Technology

Privacy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

We live in a AI-first world. Artificial Intelligence is the buzzword in the Silicon Valley these days with all the bright minds trying to make a smarter software that will make your life easier. But will it necessarily make your life safer? Will it respect your privacy?

Why Privacy is Important?

If you every used friend lists in Facebook, then you are actually concerned about your privacy. Privacy online matters, since every time you go online, every time you use search engines or social networking sites, your behavior online is being tracked. A unique ID is being assigned to you and a database about you is being created containing your likes and dislikes, what you look for online and who you are.

This data is then used to tune the product or service according to your needs. This data is also sold to advertising companies in return for money.

Advertising companies use that data to provide you with more relevant ads and other content. In short, you always see more of what you wanted to see, you stay in a bubble.

Besides that, the collected data can be used for government to impose control on what the person sees or hears, it can be used to control freedom of speech, or even control one’s life. Lack of privacy simply means that you are giving over information and information is power.

Intelligence comes from Learning

Natural or artificial, any sort of intelligence becomes better with learning. A human can get better at driving a car by driving more. By spending more time at the driver seat, by learning from more real-time situations, mistakes and accidents, a person can become a better driver. It’s the ‘intuition’ the develops over time.

AI needs data to learn from. If you are using Google’s assistant, Apple’s Siri, or Microsoft’s Cortana, then you are sharing a massive amount of information about yourself, how you use your device and what you do on your device with the company. Especially, Google’s AI is a privacy nightmare. It will recommend you innately personal things, like how you can get from point A to B, what restaurant you may like tonight, places you like and more.

It may seem cool at first, but Google’s AI has a huge collection of your thoughts, preferences and private details uploaded in the cloud and the company has been pretty vague about what is collected. What’s worse is that, in order for any AI to work, the data should be un-encrypted.

Even standard encryption that is used has some loopholes. Computer scientists are trying to work on a “searchable encryption”, but that is still decades away.

Microsoft has been a bit more open lately after their privacy policy for Windows 10 came under scrutiny. Cortana can now be made partially functional if you refuse to share more information about yourself. Apple also has been a big advocate of privacy, even though Siri has been one of the most important features in their devices.

Apple receives 2 billion Siri requests per week. Past rumors suggest that Apple’s commitment to privacy is also what makes Siri a sub-par AI.

All these devices are always listening to you, always tracking your location, recording your preferences. The amount of information you share with the company to make the AI work better for you can be a nightmare if your phone gets hacked.

Avoiding the “Skynet” scenario

Besides privacy, human dignity is also at risk because of AI. A lot of human jobs are being lot of automation. Customer service representatives, drivers, lawyers and even nurse maids are now being replaced with AI.

Stephen Hawking, the 72-year-old theoretical physicist and Cambridge professor warned that AI “could spell the end of the human race”, even though communicates via the computer in his electric wheelchair that is now getting a predictive language software upgrade from Intel, allowing him to write and communicate faster.

Moviegoers know how rouge AI such as Skynet in the Terminator and HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey can bring the end of man. The AI that we now have is very primitive, but it has also proved to be useful. Hawking fears that a fully developed AI would redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans are limited in that case, by biological evolution, and will be superseded. In the end, machines win.

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