“Alexa, play some Ramones. Google, when does the local Target store open? Siri, what’s the weather tomorrow? Cortana, when’s my company meeting?” Ahhh, my AI assistants. They’re so helpful — always ready with an answer or to help with my daily life. And so attentive! They are always listening. Always.
Yeah, that last part. The fact that AI assistants, and our phones, computers, and intelligent devices in general, are potentially always listening to every word that we say. Talk about a loss of privacy (or don’t, because they’re listening). And the amazing thing is, we not only invited them, but we welcome them to snoop on us! It’s kind of crazy.
Imagine if, even just a few years ago, major companies had said, “Hey we’d like to put microphones in your home and on your person so we can listen to every word you say, and provide better products and services to you (and more effectively target ads at you, but let’s just skip over that).”
People would have said, “No way. You couldn’t pay me to do that.”
Well, that was true. Now we’re paying them for the privilege of putting a spy in our home.
And it makes a lot of sense. I have a friend who has fully hacked his Amazon Echo into a full home automation center. It is very cool to see him controlling everything in his house with voice commands to Alexa.
Plus, all of these AI assistants are really useful. And I’m on the record as saying that voice-controlled AIs are probably the future personal computing interface for all of us.
And with the assistants, the fact that they are listening to us is at least up front. They are controlled by verbal commands, so they kind of have to listen. And it’s pretty easy to turn them off.
More troubling is how many things listen to us that we may not realize are doing it. Turn on the wrong feature in the Facebook app, and it listens to everything you say (or watch or listen to) and targets advertisements based on those things. And several smart TVs are known to listen to what people in the room are saying.
Of course, the big question is: Can we do anything about it, or do we even want to?
Some may go full Luddite and drop everything, but for those of us who live and work in the real world, that isn’t an option.
I am sure there will be a booming market in privacy devices and tools, from apps that add full privacy modes, to devices, to special cases for smartphones, to spy-level gadgets that can tell if anything in a room or on a device is listening.
But for most, there will just be a shrug and quiet acceptance. For them, loss of privacy is just the price of enjoying the benefits of modern tech.
I do think there will be a backlash at some point. Some business or app will go too far and there will be a move to control some of these privacy invasions. But until then, I guess I’ll just sit back and enjoy my privacy-free use of AI assistants. And oh yeah, can you please stop showing me ads of pink Cadillacs? I’m not interested — I was just singing along with a song.