Every day around 6pm, Luis Garcia—Brazilian, 26 years old, married without children—finishes work at his Sao Paulo bank and prepares for his night job. He takes out his Android smartphone to learn the evening’s assignment. A daily list of subjects has been forwarded from the United States. Recognizing the names on the screen, and knowing precisely where to find them, Garcia gets on his motorcycle and drives. Minutes later, arriving at his destination, he comes face-to-face with his first mission. It’s a loaf of bread.
Garcia pulls out his smartphone again. He snaps a picture and uploads the image, location, time of day, and, crucially, the price. In two hours, he’ll have visited a handful of stores and taken scores pictures of food, drinks, and other products. The next day, it will be the same: He will leave the bank, check his smartphone for instructions, get on his motorcycle, and take more photos.
What is Luis Garcia doing, exactly? He’s working with a team of economists in the United States who are paying people in the U.S., Brazil, India and around the world to help build a real-time measure of global prices.
One Brazilian bank employee taking photos of bread after work is, well, just a weird hobbyist. But hundreds of people in 25 cities around the world collecting the daily prices of bread, soap, fruit, razors, paper napkins, and more, every day, and merging their data with even more prices collected from millions of e-commerce sites? That could be the foundation for something bigger: A daily economic database for the world economy, powered by smartphones, smart software, and a mischievously grand ambition. Can you build a real-time stock market of world prices?