Biometrics on course to put the 'me' into media

Biometrics to put 'me' into media

In the age of the ‘quantified self’, in which it is possible to integrate the manifold data produced by our Facebook posts, emails, GPS and fitness logs, purchases, preferences and so on, we’re beginning to get used to the idea that our data can be useful to us. Consumers are being persuaded that collecting and studying the hundreds of data points that trail behind us will help us to make personal changes to lead longer, healthier, perhaps happier lives. And companies are clearly convinced, too: Eli Lilly now claims this is its central scenario for pharmaceutical innovation over the coming decade. Biometric media means this benign fusion of person and machine will be moving to a new level – going beyond the useful to create new reflections of ourselves in the media we consume.

At the Future Foundation, we call this trend BioMEtrics. Our heart rate, attention levels, eye movements, brainwaves, stress levels and more can be picked up by embedded sensors in smartphones, wristbands and motion-capture cameras and used to create algorithmically perfected, visceral and truly individual media moments. In return, we will be treated to content that responds to – which is made by – the once mundane rhythms of the body.

For example, BioBeats is a coming app that taps into the iPhone’s camera or pulls data from a wearable sensor to measure the user’s pulse. Music is then created to match the heartbeat’s rhythm, providing a continuous accompaniment for your morning meditation, cross-country ski or high-speed police chase. Already, Volkswagen’s Play the Road system turns driving telematics into a soundtrack in the pursuit of a ‘unique and exhilarating driving experience’.

This form of hyperpersonalisation will influence all forms of media. As ever, combining new capabilities with underlying trends, such as Gamification, we are seeing an intensification of the power of possible applications. Take Nevermind, a survival horror game in development that increases its level of difficulty in response to the increase in the player’s stress levels, monitored in real-time via a Garmin strap. Or The Girl Who Was Plugged In, the ‘wearable book’ presented recently by MIT’s Media Lab, which follows the user’s reading path and transmits the protagonist’s changing emotions and physical sensations to the reader via networked sensors and actuators. The media consumer is no longer passive, but constantly immersed in a world of, at least partially, his or her own creation.

Established models of content production, delivery and consumption no longer apply here. With BioMEtrics, brands provide not content, but technological platforms, like canvases on which the consumer/producer paints his or her own portrait. Unlike the effort required in earlier iterations of the Cult of Creativity trend, the creative process is made entirely spontaneous and unconscious by the very nature of the platform. You need only think, or breathe, or fear. The collaboration between brand and consumer would be more seamless, and the gap between content delivery and content production narrower, than at present.

On-demand once branded itself as the ultimate in personalised convenience media – a service capable of wrapping around the everyday lifestyle of the consumer. Biometrics will make today’s iteration of the iPlayer seem old hat – indeed, BBC director general Lord Hall has emphasised how vital the continuous upgrading of technology is to the future of the broadcaster, with Mybbc currently being the focus of personalised delivery of its content.

All media owners are now investing heavily in creating future services that can be entirely tuned in to the cognitive responses of the viewer – tailored TV content in real-time, as it is consumed. This is media that doesn’t have a start or end point, or broadcast date. It ebbs and flows around the life of the individual, selecting and editing the most physiologically effective material. Biometrics is the latest threat to the mass media moment. Can the prime-time slot survive mass personalisation?

The implications for privacy are serious. How many of us would choose to sport Cadbury’s concept Joy Jacket, designed by Hirsch & Mann, which has sensors that detect when you are eating chocolate and explodes with colour and confetti in empathy? This is the apex of personalisation. Can the relationship between the brand and the individual possibly get any more intimate than the real-time tracking of the blood in our veins and arteries? But we believe that toleration of data mining will grow alongside the sophistication of incentives and the seamlessness of detection. Properly implemented, the biometric future should reduce resistance as it increases reward, with personalised scheduling, real-time content creation and adaptive (rather than dictatorial) advertising. It brings new meaning to the adage that brands must understand the hearts and minds of their consumers – BioMEtrics will be here to help.


Melanie is chair of the Future Foundation. This article was taken from the June 2014 issue of Market Leader.