Fighting the Machine and Dumb Algorithms

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a big deal. AI is quickly taking over countless parts of our every day life. You may not even realize how much you interact every day with AI. You can try and fight or avoid AI, either way the robots are coming.

How Business is Using AI Right Now

Truthfully, no one really has AI yet. There are close attempts like Watson, or other famous deep learning algorithms. Tech companies are quick to use the ‘AI’ title when ever possible though. AI is hot, AI gets media attention. AI is simply layers and layers of algorithms, mathematical equations, designed to achieve accurate predictions. These layers are also referred to as Deep Learning. Deep learning (DL) algorithms are as close as anyone has made it to true AI, and implementation is spreading from retailers to human resources.

Today, DL algorithms will pour over city, weather and property data to adjust risk scores used in adjusting premiums for thousands of customers renewing property insurance. In courts across the country, AI will be present to judge’s to assist in determining the severity of a prison sentence. Job applicant’s resumes will be scored and removed from consideration automatically, without wasting a minute of the hiring managers time.

Gate keeping is another role of DL algorithms in business. Gate Keeping information has even led to heavily influence societal behavior and choices. Deep Learning algorithms are fast, adaptable and growing. DL can quickly scan and analyze what content on social media we are shown and what stays behind the gates The most recent and notable influence on society was witnessed in the 2016 Presidential Election with the influence of Russian bots pushing hundreds of fake news headlines.

I think people are waking up to the affects of negative DL efforts have on our lives. Since you’re here, I’ll assume you are at least slightly aware and interested. Maybe you realize that Facebook’s ‘likes’ may have undesirable consequences, or that your location data could be the trigger for recent telemarketing calls.

The State v. Eric Loomis, Deep Learning in the Court With Compass

You may never have heard of Compass, probably because you’ve never broken the law. Compass, or Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, is a deep learning algorithm designed to determine the likely hood a convicted criminal will repeat in order to determine a statistically suggestive sentencing.

Compass usage in courts is controversial. In summary, some believe the software, designed by teams of non-black software engineers, is racially biased. The company like Facebook, Apple and Google each state the lack of non-white engineers is not due to their efforts but from a lack of qualified applicants to choose.

Opponents state the bias is even evident in the steeper sentencing for black offenders. While proponents state that the steeper sentencing and coinciding lower repeat offenses actually indicate that the algorithms are working as planned and sentencing is indeed successful at curbing criminal behavior.

When you think to the purpose of prison this makes sense. Prisons have four major purposes. These purposes are retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Compass, takes the subjective nature of sentencing and injects analytical machine sense to reach these goals.

There is sort of a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma here though akin to the 2002 movie Minority Report starring Tom Cruise. There is a case for both sides, and this issue is complex and since I am not a legal scholar, I will not attempt to solve this issue within this article.

Even if you are not a criminal, agents are still tracking you and working on your data for their benefit.

Companies And Their Agents Are Following You

In 2016, Uber was found to be tracking ride share users for minutes and miles after leaving the Uber vehicle. Uber publicly stated they did this with permission, and for improving their application of course.

Most users were not aware that permission was granted to continue tracking after ending the use of Uber’s service. User also don’t have a method of verifying when Uber’s monitoring actually ended.

Quietly, Uber had pushed an update to iPhone users, altering their location sharing settings for the Uber app. Uber never explicitly stated for how long they would track users, or for what exact purpose other than the wide scoped improvement statement. A spokesman stated it was for not more than 5 minutes after leaving, but sources to validate this claim are of course unfounded.

A personal story, 5 weeks ago I broke my ankle. I was on the way to pickup my walking boot, I had turned on Google maps location service on my iPhone, I forgot to turn it off once I arrived. I shared my location with Google for 25 minutes while I was with the provider. Upon leaving, I received an email solicitation for walking boots and a telemarketing call from another boot provider. Realizing my mistake I quickly turned off location services. In a mere 25 minutes, Google was able to capture my location, analyze the purpose, sell me as a lead and an agent able to attempt two strategies of contact. That is how fast these agents and DL is working against you. We are a commodity to these giant tech companies.

Why You and Your Data is So Important

The depth and frequency of these giants data collection is anyone’s guess. These companies currently have no legal requirement to provide this information which they deem proprietary to their business. Regardless, I doubt most users expect Uber to track them into a restaurant, or work, or any where else after leaving the car. I doubt most people know Google maps is selling lead information on you as you as you go about your day but they are.

Google’s ad revenue amounted to 116.3 billion US dollars in 2018. Google certainly is collecting user data for purposes beyond their own. Data collection is big money, companies like Google, Facebook and Uber can capture billions packing your data profiles to advertisers. This is true for any service you don’t pay for.

Always remember, when the service is free that you are the product.

Taking the Tin Foil Hat Off

Maybe their intent isn’t so nefarious and the companies are collecting the data for themselves. Amazon actually seems to be keen on this practice. Open up Mozilla’s light beam and you would notice that Amazon actually keep data relatively contained. Open Facebook and it’s a scarier picture, literally no privacy within the platform. If you believe there is then you are living in fairy tale land.

~~ puts the tin foil hat back on ~~

Again, we the user, are not even aware that the collection is happening and they want it that way. Data collection is done with permission of course, obtained through lengthy legalese agreements. You can see these length alien agreements packed inside a list of updates to your device.

Maybe legislators should start to draft protections similar to those of the financial industry, simple contracts which fit on a single page in plain English. Having something we can all understand would be nice. Having simple contracts would make capitalizing on your data much more difficult. Look at the reaction to sweeping changes in the EU recently across the internet. In response to laws enacted regarding cookies and user tracking, countless sites now block their service to European citizens. Rather than stop tracking EU citizens companies simply are denying services because their is no real value to gain anymore when you can’t harvest someone’s personal data.

Preying on Human Behavior and Crossing Lines

These companies prey on users ignorance to the espionage. It’s one thing for Google to collect data about sites you visit, something most people expect versus collecting your location, scanning your photos, your emails, your contacts, your messages. It’s even worse when a company who solely exists as a social media platform does it. Facebook was recently caught capturing users phone data even further. The social media giant was found creeping on users phones scanning text messages, private data and sharing it with anyone willing to pay big money.

Numbing the People to the Harvest

To spy on us comfortably these tech giants play mind games game. Tech giants like Facebook work to percolate ideas through social webs, writing opinion pieces and pushing the conversation through agents and bots in a direction backing their activities. A lot of time and effort is spent studying this subject, manipulating and analyzing these patterns.

You can simple look at the rise of data science and analytics careers to see how much your data matters to companies. Data mining and analysis is expected to grow substantially in the next decade.

How to Start Protecting Yourself

There is really only one solution, it probably be as hard to kick as smoking.

Stop using these services. Take Facebook, Snap chat, Instagram, Google, all of the social media applications off of your phone. Go make real friends, genuine interactions that enrich your life. Studies have shown repeatedly that kick Facebook out of your life not only makes us happier, but less polarized and alienating in our ideas. We are social people and we now have enough data to prove that internet interactions cannot replace in person face-to-face time with friends and family.

Use a browser that doesn’t track you, such as Epic, Brave or Safari. Use a search engine that doesn’t track you like DuckDuckGo. Last, by devices that don’t capture data to sell to advertisers. To date, the only phone maker I am aware of that doesn’t sell your data is Apple. This aspect is the sole reason I use an iPhone.

If you subscribe to audio books, I would suggest a couple of books on this subject.

  • Dataclysm
  • Technically Wrong

Thanks for reading

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