Google is starting to scare me.
And it should concern you, too.
Post Facebook-Cambridge Analytica, I’d like to think the world is more acutely aware of privacy and data security. I might be wrong, but I hope not. I hope people are more critical than companies, who don’t seem able to pump the brakes.
To that, I’ll say Google is starting to frighten me. It really distills to two reasons: its ignorance, and worldview.
At I/O this year, Google introduced a flashy new feature that uses trained AI bots to call businesses for you dubbed Duplex. In a nutshell, you can have Google call a restaurant to book a table, schedule a haircut, or discover what the business hours are at a given establishment. From there, it relays the info back to you, down to adding an appointment to your calendar.
You may think ‘yeah, that sounds amazing,’ and you’d be right. It’s cool as all hell. It’s also whittling you down. Another example:
The Google Assistant now has a setting called ‘Pretty Please,’ which is a method to force children to say ‘please’ when using Google’s voice commands. It’s Google’s ‘we’re still the good guys!’ move for I/O 2018; your kids are taught manners. What’s not to like?!
Google is trying to jumpstart ‘JOMO,’ or the ‘joy of missing out.’ It wants you to let its various AI tools manage the mundane while you go off and do… what, I don’t know. Neither does Google.
If I’m being critical, Google is simply trying to turn humans into devices. Machines don’t know how to generate their own data, so they need ours. I know, that sounds creepy and dystopian, but keep in mind Google wants robots to make phone calls for you and a cloud-based algorithm teaching your children manners. It’s asking you to let something digital do real-world stuff for you.
To scale, Google wants everyone using its services, feeding data to the cloud, and enjoying life more. It’s pie-in-the-sky thinking. Google is taking the joy (and pain) of being human out of humanity. Yes, calling a restaurant to book a table is tedium. It’s also part of the human experience.
What if you call and the person on the other end is rude? Maybe you don’t want to go there. Maybe you have a special request for the evening, like a favorite table. Some bot can’t handle that, nor should it.
What if you want to book a hair appointment, and you’re thinking a trim and styling? Can a bot know you want both? Will it grasp contextual questions regarding what hairstyle you want?
There are a lot of unanswered questions. And unsolved problems. Yet, Google is pushing forward. That’s irresponsible.
As the eager mainstream tech press clap their hands gleefully between paragraphs while Google introduces products that will elicit a ton of clicks, only a few are brave enough to say ‘but.’
This year, Wired and ZDNet spoke up, and loudly. ZDNet’s Zack Whittaker points out Google never mentioned ‘privacy’ or ‘security’ during its keynote, while Wired’s Nitasha Tiku swept the leg by pointing out we’re bartering convenience for data.
These two articles highlight the problem with I/O, and Google. The company wants you to ignore that its deep-mining your data at every turn and simply enjoy the convenience of whatever products it has available for you.
Microsoft and Apple both call privacy a ‘basic human right.’ Google seems to want to make us all less human. It’s easy to imagine a time when my bot calls your bot and we’re just showing up places and doing things, reveling in the joy of missing out, gathering data for our AI ‘assistants.’ (And if you think I’m nuts, I’m not alone.)
Are we people, or sensors? Is this AI turning us into devices? Is it evolution?
Again, I know it sounds weird and scary and crazy, but if we don’t think critically now, we may not have the opportunity later on. If we were all aghast about Facebook’s issues, we should be appalled by the possibilities here. Google’s AI is a more direct affront to society and humankind than Facebook’s mishandling of data.
Of course, the answer is to stop feeding the machine. Stop using Google for search (DuckDuckGo is great), and dig into your Google settings to safeguard your data. Use privacy settings in the browser, and stop using Chrome. Sadly, most probably won’t do those things.
So, ignorance and a wonky worldview. How?
Google is ignorantly pushing forward with tech — without respect to humans. It’s doing what it can, because it can, and not asking why it should do these things. Moreover, it’s not publicly testing AI programs widely, or discussing the pros and cons. This is what happens when marketing gets hold of interesting new tools and a company sees a bottom-line advantage to releasing them. We’re not listening to science first.
Its worldview seems to be almost anti-human. It’s eerily, disgustingly sort of Matrix-y. Humans are being edged towards organic beings that can interact with the real world solely to gather data to give machines a purpose. We’re the battery.
Advanced robo-calling and an assistant that makes you say ‘please’ is where we’re at now. These are proof of concepts for a far worse reality.
I’m not saying Google is ‘evil.’ I don’t even think it’s considered what happens beyond ‘wow, we can make this thing call real humans and have conversations!’ This is all very cool, very interesting stuff from Google… that should be relegated to a specific use-case for far further testing before being foisted on users. You know, like Google Glass.