Home items are getting smarter and creepier, like it or not
By ANICK JESDANUN
AP Technology Writer
Monday, January 7
NEW YORK (AP) — One day, finding an oven that just cooks food may be as tough as buying a TV that merely lets you change channels.
Internet-connected “smarts” are creeping into cars, refrigerators, thermostats, toys and just about everything else in your home. CES 2019, the gadget show opening Tuesday in Las Vegas, will showcase many of these products, including an oven that coordinates your recipes and a toilet that flushes with a voice command.
With every additional smart device in your home, companies are able to gather more details about your daily life. Some of that can be used to help advertisers target you — more precisely than they could with just the smartphone you carry.
“It’s decentralized surveillance,” said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based digital privacy advocate. “We’re living in a world where we’re tethered to some online service stealthily gathering our information.”
Yet consumers so far seem to be welcoming these devices. The research firm IDC projects that 1.3 billion smart devices will ship worldwide in 2022, twice as many as 2018.
Companies say they are building these products not for snooping but for convenience, although Amazon, Google and other partners enabling the intelligence can use the details they collect to customize their services and ads.
Whirlpool, for instance, is testing an oven whose window doubles as a display. You’ll still be able to see what’s roasting inside, but the glass can now display animation pointing to where to place the turkey for optimal cooking.
The oven can sync with your digital calendar and recommend recipes based on how much time you have. It can help coordinate multiple recipes, so that you’re not undercooking the side dishes in focusing too much on the entree. A camera inside lets you zoom in to see if the cheese on the lasagna has browned enough, without opening the oven door.
As for that smart toilet, Kohler’s Numi will respond to voice commands to raise or lower the lid — or to flush. You can do it from an app, too. The company says it’s all about offering hands-free options in a setting that’s very personal for people. The toilet is also heated and can play music and the news through its speakers.
Kohler also has a tub that adjusts water temperature to your liking and a kitchen faucet that dispenses just the right amount of water for a recipe.
For the most part, consumers aren’t asking for these specific features. After all, before cars were invented, people might have known only to ask for faster horses. “We try to be innovative in ways that customers don’t realize they need,” Samsung spokesman Louis Masses said.
Whirlpool said insights can come from something as simple as watching consumers open the oven door several times to check on the meal, losing heat in the process.
“They do not say to us, ‘Please tell me where to put (food) on the rack, or do algorithm-based cooking,’” said Doug Searles, general manager for Whirlpool’s research arm, WLabs. “They tell us the results that are most important to them.”
Samsung has several voice-enabled products, including a fridge that comes with an app that lets you check on its contents while you’re grocery shopping. New this year: Samsung’s washing machines can send alerts to its TVs — smart TVs, of course — so you know your laundry is ready while watching Netflix.
Other connected items at CES include:
— a fishing rod that tracks your location to build an online map of where you’ve made the most catches.
— a toothbrush that recommends where to brush more.
— a fragrance diffuser that lets you control how your home smells from a smartphone app.
These are poised to join internet-connected security cameras, door locks and thermostats that are already on the market. The latter can work with sensors to turn the heat down automatically when you leave home.
Chester said consumers feel the need to keep up with their neighbors when they buy appliances with the smartest smarts. He said all the conveniences can be “a powerful drug to help people forget the fact that they are also being spied on.”
Gadgets with voice controls typically aren’t transmitting any data back to company servers until you activate them with a trigger word, such as “Alexa” or “OK Google.” But devices have sometimes misheard innocuous words as legitimate commands to record and send private conversations.
Even when devices work properly, commands are usually stored indefinitely. Companies can use the data to personalize experiences — including ads. Beyond that, background conversations may be stored with the voice recordings and can resurface with hacking or as part of lawsuits or investigations.
Knowing what you cook or stock in your fridge might seem innocuous. But if insurers get hold of the data, they might charge you more for unhealthy diets, warned Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. He also said it might be possible to infer ethnicity based on food consumed.
Manufacturers are instead emphasizing the benefits: Data collection from the smart faucet, for instance, allows Kohler’s app to display how much water is dispensed. (Water bills typically show water use for the whole home, not individual taps.)
The market for smart devices is still small, but growing. Kohler estimates that in a few years, smart appliances will make up 10 percent of its revenue. Though the features are initially limited to premium models — such as the $7,000 toilet — they should eventually appear in entry-level products, too, as costs come down.
Consider the TV. “Dumb” TVs are rare these days, as the vast majority of TVs ship with internet connections and apps, like it or not.
“It becomes a check-box item for the TV manufacturer,” said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with IHS Markit. For a dumb one, he said, you have to search for an off-brand, entry-level model with smaller screens — or go to places in the world where streaming services aren’t common.
“Dumb” cars are also headed to the scrapyard. The research firm BI Intelligence estimates that by 2020, three out of every four cars sold worldwide will be models with connectivity. No serious incidents have occurred in the United States, Europe and Japan, but a red flag has already been raised in China, where automakers have been sharing location details of connected cars with the government.
