Bleats

Great, The Robots Are Not Just Listening To Us, Now They're Actively Trolling Us Too

At the very, very least they're stealing our flooring secrets.

The rise of smart digital assistants has brought with it all the science fiction  convenience of immortal robots that take things out of context with the awesome power of being able to package that information up and send it to random people.

That wasn’t necessarily the plan when companies like Apple, Google and Amazon gave their products what we assume is either vastly complex programming or a trapped human soul screaming for eternity, but it’s what we’ve gotten. More specifically, it’s what one couple in Portland, Oregon, discovered.

The problem with having a voice operated piece of tech is that its constantly listening in case you want to bellow a command at it. And thus when one couple were having a perfectly natural conversation about getting their flooring done, their wide-ranging chat somehow managed to use whatever the Alexa voice commands were for “turn on”, “record the next bit” and “send it to some guy in our contact list”.

Which is why they recieved a phone call from a baffled employee who thought they should know that  they’d received a voice recording via their Amazon device.

“He proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,At first, my husband was, like, ‘No, you didn’t!’” the anonymous female half of the affected couple told Seattle’s KIRO 7 news. “And the [recipient of the message] said, ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘Oh, gosh, you really did hear us.’ ”

For their part, Amazon told the station “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”

And that’s the problem with internet security and voice activation: there’s no easy way to make something that’s actually usable by a public with wide ranging accents and varying levels of elocution that doesn’t also make these sorts of mistakes – we’ve previously mentioned the study “Cocaine Noodles: Exploiting the Gap between Human and Machine Speech Recognition.“, named for a phrase that accidentally activates Google’s assistant.

(Incidentally, a quick experiment with the iPhone next to the computer this was typed on proved that Siri hears it as “cooking noodles” in any case, despite the writer having a resonant, booming voice).

But that’s all a distraction from the real issue: now the robots know our flooring secrets, what will they do with this information? Can any of us walk indoors in safety? Only time, and possibly voice-operated technology gone rogue, will tell…

Is Melania Even In Trump's Phone? His Tweet Calling Her Melanie Suggests Couples Therapy Is In Order

It's not the probable autocorrect that's an issue so much as what it says about the presence or otherwise of Trump's wife's number.

The biggest problem with writing about Donald Trump is that so many of the things that should by rights be snide, mean-spirited, not-even-especially-funny jokes about his carelessness turn out to be less lefty character assassination and more accurate and documented statements of fact.

For example: given the lack of any suggestion of affection or warmth or any non-transactional feeling between Trump and his wife Melania, it would an easy, hacky joke to say “ha ha ha, what if he didn’t even remember her name?”

That’s a real tweet. And, somewhat refreshingly, it was caught and corrected, reminding us other times that the president of the United States hit send on things with fairly obvious errors…

2017, such an innocent time…

…and naturally the internet has exploded with people either angrily defending the president as an innocent victim of autocorrect or laughing their heads off at a president who can’t even tweet a message to his wife without getting it wrong.

The autocorrect thing is interesting for a bunch of reasons – especially because if it’s true, it suggests that Melania isn’t in Donald’s phone. At least, not under her name.

Maybe she’s under “Winter Boo Bear”?

One of the easiest phone hacks, if you’re really ducking sick of continually having to stop your phone autocorrecting all the filthy swears you put in your text messages, is to put those words into your contact list.

The least disruptive way is putting them in the description field rather than the name field, by the way, although be aware that it might surprise your folks when you innocently share with them a contact for Stephen Peterson, Motherf**king Dentist.

“Dr Peterson’s practice provides a comprehensive dental and orthodontic service. Open six days. Appointments necessary.”

If you start typing a name that’s in your phone, it won’t assume you mean Stem Petal Son because it’ll jump to your contacts before exploring the world of botany.

So if Trump’s phone is going to “Melanie” and not “Melania”, or “melons” for that matter, then… well, there’s possibly a Melanie getting more calls from that phone than is The Third Mrs Trump.

But not, thankfully, a Melons. So, y’know. Small mercies.

Then again…

The Internet Is And Has Always Been The Worst, As Proved By These Very 2018 Problems From 1996

A message in a bottle from 22 years ago reminds us that this "online" thing is a garbage fire and has been the entire time.

The internet. It’s a morass of stolen personal data and security weaknesses, forever being circled by governments which desperately want to access your information in the name of security.

And just in case you thought that was new, be advised that this was exactly what early adopters were concerned about in 1996.

Pictured: the internet in 1996.

Yes, 22 years ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article which has been getting a lot of Twitter love recently because the internet never, ever forgets. And it is chillingly prophetic:

Sara Fitzgerald, spokeswoman for Interactive Services Association, a Silver Spring, Md., trade association that serves the on-line industry [said] “I think there is a concern about large databases posted where people can have access, and that provide data to a wide number of people.”

[M]any on-line users remain ill-informed about exactly what personal information is available on the Internet, and attach greater significance to the fact that such data is available on-line than they do to the fact that it resides on the mainframes of numerous data-collection entities — from publishers to credit-card companies.

And then there’s this bit, which sounds a wee bit Peter Dutton (emphasis ours)…

In October, Vice President Al Gore announced the administration would permit the export of 56-bit key encryption software if companies agreed to provide law-enforcement agencies with a built-in key to monitor suspicious e-mail, if given court approval to do so. That announcement appeared to mark an compromise brokered by the federal government and a handful of powerful computer companies, but in recent weeks the deal has shown signs of unraveling amid charges by the industry that the government is trying to change the agreement’s terms.

Of course, those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it – a quote which, the internet claims, was made in 1854 by Albert Einstein.

Thanks, Gandhi!

But it’s fairly depressing that all these problems which have been the subject of months of “gee whiz! Data harvesting? Why, we’d never have guessed!” mea culpas from industry and “b-but how could we possibly have suspected all these personal records would be available online?” responses from government were perhaps a smidge more predictable than they would have us think.

Anyway, we should definitely all be cool about the upcoming My Health Record digital system, which will contain all your personal medical details – and out of which which you can still choose to opt, by the way.

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