I just watched a very scary video on TED.com. Jesse Schell talks about the prospect of games invading every aspect of our lives, turning humans into meaty versions of The Sims.
I am very skeptical about some of his forecasts. It sounds ludicrous to have computerized cereal boxes—even if the technology becomes sufficiently cheap—if only because it would (hopefully) attract some form of carbon taxes making the end product economically unfeasible. At this and other parts Schell’s talk strikes me as naive Back-To-The-Future futurism.
But there is something that has intrigued me for a while and that his talk, especially his final remarks, brings up to mind: we are all increasingly uploading information about all aspects of our lives. Our great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren will be able (perhaps) to look into our Facebook histories and know details of what their ancestors were doing with their daily lives, their thoughts and values, where they have been, who their friends were, the relationships they had; they will look on last.fm and know what music we’ve listened to and how our musical tastes developed over time; they will see our blogs, our buying history, and a host of other information that we are just starting to put out there on the web.
If you think that we won’t be able to keep all of those records, remember Moore’s law. It’s cheap to keep records of old data because storage space doubles every few years. The further back you go, the cheaper it is to keep it. And you think no one will care to keep it, have a look at the Wayback Machine.
And a remarkable aspect of all this is that once enough people have enough uploaded data, algorithms are able to predict with remarkable accuracy what a given individual would do or what choices they would make given some circumstances. Think of the Netflix prize or last.fm‘s surprisingly accurate recommendation system. Then think of how many endless questionaires people love to fill up with all aspects of their personalities and wonder how much does it actually take to have a reasonably accurate digital representation of your self, or at least of your values and preferences. Maybe something future people will even be able to interact with to some extent?
Then think of your great-great-great-grandchildren looking back at the digital archives. They will see their parents and grandparents, perhaps in a form of representation we can’t even imagine yet. They will scroll back their family trees, and where does the bucket stop? That’s right, with us. We are the first digital people.
[Hello my descendants! Forgive this simple-minded ancestor of yours for this simplorious-looking blog. Look up a decade or two ahead and I’m sure I’ll have something better for you. If we haven’t fucked up the world before then, that is.]