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Google Home: An Insight Into a 4-Year-Old’s Mind (jonobacon.com)
202 points by Vinnl 158 days ago | hide | past | web | 148 comments | favorite



Although short, an absolute joy to read, too. Not trying to sell or plug any idea or worldview, just sharing a story about the joy of the human condition. Blogging was made for stuff like this.


Not trying to sell anything, eh? The author discloses he was given the product for free. Then he embeds a video of him using it. (A common requirement of many sponsored content posts) Then a cute story of his son using the product, closing with a video of them singing along with it. This is native advertising.


I wasn't asked to promote anything. I got a new toy and I wanted to share me using it.

You may think this is advertising, but you are wrong.


He also states he was given it at some sort of convention where Google was handing them out so idk.

I already have one so I'm just here for the cute kid and his dad enjoying life.


Most likely the parent comment is trying to sell the device too.


Agreed! How joyous!

I work with children and I'm used to a barrage of questions from the inane to the stupendous. It's so easy to shrug off the 47th "But why?", but it can actually be interesting to at least try to answer - "We breath because we need Oxygen... because we convert glucose…"

Eventually you inevitably end up at the metaphysical or epistemological - "because if truth wasn't…"

The mind of a child is (and ought be) infinitely inquisitive!


My favorite approach is after the third or fourth why I turn it around on the child - "well, why do you think?" If they are young enough, they usually contemplate it for a few seconds and then just start on a new line of questioning, but I hope in those precious few seconds of silence they are trying figure it out themselves.


I turn it around from the get go, in fact, I never answer any of their questions* and let them provide guesses. It is more fun than their original questions. I feel that that is really what they like me to do, as they don't come back around after their guesses and say, Dad, what do "you" think or what is the "right" answer?

*besides factual questions and even in that case, I still ask them to guess first


That's pretty insightful. I'll have to try it and see what my son does.


Louis CK had a great bit on this that really captures it.

https://youtu.be/BJlV49RDlLE?t=94


Part of me thinks the 'why' game is the perfect way to gain the long-term attention of an adult through flattery.

The other part of me thinks kids have a lot to learn, and asking why is a good way to get there.


> The other part of me thinks kids have a lot to learn, and asking why is a good way to get there.

Indeed, there's a reason why it has become an accepted and well-used tool in the management toolbox.[1][2] It's something we shouldn't stop doing as adults.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys https://www.amazon.com/Start-Why-Leaders-Inspire-Everyone/dp...


Years ago someone I respect said that if you intepret a child's repeated "why?" as simply meaning "Please tell me more about this subject..", both of you end up happier..


Yeah, they have limited vocabulary. This is generally the best way to interpret their use of the word.


I found that many adults have sadly forgotten how to ask "Why?" and instead get set in whatever their mind decided is the reason for something being the objectively true reason.

Encouraging children to ask why is not only the most kind thing you can do for them, but also the rest of the world.


Why?


> Not trying to sell or plug any idea or worldview

Except the idea that sending personal data outside the home should be done intuitively, transparently, and with a sense of innocence?


Hopefully Mycroft (or similar open-source alternatives) can provide the benefits without all the privacy / behavioral modification downsides. But I fear open source products like this will always languish behind commercial offerings. Makes me think that the democratization of AI is very important in this regard (you shouldn't have to sell your soul to get good speech recognition, etc).


There's never going to be a democratization of AI without a democratization of the data. But the data itself comes from privacy violating surveillance so I don't think we really want democratization of data.


I'm confident that in 20 years we'll have a very different conception of privacy. Certainly, one of the worst privacy outcomes would be if government had a monopoly on ubiquitous surveillance.

Already I don't expect to be anonymous in any public location. Given a public enough lifestyle and enough acquaintances, the likelihood of someone recognizing you anywhere on the globe or in a random pub is non-negligible.


I agree that we will have a different conception of privacy. I'm hopeful (but not particularly optimistic) that we can have something like David Brin's "Transparent Society" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Transparent_Society).


I like that term "sousveillance". It's tough to communicate the concept with phrases when folks tend to skim rather than read carefully.


You could share the pre-trained models that take tons and tons of data and compute time to generate? The models themselves are abstract enough to be considered anonymous, by their very nature.. I think.


