ABC's Bradley Blackburn reports from New York:
Remember this scene in Minority Report? As Tom Cruise’s character walks through a futuristic mall, digital signs identify him and serve up tailor-made advertising.
“John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now,” shouts a billboard in the movie.
Steven Spielberg’s vision of what’s to come is getting a little closer. Japanese tech giant NEC has developed a billboard that can identify the age and gender of people walking by and then offer custom advertising according to their demographic.
The signs can’t identify you by name, but they’re still powerful. Each billboard pairs a small camera with a flat-panel monitor. A built-in computer uses facial recognition software to estimate a person’s age, and it’s usually accurate to within a 10-year range.
The technology has obvious appeal to outdoor advertisers who crave information. NEC Corp. of America Vice President Takeshi Yamamoto tells ABC News, "For digital signage that relies on generating revenue by selling advertising, there has always been a need for advertising agencies to know who is watching."
The digital billboards are already up and running in Japan. NEC has been testing them in major shopping centers in Japan. NEC says it's had many companies interested in the technology, and so far, it has worked with coffeemaker 'illy' and Japanese telecom operator KDDI.
NEC’s American arm says it's close to bringing to the technology to the United States. It expects to begin field trials of the signs within 2 to 3 months.
The company acknowledges that Americans might not be completely comfortable with a billboard that can read their face. But to those with privacy concerns, Takeshi Yamamoto has a ready answer. "NEC's Ad Measurement technology was developed to be totally anonymous," Yamamoto told ABC News. "While the technology captures data as it relates to gender and age, it does not capture or store any footage or information as it pertains to a specific individual."
It doesn’t sound nearly as menacing as 'Minority Report's vision, and advertisers seem sure to jump on a technology that creates a niche audience in a public space.
The future of ads… coming soon to a mall near you.
So, what do you think? Is the billboard technology cool? An invasion of privacy? Give us your thoughts in the comments.