October 27

Sometimes Being Your Nerdy BFF Is Hard

Hey, guys. Here’s an overshare that reveals some of my inner turmoil. My apologies for the TMI.

Every day I’m grateful that you guys let me share cool apps and tech tools that will help you. I strive to be fun, upbeat, helpful and knowledgable. This goal means that I have to keep up with all the news, all the time. And with the crazy news coming in these days about technology, sometimes I just can’t find very much fun stuff to talk about.

Sometimes when I work on my weekly newsletter (NerdWords, which you totally need!), I have a pit in my stomach. The tech news is scary, mind-blowing and sometimes downright horrifying. I don’t want to write every week about security breaches or advances in artificial intelligence that could put some of us out of work. But those are the stories I come across, and sometimes it depresses me.

Here’s a sampling of the stories of tech trends that make me nauseated sometimes.

Online Security Insanity

Guys, I can’t even keep up with all the threats to our online security these days. Check out this headline: “KRACK Attack Devastates Wi-Fi Devices”. Or read “Google engineer proves any iPhone app with permission to access the camera is capable of spying.” Check out the Bad Rabbit ransomware threat, the problem with iOS password prompts and hey… did you know Instagram was hacked? See? You’re probably depressed now, too. Here are two that we should be very concerned about.

  • The Reaper Botnet
    Remember last fall when Netflix went down and the internet melted? It was because a botnet called Mirai created a robot army out of unprotected cameras, routers and more and then attacked popular sites, sending so many visits to the sites so quickly that it blew them up. The Reaper Botnet is taking over millions and millions of internet-connected cameras and routers as I type. No one knows when the army will attack. But we should be afraid.We can take a few steps to protect our devices, but they’re not easy ones like changing your phone password. Here’s what the FBI says to do. One of the recommendations is to “Configure network firewalls to block traffic from unauthorized IP addresses and disable port forwarding.” Yeah. We’ll all get right on that.
  •  The Equifax Breach
    Nothing has me worried like the effects of the Equifax breach, where AT LEAST 143 million social security numbers and other personal facts were stolen. As I mentioned before, this could affect us — and our children — for years, decades even. With this information, the bad guys could take out loans in our names, file tax returns and get our refunds, and even apply for disability through our account! Seriously, folks. This is bad.To make matters worse, Equifax’s response has been pathetic. Their tools to see if you’ve been affected are both unreliable and suspicious in their own right. Their own site has been phished a couple of different ways. They’re getting sued and investigated by everyone, and I can’t imagine they’ll survive the hits. So they’ll be even less helpful, if that’s possible. I don’t want to even link directly to their “help” site because I don’t trust it.And what’s worse is that most of us haven’t done anything about it. I ask in sessions how many people have taken action to protect themselves after the breach. Maybe 10% of attendees raise their hands. I wrote specifically to neighbors and family members, asking them to take action. They’re just avoiding my questions. Although nothing is going to protect us completely, we all should freeze our credit and keep a close eye on our statements. And we should make this a habit for decades to come! Here’s a great article about all kinds of things we can do. PLEASE do something. Please.

Artificial Intelligence Reality Check

I have a new (fantastic!) session about how professionals can use artificial intelligence to create a “virtual staff.” Attendees are amazed about all the things that artificial intelligence can do for them now. But behind these helpful little tips are some really scary trends that literally keep me up at night sometimes.

Note: artificial intelligence refers to a lot of processes right now, but what I’m talking about is basically the technique where machines are given thousands/millions of data points about different scenarios that can happen, and then they analyze the data to understand every possible outcome and the “knowledge” to help them determine the best outcome based on a set of circumstances. I’m still trying to get all the nomenclature correct, so just kind of go with the flow in this section and forgive any rounding of terms that I might do.

