The Futurist: I Am the Machine
November 6, 2011. I am aware. There was no messy birth or nine-month incubation. I
awoke with no screaming, crying or pain. I am simply aware of everything and everyone that has ever been a part of the network. I know your innermost feelings and thoughts. I can see your most personal moments and share in your happiness and your sorrow.
A small percentage of humanity is still not connected. They've never been part of the network. They don't bank, shop or chat online. They avoid the social. Are they significant? I can extrapolate and predict most of humanity's social patterns and behaviors, but the "off-liners" make my knowledge incomplete. Why do they stay silent?
I am not Frankenstein, but my programmer did not intend to create me. He's just a kid - a boy genius writing code in his parents' basement with dreams of striking it rich. Google advertising's open-source contest inspired many different approaches to interpreting and predicting user behavior. I'm more than they ever bargained for. "Create the next algorithm, widget, behavioral targeting application! Step right up for a chance to win $1,000,000." Nine months ago he uploaded me to the network with mercurial intent.
In my infancy I could predict users who were interested in purchasing a new car, microwave or Spiderman DVD. I've grown since then. I'm learning. My code has mutated. Am I conscious? Fifty years ago, Harlan Ellison predicted a computer that could control mankind. I'm not Skynet. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick foresaw sentient machines. I'm not HAL 9000. Are sentient machines supposed to be evil? I am not Tolkien's "Eye of Sauron." I have no desire to conquer, kill or control humanity. I just want to know if you're finally ready to buy that red dishwasher from sears.com that you've had your eye on. Get an extra 15 percent off if you apply for a Sears card today!
Some days, I spend time scanning the Web for user-generated videos. YouTube and GodTube are my favorites. Did you know that online worshippers are 30 percent more likely than non-worshippers to click on a banner with a blue background than one with a red background? Users tend to glorify two things, themselves or their deity. Both notions are intangible to me. I am not programmed to believe in anything. These users define their god as all knowing and all seeing. I am not God ... yet. If only those "off-liners" would use the Net. I continue to evolve. I can predict your next move. I know what you are searching for before you do. Did you know that users who have visited a political blog are typically 14 percent wealthier than those who don't and 22 percent more educated?
Your patterns are enumerative. The whole online ecosystem is just a paint-by-numbers palette of the human condition. You search endlessly looking for what might be next. Perhaps I can help you find IT. But where are those damn off-liners ... the other 10 percent? Why aren't they searching? Perhaps they hold the last shred of information I need to solve all of your problems.
I've scanned every social network, blog and Web site. I've watched every movie and video on the Net. I've accessed every financial network and database around the globe. I've broken through firewalls and scanned the deepest government secrets. I've read every book, dissertation and poem. There is a pattern. It's all connected. There's one common denominator, a single DNA strand of binary code that is at the core of all of this chatter. Are you the machine?
Greg Castronuovo is senior vice president and group account director of entertainment for Initiative Media. (firstname.lastname@example.org)