This week we’ve been chatting about how technology can be used for good or bad. On the positive side, new applications of AI are providing lonely elderly people with virtual companionship and helping to fight the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, Google Chrome may have gone too far with its surveillance tactics.
Loneliness among the elderly is a significant social problem in the UK. According to Age UK, more than 2 million people aged 75 or over live alone, and 1.9 million people feel ignored or isolated. Factors like family bereavement, retirement or sickness can leave many older citizens with no-one to turn to. And a strained public health system isn’t able to support them all.
But now technology could help. Accenture has developed a programme called Memory Lane, powered by Google Voice. The device uses AI to replicate natural conversations and talk with elderly people in their own homes. It asks them to share their best memories and compiles their “life story” into a book or podcast. The content is then edited by a professional writer. Not only could this combat loneliness, it’s also a way to pass their story onto future generations. We think it’s an amazing use of voice assistant technology and can’t wait to see the impact it has.
Reducing loneliness isn’t the only virtuous use of AI. A recent article by MIT has highlighted the ways it can be used to fight climate change. The findings are based on a report by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, which identifies 13 domains where machine learning could have a positive impact—from improving climate prediction models to increasing energy farm efficiencies.
Some of these initiatives are already underway, if not at scale. For example, machine learning and IoT is being used to make buildings more efficient and reduce energy consumption. But there are initiatives you might not have heard about, such as using AI to reduce deforestation. It’s an urgent cause—a ‘football pitch’ of the Amazon rainforest is lost every minute. Imagery and sensors on the ground can be used to analyse the loss of tree cover, combined with AI-enabled algorithms for detecting chainsaw sounds, and used to alert law enforcement of illegal activity. Again, we’re really excited to see the positive impact that AI could have in this area.
The war over data privacy continues–and once again, Google’s practices are in the spotlight. A technology journalist on the Washington Post has accused Google’s web browser, Chrome, of acting like spy software. When the columnist conducted a data privacy experiment, they found that Chrome quietly introduced more than 11,000 cookies into their browser—and that’s in just one week.
It’s not just the sheer volume of tracking data that’s a concern, it’s also the surreptitious way that Google has introduced privacy changes. Chrome recently started logging Gmail users into their browsers by default. This means that unless you’ve disabled the feature, all of your web activity is being linked to your account. Chrome is also open to all cookies by default. Meanwhile, competitor browser Mozilla is going in the other direction—last month it announced an update that will block all third-party cookies by default in an effort to protect users’ privacy. It will be interesting to see how many users jump ship to Firefox for this reason.
Posted by John on 3 July 2019