Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a quintessential example of an experiment gone awry, an effort initiated with seemingly pure intentions but evolves into something with unintended and disastrous consequences. Frankenstein the monster becomes more than simply a reanimated “humanish” creature. His creation accidentally gave rise to issues of companionship, loneliness, and other human emotions that ultimately made him a true monster.
I believe that many of today’s modern marvels are riddled with similar unintended consequences. The primary example being the Amazon Echo. The daily news cycle is dominated with stories of Echo devices listening to their owners and then acting without any instruction. People with Echo devices find themselves receiving advertisements for products or services that they had only discussed in person with friends or family members. It seems as though the days of only having to worry about what one wrote or typed are long gone. The spoken word used to be the final frontier in terms of privacy, you could still speak your mind in private, but now the Amazon Echo is always listening, picking up on certain keywords, and creating customized advertisement strategies for you.
There is also the issue of the relationship between Echo data and the Intelligence authorities. Many people, myself included, view them as conspiracy theories. However, if there is truly a connection between the two, then an invasion of privacy breach is certainly a real and present danger.
Customers who simply wanted a device that would record grocery lists and play music are suddenly facing unintended ramifications that they had no way of anticipating, much like Frankenstein’s monster. These people did not sign up for a product that listens to their every word, records and analyzes it. This is an area that I believe must be addressed by both private and public oversight entities.
Another example of technological overreach can be identified in the recording of search data on Google and Facebook. These tech giants have been recording the search data of individuals for years and have been able to compile advertisement and content preferences to suit each individual customer. This collection and manipulation of our personal preferences and information is changing the way that we shop and consume information. Lawmakers in Congress are finally beginning to investigate the ways in which Facebook and Google are handling our information, but I believe that this is just the “tip of the iceberg.” The Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is the most evident example of data manipulation. Facebook’s advertising platform allowed hackers to infiltrate the “newsfeeds” of American citizens and feed them falsified news that ultimately impacted the results of our executive election.
As technology advances and takes an increasingly more important role in our daily lives it is vitally important that we take a more cautious approach toward our work. Inventions that collect, track, and analyze our data are a novel and groundbreaking concept, capable of revolutionizing the way we live and work. However, if unmonitored and unsupervised, we risk sacrificing our sacred right to privacy.