OPINION: Big brother is listening, and so are a lot of other people


OPINION: Big brother is listening, and so are a lot of other people

DETROIT – I realize that I’m in the minority on this, but I am not a fan of Alexa and the host of other “smart” devices ready to meet my every desire at the mere sound of my voice.

Let me preface this by saying that, I fully appreciate the freedom and independence the device offers those with physical disabilities. That is indeed a blessing. But the blessing comes with tradeoffs.

I read an article on Bloomberg this week revealing what I had already guessed, that Alexa is not working alone. Amazon employs thousands of people to listen to voice recordings from homes around the world in order to improve the AI’s grasp of speech so it can respond more efficiently in the future.

In theory, the humans listen only to the words that come after a user gives the wake-up word. But in reality, there have been goofs in which smart speakers recorded private conversations, and in some cases, sent them to friends on a user’s contact list. Oops.

I wonder why we’re not more bothered by this. I think it all changed after 9/11, because we were scared. We were told that privacy was a luxury that America could no longer afford in the pursuit of bad people. We were comforted with the assurance that if we were doing nothing wrong, we had nothing to fear. We bought it.

Add to that, America’s obsession with convenience. We want everything, including groceries delivered to our door. Even better when someone puts the groceries right into the refrigerator so we don’t even have to get up. I think in another five or six generations humans will begin to evolve into simply large blobs of immobile flesh with only a mouth so we can speak to the A.I. serving our needs, and tiny brains since thinking will be a skill fast becoming obsolete. This should have been an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Bottom line, we have grown so accustomed to the loss of privacy that we now give it up voluntarily.   Can you imagine thirty years ago, if someone had said they were going to put a box in your home to record your family’s voices and send selected parts of those conversations to strangers around the world? How times have changed.

Call me old fashioned. But, Alexa, go live in somebody else’s house.

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Published at Sun, 14 Apr 2019 00:56:15 +0000