Anticipatory Shipping – Amazon Looks Deep into the Crystal Ball

Many of us shook our heads thinking they had lost the marbles upon reading Viktor Mayer-Schönberger’s and Kenneth Cukier’s theories on how prediction and probability will rule everything from insurance premiums to crime protection in a near future, as presented in their 2013 book Big Data. For sure, we knew already that Google can predict election results and flu spread. And we were familiar with semantic analysis of social media for things like stock market recommendations. But predicting the specific behaviour of individuals ought to be something different altogether, right? Free will, and all that. Well, turns out this future is a lot closer than most of us would like to believe. This week, Amazon received a US patent on “anticipatory shipping”. That’s right, the shipping starts before you have placed the order. By analysing things like previous purchases and browsing behaviour, Amazon seems to believe it can predict your buying decisions with enough precision to commercially justify expediting your orders before they have been placed. If this flies, a paradigm shift is on its way for sure. Will my mates know when and which bar to turn-up at for after work drinks without making any arrangements? Will I not even have to dial a taxi, but only step outside to find it conveniently waiting in the street? (That, by the way, happens to be the system in Beijing, but it has nothing to do with big data, just loads of taxis.) Will this blog write itself, because WordPress knows what I think before I write it? Or maybe that already happened, because how would you – dear Reader – ever know?