One screen, one user.
But what happens when any screen can serve hundreds of users?
In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi movie, Minority Report, billboards could display customized ads that addressed each passerby by name (or at least by the name of the person who provided one’s eyeballs). Every public holographic billboard became private, targeted and personalized for a couple of seconds as each person walked by.
In reality, the public will likely reject the Minority Report model of their personal data being used to trigger public ad personalization.
As this week’s congressional hearing featuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated, the public and politicians are reaching their limits with privacy violations by companies that use personal information to display targeted advertising.
But truly personal data isn’t required for this kind of advertising to work.
As far back as year and a half ago, a billboard in Moscow changed the ad on its display based on the brand of car passing by.
The billboard was created by Synaps Labs, which used high-speed cameras placed 180 meters in front of the billboard to take pictures of cars. Machine-learning software determined each car’s make and model. The purpose was to show ads for Jaguar’s expensive new SUV to drivers who already owned expensive cars.
The company has since developed its technology further and installed billboards all over Russia and the United States.
Instead of harvesting and applying actual personal data, Synaps' billboard system used information publicly visible — car makes and models.
That process — to instantly extract actionable data from photographs — is something A.I. is very good at.
A.I. can detect all kinds of things, especially about pedestrians. Existing A.I. can detect whether a person in a photo is young or old, male or female and glean many other facts useful for ad targeting.
So, yes, we'll get Minority Report-style advertising that swaps out billboards as people drive or walk by. But the targeting will be done on the fly by A.I., not by personal information in a database.
The people who view these ads won’t necessarily know that the billboards are personalized for them. In other words, real-world ads are going to start working a lot like online ads do today.
Synaps Labs’ technology can show one billboard ad at a time, so everyone driving by when a high-end car triggers the Jaguar ad will see it. Personalization will become even more powerful when a single billboard can show hundreds of ads at the same time to different people (and no one else can see what’s being displayed for you).
Welcome to the future world of multi-view displays.
Think business computing, not advertising
When you walk through an airport today, dozens or even hundreds of signs direct you to baggage claim, taxis, bathrooms, customs and more. Big displays show you all the arriving and departing flights.
At any given time, however, you’re concerned only with a tiny amount of this information.
In the future, there will be very few signs, and each will display only the information you might care about. Instead of showing all the flights, a screen will show only your flight. After getting off your flight, the signs will only direct to baggage claim and the bathroom.
Inside corporate office buildings, all the screens you will see, from the lobby to the boardroom and in every office along the way, will show you your own personal notifications, information and data. Any computer in the office will be your own personal computer, and you’ll be logged in using biometrics.
And all this will occur no matter how many people are looking at any given screen at once.
The technology for this is already in development. Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill describes a system that provides “correct eye gaze for multiple users.”
And a startup called Misapplied Sciences has developed technology, which it calls “parallel reality,” that enables hundreds of people to look at a single screen and see completely different, customized views. I could look at a screen and see information in English, while the person standing next to me sees the same information in Mandarin and a third person sees French. Or, for that matter, I could see my texts and the others could see theirs.
Misapplied Sciences, which was founded by former Microsoft employees and Walt Disney Imagineers, has demonstrated screens that send different colors of light — they’re called “multi-view pixels” — in a huge number, possibly even millions, of directions.
The company says that by using smartphone-like sensors, it can not only show each passerby a unique, individualized screen, but the displayed information or ad could “follow” people as they walk around, jumping from screen to screen. All this would be private in the sense that nobody else could see it, even in a crowded public space.
While multi-view screen technology is emerging, the other technologies required to make this vision a reality are well-established. First, there’s all-cloud computing, as in the Chromebook model. Cloud computing is ubiquitous today, and the all-cloud computing model is solid.
Second are biometric technologies such as face recognition. They are getting faster and more accurate. Biometrics are already the default approach for authentication on the top model of the world’s top smartphone maker (that would be Apple’s iPhone X). Nearly all future smartphones will use biometric ID for authentication, which will become faster and more accurate with each passing month.
The only missing technology ingredient in the equation is the display technology, and that’s definitely coming.
The combination of these three trends will result in a world in which every screen you encounter anywhere, including in public spaces, is personalized and individualized. And unlike with augmented reality, you won’t have to wear special glasses.