Previous “Our Terrible Future” posts

Kidnapping a JPEG 

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

If you don’t know what NFTs and “Bored Apes” are, gosh, I don’t know, consider yourself lucky. It’s all a pretty vapid rabbit hole of cryptocurrency and mediocre-at-best artwork, and ignoring it is mostly for the best. Still, for today’s post, a brief primer is in order.

An NFT (non-fungible token) is a one-of-a-kind digital asset, which mostly has value because other people agree that it has value. That’s true of lots of things, of course, though NFTs tend to seem much dumber than most assets. You can read more about NFTs here, but I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t bother. Think of NFTs as sort of like digital baseball cards, and you won’t be too far off-base.

Bored Apes are a particular type of NFT, featuring computer-generated pictures of cartoon apes. They’re popular with celebrities, and often used as profile pictures. OK. If that sounds fairly stupid, then you understand enough.

With all that as preface, please enjoy the headline “Someone Stole Seth Green’s Bored Ape, Which Was Supposed To Star In His New Show”. In essence, someone stole the digital asset which was going to be used to star in a TV show. Because of the way NFTs work, the possessor of an NFT is generally assumed to be its owner. As such, this theft could present copyright issues for the new show. There’s a whole lot of time, energy, and money being spent on things that are at best bad art, and at worst, terrible for the environment. On the plus side, however, they at least provide the rest of us with something to laugh at.

Previously in NFT Nonsense: They Got Scammed At Least Twice

Ad Creep Continues 

Monday, April 4th, 2022

Three years ago, I wrote about Cooler Screens, the horrible cooler-door screen company trying to embed advertising in yet another facet of our lives. Alas, my plea for them to just stop has (predictably) been unsuccessful. The displays are now in thousands of Walgreens stores, and many people are not fans

To Avakian, it’s simply an expected growing pain. Cooler Screens plans to educate customers about the digital displays and launch features like voice recognition, so shoppers can ask about prices or item locations.

“This is the future of retail and shopping,” Avakian said.

I really hope not.

They’re Still Going to Want Your Phone Number 

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

This week on “Our Terrible Future”, RadioShack is coming back to sell you cryptocurrency.

Nike’s Going to Sell Virtual Shoes 

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

Hey, y’all, I have a slight concern. I think the future might be a little, tiny bit, completely dumb.

Monitored and Supervised by Robots 

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

In an effort to defend itself in a wrongful termination suit, Amazon recently presented proof that it routinely fires workers who aren’t meeting productivity standards. That’s not exactly great either.

Critics see the system as a machine that only sees numbers, not people. “One of the things that we hear consistently from workers is that they are treated like robots in effect because they’re monitored and supervised by these automated systems,” Mitchell says. “They’re monitored and supervised by robots.”

While Amazon has been working hard to automate as much of their process as possible, it still requires human workers for many tasks. However, it appears robots have already taken the jobs of some warehouse supervisors.

I Don’t Get Out of Bed to Stare at Ads for Less Than $10,000 a Day 

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

Today in creepy, awful advertising: PreShow.

It’s an app that lets you earn free movie tickets for watching 15 to 20 minutes of branded content on your phone…The company has developed a way to track your gaze to make sure you’re actually looking at the PreShow commercial…If you look away for too long, or leave your seat, the ad automatically pauses and you’ll get a red border around your screen.

On the one hand, with movie tickets costing around $10 each, this would be paying a pretty decent wage of $20 to $30 per hour to watch ads. On the other hand, this is much, much too close to “A Clockwork Orange” to not be sickening.

Creeping on You in the Cold Drinks Aisle

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

A new digital door technology from a company called Cooler Screens is now being tested in Walgreens, and it sounds absolutely awful. Rather than a basic, transparent glass door, coolers and freezers will be sealed by screens that show a sanitized image of the products behind them. Supposedly, these screens will:

  • Save energy

  • Help monitor inventory

  • Help customers with poor eyesight

  • Make products more visually appealing

That’s all nice enough, and those mild benefits might even be worth replacing a simple glass pane with a complex TV screen. However, further reading ultimately makes those benefits sound like nothing so much as an after-the-fact justification for the real motives behind this technology:

Flashing banner ads float between the digital rows of goods…in addition to the flashy ads and “smart” merchandising, these screens are equipped with sensors and cameras designed to watch and profile the appearance and actions of customers who find themselves in their path, like me. Approximate age and gender. How long my gaze lingers on the bottles of tea.

