If you've never been to the Consumer Electronics Show, you might now know how intense it can be. This is a global gathering of the techiest people around. Everyone here is connected to everything, social media is a constant thought, and everyone really wants that cute little robot from the booth around the corner.
It's also the perfect place to freak someone out about data privacy and how easy it is to "know" someone just by stalking their digital footprint, which is why HBO chose this place to set up its teaser event for season three of Westworld.
The folks at Incite, a fictional company in the Westworld universe, invited me to dinner in the middle of CES. This is one of many dinners Incite will be hosting this week, but I happened to have a gap in my schedule, so I decided to check it out. The form to sign up included a questionnaire with some fairly vague questions about my personality, which I assumed would play a part in the event somehow. Still, there were very few details in the invitation.
I showed up early to scope the place out, but it all looked fairly normal on the inside and out. This was a really nice looking restaurant, with the Incite logo on a large video wall, and not much else.
I was eventually assigned a table and found this card with my name on it at that table. The card had a simple list with the food being served over the evening. It wasn't a menu to choose from, rather a selection of what was being brought to me. As more people arrived at the table, I realized most of the meal selections were not the same. I had been asked if I had any dietary restrictions, but never any preferences for food.
These were very different meals, and nobody understood how it was decided what we would be eating.
Eventually, we met Dan Carter. Dan explained that he'd been working for Incite for some time now in the Marketing department, and wanted to make sure all of our needs for the evening had been met.
He also explained the meals had been chosen based on what Incite knew about us and our preferences. Incite had been thoroughly researching us and removed the need to choose something to remove that anxiety from the evening.
Basically, everyone in the room was surprised and a little uncomfortable.
Dan Carter then proceeded to tell everyone at the table amazing details about our lives. He knew I was preparing for a 10K run, and that I'd finished the book Children of Virtue and Vengeance a couple of months ago. He knew I was considering never eating pork again, and asked me how I felt about a talk I had given not long ago about virtual reality.
Dan Carter did this for everyone at the table throughout the night, ranging from obvious things scraped from social media to more detailed translations of a Latin tattoo on someone's arm. He even knew someone at the table was lactose intolerant, and that person swore he'd never mentioned that online anywhere.
At this point in the evening, everyone in the room was surprised and a little uncomfortable. Incite had clearly done a lot of research on each of us. Each table had a person just like Dan Carter, who was trying to help us all get to know one another through all of this information they had scraped up on us. It was fascinating to process where all of this information had come from. Some of it was obviously from LinkedIn or Instagram, but in many cases, not something that had been posted recently. These were frequently deep cuts, a significant amount of time was spent on finding the right information about us.
HBO did a great job getting the attention of everyone in that room and set the stage for an amazing next season of Westworld.
Between dinner and dessert, we were treated to a keynote presentation. From Incite's perspective, the act of choice is a constant stress in our lives every day. How great was it to not have to choose what to eat tonight, but still know it was something you would like? That was what Incite wanted to offer the world. Silicon Valley is constantly slurping up your data, and what to you get in return? Incite wanted to offer everyone certainty and happiness in exchange for this data.
The presentation got weird when the keynote speaker picked someone out of the audience and demonstrated how Incite would have impacted her life choices from High School until now. The room simultaneously roared as it became clear this was a deep dive into the audience, and one of us was likely next. But instead of doing it that way, our guests came out and delivered folders with details from Incite on what our life could look like next if we allowed Incite to make decisions for us.
The folder included life expectancy, details on our lives, and a quick one-sentence blurb on our lives. Mine told me I should pursue fitness tech because it was something people would really care about. Which is fascinating, because I have recently started dabbling in writing about fitness tech.
HBO did a great job getting the attention of everyone in that room and set the stage for an amazing next season of Westworld. I will absolutely be watching from the edge of my seat, having now felt like I was a part of this world.
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