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This appeared in our Fedhealth Jan 2016 enews but sharing it here to get your thoughts on IoT and digital assistants...

CES 2016 recently wrapped up in Las Vegas where over 170,000 people saw demonstrations of thousands of geeky devices.

The Consumer Electronic Show is actually a mix of conceptual products and services that might happen someday plus things that are currently available or coming soon including many types of new drones, smart cars, TVs and other appliances, virtual reality gear, wearables and more.

Many of these innovative gadgets, sensors and services are part of the “Internet of Things” or IoT. Although it has been talked about for years, the IoT is still in its infancy but things are moving rapidly as technology permeates into our daily lives and activities.

If you’re not familiar with the overall concept of IoT, check out this short video by IBM Think Academy...

Smart devices all around us

Research company Gartner predicts there will be 6.8 billion connected devices in use in 2016, a 30% increase over 2015. And many experts predict by 2020 there could be 50 billion connected devices, or basically about 7 connected devices for every human being on the planet.

As Gizmodo.com writes: the future of voice-activated smart homes and connected cars that integrate with the system means that you can not only control connected devices inside your house by talking to them, but also see what’s happening at home on your dashboard. 

For example, Ford and Amazon recently announced plans to make your car and your home more connected than ever. Part of the new partnership involves Alexa, the Amazon digital assistant that debuted when Amazon released the Echo, a wireless speaker designed to serve as a voice-activated home hub. Now, Alexa will integrate with Ford cars as well as hundreds of connected devices. So you can talk to your car, and your car will talk to all your smart home gadgets no matter where you are. 

Mercedes-Benz is also smudging the lines between your car, your connected home, and the rest of the internet. They’re working with Nest, the Google-owned makers of the intuitive thermostat and Nestcam. Earlier this year, Nest announced a new program that would let its devices work as a hub for a whole host of other connected home devices like lighting systems and smart locks. So you’ll be able to unlock your door, switch on the kitchen lights, and even turn on your TV when you’re away from home.

Digital Assistants

If you use any smart device you’ve probably encountered a personal digital assistant to help you with tasks, web searches, directions and more. Personally Bill and I have never used ours since they kind of creep us out, and we’re old fashioned and use our phones … as phones.

CNN Money compared several voice-activated digital assistants – Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa. Some snippets from CNN’s article include: 

  • Apple’s Siri is the best at understanding natural language. It can pick up on multiple ways of asking the same questions, so you don't need to worry about remembering the exact phrasing for commands. Siri only works on Apple devices and is pushing into the home (HomeKit), car (CarPlay or Drive Kit) and your body (HealthKit).
  • Google Now knows your daily commute, your interests, details about your schedule and more. All that information is used for the predictive "cards" feature, which shows you what you're interested in before you ask. Google Now works on Android, iPhones and PCs.
  • Window’s Cortana uses the processing power of the cloud to help people with online tasks, find things on your PC, manage calendars and more. Cortana is tied to Windows 10, which Microsoft expects to be on 1 billion devices in 2 to 3 years, and will also be available on Android and iOS.
  • Amazon’s Alexa's strength is that it isn't in a phone, tablet or computer. It is inside the Echo, a speaker you place anywhere you like. It's always listening for its name and a seriously impressive microphone can pick up commands in a normal voice from across the room. As mentioned above, Alexa is now being integrated with Ford cars as well as hundreds of other connected devices so is not limited to the Echo speaker anymore.


Security Threats

As the "Internet of things" develops and smartphones and smart cars get more connected to appliances and devices in our houses, the door opens for hackers in your home, experts warn. 

For example, devices that track movements, such as security systems and temperature control, can give hackers information such as how many people are in the house and what room they are in—making homes vulnerable to physical burglaries writes CNBC. And recently HackerNews reported some researchers discovered a critical security hole in Wi-Fi-enabled video doorbells that could be used to expose the home network password of users.

Most high end, expensive devices incorporate security measures including encryption, however, when people add lower cost devices without sufficient security on their home networks, they invite entry points for malicious attacks. Learn more about cybersecurity on StaySafeOnline.org 

Stranger than fiction

Bill and I have extensive backgrounds in the computer industry dating back to the 1970s so we have watched the explosive growth of the Internet, cloud services, apps and personal devices over the decades. And since we’ve spent the last 20 years in the preparedness world, we’ve also seen pitfalls of relying too much on technology ~ especially during a time of crisis.

There are many advantages of the “Internet of Things” for both personal and business applications, but we have reservations about it (esp. security and privacy concerns) so rarely use techie devices or apps for now.

On a side note, in addition to weird talking assistants, another part of IoT that creeps me out harkens back to a science fiction / horror novel by Dean Koontz called “Demon Seed” that I read as a kid in the 70s. 

The original story was about a wealthy, recluse woman whose “smart home” took care of everything for her. Proteus, the conversational rogue AI computer, becomes obsessed with the woman, imprisons her and plans to impregnate her with a biologically engineered fetus and eventually transfer his own consciousness into it, so that he can experience human emotions and other sensations. Oh … and speaking of rogue computers, remember HAL from the ‘60s?

Now we’re not saying the IoT will take over your body, home, car or the world, but life is sometimes stranger than fiction and all this data and tech in the wrong hands could spell trouble.

So we’ll watch the IoT evolve from the sidelines for now since we’re old school and still use things like maps and gazetteers, calendars, paper notepads, dictionaries, etc. But there are some exciting and interesting things to come.

Let us know how your agency, business, organization or family is embracing the Internet of Things in the comments below.

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Sounds like it would be fun to attend

13-Sep-2016 - According to GeekWire.com, General Electric recently announced another step toward a fully connected home with the launch of Geneva, an Alexa “skill” that allows users to control WiFi-enabled GE devices with their voice, using an Amazon Echo or another device that runs Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant.

