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Google is teaching its Now service to sift through big data—both personal contextual information and public data—to notify you about things ranging from sports scores to traffic conditions to people’s birthdays.

Here’s one powerful example: If you buy movie tickets on Fandango, that site will send you details to your Gmail account, if you have one. Google Now will “read” that Fandango email, check your location, check the time and location of the movie, monitor traffic between those locations, then interrupt you to suggest that you’d better get going if you want to make it on time.

It’s becoming a true, proactive virtual assistant.

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Albert Einstein once told a friend that quantum mechanics doesn’t hold water in his scientific world view because “physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance.” That spooky action at a distance is entanglement, a quantum phenomenon in which two particles, separated by any amount of distance, can instantaneously affect one another as if part of a unified system.

Now, scientists have successfully hijacked that quantum weirdness — doing so reliably for the first time — to produce what many sci-fi fans have long dreamt up: teleportation. No, not beaming humans aboard the USS Enterprise, but the teleportation of data.

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Big-data surveillance is dangerous exactly because it provides solutions to these problems. Individually tailored, subtle messages are less likely to produce a cynical reaction. Especially so if the data collection that makes these messages possible is unseen. That’s why it’s not only the NSA that goes to great lengths to keep its surveillance hidden. Most Internet firms also try to monitor us surreptitiously. Their user agreements, which we all must “sign” before using their services, are full of small-font legalese. We roll our eyes and hand over our rights with a click. Likewise, political campaigns do not let citizens know what data they have on them, nor how they use that data. Commercial databases sometimes allow you to access your own records. But they make it difficult, and since you don’t have much right to control what they do with your data, it’s often pointless.

This is why the state-of-the-art method for shaping ideas is not to coerce overtly but to seduce covertly, from a foundation of knowledge. These methods don’t produce a crude ad—they create an environment that nudges you imperceptibly. Last year, an article in Adweek noted that women feel less attractive on Mondays, and that this might be the best time to advertise make-up to them. “Women also listed feeling lonely, fat and depressed as sources of beauty vulnerability,” the article added. So why stop with Mondays? Big data analytics can identify exactly which women feel lonely or fat or depressed. Why not focus on them? And why stop at using known “beauty vulnerabilities”? It’s only a short jump from identifying vulnerabilities to figuring out how to create them. The actual selling of the make-up may be the tip of the iceberg.

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"The UK’s biggest supermarket has provided a substantial level of funding for the Rainmaking Loft project which is currently home to about 60 young media and technology developers. Current projects including Viewsy, a gadget which uses mobile phone signals to track customer movement around stores"