Amazon is a witness to your life and death

Well, this didn’t take long.  This Amazon Echo contraption has only been ordering pizza, shoes, demolition cord, Uber rides, autogyro rides, and aged cheese for just a few months.  Now it’s already being asked to solve a murder.  No pressure little cylinder dude.

Apple at least got to wait a few years before being blamed by the Feds for allowing terrorists to potentially raid a nursery by refusing to give up iPhone data.  Amazon didn’t get any such grace period.  Nor will any other technology company / invention I suspect.

The background here is pretty simple.  Amazon has data, government wants data in the hopes it can help solve crimes, Amazon (citing privacy) refuses to give up data.  How can the Echo do this you ask?  Why just let the BBC tell you, the Echo:

The “always on” machine makes recordings of audio it hears from a fraction of a second before it detects a wake word – either Alexa or Amazon – until it judges the command to be over.

This audio is then transmitted to Amazon’s computer servers, which interpret the request and tell it how to respond.

Although no recordings are meant to be made at other times, the device often becomes activated when it misinterprets speech as being its wake command.

So basically what we have here is it’s become clearer that yes indeed, the Echo is in fact a live listening device that folks (for whatever reason) have installed in their own home.  So when the following things occur, the Echo is listening and potentially recording:

1) You get murdered in your own home

2) Your dogs hijack your internet while you’re at work to purchase more kibble behind your back

3) You say or do intimate things with your significant other

4) You and your kids get in a fight

5) You comment to another human how tasty a meal is

6) You express all your hopes and wildest dreams to another human, your dogs, or an inanimate object such as a painting, piece of artwork, or stuffed animal

7) Aliens kidnap you, repurpose your home’s guest bedroom, and make you write regularly for a shitty blog

8) You say off the record (on the Amazon record) belligerent comments about your boss, the one who employs you and pays your bills

9) You say off the record (on the Amazon record) belligerent comments about your family, the ones who love you and cherish your existence

10) You say (offhand) to your significant other that you’d punch Jeff Bezos in the face and neck, if you met him randomly on the street

In order to conduct its basic functions, why does the Echo even need to store anything on Amazon’s servers (Amazon Web Services)?  That the cops could later get a warrant for?  Even if the Echo needs to talk to Amazon’s servers to best interpret your audio request, why do they store the data for the long term?

Because by storing everything you say on their servers they can run programs to mass analyze what you and everybody else said.  They’ll then use the algorithm output to find better ways to sell you stuff.  It’s not about privacy.  If it was about privacy, Amazon would morally never collect and store things you say in your own home on its private servers.  They want your money.

I’m not saying Amazon should go ahead and hand it over to the Feds, don’t get me wrong.  The government is among the most egregious and worst violators of your privacy there is.  Your local sheriff probably has the power to look up your favorite beer if he so chose.

But I do have a problem with Amazon (or any other company) waving the privacy flag in defense, when in reality the six biggest violators of privacy on the planet are Google, Apple, the NSA, Facebook, the KGB, and Amazon.  Not necessarily in that order.

Know your risk.  I use Google’s products almost every day.  But I understand they’re data hounds.  So I hedge my risks as best as I can.  I knowingly accept some of the badness.  For example, did you know if you’re logged into Gmail that every other piece of browsing activity you’re doing is logged on Google’s servers?  So if you’re checking e-mail (on any browser type) and then tab over to search for directions to Hitler’s death house, Google will know and log it.  It is for this reason that I will check my Gmail, then actually log out and close the browser, before I do any other web related activity.  There are also cookie and history deletion methods I regularly execute with Google.

