‘THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE’

Chief Editor Jan Yong had a conversation with Vivek Wadhwa, futurist, author and emerging technologies expert, who is the keynote speaker at the Urban Land Institute APAC Summit in Singapore from June 6 – 8.

APR: “Until I am convinced that there is enough security, I am not going to be buying an I.o.T. home device.” – That was your last line in your book “The driver in the driverless car”. In an earlier interview, you mentioned that The Internet of Things (I.o.T.) is a fancy name for the increasing array of sensors embedded in our commonly used appliances and electronic devices, our vehicles, our homes, our offices, and our public places. Can you give some examples of such commonly used appliances? Which are the ones that you already own (perhaps inadvertently) and which are the ones that you would avoid at all costs?

Vivek: I have a Samsung TV at home, for example. It has a microphone and camera and asked me for permission to watch and listen to me. Not only did I decline that but also covered up the camera. The last thing I need is for Samsung to be spying on me and watching me when I watch a TV program. My wife also bought a Withings bathroom scale for me to replace an older one that had a simple display. This scale wanted to connect to my WiFi network and tell me my weight on my iPhone. I said ‘no thank you’ and had my wife return the scale to the store. The last thing I need is for the world to know how much I am eating and how fat I am getting! I love technology and like to own the latest gadgets, but I don’t want hardware manufacturers and hackers spying on me and my family. This is why I am not a fan of the consumer Internet of Things—the devices are not secure and the manufacturers don’t have enough incentive to make them secure. It is easier for them to apologize after they have been hacked than to invest in consumer security.

APR: In the South Korean movie, “Robot Buddha”, AI has helped a robot become so adept at interpreting the Buddhist philosophy that it becomes even wiser than its human adherents/ monks, thus elevating it to the status of ‘god’. Do you think AI can reach this level at some point?

Vivek: This is one of the things I am excited about—and fearful about at the same time. We can surely use the help of Artificial Intelligence to make better decisions and gain access to knowledge. These technologies are great when they serve us and are our servants. But what happens when they advance to the point that they are smarter than us and become our intellectual masters?

The good news is that AI won’t reach this point for at least 15-20 years and we can hopefully find ways of staying as the masters by then!

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