Take a look at the literature on de-anonymization. It's easier than you might think.


De-anonymization of data or of trained neural-nets? I've read somewhere that you can sort of 'squash' a trained net down into a simpler version for performance benefits - the caveat being that it can't do any more learning. I would think that'd make it harder to de-anonymize.


If you simplify the function, you throw away accuracy (or maybe gain, if you over-simplified). The less accurate, the harder to de-anonymize. However, you only need 32 bits of information to uniquely identify someone.


s/over-simplified/over-fit/


Completely this. The companies talking about "democratization of AI" means "yeah, come use the models we built" but the data is the real source a democratization of AI should be focusing on. That's where the source of power is.


Mycroft seems to rely on Google for text-to-speech.

Open-Source TtS works ok (though inferior), but StT does not really exist.


Best (only) open source solution available seems to be pocketsphinx. On a quick try, it was awful.


I'm invariably amused when my four year old gives up on "Alexa, play Justin Beaver on Spotify" and resorts to "Alexa, play whatever you want on Spotify", only to get back this:

https://youtu.be/dG2jj-aIl-A?t=1m16s


"[branded product] play [song or singer] on [branded service]."

The device and the service are fixed parts of the incantation (as heard), but the artist's name is not. This is the logical conclusion of that.

I suspect it's not about wanting to hear music as it is about exercising power. (As someone else commented here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14375928)


He would have heard us use similar instructions relating to genres so knows he can explore options.


That's interesting. I wonder whether some artists are already exploiting this by creating tracks with names such as "a random song" and "some music"?



"it is inevitable that they will type the word "poop" into the search bar. Once they do that, they'll find 9 albums by The Toilet Bowl Cleaners! It's impossible not to listen to these songs once you know they exist."

Touche. I would absolutely do that.


I would be surprised if they weren't. I was trying to send a text message while driving recently and google played #text message radio.


Bets on the first band to troll Alexa by naming their album "Alexa, stop"?


Are there psychological concerns regarding a child's development by interacting with these devices ?

For example, I recently changed Alexa's awake word to be "computer" (one of 4 allowable options) and I say it with a commanding Picardesque voice. I enjoy doing that. But sometimes I wonder if the joy is coming from the TNG nostalgia or from a sense of power.

I have also wondered about the consequence of adding "please" to the awake word (that isn't an option yet). Given the complexity of the human mind it is not obvious. Perhaps it is human nature to desire exertion of authority. Better to have the authority gratuitously exerted on a piece of electronics than on the family pet.

edit: Picardesque may be obscure so I added a TNG reference.


Not according to our pediatrician.

Children quickly learn the difference between speaking to an inanimate object, and speaking to someone in person.

Pretty much everyone who is 10 or older has learned to be assholes on the internet without having something like a Home/Echo at home.


I wouldn't worry about it. Humans are profoundly good at learning and contextualizing associations and recognizing special cases. And to a certain extent this is not a new phenomenon. It's very similar to having a dog in the house, which you and your child will give commands to. You don't preface all your commands to the dog with "please" and follow it up with "thank you," and yet children have no problem with learning manners or develop an unhealthy desire for power.


Authoritarian personalities aren't that uncommon IME.


Sure, but that's specious reasoning. I have green eyes, and I haven't been attacked by a tiger, but that doesn't mean that green eyes prevent tiger attacks. Similarly, just because we have dogs around kids that are given commands without please and thank you, and also authoritarian personalities doesn't suggest a causal relation (or even a correlation!).


adding please would be useful. It would force us all to be a little more courteous.


> (thanks to Google for the kind gift)

Why am I spontaneously thinking "Trojan Horse?"


It's easier to normalize omnipresent surveillance with "free gifts".


Beware of geeks bearing gifts.


'timeo danaos et dona ferentes'

it's amazing how some fundamentals of the human condition don't change even over thousands of years


What a terrifying glimpse into an autotechno distopia.

No, I didn't like The Diamond Age either.


I want to be excited for this - a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer done right and distributed freely could advance the collective education of our entire planet - but all I can think of is ways that giving kids unfettered access to this could go wrong.


Yeah, there's definitely a sinister component to accepting a device from $MEGACORP into your home and allowing it free reign to indoctrinate and teach your child.

