Your Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA) Has an Evil Side
They look great and sound even better. Intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) turn our homes into the ones we imagined as kids watching episodes of The Jetsons. Millennials will see an IPA as an inevitable and necessary component of our information-technology-driven lives.
IPAs have not been on the market long–a two to three years at most–but they’ve already become such familiar presence in our culture that the popular cartoon series South Park produced a very successful episode around the most “iconic” of IPA’s: “Alexa” by Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).
There’s no doubt that when you want information and quickly, an IPA can prove convenient. “Alexa, what wine goes with fish?” Well, that might be a cheeky question, but it’s worth asking to see just how far the boundaries of technology are stretching. Alexa and other IPAs like it are the very foundations of the artificial intelligence revolution that will soon affect all our lives.
Perhaps you expect to buy or receive one as a gift this Christmas. Maybe you already own an Alexa or similar device. Either way, make sure you own the IPA rather than allowing the IPA to own you. Intelligent personal assistants, like all intelligent things, whether found in nature or created by man, have a dark side. Artificial intelligence, however, might be the most sinister of all mankind’s creations. It’s the one that could perpetuate and improve itself, eventually gaining the potential to subjugate humans.
The “Terminator” Society is Upon Us
The society envisaged by 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Terminator movie franchise might have started out as science fiction. But we now have the technological know-how to move these titles to the “documentary” or “biopic” sections of the video store.
IPAs are sold as personal assistants or virtual assistants that help us perform tasks which vary in accordance with the type of user input (location, historical data, online access to information sources). Just as the Internet’s possibilities are endless, so are the possibilities of the IPA.
IPA Evolution is Moving Too Fast
For instance, AI and IPAs are evolving so quickly that courtrooms and judges use them to determine the likelihood that a defendant might commit more crimes. Researchers have found that, despite some amusing results, such as IPAs picking up slang, accents and teenage like habits, they also develop biases by themselves. (Source: “The inherent biases of artificial intelligence,” Knowmail S.A.L. Ltd, August 10, 2016.)
In other words, an IPA which you purchased could develop an “intelligent personal assistant bias” against its very owner. Moreover, it’s not always guaranteed that, because of biases, tools like Alexa get basic information right. In one test, an IPA failed to describe as well know a figure as Jesus Christ correctly.
Then there’s the big issue of security and privacy. We may like the convenience of artificial intelligence and IPAs, but the more sophisticated they get, the more they compromise our personal data. Whether you’re using “Siri” on an Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) device, Alexa, or Google’s search function, the details of your queries, which may range from medical information to politics to where you like to eat on Friday nights, gets stored.
The various tech giants store that data for months because it allows the IPAs to become more responsive to individual users’ needs. The cost for this is the loss of privacy, which makes such tools so dangerous at selling you things. They may even exploit your biases and habits and conversations against you. (Source: “The Privacy Problem with Digital Assistants”, The Atlantic, May 24, 2016.)
Then there are specific risks associated with the cloud. There are several potential risks in this case, but perhaps the most significant for users of cloud services are the many potential security breaches or human errors that inadvertently lead to sharing of sensitive information. Hollywood made fun of such a predicament in a movie appropriately titled Sex Tape. There, a married couple find that what was supposed to be a private video ends up being shared with their neighbors, family, and anyone else who has access to the Internet. That might damage reputations, but a similar breach could lead to financial data and related banking passwords being leaked as well. For a real world example, look no further than the September security breach at Equifax Inc. (NYSE:EFX), which could have easily been avoided. (Source: “Equifax had patch 2 months before hack and didn’t install it, security group says,” USA Today, September 14, 2017.)
Such products as Apple’s Siri, “Google Now,” Microsoft Corporation’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) “Cortana,” or “S-Voice” from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. are all IPAs. Alexa can–how surprising–even allows its owner to place online shopping orders on Amazon. But where there are benefits, there are also risks.