Ads: The Voice Inside Your Head


Before the icy weather hit Chapel Hill Monday afternoon, I planned on talking to my classmates about the Minority Report-style advertisements that are being developed.  Unfortunately, class was cancelled and my classmates didn’t get to enjoy the visually pleasing, thought-provokingly brilliant presentation I prepared for them.  But it’s okay; I went to the basketball game instead, the heels won, and my classmates can catch the run-down here when they get bored of soaking up rays and drowning themselves in fruity island drinks over our Spring Break.

Previously in class, we have discussed the idea that science fiction movies are one of the better indicators of what is to come in future technology.  The 2002 Spielberg film, Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise has reinforced this idea.  The sci-fi film includes various future forms of media including virtual newspapers containing holographic images, but most interestingly (to me, at least) are the interactive advertisements that try to lure Cruise’s character, John Anderton, to kick back and enjoy a Guinness.

In the movie, the ads recognize people as they walk past by scanning their eyeballs.  As John Anderton walks through a shopping area, the ads speak out loud to him attempting to draw him in.  Back in 2002, these digital ads may have seemed like a stretch of the imagination, but just twelve years later, here they come.


Several tech companies are currently developing the technology to make Minority Report-style ads a reality.

Digital advertising screens have been in use for some time now.  You may see them at a bus stop, on the side of a building, or at a subway station like this one in Stockholm.  But IBM and Japanese electronics company NEC are about to kick it up another notch.  An article in The Telegraph a few years back highlighted the companies plans.


Researchers at IBM began working on digital, tailor-made adverts several years ago.  Their goal was to develop technology that will show consumers ads that reflect their personal interests.  IBM claims that the customized ads will seek to limit consumers from being bombarded with advertisements that have no relevance to them.  Instead, they will only be shown advertisements that may resonate with them personally.  At least that’s the goal.

IBM’s system will work by using wireless technology tags called RFID chips to identify consumers as they walk by.  These chips are increasingly being built into credit cards and cell phones.

The digital ad boards will be able to identify people based on the information encoded in the RFID chips, and advertise towards them according to their personal preferences.

The ad boards are being developed as part of IBM’s Smarter Planet Program that “aims to use technology to make people’s lives easier and more efficient”.

Japanese company NEC already has a similar (but not so sophisticated) technology in place.  NEC’s billboards are able to identify a shopper’s age and gender as they walk past, offering them products that best suit their demographic.  The signs use basic facial recognition software and cameras to pick up on this information.

I happen to think that the ad boards being developed would be really cool.  I don’t think I would like it if they talked to me like the ads in Minority Report, but if they flashed an image up to suit my taste I would have no problem there.

Most advertisers welcome the new technology and think it will limit the amount of poorly targeted advertising.

My only worry, especially with IBM’s product, is that we as consumers will be tracked everywhere we go.  There will undoubtedly be privacy issues to handle and who’s to say that IBM won’t sell our every move to the government?



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