My older kids have already started going to Google and using search-by-voice to find things that me and their mom have either forbade or just to get answers that they didn't find adequate. I saved the auto-recorded MP3s of every query from when my daughter snuck away with my phone and said, "OK Google, show me scary goblins", after we declined to show her scarier ones. This was cute, but unless it's your first day on the internet, you know that children asking Google to show them scary things is a potentially upsetting situation.

My son ran over and asked "how do you turn a Wii U console off and on again" after he didn't like my response of "You have to ask a grown-up to hold down the button on the console for 4 seconds" (this one wasn't bad of course, he was just frustrated that he couldn't reach the console on the shelf and was seeking alternate solutions, but it demonstrates the point that children are learning to seek truth from the machines).

Perhaps more concerning is the disclosure inherent in a child's questioning. Suppose your family adheres to an illegal religious or political tenet. You teach this to your children in hushed tones where no one is listening. One day, they innocently approach the $MEGACORP_LISTENING_DEVICE and say "Alexa, why doesn't Daddy believe that the Great Leader is a smart man?"

Next day, Mommy and Daddy go bye-bye and the children go off to be re-educated.

That is absolutely a plausible scenario. All of us on HN already know that the tech is there for that. The government needs only to wait for the population to be hostile enough against those who oppose the Great Leader to accept it.


Beware also more subtle effects. Both intentional "nudging", and unintended emergent effects. Racial segregation of schools and neighborhoods doesn't require brute force redlining, it can emerge from surprisingly small incentives.

I intermittently work on education content to better develop a rough quantitative feel for physical size. Lots of searches mentioning "millimeters". And Google Images starts showing me pictures of guns. And bullets. Lots of guns. Even on unrelated searches. Then I work on something else for a while, and they slowly all go away. Not much liking guns, it's a disincentive to work on the topic. And while I like the concept of encouraging kids to use google searches to get rough sizes for the objects they deal with, and "OBJECT millimeters" (or "micrometers", etc) works... Google's behavior gives me pause.

> Yeah, there's definitely a sinister component to accepting a device from $MEGACORP into your home and allowing it free reign to indoctrinate and teach your child.

Yeah. "Is human evolution real?" "Is climate change real?" :) I just searched for "how old is the earth", and while the embedded answer is 4By, the top link is "A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution". Can you think of any approach to answering such questions, even personalized, that won't be thought a problem?


I say do it and see, if this is as opposed to the nirvana of peace and harmony we exist in now, let's face it, how much wronger can it get ?


I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream


Thanks, will read ;)


Very cute, couple months ago NYTimes had a video made by a mother of 2 girls called How Does Life Live? https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004976604/how-do...


Haha, love it. Kids are great, some time back my 3 y/o told me there was ice under the pond (where else could it have gone because it was still there the previous time he saw it), such logic, with such knowledge and hardly any assumptions. It's refreshing. Currently my kid is obsessed with what floats and what sinks in a bucket of water outside in the garden. A joy to watch.


> obsessed with what floats and what sinks

In an alternate timeline, there's an NSF science education wiki to point to, but oh well.

You might seed the environment with cans of different sugar content https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzsORE0ae10&t=69 , potentially helping with several common misconceptions ("heavy sinks", "metal sinks", "hollow floats"). Perhaps small plastic bottles with pennies. Pennies are also good for sinking boats. As a collaborative follow-up to the cans, perhaps a layered drink https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVsMmCb3Cdw , or hand-mixed sugar water in those floating/sinking small plastic bottles.

Other random fun density videos: Bubbles on CO2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drBjDy96iNI&t=30 and Al boats on SF6 gas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckaJs_u2U_A . I've been exploring a "teach size down to atoms, then nucleons up to bulk materials", for early-primary. Thus the links.


It would be interesting to see this sort of thing play out again in five years when/if the box can understand Jack's question and respond in a meanignful way.

I guess it'd just be a continuation of a trend, where the effect is already in full effect with slightly older kids, who can read. Today's 14 yro probably learned most of what they know about puberty, college, sex, race or drugs from "google" anyway. They used to learn things adults avoid telling kids from eachother, now it's google.

Maybe it's no big deal if they start as soon as they can talk. Strange though.