I’ll never do this Echo thing for any reason.  I don’t need Amazon in my living room.  If for whatever bizarre factor you need an Echo in your already overly complicated life, okay, I guess.  Just be sure you know the intricate details of how that thing works and how you manage your data.  For as it stands, it seems the basic default settings of this snoop cylinder are insane.  Amazon is a witness to your life and death.

amazon-echo

One day, I’m going to come back home from work, and there’ll be an Echo on my dining table.  I didn’t buy it, nobody broke into my house, it’ll just be there.  I will then club it with a bat, grab my dogs and some canned goods, and run for the hills.

algorithms are never going to drive your car

The wave of the future is you sitting in your car reading a book or drinking a beer on the way home from work. Man, that’d be sweet. Trillions will be spent trying to make this happen. But I still don’t believe it’ll ever happen in large scale.

Once upon a time I dabbled in computer science. It’s been so long since I did that, that in writing the word ‘algorithm’ in this post’s title I had to re-spell it like ten times. But I remember enough to know just how flawed computers are. It’s why everything eventually breaks, at least once. Or has to be restarted every now and again.

I mean, airplanes don’t tend to crash anymore, but remember those are always human input at the end stage. It’s interesting that in all these autonomous car dreams (experimentally on the road today) that nobody seems to be seriously considering autonomous airliners. I’d bet a substantial amount of my freestanding international gold reserves that your average person would be a hundred times more comfortable getting in a robot car over a robot plane. Even though the fatality rate on the roads is astronomically higher than the skies.

The challenge with the robot car is not the computer hardware, or the sensors, or even trying to rewrite thousands of federal, state, local, and insurance road laws. It’s the algorithms. These algorithms will guide the way the car drives, navigates, how it responds to failures, how it handles emergencies, dangerous situations, and so on. If the algorithms don’t work, or are flawed, at least some badness will always occur. And in my mind, since algorithms are always written by humans, the flaws are never going away. And you can’t restart your car while you’re driving 65 mph down the road. Though I suppose the car could pull you over and then restart, if the algorithm handles the error resolution correctly.

But also, it comes down to what humans are willing to entrust to an algorithm. For example, I heard this used in a play on that morals exercise, if you’re in a car at 45 mph and you go left you run over one person, if you go right you run over three people. What do you do? But in more relevant terms for our discussion here, at 45 mph if you go left you run over one person, if you go right your car hits a jersey wall. Your significant other is in the passenger seat.

Or, with different circumstances, what if you go left it’d be two people you’d hit. If you go right you still hit the wall, but it’s just you in the car. How does the situation change if you’ve got kids in the back? Do you go left or right? Both these options suck, but it’s a decision that determines the fate of other fellow humans, or you and your car partner.

Yet in the self-driving car world, the algorithm makes this decision for you. You have no say. Then the programmers have to turn around and pre-program (somehow) for the car to handle a limitless number of other eventualities. Would you let your car decide any of these situations for you, for your family? I wouldn’t. An algorithm doesn’t get to make those kinds of choices for me. Only I do.

we help the uninitiated to help themselves

Let’s face it, life can be complicated. You can’t even get on an airplane anymore with extreme confusion. That’s why we’re here to help. This post is actually written to aid this guy who boarded the plane right in front of me at Chicago Midway a few days ago. I didn’t catch his name, but I’m hoping he happens to be one of the three people who regularly read this blog. Let’s see if it works, because he was mighty confused.

Once upon a time Southwest Airlines sent a team of scientists, archeologists, sexual deviants, and armed horse lords into the darkness of the Eurasian Steppe. Their goal? To find the most obscure, unique, and simultaneously awesome & angering airline boarding process imaginable. Only one man made it back. As he slowly expired with great nobility in the hospital deep under the bowels of Southwest’s Dallas headquarters building, he imparted his hallowed findings which Southwest has implemented to this day.

