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Monday, April 15, 2024

Column: Future ad society

The year is 2054. John Anderton, played by a sunken-eyed Tom Cruise, walks into the Gap. His eyes flash as an automatic sensor scans his retinas, and a woman shows up on a screen in front of him.
“Hello, Mr. Yakamoto!” she says cheerfully. “Welcome back to the Gap. How’d those assorted tank tops work out for you?”
This may look a bit confusing if you haven’t seen Minority Report. Don’t panic. Reading further won’t spoil any crucial plot points, but let me quickly dispel the notion that Cruise (clearly a white man) portrays a disguised Japanese man with serious identity issues in the film. All you need to know is that for reasons unimportant to this column, Tommy C’s character has had new eye transplants prior to the Gap scene. Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about tank tops.
When the scanner identifies Mr. Yakamoto’s eyes, the computer controlling it generates a personalized greeting based on his previous purchase of some sexy tanks. Uber-futuristic and highly sophisticated, this “interactive advertising” seems implausible — definitely not a technology that will be possible in our lifetime. Or so we think.
Before production on his sci-fi epic began, Minority Report director Steven Spielberg invited 15 scientific experts from various fields to a three-day “think tank” at a hotel in Santa Monica, California. There, he consulted with the group to imagine a realistic future society based on current socio-economical, political and technological trends. At the end of the meetings, an 80-page “future bible” emerged, which became the basis of the 2054 society depicted in the film.
Jeff Boortz, who was in charge of ads in Minority Report, said that “the whole idea, from a script point of view, was that the advertisements would recognize you — not only recognize you, but recognize your state of mind. It’s the kind of stuff that’s going on now with digital set-top boxes and the internet.”
Boortz’s comment was made in 2002, the same year Minority Report was released. Since then, it has become increasingly more relevant in terms of the internet. In an earlier column, I discussed the ad targeting of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Users of these pages experience advertisements catered specifically to their characteristics and interests — people who post frequently about clothes on their profiles may be subject to Gap ads, for example. INTERESTING, NO?
In one scene of the film, John Anderton walks at a brisk pace through a busy shopping mall. Despite how fast he’s moving, eye scanners pick up his identity (this is pre-eye transplant) and throw a multitude of ads in his face. All at once, Lexus tells him that the road he’s on is the one “less traveled,” American Express informs him of his loyalty as a customer since 2037 and Guinness gets straight to the point, shouting, “John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now!”
As he experiences his own wave of personal ads, so too do the people walking all around him. Eventually the ads get so jumbled up that any single one is difficult to pay attention to. By walking in a completely commercialized area in 2054, Anderton loses all sense of privacy.
Yeah. We’re fucked.
Although my intent with this column is not to terrify you, it’s important to discuss the fact that our world may one day resemble the one depicted in Minority Report. Even now, billboards capable of facial recognition are being developed by businesses such as IBM and NEC (a Japanese company). Technology is advancing, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
The society that Steven Spielberg presented to the world in Minority Report is one that integrates people into the media, but takes away a certain measure of individuality. Although not convinced we’re headed down a path to completely restrained privacy, John Underkoffer, the science and technology advisor for the film, warned in an interview that “if we, as an ostensibly democratic society, don’t make some choices, [this society] will just happen automatically.”
Unless these choices have to do with illegal eye-transplant surgeries, I think it’s inevitable that all of us will slowly start losing our privacy. We can’t fight it. The future is coming.VICTOR BEIGELMAN loves ending on an absurdly ominous note. Tell him how much you enjoyed reading his columns on a scale of “so much” to “get this guy a Pulitzer” at vbeigelman@ucdavis.edu.


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