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EDNE JAN 2017

HERE’S LISTENING TO YOU, KID by Graham Prophet, Editor EDN. COMMENT There may, I think be scope for a self-help group, in the manner of those who come to the aid of those in the grip of addictions, for those marginalised by indifference to some of technology’s fashion trends. Social media provides an example. One might introduce oneself; “My name is... and I have no social media presence.” If you now are expecting this column to be a rant against social media in all its forms; it is not that. For the record, I do indeed have negligible social media footprint, but I don’t obsessively believe that the whole social media construct is the Work of Dark Forces. As a social media ‘refusenik’, it would be more accurate to say that it doesn’t offer me anything I particularly want; or, at least, that I haven’t the bandwidth or attention span, or the time to invest, to penetrate it. “Ah-ha,” (I hear you say), “what you mean is, you can’t be bothered.” Which just about sums it up. Not so much a refusenik, more a can’t-see-the-point-nik. There are legitimate concerns about matters such as privacy and, as with every other area of rapidly-advancing technology, we should always be aware of the phenomenon of shifting perspectives. That which was exceptional or even outrageous yesterday, becomes acceptable today and will be commonplace tomorrow. Never, in other words, say, “never”. In fact, I don’t have an exactly-zero footprint: who does? I have friends, business contacts, some family who use assorted social media platforms. It’s feasible that as the algorithms digest the meta-data of that traffic, they might observe the faintest outline of a person whose existence is hinted at, but for whom there is no account (how socially deviant!). There must be many millions of such “ghosts”. Despite their denials, it seems likely that the social platforms build “shadow” profiles of those ghosts, ready to spring into action fully-formed, if their real-world owners ever get around to signing up. “Hi! Welcome! Here are some folks on the network you might already know!” If therefore, you say, “I see those concerns, but what this medium offers me is valuable enough that I’m happy to set those worries aside,” - that’s fine by me, even if I don’t find it convincing. However, and turning to another “on-trend” piece of tech, when it comes to the household assistant (Amazon’s Echo being the highest-profile example) my indifference turns to incredulity. You have a powerful computing resource sitting in your environment, poweredup at all times. You know it has cloud connectivity, because that’s how it works. You know it has a lot of DSP capability and it is analysing, recording and forwarding what its microphones receive. You know that it was designed by, and is operated by, an organisation whose appetite for data and meta-data on every aspect of its customers’/users’ lives is essentially unlimited. They declare that the box does nothing with what it hears until triggered by a key-word, but without a lab full of test gear (and perhaps not even then) you have no way of verifying those assurances. As various news outlets have gleefully reported, that other well-known law governing introductions of new technology – the law of unintended consequences – has already shown its hand. A San Diego, California television reporter repeated on-air the words of a 6-yearold girl which had prompted her family’s Echo to go ahead and place orders on Amazon. The reporter’s words then leading to further instances of orders being placed from living rooms where the television was within earshot – or should that be mike-shot? That can be viewed as merely amusing – but a degree of paranoia about the capabilities of such a system is not entirely unreasonable. So; I’ll never have one of these, right? Recall what I said about the altered perspective – noone is immune to that, never say “never”. But if I ever do find a use for one, it’s very likely to have its covers removed and some hard-wired switching added. “Hey, box; ‘off’ means ‘off’.” 3 EDN Europe January 2017 www.edn-europe.com


EDNE JAN 2017
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