- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

People already are sacrificing privacy in exchange for convenience, from Amazon.com, which uses "cookies" planted on hard drives to track purchases, to supermarket loyalty cards that deliver coupons based on past buys.
Today's advertisers are eagerly searching for personalized approaches that depend on an increasingly sophisticated knowledge of customer habits and desires.
"It's a question of how much do we want to sacrifice our ability to hide and how much do we want to be uniquely served that's one of the trade-offs we are making," said Peter Schwartz, chairman of Global Business Network.
Mr. Schwartz also was chosen as head of a think tank that movie director Steven Spielberg convened in 1999 to pick the brains of 23 futurists about likely changes in technology over the next 50 years.
"The futurists that I assembled around that table didn't agree with each other on every point, but one of the several things they did unanimously agree on was that the entire advertising industry is going to recognize us as individuals, and they're going to spot-sell to us," Mr. Spielberg said. "They will sell directly to you."
In one key scene in Mr. Spielberg's "Minority Report," set in 2054, detective John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, is fleeing agents of the Pre-Crime police unit chasing him for a murder he is foretold to commit. As he runs down a street, electronic billboards scan his retinas and hurl personalized pitches his way.
"John Anderton, you could use a Guinness about now," one billboard shouts.
In another scene, Mr. Cruise enters a Gap, where his eyes again are scanned, triggering a holographic version of the Gap's greeter who asks if he is satisfied with his last purchase.
Indeed, many of the film's futuristic visions, including a holographic greeter at the Gap and animated cereal boxes, could become real using technology being developed today.
Already, personal video recorders, such as those made by TiVo and SonicBlue, can collect information on individual households' viewing habits, allowing advertisers to more precisely target their messages.
The next generation of cell phones will have position-detection capability, allowing retailers, such as Starbucks, to ring customers as they approach a store and offer time-sensitive discounts.
In the future, it seems, the eyes are the window to the wallet.
Much of the technology portrayed in the movie is being developed and tested, including flexible computer screens thinner than a business card that can receive images over a wireless network.
"The ability to have billboard-size displays, newspapers that are updating themselves, packaging able to animate, these are all quite possible within 10 to 15 years," said Russ Wilcox, general manager of E Ink Corp., a Cambridge, Mass., company developing so-called digital paper.
Since September 11, security devices have been installed at some airports that snap photos of travelers and compare them with a database of suspected terrorists.
In addition, retinal scans and other biometric devices are being discussed to help maintain homeland security.
That technology could conceivably be repurposed for commerce.
"It's amazing how events have caught up with us after September 11," said Alex McDowell, the production designer for "Minority Report," who began imagining the world of 2054 in 1998.
"We know we want security, and we're willing to give up some of our civil liberties to have that," he said. "And Pre-Crime is really, in the end, the total loss of civil liberty. That's the extreme of it and the consumer-driven part of the film is the parallel extreme."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide