It will never know who you are

I remember watching a documentary a few years back filmed by Doug Brace, a New Yorker who mysteriously lost his memory one day. Doug started filming his life in an attempt to try and restitch the missing memories of the past and learn who he was. The filming leads to the very documentary I watched, ‘Unknown White Male’. I also remember that awful film with Adam Sandler in, yeah, we have a plenty to pick from here. The film in question is ’50 First Dates’, if you haven’t seen it Adam plays the ‘nice guy’ who is trying to help Drew Barrymore remember who she is. Every day she wakes with no memory and no idea who Adam is. I remember both these films.

Doug Brace and Drew Barrymore are just like your computer. They all have no idea who the hell you are. There is a slight difference between Doug and Drew though, Doug had no memory and slowly starts to rebuild connections with people, Drew lost hers every time she slept. Drew is pretty much like your computer. Making you Adam Sandler. Sorry.

You have to do the same as Adam did in the film, everyday reminding your computer that you are still indeed, well, you. You need to remind it so you can get access to log in, email, calendars, websites and your bank. We are all familiar with the idea that more of the day to day services we use are going to in some way authenticate and be processed by a computer. So, we now have an ever growing list of things we need to repeat to our amnesiac computers on a daily basis.

Just last week at With Associates we published an article about the impending cookie law. The talented writer Sarah Chapman researched and wrote up the article with the brief being that we wanted to clearly explain what is going on to our clients and peers who have yet to poke their nose into this rather messy legislation. The article is a great read so you should spend five minutes and go and read it. The legislation is rather silly and in most cases over complicating the user experience of the web. Which, if you care to care about ‘ux’ and the web you will already know that most experiences are not great, adding another layer of decision, doubt and confusion is a perfect mix for a shitty end result. Most importantly, imagine that every site you visited now required you to authenticate your personal settings before browsing. We now have a computer that you spend most of your time interfacing with to remind it who you are. This is worse than being Adam Sandler.

What is the alternative to this legislation then?

Computers need to know who you are. Logging in sucks. Setting privacy preferences on every website in the world sucks. This should all be controlled at machine level so websites are told the settings of the user by the machine. Human recognition really should be the next big innovation in computing. Put thinner laptops on hold for a couple of years. Authentication by human body does exist, retina scanning and fingerprint scanning can be used. Both of these methods are not great though as they only really authenticate at the beginning of a session, so they have no way of knowing during a session if another user has started to use the machine. Ultimately, the machine will soon enough have a dumb moment and let anyone have access to your information.

For me, machines need to be more like Doug and less like Drew, they need to start building a relationship with you and recording that relationship for reference. They need to know what you look like, how you behave and most importantly learn who you are. I think the very thought of AI working like this is outstandingly awesome. Sadly, there will always be many others for whom this idea should remain just that, an idea. I think that the majority of us still enjoy the separation between humans and machines, they are clever enough to do tasks for us but dumb enough to forget who you are every half hour. You can pick your nose infront of them and they won’t remember and save your technique as a behavioural authentication token for later reference.

For now though we are stuck reminding our computers who we are and a legislation is round the corner that could see the majority of websites you use ask you who are as well.