People not just children need supervision and guidance when it comes to information going into their heads. It is why whichever culture you pick across the globe, "education" involves having a "teacher" figure around. There is no system anywhere where you can just drop of the kid at the library and magic happens.

Take this community, you will find the ones that are good at what they do aren't just good, because of access to information, but because of the kind of mentors that have been around them or they have run into in life.

That's really the missing piece in today's internet. Despite all this information access it's still hit or miss that a kid or an adult will find the right mentor.



It's a nice feel good story that gets funding. It's not replacing teachers, mentors and schools anytime soon.


> just be a continuation of a trend, where the effect is already in full effect with slightly older kids, who can read

There's more to it.

I'm interested in multi-scale interdisciplinary story telling for science education. Sort of, sit down on the floor with a graybeard, who has fascinating stories about engineering and the world. And videos and interactives and questions. And you "pick up" all sorts of understanding and skills. Rather than the usual incoherent memorize and regurgitate.

So say you're today writing a web page with embedded videos. When showing the page in person, you can see what's of interest to the viewer; when something is getting boring; what is understood and what's confusing. You can respond to questions, address misconceptions, point to related content, and suggest different paths through the material. But what about when the page is viewed normally? Youtube-like "related links" are very limited. You can, at long last, do speech recognition, on some browsers. But dialog systems? Not ripe. Something as simple as "if they ask about those ripples, show them this other video" still isn't easy enough. "[R]espond in a meaningful way"? That could be breathtaking.

Someone did an art project. You go, and watch an interesting video. But why is it interesting? Under the covers, it's like an old "choose your own adventure" game, assembling a narrative out of parts. And it uses eye tracking to detect what you're interested in. Do you like character A? Then we'll emphasize A.

There's old advice, that since history is all connected, you should approach it from whatever interests you. Textiles, architecture, materials, food, games, environment, governance, whatever. It's all tied together, so start pulling the thread anywhere. Science and engineering are also very very richly interwoven. Or should be. We just teach it so very wretchedly.

And then there's AR/VR coming.

And for the "but irreplaceable humans!" arguments, there's work on collaborative human/crowd/computer composite agents. Like http://hdl.handle.net/1802/29594 .

So yeah. The next decade could be awesome.


> Under the covers, it's like an old "choose your own adventure" game, assembling a narrative out of parts. And it uses eye tracking to detect what you're interested in. Do you like character A? Then we'll emphasize A.

Hannu Rajaniemi (science fiction author) tried to go further, and attempted to create an "interactive" narrative that actually used some brain activity sensors to see what imagery you most responded to: http://neurofiction.net/


> what imagery you most responded to

Apr 1, 2020 - Scary Zombie Game introduced "scared as you want to be"(tm), using real-time emotive feedback to adjust game art and story to achieve the desired levels, types, and temporal profiles of scare. The "won't startle a baby bunny" profile developed a camp cult following. Valve reports no player has ever completed the "continuously mounting dread with Poisson spikes of terror" profile.

With eye tracking perhaps widespread in the 2018 generation of HMDs, it seems an area likely to get increasing attention.


How does one say "hggghghghgghgghggghghg" such that Google Home would understand it?


I suspect you don't. Google didn't understand any of the questions in the article. This is as much about a child's patience as it is about their curiosity.


I say it like this: "hshffhshshdhdhdhshs", but then again, I do have an English accent.


This makes me incredibly sad.

Why are we handing massive advertising corporations the keys to our children's minds?


You must be fun at parties.


How is this different from letting kids watch TV?


You really don't see the difference between a device that records and analyzes the things your children say on the servers of an advertising company, and a TV?


This kid has a bright future as a human fuzzer. After a few days something like this would probably happen:

Kid: OK Google, Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?

Google Home: ? ?? ???

Google Home: Segmentation fault (core dumped)

Kid: OK Google, Please initiate bug bounty payout.


Great blog post, short and quick read. The whole voice and children stuff has not been worked out properly yet. I believe Mattel is working on some special child-focused device.


Advertisers are probably foaming at the mouth thinking of the data mining and indoctrination possibilities. Today's youth never had a chance.

Imagine growing up and finding out that your parents took away your ability to decide whether or not you want corporations to have a permanent record of your entire life?


