Artificial intelligence makes our lives safer, easier and healthier in many ways. But it also implies serious threats to our rights and to society as a whole. Here are 10 ways it affects our lives.
Not so long ago, artificial intelligence, or AI, seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Spaceship commanders used it to navigate through “wormholes” or to understand other species that inhabited the wider universe. Today we are all, in a way, commanders of spaceships. We use AI to solve problems in our daily lives: to find the fastest way between home and work, read web pages written in another language, search for information, and a host of other purposes.
The use of artificial intelligence in more and more areas is applauded because it makes things easier and saves a lot of time. However, it comes at a price. AI poses great challenges and ethical, social and legal threats to our societies. These need to be thoroughly analyzed, mitigated and, in some cases, eliminated.
What is AI then?
When we talk about “AI”, we mean algorithms that simulate human intelligence, mimicking behaviors such as “learning” and “problem solving”. The “normal” computer programs we used when only Commander Spock had access to the AI were written by some clever programmer, and that was the end of the story: the code didn’t change on its own. The programs that use AI are different, they are “trained” with huge data sets so that they acquire new features and capabilities.
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Now let’s consider the 10 ways artificial intelligence affects (or probably soon will) our daily lives, between the good, the bad, and the ugly.
1. Facial recognition technology
Facial recognition technology has gradually become an everyday thing, whether through video surveillance cameras installed in public places or facial recognition technologies built into smartphones. On smartphones, AI is typically used to lock and unlock access. That information stays on your device, it’s only used to save you the time of typing in a password or code. Sounds pretty innocent, right? Well, it could be worse, but it’s far from innocent. Other people can unlock your phone while you sleep just by showing your face. The technology can be circumvented, making the data stored on your phone accessible to unauthorized people. It can also normalize face scanning, making the idea of your face being scanned by others less and less unsettling.
When connected to video surveillance, the technology is often justified on “security grounds,” for its effectiveness in preventing crime. But even a perfectly functioning facial recognition system that does not involve systemic discrimination (as is the case with our current systems) would be unacceptable. These systems threaten privacy, the right to anonymity and personal freedom. You can’t live a good life under constant surveillance, without being able to freely express and share opinions that might be controversial or critical of the government, without being able to simply be who you are.
2. Sex robots/sex bots
While you most likely haven’t seen one in your physical reality yet, AI-powered sex toys are hitting the market. According to their inventors and producers, they are harmless and, in fact, their use can be therapeutic for mental health. Some believe that they will succeed in ending sexual harassment and other similar crimes by offering men and women a place to vent their excessive impulses.
However, scientists and experts, for example from St George’s University Hospitals of the National Health Service (NHS) in London and the Women’s Health Academic Center at King’s College London, warn that such optimistic views lack scientific evidence. It is quite possible that the spread of these bots will normalize rape. In addition, sex robots also pose a serious threat to privacy and anonymity, and can become the target of cyberattacks and cyberblackmail.
3. Cooking robots
Oddly enough, there are already robot chefs on the market. Although it is true that at the moment the technology is not cheap, it is possible that in the coming years it will become more, in the same way that ATMs have spread in supermarkets. (By the way, did you know that the wife of the inventor of ATMs never uses them? She goes to her neighborhood branch to get the money. Technology can speed things up, but the lack of casual human interaction can be detrimental to the quality of our lives). Technology can make the reception tasks carried out by a good number of people expendable, and the few jobs that remain can pose occupational risk problems, with the consequent legal implications.
That said, the big elephant in the room will be privacy issues. What happens when the sensors and cameras that transmit data to the automated system record sensitive personal information about customers or staff; allowing these systems to generate personalized profiles could mean the creation of personal medical, allergy or disease histories, for which absolute confidentiality is the only acceptable solution.
4. Personalized purchase
How does Amazon know that I was just thinking of buying that pair of white Nike sneakers? AI technology is widely used on shopping websites to create personalized recommendations for customers. The sites collect the user’s browsing history, preferences and interests, and also track their activity on the applications and websites of other companies. Thanks to AI, brands can more intelligently and efficiently sift through petabytes of data to predict customer behavior and deliver relevant and helpful recommendations.
