What are we sacrificing for the Internet of Things?

By: Hanako Kawasaki

The modern world has shifted towards using electronic devices by giving individuals the ability to communicate and exchange information instantaneously with one another over cyberspace. This phenomenon is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). The power of IoT in our daily lives is massive, with the accessible network constantly expanding. From the existence of smart homes, to the more widely known Amazon Alexa, IoT has changed how most consumers go about with their daily lives and interact with devices. However, are we giving away too much of our privacy through the use of IoT? Are we all aware of what kind of data we are aimlessly giving away?

To enter a smart home, you may have to scan your fingerprint or use an eye tracking system. To seamlessly purchase something online from different devices, you only have to input your credit card details on a single device. To run a hospital more efficiently, doctors may use IoT to transfer data from medical devices to databases. Now, instead of going to a physician or hospital for health reports, people use wearables such as the Apple Watch of fitBit to track their well beings. Companies now not only know our basic identities, but may also know more intimate details than our doctors.  Not many consumers actually read the “terms and conditions” of the products they buy, meaning they’re not aware of what they are actually giving up in terms of data and privacy. In the technology market nowadays, it is difficult to buy a device that does not track us. As consumers, we may be exposed to the façade of technology; although it advances our lives in some ways, technology has provided companies with additional ways to monitor our consumer patterns and exploit the details that make us unique. In a more pessimistic perspective, companies have not proven that they have the our best interest in mind. For example, Facebook’s scandal with Cambridge Analytica highlights how companies may not be as transparent with how they handle our data online. Fortunately, this event prompted discussions and increasing regulations on data privacy.

Companies are not the only external threat towards our personal data. With so many points of entry being created through the connectivity of our devices, we are exposed to more hackers and cybersecurity threats. There are more channels for hackers to enter and steal our personal information. An example of this was how researchers found out they could identify which TV show a household was watching through smart meters (Business Insider, 2020). The more we expose ourselves to technology, the more vulnerable we are to digital threats.

Although I cannot deny the massive impact IoT has on our living habits and on the advancement of technology, I remain skeptical on the lack of safety net when it comes to our privacy and who our data is exposed to. Especially considering, how not all the products out on the market are regulated by larger companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple – can we trust the security of the technology coming from smaller companies? IoT also uses Blockchain technology, which has only started to become a focus in the tech industry, which brings into question whether there are enough regulations in place for this new technology yet.

For the audience: what are your thoughts of IoT? Do you think our data is safe with all these devices monitoring us so closely? Who do we make ourselves vulnerable to with all these channels of access we have created?

Additional Readings:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/01/apples-hypocritical-defense-data-privacy/581680/

https://www.businessinsider.com/iot-security-privacy

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/07/09/the-not-so-hidden-costs-of-an-internet-of-things/#7d6d53eb3df6

http://www.hk-lawyer.org/content/how-internet-things-may-expose-your-privacy

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

By Chris Wong

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As technology becomes more and more advanced, artificial intelligence is becoming smarter and more advanced.  Current pop culture has framed artificial intelligence as robots with sinister intentions such as the cyborgs from the terminator movies, artificial intelligence can be as basic as Google’s search algorithm.  Artificial Intelligence, also known as AI, is currently designed to outperform humans at specific tasks.  However, researchers are currently trying to create an AI that will be able to outperform humans at all tasks. 

The threat of automation can be potentially dangerous.  Most people think that robots will take over and enslave us all.  This most likely will not happen since artificial intelligence will need a power source.  The real danger is if the AI is programmed to do something dangerous.  For instance, autonomous weapons are artificial intelligence systems that are programmed to kill.  In the hands of the wrong person, these weapons could easily cause mass casualties. This risk is quite low at the moment but grows as levels of AI intelligence and autonomy increases.  Another potential danger is if the AI is programmed to do something useful, but uses a destructive method to achieve its goal.  This can happen whenever we fail to fully align the AI’s goals with ours.  For example, if you ask an intelligent car to take you to the airport as fast as possible, it might get you there by breaking multiple laws, doing not what you wanted but literally what you asked for.  If the programmer does not give specific instruction to the AI then it might create more issues in our ecosystem as a side effect.  Artificial Intelligence might not necessarily be malevolent but instead extremely competent. A super-intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals but the problem occurs it its goals aren’t aligned with ours.

