Why IoT Engineers Need Compulsory Sensitivity Training on Privacy & Security

Posted on 4th April 2018 in AI, data, Essential Truths, Internet of Things, privacy, security

OK, you may say I’m over-sensitive, but a headline today from Google’s blog that others may chuckle about (“Noodle on this: Machine learning that can identify ramen by shop“) left me profoundly worried about some engineers’ tone-deaf insensitivity to growing public concern about privacy and security.

This is not going to be pleasant for many readers, but bear with me — IMHO, it’s important to the IoT’s survival.

As I’ve written before, I learned during my work on corporate crisis management in the 80’s and 90’s that there’s an all-too-frequent gulf between the public and engineers on fear.  Engineers, as left-brained and logical as they come (or, in Myers-Briggs lingo, ISTJs, “logical, detached and detailed” and the polar opposite of ENFP’s such as me, ” caring, creative, quick and impulsive” ) are ideally-suited for the precision needs of their profession — but often (but not always, I’ll admit…) clueless about how the rest of us respond to things such as the Russian disruption of our sacred political institutions via Facebook or any of the numerous violations of personal privacy and security that have taken place with IoT devices lacking in basic protections.

The situation is bad, and getting worse. In one Pew poll, 16% or less of Americans felt that a wide range of institutions, from companies to government, were protecting their information.

Engineers are quick to dismiss the resulting fear because it isn’t logical.  But, as I’ve written before, the fact fear isn’t logical doesn’t mean it isn’t really real for many people, and can cloud their thought processes and decision-making.

Even worse, it’s cumulative and can ensnare good companies as well as bad.  After a while, all the privacy and security violations get conflated in their minds.

Exhibit A for this insensitivity? The despicable memo from Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth:

““Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Eventually he, begrudgingly, apologized, as did Mark Zuckerberg, but, IMHO that was just facesaving. Why didn’t anyone at Facebook demand a retraction immediately, and why did some at Facebook get mad not at Bosworth but instead at anyone who’d leak such information?  They and the corporate culture are as guilty as Bosworth in my mind.

So why do I bring up the story about identifying the source of your ramen using AI, which was surely written totally innocently by a Google engineer who thought it would be a cute example of how AI can be applied to a wide range of subjects? It’s because I read it — with my antennae admittedly sharpened by all the recent abuses — as something that might have been funny several years ago but should have gone unpublished now in light of all the fears about privacy and security. Think of this little fun project the way a lot of the people I try to counsel on technology fears every day would have: you mean they now can and will find out where I get my noodles? What the hell else do they know about me, and who will they give that information to???

Again, I’m quite willing to admit I may be over-reacting because of my own horror about the nonchalance on privacy and security, but I don’t think so.

That’s why I’ll conclude this screed with a call for all IoT engineers to undergo mandatory privacy and security training on a continuing basis. The risk of losing consumer confidence in their products and services is simply too great for them to get off the hook because that’s not their job. If you do IoT, privacy and security is part of the job description.

End of sermon. Go about your business.

 

 

iQ handheld ultrasound: another game-changing IoT health device

As the Red Sox’ Joe Castiglione might say, “Can you believe it?” (I should add a few more question marks to underscore exactly how unbelievable this IoT device is).

That’s my reaction to the latest astounding IoT medical device, the iQ handheld ultrasound, which attaches to a smartphone.

I was mesmerized by the headline on a story about the Butterfly iQ: “Doctor says he diagnosed his own cancer with iPhone ultrasound machine.” (spoiler alert: he was operated on to remove the tumor, and is OK).

Then there’s the marketing pitch: “Whole body imaging. Under $2K.” (that’s as opposed to $115,000 for the average conventional machine).

Oh.

The video is a must watch: the doctors seem truly amazed by its versatility and ease-of-use — not to mention it can be accessed instantly in a life-or-death situation. As one is quoted saying, “This blows up the entire ultrasound playing field.”

It won’t be on the market until next year, but the FDA has already approved the iQ for diagnosis in 13 applications.  Even more amazing, due to advanced electronics, it uses a single probe instead of three, and can document conditions from the superficial to deep inside the body. The system fits in a pants pocket and simply attaches to the doctor’s smartphone.

As incredible as the iQ will be in the US, think of how it will probably bring ultrasound to developing nations worldwide for the first time!

Another video discusses the engineering, which reduced the entire bulky ultrasound machine to a far-less costly chip, (including a lot of signal processing and computational power) and capitalizes on technologies developed for consumer electronics. The approach doesn’t just equal the traditional piezioelectric technology, but surpasses it. with power that would cost more than $100,000 with a conventional machine.

In terms of manufacturing, Butterfly can use the same chip machines used to produce consumer goods such as smartphones, and can print nearly 100 ultrasound machines on less than one disk.

I thought instantly of my go-to “what can you do with the IoT that you couldn’t do before” device, the Kardia EKG on the back of my iPhone (I met a woman recently who said her Mass General cardiologist prescribes it for all of his patients). Both are absolute game changers, in terms of ease of access, lower cost, allowing on-the-spot monitoring and even potentially empowering patients (Yet another tool to make my SmartAging concept possible).

Oh, and did I mention that the iQ’s Artificial Intelligence will guide even inexperienced personnel to do high quality imaging within a few seconds?

Bottom line: if you talk to someone who doesn’t believe the IoT’s potential to make incredible changes in every aspect of our lives, just say: iQ. Wow!

Mycroft Brings Open-Source Revolution to Home Assistants

Brilliant!  Crowd-funded (even better!) Mycroft brings the rich potential of open-source to the growing field of digital home assistants.   I suspect it won’t be long until it claims a major part of the field, because the Mycroft platform can evolve and grow exponentially by capitalizing on the contributions of many, many people, not unlike the way IFTTT has with its crowd-sourced smart home “recipes.”

According to a fascinating ZD Net interview with its developer, Joshua Montgomery, his motivation was not profit per se, but to create a general AI intelligence system that would transform a start-up space he was re-developing:

“He wanted to create the type of artificial intelligence platform that ‘if you spoke to it when you walked in the room, it could control the music, control the lights, the doors’ and more.”

                         Mycroft

Montgomery wanted to do this through an open-source voice control system but for there wasn’t an open source equivalent to Siri or Alexa.  After building the natural language, open-source AI system to fill that need (tag line, “An Artificial Intelligence for Everyone”) he decided to build a “reference device” as the reporter terms it (gotta love that techno speak. In other words, a hardware device that could demonstrate the system). That in turn led to a crowdsourced campaign on Kickstarter and Backerkit to fund the home hub, which is based on the old chestnut of the IoT, Raspberry Pi. The result is a squat, cute (looks like a smiley face) unit, with a high-quality speaker.  

Most important, when the development team is done with the AI platform, Mycroft will release all of the Mycroft AI code under GPL V3, inviting the open-source community to capitalize and improve on it.  That will place Mycroft squarely in the open-source heritage of Linux and Mozilla.

Among other benefits, Mycroft will use natural language processing to activate a wide range of online services, from Netflix to Pandora, as well as control your smart home devices.

Mycroft illustrates one of my favorite IoT Essential Truths: we need to share data, not hoard it. I don’t care how brilliant your engineers are: they are only a tiny percentage of the world population, with only a limited amount of personal experience (especially if they’re callow millennials) and interests. When you go open source and throw your data open to the world, the progress will be greater as will be the benefits — to you and humanity.

http://www.stephensonstrategies.com/">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management