Stories About AI

Last week I was talking with friends and the conversation turned to AI and how we feel its impact. Someone had heard the rumour that Facebook is listening to our conversations and showing us ads based on the content. Now, this particular rumour is not true. Besides questions of legality and creepiness, it is simply infeasible, even for a company as large as Facebook, to analyse the speech of all its users in real time. The necessary computational cost far exceeds any potential revenue that could be made from the resulting ads. This does not mean that the rumour is easy to kill, because there is always someone whose friend was once talking about visiting Australia and, lo and behold, they started seeing ads about Australia. Continue reading “Stories About AI”

Selling Data to Amazon

I read the article thinking it would be just another bit of tech news, and yet for some reason my thoughts kept coming back to it. The story of the article is simple: Amazon is willing to pay people $10 to get access to their browsing histories. After giving the basic facts, the article then explores the idea of “buying” and “selling” data and the eventual implications of the seemingly simple offer by Amazon. What I found striking was how little we learned in the end about the details of the offer and how the article moved into a general discussion of digital surveillance as if to compensate; and amidst all this I felt the author struggling with language to express what is happening, with common words such as “buying”, “selling” and “owning” appearing repeatedly in quotation marks. Continue reading “Selling Data to Amazon”

Adventures with Android

A geocaching adventure gone wrong saw my phone disappear into the depths of a Latvian river and so I was in need of a replacement phone. My parents were kind enough to let me use one of their old phones and after unlocking it and acquiring a new sim card—both tasks ending up being more time-consuming than they should have been—nothing stood between me and the enjoyment of a new phone.

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Alexa, Police and Privacy

It was reported in the media that a woman’s life was possibly saved by an Amazon Echo device placing a 911 call. During a dispute that turned violent with her boyfriend he allegedly said “Did you call the cops?” which the device interpreted as an instruction and placed the call. This story may sound convincing, but is also false. As explained in various articles on CNET, Wired, NY Times and other places, an Amazon Echo device cannot activated with the words “Did you” and more crucially cannot place a 911 call.

The idea however is out there. Both the Wired article, as well as a Chief Seattle Geek blog post explore the potential benefits of Alexa being able to call emergency services. This can be done intentionally after being instructed, “Alexa, call 999!”, or on the devices own initiative when it detects smoke from a smoke detector, hears gunshots or senses burglars.

Continue reading “Alexa, Police and Privacy”