Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Lately I have been thinking about big data and artificial intelligence (AI). Big Data is the compilation of data collected by countless sources. It includes your credit cards, your health records, social security data, military service, your tax records, your purchases etc. Artificial intelligence is the manipulation of that data by computers and for the purpose of this article computer use of algorithms. As you probably know the EU and California have passed regulatory schemes which focus on security of data and providing some recourse for breaches. I have reviewed these legal schemes and find them mostly to be of marginal value both on the security side, in offered remedies, and totally devoid of algorithm regulation.
There are three recent examples we can use to explore the exploitation of big data. The first is the new Apple Watch 6. It is a device which measures biometric data including heart rate, oxygenation, sleep patterns, heart rhythms, respiratory rates and more. The watch is paired with your iPhone. The iPhone is linked to the mother ship. Biometrics linked with facial recognition, GPS, credit card info, and a catalog of your latest Google searches create a file on you which becomes part of big data. The second example is the recent dust up over Tik Tok. Oracle and Walmart have formed a joint venture to control the US holdings of TikTok. Surveys show that 70% of the Tik Tok subscribers are 14 years old or younger. Tik Tok collects a modest amount of personal data, but gains a toe hold into households and so big data accumulates. Tesla cars are all linked to the mother ship. Tesla knows the where abouts, of the car, the speed at which we travelled, and probably from the crumbs in the car the meals we have eaten behind the wheel.
We all know of the breaches of a major credit bureau, retail stores and the government. We know on a regular basis that our credit cards are compromised thus necessitating a re-issuance of cards. All of that information is a part of big data. I often fall prey to the thought of, "who would be interested in little old me and my puny bank accounts, credit facilities, or my biometrics." It takes some effort to awaken from that delusion.
The use of algorithms to form artificial intelligence (AI) on big data should be enough to shake your indifference to your personal security. An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. Given the power and speed of today's computers, the sophistication of algorithms and the availability and access to big data means that we are all at risk. A couple of examples should suffice. AI will be able to, if it can't already, help retailers pinpoint your preferences. Online shops can package-up goods that will perfectly suit you and send them to you based on your past buying habits. From your biometrics, AI can project your probable life expectancy and the conditions that you will encounter as you age given your genetic code (thanks to 23 and Me), present habits and diet. It could conceivably tell whether you are a candidate to procreate. I am thinking that algorithms merely advance confirmational bias at the individual level and groupthink amongst groups with whom you identify.
So, going back to the two examples of the Apple watch and Tik Tok, wouldn't insurance companies be interested in our biometrics to determine premiums on health insurance, or auto insurance? Wouldn't an auto insurer be interested in the Tesla data? Is that why Testa is exploring going into the auto insurance business? Finally, wouldn't Oracle be interested in acquiring a client like Walmart who in turn is interested in the latest wants and cravings of teenagers and securing their loyalty to the Walmart brand?
I believe data, its collection, and AI need to be regulated. So, this all leads me to ask the question of whom I should trust with this data and AI: the profit-driven private sector or a bumbling government? This binary choice affords me, and I suspect you, little comfort. I do not have an answer to this question. As my beloved father once told me: You can learn more from questions you cannot answer than answers you cannot question. I hope this stimulates you to think about this problem, and I would love to learn from your thinking.