A leaked internal Google video shows a creepy vision of how data could be used to direct human decision-making

Google/The VergeGoogle’s “The Selfish Ledger.”

  • The Verge obtained a leaked copy of an internal Google video, which offers a “Black Mirror”-style vision of how data could direct human behaviour.
  • The video was made in 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at Google’s ambitious research and development division X.
  • Google said the short film was designed to be provocative and does not relate to any products currently in development.

Google created a creepy video in which it imagines a future where an evolving record of our online data could be used to direct human behaviour.

The video was obtained by The Verge and was made in 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at Google’s ambitious research and development division X. It offers an unsettling and controversial vision of the future that would not look out of place on the Netflix show “Black Mirror.”

Drawing on theories of evolution and directly referencing Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” the basic premise imagines that people have an ever-evolving online data record, which Foster calls the “Selfish Ledger.” In the future, he says this could be used so it “not only tracks our behaviour, but offers direction towards a desired result.”

Suggestions the eight-minute video offers up include 3D-printing personalised devices that collect more data, multigenerational transactions of data to help solve world problems including poverty and depression, and – perhaps most unsettlingly – Google-set targets for a “user’s ledger.” This could include moving people towards environmental goals, by suggesting they buy local produce.Google/The VergeBuy local bananas, says the Selfish Ledger.

Business Insider contacted Google for comment. The company told The Verge that the video was designed to be provocative and does not relate to any products currently in development.

A spokesperson said: “We understand if this is disturbing – it is designed to be. This is a 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.”

You can watch the video on The Verge, or the version below uploaded to YouTube:

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