There has been a lot made over the last few weeks about how the new telly screen eyes on the new new new New Street Station will be backed with hidden cameras from which !’state of the art facial recognition technology’! will be able to scan the demographics of passers-by, and direct targeted advertising to them:
So, presumably, if a trainload of incoming college freshmen pulls into the station, the giant eyes will condescend to them about drink offers and the silent menace that is chlamydia. A group of sad and sweaty business drones will prompt messages about erectile dysfunction pills, hair loss treatments, cars that look like they’re worth more than they really are, luxury dog food, and all the rest of the dull flotsam of meaningless adulthood. And if some kindly old ladies should totter through, clanking against their walker frames, the vast eye above them will taste their frailty in the air, narrow its gaze in their direction, and start furiously flashing large-print advertisements for life insurance, bath lifts, Dignitas.
I’ve no doubt about this being technically possible and that the system presumably technically works in a test setting – I’m sure if the people behind the technology weren’t able to demonstrate it working technically, the people behind the station^Wshopping centre wouldn’t have been persuaded to buy it.
But I’m still calling bullshit on it.
I mean, have you ever stood in and around New Street station for any length of time. Or any train station, for that matter?
Vice’s polemic aside, have you ever noticed there ever being a particularly definable crowd of students, office workers, or old people walking past at any given moment?
A train station, especially a major national interchange hub like Birmingham New Street, is something used by everybody, and everybody walks past one. Even at specific times you’ll be getting everybody passing through – at commuter time, you’ll be getting business folks, young folks, hairdressers, shop workers, finance workers, and everybody else all passing through at the same time. Coming home later in the evening, you’ll get people coming home from Wetherspoons, from swanky bars, from the cinema, and from Symphony Hall, the Repertory Theatre, and the Hippodrome.
So on this basis, assuming the technology can recognise the demographic of an individual, and indeed recognise the demographic of a crowd, what actually would the point of that be, since it will never actually see an individual demographic (apart from possibly for about half an hour on football days) to recognise and then target to? How will the marketing success of this system ever be more effective than a system which just churns out adverts on either a random or pre-programmed sequence.
I think the folks at Grand Central need to ask for their money back.