What happened?

The Verge published an internal company video from Google that supposedly leaked from the Google X department. The video shows a speculative design concept coined ‘The Selfish Ledger’ in which they draw an analogy between ledgers and Richard Dawkin’s concept of the selfish gene. The term Selfish Gene metaphorically refers to the tendency of genes to replicate, in which the organism just functions as a transient carrier. According to this analogy, we could in a similar way look at ourselves as temporary custodians of the data we generate instead of owners. Furthermore, as is the case with genes, ledgers can be sequenced to better understand the human species.

What does this mean?

This leak gives us an interesting insight in the inner thoughts of the search company. In the first place, it shares a perspective that conveniently justifies the company’s mission. Although not explicated in the video, Google obviously would be the company that will facilitate the ledger. Lastly, it is interesting to see that Google uses speculative design to think about future scenarios. However, the leak also created considerable controversy for Google.

What’s next?

Even though the video, according to Google, was purely meant as a way to stimulate internal discussion amongst designers, it could give us an idea of how the company approaches product- and service design. One specific example that was shown in the video was that the ledger could fill in user data gaps by creating and selling personalized data-harvesting products (e.g. a bathroom scale) based on already collected user data, just to increase the likelihood to retrieve the missing data (e.g. weight). Interestingly, according to the Verge, some Google patents seem to come close to the idea of the Selfish Ledger.