Google’s ‘Selfish Ledger’ video shows a world where social engineering takes over our lives

Imagine a world where services and platforms use your data to make you a better person

It’s important to remember that, in spite of the company’s work on the Android mobile operating system, as well as services like Gmail and YouTube, Google is a company best known for its collection and manipulation of user data.

Google Search, the core of the Mountain View computing giant’s businesses and services, is a way for the company to catalogue, characterize and consolidate billions upon billions of user-defined searches in a way that makes it easier for us to find the kinds of information that Google’s PageRank algorithm think is relevant to our particular needs.

According to a video obtained by The Verge, Google’s data consolidation plans may soon one day advance towards implement genuine social engineering.

The Selfish Ledger, a video intended for internal Google use, and written by head of design at X (formerly known as Google X) Nick Foster and David Murphy, attempts to make the argument that widely accumulated user data could eventually be used to improve the lives of not just individual users, but the whole world.

Making the world a better place, one ledger at a time

According to the video, user data could one day be uploaded to a ‘Selfish Ledger.’

“What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose, rather than simply acting as a historical references,” asks Foster, who also narrated the video.

“What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as custodians, transient carriers or caretakers?”

The video posits that the Selfish Ledger could be used to encourage users to act or behave in a certain way.

For example, if the ledger is coded to improving environmental efforts, it could prompt users to take an UberPool, rather than an Uber.

“Whilst the notion of a global good is problematic, topics would likely focus on health and environmental impact to reflect Google’s values as a global organizations,” narrates Foster.

Especially scary is that the video suggests that the Ledger would fill in gaps of knowledge by purchasing products that could potentially provide it with that information.

If the Ledger doesn’t know how much users weigh in order to meet a particular goal, it could 3D print a scale in order to acquire that information.

“As cycles of collection and comparison extend, it may be possible to develop a species-level understanding of complex issues such as depression, healthy and poverty,” says Foster.

“The ledger could be given a focus, shifting it from a system that not only tracks our behaviour, but also tracks a direction towards a desired result.”

A future that may never be

What’s important to note is that, according to a Google X spokesperson, the video isn’t intended to show a future Google product.

“We understand if this is disturbing — it is designed to be,” said a Google X spokesperson, in an email to MobileSyrup. “This is thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as ‘speculative design’ to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate. It’s not related to any current or future products.”

What’s scary to consider, however, isn’t that The Selfish Ledger is a thought experiment, but that, one day, some Silicon Valley or Waterloo startup might actually think that this is an idea worth emulating.

In a world full of Cambridge Analytica data breaches and companies unable to limit access to private data, The Selfish Ledger is a not-so-casual reminder that we must remain vigilant when it comes to ensuring the protection of our private data.

Source: The Verge