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tv   Washington Journal Judith Shulevitz  CSPAN  December 18, 2018 7:38pm-8:07pm EST

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announcer: when the new congress takes office in january, it will have the youngest, host diverse class in recent history. new congress, new leaders. watch it live on c-span starting january 3. host: judith shulevitz joins us now from new york and she is a contributor for "the atlantic" and explore the technology behind digital assistants. start by explaining what digital assistants are and how prevalent they are in society. guest: my piece was specifically about voice activated digital assistants. digital assistants tends to be
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shorthand for that. i was talking specifically about those canisters or hockey pucks or little devices we have in our homes that we use to help us cooker play music on or make calls on. those are the first items that we are bringing into our homes that are voice-activated digital assistants. in the piece, i go further and talk about the future of these, and we will beginning more and more and they will move into the internet of things. that is to say that we will be talking to our refrigerators, our cars, and all these things will be talking to us. the piece is about how we are in the first stages of bringing these things into our homes. host: who is most likely to be buying these things right now? how are they using them? guest: basically, people who
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tend to be first adopters of technology are the first of buy, but one interesting fact i discovered is that quite a few young families are buying them. my own daughter-in-law bought one and she has a two and a half-year-old at home. she is strict with technology, and i said why did you do that? she said it allows me to play music without having to open up my computer. when i open up my computer, my son thinks i'm going to play a movie. it allows parents to do things about having a screen. people who want to keep screens out of their houses are surprisingly the wide demographic buying these. host: do you own one? guest: i own two. i like my google assistant, just going to put in a plug. in part, because he is a chipper male voice that makes me smile.
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google knows a lot of things and has a slightly better and more intelligent user interface then alexa. i use it to find out the weather , get answers to questions, but i keep it turned off a lot. researching this piece made me kind of paranoid. host: we already have the internet at our fingertips on our smartphones and we can download any thousands of apps. is this technology that much of a leap forward? guest: right now, no. to add what are called skills to your digital assistant, you have to go to your phone and download things. so, no, but that will change. what i argue in my piece is that the switch from eyes and fingers to ears and voice is a qualitative difference. the reason is the voice is different from the eyes.
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when you hear a voice, you attribute to that voice in mind and intelligence beyond what these devices currently have. you can't help it. you are evolutionarily designed to do that. giving these devices voices gives them an upgrade. it causes us to see them is more -- as more than they actually are. thesis of my pieces is that the robots are here, they do not have bodies, but voices. voices are more insidious and intimate than voices with bodies would be. host: and an interesting headline today on this topic, consumer robots are dead, long live alexa. talking about the prevalence of these devices. we are having a conversation with judith shulevitz, and if you want to join the
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conversation, if you are in the eastern or central time zone, (202) 748-8000. if you are in the mountain or pacific time zones, (202) 748-8001. judith shulevitz, you know that google and amazon are pushing these devices to the point that last holiday season they lost the money on some of the discounts. why are they doing that and where do they see the technology going? guest: industry observers speculate about that, we do not know. i think they see them as loss leaders. they want to hook you to their brand so that as these voices move into the internet of things, your cars, your whatever it is, refrigerators, stoves, personal appliances, they will
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be hooked into the google's ecosystem or apple ecosystem. whoever wins that market, wins the war because that's where the money is going to be. host: before we get there, there are hurdles they need to overcome. you talk about a few of them. start with the privacy hurdle. we have heard the stories of these devices recording conversations they were not supposed to be recording and sending them out to contact. -- contact lists. how are they dealing with privacy? guest: they do not actually want that to happen because they do not want you thinking about how much they are listening. a digital assistant has to be listening for its waypoint. alexa has to have some year is -- ears out there to hear, alexa, which turns it on. it is not streaming that what it here is to the cloud, it is staying on the device.
