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the minority report pre cognitive prcog

Science Fiction - Science Fact

Science fiction often morphs its way into science fact. Blade Runner is one of the most celebrated films of the science fiction genre yet, in my opinion, it's not the finest example. To see science fiction becoming science fact, right now, we need, instead, to look at the much overlooked work written by the same author, Philip K Dick; 'The Minority Report'.

Look backwards - see the future

The Minority Report is a short science fiction story first published in 1956 and the basis for the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report. Set in the future, individuals with pre-cognitive ability are able to foresee violent crime before it occurs. The so-called "precogs" are sedated and neurally connected to the Precrime Division's IT network which uses the precog's abilities to predict crime and arrest criminals before they commit their crimes.A precog can see an event happening before it's taken place.

Always the bridesmaid

Minority Report frequently gets overlooked and stands in the shadow cast by its elder sister Blade Runner. I have been a fan of Minority Report for years, it's one of those very rare films that I could watch on a loop; and, as I'm a strong advocate of 1-2-1 marketing and web personalisation, the film is a compelling example of science fiction becoming science fact.

In Minority Report, released in 2002, we're shown touch screen user interfaces - five whole years before Apple introduced the iPhone. We're shown personalised, proximity and contextual advertising. We're shown e-paper, we're shown retinal scans and driverless cars - pretty much everything except the jet-packs are with us right now.

But not every vision presented by the film has or could be fulfilled - or so I thought until this Friday. At Linkdex's Think Tank #SEOnow seminar in London, I took a shot in the arm as what came into view was just how prophetic Minority Report was - because the precogs are with us right now.

The precogs are amongst us

On Friday, Will Critchlow, founder of online marketing agency Distilled, presented a future-bound view of web search in what he termed the post PageRank era and underpinned the assertion that Search isn't only about the (key)words typed into a Google search box. However, I'm not about to suggest that Will's the precog - the precogs in this piece are Intelligent Personal Assistants [IPAs] such as Apple's Siri, The Google App, Soundhound Inc's Hound app (all of which may be found in your phone) and Amazon's Echo which may be found in any room of your home or office.

Contextual marketing

Search is all about the context. If you're searching for a new supplier when you're at work then it's highly likely that you'll search using different words than those you'd use if you were searching upon a tablet at home. The home-based search has less time-bound constraints and, if you're doing a work-oriented search from home, the chances are you're searching for more preparatory, deeper or background information - searching for the kinds of stuff that you don't have time for at work.
What you search for and how you search will change with the context in which you search.

Will's seminar presentation covered much ground as he suggested that, at one time, the mobile was seen as the stripped-down version of the web; smaller and slower. However, the phone has a camera, the phone knows where it is, the phone has access to your contacts and offers APIs so that other apps can access core functionality. To improve search results Google focuses upon the context of the user and our understanding of user's context now goes far beyond geolocation and device limitations.

It's called a smartphone for a reason

Because the smart, mobile phone is with you for life and because the IPA (that sits passively in your home of office) can listen-in on your conversations it can model activity and be trusted to work out your context and may now start making proactive, helpful suggestions for you without being prompted. Google's view of the context of a user is no longer bound by place or device because, as far a Google are concerned, a user context might be: organising a wedding; buying a home or looking for a new job. The role of the pre-cognitive IPA is to gather intelligence about you, build your context and make assumptions about what you'd like next.

When it comes to SEO - optimise for intentSEO is no longer all about keywords. Will Critchlow's assertion that Google (and others) will increasingly focus upon your context was the clarion call for search marketing. The function of the online, digital marketer is to get inside the head of the Customer and to listen to them think. Search is the channel that opens a two way Customer communication port and reveals intent.

Wow! I started to read this blog and thought where is he going with this? I am a fan of Philip K Dick so was intrigued.

And then, it turned into a horror story!

I'm already a little uneasy at the way my "smart" phone decides to help me when I type a text (invariably it tries to change my name from Guy to Gus!). To think that Google will contextualise the who, why, what, where and how of who I am or are and then change the results it might show me when I search for something is both intriguing and scary at the same time.
It's fabulous that it might help with the "now what do I type in to find what I am after" conundrum. On the flip side, it gives a small porthole into the huge amount of data being collected about us (largely without our knowledge).
The scary question is: could all this data being collected and stored in the name of search efficacy also be used for ill if it got into the wrong hands (who is say that Google is the "right" hands?)
I seem to remember another great work of science fiction written by a certain George Orwell who kind of predicted something like this (Google = the all seeing Big Brother?). Is this another example of science fiction becoming science fact?
guy avatarguy30th November 1999Whether you're looking for print and copy; worldwide parcel delivery, courier or postal services; mailbox rental or a virtual office package, you can trust the experts at Mail Boxes Etc.
Hi Gus. Here's a chunk of text that hit the floor during an early edit of The Art of Search.

