Sometimes it pays to be a Luddite

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato licensed under CC BY 2.0

And Nicole Kobie, New Scientist, tells us why in her article on how “Siri and Alexa can be turned against you by ultrasound whispers.” Kobie tells us that hackers have successfully “hijacked” voice assistants by “using sounds above the range of human hearing.” Ok, so someone can annoy you by hijacking your voice assistant and have it play death metal rock without end. Not fun, but no big deal, right? Wrong. For reasons we cannot understand, some people apparently connect their voice assistants to sensitive services, like their smart thermostats or even their internet bank (what??). Suddenly someone breaching Alexa or Siri via secret voice commands is no laughing matter.

So what can we do? We at Silencity suggest you not use Alexa or Siri or whatever to manage your household or your bank account. And really, is it necessary? Is it too much of a bother to program a thermostat or type your password at your banking site rather than imploring a hunk of metal and motherboards to do it for you?

Tavish Vaidya, a PhD candidate at Georgetown University studying computer security, disagrees, saying that “[w]e should focus on protecting against unauthorised commands rather than limiting what assistants can do.”

Our response is this: just because a robot can do a task doesn’t mean that it should. And since there will always be people who are looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, maybe we should continue to master our thermostats and manage our finances the (somewhat) old-fashioned way. Adding that security breach aside, we aren’t sure if we’re more concerned about the future skills our robot assistants will acquire or the current skills that humans are losing.

Link via Institute of Acoustics UK.

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