If you’ve watched The Matrix, Terminator or nearly any other sci-fi movie, then you probably know or at least understand the fear of robots invading our lives. In those worlds, the robotic overlords have guns and control us with an iron fist (pun intended). However, reality has shown that AI is far more deceptive than that and seeks to persuade and change social DNA through such campaigns as those with Cambridge Analytica.
Despite where you are on the fence, AI is still around us and quickly engrossing our lives. It’s in all of your devices and nearly every website that you visit. We’re going to discuss the current battle between good AI and how it can (and probably has) invaded your personal privacy.
Where is AI Used?
For many people, AI is a fairly new concept that they are just learning about. However, the truth is that this has been used for years and is currently installed on nearly every type of technology that you use. Your smartphone and tablet have text-to-speech AI programs that not only turn your speech into words on the screen but also learn your specific speaking patterns to better type (i.e. understand) your speech into words.
Both mobile devices and assistants like Alexa use AI in similar ways. They learn from you and understand not only what you’re saying, but what you’re interested in. For example, if you keep asking questions about food, then it won’t be long before you notice Alexa recommending food items on Amazon.
Banking apps rely on AI to turn images of checks and handwriting into a standardized font. They also use AI to recognize fraud patterns. Shopping apps (especially Amazon) use AI to recommend products based on your search and buying history. This is usually straightforward, like recommending pillows if you’ve bought a lot of pillows and other bedding accessories, but Amazon is using AI to link your searches to products you’ll want in the future before you even know you want them.
AI is used by medical establishments to quicken diagnoses, social media for facial recognition and delivering stories/posts you’ll like and even by email to make automated replies that sound like you (currently only done by Gmail).
So, in short, AI is already all around you.
Where’s the Line?
All of this sounds great on paper. Robots are learning to better understand you, which boosts processing time, makes humans work faster and easier, makes it easier to find products or stories you’ll like and basically gives you a robot that understands you (and who knows, maybe even become your friend one day).
However, there’s also a very dark lining to this. We tend to talk more candidly to robots because they aren’t another person, they aren’t supposed to judge you. You can talk to a robot about embarrassing medical problems, controversial views your friends and family may not endorse, weird interests that you don’t want others to know, mental illnesses that can alienate you and much more.
In short, AI has a lot of your personal and very sensitive data. If that data were kept confidential and private, as with a very trusted friend or professional, then that might be the end of it. However, it isn’t. Almost all of these systems, like smart speakers, store your information in the cloud, not just locally. Local storage means that it would only be stored in the device itself (like HomePod), which still has the potential to be hacked or harvested, but a much lower chance.
When your data is stored in the cloud, things get very different. This means that your data is stored with the business, where they decide how it’s saved and how it’s used. If they want to sell your information to marketers and other entities, then they can. Worse yet, they often do. There’s a reason why you start seeing a bunch of products to solve problems only your AI device or program should know about.
Using Analytics to Target People
This is all brings us to our final point. By now you understand that AI is everywhere and you’re probably already partially aware that advertisers use this information to market products to you. So, is this as bad and deceitful as it seems, or is it a good thing?
It comes down to a little of both. It’s obviously deceitful. Advertisers now know what you’re looking for and what you want. AI can even tell advertisers where you’re going so that they know where to show you ads (location information has been used in the formation of new roads and traffic patterns). For example, if they know you want ice cream, then be prepared to see dozens of ice cream ads until you crumble and buy some.
How could this possibly be good? It tells businesses what people really want in a surprisingly honest way. Instead of relying on potentially skewed posts or buying habits, they can see what really motivates you by understanding the questions you ask and the concerns you have. This makes it easier for businesses to relate to people while also helping them develop products that actually suit your needs, not just products cooked up by a brain trust.
It definitely is creepy, but it’s really not all that different from what they’ve done for years. Businesses have always tried to understand and manipulate people. It’s just more important than ever to guard your privacy and ensure that your thoughts and buying decisions are truly your own and not those injected from outside entities.
AI has invaded our lives and hence jeopardized our privacy. However, this has also made it easier for technology to learn from you and suit your needs, and it has made it easier for businesses to both target you and develop for you. It’s a grab bag and good points and bad points, making it hard to say whether this is good or evil. But, what must be said is that your privacy is at risk, so be careful with what you share, even with robots.