I recently finished reading Hannah Fry’s book Hello World: How to Be Human In the Age of the Machine. It’s a clear, non-technical, myth deflating look at AI and the digital, similar to Tom Chatfield’s book How to Thrive in the Digital Age (2012) and the radio show The Digital Human, both of which I’ve extolled the virtues of.
Oh, this is good. In November Mozilla released a guide to the privacy practices of various Internet connected devices that might be on people’s Christmas lists: privacy not included.
The Why We Made This Guide is also worth a read. It suggests a reason as to why it currently feels such a headache and a chore to think about what data and what privacy we give up when installing these devices:
Stop and think about that. To understand if a connected device you purchase is safe — can it spy on you, what does it know about you, can you control it — requires top privacy research skills as well as some high-level technical skills.
In every single one of these cases what has occurred is that those in control of a company have made an active choice to pick the machine over the human – and such machines were largely created to provide these owners with just this choice. The robots did not voice any opinion in the matter. To put it more plainly: the burger flipping robot does not want to replace any human workers (nor for that matter does it want to not replace human workers) because the burger flipping robot does not want anything. The robots aren’t the problem, the bosses are – Librarian Shipwreck
There was an article on AI in last week’s Sunday Times with the headline Robot wars: if we can’t beat them, let’s become them. It’s behind a paywall but some excerpts:
The truth is that Bob, Alice and Tay [AI programs) were straws in a wind that could, one day soon, blow humans off the planet
New machines could soon wipe out millions of jobs
As one technologist put it to me: “You can be confident your laptop isn’t going to strangle you, but it might with the help of your fridge.” We already know what the bad bots can do to our bank accounts
The article carries on in this vein. The writer, Brian Appleyard, does briefly offer up a counter view through Luciano Floridi but concludes:
Maybe he’s right. Or maybe one day soon our cars and fridges or future Bobs, Alices and Tays, talking gibberish, hating feminists and supporting Hitler, will decide that we’re just getting in the way
This type of article (it just so happens to be the most recent one I’ve read, though it is probably the guiltiest) only leads to what Tom Chatfield – a writer whose even handedness when writing about technology I really like – calls the dead end of human vs machine panic. It’s a dead end because it doesn’t encourage conversation, or reasoning, it just serves to set people to anxiety and worry.
We often imagined video calls. And although they’ve been around forever, doing one from a mobile phone, or a desktop computer, never felt quite as futuristic as this pulsing thing in my kitchen that’s always watching me, and always listening, ready to do what I tell it.
There’s quite a bit to mull over in this piece on Amazon’s new Echo Show. But two questions come to mind after reading the above quote:
- What is this feeling of feeling futuristic; and
- how much are we willing to give up to feel it?
Personally, as it currently stands, I’m not so sure I could shrug off all that the reporter discusses having to shrug off merely for a hazy notion of feeling (and/or being perceived as) futuristic.