Sunday, October 28, 2018
The Rise of Ubiquitous AI
The Atlantic – "Alexa, Should We Trust You?"
"Privacy concerns have not stopped the march of these devices into our homes, however. Amazon doesn’t disclose exact figures, but when I asked how many Echo devices have been sold, a spokeswoman said “tens of millions.” By the end of last year, more than 40 million smart speakers had been installed worldwide, according to Canalys, a technology-research firm. Based on current sales, Canalys estimates that this figure will reach 100 million by the end of this year. According to a 2018 report by National Public Radio and Edison Research, 8 million Americans own three or more smart speakers, suggesting that they feel the need to always have one within earshot. By 2021, according to another research firm, Ovum, there will be almost as many voice-activated assistants on the planet as people. It took about 30 years for mobile phones to outnumber humans. Alexa and her ilk may get there in less than half that time."
"The power of the voice is at its uncanniest when we can’t locate its owner—when it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There’s a reason God speaks to Adam and Moses. In the beginning was the Word, not the Scroll. In her chilling allegory of charismatic totalitarianism, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle conjures a demonic version of an all-pervasive voice. IT, the supernatural leader of a North Korea–like state, can insert its voice inside people’s heads and force them to say whatever it tells them to say. Disembodied voices accrue yet more influence from the primal yearning they awaken. A fetus recognizes his mother’s voice while still in the womb. Before we’re even born, we have already associated an unseen voice with nourishment and comfort.
A 2017 study published in American Psychologist makes the case that when people talk without seeing each other, they’re better at recognizing each other’s feelings. They’re more empathetic. Freud understood this long before empirical research demonstrated it. That’s why he had his patients lie on a couch, facing away from him. He could listen all the harder for the nuggets of truth in their ramblings, while they, undistracted by scowls or smiles, slipped into that twilight state in which they could unburden themselves of stifled feelings."