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The Strange Story of Google’s “Selfish Ledger”

If you need Google to run your life, this is definitely for you

At one time, not too many years ago, Google top hats developed the idea to push the rest of us to change society, as follows:

The video was obtained and published on Thursday by The Verge. It describes a so-called “Selfish Ledger” that would collect all of your data, including actions you make on your phone, preference settings, and decisions you make, and not just keep it there for future evaluation. Instead, the ledger, which would be designed and managed by Google, would interpret that information and guide you down a path towards reaching a goal, or on a broader scale, doing your part to help solve poverty or other societal problems.

In one example, the video describes how the ledger would ask you to create a life goal. It would then tell you what kind of activities to engage in to achieve that goal. So, for instance, if you want to lose weight, the ledger would see that you’re shopping for food on your phone and direct you to buy a healthier option. The video even suggests that some of the recommendations would “reflect Google’s values as an organization” to get you to reduce your carbon footprint.

Don Reisinger, “Google’s Hypothetical ‘Selfish Ledger’ Imagines Collecting All Your Data to Push You to Change Society” at Fortune (May 17, 2018)

Yum. And we thought the internet would just allow us to stay in touch with Grandma and cousin George…

Of course, it could also be used to reshape our thoughts:

According to a short film uncovered by The Verge called “The Selfish Ledger,” Google had been thinking about using “total data collection” and social engineering to modify the behavior of entire populations. The nine-minute video examines the possibilities of using Big Data to guide users into conforming to a predetermined agenda. While the video does take a “for the common good” slant by using thought control techniques to solve problems like poverty and global warming, the mere fact that the video is seriously discussing behavior modification on a massive global scale is scary.

Cal Jeffrey, “The Selfish Ledger: Google’s dystopian vision of populace control through ‘total data collection’” at TechSpot (May 17, 2018)

So when governments want Google to account for itself, keep this in mind:

Google has built a multibillion-dollar business out of knowing everything about its users. Now, a video produced within Google and obtained by The Verge offers a stunningly ambitious and unsettling look at how some at the company envision using that information in the future.

The video was made in late 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X (formerly Google X) and a co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory. The video, shared internally within Google, imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease.

Vlad Savov, “Google’s Selfish Ledger Is an Unsettling Vision of Silicon Valley Social Engineering” at The Verge (May 17, 2018)

It says a lot for Google that they kept it up at YouTube.

That said, the future could be dumber than the past:

And while in theory there are more “choices” and “flexibility” available than ever, in practice these are winner-take-all platforms, with the default choices and settings dominating user behavior. Google can return tens of millions of results for a search, but most users won’t leave the first page. Essentially random suggestions to users can become self-fulfilling prophesies, as Wired reported of the obscure 1988 climbing memoir Touching the Void, which by 2004 had become a hit due to Amazon’s recommendation algorithm.

Jon Askonas, “How Tech Utopia Fostered Tyranny” at The New Atlantis (Number 57, Winter 2019, pp. 3-13.)

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The Strange Story of Google’s “Selfish Ledger”