The machine is watching. My wife and I have been binge watching the series “Person of Interest“.
It is a 5 season series about this machine – a dispersed Artificial Intelligence based code that is growing and evolving as it observes, sees, listens more. It has access to all the CCTV feeds, phone camera and mics of anyone and everyone. And based on the audio, text, and video feeds as well as reams of data from any and every source it can get its hands on, it can identify a terrorist. Someone whom the law enforcement agencies need to pick up ASAP since he is an immediate threat – as a perpetrator. The machine also spits out certain numbers (mostly Social Security Numbers) of people who might be in danger or be perpetrators but are categorized as “irrelevant” (to the security agencies). The main protagonist and his friends try and save those “irrelevant” people.
But what is most mind-boggling is that such a thing is actually possible with the kind of technology we have today. Let us take a look.
Has the machine been listening in on you?
Has it happened to you lately? That you were speaking about something offline and when you go to Google or simply any site with ads from Google (or other Google content), it suddenly seems as if Google was listening into your offline conversation all along?
No, you were not talking on the phone – but say, with your spouse or friend with the phone in your pocket or lying somewhere.
Writer Vikas Saraswat shared an observation on Twitter about how he was talking to his friend about the Hindi movie Chupke Chupke and then he saw YouTube started showing him clips of the movie as one of the options. How creepy is that?
When I searched for similar experiences with other people, I saw Mike Elgan of ComputerWorld shared the experience of one of his followers about something similar.
I asked followers on Google+ about this and one wrote: “If me and my wife are talking about some random subject like how long turtles live, I’ll type ‘how’ and it will fill in ‘long do turtles live’ like it was listening. And I’m terrified and impressed.”
Isn’t that crazy? Is it just a coincidence or happens sometimes or happens to only few? Heck no! And if you think this was just a coincidence, then you can be rest assured that it is not.
Here is one guy who did a live test of whether the systems are listening to us or not. And lets see what his test uncovers. It is just insane.
People have been worried about Facebook – to understand whether it was listening in on people all the time or not. Some have done tests for Facebook as well and say that most probably it is not.
IN this conversation here, Sandy Parakilas, former Facebook operations manager, says it is highly unlikely.
Well, his argument in the conversation – that to listen into so many audio conversations by a company will be very hard – is probably not that accurate given the experiences of folks who have seen Google responding to offline conversation in its ads. Maybe Facebook cannot do it (or admit to doing it), but Google surely can do it!
So let us be sure – Google can do that. All of it. Listening, analyzing and showing the ads based on that offline conversation.
The question, however, is how much can it listen and what all does it record as well as for how long? And what else does it do with that data – apart from using it for ads? What if it is sharing it with someone unscrupulous who can harm large sets of people or even nations? What if – like Facebook and Twitter – Google plays the moral police using that data?
In the series “Person of Interest” a new AI is also brought online but with less moral constraints. And it is a ruthless, uncompromising and lethal being. It not just wants to finish the Machine but also all those associated with it. It is called the Samaritan. While Machine is benevolent, Samaritan is malevolent.
The question really is – is Google the new Machine, or the Samaritan? For its abilities and capabilities in Artificial Intelligence are increasing and evolving exponentially!