The Fall-Out from Heartbleed – To What Extent Can we Really Trust Technology?

Just as Microsoft releases Cortana, a virtual assistant designed to challenge the dominance of Apple’s Siri and Google Now in this market, the Heartbleed bug has […]

Just as Microsoft releases Cortana, a virtual assistant designed to challenge the dominance of Apple’s Siri and Google Now in this market, the Heartbleed bug has infiltrated all four corners of the web. These powerful examples remind of us of the good, the bad and the ugly of our modern technological age.

There is no doubt that these ‘personal assistants’ and ‘cloud integration’ have improved the way that we approach our work and efficiency. Both my Microsoft Word and iWork programs are being left rather neglected as cloud services such as iCloud, Google Drive and OneDrive not only synchronise your files but also have apps to enable you to work direct into files that are saved live without you needing to press a button. Gone are the days when back ups and remote hard drives filled people with anguish and anxiety. Synchrony is seen across the technological spectrum; from music to contacts, and photos to calendars, this innovation has truly infiltrated daily life in the home and in the workplace.

The rise of artificial personal assistants has even formed the subject of a film, and Spike Jonze’s 2013 work, “Her”. The film charts the relationship of a man (Joaquin Pheonix), and his personal assistant, known as Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). The notion of artificial intelligence – indistinguishable from that of humans –  is a theme which has fascinated commentators for decades, as seen in the Terminator franchise and iRobot. Less than a month ago, the makers behind the app Couple announced the beta trialling version of their own artificial intelligence platform known as either Alice or Alex, depending on the users’ preferences. The app will ‘wake you up, learn your schedule, share your interests, talk to you throughout the day’ and perhaps most significantly ‘Alice thinks and feels too.’ As the app developers say ‘Love, jealousy, and affection are all emotions that Alice feels. Your responses to her affect her mood, and she will react as a real person would.’ Whether Alex or Alice will pass a Turing test remains to be seen.

The rise of artificial intelligence platforms raises an important social question: are our lives moving away from the real world, and toward a constructed, integrated online database? With many people now living out a parallel life online – full of games, banking and pictorial databases – the insidious Heartbleed hack has highlighted the role played by fragile technological safeguards in everyday life. Heartbleed has already stolen over 900 peoples’ social insurance numbers, and multiple web companies have sent out warnings for their customers to reset their passwords as more than 500,000 servers have been estimated to be vulnerable to the bug. Even games developers such as Mojang, the creators of Minecraft, shut down for several hours while it patched its systems. If you are a fully integrated online user, hacks like Heartbleed can cause nightmares. Anything in your life, from personal profiles to bank details, can be compromised, and considering how almost any whim can now be catered for online, the risk factor can be deadly.

This is a stark reminder: technology can be a thing of wonder, making our lives more slick and interesting than ever before. However, no experience on a screen can replicate the physical doing and living that we are capable of. Technology should enhance, and not replace humanity.

About Aimee Kwan