It’s just a little too soon to say our devices are smarter than us, but they are getting smarter all the time. Soon enough, the appliances in your house will be able to throw a party without you—and clean it all up before you arrive home.
Okay, maybe it’s not going to be that bad (or good, depending on your perspective). But the Internet of Things that’s already taking shape promises to be not only amazing, but also a bit frightening. Not because the devices are going to take over and rise up in revolt (we hope), but because the technology is advancing so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the various questions that really should be asked – like whether or not your TV should get to decide to record “Gotham” for its pals, the lamps, when you prefer “The Walking Dead.”
Or – more seriously – whether anyone knows how these advances are going to play out for us mere mortals, practically and legally.
My dishwasher is acing all its classes
VentureBeat recently reported on advances in deep learning, which is an area of artificial intelligence (AI) research that “involves training systems called artificial neural networks on lots of information derived from audio, images, and other inputs, and then presenting the systems with new information and receiving inferences about it in response.”
In a subsequent piece it was revealed that Microsoft had taken further steps with deep learning, reporting results that beat both Google’s system and humans in visual recognition studies:
The Microsoft creation got a 4.94 percent error rate for the correct classification of images in the 2012 version of the widely recognized ImageNet data set , compared with a 5.1 percent error rate among humans, according to [a new academic] paper.”
Google’s system performed with a “6.66 percent error.”
This was just a test of visual recognition, and apparently – according to the researchers – we shouldn’t be concerned that computer vision is better than ours. Sure… Not yet, anyway, right?
But it’s just an example of what machines are capable of. We’re only at the tip of the AI iceberg, really. Ultimately, if my car is going to be the one doing the driving, it probably should have better eyesight and visual recognition capabilities than I do, so I’m okay with that. But I don’t want it talking back to me (or overriding me) about which route is fastest if I want to take in some scenery. Take a backseat, car!
I’m suing my smartphone
In addition to worrying about whether or not our devices and appliances will actually like us, there’s the concern over how all of the data in these connected devices will be assimilated, stored, and possibly used against us.
We’ve watched for years as the music industry has struggled to find its footing in the wake of digital progress. When the Taylor Swifts of the world stand up against unfair payment practices on a service like Spotify, and get vilified by everyone but fellow artists, you know that there’s a disconnect between what is “right” and what the public wants and expects.
Surprisingly, privacy is as complex an issue, in the sense that most people don’t want Big Brother (or Target or Wal-Mart) creeping around their data. That is, people prioritize privacy except when it means they’ll get a really good deal on whatever it is they’re going to purchase, especially if that deal is specifically, personally targeted to them.
We hear of hack after hack (Target, Home Depot, Sony), but we don’t necessarily stop allowing access, because convenience often trumps security concerns.
As for legal concerns… most people don’t stop to think about the legal impact, because most people aren’t planning to commit crimes. But what if the right to privacy that people expect in their own homes is suddenly compromised because they click haphazardly on a EULA that basically says your TV or refrigerator can tattle on you?
Mr. Data is talking behind my back
When everything in your home is connected to the Web, the data being collected will theoretically be used to help providers keep devices and appliances updated, provide service and recall information, allow offsite access, and offer deals on upgrades when appliances grow old. But how will that data be stored? And who will be able to claim it once it’s in the hands of a third party like Best Buy or Lowe’s? How worried do you think they are about your privacy when it comes down to it?
These are all questions that will need to be answered over time, but for now we’ve got enough on our hands. We need to keep track of all the various small steps toward being run by robots. Let the lawyers figure out the rest.
Meanwhile, I gotta go – my stove is calling me.