AI's dark secret? A desire for data without bounds

The AI revolution is hungry for personal data. The U.S. needs to pursue federal privacy legislation before machine intelligence and surveillance intersect.

AI's dark secret? A desire for data without bounds
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AI offers the potential to help humankind in many ways. Driverless cars and smart infrastructure hold the promise to reduce congestion by facilitating the movement of people through cities. Improved diagnosis and treatments are increasing lifespans. In the enterprise, AI can help improve hiring decisions, make the factory floor safer, automate routine tasks, produce more objective performance reviews, and help organizations understand their customers.

New tools are appearing frequently. Amazon has been granted two patents for a wrist band that tracks workers’ hand movements as they pack boxes while filling orders. The wrist bands use radio frequency to track hand movement so precisely that the bands vibrate to nudge the hands in the proper direction when inefficient movements are detected. Humanyze sells sociometric badges that track employee movement through offices to provide insights regarding the quality of interactions with colleagues. L’Oréal’s UV Sense tracks the wearer’s exposure to ultraviolet rays then transfers the data to the user’s mobile phone. Cogito monitors the empathy displayed by customer service representatives handling calls.

Unfortunately, the large amounts of data required to unlock the benefits of these tools also makes consumer and employee surveillance much easier. Launched in 2014, China’s social credit system is expected to be fully operational by 2020. The system aggregates payment history, medical information, legal records, along with other data to create an individual profile. In addition, it is widely believed that the system uses facial recognition to track where every individual travels and with whom she interacts. Cameras are so widespread in major cities that people joke that the government can find anyone in seven minutes.

On a more intimate level, We-Vib sells a bluetooth-enabled vibrator that can be controlled by a smartphone. In 2017 without admitting fault, We-Vib agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a class-action suit that asserted that the company collected data regarding how frequently the sex toy was used and the different ways it was used.

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