The Google Maps of the Future Sounds Useful but Creepy

The Google Maps of the future will be a very smart computer program that knows you very well, which sounds part useful, part annoying, and part creepy. "The dialogue with the map is becoming much more personal," Google's Michael Jones told The Atlantic's James Fallows in a Q&A in this month's magazine. "Personal" means it knows what we want—"It’ll be like you’re a local everywhere you go," added Jones—but at what expense? Jones says the Maps app of the future will make us smarter: 

In the future, the phone will signal you—go left or straight ahead—in words or sounds in your ear, or visually through your glasses, so you can just look where you’re going and walk... You’ll know your way through the back alleys and hutongs of Beijing, you’ll know your way all around Paris even if you’ve never been before. Signs will seem to translate themselves for you.

That all sounds convenient and helpful, if not a bit irritating. ("Isn’t this just like the voice in the car GPS telling you, annoyingly, where to turn?" asks Fallows.) But, in practice, it also sounds a bit too-personalized. 

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Take a current example of what the future might look like. Jones points to an Android app called Field Trip. It follows you while walking around, not only pointing out landmarks, but choosing things it thinks you will like. "Around the corner behind you is where a scene from your favorite movie was filmed," the app might say. But how does it know that?  "It is using your location to search in a database of 'interesting things,' and it learns what kinds of things you care about," says Jones. Again: That can come in handy. Maybe I do want to check out that landmark. But, it's all about how Google gets that information. Considering we just learned the shady way it has decided to get our information via enforced Google+ usage, we don't expect too much transparency. 

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