“She’s buying rocky chunk now,” calls Bill Munchberger, the CEO of Omni Biometrics of America (OBA). I watch and pretend to be engaged by flexing my upper lip toward the columella part of my nose. Mr. Munchberger, some senior-level managers, an assortment of DevOps engineers, a few data sales trainers, and one other principal architect are reviewing the new biometric data from 67A23, an ice cream display at superstore12. Both screens in the conference room are covered in a checkboard pattern of profiles. Next to them are their facial matrix score (FMS) with any score above 95/100 or below 25/100 automatically pinned for review by the team.
Mr. Munchberger hovers over her global unique identifier (GUID) until her face appears next to her FMS of 97/100. “She’s one of our greatest resources, always buying something new. And it doesn’t hurt she’s a looker too.” He moves the cursor, hovering over another profile until the face of a skinny and harsh looking man the team’s nicknamed Miserable Pete comes into focus. Next to his photo is his FMS of 23/100. Miserable Pete is not a dynamic buyer and he can never remember his flavor of ice cream; he just stands there in front of the display, attempting to figure it out while the camera records a range of emotions that can be graphed from pain to amorousness to uncertainty; the last reaction being the worst. “This guy is always mucking up our data,” calls Mr. Munchberger, vigorously scratching the center of his forehead. “I wish we could just delete him and save time.”
“Why?” asks Sarah, a new member of the data sales training department.
Mr. Munchberger scoffs. I believe he’s pissed. “Because he’s an idiot and can’t remember what flavor he’s supposed to get. Last time it was…” Mr. Munchberger pulls up his buyer history. “Rocky road. The three times before that it was rocky chunk and now he’s buying rocky road again. He’s got a conversion time of five plus minutes for churned milk.”
“Maybe he’s just debating which one he liked better?”
“Sarah, when you talk to clients, I hope you aren’t as…” Mr. Munchberger stops himself. “Deciding and idiot have two very distinct facial recognition patterns.” Mr. Munchberger pulls up the facial matrix then places a set of the woman’s saved facial icons next to a set of Miserable Pete’s. “Deciding,” he says, clicking on the woman. “Idiot,” he says, clicking on Pete. Mr. Munchberger rapidly cycles through the images. “Deciding. Idiot. Deciding. Idiot. See the brow and the tilted back ears comparable to the startled facial expressions on a number of bovines? That’s idiot. I want to believe the real problem here is the marketing copy. I told the advertising agency the names were too similar. We have to keep introducing new algorithms not only for the Petes of the world, but now for inept copywriters. Charley here,” Mr. Munchberger points at me until everyone looks, “is working overtime solely on states of confusion.” I nod at this asymptotic truth.
Seemingly satisfied, Mr. Munchberger moves back to the image of the woman. “This was her first rocky chunk conversion.” He overlays the facial matrix, highlighting her eighty nodal points. “Intrigue, clarity in product differentiations—despite the copywriters—meditation, and lastly, happiness.” Mr. Munchberger zooms in on her lips, nose, and eyes. “Total time for conversion, four seconds.” He pulls up her frequency at display 67A23. “This was her third time seeing the product. Two seconds the first time and five seconds the second time. Both times displaying semblances of curiosity and review.”
Mr. Munchberger leaves her picture up. I stare at it while he talks about superstore9 and superstore8, product placement, interference analysis, e.g., moving the frozen vegetable display further away, and the big release tomorrow of a client’s new video display (VDSS1224) at superstore12 and our expected metric gate.
When the meeting is over, I go back to my desk and pull up the woman’s profile; she has smooth, damp lips; an elegant nose curvature; high zygomatic bones producing deep eye sockets with strong projections in sectors twelve and thirteen: she is hot. She is also a dynamic buyer with a mean FMS of 98/100. A dynamic buyer is a buyer that is not only a frequent convertor, but is also pliable. Indiscriminant buyer or shotgun buyer are the slang terms.
Although the data we distribute is entirely anonymous, what is not is the information combined through an application program interface between our OBA software and the superstore smartphone app and Wi-Fi ISP. It produces a geolocation, latitude/longitude, of frequent locations with extreme prudence. Using a thing I call a Woogie, I can pinpoint her apartment to 1200 Columbus Ave, Apt A. San Francisco, CA 94133. If I run this address through any popular search engine, I can find the mailing address is registered to a Jasmin Bennet. If I then comb through various social media platforms using her location and name, I can find out just about anything. My facial matrix confirms that the person in the Facebook profile picture is the same person in superstore12, and even though certain features of her profile are set to private, her birthday isn’t one of them; it’s June 3rd and she is thirty-three. Happy belated Birthday, Jasmin.
I haven’t always been interested in biometrics; it wasn’t until many years after I was diagnosed that I developed the intent. I was eight when I was formally evaluated and I know now that what I did was wrong.
At the time, I didn’t know he didn’t like it. I’d seen other boys wrestling and I wanted to give it a try. I remember twisting his arms behind his head and listening to him scream with excitement. I heard a pop and something that sounded like someone was walking on loose gravel, and I knew I was doing a good job. I kept twisting because he kept screaming and making a face like he was eating really cold ice cream. When the teacher grabbed me, he was screaming too. Opening my grip on the boy’s arm, he asked what I thought I was doing. I told him wrestling and I made the cold ice cream face. He took me to the principal’s office where they called my parents. I watched out the window as an ambulance came to the school and took the boy to the hospital. That’s the last time I saw him, any of them for that matter. I’ve always wanted to tell him sorry, sort of.
