The Scary/Friendly World of Predictivity ©

Steven Brykman | April 23, 2014 | In the News Mobile App Development Mobile Strategy

We’ve all come to expect our Google searches to behave predictively, auto-populating with search terms the moment we type our first character. We’re no longer impressed that Google does so based on our past searches, nor that it also includes crowd-sourced search possibilities. A World of Predictivity.

But look out, folks. Because before we know it this simple, innocuous technology will be upscaled to include everything in our lives.

ford1Despite this being an age of million-car recalls, a full three years have passed since Ford Motor Company began using Google’s “Prediction API” along
with “their own algorithms” to integrate vehicles with the cloud. They’ve been working on ways to figure out where you’re going based on where you’ve been. In this video from July 2011, Ford claims to be interested in Ford2-300x166using the information to produce more efficient hybrid vehicles, since a car that knows where you’re going (and how much juice is in its batteries) can save gas by automatically switching off the engine and getting you the rest of the way home under electric power. Such a car would learn your daily routine and adjust your routes accordingly for traffic, day of week, etc. Basically, we’re talking TiVo for your car.
Audi is experimenting with similar technology. Their Ford3-300x165“Urban Assist” application predicts traffic patterns in with a driver’s daily schedule order to proactively steer away from congested areas while not taking you entirely off-course.

Mercedes has something they call a “Predictive User Experience,” a system that pairs a driver’s usage history with parameters like weather, time and date to help figure out where the driver means to be going. A December 2013 Mercedes-Benz Press Release, reads: “The contextually intelligent predictive engine is continuously learning about you to custom tailor a completely unique in-vehicle experience. By analyzing your behavior, the car becomes aware of your schedule, tastes, moods, and emotions… [That’s right, emotions!]

mercedes-imageBy taking into account the driver’s starting location, the weather, day of the week, time of day, and who’s in the car, the predictive system generates a set of options based on historical data…over time these proposals get better, more accurate, and more personalized…the vehicle of the future…will be able to recognize the desires, moods and preferences of driver and passengers and proactively predict and simplify the next operating steps.”In a bit of a twist, Mitsubishi claims to be developing a prototype that will use predictive technology to literally change the look and functions of its user interface, using “algorithms to predict what controls you might need at any given moment…and calculate which three functions the driver most likely needs.” The three options would be overlaid on the windshield and would correlate with three physical buttons on the steering wheel. To me this sounds incredibly confusing and potentially disastrous, but hey, who knows?

Audi and Volvo are taking predictability in yet another direction, tapping into a city’s traffic light network to determine what speed you should be driving to hit the next light while it’s still green (though how it also factors in the number of cars ahead of you or how many are waiting at that same light is suspiciously absent from the article).

With all these automakers rushing to be the first to get predictive interfaces in their cars, how long can it be before the same technology reaches our pants and purses? Especially since technically it’s already there. Since our smartphones already contain GPS devices, I would expect apps to begin utilizing more robust forms of predictivity© any day now. Consider if our phones began logging our every move in order to create an internal database from which to draw future predictions. With a little interaction from the user, it wouldn’t take long for the phone to start predicting where we were headed, based on the time and day of the week, etc. It might even use details we’re not aware of to help its predictions, things like the weather, most-recent web-surfing history or Email and text message content, even.

Consider scenario a) For the last two weeks, you’ve used your iPhone Starbucks App to buy coffee every day at 3PM. Your phone knows it’s getting to be that time, and it knows where the closest Starbucks is. Why not push you a notification, some directions, and a coupon?

Or scenario b) You’ve pulled up to a movie theater and parked. Your phone knows where you are. So why not push movie suggestions at you based upon your past ticket purchases, along with whichever titles are starting now at that theater? Then simply make it possible to buy tickets right from the notification. Two hours later, the phone would ask what you thought of the movie and record your results to better predict what you might like to see the next time.

Our homes are already becoming more connected; the Apple website features WiFi enabled light-switches, bulbs, electrical outlets, and deadbolts. Simply throw-in some location-predicting technology—along with maybe a Beacon or two—and voila! Our appliances will all soon learn our daily routines or query our phones to determine our whereabouts. If we’re on our way home, the house lights will turn themselves on and the house will heat itself up. The garage door will open just as we pull into the driveway and our front door will unlock just as our hand reaches for the knob.

At the micro-level, the Internet of Things means all our food will know when it’s about to spoil, or predict the date it’s going to run out and order more ahead of time (our beer, most significantly), so it’s all there waiting for us before we get a chance to switch brands.

For those alarmists out there who fear this is heralding a Big Brother/Brave New World Technoverse (in which everything is known about everybody by who knows who), be thankful at least the machines are still taking their cues from us, the users. It’s when us users start taking our cues from the machines that we need to start rethinking the whole deal: “Welcome home, Steve. I noticed you’re a little stressed-out from all the traffic on your commute so I whipped you up a tall Soma smoothie.”

Steven Brykman

Steven is a Digital Strategist and UX Architect focusing on Mobile Products with a diverse background in writing and literature. He spent much of the last decade as Creative Technologist/Lead Strategist of his own design company, helping Fortune 500 companies define the direction of their digital campaigns, websites and mobile applications. Additionally, he co-founded Apperian, a Boston-based mobile technology startup.

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