FREEDOM AND SAFETY
Everything, everywhere, will soon be continuously recorded and uploaded to the internet. This will start with dense, urban areas, but over time every single square meter of every part of the globe will be recorded. Advances in computer vision & AI mean this data will be usable at scale, which will revolutionise advertising, law enforcement, and bring us back to a pre-privacy world.
(and yes, you guessed it, the movie to pair this post with is Minority Report)
Here is where we are today:
But the real step change is around the corner:
Now. As awesome as some videos are (here’s a funny one), no one is going to sit through and watch all this stuff…
Fuelled by this explosion of video data, there have been incredible advances in Computer Vision over the last 20 years.
Let’s start with something you may not be aware of:
AI systems are capable of inferring higher level concepts (‘features’) from raw data. For example, faces are a feature that is inferred from raw pixels forming the video feed. This effectively makes all video, and all sound, searchable. Clarify.io as an example of a company providing a service to do this:
It also does so across as many data sources as are available, joining the data sets on common identifiers across them. So it’s not “there is a face in this video”, it’s also the name behind the face, the internet ‘breadcrumb’ of this person (including all other locations where this face was seen ever, all browsing activity, all messaging, all social network opinions, etc) and any other data set that might be available.
These AI systems will continue to improve, and each improved version will reprocess the raw data. Say the UK police runs an algorithm through all public CCTV recordings from the last week, looking for a criminal’s face. Today’s algorithm may not find it, but a future version will.
So, what are the implications of these advances?
Advertisers, insurers, retailers, banks, will feast on this new data like they have d0ne with all other internet data so far. The aim remains to build a detailed profile of you to sell you more stuff and quantify the risk/liability you represent.
Ubiquitous video combined with ever improving AI systems provide:
It also brings up some interesting forecasting opportunities at a more macro level:
What happens to the fashion industry when half a dozen static $100 cameras can tell you everything that anyone in Shoreditch wore this year — when you can trace a trend through social and street photography from start to the mass-market, and then look for the next emerging patterns?
— Benedict Evans, Cameras, ecommerce and machine learning
It seems inevitable that these video-sourced insights will be resold by the AV companies, in the same way that Google and Facebook sell targeting based on browsing history and likes. The commercial opportunity is huge.
Whether this happens officially will depend on the nature of the regulation surrounding the use of this video data. Unofficially, given febrility of security on the internet, this data will get used for commercial means.
For a long time, it was not materially possible to have any form of privacy as we’d think about it today. Tribal communities all lived together in caves, Romans all lived in one room houses, medieval families and servants all slept in the same bed — there was no practical concept of private space or individual intimacy.
As private life became possible — physically with separate houses, rooms, beds, and through communication with new technologies like writing and the telephone — the desire for privacy emerged. The first privacy-orientated law in the US was the 1710 Post Office Act, which banned sorting through the mail by postal employees.
Nonetheless, privacy has always remained a secondary concern to convenience and cost. This explains the consistent, broad adoption of new technologies which encroach on our privacy but are deemed worth it.
Today, Autonomous Vehicles is one of these new technologies to evaluate. Isn’t it crazy that today we let people drive a ton of steel at 100s of miles per hour, just with a few signs telling them not to press on a pedal too much? It is — and it causes 30 000 deaths per year in the US (that’s one every 17 minutes). With autonomous vehicles, this number will significantly decrease, which by itself makes this technology very attractive. But what are the privacy implications?
The smartphone & internet revolution has also been a profound change, but you could choose not to have a smartphone or not to use Facebook, Google, or any other services that make a living collecting and selling your data.
(To delay this day as much as possible, you could (1) make sure your face is not on the internet, (2) live in a place that will have AVs last, e.g North Korea, (3) live in a cloudy place such that drones and satellites struggle to see you from far. On the plus side, I bet your rent will be cheaper there)
As we all know, the USA-pioneered surveillance-without-warrant state is in vogue at the moment, for example with the recent UK ‘Snooper’s charter’ bill becoming law, or the emergency state being preserved in France.
Video Everywhere means potentially one more source data from which to find anomalous citizen behaviour. This will be used by intelligence agencies for defence purposes, but it directly affect you and me in the hands of your average prosecutor.
I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal
— Edward Snowden
Another factor to consider is the increased breadth and effectiveness of cybercrime that results from more data collection, particularly video data. As tracking moves to the offline, physical world, so does the targeting — you could for instance imagine a drone being hijacked to go and hurt someone who was identified by hacking into an AV’s video feed.
Today, the public debate about Autonomous Vehicles and AI focuses on the most pressing issue: the economic and societal impact of automating millions of jobs (such as truck driver which is the most popular job in America.) This is what the electorate is most worried about.
However the privacy implications of Autonomous Vehicles also need a place in this public debate.
The output of this debate should be clear regulation that addresses:
As the finishing touches are applied to the technology (Elon Musk expects the first fully autonomous Telsa by 2018) it is time for the policy debate to seriously consider the impact of privacy.
So far in my research, all I have seen in the US on this is one bill introduced by two Democrat senators called “Security and Privacy in Your Car Act of 2015”
This bill aims to:
protect against unauthorized access to: (1) electronic controls or driving data, including information about the vehicle’s location, speed, owner, driver, or passengers; or (2) driving data collected by electronic systems built into a vehicle while that data is stored onboard the vehicle, in transit from the vehicle to another location, or subsequently stored or used off-board the vehicle.
As reported here, this bill was introduced in July 2015, and executives from Google, General Motors, Delphi, and Lyft appeared before a US Senate committee on March 15 2015 to discuss it. The executives were asked whether there should be minimum standards for privacy and cybersecurity, and all but one participant declined to say yes or no. Since then, the bill has not been discussed further.