Surveillance is practiced by private entities, supposedly keep a watchful eye on people every day. In malls, city centers, casinos and airports companies are tracking citizens’ biometrics. The businesses side of biometrics is clear: data harvested from everywhere, –our phones, our eyes, our doorbell ringers, our heartbeat trackers, our online purchases –is traded like commodities. The new word to describe this is ‘surveillance capitalism‘ – something brought up by author, Shoshana Zuboff
This is a story I worked on for awhile, and it’s published this month. (PDF below)
What were you doing on September 4th, 1998?
I know I was just getting the hang of email, with Hotmail – the ‘revolutionary’ web-based email service that a fellow called Sabeer Bhatia created. It was soon folded into Microsoft’s Hotmail, and became very clunky. MP3 players were just coming into circulation. Apple was more in the news with the iMac; John Glenn went back into space.
But Sergei Brin and Larry Page started something that would turn information into data, and data into advertising that would make them some of the richest young guys. They also dreamed big with moonshot ideas, some of which withered on the vine, but others took off. Literally.
Despite the problems and controversies Google faces, its ‘Moonshot factory’ is still changing how we communicate, learn, and advertise. Google says it intends to have a “10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems.” It means crazy ideas (that’s what ‘moonshot’ implies, after all) such as ‘kite-electricity,’ and fighting disease.
I’m still quite annoyed at the sight of, and concept of autonomous cars, so thank you very much, Google. I’m no Luddite but I’m happy to own and operate an invention that worked fine in 1998, and still does. But twenty years from now imagine how we would look back at today.
There are four ‘Laws of robotics’ that are seldom discussed whenever the topic comes up. There were written by the late sci-fi author, Isaac Asimov. More like guide rails, these are practical laws.
With the rapid rise in automation, AI, and robotics from battlefield robots (developed by South Korea, the US, and who knows who else) and surgical bots, these issues are worth discussing. Why leave the issues of automation and robotics to academic and/or politicians?
In this month’s column in LMD, I discuss the pros and cons of robotics. You can read it here.
I’ve had some fun with Alexa. The matter was settled over the Christmas break: We can do without AI in our home.
I had previously written about it here. And featured voice assistants in my last tech column, “I spy with my little AI.” I reference how creepy it could get should an AI enabled device such as Alexa, Google assistant or even Siri eavesdrop on our private conversations. AI devices after all are supposed to do our bidding, not spy on us. But there’s a fine line between passively listening and spying.
So when we discovered that an AirBnB we rented over the break provided an Amazon Echo speaker, it got to the point where (after a few rounds of asking Alexa random questions and finding ‘her’ quite annoying) I unplugged it and put the darn thing away.
It was no surprise then to hear that at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas, several new breeds of AI devices were unveiled, designed to respond to human inclination to suddenly want to talk to hardware. Such as the smart refrigerator by LG that ‘talks’ to a smart oven etc.
Which makes me wonder: Just at the time when we have plenty of research pointing to the correlation between being too plugged in, and being extremely socially disconnected, we have the tech sector pushing products that seem to exacerbate the issue. I don’t need a smart fridge, thank you very much – I just need a painless way to talk to an LG service rep (25 minutes on hold, seems customary) when my fridge behaves badly.
And speaking of snooping devices, here’s something that is advertised as being able to monitor a home. A clothes hook with a hidden camera. Creepy? Or is it the sign of (the Internet of) things to come?
Have you wondered if the media is unable or unwilling to ignore Donald Trump’s puerile tweets?
I’m willing to bet that if the major news organizations had stopped covering the ridiculous things he unloads in a Twitter storm, he wouldn’t have got to this point. Of course he’s gaming the system, knowing they are gleefully waiting each morning for a ‘story’ or controversy.
His latest blunder, addressing the wrong Twitter handle of Theresa May is just another one that will be drowned by others in a few weeks.
Remember the last time they messed up the British PM’s name? Thought so! In January when she visited the US, the White House misspelled her name as ‘Teresa’ several times – it was spelled without the ‘h’ in the introduction to the daily guidance.
I suppose it’s impossible to not find a story in his tweets, when it causes a diplomatic flare-up. In response to his broadside against her, the right Theresa was blunt in her rebuke. (Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s Labour leader put it best, when he advised Trump to “hold yourself back” and “restrict yourself to two or three tweets a day”.)
Many years ago, probably before the president stumbled upon micro-blogging, people actually conducted training programs for those in governance and management. It’s too late to send someone back to social media 101 classes. Itchy fingers will continue to produce clumsy tweets as I have said before.
But perhaps a temporary blackout might help the poor chap. And our republic.
I brought up the word earlier –Technoference. It’s one of those Urban Dictionary words that smacks us in the forehead but eventually creeps into our vocabulary –like ‘Dweeb,’ ‘Fudgel’ and ‘Thunking.’ So I decided to devote my Nov column in LMD magazine to it.
So what’s Technoference, you ask?
Besides having to actually read the damn column, I’m betting you already experienced it. Have you ever had a conversation with a teenager, only to have her pause you in mid-sentence and pull out a phone to fact-check something? Thought so!
Once you get off your Snapstreak, let me know your thoughts on it.
There’s a new way to do spin, and it comes packaged from the Ministry of Truth. (Poor Edward Bernays. The so-called father of spin, must be doing somersaults in his grave.) Modern day spin is much more insidious that doublespeak, or ‘Newspeak.’
We the hoipolloi have a ‘scientific’ way to deal with spin. It involves making air-quotes whenever we use a word or a term generated by the Ministry.
I take on this delicious topic in my May column in LMD Magazine, titled, Alternative facts from the Ministry of Truth.