Shortly after I finished writing Gods Tomorrow I came across a book review at my favorite science and technology site (Ars Technica — you’ll come to know it well). The review featured two new non-fiction books about…well, Hathor Tech.
One was called Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online And Why It Matters. It described the behavioral scientists tracking and studying where people go online and how they respond to things they find there. Why? Targeted marketing.
It all boils down to two things: recognizing groups that tend to make similar decisions, and targetting members of those groups with appropriately-crafted calls to action. The other book — the one that really intrigued me — was called The Numerati. From that review:
In the future, human motivations won’t be sifted only by the psychologists and ministers, but increasingly by the “numerati,” those high priests of data who, like God, know us better than we know ourselves.
That book sounded like the structural foundation for my novel. (Thinking back, it’s hard to believe I built the world of Hathor before I read The Numerati.) As soon as I finished the review, I rushed off to Amazon to buy both books, and I devoured them. I even wrote a bit of fan mail to Steven Bake, author of The Numerati.
The main thing I took away from both books was a general astonishment at what we’re capable of doing with information. I read through them and thought, “I aimed too low. Hathor isn’t thirty years away. It could be three!”
Actually, it can’t. I’ve said it before, but the main barrier between us and Hathor isn’t technological, it’s social. The same is really true for Hippocrates and Personal Shopper (which I’ll talk about next) and all the fancy Services running on Hathor data. The problem isn’t processing power or recognition algorithms, it’s gathering data in the first place.
In the world of the novels, Hathor already has it all. I try to work through how and in what format Hathor has gathered any details critical to the stories’ plots, but for the most part I assume it’s all there:
- What you had for breakfast today (and every day for the last decade)
- What you wanted to have for breakfast
- What you would have tolerated for breakfast
- How often and how well you were satisfied with your breakfast
And they’d have the same data for lunch, for snacks, for the shoes you’re wearing, for your hobbies, your jobs, your romantic partners….
And the scary thing, the amazing thing, the inspiring thing…is they could do all of that right now, with a little bit of extra data.
Seriously. Give The Numerati a read. It’s fascinating.
(The links above are Amazon affiliate links. If you buy either book through those links, my publisher gets a small commission. Thanks!)