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

Google/The VergeGoogle’s ‘Selfish Ledger.’
  • The Verge obtained a leaked copy of an internal Google video that 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 did not relate to any products in development.

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

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

Drawing on theories of evolution and directly referring to 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 toward environmental goals by suggesting they buy local produce.

Selish Ledger2Google/The VergeBuy local bananas, the Selfish Ledger says.

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

A company representative 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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