As for TVs, Consumer Reports says many TV makers collect and share users’ viewing habits. Vizio agreed to $2.5 million in penalties in 2017 to settle cases with the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey officials.
Consumers can decide not to enable these connections. They can also vote with their wallets, Stephens said.
“I’m a firm believer that simple is better. If you don’t need to have these so-called enhancements, don’t buy them,” he said. “Does one really need a refrigerator that keeps track of everything in it and tells you you are running out of milk?”
AP writers Joseph Pisani and Matt O’Brien in Las Vegas and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this story.
What are the effects of total isolation? An expert explains
January 4, 2019
Author: Sarita Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire. Disclosure statement: Sarita Robinson owns shares in Nick Robinson Computing Limited. She is affiliated with the University of Central Lancashire. Partners: University of Central Lancashire provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Imagine being confined to a small, dark room, with no social interaction whatsoever for 30 days. Not many people would jump at this opportunity. But, in November 2018, a professional US poker player Rich Alati bet US $100,000 that he could survive 30 days alone and in total darkness. He was kept in a small, completely dark room with nothing but a bed, fridge and bathroom. Even with all the resources he needed to survive, Alati couldn’t last the month. After 20 days he negotiated his release, taking a payout of US $62,400.
There are countless negative effects that social isolation and extreme isolation can have on our minds and bodies. Alati was no exception, reporting that he experienced a range of side effects, including changes to his sleep cycle, and hallucinations. But why is isolation so difficult for humans to withstand?
One of the reasons that living in isolation is difficult is because humans are social creatures. Many people that have lived in isolated environments – such as researchers stationed in Antarctica – report that loneliness can be the most difficult part of the job. Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer and author who survived weeks alone in the Amazon, said that loneliness was what he suffered from most and that he had created imaginary friends to keep himself company.
Loneliness can be damaging to both our mental and physical health. Socially isolated people are less able to deal with stressful situations. They’re also more likely to feel depressed and may have problems processing information. This in turn can lead to difficulties with decision-making and memory storage and recall.
People who are lonely are also more susceptible to illness. Researchers found that a lonely person’s immune system responds differently to fighting viruses, making them more likely to develop an illness.
The impacts of social isolation become worse when people are placed in physically isolating environments. For example, solitary confinement can have negative psychological effects on prisoners – including significant increases in anxiety and panic attacks, increased levels of paranoia, and being less able to think clearly. Many prisoners also report long-term mental health problems after being held in isolation.
Natascha Kampusch – an Australian woman who was kidnapped at the age of ten and held captive in a cellar for eight years – noted in her biography that the lack of light and human contact mentally weakened her. She also reported that endless hours and days spent completely isolated made her susceptible to her captor’s orders and manipulations.
Alone in the dark
The effects of isolation can become even more pronounced if you experience it in total darkness, causing both physical and psychological consequences. One impact of being in complete darkness is that it can wreck your sleep cycle. Two of the key mechanisms for sleep cycle regulation, the hormone melatonin and the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus, both rely on light to function.
Daylight reduces our levels of melatonin, helping us feel awake. Daylight also helps the suprachiastmatic nucleus to reset our waking time if our sleep cycles start to drift. Without daylight, our 24-hour circadian rhythm can change. This explains why people exploring cave systems, for example, may find that their sleep-wake cycle becomes disrupted. This means that the time they feel like going to sleep doesn’t stay in a regular pattern and can shift each day.
Disruptions to our circadian rhythm can also make us feel depressed and fatigued. This has also been linked to increased cancer risk, insulin resistance and heart disease, as well as other physical problems such as obesity and premature ageing.
People placed in isolation may also experience hallucinations. The lack of stimuli causes people to misattribute internal thoughts and feelings as occurring in the outer environment. Essentially, hallucinations happen because of a lack of brain stimulation.
In fact, Alati revealed he began experiencing hallucinations by his third day in isolation, ranging from seeing the room fill up with bubbles, to imagining that the ceiling had opened up to show him a starry sky. People in total isolation may also feel that there is a ghostly presence or someone watching them.
While the impact of total isolation can be severe, the good news is that these effects are reversible. Exposure to daylight can normally correct sleep-wake patterns – though this might take weeks, or even months in some cases, before it’s fully adjusted. Reconnecting with other humans can reduce loneliness and help restore us to good mental and physical health. However, some people who have been held in social isolation against their will may develop long-term mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But some people who have faced the challenge of being alone for an extended period of time may show personal growth – including emotional growth, feeling closer to family and friends, and having a better perspective on life – as a result of their experience. After 20 days willingly spent in total isolation, even Alati said he’s changed – reporting that the experience gave him a greater appreciation for people and life, better attention and focus, and overall feeling happier than before.