Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Amazon held a hardware event yesterday to announce an all-new lineup of data-capturing-tools it intends to market as robot assistants and security devices.
Interestingly, the general public seems to be enjoying the idea. Where Tesla was almost universally mocked for its silly robot announcement stunt, Amazon’s latest reveals have been met with a lot of positivity.
Apparently, people are really into the idea of letting a giant megacorporation fill their home with surveillance equipment.
But there’s more to worry about when it comes to in-home surveillance robots than just privacy. If you can stomach it, here’s a pandering video of the “Astro” robot that everyone is calling “cute” and “adorable” on social media:
The new Astro robot (it rolls) and the new Ring Always Home Cam (it flies) are among the absolute stupidest consumer products I’ve ever seen – and that includes a direct comparison to the spandex-clad human pretending to be a robot that Tesla recently rolled out.
At least Elon Musk’s idiotic idea for a robot is joke-worthy. There’s absolutely nothing funny about Amazon’s robots.
Note: I want to believe! I’m not a hater. I want a robot in my house. I want a cool tech buddy, I promise I’m not just crapping on the concept. I just hate the execution.
Amazon’s robots are not your friends. They’re data-collection tools designed to exploit you in any way they possibly can in order to gather more data.
I won’t even get into the privacy concerns. Security experts with decades of experience dealing with these kinds of threats have condemned Amazon’s in-home surveillance gear as a privacy nightmare for years. At least a dozen articles have been published in the past 24 hours (as of the time of this publishing) telling everyone these things are privacy nightmares. If you won’t listen to those experts, you sure aren’t going to listen to me.
But let’s forget the privacy problems for a second. Here’s a few other reasons you should hold off on putting any sort of Amazon spyware device in your home. Especially mobile robots.
First: Amazon is intentionally insulting your intelligence. You absolutely don’t need a robot to tell you if you left your stove on. If Amazon wanted to give people “peace of mind,” it would sell you a $10 sensor/switch that can kill the gas feed to your “smart stove” if gas is flowing for X amount of seconds without proper combustion. No surveillance required.
And you don’t need a robot that can respond to glass breaking and alert you if someone is unlawfully entering your home. Because it’s much, much less expensive to hire an alarm service – a company that specializes in such things. You can combine external cameras with entry-point sensors to create a tried-and-true intrusion alert system. No strangers looking at 24/7 video feeds of the inside of your house required.
This robot doesn’t solve any problems whatsoever. Its only useful function is as an entertainment device. The first time your parents come over and you get to show off the handful of tricks it can do, everyone will be delighted. And, as anyone who’s owned a smart speaker for more than a month knows, that new-tech-euphoria wears off pretty quickly.
Once you’re no longer entranced by Astro or the Ring drone, you’re stuck with an expensive reminder that you’re personally subsidizing Amazon’s AI research. Not only are you freely giving away you and your family’s most intimate data, but you actually paid cash upfront for the privilege. And, lol, after a year, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee.
That’s the dumbest, most scam-a-licous consumer hardware experience I’ve ever seen. Charles Ponzi’s ghost is frickin’ gobsmacked right now and off somewhere moaning about how he was born way too soon.
And, seriously folks, have you seen the trailer? Amazon couldn’t come up with a single useful depiction of this robot’s abilities so it just does a BB-8 impression through the whole video until, finally, at the end it silences a skeptic… because it delivers them a beer. GTFOH.
Who in the hell is this feature for? People who want someone else to get them a drink, but don’t want to actually see that person? “Honey, go grab me a beer. And then call the stupid robot over, put the beer in its holder, and tell the robot to bring it to me. I’ll wait.”
Get your own damn beer. Or, better yet, have your honey bring two so you can toast to your humanity and share some space together for a few minutes. But cover up the robot so that some pervy cops or Amazon employees don’t add the videos of you snogging your beloved to their personal database.
Second: Amazon knows these robots are going to fail. They can’t possibly work because they’re neither useful nor cheap.
But my colleague Napier is absolutely correct when he says robots such as Astro could mainstream the technology.
Amazon’s using the robot as an advanced scout to determine exactly how much intrusion the average consumer will allow when it comes to data collection. It turns out, in the year 2021, people are excited to be exploited.
If I’d asked my readers 10 years ago whether they’d be willing to allow a trillion-dollar corporation that’s partnered with the Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Patrol, and local law enforcement to install data-capturing machines throughout their homes, I think I would have been laughed at.
Today… well, Amazon’s put a cute animated face on them. And that’s going to be good enough for a lot of people who would otherwise not be so easily duped.
Third: Amazon is literally putting a sociopath in our homes and training us to respond positively to it. The company spent a lot of money getting Astro’s “personality” just right because we’re being groomed.
People are imagining a robot buddy they can call on and talk to, that’ll help them out in their lives. What they’ll be getting is a machine engineered to be cute and likable so that it can gain total access to your private life and gather as much data as possible.
Imagine if, instead of cooing and chirping like BB-8 from Star Wars, Amazon’s robots said “sending your personal data to Amazon employees and local police” every time it performed a function. It might not seem so cute then.
Bottom line: Amazon makes its money collecting and exploiting our data. It’s worth a trillion dollars because of our data. The more data we give it, the richer it gets.
We should not be paying for hardware — let alone a subscription fee — to collect our data. Especially when the robot is little more useful than a Roomba with an Echo Show and a cupholder strapped to it.
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