It's actually pretty solid both with my 7 year old and even my 4 year old who has quite a few pronunciation issues.


Thanks!


Haha fantastic read. Best part though was that my Google home responded to all the commands from the video.


Related: metafilter on needy robots that make you feel guilty.

http://www.metafilter.com/99661/But-but-is-not-Johnny-5-aliv...


It makes me so, so angry that people would put a big brother in their homes VOLUNTARILY!

A device that records you and sends the data to a corporation! In 1984 people were freakin' forced to have one. In 2017 people WANT to have one.

Sorry for this short rant, but I just struggle with understanding what's wrong with people these days.


Maybe because he finds it a useful and convenient tool to have around the house and that he's weighed up the pluses and minuses of having one in his home? He's a technical guy - he's not stupid.

I have an Echo and I mainly use it to set timers and check the weather. If that, plus a few questions about "How tall is the Eiffel Tower?" constitute a huge cache of data on me, I'm honestly fairly relaxed about it.

Compared to the vast number of tracking pixels, cookie sync firings and God knows what else that happens if I happen to load up a web browser without a VPN & ad blocker, it's really small beer. Not to mention the location tracking that happens by default and is mandated by law in every smartphone.

Also, the 1984 comparisons just don't bear fruit. We're not living in a violent, single-party totalitarian regime. We're just not. If anyone is really relevant to this, it's Weber and his concerns over the rise of unaccountable and powerful bureaucracies and social alienation.

Our tendency to pattern match will only ever pick out what someone predicted correctly, it often overlooks what a thinker got wrong and Orwell was wrong about a lot of things in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Much of what he gets right relies on things like conflating the power of the state with the power of corporations, and equating businesses tendency to employ euphemism with the complete evisceration of language.

That's not to say that we shouldn't be mindful of privacy concerns and what we are allowing into our lives, but 1984 is a pretty blunt and emotionally charged instrument for critiquing something like Google Home.

I just don't see the big deal.


Currently the legal definitions around the uses of power such as search and seizure rely upon determining if a situation had an expectation of privacy. Police need a warrant to search your home because most people expect the home to be "private".

One particularly interesting example of this Kyllo v United States[1], where the use of infrared cameras to find grow lights inside a home was ruled a search (and thus needed a warrant) because infrared cameras were not common so the general public did not in practice see infrared emissions as "available to the public". The opinion of the court, however, did point out that their decision would be defunct when infrared cameras became generally available and used by the public. At that point the public would no longer expect infrared emissions to be private. (Presumably this expectation might create a market for e.g. ir-blocking paint? If that's even possible?)

Installing microphones that regularly send data to unknown 3rd parties normalizes the expectation that spoken word in the home is no longer private. When perceptions change, so will warrant requirements.

> We're not living in a violent, single-party totalitarian regime.

If that's you're criteria for when to act, you are always going to be too late to do anything. Some of us prefer the idea of detecting problems early - hopefully before the become violent.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyllo_v._United_States


> If that's you're criteria for when to act, you are always going to be too late to do anything. Some of us prefer the idea of detecting problems early - hopefully before the become violent.

Your argument is different to, and stronger than the parent's though. The parent's argument was not that we were on the thin end of a wedge to a totalitarian state, but that in some senses we had already passed that point because there was a voluntary element to it.

Still though, IR cameras by their nature are always-on and always transmitting data. They'd be pretty useless if they weren't! That's not the case for Google Home or any of the solutions currently on the market. Google Home also no-more violates this condition than say, a set top TV box that sends data on my TV viewing back to a central server.


Always-on isn't required. The deciding factor is what the general public expects.

If the public expects that a home might be recording their speech and sending it to a 3rd party - and thus theoretically has the opportunity to not speak or employ some sort of defense being recorded - then then Kyllo v United States suggests 4th Amendment protection no longer applies.

Just look at how many people here on HN already claim to no longer expect privacy.

> voluntary element

That's my point - your choice to voluntarily normalize surveillance impacts my 4th Amendment protections.


> Still though, IR cameras by their nature are always-on and always transmitting data.

In the case of near-IR night vision CCTV cameras in common use, yes. The case of Kyllo v. United States specifically involved very expensive long-wavelength thermal imagers that are not typically used in civilian CCTV applications [0]. Furthermore, federal agents specifically pointed a mobile camera at the house to see temperature changes behind the walls, which differs from a static always-on installation.

