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?
Though I will never wear an activity tracker. I’ve been very curious about the smart wristband / ‘wearables’ business. Especially the territory Fitbithas been moving into.
Sure, most people will be awed by Fitbit’s ‘SpO2’ sensor, for instance. But despite the clinical USP (to keep tabs of ones oxygenated blood), there are some features that blur the lines between an activity tracker and a smart watch; a wearable that can make contact-less payments via NFC, minus a phone.
There’s also the music feature. A smart watch that could store music could be a game changer. With Bluetooth and WiFi (and GPS) who knows what territory it might lead this ‘wearable’ into? Will it motivate some to leave their phone behind? Would that mess with the iPhone eco-system?
The other reason I’m curious about this wearable is, I plan to use Fitbit as an example in an upcoming class. It’s a class about the Internet, and the connectivity it provides. And the hardware and software that run on the infrastructure students take so much for granted. Following up on last week’s look at Virtual Reality, nothing like bringing up the much-hyped Internet of Things.
IOT of the Internet of Things may sound like an overblown idea. But it’s becoming a reality, despite the buzz phrase. Consider the millions of controllers in homes that are connected to common appliances such as baby monitors, security cameras, garage doors etc.
The Internet of Things,’ a buzz phrase slung around for some years now –now known by its equally fancy acronym IoT — is deeper and broader than shaving mirrors that display the weather, or activity trackers worn as wrist bands, and tethered to a mobile device.
I just wrote an article on this for a magazine, and used as my working definition this from a Gartner report: A network of physical objects that could communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.
Hooking up these ‘things,’ small enough to lie beneath the skin of a plastic toy or shell of a small appliance makes manufacturers and retailers salivate. They could use the data from these devices to ‘inform’ them as to how we make our purchasing decisions, or even interact socially. An internet of people, and an Internet of things, in one continuous happy loop.
Here’s a fascinating example of how it is being used. I once spoke to a young entrepreneur whose business model was based on the ‘data’ retrieved from towels and linen in a hotel room. Fluffy stuff, mind you, not hard objects, wired to the cloud! Here’s how it works. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tags are sewn into sheets, towels, and pillowcases,
I was tempted to make light of the surveillance possibilities of fluffed pillows – Wiki Leaks for dirty sheets. But really, there are places where data gathering could help in such inventory control. Tracking the path of soiled, laundered, lost and replaced linen like FedEx packages!
Just putting the final touches to an article on the biggest, hyped concept –the Internet of Things.
It’s not difficult to grasp what this is supposed to mean –after all the Internet as we know it is nothing more than a collection of billions of things such as servers, routers, ATMs, satellites, and devices that send and receive data.
But I came across a few interesting ways this IoT space is developing, sometimes in a quiet, boring way. By invitation, or by accident we subscribe to (and nurture) the Internet of Things. Not many people have heard of the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) by some hotel chains in (get ready for this…) bed-sheets and pillowcases! Soft, fluffy things, in other words, can provide data.
Sure, in the post-WikiLeaks world, many of us are extremely skeptical about where this data will end up. There’s a bumpy spot in our passport cover that I am told is an embedded device. It is one of those ‘things’… But what about biometric wristbands? How about license plates with RFID tags?
You would be surprised what people surveyed (by Pew Research) have said about what to expect.