When we met the doctor, she was calm and direct. But my parents, well, they were all over the place when she said I wasn’t neurotypical and that I’d have difficulty identifying feelings in myself and in others. She said my life would be one of struggle and a constant battle to connect emotionally with people, if ever. At first, I think my parents thought I was some kind of psychopath. It began with questions every time we went somewhere. How was I feeling? Am I angry? Did I understand that people, and especially the next door neighbor’s dog, Willy, who came into our yard frequently, had feelings? That I shouldn’t touch, do things without asking, or chop anyone up. If I didn’t know the proper response, I should just excuse myself. For the next eleven years I lived under a surveillance state. What the doctor should have told my parents is I’d develop into a boring thirty-one year old virgin working in biometrics in San Francisco—Richard Franck had it right, necessity is the mother of invention. Now I always know what people think, even Miserable Pete.
Among some other regulars, I remotely follow Jasmin mostly on her lunch breaks as she walks the long, sensory rich aisles of superstore12. She starts in the home goods, then moves to electronics, and then through the foodstuffs beginning with the produce. Like I said before, she is always buying something new; this time it was rocky chunk ice cream, yesterday it was a USB drive doubling as a spoon. Last week it was an automatic melon slicer, Bluetooth headphones, a pair of running shoes and sweat-proof socks. The week before that she spent three minutes watching a video presentation on a clean water initiative in Tanzania. At the 1:26 minute mark, during the most poignant part of the clip in which a young boy is seen walking what seems like an endless distance for fresh water, her face tightens, surrendering her eyes while clenching her jaw in a firm swallow: conversion. She bought a case of water, a tribal African painted vase in home goods, and donated twenty dollars at the register. Now, she’ll receive ads on her phone and cross platform devices thanking her for her donation and asking her if she’d share a post on social media. She’ll also receive ads for rugs that match the vase’s aesthetics.
Tomorrow, based on Jasmin’s prior timestamps, she should reach VDSS1224 by 12:36 p.m. It is right between home goods and electronics and the item for purchase is a cruise to Alaska. It can be conveniently purchased right from the display or scanned with her phone for a later buying option. The video showcases an amalgamation of people taking a voyage of a lifetime up to Alaska to see wildlife and glaciers: whales surface next to the boat, grand walls of ice reach into the sky without showing signs of melting or fracture. The landscape is endless and serene, an escape from the doldrums of life. Our test viewing showed the film’s first ten seconds instill wonder and awe, the next five seconds certify affordability, the next three inculcate deservingness, and the last two seconds, as the boat returns to port just a mere five days later, highlights radiant expressions of pure happiness. I’m not entirely sure Jasmin will convert, but I can guarantee she’ll watch, thus increasing our data, which will be translated in next year’s cruise to Jamaica.
On my way home, I stop into superstore12 to make sure everything is up to specifications. I’ve never been inside this particular store and I usually assess and quantify the environment’s variables using a relay of camera angles from my desk. I’ll review a few preliminary samples—off the record—then adjust the data field before the official launch.
When I reach the display, it’s positioned optimally in a high-traffic area in the part of the store I like to call the kill zone (KZ); it is where all linoleum roads meet and no entrances or exits can be spotted. An analogous example can be found in a casino. One of OBA’s largest clients owns sixty-five-percent of the metropolis known as Las Vegas; the auspicious million-dollar jackpots slots are found on the edges of the kill zone.
Superstore12’s KZ, besides our video display taking center stage, is surrounded by an AT&T smartphone kiosk with a waived fee if you switch providers today and a display for Samsung’s new smart TV with an affordable twelve month financing option. Closest to VDSS1224 is the subliminally acute aisle-ender of save the whale and climate change t-shirts, coffee mugs, magnets, and other kitsch. The video display, waiting for interaction, flashes, yet in a soothing heartbeat pulse, the words, See Alaska Today. As I draw near, the video begins.
It’s late and I can’t sleep. I was thinking about tomorrow’s video release, anticipating the results, mostly for Jasmin, but then the residents above took to engaging in coitus of an extreme nature. Now, I’m drinking a Mountain Dew and sitting on the floor with my back against the refrigerator. The hum relaxes me. OBA reviews the biometric data of millions of people a year using the software I wrote, a guy who can’t understand or properly place emotions. I smile at this. The most motivating thing about biometrics was the revelation that most people are unhappy even with their ability to express their displeasure. Why is this motivating? You’d think in a world where everyone can read each other’s faces, it would be easy to be happy; that when someone sees a person that looks unhappy, maybe they should do something to cheer them up. If a person is sad, maybe they should give them a hug. If they are tired, give them a hand. That people should tell jokes, dance, and sing more because when they do, other people smile. Me, I don’t have this ability, but through biometrics I’ve realized most people don’t use their superpower anyway, this ability to affect the world with a look or by their response to a look. When I sit against the fridge, I ponder this and wish I could tell them all that the facts are in the numbers; people are growing increasingly unhappy. One day, I’ll show them the data and make my suggestion of how to change the world. I’ll tell them the answer is written on the faces around us.
I’m sitting at my desk. It is exactly 1:15 p.m. and I would say I’m back from lunch, but I ate here. I pull up Jasmin’s profile. Her latest engagement entry is for 12:38 p.m., superstore12, VDSS1224. Like expected, her FMS is pinned for review. I open the file and see 8/100 blinking in red. I think there must be some kind of mistake so I pull up her video and overlay the facial matrix to see what went wrong.