Want This Rug? Hold Still While We Scan Your Brain.

Just another exhibit toward building the case that we live in a cyberpunk world …

It appears IKEA was having trouble with ‘rug scalping’ – customers purchasing high-end, designer rugs, then not using them in their homes but rather flipping them on eBay for fun and profit. Ah, the scourges of modern society … it’s a wonder that we survive at all, really.

How to remedy this pressing issue? IKEA worked with a division of Olgilvy (because, Ogilvy) to come up with a creative solution.

They did … and how.

“Customers could only buy the rug if it provoked an emotional response, as detectable by a headset that supposedly reads brain waves and a customers’ heartbeat. “When people looked at the art, our specially designed algorithm could categorize the data from the brain and body reactions,” an Ogilvy representative explained. Customers wanting to buy a rug were led into a showroom set up as an art gallery. Once inside, they’d put on a headset and approach the rug that tickled their fancy. The headset then scanned their brainwaves and heartbeat before displaying a score on the wall.”

This is fascinating on multiple levels … there’s a lot to unpack, here. There’s the ‘security’ element – not wanting to sell to people who just intend to flip the rug for profit. The assumptions in play are that people who buy art/collectibles and are pure of heart and intention will have an emotional, visceral response when viewing said art. Love at first sight, I guess. On the other side of the coin, evil scalpers won’t have the same response because they’re just in it for quick coin. [But hey – that might incite an emotional response,as well.]


As we see at the conclusion of the article, Ogilvy claims this technological deterrent has worked perfectly, staving off all scalper sales. The author begs to differ, having located a few of the rugs in question up for sale at 100% markup. Whoops.

What does this tell us? That the tech didn’t screen out all scalpers? Or that pure-of-heart collectors can’t suddenly want/need to make a tidy profit, even though they “love” the rug? My father used to say, “never fall in love with your inventory.” Perhaps that’s what’s happening in the cases of the rugs being flipped. They might simply love profit more.

In any event, there’s still much more to see here. There are the elements of scarcity, competition and gamification. Obviously, scarcity and exclusivity are in full and obvious display as there aren’t many of these designer rugs available and there is a screening process one must go through to be allowed to buy the rug in question. Here’s where it gets particularly interesting … hearken back to this bit in the article:

“The headset then scanned their brainwaves and heartbeat before displaying a score on the wall.”

Now, then … I don’t know if other prospective customers were able to see the score on the wall or if it was kept between the scanner and the scannee, but this ‘scoring’ element of gamification, coupled with competing with others for a scarce resource, then rolled up in a warm and cozy burrito-shell of external affirmation should one “win” is a sure-fire way to drive sales. The ‘security’ facet may be a driving need, but it’s wise to leverage it to its full potential … to shunt more shekels into the company coffers. That’s why companies exist, you see.

We’re still not to the really interesting bit. Back to the article:

“When people looked at the art, our specially designed algorithm could categorize the data from the brain and body reactions …”

I wonder … where did that data go? Again, I have no line-of-sight into IKEA, Ogilvy, the dynamics of this fascinating technology and its interplay with customers (and their potential competitive interplay with each other). In this instance, it may very well be that the “brain and body” data was erased once the score was rendered and recorded.

But … hypothetically … if such data wasn’t deleted how might it be used?

Clearly, all the better to sell to customers under the banner of convenience, better experience, etc. Further, that data can be sold from the collecting entity (whomever they may be) to other companies … we’ve heard this story a billion times.

I wonder how collected brain and body data can be fully utilized beyond the context of sales … exactly what biological processes are being recorded and in what myriad ways can that data be used?

My mind immediately goes toward recent stories of AI becoming more effective at facial recognition by being exposed to vast rafts of peoples’ images – to wit, biological data. Upping the ante a skosh, how might AI be trained on presumably more deep, rich and complex brain and body data – and toward what end?

The thing is, with every click, scan and “like” we surrender without a second thought we offer krill for the kraken. Are there potential upsides to this exchange? Sure … that can be spun like a potter’s wheel. Are there downsides? Again, yeah … almost certainly.

So, here we are, smack-dab in the middle of a cyberpunk world. Welcome to the future.

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