"The creation and adoption of the Web is as significant to the knowledge and development of humanity as was the introduction of printing. Printing, specifically the advent of movable type, rapidly propelled a knowledge transfer which brought about a very real change in the way we lived our lives, making knowledge more easily accessible to anyone that could read and acquire knowledge in book-form. Reading books imparted knowledge and, therefore, power to individuals. Centuries-old class divisions began to break down as individuals from all walks of life shared thoughts, acted upon them and challenged convention.

Yet, unlike the book, the Web isn't bound by physical production constraints such as printing press, page size, page count or print run-length and neither is its availability restricted to geographically-defined or intellectually-based outlets (in plain English this means bookshops, libraries, universities, religions, monarchies and governments). Moreover, the vast majority of the web doesn't come with a publishers' recommended retail price.

In contrast to the Orwellian view of the 1980s, by the time the Web dictated that business took it seriously, it wasn't Governments which had dominance in the distribution of knowledge but small pockets of enthusiasts. At the time this passage was being written it was not The Foreign Office negotiating with Chinese Government concerning the censorship of the Web but Google, a company that was then less than 10 years old! The hyperlink-powered Web has opened-up access to knowledge and the sheer scale and dimension of that knowledge is as hard to visualise as the quantum world studied at the nuclear research institute at which the Web was conceived and born.

If you are looking for a true source of modern day superpower, one that opens and controls access to knowledge, one that negotiates with Governments, you need look no further than Google, a company whose business is Search."
Steve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd avatarSteve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd30th November 1999Author of 'The Art of Search' - the SEO strategy book 2,500 years in the making.
You and I could fall out... again.

So to continue the Sci-fi theme, is Google a Megacorporation ala Neuromancer by William Gibson and (to come full circle) Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick? OK, so they may not (yet) have private armies but they do wield a phenomenal amount of power, and most of it is actually secret.

You have said in your fab book (plug, plug) that people get too hung up on how the Google algorithm actually works and (to massively paraphrase, sorry!) don't concentrate on following the simple path of using keywords that customers would actually type in.

Now whilst this so true I personally find it quite interesting that Google do not publish the way that their algorithm works. If I were a suspicious man (ahhherm), then I might, stress might think they were in fact hiding something. At the risk of starting a grand conspiracy theory how do we know that Big brother, erm sorry Google hasn't in some way constructed it's algorithm to give preferred results to let us say, one political persuasion over another? (Is this how Donald Trump is doing it, you have to ask?). This lack of openness on Google's part, linked with it's ability to obtain (effectively surreptitiously) a huge amount of information on an individual or organisation is a major cause of concern to me. Especially since it is largely unregulated and cross border.
guy avatarguy30th November 1999Whether you're looking for print and copy; worldwide parcel delivery, courier or postal services; mailbox rental or a virtual office package, you can trust the experts at Mail Boxes Etc.
I guess this is where good old capitalism steps in. Should Google (or any other search engine for that matter) choose to present a biased viewpoint then they're in danger of straying into the realms of publishing. If, in this analogy, you don't like what's being published then you simply find another newspaper to read.

Truth is, Google shows you what you've asked for or searched for. 99.99% of the time I guess the search engine results pages evolve to match the searcher's own view of the world. As I wrote in the book (plug) 'The web is what you go looking for...'
Steve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd avatarSteve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd30th November 1999Author of 'The Art of Search' - the SEO strategy book 2,500 years in the making.
The trouble with capitalism is that a monopoly stops it working! According to Google (bless them) 64.4% of all searches were made using their search engine, with the next nearest rival being (another with an even worse reputation) being Microsoft at 20%.

Sadly, this does not in any way reassure me when 84.4% of all searches are in the hands of only two Megacorporations, whose GDP between them would put them in the top 50 were they a world country (only just below the Czech Republic and Greece for example!)
guy avatarguy30th November 1999Whether you're looking for print and copy; worldwide parcel delivery, courier or postal services; mailbox rental or a virtual office package, you can trust the experts at Mail Boxes Etc.
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