Everyone is excited about sensors, connectivity and the Internet of Things – except me
Visions like this are consistently described and demonstrated by the world’s most influential tech companies. Many are full of catchphrases like “The Internet of Things” and shiny promises of improvements in our lives, but many also seem to make ordinary actions and events much more complicated for no apparent reason. The word “smart” has been used and abused to the point that it no longer makes sense – just adding internet connectivity and sensors doesn’t really make a toothbrush, pet feeder or a “smart” stair railing. When that kind of excitement accompanies every new idea, we’re distracted from the implications that get swept under the rug: security, privacy, and the effects of living in a world where everything generates data about you.
(Also see: The Internet of Unsecured Things)
And that’s how things are. Tech companies are desperate to promote such projects in hopes that those that come to fruition will generate huge demand for their products. Companies of course like being able to use the data to profile individual customers and target advertisements; governments are also most likely happy with the potential for 24/7 surveillance. There really is some sort of world-altering shift going on, but it’s slowly creeping in and we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to seeing the implications of the path we are following.
For example, at the recently concluded 2015 Intel Developer Forum, which we attended, CEO Brian Krzanich demonstrated a dozen new products and experimental designs, using a variety of sensors, including 3D depth-sensing cameras, many of which play in the Vision’s Internet of Things.
One of these demonstrations was that of a “smart” vending machine capable of detecting the approach of a user. The advantage is that users can perform gestures instead of pressing buttons, which can be useful in hygiene-sensitive environments. But it also uses algorithms to determine the user’s gender and age range (no other parameters were specified, but of course there could be many, including emotional state ) to recommend products.
It is almost certain that these machines will also track what type of customer is buying what product. But it’s also entirely possible that tracking isn’t limited to the behaviors of demographic groups. In the future, you could be at the mercy of an industry that decides (or at least strongly influences) what you consume and how you pay for it, based on your track record. Vendor alliances could mean you’re recognized and bombarded with incredibly specific advertisements everywhere you go. The images or data could potentially be used for more nefarious purposes, especially if they end up in the wrong hands.
A related project that Krzanich demonstrated was a “smart mirror”, which allows customers to virtually try on clothes, and which could also be easily linked to other retail systems, tracking our choices and shopping habits. expenses. There’s no way to tell that any of this will actually happen, or that’s what developers have in mind when creating such things, but it’s hard to ignore the possibility.
At home and at work, cameras and microphones could soon follow us permanently. Other demonstrations at the IDF involved real-time voice analysis or 3D facial recognition – accurate enough to tell identical twins apart – which is used to automatically unlock PCs when you sit in front of them or speak a command. This may be more convenient than typing in passwords all the time, but it means that camera and/or mic is always on and always watching. Once constant camera activity becomes the norm, malware could log you in and you’d never know the camera was on for the wrong reasons – the little activity LED will be useless when you’re trained in it. ignore.
A minor controversy erupted earlier this year when it emerged that Samsung’s smart TVs were constantly sending ambient recordings to the internet for command analysis, showing we may never really be able to know for sure who’s listening. .
Should we become hyper aware of the things we say in our own homes? Will we change our behavior or avoid certain places and activities, if and when the technology around them becomes too intrusive? Will there be a backlash leading to forced regulations somewhere down the line? What will it take to highlight these potential issues?
Anti-surveillance projects like CV Dazzle already exist to highlight intrusions into our privacy, and these will only grow in relevance as public spaces fill with such machines. Counter surveillance could easily become the next big thing in personal security; as indispensable as ad blockers and malware scanners are today. Arguably, we really don’t need any of these new innovations to improve our lives. Businesses drive change, either because they need new things to sell in saturated markets or because they simply sense the potential to make more profit.
The machines will create incredibly sophisticated profiles of us – our habits, locations, activities, financial patterns, health and much more. Security is going to be paramount for product and software developers (something Intel has spent time clarifying), but we’re also going to have to learn new best practices, and luckily or sadly, we have to accept that the world is changing. already, and we could soon be much more connected and therefore much more vulnerable than we think.
Disclosure: Intel sponsored correspondent flights and hotel for the Intel Developer Forum event in San Francisco.
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