  • Computers make up their own languages to talk to each other
    In a study about how machines can learn to negotiate, the researchers noted that the computers created their own language to communicate. This efficient communication technique was indecipherable to the human researchers, so they had to program the systems to only speak in typical English formats.Did you get that? Computers can communicate with each other in a made-up language that only they can understand.
  • Computers can lie
    In the same study, researchers learned that computers learn how to deceive to get what they want. In a bargaining scenario, computers learned that a great technique to get what they want is to feign interest in objects they didn’t really want in order to fool the other trader into thinking that they were making a better trade.
  • Computers can teach each other better than we can teach them
    The headline reads: “Google’s artificial intelligence computer ‘no longer constrained by limits of human knowledge.'” Before, I don’t know, last month?, machine learning happened when programmers gave computers a set of data. But now machines can process their own set of data more rapidly than they can use our data to learn.
  • Artificial intelligence is as biased as the researchers, but it’s getting better — much better
    One of the limitations of artificial intelligence is that the data sets that researchers used had inherent biases based on human limitations. A recent analysis of the sentiment of language associated very negative scores to conversations about certain ethnic and religious groups. But a new development revealed a way that machines can learn in a more neutral environment, leading the way for more powerful knowledge.
  • Artificial intelligence is already more intelligent than we are
    In experiments that pit expert man vs. machine, the machines are winning. They are picking stocks better than financial advisors. They are matching homes to buyers better than experienced real estate professionals. And they’re beating us at the most complicated games in the world, such as chess and Go.
  • Artificial intelligence advancements are astronomical
    The more advanced AI gets, the more they build on the knowledge and take it further. And further. And further. I haven’t scratched the surface of what it’s capable of.

Device Use Madness

My gosh, people. What’s happening to us? Kids today aren’t asking parents why the sky is blue… Alexa is their go-to source. We’re losing the ability to navigate without map apps. Social media is curating our news and reinforcing our views and friendship circles instead of letting us expand our minds. We have to limit screen time for ourselves and our kids. Our vision is deteriorating because we stare at screens all the time. This just makes me sad.

And Finally… Sexbots

Ok, I know this is a disgusting subject, but nothing has made me more sick to my stomach than the concept of sex robots. The idea is that manufacturers of the uber creepy sex doll products are adding artificial intelligence to the dolls to make them interact like a real person. Although I’ve seen a bunch of articles lately, I’m not sure whether they’re actually available for purchase yet. And frankly I have to stop Googling for more information because I’m just so grossed out. But I do know that about half the men in a survey from Germany reported that they think sex robots will be a part of society in the not-distant-enough future.

Besides the fact that security experts warn that the sexbots can be programmed to kill, the part that gets me the most is that the manufacturers have talked about a “resistance mode” that will let a human simulate an unwanted sexual act with the robot. I just. I mean. WHAT????



privacy, security

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  • Beth, if there is one bright spot in all this, it is that we have the tools to be more aware of the bad stuff lurking out there. I started to say “…we all know how to protect ourselves…”, but the sad truth is that even with all the talk in social media, in news reports, and other places – like your wonderful blog! – there are still folks that feel they are too small a target to have to worry. If the Equifax breach should teach us anything it is that we ARE ALL VUNERABLE. Not knowing doesn’t change anything. We have to take responsibility for protecting ourselves, and reading the information you send each week is one great thing we can all do. Chin up, buttercup! It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s only 62 days until New Year’s Eve!

  • I read an article the other day about kids and online predators. A conversation with my step-son later prompted information that he shared about the number of strangers he talks to on his X-box, and also how he feels he is “safe” from “all that stuff” living in a small town. It was a rough conversation that followed about how people target kids even in the town we live in. Tech is fun, but this IS reality, and reality is SCARY! ….. Life isn’t unicorns and rainbows and if we stop scaring ourselves with reality, we just move ourselves farther and farther away from truth and into vulnerability without even knowing it.

  • As much as we might want to stick our heads in the sand, the dangers of tech affect us all. Thanks for this, Beth, keep it up. It doesn’t have to be every week but maybe once a month there’s a “Forewarned is Forearmed” type of post. You might want to check this out if you haven’t already seen it, I posted it to my Facebook page this morning.

  • You are my most reliable and most read source for tech news. I’ve heard bit’s and pieces regarding some of the trends that concern, but my painfully optimistic personality seldom leaves room for worry.

    You are right to sound the alarm. We need to know where to focus our attention, thank you for all of your hard work and research!

    Rebecca M.

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