Next time you look at a billboard, it might be looking back. It'll know your age, gender and how long you've been staring at it.
Targeted advertising is the golden goose of the online economy: ads keyed to a user's unique interests have been shown to double the effectiveness of traditional ads. But those ads have been restricted to the Internet--until now.
New York City startup Immersive Labs's outdoor ads use artificial intelligence to target the individuals or groups looking at them. Our video of Immersive Lab's ads below shows how they increase engagement and bring the Web's interactivity and customization out into the real world.
The facial recognition software can determine the gender and age of whoever is walking by, and, if there's more than one person looking, can detect the makeup of the crowd. That's nothing new. Billboards have been able to identify these characteristics for years. But unlike past technology, Immersive uses this information to deliver the ad with the best calculated chance of getting your attention at that moment. Alongside the consumer's information, the software customizes ads by pulling in local data including the weather and social media updates from sites like Twitter.
So if a fifty-year-old man strolls by an ad for tampons, the ad will morph seamlessly into an ad for running shoes before he gets there. If a crowd of men and women of all ages come by on a cold morning, the display might transform into an ad for hot coffee: a gender-neutral, time and weather appropriate solution. And if hundreds of people are tweeting about the Knicks game, the software might realize a sports game is unfolding nearby, and display a nicely appropriate Gatorade ad.
The display's built-in camera uses an artificial intelligence that learns as it measures just how long people view specific ads. "Successful" ads draw viewers' sustained attention, while unsuccessful ones are ignored or merely glanced at. Over time, the AI uses this data to get better at knowing what you'll want to see.
All of this might bring to mind the eerily-prescient tech classic, Minority Report, in which a frantic Tom Cruise sprints by ads that call out his name and track his location. Immersive's founders emphasize that privacy is a big priority for the company; all information gathered is private. The video below, which displays users' faces as they look at the ad is primarily to help illustrate how the ad functions, and not a part of the everyday software. There is no opt-out available for those who might not want to participate, however.
"The information that we are collecting is purely numerical," Immersive CEO Jason Sosa told the Huffington Post. "It’s not identifiable to any one particular person."
Immersive tested the ads in the Sony Style Store in New York, and they're due for a wider release at a Hudson News Kiosk in John F. Kennedy Airport.
Video by HuffPost's Hunter Stuart