Six signals: insurance dystopias and Weird Facebook

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This week is kicking off with a couple of pretty dark future signals, but it gets more fun at the end, I promise!

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1: Insurance dystopias

We could all probably see this coming a mile (or maybe 10,000 steps?) away, but now that we’re self-tracking and publishing so much data about ourselves, insurance companies are starting to use that data. Sarah Jeong writes that the cutting edge of the insurance industry involves using data — from your step count to your social media posts — to adjust premiums algorithmically.

And of course, since every new surveillance tactic begets an adversarial hack, there are phone cradles being made to artificially boost step counts to avoid premium increases.

Insurers Want to Know How Many Steps You Took Today

2: Is it illegal to opt out of facial recognition?

Police in London conducted a public street trial with facial recognition cameras. A man who covered his face as he walked by the cameras was stopped by officers, forced to submit to being photographed, and then arrested on a charge of public disorder after complaining loudly.

London police arrest man who covered face during public facial recognition trials

3: Jellyfish and insects for dinner

Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second-largest supermarket, has commissioned a report that explores the future of food in 2025, 2050, and 2169.

By 2169 it could be routine for people to hold details of their nutritional and health information in a personal microchip embedded in their skin, which will trigger an alert to the supermarket. It would then deliver by drone suitable food and drink based on their planned activities for the coming days.

Jellyfish supper delivered by drone? Radical future predicted for food.

4: Cars are the horses of the future

I’m always astonished that conversations around autonomous vehicles are so constrained by our current conception of what a “car” is. There’s a tendency to assume that cars will play the same role, but just be self-driving. But really, autonomous vehicles open an enormous possibility space around mobile housing, algorithmic shops, autonomous caravans, and floating offices, to name just a few. Chenoe Hart’s piece on self-driving cars points to a number of untapped design opportunities:

The Hy-Wire’s technology suggests that the focus of car design could turn inward, yielding a range of new possibilities for vehicle interiors. Our future passenger experience might bear little resemblance to either driving or riding within a vehicle; we’ll inhabit a space that only coincidentally happens to be in motion.

Perpetual Motion Machines

5: Empathetic ears

This very optimistic report looks at the possibility for in-ear devices, or “hearables”, to track a variety of biological and audio signals in order to adjust our environments to reduce stress and create more positive experiences. While I’m highly skeptical of future scenarios that rely on all the “smart” things working perfectly and humanely together, I also appreciate the idea of empathy as a core UX principle.

Hearables will monitor your brain and body to augment your life

6: Weird Facebook

Taylor Lorenz’s latest Atlantic piece digs into Facebook tag groups, which are part of the larger Weird Facebook genre (who knew?). People describe tag groups as being reminiscent of forum culture and earlier eras of internet culture. With Facebook’s new focus on Groups, there’s a clear opportunity here to learn from users’ emergent behavior, though they seem to be choosing to take a more top-down approach:

Zuckerberg’s vision for groups—a sort of digital version of the local knitting circle, kayaking club, or mom’s meet-up—is very different from the ground-up group culture that is dominated by one particular format: the tag group.

The groups bringing forum culture to Facebook

One playful thing

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