There are a lot of myths surrounding AI that may give it a bad reputation.  A very popular concern is the possibility that AI could gain sentience and end humanity using robots or our own nuclear missiles.  As said above the real worry is not evil robots but how well the AI does its job.  For example, if it was given the order to protect humanity and the AI thought the best way would be to put humans in metal boxes, then the AI is simply doing what it is told to do without malicious intent even though it would go against what the programmer wanted.  Also, an AI would not even need a physical body to be a threat to humanity but instead would just need a simple internet connection.  By accessing the internet, it would be able to hack into different devices and accounts and cause general havoc to the public.

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While artificial intelligence may be the way of the future it does not come without some major risks.  The implementation of AI could be extremely useful, but it could also come with some major concerns if not implemented and programmed correctly.

Self Driving Cars

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By Jakob Katzman

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in innovation centered around automating processes: food delivery services, streaming services, and household cleaning robots are just a few examples of innovation centering around taking the human capital out of tasks that would normally require them. The next step in this is self-driving cars: vehicles that require no human input to drive and navigate.

To explain, a “self-driving” car is a car where the person inside does not have to drive it. They can sit in the vehicle and relax as it takes them to their destination. The vehicle uses high-power sensors to maintain a map of its surroundings. Then, the car’s software processes the data it receives and controls the vehicle’s acceleration, braking and steering. The car has object discrimination, so that it can recognize other vehicles on the road and be sure to follow all traffic laws. In ideal terms, the car seems like a win-win for anyone able to purchase it. They get a shiny new car, and it can drive itself around. Furthermore, the cars are planned to be electric: meaning their carbon footprint would be reduced and, when low on battery, they can drive themselves to a charging station so you’re rarely running low.

The pros of self-driving cars are numerous. Firstly, they prove to be more efficient than human beings: a machine doesn’t make the same errors that a person makes. If the cars were to share information with one another, I believe it would lead to less congestion and a more dynamic driving interaction. I believe it would also make the road safer, as the machines can correct and make decisions faster than the human brain could possibly compute what is going on and process the information before it. Lastly in personal safety, self-driving cars would remove the risk of drunk driving and other substance-related accidents. Those who aren’t of sound enough mind to get behind a wheel will be able to get into their car and be driven home by the vehicle itself. Beyond personal safety, self-driving electric cars would reduce emissions and provide a cleaner way for both individuals and business to conduct themselves. If cost-effective, it isn’t unthinkable that ride-sharing apps (like Lyft and Uber) could pick up the technology as a means of reducing their carbon footprint and taking active steps towards sustainable business practice. In terms of accessibility, self-driving cars would provide a way for those with physical or neurological/mental disabilities a chance to drive around without having to rely on any alternative form of service. With all these positive attributes and effects outlined, self-driving cars have the potential to be great forces of positive change.

However, there are negative consequences of self-driving cars. Putting both self-driving cars and regular vehicles on the road at the same time could lead to accidents. It’s unlikely that a software program could readily predict the actions of other people around it and properly adjust to the incredibly idiosyncratic behaviors of human beings fast enough to avoid any major accident. If the self-driving car was to get into an accident, who would be liable for the damage? Technically, the person inside of it was just as much a passenger as someone on their phone in the backseat of a normal car. Normally, these problems are mitigated by the driving test. You cannot drive without a driver’s license. In a world with non-luxury self-driving cars, would a driving test still be necessary? It’s likely that people without driver’s licenses could purchase vehicles and operate a self-driving car because they aren’t affecting any part of the driving. If people don’t need to get driver’s licenses to drive, it’s also likely that the population’s general ability to drive would rapidly degrade. I believe that, like with Roomba or Seamless, people who take the this route would feel that there is an incredibly high switching cost to suddenly have to go back to driving themselves. I also believe that– at least in the beginning– the product’s growth would be a stress-point that could make these issues apparent. Beyond that, self-driving cars have a few design issues. In design, there’s the issue of having no steering wheel. The currently proposed models of self-driving car do not have steering wheels. As the cars begin to take off, are we saying that all of the initial users will be forced to drive with software that has a chance to– possibly– malfunction, crash, and kill whoever is inside it. Without the ability to manually course-correct, people are putting their lives in the hands of a machine that has very little assurance of doing everything right every time. Furthermore, If the servers that run the cars are centralized, a chunking issue or power failure could lead to disastrous results for anyone in the vehicle.

