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Artificial intelligence and machine learning constitute incredible technologies that can deliver remarkable results across almost every facet of society from the GPS systems that guide us to new locations to security systems that protect our identities and bank accounts from thieves. My interest in AI began to grow a number of years ago through my professional research work. Applying machine learning to difficult problems and seeing great results drove me to learn as much as I could about this emerging technology. However, the more I learned, the more I also saw some of the potential dangers to this technology. I felt it was very important to share my findings with as many people as possible to help them understand this new technology as well as understand the ways it can improve our lives and ways it might be harmful. All of my findings of both the good and the bad of AI spurred me to write a book on the subject to share my findings with as many people as possible. My book is titled How to Profit and Protect Yourself from Artificial Intelligence. It was published on April 27, 2018. In May, I was afforded the opportunity to discuss the ideas of my book and moderate a talk on AI at a healthcare investment conference in Washington, DC. It was great to share the cutting-edge technologies that could be applied to healthcare. However, as our conversations progressed over several days at the conference, other more personal concerns arose regarding AI and machine learning and how it will affect jobs, privacy, and security. The research and writing of my book gave me a deeper understanding of AI’s impact on people, society, and some of the potential dangers or weak spots in the technology itself. The following excerpt from my book points out how the spread of AI impacts the very human need for privacy.
In an opening sentence to the article, “Privacy and Human Behavior in the Age of Information,” the authors declare, “If this is the age of information, then privacy is the issue of our times.” Privacy is considered to be the state of a person or group or their information being free from observation by other people. In the United States, privacy is not explicitly protected in the United States Constitution but rather is protected by a patchwork of amendments to the constitution. The 1st Amendment protects the privacy of beliefs. The 3rd Amendment protects citizens’ homes from occupation by soldiers during peacetime. The 4th Amendment protects individuals from unlawful search and seizure, and the 14th Amendment provides more general protection of privacy. Privacy covers the sovereignty of the body as well as information sensitive to an individual. In the information age, the use and distribution of personal information cover a vast array of data: pictures, health records, what you search on the internet, and sensitive financial information. People need a sense of privacy to feel safe and to have an emotional break from being observed. Moreover, people require the psychological safety from the fear of being embarrassed. In the information age, people’s private information can be transmitted across the internet at the speed of light and saved on computers around the world never to be private again.
In “Why We Care About Privacy?” Michael McFarland of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and Santa Clara University lists some reasons to protect our privacy. Invasions of privacy as we define them here are of concern for a number of reasons:
•The more widely sensitive information is disseminated, the higher the danger of error, misunderstanding, discrimination, prejudice and other abuses.
•The lack of privacy can inhibit personal development and freedom of thought and expression.
•It makes it more difficult for individuals to form and manage appropriate relationships.
•It restricts individuals' autonomy by giving them less control over their lives and in particular less power over the access others have to their lives.
•It is an affront to the dignity of the person.
•It leaves individuals more vulnerable to the power of government and other large institutions.
The subject of privacy in the information age could quickly take up several volumes. In light of AI, we will focus on how to protect yourself from the growing use of artificial intelligence to harvest and analyze your information and behavior. Privacy protection applies both online when you use your computer, smartphone, smartwatch, or tablet and ‘off-line’ when you engage smart systems like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home.
Machine learning helps tech companies make sense of the massive amount of data people generate merely by browsing, shopping online, and using their phones, not to mention all the additional data now provided by internet-enabled objects. OnStar by General Motors (GM) offers many features such as GPS enabled turn by turn navigation, emergency services, and mechanical diagnostics for your vehicle using cell phone technology to connect your car to the manufacturer. Data from OnStar flows from cars back to GM. The service is sold as a safety and convenience feature, but it also provides a wealth of data back to the car manufacturer. It is not clear about all the ways that GM uses your information, but based on a recent announcement from the insurance and finance arm of General Motors, known as GMAC, they definitely use your data. GMAC sends automatically the miles you traveled each month to your insurance carrier for low mileage discounts. By extension, a simple analysis of your logs by the police could determine all the times in a month you were speeding and fine you accordingly. You are driving your car, and the service you are paying for provides data that could incriminate you. OnStar stands as only one of many digital trails people leave all the time, and such trails pose challenges to your privacy.
Instead of addressing difficult privacy issues, Adele Howe, distinguished professor of computer science at Colorado State University and artificial intelligence researcher suggested in a quote from The Globe and Mail, “We have to get over, at some point, the idea that we have privacy. We don't. We have to redefine what privacy means.” Dr. Howe suggests that as technology continues to improve our lives and the human condition overall that we make tradeoffs along the way. The significant trade-off, she suggests, is our privacy. Now the concept of privacy differs among cultures across the globe and throughout time. A simple example comes from the changing attitudes around body exposure. The introduction of the bikini by French engineer Louis Réard in 1946 was considered scandalous, and they were even banned in some countries such as Spain, Belgium, and Australia. Today the bikini appears on beaches across North America, Europe, and Australia. Privacy may not be a static thing, but we value it in Western Culture. We are not, as Dr. Howe suggests, going just to roll over and accept the dissolution of our privacy. The last part of this chapter will detail several steps we can take to preserve our privacy in the digital world.
Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.
You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback here and in kindle format here.