Can we connect AI and the IoT and still have privacy?

Connected Life

Would you ever give someone permission to listen to all of your phone conversations, to sit in on every meeting you take, read all of your emails, review your genome scan, watch what you eat, keep track of your exercise and monitor every photo and video you take?

Futurist Ray Kurzweil — who is Google’s director of engineering — believes you will give access to all that and more to artificial intelligence because of the incredible improvements it will make to our lives.

AI could turn the incredible computing power that comes from making every device smart into context that frees us up to live better lives. One common example proponents offer is a personal assistant that schedules your life intuitively while suggesting meals that fit your diet and giving you the ability to know every name and birthday of every person with a connection to you in every room you enter.

Search engines already know us better than our family does, F-Secure Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen often notes. AI, it seems, will know us better than we know ourselves.

Tim O’Reilly, the coiner of the phrase “Web 2.0”, thinks teaching machines to read our minds is the whole point of what we call the burgeoning Internet of Things. To him, it’s only the marriage of the IoT and AI that will make smart homes and offices useful. He expects our “devices to anticipate us in all sorts of ways”.

Most of us automatically reveal ourselves to Google because of the radical convenience it offers. Are we willing to reveal our entire lives if the rewards are rich enough? Will our fears of our TVs listening to us soon be replaced by the fear that our machines have missed something we said that would have been useful later? And how do our conventional notions of privacy jibe with “things” that could develop consciousness?

Kurzweil popularized the notion of “the singularity,” which Nicholas Clairmont describes as, “the time when the exponential growth of the power of computers and technology hits such a speed that it fundamentally changes the world, and humans’ role in it.” 

Kurzweil predicts that we should hit it in 2045. Many experts see it coming even sooner with CPU power progressing at an exponential rate and the numbers of sensors tracking human behavior beginning to hit exponential growth.

Our Mika Stahlberg has laid out the complications of securing the IoT. But the question of which data gets shared voluntarily and what can be done with that data is just as complex.

Technologist Limor Fried has suggested an “Internet of Things bill of rights” with the following core principles:

 · Open is better than closed; this ensures portability between Internet of Things devices.

· Consumers, not companies, own the data collected by Internet of Things devices.

· Internet of Things devices that collect public data must share that data.

· Users have the right to keep their data private.

· Users can delete or back up data collected by Internet of Things devices.

This proposed template clarifies a lot of the key issues we should be thinking about when we talk about privacy on the Internet of Things. But given the potential of computer consciousness, disclosing how data will used in a world where there are no limits to how data may be used presents the most vexing privacy issue of all.

[Image by Flavio~ | Flickr]


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