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What About This…? 3.9.2017

By Wayne William Cipriano

Have you heard about the new – at least it was news to me – innovation of the Internet that provides research almost instantly by simply vocalizing a question?

Of course I don’t know squat about it, beyond a television commercial for the device that I saw, but it was wildly attractive to a fact-hound like me, and then I was taken suddenly aback!

One of the many pleasures we experience when Reneé and Ryan visit is Ryan’s facility with the information provision aspect of the telephone-like device he carries.  Whenever any factual question arises, and that is pretty much during every single conversation, Ryan immediately begins tapping out a question on the device and almost as quickly, the factoid we are pursuing, appears.  Way beyond convenient and nifty as far as a Luddite like me is concerned, it is almost magical and so “necessary” that when they are not here and a question arises between Rosalie and myself, we smile at each other and call out “Ryyyyan!”

The product I saw on television went a step farther. It just stood on a table or desk and whenever a trigger word was uttered and a spoken question followed, the product provided the answer in English, through a loudspeaker.

When I saw it I freaked!  What a boon to those of us so enamored with information discovery.

The television commercial I am talking about is a scene wherein a Dad is reading to his daughter and she asks him, “Daddy, how big are whales?”  The Dad looks at a compact cylindrical device standing on a nearby table and asks, “____ how big are whales?”  And, the response, in a pleasant female voice, “Whales can weigh up to …..”

Wow! Imagine having Ryan there 24-7, but reading the answer, let alone thumbing the question is unnecessary.  Just call out “Ryan” or “Siri” or whatever and ask the question verbally and get the spoken, correct answer immediately.  And, you don’t even have to pay off Ryan for his research with beer and cigars!

And then came the taken aback part.  This device, call it Fred, has to be on all the time ready to respond to your trigger word (Fred) whenever you utter it.  So, unless very carefully programmed, and deeply trusted, Fred would hear everything spoken within Fred’s range awaiting that trigger word.  Hear everything?  Everything we say to each other, and even out loud when we are alone?  And remember, Fred is connected to the Internet – that is where the answers come from because that is where all the sounds picked up by Fred go.

Sure, most people I’ve heard don’t care about that, some social media users (most? all?) actually crave such personal transparency.  But for me, having every word spoken around Fred immediately transmitted to the Internet, and from there who knows where, is such a violation of privacy that my head just cannot get around it.

And speaking of privacy, what about the concept “legal expectation of privacy” that exists when I am reasonably sure my communications are limited to a selected few and it is a violation of legal privacy for anyone to eavesdrop?

And if we own a device that hears all and transmits all out of my presence to anyone or anything in the Internet that might be, or more accurately is certainly listening, have we given up the legal expectation of privacy when we think no one is around, except Fred?

Paranoia running wild?  Well, not quite yet, but…. What about tomor-row?  What about the ever-more-intrusive electronics we seem to embrace without any reluctance at all? The Facebooks, tweets, bill-boards, etc., and now Fred?

Are you ready for that?  It’s coming.