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once you start interacting with your device, it is streamed to the cloud. the big and more reputable companies give you ways to delete what is on the cloud. most people do not bother and it lives on the cloud for a long time. these companies say, we do not sell that information to third parties. they do not need to, they are really big and can monetize it themselves. less reparable companies may start selling it to third parties. they are collecting data on what you are talking about, what you are interested in, and as they collect data on you as you browse. it is the usual privacy invasion. the more it goes into different parts of our home, the more it is going to be listening to us. we have to be very careful about what we are giving up which we , tend to not be. we just click on that i agree button. on another level, the security on these devices is terrible. we have already had examples of
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people hacking into baby cams -- and collecting information on the movements of your baby which is scary. the companies are not sending these things out with any kind of security so the ways in which actors couldbad , hack into our homes are terrifying. host: i want to let you chat with our callers. gina in florida, you are on. guest: good morning, america. good morning, julia. i have a question. i do not have alexa, i have a cell phone. my sister and i, i notice when i call, we talk about issues. the other day and it is happened with other things, but the other day i was telling her it was
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really dry in my house and i told her my lips were messed up. no sooner did we get off the phone did an advertisement on my phone came up for lips. i had noticed the irony. i was just talking about this and then there was an advertisement. i don't know. are our phones listening to us like alexa? guest: that is a really good question and i've asked that and they all say, no, that is ridiculous. the possibility certainly exists. as soon as you provide information to a company like that, that information can be sold instantaneously. it all happens algorithmically, no human need be involved. so it is definitely possible that your phone is listening to you, sending information to the cloud, and that is being bought
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by third parties, advertising sellers who are marketing it. it is possible. i've not been able to confirm that it has happened. industry people roll their eyes so i do not know what to tell you. host: go ahead. guest: it is something to think about before you bring all of these things into your home. but, i want to add, all of these things are coming into your home whether you like it or not. they're going to be made with voice interactive devices and they are going to become the industry standard, and so the question is, how are we as a nation going to ask congress to regulate these things and to regulate the privacy. right now, it is the wild west. host: we want to listen to our viewers this morning in this segment. give us a call, (202) 748-8000 in eastern or central time zones, and (202) 748-8001 if you
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are in the mountain and pacific time zones. judith shulevitz, another category of youtube videos that we see in regard to these devices are when they misinterpret something we ask them to do or something we say. can you talk about just how hard that is to get that technology right and efforts to overcome that hurdle. guest: it is incredibly hard to program a computer to have a conversation. it is something that people have been working on for 50 years. there been great leaps in natural language processing. computers are getting ever better at understanding the content of what you are saying but they make all kinds of , bloopers. the most famous and viral one is a two and a half-year-old trying to get alexa to play "twinkle, twinkle, little star." and somehow, alexa interpreted
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that as a request for various pornographic suggestions. i will not list them here because you never know who is the machine is suggesting pornographic sites and the parent is going, no, no, , stop, stop. alexa can misunderstand things and i do not think that is alarming. what is alarming is when alexa starts to understand all too well. a third of my piece was devoted to artificial emotional intelligence. which exists already, and that is when a robot or computer can understand the emotional content of your voice far better than other humans can using machine learning and the data. eventually, the understanding that these emotions have to detect the emotion in your voice will be used to program emotion into the voice of the digital assistants, and then will have
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seemingly meaningful conversations with our devices. babel seemed to have personalities and understand us. that will be interesting. it will have a lot of power over us just like any active listener has power. host: randy is up next in indiana good morning. , caller: hello. i am just calling to tell you, i smoked since i've been a young fellow and i still smoke today. i think these people that want to bring religion into this thing as far as legalizing it, they got no room to talk about nothing. they need to keep religion out of it. host: we will stick to a discussion about digital assistants this morning since judith shulevitz is only with us for the next half hour. her piece in the atlantic, alexa
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, should we trust you, is a question posed. alexa is a humble servant, very soon she could be much more. joseph is next in massachusetts. good morning. caller: i think she is right on the ball. i finally found one person who will stand up and analyze these things. thank you very much. guest: thank you. host: how may people are analyzing the impacts that our interaction are having on not only our technology but our emotional lives? guest: a lot of people are analyzing the technology. the emotional component is interesting, and has not been well covered. it is a new field and people do not know about it. there is a good story behind its invention. there was a female engineering professor at mit 20 years ago who realized and was studying
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the neuroscience of decision-making to try to get in aters to store data more intelligent and keen way and she was reading about the , roles of the emotions in decision-making and she realized that computers needed emotions. she invented a field that could have been called emotional computing, but she did not want to be that woman in the m.i.t. engineering department doing something called emotional computing, so she called it affective computing. that was 20 years ago. by now, there are companies all over the country that are using this ability to analyze emotion in your voice, face, and the -- and in your body language and use it for all sorts of purposes. and good purposes too. medical uses, there are all kinds of psychological, psychotherapeutic applications of this, machines that can understand what is going on with you so they can hand you off to a doctor cars that can
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, understand that you are agitated and distracted, so they can half drive themselves, they what is going on with you and won't hand the car over you -- to you if you are distraught or drunk, so this is being used for good and a lot of ways. but it could be used for ill. the powers understand you better than you understand yourself is a lot of power. when they start using that power to program the illusion of understanding into these devices , that by then, will be ubiquitous in your home, car, and office, that is handing a lot of power over to robots. i do believe these are robots. i think we need to think about that. i do think that is the piece that people are not thinking about, and i am proud of making that a big part of my piece. host: i want to talk about the power of us to be confused by whether we are talking to a robot or another person. this is a link that was included in one of "the atlantic" pieces about google duplex.
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a computer calling to make a hair appointment but sounding very human. listen to the conversation. guest: that was in my piece. >> hello, may i help you? >> hi, i am looking for something on may 3. >> sure, one second. >> mhmm. >> what time are you looking for around? >> at 12:00 p.m. >> we do not have a 12:00 p.m. available. the closest we have is 1:15. >> do you have anything between 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.? >> depending on what service, what service is she looking for? >> a woman's haircuts for now. >> we have a 10:00. >> 10:00 is fine. >> what is the first named? -- first name? >> the first name is lisa.
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>> perfect, i will see lisa. >> great, thanks. host: talk us through that technology a little bit and the concerns about it. guest: that is so great. the reason i like that exchange is the up talk. the way the women's voices go up at the end of the senses. it is very convincing. -- end of the sentences. that was a big boo boo that google made. the industry went nuts because it betrays the trust that we want to have with our devices that they are going to acknowledge that they are devices and not try to fake us out. what's google was using their is deep fake technology.
