I am a computer nerd, like my father before me. I grew up writing Pokemon games with coding languages like GW and Visual Basic, I make Excel spreadsheets for fun, the IT guy knows that I have already tried turning it off and back on again, and I like to make a game of trying to understand my husband, an engineer, when he tells me what he did at work today. I know just enough about computers to be a card carrying member of the Singularity Countdown Club.
But I’m conflicted. When I download an app, I almost never connect it to my Facebook. I have a program that generates true-random passwords for my accounts and stores them an encrypted lockbox that requires both a 25-character passcode and a key file I keep on a USB stick on my keychain in order to open. We all know by now that unencrypted, unprotected data is pretty much fair game to whomever wants it. It bugs me when people ask, “What are you doing that you need to hide all of that information?” or “What could someone do with the password to your Reddit account?” I shouldn’t have to defend my desire to have private information, to keep secret my Amazon browsing history or the map, created by my phone, of all the places I go to while it sits in my pocket. So when I bought my smartphone back in October, I immediately turned off location services. It wasn’t long before I realized it set off a domino effect of inconveniences and had to turn it back on. My phone has been keeping track of me ever since.
Computer Nerd in me is super excited about this. Computer Nerd looks at the in-depth map my phone has created for me and sees the AI potential. As Claire wrote, the more data my phone collects, the more it can predict my behavior and begin to assist me. It’s already started doing this: on Sunday mornings, it tells me whether or not there’s traffic on the way to church. It looks at the picture I took while I was at work and asks me if it should attach it to a coworker’s contact card. It just wants to help, just wants to integrate itself into my life more seamlessly.
Security Junkie in me is screaming “DO NOT WANT” at every opportunity. Sure, my phone just wants to help, but Google is behind my phone. This data is attached to my Google account, so Google can use that data in ways that aren’t “just trying to help.” Most of these things can be passed off as rather benign, things like ads that are targeted at me for various reasons. But my information isn’t alone on Google’s servers; Google’s got some Big Data on their hands. I doubt that Google would distribute this kind of information to the US military in order that it might, for instance, use algorithms to determine whether I’m going to be a criminal at some point in my life and kill me before I get the chance, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t come up with other nefarious uses that they can pass off as legal.
I love my smartphone, my Fitbit, my laptop. I love how my work computer and my home computers are able to “talk” to each other so that I never have to email files to myself anymore. And I’m excited for the day when all of this knowledge that my phone is able to collect can be use to, for instance, call 911 when I’ve gotten into a terrible car accident, or order Sriracha for me when I run out. I’m not scared of that day. But I am paranoid, too. I am paranoid about the people who collect that data because historically, such people don’t have a good track record for keeping my best interest at heart. And every little inconvenience that’s built into the software of my phone is like a hand over the mouth of my paranoia, and a whisper saying, “Shh, shh, honey. It’ll all be okay. Trust us.”
I don’t want to thwart the development of my beloved AI. But I don’t want that development to be used as a tool to track and monetize my every move. So I’m conflicted.