Emerging tech – potentially awesome and a privacy quagmire

I attended an event last night where Duncan Stewart of Deloitte talked about their TMT predictions for 2016.

It reinforced for me that the future of tech and what it will do for us is potentially awesome.  But also at the same time the amount of information that is being collected and stored about each of us is staggering.  That creates real privacy challenges, and real possibilities for abuse.  And because the information is there, there is a tendency for government and business alike to want to use it.

One scary aspect is that the more we get used to more information being collected about us, the more complacent we get.  Our personal freaky line – the line at which we stop using services because we are concerned about privacy issues – moves a little farther away.  That is in spite of the fact that the more information there is about us, the more ripe for abuse it is, and the more that we temper or alter our behaviour because we know we are being watched.

Think for a moment about all the information that is increasingly being collected about us.

  • Smartphones that know our every move and the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives.
  • Intelligent cars that know where we go and how we drive.
  • The internet of things where the stuff we own collects information about us.
  • Wearable tech that collects information about our fitness, and increasingly our health.
  • The trend for information and services to be performed in the cloud rather than locally, and stored in various motherships.
  • Big data that functions by saving as much information as possible.
  • Artificial intelligence and cognitive learning tools that can turn data into useful information and make inferences based on seemingly unconnected information.
  • Blockchain technology that has the potential to record surprising things about us.

On top of all this, it is becoming increasingly harder to understand when our info is staying on our device, when it goes somewhere else, how long it stays there, who has access to it, when it is encrypted, and who has access to the encryption keys.

It is in this context, and the fact that we just don’t have the time to spend to understand and make all the privacy choices that we need to make, that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada last week released a discussion paper titled Consent and privacy: A discussion paper exploring potential enhancements to consent under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act

The introduction states in part:

PIPEDA is based on a technologically neutral framework of ten principles, including consent, that were conceived to be flexible enough to work in a variety of environments. However, there is concern that technology and business models have changed so significantly since PIPEDA was drafted as to affect personal information protections and to call into question the feasibility of obtaining meaningful consent.

Indeed, during the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s (OPC’s) Privacy Priority Setting discussions in 2015, some stakeholders questioned the continued viability of the consent model in an ecosystem of vast, complex information flows and ubiquitous computing. PIPEDA predates technologies such as smart phones and cloud computing, as well as business models predicated on unlimited access to personal information and automated processes. Stakeholders echoed a larger global debate about the role of consent in privacy protection regimes that has gained momentum as advances in big data analytics and the increasing prominence of data collection through the Internet of Things start to pervade our everyday activities.

Cross-posted to Slaw

A supercomputer on your wrist

smartwatchcray-2-computer-system

 

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the specs and quirks of our current technology that we forget how far we have come.

To put it in perspective, consider a smartwatch.  There are many ways to measure computer performance – CPU speed, amount of ram, amount of storage memory, network speed, etc.  A common way to compare basic performance, though, is by FLOPS, or floating operations per second.

A smartwatch can do somewhere in the range of 3 to 9 gigaflops.  To put that in perspective, the Cray-2 supercomputer in 1985 could do about 1.9 gigaflops.  You could buy one then for about $17,000,000.  It used 200 kilowatts of power (that’s several times the power a typical home electrical system provides), occupied 16 square feet of floor space (if you ignore its separate cooling system) and weighed 5500 pounds.  (A pdf brochure with the details is here.) I’m sure no one then thought we would ever strap something like that on our wrists, let alone order one online and have it arrive a couple days later.

Makes one wonder what the next few decades will bring.

Cross-posted to Slaw

Privacy Panic Cycle

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has released their analysis of how privacy advocates trigger waves of public fear about new technologies in a recurring “privacy panic cycle.”

The report is an interesting read and makes some valid points.  In general, people fear new things more so than things we are familiar with.  Like the person who doesn’t fly much being nervous about the flight when statistically the most dangerous part of the journey is the drive to the airport.

While a privacy panic for emerging tech is indeed common, we can’t summarily dismiss that panic as having no basis.  The key is to look at it from a principled basis, and compare the risks to existing technology.

New tech may very well have privacy issues that need to be looked at objectively, and should be designed into the tech (called privacy by design).

Even if the privacy fears are overblown, purveyors of the technology need to understand the panic and find a way to deflate the concerns.

Cross-posted to Slaw

Will self-driving cars spontaneously reboot?

A common rebuke to self-driving cars are thoughts about cars behaving like computers – like freezing or rebooting while driving. Those make amusing sound bytes or twitter comments, but there is a grain of truth to it. Self driving technology has come a long way, but while computers and software can follow programmed instructions, and can learn over time, humans are still better at many things.

An article in the New York Times entitled Why Robots Will Always Need Us does a good job of putting this in context, in part by the experience of aircraft.

Author Nicholas Carr points out that:

Pilots, physicians and other professionals routinely navigate unexpected dangers with great aplomb but little credit. Even in our daily routines, we perform feats of perception and skill that lie beyond the capacity of the sharpest computers. … Computers are wonderful at following instructions, but they’re terrible at improvisation. Their talents end at the limits of their programming.

and

In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration noted that overreliance on automation has become a major factor in air disasters and urged airlines to give pilots more opportunities to fly manually.

That’s not to say that we should smugly dismiss automation or technology. Lawyers, for example, who dismiss the ability of software to replace certain things we do are in for a rude awakening.

In general, computer code is never bug free, is never perfect, and is not able to do certain things. (You can say the same for us humans, though.) For example, the aircraft industry spends huge amounts of time and money testing the software that operates aircraft. On the other hand, the types of things computers can do well are increasing, and will increase over time. At some point there may be breakthroughs that make computers more reliable and better at the things us humans are more adept at. But we are not there yet.