[0] There are fixed thermal surveillance imagers (see http://www.flir.com/surveillance/display/?id=64664 for FLIR's latest), but they're typically used for military installation security. Unlike NIR cameras they require no external illumination, and are tuned to detect the black-body radiation naturally emitted by warm-blooded things.


This is an interesting and relevant point. However, I believe that the expectation of privacy could still be arguably maintained because of the contractual relationship between the user and the service provider. The EULA and privacy policy would limit data sharing. There remains an expectation of privacy between two parties, and only within the context of the 'trigger command' that starts the process. A warrant obviously by-passes this, but you are talking about warrantless searches.


Our wonderful government disagrees.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-party_doctrine


Would that not still be different? The public doesn't have access to El Goog's recordings, so surely a warrant would still be needed as that precedent would not apply?


Google is part of the public. Yes, this would depend on the interpretation of the court, but the point is that the expectation of privacy no longer exists when you are explicitly sending that audio to a 3rd party.


I'd be very interested in how that would play out in a court. My gut instinct would be that there is a distinction between consenting to send voice data to a named company and conversations being deemed public. Of course, my profession is not in the legal domain.


No. You're just making things up. Law enforcement must have a valid and legal warrant to access Google voice logs.


I'm not talking about voice logs or anything else recorded by Google Home itself. Once people expect that their conversation can be recoded by a 3rd party, they no longer have the protections against other recordings being made.

> Law enforcement must have a valid and legal warrant

Kyllo v United States established a bright line test that the need for a warrant specifically depends on if the technology used is commonly available to and used by the general public.


Except that's not how any of these devices work. Nobody has any expectation that their words are being recorded until such time as they say "Okay google" or "Alexa".


This is about expectations. not technical features. If you walk into any random home, can you expect that your conversation is private? Today, that's already hard to answer because you first have to know if there are any Google, Amazon, Apple, or other devices that might start transmitting your conversation to a 3rd party. Do you know every possible wake word used by every devices with this kind of feature?

At some point it is impossible to know the list of possible words you cannot speak and the public will simply start assuming that they may be recorded anyway. When that perception changes, so will legal doctrines.


Not really, because every one of them gives an audiovisual prompt that speech is now being recorded. Nobody mutes those prompts because it makes the devices harder to use.

You can own every single smarthome device in existence today and quite rightly assume that you are not being passively recorded. These concerns amount to overblown FUD.


> Also, the 1984 comparisons just don't bear fruit. We're not living in a violent, single-party totalitarian regime.

... But we could be one day, and some people are. The transition to cloud listening devices in every house and the transition to totalitarianism each only need to happen once. The thing Orwell missed was that these devices could be made useful enough to consumers for that transition to be first.


It has been said many times before by commenters here on HN, and is worth repeating. Cloud-enabled listening devices already have saturated society and are nearly omnipresent. They have a form factor that fits in your pocket and also includes discrete surveillance-enabling conveniences such as: GPS tracking, always-on microphones, high resolution cameras, target-specific network graph data, and access to very large (and inconvenient to monitor) data storage.

If a person is concerned with the practical security implications of Amazon's Echo or Google's Home, I expect they should be terrified of the potential vectors for misuses that their mobile phone allows.

The future state of government regulation and the ability for those in power to use the digital tracks I've left do concern me, but I've found it very difficult to decide how to combat it without fully disconnecting and moving off-grid. There are ways to mask and obfuscate certain parts of that record, to be sure (Tor, proxies, not using Echo or Home, no connected devices, etc.) but I like the benefits that technology brings to me life and I don't really want to move into a remote, signal-free location to live a spartan life.


For sure. My argument is that, in general, consumers have found all of those listening devices more useful than terrifying.

I don't think Orwell imagined that universal surveillance would happen due to consumer demand rather than imposition by the totalitarian state.


I sympathise with your exasperation, but I think you're only considering half the story.

What 1984 didn't depict or foresee was that the same technology that can be used by corporations and governments to monitor citizens can be (and is) just as easily used by citizens to monitor the actions of the governments and corporations, and hold them to account.

