It is you who trains the robots

December 10, 2018

You uncritically share a lexicon about yourself every day, and every time you log in you make the robots on the internet even better. The price you pay is your own privacy.

Security and privacy professionals have long been aware that the information we uncritically share is valuable. If you do not you pay for a service, then you are the product being sold. But virtually, no one wanted to listen to that, until now.

First, some facts about our digital everyday life, which you may not know:

The number of internet-connected gadgets is increasing dramatically and is expected to reach 26 billion by 2020. What does it mean? Before, computers were isolated systems that did what we requested with the information we gave them. Now, we are on our way into a world where the computers have eyes (cameras + image recognition), ears (microphones), feelings (sensors that feel cold, moisture, acceleration), taste senses (chemical sensors), plus various advanced abilities that we humans do not have, like communicating in real time with other devices across the globe.

The world’s most valued companies have the main goal to collect data about you.

In many ways, computers undergo the same evolution as the primitive organisms that evolved into animals with senses made 550 million years ago. And the things are all over the place and gather information about everything we do.

You share a lexicon – every day

You produce and deliver 700 MB of information each day on average. It is about the same amount of information as a lexicon. And the most valued investors in the world are those who have the main business of collecting data about you. Why? It turns out that there is tremendous value in data, so much value that it has almost become an art form to start companies without a business plan in addition to getting the most active users and thus the most data.

According to researchers, as little as three Facebook “likes” may be enough to predict your IQ and your political point of view.

Outside possibilities for using the information

It is impossible to predict how these massive amounts of information can be used to derive things about us. Only the imagination and any ethical reviews limit what you can find out. With the recent development of machine learning and artificial intelligence, companies can not only sell targeted advertising, but also learn everything about you. Think of Facebook as your digital best friend, who knows everything about you, and have beyond unlimited memory, time and capacity to think about what all the information says about you as a person. So what? Well, your actual best friend will hopefully be well. Facebook’s business model is to sell ads based on information about you to third parties in order to create value for its shareholders. The more they make you share, the more value. The more dependent you are on the service, the more value. And who knows what these third parties use the information for? Selling things, yes, well. But the real value of your data lies in training the future.

Three “likes” are enough

All the information you and your stuffing parts are used to train future robots. These robots can be clean software robots that exist only in cyberspace, a world of bits and bytes, or robots that interact with us in our physical world. So why is this problematic? Firstly, there is still a lot of information as of today we do not share. An example: When look for sneakers and eventually buy a pair, but you are still exposed to jogging shoes ads in the next few weeks. It’s because Google does not know you clicked “buy” in the online store. In other words, the robots often lack crucial information, and are forced to make qualified guess based on the information they have.

Secondly, it is impossible to understand what your information can actually be used for. According to researchers, as little as three Facebook “likes” may be enough to predict your IQ and your political point of view. And you uncritically share a lexicon about yourself every day. It is the power of information and it is used to train robots.

Time to wake up

This may sound exaggerating. But it’s time to wake up. Since I started working with Cyber Security, few have wanted to listen to the warnings, but maybe the commute is about to turn. In May, GDPR came up with an EU directive. The law gives you new rights as owner of information about yourself. But the law is little worth unless we understand what information we provide from us can be used to enable us to make informed decisions.

And last spring it became apparent that Cambridge Analytica has misused Facebook data to 87 million people to target political advertising for US President Donald Trump. Barack Obama did some of the same things in his campaign in 2008. But first this time, #DeleteFacebook trends. On Twitter, ironically.

You do the job yourself

So next time someone tries to predict which jobs are going to be taken over by the robots first, it may be good to keep in mind the following: Not only is it impossible to predict what the robots will do in the future, but it is equally important to understand that we already have a new job. And that job is just training future robots.

What is our salary to train these robots, you say? Cat videos, embarrassing status updates from your uncle, targeted sneakers, and Donald Trump.

Welcome to your future job, you have been working for ten years already.

Written by Carsten Maartmann-Moe

Originally published in Norwegian on:

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