Technology: Friend or Foe?

A persistent theme I’ve observed in recent articles from several long-time Sound & Vision contributors is a sense of unease over the encroachment of AI (Artificial Intelligence) into the traditional consumer electronics space.

The consensus seems to be that it’s one thing to have that capability on our phones, but quite another for it to be built into speakers, receivers, and TVs. Sure, we can appreciate the idea of products with advanced control features that respond to voice commands. But once you tell me that unlocking those features requires a link to a personal Google account, it’s time to call it a day.

There are plenty of examples in film history where technology is depicted as the enemy, but a recent one that caught my attention is writer/director Jordan Peele’s (Get Out) new movie Us. A key scene takes place in a vacation condo where a family is under attack by a pack of doppelgängers (you’ll need to see it for yourself to find out more).

Turning desperately to Ophelia, the hapless voice assistant used by the condo’s smart speakers, they command it to call the police, only to have Ophelia respond by playing an infamous late 80s rap song with an unflattering take on that organization. (Surprisingly, most smart speakers can’t be used to directly call emergency services like 911.)

While that particular scene from Us is humorous in a dark way, it also reflects a growing cultural discomfort with AI technology, which is just as prone to misinterpret our commands as track our movements and parse our conversations for data mining purposes.

Another form of AI that’s becoming increasingly omnipresent is the Recommendation Engine. While I have yet to see a movie or TV show scene poke fun at that technology, which is used by Netflix and music streaming services to suggest content it “thinks” you will like, I find it just as irritating as other forms of “surveillance” that AI-enabled products perform.

Why? For me, those specific choices emerge from a long personal history of investigation and experimentation. Maybe the AI-generated, “lean-back” experience that Netflix and others strive to deliver works for some, but I have no interest in taking my mind out of the equation.

Is there new tech that can help, as opposed to dumb down and exploit, us?

I was encouraged when I read Stewart Wolpin’s review of the Nuheara IQbuds Boost. The Boost goes beyond the call of average wireless earbuds in providing a hearing test to match performance to your ears’ capabilities, along with amplification to improve hearing in crowded environments. A new version due out in late 2019 will provide even more personalization such as tinnitus masking. Nuheara’s buds have been found so effective that Britain’s NHS now allows them to be prescribed by doctors alongside traditional hearing aids. According to Stewart, they also sound pretty great when simply playing music.

KINGTED's picture

I agree that a lot of monitoring is invasive, needless, and a security issue. However I strongly disagree with the recommendation AI being a problem. (the old red envelope Netflix) makes the best recommendations I know. The aggregate reviewing of rotten tomatoes is great for getting critic and audience impressions, but with 2736 movies ranked the Netflix engine is more accurate at rating movies for me than I am.
If a friend or Sound & Vision recommends a movie that I am unfamiliar with, I instantly go to Netflix to see how much the AI thinks I will like it.
The only problems are that new movies dont have enough reviews by other people to be ranked and the streaming side of Neflix took a step backwards going to a thumbs up or down, reducing fidelity in the ranking.

joseanderson's picture

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