To quote John O'Farrell of Andreessen Horowitz [1]:

“So, Orwell was partly right. The state uses ever more advanced surveillance technology to watch us, and our own ever-greater use of personal technology makes it possible. On the other hand, technology has fundamentally destroyed the state’s ability to control our access to information, and exposed its bureaucracy to unprecedented scrutiny. This may be the death of privacy, but perhaps it’s also the death of secrecy and impunity. In that respect, fortunately, Orwell was wrong. Thanks to technology, Big Brother may be watching us, but we’re watching him too.”

Whether or not society is overall healthier in this state than it was before the technology emerged, I'm undecided, but the powers of surveillance do seem rather more balanced than the dystopian view suggests.

[1] http://a16z.com/2017/05/15/andreessen-primack-dc-tech-policy...


I am not sure I agree (on a certain level) with that quote. On a thread yesterday a discussion about increased surveillance being a two way street played out and the idea from it that struck me the most was that technology is merely a force multiplayer and only increases the power divide. It increases "the people's" ability to hold state actors accountable but not as much as it increases the states ability to watch the populace. Basically I feel like it is likely harder today to hide something from the state than it is for the state to do things in secret.


I think it depends on the country too. Take russia and all the opposition candidates that end up dead.


Most people just find it convenient and don't want to think further. It's so disheartening, I've thought for hours and hours about how to fix this but can't come up with anything. People will be people.


Maybe people need an alternative that is as good, yet not spying on you? A device that won't ever record anything permanently, that won't ever call home / to the cloud.

I don't think we can revert the trend, but maybe at least try and redirect the stream to a solution that is concerned with privacy.


There's one that I know of, but as usual, less developed. Still, probably worth checking out: https://mycroft.ai/


I actually quite like the name of that!


Will not happen until it doesn't have to compete with a free, paid-for-by-spying option. So only if a law's passed outlawing massive, intrusive data collection.


Which will never happen because the government loves the control its surveillance buddies, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple provide. And the people will keep voting for the politicians who will "protect them" from "threats" like terrorism and drugs.


But at this point, it would be either A) limited in function, B) prohibitively expensive or C) too technically complex since you can't mine the data for advertising money.

The same goes for the Whatsapp dilemma.


I've been watching Star Trek my whole life and to me this is the natural extension of technology.

I can see some people not wanting this for themselves, but why care if I have one?


I've been watching Star Trek as well, but that's a local instance running on the very ship you rely on - and more a 'utility service' kind of thing.

I wouldn't compare that to Google Home (or Alexa or whatever).

1) The current solutions are plain stupid. They impress me about the same way that speech recognition to type a letter in the early 2000s impressed me. Some things work. Most don't.

2) The current solutions are backed by corporations and (as someone that really dislikes all things Apple) among these three only Apple might be considered somewhat trustworthy (they aren't a shop that tries to sell you every product this planet has to offer nor are they the biggest and scariest advertisement company).

I like the Star Trek visions. I'd also like a replicator and a holo deck, but won't argue that a 3d printer and Google Cardboard are kinda there yet.

(Obviously it doesn't make sense to complain about YOU liking these products. I assume the GP feels just cornered by the inexplicable mass appeal/success of these products)


As I wrote above:

Other people not caring about privacy equals governments not caring, equals big brother for everyone, like it or not.


I think it's under-appreciated how shifts in culture and behavior affect the practical liberty of the individual. We worry about government limiting us, but the mass choices of uncoordinated individuals can just as easily curtail our choices, sometimes opening up new ones, yes, but also cutting off others. To the extent that laws shape these things, our choice not to limit certain behavior or liberties can de facto limit some other behavior or liberties, and thanks to coordination problems this can happen even if everyone prefers the liberties they're losing to the ones they're gaining.

If government is the Leviathan, this undirected but quite strict framing of our choices is Cthulhu.


I have one, it's convenient and lets me control my home in what feels like a natural way. Personally, I don't see the downside of having it.

Note; I mean I don't acknowledge a downside from my perspective. I'm fully aware that it's always listening and sending data home when it hears a keyword. According to Google, it will only send voice data back when it hears the keyword. Now if it explicitly goes against its own stated privacy policy, that's a breach of trust I would not be happy with. That said, if they explicitly stated they send all audio back, I'd actually be fine with that too.


