Mega-retailers and mega-vendors are aggressively investing in ways to hack our basic human senses. They are using biological data and human emotion algorithms that fuse the physical, digital and biological spheres. The aim, of course, is to increase sales despite the very real possibility of unleashing ways to manipulate and bend reality.
It may sound like science fiction, but “humanity is becoming a measurable concept that is quantified by data through our increasingly intimate connection to technology,” concludes the just released report “Truth, Trust and the Future of Commerce,” by the trailblazing New York-agency Sparks & Honey.
Creating a Personalization Utopia
Imagine creating a personalized marketing campaign built on recommendations from a database that knows everything about shoppers, where they live, how they live, who they live with, and even their emotional state and unique biology. Imagine using this information to create hyper-personalized manufacturing, distribution, pricing, marketing, services, content, business models and more.
Backed up by impressive research, the Sparks & Honey report identifies ‘data-opolies’ – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba. These goliaths are described by the Harvard Business Review as “companies that control a key platform which, like a coral reef, attracts to its own ecosystem users, sellers, advertisers, software developers, apps and accessory makers.”
As shoppers increasingly develop an intimate connection to technology through voice-activated speakers, smart phones, fitness watches, autonomous cars, smart homes, and even smart cities, they supply data that is turning human lives into hyper-personalized narratives. Using this wealth of information, retailers can increase the value and contextual resonance of products, services and experiences.
How Hacking Humans Works
One of the most important sources of data mining occurring today is in the field of human biology, DNA and genomics. Investment in the field of genomics’ startups is booming. Google and Amazon are pursuing major efforts to make genetics and genomics accessible and searchable. Additionally, Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Samsung have expanded health-tracking technologies.
Another growing source of data comes from the increasing use of wearables, which quantify biometrics and heart rates. This data can be used to interpret intimate and nuanced behavior, including decision making and reaction to emotion.
As the Sparks & Honey report makes clear, these examples and others indicate the genie has been let out of the bottle and much more is to come, such as bio-tattoos, microchip sensor implants, and brain-computer interfaces – Neuralink is already developing an ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interface that connects humans to computers.
One of the major important takeaways from the report is that significant developments in human hacking will occur in months and not years due to the massive amount of investment dollars flowing into for such data-intensive areas as genomics, smart speaker listening, emotion recognition, and biology. Many beneficial advancements will emerge such as breakthroughs in speech recognition, translation, educational systems, messaging, interactive voice response, biometrics, law enforcement, medical care, and even defense.
But should retailers, or anyone else for that matter, have access to all of this data and all of these capabilities? What are the governing standards and who governs them? What are the data rights of the shopper? What are the 10 commandments of organizational responsibility?
Sparks & Honey covers organizational responsibility in great detail in the report and offers clear guidance about how to protect consumer data and repair institutional trust, which has dropped from 70% in 2009 to 42% in 2016, according to the report.
The first-of-its-kind report opens one's eyes to the great potential of hyper-personalization technology in retail. However, it also raises questions about the headlong rush into uncharted territory that requires new organizational policies and behaviors (largely unwritten) that provide guarantees to the public for mitigating risks, earning trust, and reducing the impact of a technology that has the power to hack our understanding of reality.