Self-driving cars are a new innovation that could lead to both amazing or less-than-amazing results. I have lingering questions even as the invention takes shape and begins to roll out. For the audience: do you think self-driving cars are a good idea? If so, how do you feel about the consequences outlined in this article? If you don’t, do you have different reasons for being against self-driving cars?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Additional Reading:

https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/self-driving-cars-101

https://www.techradar.com/news/self-driving-carshttps://www.tesla.com/model3

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/2019/09/08/the-arrival-of-self-driving-cars-will-shake-up-rankings-of-top-safe-driver-cities/#20cf29719622

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/2019/10/17/getting-to-scale-for-self-driving-cars-is-going-to-be-a-heck-of-a-stretch/#4edf6f7e3ae3

https://www.forbes.com/sites/cognitiveworld/2019/09/26/what-happens-with-self-driving-cars-kill-people/#3b6f9998405c

 

Streaming Wars

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By Jakob Katzman

Apple TV+, the new streaming service being rolled out by the tech giant, is slated to enter the market in a little over a week. The service is Apple’s deep dive into the aptly named “Streaming Wars”. Through the platform, Apple will be joining other industry giants like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon, and Disney in a constant battle for screen time.

By “screen time”, I don’t mean the hours people devote to watching their favorite shows every day. With only 24 hours in the day, the battle for market share has expanded beyond grabbing people’s favorite shows and the time they use to watch them. In January, Netflix unveiled that their largest competitor is the video game Fortnite and pivoted their strategy from claiming “streaming hours” to trying to claim general “screen hours”. Bob Iger­– Disney’s CEO– has taken control of Hulu and started to roll-out a pay-tv bundle with ESPN+ and Disney+, while Disney has removed Netflix advertisements on their platform. These shifts in content, licenses, and even changing features (like using YouTube/Amazon using online DVR to “record” and allow users to save their favorite episodes to a cloud so they can watch the show(s) from any device) effects more than just where consumers will be able to watch the next episode of their favorite shows, it’s aimed to capture time where people turn on any screen.

Apple TV+ is breaking ahead of their competition through a variety of means. Their confirmed content includes big names such as Steven Spielberg, Steve Carell, JJ Abrams, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and many others. The service will cost five dollars a month, undercutting all of their competition and will come with a free year with a purchase of an Apple product (TV, iPad, iPhone, Mac). Furthermore, the subscription can be shared with up to six family members. Though Apple TV+ will have less content, their sales pitch is centered around the idea that their content will be of superior quality and expand with a steady level of high-quality offerings as the platform grows and matures. In terms of bundling, Apple has an excellent opportunity to combine Apple TV+ with such products as Apple Music, Apple News/News+ and Apple’s soon-to-be-released “Apple Arcade” which will support over one hundred games. All these content bundles boil down to one thing: brand loyalty. In this case, Brand Loyalty can be defined as using the multiple platforms that Apple offers at a relatively low-cost– once you’ve purchased their expensive hardware– and enjoying the features and variety enough to have no reason to switch to one of their competitors.

Apple’s strategy with Apple TV+ seems to center around their overall strategy of immersing their users in a technological world governed by Apple. This is not the same as a monopoly, Apple does not completely control the tech industry. As a matter of fact, Huawei is breaking ahead of them in terms of market share in their smartphone business.[1] This fact, however, does not take away from the true effect of bundling Apple TV+. Because new purchasers of Apple products get Apple TV+ bundled into said purchase for a “free” year, the platform has an excellent opportunity to jump upwards in member count and seize a large portion of the streaming services market share. Considering Apple’s Unaudited 2018 Q4 Summary: they sold roughly 180 million units between their iPhone, iPad and Macbook products.[2] That could be a potential 180 million new users of Apple TV+ in its first year. If we assume half that number actually uses it, that’s still 90 million new users before any consideration for current users of Apple products buying into the service. With this large growth in users, Apple TV+ would be on-par (if not exceeding) their competitors subscriber base. That said, it’s unclear how many people are going to be interested in using their free Apple TV+ membership, and who will renew it once their first-year trial ends. However, the tech giant has enough of a presence already that these looming threats could be a reality that Apple’s competition needs to face.

