Who doesn’t feel at least a tiny rush of adrenaline when unboxing a new phone? It’s exciting to see the latest bells and whistles.
When setting up my latest phone, I decided to try, for the first time, facial recognition. Simply tap the screen, and the selfie camera searches for your face. Upon recognizing it, the phone unlocks.
It wasn’t until we started working on this issue of Shift that I stopped to consider the significance of this now-commonplace technology. To a computer, facial features are data, and phones are smart enough to distinguish your data pattern from that of a stranger trying to gain access.
Like many people, I’m willing to sacrifice some privacy to enjoy services that are tailored to me.
My smart speaker is a faithful helper around the house. It turns on lights, keeps shopping lists, reads headlines and provides me with jokes, wake-up calls and sometimes a word of encouragement. In the back of my mind, I know there’s a cost: By necessity, the device is constantly on, constantly listening. Yet for some reason, I don’t really mind.
I also don’t mind that Netflix, through machine learning, knows me well enough to predict that I might like Avengers: Infinity War.
It’s akin to having a companion so familiar that you finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes this happens literally, as in the case of Gmail’s AI-powered Smart Reply feature. It generates suggested responses based on the contents of the email: “Sure, what time?” or “Sorry, I can’t make it tonight,” for instance. Some may find this creepy, but it’s also quite a timesaver.
So therein lies the conflict.
Data, especially when enhanced through artificial intelligence, can create a highly personalized experience. That includes the data generated by a car and the personal data that resides in the computer systems of automakers and dealers. But how much control should we be willing to give up?
In this issue, we explore the potential of data and AI to enhance products and services, whether predicting when your car is about to break down or telling dealers where to channel their marketing dollars. There are also perils, of course, which are being addressed through efforts such as California’s landmark data privacy law.
The question is whether businesses and consumers know where the lines are drawn now and how to operate most effectively in this fast-changing environment.