Can We Look to Science Fiction for Innovation?

In Dave Egger’s book, The Circle, a Silicon Valley-based company, Circle, uses the veil of “transparency” to vacuum up data for financial gain. Imagine politicians practicing “radical transparency,” wearing cameras around their necks in every meeting, discussion, and public service. While individuals can follow and critique their elected officials in real time, Circle is profiting from the analysis of this data from eager politicians around the world. 

Amazon’s announced acquisition of One Medical is another step towards this fiction becoming a reality.

As design thinkers, we look to science fiction for edge case scenarios that prove prescient with time. While the Metaverse is capturing headlines and leaving many scratching their heads about its practicality, Amazon is making a more invasive move in our physical universe: vertically integrating the human experience from your consumption to your (in)activity and now your health.

Let’s walk through a potential day living in Amazon’s fictional (?) reality:

1:01 AM → The Alexa-enabled device at your bedside picks up that you are snoring. Analyzing these sounds against your baseline sleeping patterns, cross-referenced against local air quality data and your medical history, your doctor at One Medical receives a note to follow up and a package of Claritin is added to your Amazon locker at Whole Foods.

6:30 AM → Your Echo’s alarm goes off on schedule. As you step out of the shower, your phone buzzes. Weather data for home and work, cross-referenced against your wardrobe of clothes purchased through Amazon, inform the outfit suggestions on the screen. As you get dressed, the Echo’s camera compares the clothes’ fit versus baseline. In an hour, an email will appear offering your favorite styles in slightly larger sizes.

12:30 PM → A Covid infection promoted your partner to visit One Medical, which revealed an elevated blood pressure. Since then, you notice your Whole Foods app suggesting heart-friendly, veggie-forward recipes. If you upload a photo of the completed dish to Amazon Photos, you will receive a credit towards your next pair of running shoes at Zappos.

9:15 PM → Looking forward to a relaxing evening on the sofa, Amazon notes the increased time you’ve spent viewing Prime Videos this month. Instead of the usual dramas that populate your feed, you notice a series about farm-to-table cooking alongside a documentary about mountain climbing. Curious, you choose the documentary and before the show starts, a 30-second video from your doctor appears reminding you of the benefits of daily activity. And if that “carrot” approach does not work, you know your One Medical Prime subscription fee will increase next month if your activity does not increase.

Today, this scenario is fictional, but Amazon knows what we want: a life reduced to numbers.

There is comfort in abstract concepts like our health, our finances, and our future that are easy to compare in numerical format. However, Amazon knows individuals don’t understand the interplay of these values, and thus, we strike a deal with Amazon: ceding our data and agency to AWS to generate a vertically-integrated, fully-quantified, cloud-based self, the ultimate in “transparency.”

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