It seems there’s money to be earned by creeping on you in the cold drinks aisle, and Cooler Screens is determined to try and earn it. If this takes off, animated advertisements, eyeball tracking, and customer profiling will all become part of our simple shopping experience. But don’t worry, Cooler Screens has a privacy policy:

A. Information Collected through our Smart Coolers.

We work with retailers to deploy Smart Coolers in their stores. The Smart Coolers are equipped with computerized cameras that record videos and images of consumers who walk by or stand in proximity to the Smart Coolers. The cameras are connected to software provided by our Service Providers. Depending on the jurisdiction, the software may process facial images of consumers in real-time to determine gender, age or age range, number of consumers, and/or how consumers interact with the Smart Coolers. We do not save the videos or images beyond this processing. The software develops statistics concerning the environment where the particular Smart Cooler is located. We use those statistics for purposes of understanding consumer trends and purchase behavior, which may be used to inform advertising campaigns and product placement.

Cooler Screens does not collect or retain any information that individually identifies consumers.

Unwritten, but implied, are the phrases “…at this time” or “…yet”, or perhaps most realistically, “…until we can earn a few more cents by taking things even further”. Because of course, the privacy policy also includes this catch-all:

10. Changes to this Privacy Policy. We reserve the right to revise and reissue this Privacy Policy at any time. Any changes will be effective immediately upon posting of the revised Privacy Policy. Your continued use of our Service indicates your consent to the Privacy Policy then posted. If the changes are material, we may provide you additional notice to your email address.

As a customer, continued use of the Cooler Screens “Service” might simply mean “walking into the grocery store”. Individual consumers have very limited control over how this sort of encroachment affects our lives. At some point, those with more power need to have the backbone to simply say “Enough”, and refuse to indulge in the mindless pursuit of every last possible source of revenue. Failing that, I don’t know how we stop the continual overreach by companies looking to mine our data and our eyeballs for profit.

While I’m sure it’s a futile endeavor, after poking at the Cooler Screens website, I felt compelled to send the following to their public email address:

  • To anyone who might listen at Cooler Screens,

    Please, just stop. You are making the world a worse place. Reconsider what you’re doing. Not every single thing that can be tracked and monetized must be. Is this what you want your legacy to be?


It’s unlikely that the founders and employees of Cooler Screens will have a sudden moral awakening, but at least it was cathartic. Perhaps this technology will instead be killed by the marketplace itself, failing to generate enough revenue to be worthwhile. That would at least be something. One way or another, I hope Cooler Screens is shuttered before bright, blinking advertising gains yet another foothold in our lives.

When Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Intelligent 

Friday, November 30th, 2018

In China, a high-level business executive was wrongly flagged as a criminal, and had her picture displayed on a public-shaming billboard as a result. Apparently, a facial recognition system spotted a bus ad featuring a picture of Dong Mingzhu’s face, and incorrectly tarred the real Mingzhu.

This story is so dystopian I thought it was likely to be fake when I first saw it on a Chinese news site. And yet now, western sites like the BBC seem to be confirming it. As technology advances, Chinese society seems more and more strange to me.

Previously in the growing Chinese dystopia: The List of Dishonest People and More

The List of Dishonest People and More 

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Speaking of weird things in China, their new experiment in “social credit” is both fascinating and horrifying.

A New Low Even for Uber 

Monday, October 31st, 2016

Here’s a Halloween fright for you: advertising via drone! Yes, apparently Uber has used drones to advertise its services to drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico, resulting in one of the most dystopian pictures I’ve seen in quite some time. If I’d been stuck in this traffic jam, I certainly wouldn’t not have been able to resist visiting violence upon these taunting advertisements.