and August Cole’s novel points the finger, a form of conflict of interest.

Indeed, does this voice assistant exist to help us in our day-to-day lives or to make us buy with very persuasive methods thanks to the data collected and acquired by the sellers? Hello, it’s cold today, how about buying a nice turtleneck sweater? Do you want me to offer you some? The same as you looked yesterday on this brand’s website, or the same as Bruno Le Maire in this tweet you have appreciated 🇧🇷

For now, personal assistants are still used for very simple tasks (one study found that 20% of users used their voice assistant to boil an egg). But they are also used for checking the weather or listening to music.

Interest conflicts

The uses will multiply with its development for entertainment and to buy a trip, a service, a car. Eight billion personal assistants would actually be eight billion salespeople harassing you without you noticing.

To respond to these conflicts of interest, analysts imagine various scenarios.

We can consider the self-regulation of companies like Amazon or Google, who decide to separate voice assistant activities from e-commerce, creating separate subsidiaries for these two activities. Or, conversely, the proliferation of vendors (having bought up voice assistants’ data) to push ever more product and service offerings across these eight billion devices to consumers under influence without them noticing.

We can also trust that regulators and governments will act. But the question remains: when and how?

The first regulations concern the protection of children, with parental control systems in certain services and in streams🇧🇷 But for the rest, we will still have to invent and perhaps consumers do not even want to be controlled in this way, very happy to receive a lot of useful or useless things that they will be convinced they really need, thanks to the good Alexa.

The authors of the novel claim to have written this fiction to help us think about and face the challenges of these new technologies in what they call “real life”.

But maybe we’ll also ask Alexa what we should think about it and what to do.


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