I certainly don't want big brother in my home. But my friends and relations visit my home, bringing their ever-listening AI assistants with them? Dare I be rude and ask them to leave big brother behind?


Only you can know if you want to do it or not. But at least when you are with your family or alone at home, you know you are not being spied on (at least not knowingly / voluntarily).


> In 1984 people were freakin' forced to have one.

Huxley always seemed to have a better handle than Orwell did on what makes people tick.


I think they were describing different societies, and the one you're living in just happens to resemble Huxley's more.


Yeah, for folks living in the USSR or East Germany it seems like Orwell was closer to the truth.


From the long view, no. Regimes that use pain as control inevitably break as at a certain point, people will no longer willing give that up. This is history.

Walk down to a local AA meeting and see people who at some point willingly made a decision and who are now, unfortunately controlled by it. This will always exist.


Thats not really the issue.

You are using the internet, you already have a big brother that can see everything you do.

Google at least show you what it have on you. It's a far bigger problem that governments don't.


> A device that records you and sends the data to a corporation! In 1984 people were freakin' forced to have one. In 2017 people WANT to have one.

As predicted by Brave New world.


To tag onto this, my father made my sibling and I read Fahrenheit 451 at one point before he would buy a flat-panel TV.


That's exactly why I liked Brave New World more: it's our own vices that do us in.


Amazing Iron Maiden album.


May I ask why that makes you angry? I see that you might not understand other people's motivation, but why does that cause this emotional reaction?


Because I'm a human, not a robot. Because I deeply care about society. I care about the world my child is growing up in. I want it to be a good place to live.

Other people not caring about privacy equals governments not caring, equals big brother for everyone, like it or not.


Agreed.


Also personally I don't like to give order by yelling, OK Google, Alexa, make me a sandwich...


Don't most households own multiple smartphones? What makes them fundamentally different?


You can disable those. The thing is: smartphones are more than dumb boxes that listen to you all the time. So you don't want to remove them completely from your life, yet still want to keep your privacy.


You can disable a Google Home device just as easily, and the rest of your comment is just you declaring by fiat that phones are OK because you personally find them useful, and the home devices are bad because you personally don't find them useful.

If someone finds their home device to be "more than a dumb box" and doesn't want to remove it from their life, you're at an impasse. No one granted you the authority to just decide where everyone else gets to draw their own personal line.


Personally, I let my phone's battery die, then charge it the next day.

It has nowhere near 24/7 uptime.

Also, I don't carry the phone around with me everywhere.


I shutter for your lithium ions.


Those are for calls. They need a microphone, you cannot do calls without that.

I'd argue that those (should not) transmit audio data to any random company, but then I've never understood what Google Now/Google Assist or whatever it's called nor what Siri is about..


"I just struggle with understanding what's wrong with people these days."

On one hand, it is fundamental human nature (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World#Comparisons_wi...).

On the other hand, it is a trade off. Your post to HN can be mined, aggregated in a similar manner. Even a level before that, your access to the internet can be mined, aggregated and a profile built of you by your ISP. You are voluntarily cooperating with that are you not?


Landline phones had mics too :) How do we know that those could not be remotely activated? After all, we did not possess the same level of power to monitor the government back then. As noted somewhere above.

I personally think there is an age where people decide; everything that existed before now is useful and nice, and everything new is evil. Kind of a technological puberty.


The old ones had a mechanical switch that was easy to inspect.

Drop the handset on the recently inspected switch, the mic ain't connected to nothin'.



Sheep will be sheep no matter the generation.


I enjoyed the video with the song.


"wrecking bones" was great


What a wonderful illustration of a child's boundless curiosity. My five-year-old asks these sorts of questions constantly, and it's fascinating and hilarious (and, I confess, sometimes tiresome).


So how many "why?" loops can it last before going insane?


Probably more than most parents.


I wonder how long it'll be before the last person who cares about privacy dies. I wager within 100 years, and I wager that person is already alive today.


My 14 month old son works our Amazon Echo.


> I would love to see the world through his eyes, it must be glorious.

Please please please don't let this be crushed out of him.


I absolutely promise it won't. I want him to be curious and I want him to be silly.




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