In my personal opinion, Apple TV+ has a few uncertainties in it. First, the five-dollar price is paired with a small initial content offering. While it’s not definitively a bad sign for the platform, their announced content budget of 6 billion dollars (according to the Financial Times) is below Netflix and Disney, and I doubt a lower price will not be enough to sway the entire cord-cutting/streaming market that they’re worth subscribing to. Furthermore, Apple can only do so much if their initial offering of content flops. Would they continue to fund the originals? Would they fund new ones? Would they pour money into further research on the market Apple TV+ is reaching? At the most extreme, would Apple consider acquiring one of the quickly dying television companies.

Once Apple TV+ fully rolls out in a little over a week, we’ll begin to see how these things pan out.

[1] Koetsier, John “Smartphone Shipments: Apple Down 12%, LG Down 18.5%, Samsung And Huawei Both up”. Aug 1 2019. Forbes. Forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2019/08/01/smartphone-shipments-apple-down-12-lg-down-185-samsung-and-huawei-both-up/#6e8012c46d15

 

[2] Apple, “Q4 2018 Unaudited Summary Data” Apple. Apple.com. Date Accessed: October 23, 2019 https://www.apple.com/newsroom/pdfs/Q4-18-Data-Summary.pdf

 

The IPO Season

As the days count down before the Fall semester begins we’ll be looking back at some of the biggest events and news from this summer. Today will feature two of the most anticipated IPOs of the year, Uber and Lyft, and how their stocks have performed since going public.

On Thursday, March 28th, Lyft Inc. launched its IPO at a price of $72. It was valued at $24.3 billion and by the end of its first day of trading on March 29th, it was worth $26.6 billion. That valuation however, tumbled to $19.8 billion by the following Monday with the stock price closing at approximately $69. At the time of writing (Friday, August 16th) Lyft’s stock is priced at $52.47 with a market cap of $15.4 billion. Since Lyft went public before Uber, it set the stage for how Uber would determine its pricing and how it would try to avoid the same decline as Lyft.

Amid rumors that investors were already planning on shorting the stock, Uber Technologies Inc. priced its IPO at $45 on Thursday, May 9th. This resulted in a total valuation of $75.46 billion. This price and valuation are on the lower end of what Uber would’ve wanted, especially since it was rumored that they were seeking a $120 billion valuation when news first broke out about their preparations to go public. On its first day of trading on May 10th, the stock dropped 7.6% and closed below $42 per share. As of today, the stock is priced at $35.23 with a market cap of $59.89 billion.

With both ride-sharing companies being highly unprofitable, they are trying to figure out ways to cut costs and improve their numbers. Recently, Lyft’s CEO Logan Green went so far as to say that this year would be Lyft’s peak loss year on its road to profitability. Uber has also invested more in its food delivery services, Uber Eats, as a way to earn more revenue and diversify its business. To cut down on costs, both companies have been investing in self-driving cars with the idea that one day they can replace some of their drivers with an autonomous fleet. Currently your Uber or Lyft rides are subsidized by the money of venture capitalists and investors that foresaw a revolution in transportation, allowing Uber and Lyft to undercharge customers and offer frequent discounts in order to build market share. However, ride prices have been increasing as it becomes costlier for them to maintain operations.

While their stock prices may have dropped, Uber and Lyft’s IPOs generated the necessary investments that they were looking for in order to continue growing their operations. With everyone eagerly watching, the race continues to see which ride-sharing titan can become profitable first.

Abril, Danielle. “Lyft Stock Tumbles Two Days After its IPO.” Fortune, 1 April 2019. https://fortune.com/2019/04/01/lyft-stock-drops-after-ipo/

Feiner, Lauren. “Uber ends its first day of trading down more than 7%.” CNBC, 10 May 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/10/uber-ipo-stock-starts-trading-on-the-new-york-stock-exchange.html