With Geneva, users can do things like check on their laundry from a different room, or preheat the oven even if their hands are covered in cake batter. Users would say, for example, “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.”

Geneva is unique because it is the first skill to integrate Alexa with such a wide range of devices, and also to integrate with appliances.

While there are plenty of existing Alexa skills that control lighting or thermostats, Geneva can control everything from washing machines to the Keurig in GE’s Café refrigerators. GE says the skill will work across the connected Monogram and GE Appliances suite. In the future, it will also work with window air conditioners.

For safety reasons, certain appliances, like stovetops, cannot be activated through Geneva, and some appliances require a user to turn on remote access before being able to use it. Read more

According to Business Insider, Google's hardware division is building a new trojan horse to get inside every aspect of your life using the company's AI [artificial intelligence] technology.

They just launched new Pixel 2 phones and soon comes a slew of new gadgets — wireless earbuds, a new Chromebook, jumbo and mini versions of its Google Home smart speaker, a GoPro-like camera, and a refined version of its virtual-reality headset.

Google hinted at why it's putting so much effort into hardware at its press event earlier this month when it introduced these products and the underlying theme: Google Assistant, the company's voice-assistant technology.

Google Assistant is only about a year old, but it's already proving itself more capable than older rivals, such as Siri, Alexa, and Microsoft's Cortana. Google's advantage is that Assistant can draw on the wealth of information the company has gleaned about you from your search history, Gmail account, and more, and that Assistant can stitch all that information together better than any of its competitors.

Google's AI technologies are already in all Android devices, and soon will be included in products by Sony, Panasonic, and Sonos who are building Assistant into their smart speakers. And LG says soon you'll soon be able to control its washing machines and robot vacuums via Assistant ("OK, Google, vacuum my living room"). So basically someday AI will be in everyday gadgets and appliances ... again I ask ~ practical or creepy?

22-Sep-2018 - Amazon has officially announced the company’s first kitchen appliance being sold under their AmazonBasics line ~ a $60 microwave that starts shipping November 14th. According to Vox, it will come with voice-activated presets using an Alexa so you can verbalize the desired cook time or the preset. It's basically a demo for Alexa Connect Kit, which is the cheap Bluetooth and wifi module that Amazon is trying to get other companies to affix to their normal, non-smart appliances, allowing Alexa to talk to them. Vox says it’s a Trojan horse: an inexpensive entry point, an easy graduation gift, a staple that sometimes needs replacing, and a not-so-intrusive and not-so-useful but also not un-useful household item that can get Alexa into the homes of people who have so far not seen any good reason to invite Alexa to live with them. Read more 

Mainly FYI so people are aware of the constant creep of IoT devices that are removing every semblance of privacy in home environments........

6-Jan-2019 - Well ... IoT is creeping into bathrooms. At CES 2019 the 146-year-old plumbing company Kohler announced it has an “intelligent toilet” with built-in surround sound speakers, ambient mood lighting, and Amazon Alexa voice controls.

Last year they introduced several other bathroom products like mirrors, voice command tub and shower, and more with their Kohler Konnect line.

According to The Verge and CNET Kohler has finally released pricing for these devices.

Its smart mirrors start at $1,249 for the 24-inch version, going up to $1,624 for the 40-inch size; the DTV+ Shower System with voice commands and spa presets costs $3,000; the free-standing bathtub, part of the Veil Lighted Bathroom Collection, costs $4,849; and the star of the show, the Numi Intelligent Toilet, goes for $7,000 (or $9,000 in black).

To each his/her own, but personally I'll stick with dumb, cheap appliances and furnishings that don't talk to me ~ just sayin'....

11-Apr-2019 ~ Two privacy (or rather, lack of privacy) updates about Amazon’s Alexa units and Facebook…

  • Did you know Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to listen to Alexa digital assistants recordings? The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices then recordings are transcribed, annotated and feed back into software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands. The team works 9 hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift and work is mostly mundane. Occasionally  listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private, and sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in internal chat room as a way of relieving stress, but often told it isn’t Amazon’s job to interfere. Source: Bloomberg

 

  • Did you know if you deactivate your Facebook account they continue collecting data about your online activities? All that data gets sent back to Facebook and is tied to your account while it's in this state of limbo. It's as if you'd changed nothing.Facebook says it only removes all of your data if you permanently delete your account. Deactivating isn't as extreme, the company says, and the social network continues collecting your data in case you change your mind and want to return to your profile. Facebook expects deactivated users to return and wants to continue serving them ads relevant to their new interests. Also ...Facebook tracks people online, even when they're logged out or don't have an account, through tools like the Facebook Pixel, its Facebook Audience Network and plugins like the Share button on pages. Source: CNET

Ya know, it's bad enough my phone listens to me without permission, the last thing I need is my "assistant" or TV listen to me as well, which is why I do not have either. LOL! I know eventually I may not have a choice, but I will hold out as long as I can.

Same here sis ... same here.

Sep-2019 - Researchers have taught Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri to recognize the unique auditory signature of agonal breathing that heralds early cardiac arrest, thus further outsourcing to artificial intelligence the first link in the AHA Chain of Survival. Utilizing a series of recorded agonal breathing audio from cardiac arrests and a unique set of audio filters to screen out white noise, pet noises, air conditioning, etc.; as well as extensive sleep lab recordings of hypopnea, snoring, central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea, researchers were able to train their smart speakers to recognize agonal breathing with 98.62% accuracy, from up to 3 meters away. The researchers recognize the limitations of their study, namely that roughly half of CAs display no agonal breathing, and that their research relied on a relatively small sample size of recordings. Creepy AI or..??? Full article on EMS1.com

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