This degree of artificial intelligence is vital to offer a personalized shopping experience to the consumer. It’s good? It’s extremely comfortable, no doubt. However, the amount of data that technology companies collect about us, and the fact that their profiling, coupled with commercial interests, can be used against us, is certainly very concerning. Also, don’t you sometimes feel like thinking outside the box and making some bold clothing choices? How about, for example, a pair of neon pink Vans with a zebra print?
5. Digital voice assistants
Digital voice assistants are a tool that we all use from time to time and are found on most smartphones. They allow you to perform a search using a voice command, as well as retrieve information through voice synthesis. In quite a few first world homes there are also stand-alone digital voice assistants used to turn the radio on and off, buy train tickets or send messages to loved ones.
However, its use is far from safe. There are reports of voice assistants sending 1,700 personal audio files to another user, or recording a private conversation and sending it to a random phone number without permission.
6. Smart homes
Just like phones, homes are also becoming “smart.” Our thermostats learn our preferences and daily habits, so that when we return home we are greeted by our ideal temperature. Some fridges create lists of what you need based on what you are missing and offer you recommendations of wines that would accompany your dinner. And of course, digital voice assistants can connect to your smart systems and devices, so you can say “more light” and there will be more light.
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However, smart homes can be dangerous. Your heating, which works with a manual switch, cannot be hacked. The heating connected to the Internet, yes. The only function of your old school fridge is to keep food cold. Your smart fridge can start mining cryptocurrencies in parallel without your knowledge.
7. Send emails and messages
Many of us send at least one (or several) emails a day, and probably a few text messages. AI-based predictive text features help us compose messages. This sometimes makes for amusing exchanges (you can read quite a few on Bored Panda), but in general, if you write a lot of messages throughout the day, it makes your life a lot easier. However, don’t think that there are no potential problems with this: the keywords your phone or computer learns can say a lot about you if they fall into the wrong hands.
8. Google searches
Most of us don’t go a day without searching for something on Google: a question or a product we can’t live without. Search engines couldn’t scan the entire web and provide the information you want without the help of artificial intelligence. And those ads that seem to follow you everywhere? Yes, they’re AI-enabled, based on your search history, and personalized to bring you items that algorithms think you’ll value.
Also, when a search engine becomes as dominant as Google now, it has enormous power over the information we find and what we find relevant. It also gains enormous power over other companies that are trying to sell you something, as being ranked 78th or 7th in the relevance ranking can mean make or break.
9. Streaming apps
At the end of the day, when it’s time to kick back and relax, many of us turn to streaming services like Netflix. The company’s recommendation system is powered by artificial intelligence and uses your viewing history to offer you suggestions on what you might want to watch (for example, genres, actors, time periods, etc.). Its tool becomes so specific that it has registered the time of day in which you have seen something and what you normally like to see at that moment. In addition to reducing your ability to experiment, recommendation systems can also pose a risk, for example by revealing your sexual or political preferences to those who glance at your screen.
The impact of AI on healthcare is deep and far-reaching. AI could help people stay healthy, so doctors are less needed: Health apps using AI are already helping people lead a healthy lifestyle. Thanks to its data analysis capabilities, AI is already being used to detect diseases, such as cancer, more accurately and in their earliest stages. Along with wearable technology and other medical devices, AI is making it possible to monitor heart disease in its earliest stages, thereby enabling doctors to predict life-threatening events at an early stage where it might be possible to prevent that event. outcome. However, wearable devices can reveal sensitive information about your health (location) and that information can go to places you don’t want, for example, to potential employers.
Technology should not be underestimated. It makes our lives easier, longer and happier. However, as citizens, we must be aware of the risks involved in the different systems. And we must also demand that our governments and the EU initiate and enforce rules that protect our most important rights and interests.