Cross-posted to Slaw

Is a self driving car in your future?

Depending on how you define a self driving car – probably sooner than you think.

Sometimes new technology seems to come out of nowhere, but it often creeps up on us.  Legal disruptions that new tech spawns often follows the same path – usually a combination of lagging behind new technology, and getting in the way of new technology.

Current advances that come to mind include smart watches, drones, electric cars, and Tesla’s Powerwall.

Take self driving cars for example.

Its not as if we will go directly from a totally human driven car to a totally autonomous car.  They will creep up on us.  The Google self driving car gets a lot of press, and understandably so, but mainstream auto makers are rolling out these features now. We already have cars with features such as self parking, adaptive cruise control, cross traffic alerts, and lane departure warnings.  Over time these will morph from warning systems to taking control for a brief time to driving for longer period of time.  Self driving will start on highways before it moves to city driving.

Actually, self driving trucks might become prevalent sooner than self driving cars.

truck

Cross-posted to Slaw.

The smartwatch era is here

If you are an Apple fan, April 24 2015 marks the beginning of the smartwatch era – the date the Apple Watch is available. (Preorders start Apr 10th.) Smartwatches have been around for a while, but given the Apple reality distortion field, they will initially sell in large numbers, even though they are the most expensive ones available. The basic Apple watch is functionally the same as the most expensive gold watch edition that starts at $10,000. (Someone said that if you can afford a $10,000 watch, you probably don’t need to know what time it is.)

But there are alternatives, including several Android versions, the Pebble, and the Microsoft Band. Version 2 of several of these are expected soon.

Smartwatches are designed to be an interface to your smartphone. But if you want something that comes at this from a different approach, check out the Neptune – from a Canadian company that takes the intriguing approach of making the device on your wrist the main computer. There are still a few days left to take advantage of their indiegogo campaign.

Personally – as much as I want one – I’m waiting for the upcoming second gen Android versions. But then again that Neptune is rather cool…

Cross posted to Slaw

http://harrisonpensa.com/lawyers/david-canton

CES 2015

The Annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is under way in Las Vegas.  Its a mecca for those into the latest and greatest and biggest and fastest and most innovative consumer tech.

For example, the latest in TV’s are 4K (4 times the resolution of HD) that are impossibly thin with tiny bezels.  While the high end models are unaffordable, the improvements eventually become mainstream.

Trends include wearables (fitness still dominates) and the smart home (aka internet of things).  Everything seems to be connected somehow – even teakettles. (Some might say that an internet connected teakettle belongs to the internet of stupid things :))

So what might be useful in the office?  Getting around might be easier with the Rollkers “personal transit accessory” – essentially electric roller skates that attach to your shoes – or with the IO Hawk – which is a cross between a Segway and a skateboard.  Or perhaps a food printer for the lunch room.

The tech press has extensive coverage of the CES – check out coverage by Shelly Palmer,  CNETWired

IO Hawkrollkers

Cross posted to Slaw

Smartphone vs tablet vs phablet vs ???

I recently traded in my iPad for a Nexus 9. It has made me look at the phone/tablet thing a bit differently.

When I had an Android phone and an iPad, they felt like very different devices, each with a different role. But now that my tablet and phone work the same, and seamlessly share information, they don’t seem so different anymore. For example, if I make a note on google keep, it instantly shows up on the other device.

The only real difference is the size of the screen, and that the tablet can’t make phone calls or send texts. (Actually that’s not really true as you can make free calls over WiFi using google hangouts.)

That’s why phablets are growing in popularity. For those who can put up with carrying around a larger device, they are the best of both worlds. I want a phone I can put in my pocket though, and phablets are too big for my taste.

So what we really need is a modest sized phone with a screen that appears to be several times the size of the phone. Or better still, are we that far off from a full-fledged computer the size of a smartphone with a holographic display the size of a monitor, and a virtual keyboard? Would that be a complet? – a comphone?

Cross posted to Slaw

elegal blog marks 10th anniversary

November 16, 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of this blog – over 1500 posts since November 16, 2004.

To put that in perspective, twitter was launched in March 2006,  Facebook didn’t open to non-college students until September 2006, Linkedin was launched in May 2003, and Pinterest was launched in March 2010.

In 2004, you could count the number of lawyers who were blogging in Canada on one hand.  The frequency of posting has slowed over the years given the rise of other social media, but for anything of substance or of enduring value, a blog post reigns supreme.

We have changed the look of the blog a couple of times. An image of what it looked like in 2006 (courtesy of the Wayback Machine) is below.  That was a typical design at the time – before the trend to simpler, cleaner designs.

2006 image

Internet of Things and Big Data raise big legal issues

The internet of things and big data are separate but related hot topics. As is often the case with new technology, the definitions are fluid, the potential is unclear, and they pose challenges to legal issues.  All of these will develop over time.

Take privacy, for example.  The basic concept of big data is that huge amounts of data are collected and mined for useful information.  That flies in the face of privacy principles that no more personal info than the task at hand needs should be collected, and that it shouldn’t be kept for longer than the task at hand requires.  Both of these concepts can lead to personal info being created, while privacy laws generally focus on the concept of personal info being collected.

Another legal issue is ownership of information, and who gets to control and use it.  If no one owns a selfie taken by a monkey, then who owns information created by your car?

If anyone is interested in taking a deeper dive into these legal issues, I’ve written a bit about it here and here, and here are some recent articles others have written:

The ‘Internet of Things’ – 10 Data Protection and Privacy Challenges

Big Data, Big Privacy Issues

The Internet of Things Comes with the Legal Things