AI will not take over the world

AI will not take over the world

In a recent blog we discussed the reliability of AI and automation and the fact that these systems are devised by human beings, highly skilled human beings to be sure, but human beings make mistakes.

Wired has just published two further articles exploring the issue of AI.

In the first it explores whether it is possible to make AI technology completely unbiased and also asks how many businesses benefit as much as they could from AI technology.

It reports that the return on business investment in AI has declined by 27 per cent over the last five years.

The reason, it argues, is that “companies don’t know how to make the most of AI and data analytics, and how they can apply to business problems.”

It also suggests that businesses get things the wrong way wound when considering investing in AI, so that they under-use its potential. It advises that businesses should “start by drawing up a list of business challenges and prioritise them by whether or not they can be addressed by using AI and the expected return on investment”.

The second article, by Joi Ito, director or MIT’s Media Lab, questions the assumption that AI can and will supercede humans in almost every sphere of activity.

Ito calls this assumption singularity in which those people who have succeeded in mastering the power of AI capture all the wealth and power.

This, Ito argues is “reductionist” thinking and only works for a very narrow range of learning and thinking which can lead to over-simplified ways of “fixing” humanity’s problems.

However, Ito says, most of the challenges we face today, such as climate change, poverty, chronic disease or modern terrorism have actually been the result of this reductionist thinking and we need to respect that many human problems are actually much more complex.

Machines, and therefore AI, need to be adaptive and to augment, not replace, humans. “not artificial intelligence but extended intelligence”.

Is Alexa always listening?

Amazon’s Echo Virtual Assistant (infamously known as just Alexa) functions primarily on the idea of complete voice-control and having a single wake-word which lets these clever little robots know that it’s their time to shine. By saying “Alexa” around your device, it wakes from slumber, listens to your voice request, assists accordingly and then goes back to sleep. But in order for this method to function, Alexa has to have what Amazon call an always-on function.

It makes sense as a principal; having to press a power button before any voice requests would diminish the idea of a ‘hands-free virtual assistant’ and so the only time your Alexa gets a break is when you turn her off at the mains, or when your power goes out. Other than these occasions, she is always ready and waiting to be told what to do.

But this is invoking fear into Alexa users regarding just how much their Alexa’s are really listening to, and where this data is going. Amazon has said consistently that the Echo microphones only listen in and record your voice after the wake-word has been spoken, and that there is even an option to mute all voice-interaction altogether which will turn the outer light ring red when activated. Saying “Alexa” when the Echo is in this state will get no response. But how do we really know that Alexa isn’t listening at all, or if she is just not responding?

The times that Alexa has unwantedly recorded conversations has been because of a trigger word that sounded similar to Alexa, thus triggering the device to commence recording in await of any “play music” or “turn the light off” commands. When these commands aren’t spoken, Alexa will inform you that she didn’t understand what was being asked of her, but still records your voice feedback anyway.

These ‘misunderstandings’ are then reviewed by Amazon’s human team that can depict what was actually being said, so they can put Alexa through a master class in order to help her understand everyone better next time.

Amazon has said – “We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.”

It’s a given that at least some of Alexa’s voice interactions will be taken for analysis, but this isn’t unlike other voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Samsung’s Bixby. All speech recognition software must function this way in order to actually function; or Alexa would only ever understand the accent of the person who designed her.

When the Echo’s were first introduced, there were plenty of videos being filmed by users with Scottish accents who would laugh at how little Alexa understood of them. Now – nearly 5 years later – Alexa can pretty much understand every accent, and this is credited to the process of analysing the recordings.

If the idea that your voice may be randomly selected for study purposes unnerves you, then there is always the option to mute your Echo device. This will inhibit any voice-interactive features, but the devices will still work perfectly well as a speaker for playing music.

For those of you named Alexa, or those that simply don’t like using this name, you can also program your device to respond to ‘Echo’, ‘Computer’, or ‘Amazon’. Otherwise, avoid saying words that sound like your wake-word if it’s not Alexa that you wish to summon.

Windows 7 has reached it’s End of Life

The date has been announced – January the 14th, 2020 – the date that Windows 7 reaches its end. After this date, Windows 7 will no longer be supported or updated by Microsoft, and current users will have to upgrade to Windows 10.

Windows 7 is a decade old this July, launched in 2009 – but it is still vastly popular and is reportedly still being used on 39% of all PCs. So this news that Windows 7 will no longer be supported means that there are many users out there who need to start thinking about moving on from their favourite operating system.
Microsoft is being very encouraging about this upgrade and are releasing an update for Windows 7 which will remind users that they need to upgrade to Windows 10 before the End of Life date. Of course, the update is optional, but all users with automatic updates switched on will receive it.
Once the End of Life date has arrived, Windows 7 will cease to receive any updates or patches, and any programs you wish to install with no longer be compatible.

Here are some advantages from moving up to Windows 10:

  • Easy to use / reduced complexity
  • More advanced security features
  • Improved search facility
  • Easy to use apps

For a lot of us, Windows 7 may have been the first operating system we ever had, or at least the first that we got along with. But it’s time to say goodbye.


Password security

Too many people are still not taking password security seriously enough

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has just published the results of its first survey analysing public databases of breached accounts to see which words, phrases and strings people used.

One of its most alarming findings was that millions of users were still using easily-guessed passwords.

The most frequently found was 123456 followed by 123456789 and then 1111111.

Names were another favourite with Ashley, Michael, Jessica and Daniel top of the list.

It is astonishing given the steadily rising numbers of personal and business accounts that have been hacked and been defrauded of money that cyber security, particularly passwords, are still not taken seriously enough.

Security experts say that picking a good password is the “single biggest control” people had over their online security.

Keeping your business safe from cyber attack

Clearly password security is crucial to protect a business as hackers become ever more sophisticated.

There are some basic good habits that bear repeating and that businesses can adopt:

  1. Use a combination of numbers and letters that is not easy to guess.
  2. Change passwords regularly
  3. Restrict the information on passwords to only the key people who need access to those accounts, especially if they involve finances and payments.
  4. Ensure that all staff receive proper cyber-security training
  5. Ensure that they report suspected breaches, such as email requests for payment supposedly authorised by a named senior manager are checked and that NO links in emails are ever opened without checking with the “supposedly” authorising person.

No business can afford the financial losses associated with cyber fraud, which has been estimated to cost each victim in the region of £1,000 per case in 2018 and resulted in the loss of an estimated 50,000 jobs.