Would it help or hurt?
Would you wind up doing things you didn’t want to, simply because of suggestion?
Would you give in to digital peer pressure?
If an alternative is presented as THE solution does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Is the future knowable?
The question becomes relevant because “contextual discovery” is leaving the realm of nice to have and entering the realm of on the verge.
Using a witches brew of past searches, personal attributes, GPS coordinates, and chicken bones, a search engine company thinks it can provide answers for me, before I even know the question.
In other words, it can tell me my future.
Now, I have always hated the idea that statisticians and data miners could predict my behavior.
I am an individual with fee-will living in the land of the free. Hell, I don’t even know what I am going to do tonight, let alone where my synapses will take me in the next 10 seconds.
Yet, I guess I am, in aggregate, totally predictable.
Because I went online and once shopped for a hand-mixer, does this mean I need to be served ads for hand-mixers every time I go online now? I mean really. How do I call the dogs off?
Back in graduate school, I conducted research into futures. Not the financial kind, but the human kind. I wondered how we could best predict the future, with a goal of avoiding mistakes of the past. You know… like wars that weren’t necessary, or the meltdown of banks, as in the savings and loan crisis.
From what I remember, there basically were two ways of predicting the future. One was to look at the past and do some fancy mathematical modeling and regression analysis – draw the lines out – and declare with confidence, and a small asterisk that this is where we will be in the future.
But you and I know this doesn’t always work very well. If it did, weather forecasters would be more accurate. Economists would be able to give a definite answer. I could predict, something that could give me a leg up on life – like who will win the 6th race at Aqueduct. Unfortunately, mathematics still has a hard time dealing with those pesky externalities.
But if they could, they would, and if I could, I would.
An alternative way, and I think a better way, of predicting the future is to decide what you want for that future and live it and toward it, now. You decide. Now. And start living it. Now.
Or, sit back, relax and rely on the search engine to tell you your future.
Alex Epstein is currently SVP of Production, Programming and Editorial at ReachMD – a medical information and education service that includes XM160 – the only nation-wide broadcast channel for medical professionals. A graduate of Bennington College and the Yale School of Management, Alex got his start in broadcast TV and radio in Fairbanks, Alaska. His experience includes 10 years in LA writing and producing broadcast and syndicated TV for a variety of high profile outlets. He transitioned to creating corporate, association and educational content and messaging in all its evolving forms after moving to Chicago. His personal blog is Viewser – digital streams of consciousness, where this post first appeared.