Monday, June 15, 2009

Selective breeding for advertisement?

Humans shape their environment and ultimately the phenotype of animals either on purpose (agriculture, domestication), or inadvertently because of more or less random beliefs (remember the incredible story of the Heike-crab, described in Sagan's "Cosmos"?).

Here is an idea (horrible perhaps). What if the natural environment (and the shape of living beings themselves) were used purposely as displays for advertising?

It would then be easy to imagine a full spectrum of dystopian scenarios:

  • Bugs (butterflies, beetles) with logos on wings that would fly and "spread" the advertisement message (let's call them adbugs). Then, we will have advertisement plagues or "spam swarms".
  • Fungi that grows in logo-patterns on walls. That can be done through selective breeding... or genetic engineering.
  • There will be aerosols to kill adbugs. Imagine fighting ads as we fight mosquitoes or natural diseases!

Advertisement will find its way into the ecosystem... but it has been always the case! plants, coloured flowers do "promote" their "products". Of course, instead of money the thing exchanged, the thing at stake is survival. But money can be seen as representing this value in a certain sense: the survival of a company-ecosystem.   

Is it an horrendous idea? Yes it is! The problem is that if it can be done, it will be done. Better to think critically about it now than die asphyxiated in a adbug spam swarm.

As the Heike-crab example shows, we do shape our environment as a function of our beliefs - even when we don't intend to. Marketing products is a human activity as any other; even without intentional "shaping" of the environment, market forces do affect it (think of urban planning and how it is influenced by more or less hidden economical constraints). 
So, why not to apply scientific knowledge to better (more efficiently or more subtly) "imprint" information into the environment? I am not advocating for this, I am just pointing to the fact that it is an unexplored area not because of some ethical barrier, but just because it has been ignored or impossible to this date.

Humans always shape the environment, but there is also a subtle feedback: brands would have more organic-like shapes (to simplify the artificial selection).The return of the "Art Nouveau"?

Should we start thinking about the necessity of legislations to limit artificial selection for advertisement? in the name of what? how to counterattack? the right to a "clean" environmental space? (this does not work, or at least not so well, as evidenced by the proliferation of advertisement panels). What about the legislations against spam? [some research is needed here]

Should we do a demo? a paper on this to show the danger? To promote the practice? Perhaps it is possible to try this by artificial selection on bugs? plants?

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