Steven Spielberg once said in an interview that to research his 2002 sci-fi thriller Minority Report, he’d consulted marketing experts about ‘smart’ advertising—specifically, interactive advertising devices that can pick up a viewer’s age, gender and even identity, and spew out targeted commercials. At the time, the experts predicted that such machines—which ended up being featured in the movie, set in the year 2054—would eventually be created in the real world.
But according to recent news reports, Japan already has a head-start on making this prediction a reality. The Telegraph reported early last week that a facial recognition system named the ‘Next Generation Digital Signage Solution,’ or ‘Eye Flavor,’ has been introduced to some department shops in the country starting late last year. Although still far behind the ‘Good afternoon, Mr. Yakamoto…How’d those assorted tank tops work out for you?’ type technology from the film (spoken to the title character after a retina scan by the virtual ‘greeter’ at the Gap), already the equipment boasts the ability to estimate a viewer’s age within ten years and show specific products targeted to his or her demographic.
And while many of us may be turned off by the idea, seeing it as a breach of privacy, a spokesperson for NEC, the company who has developed ‘Eye Flavor,’ said that they estimate that within 2 or 3 years, 10 percent of digital signage will be in this format globally.
Personally, I still get uncomfortable with having my eyes scanned at airport customs, and fear the day a billboard calls my name as I walk by.