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basically, this is all out there already. google is going to use it in relatively benign ways, and lots of other companies and actors are not. they can take a snippet of your voice or a voice and make it sound like you, and have you say all kinds of things. or, they can take not a human voice but i machine generated voice and to make it sound human and do a deep fake. that exists with facial technology, with visual technology. this is scary stuff because it is facing the line between real -- defacing the line between real voices and machine generated, and if you want to talk about "fake news", this takes it to a whole new level. also, this is another area in which congress ought to get involved, regulators ought to get involved, and start thinking about what we are willing to let people use and not use. how we are willing to let companies fake us out and not fake us out. host: about 10 minutes left with
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judith shulevitz talking but her piece with "the atlantic." carl has been waiting in a new hampshire. good morning. caller: hello, how are you? host: doing well. caller: my comment is that i look at it and i tell educators that 20 years from now, we will be graduating kids out of the eighth grade, and that will be the end of high school, and then we will send them to computer school for a couple of years so they can learn how to push buttons, and now they got their phone right there, you ask the many question and they can give you any answer you need. it will be perfect. we will save a time of money and we will have these people and what do you think? certainly artificial intelligence, it is now being used for educational purposes.
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-- artificial intelligence is being used and you would like to think that their own the people who program. education, i do believe, requires the human touch, but how that is going to be evolve as devices become more savvy is the question. those who can afford it get education from other humans and those who cannot hold in depth doing a vocational education by way of distance learning penned by way of these devices. i think there is some think -- something to your dystopian vision, but i do not think it is going to happen in 20 years. ofo worry about the decline the humanities in favor of the computer science and engineering, but what you are talking about is not going to happen just yet. i really do not think you can robot via
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host: adam is up next in washington dc. caller: you just took the words out of my mouth. when it comes to computers, everybody's biggest fear is that something matrix is going to happen, but aren't thses -- these computers only able to do what we tell them to do? ofwould take some type consciousness or drive, but these computers are only doing what programmers tell them to do -- am i correct in that? thank you for the topic. [laughter] guest: that is the question. that is the whole question. they can only do what humans do, but highly trained humans can tell them to do all kinds of sophisticated things.
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they can program them without the rhythms that reflect their own biases, and there is a lot of discussion about sexism and racism in algorithms. google searches my response to your name -- respond to your name and decide it is a black or white to name and start serving you data or ads that make assumptions about that. even thoughhat there is human intelligence at the back end, computers can do a lot that is worrisome and it does once again need to be regulated. far as the matrix goes, i do not actually believe this myself but there are people out in silicon valley who are awaiting what is called a singularity which is the moment when computers become so intelligent that we can no longer understand them and will simply be working for them. will be able to upload our consciousness and two
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machines and we want a longer need our bodies. this is two certain people in silicon valley, are -- this, to people in silicon valley, is a utopian vision. these are machines that we invented that we control, but if we want to control them, we have to have laws. we have to privacy laws and other kinds of regulations. i urge everyone watching this program to think about making this an issue that you actually vote on. host: joe waiting in tennessee. caller: j, you are the best. one thing to keep in mind is that these devices are all manufactured in china. if you think that the chinese government does not want to
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listen in on what is going on here, you are in complete denial. the woman with -- that was just arrested, the ceo of huawei, she was accused of the manufacturing cell phones that are listening on on what you are doing and transmitting it to the cloud. g -- a database established in china just for this type of thing. that is something to keep in mind and i will never have one in my house. and thanks. host: judith shulevitz? guest: i do not think that china has chips and everything. these things are manufactured all over the world at this point. i do think that we have been very lax and united states on
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cybersecurity. we have dropped the ball. senator mark warner has been aing around promoting cybersecurity doctrine in which carefullyo think more about what kind of technology and privacy we are going to allow into our homes, offices, and personal devices. think -- i do not see it as widespread as the caller, but we need to have policies that take this kind of security risk into account. host: will is in charleston, west virginia. caller: i had a question. in west virginia, our state constitution calls for certain protections around things you check out from a library. do you see may the information collected by these devices
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bringing about similar legislation? guest: i hope so. i hope you are right. i had not thought about the connection with the privacy over what you check out from the library as being used as a model for what we could have in terms of cyber privacy, that is interesting. we can gain hope ownership over our personal information as they are doing and trying to do further in europe, for example. this should just simply be owned and sliced, diced, and sold by commercial entities and subject to subpoena by the government. areink all of these things scenarios that we are beginning to understand and once again, we need to have at the minimum the intoty to choose to opt that we rather now only have the ability to opt out
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which tends to be very well hidden. we need to be emulating the europeans but the going even further, no question. host: the peace in the november issue of "the atlantic, alexa, ." uld we trust you >> coming up tonight, discussion on the role of the special counsel. look at the state of u.s.-china relations. a panel on technology, politics and society. next, a look at the role of media coverage, of ongoing investigation and robert mueller's investigation into russian interference in the 2016 investigation. a georgeinclude washington law professor


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