You either hate this boarding style or you love it. I tend to be mostly on the love side. It’s pell mell style is very American. Everybody gets the same kind of seat regardless of their level of international gold reserves. Everybody rushes to get on the plane, so nobody’s left taking their sweet ass time getting that $14 iced coffee and holding up the rest of us. Contrast that with Delta or American which have eight different boarding groups based upon miles, straight cash, credit card status, blood type, and a list of favorite zoo animals. On my last Delta flight I think they offered to “now board our Unpolished Zirconia Status valued customers.”

southwest_airlines_san_las_trip_report_05.jpg

Though Southwest does take some getting used to. It took me a few flights to catch the rhythm of how I remind myself to check-in, where I wanted to board, etc, etc. But you get the hang of it. But on this last flight this guy seemed confused. I was B02. He was B36. Yet he stepped ahead of me and the Southwest guy just checked him in anyways. So now what I’ll do is go ahead and explain in detail how Southwest boards, so that this guy understands that for next time, …, oh, uh, wait. Hmm, maybe, no, no this can’t be true. Did he, did he do that on purpose? Did he cut in line? Did this horrible human being break the rules?! [throws chair]

That’s it! My Guests and I shall summon our good old friend Enforcement Drone Version 2.09 (ED209) as our assistant in resolving this matter.

1) Guilt

Person wrongly cuts in Southwest line. ED209 saunters up and wryly comments to the individual in his stale robot voice.

ED209: ATTENTION SIR, YOU ARE CLEARLY NOT AT YOUR APPROPRIATE PLACE IN LINE. IT IS REASONABLE TO ASSUME YOU HAVE DONE THIS DELIBERATELY. YOU ARE PATHETIC.

2) Shame

ED209 walks up, and demands production of boarding pass, observes man has cut in line. ED209 then activates his video streaming device while addressing the surrounding crowd.

ED209: ATTENTION FELLOW PASSENGERS, THIS MAN HAS CUT IN LINE WITH THE ASSUMPTION THAT HE IS BETTER THAN YOU IN THAT YOU MUST FOLLOW THE RULES BUT HE DOES NOT HAVE TO. THIS INDICENT IS NOW BEING POSTED LIVE TO HIS FACEBOOK PAGE. WOULD YOU CARE TO PROVIDE YOUR COMMENTS FOR THE VIEWING ATTENTION OF HIS FRIENDS?

3) Fear

ED209 walks up and shoots the individual in the kneecap.

ED209: DUE TO A RECENT INJURY, YOU ARE NOT MEDICALLY ELIGIBLE TO BOARD TODAY’S FLIGHT. DO YOU REQUIRE INFORMATION ON THE LOCATION OF THE NEAREST MEDICAL TREATMENT FACILITY?

4) Punishment

As the person walks down the jet bridge, ED209 breaks into the luggage compartment, pulls out the guy’s bag, pours jet fuel on it, and burns it on the tarmac so everybody can see it out the windows.

ED209: YOU WILL NOW BE ASSESSED THE VARIOUS DAMAGE, CLEANUP, AND ENVIRONMENTAL FEES FOR VIOLATING ESTABLISHED HAZARDOUS MATERIAL TRANSPORT REQUIREMENTS.

5) Morality

ED209 forces him to sit down for a five hour chat on the various moral considerations involved with cutting in line, making a clear case for the values of a balanced ethical society.

6) Apathy

ED209 slowly trots by the person as they walk down the jet bridge but offers no comment or correction, hoping over time the individual in question establishes some type of internal corrective action guided by conscience.

Which ones of these will work? I’ll let you decide.

ed209

“Great work on the jet bridge today!  Fist bump, my brother.”  [ED209 shatters every bone in my hand]

Erdogan expands post coup purge to zoo tamers

Following several days of a wide ranging crackdown that has stretched to include military personnel, police, party clowns, judges, financial accountants, youth hostel janitors, religious ministry officials, Efes brewers, and local educators, the government has announced that most if not all “apostate zoo tamers” will now be rounded up.

Said Everyday Working Man, Stooge, One Time Ferryboat Captain, Corruption Auteur, and Prime Minster Binali Yıldırım:

“I’m sorry but this parallel terrorist zoo organization will no longer be an effective pawn for any country, our animals belong to Turkey, their souls are clean,” Mr Yildirim said, according to Reuters news agency.

“We will dig them up these animals [the zoo tamers] by their roots so that no clandestine terrorist organization will have the nerve to betray our blessed people and their zoos again.”

When asked how his government would differentiate between average innocent zoo tamers and those who use their status as zoo tamers to undermine His Majesty’s the Sultan’s Legitimate Government on the Road of Democracy Until You Get Off, Mr Yıldırım stated, ‘If you are not up to anything illegal in your zoo, don’t worry about getting arrested.”

At which point, following his press conference, sources confirmed that 1,300 zoo tamers were rounded up by black clad goons sporting patches indicating their desire to free the animals.  This has led to much speculation on whether this implied the government’s position had expanded to an anti-zoo platform and the purge of workers was merely the first step in an actual complete closure of all zoos.

Reached for a post comment, a spokesman for Mr Yıldırım remarked, “Well, The Sultan’s goal is total dominance of all walks of life.  That means nobody can have fun anymore for certain, so yes, fuck it, let’s go ahead and say we’ll close all the zoos too.”

angry erdogan

“The stamp collectors are next!”  [pounds fist]  [polite clapping in room]

the essentials of freedom

I truly wonder whether I’m an internal alarmist who then occasionally flies off the handle in an external fashion aboard this degenerate blog.  Until I read a line like:

“The share of the world’s populace living in countries with a free press fell from 38% in 2005 to 31% in 2015;”

In other words, less than one third of our planet has the ability to live in a free society enabled by free speech.  I would have hoped for at least half, but I guess I was wrong.  Read the article.

Then read the other three articles The Economist put into their latest issue.  OneTwoThree.

My feelings on all this are pretty clear, but I’ll shut up now, and hope you take the time to read it all.

methods of behavioral change

This morning I observed a woman park in a handicapped spot and then walk away pulling two large suitcases with nary a limp. So unless she was taking that luggage to her husband’s wheelchair office, I’d bet a substantial margin of my limited international gold reserves that’s she’s illegally parked.

I see this all the time, mostly at work. I figure probably a third of those parked in handicapped spots are not actually crippled in any way. I cannot morally comprehend executing such an action. It would legitimately make me uncomfortable, all day, to know I did that. But apparently folks are cool with it, it becomes part of their routine.

Maybe this isn’t a big deal. Or those folks are actually quite nice dudes, and this is just one of their flaws. And if humanity has anything, it’s a whole bunch of flaws. But for whatever reason, any time I see this happen it bothers or even angers me immensely. I nearly said something unfortunate to that woman this morning. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut, for I gather that would not have ended well or accomplished a thing.

Anyways, let’s accept that this is bad behavior requiring correction. But we’ll need help, because humans are flawed weak flesh beings. So we’ll use Enforcement Drone Version 2.09 (ED209) as our assistant in this matter.

1) Guilt

Person wrongly parks in spot. ED209 saunters up and wryly comments to the individual in his stale robot voice.

ED209: YOU ARE NOT HANDICAPPED. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF.

2) Shame

ED209 walks up, and demands production of identification. ED209 then takes a photo of the person’s face.

ED209: THIS INDICENT HAS NOW BEEN POSTED TO YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE.

3) Fear

ED209 walks up and shoots the individual in the kneecap.

ED209: YOU ARE NOW IN COMPLIANCE WITH ESTABLISHED PARKING REGULATIONS.

4) Punishment

As the person walks away, ED209 combusts their vehicle in a fireball that shatters nearby windows.

ED209: YOU WILL NOW BE ASSESSED THE VARIOUS DAMANGE, CLEANUP, AND ENVIRONMENTAL FEES.

5) Morality

ED209 forces them to sit down for a five hour chat on the various moral considerations involved with improperly parking in the handicapped spot, making a clear case for the values of a balanced ethical society.

6) Apathy

ED209 slowly trots by the person as they walk away from their car but offers no comment or correction, hoping over time the individual in question establishes some type of internal corrective action guided by conscience.

Which ones of these will work? I’ll let you decide.

ed209

Awh, isn’t he cute?