CST 373 – Ethics in Comm & Tech
May 20, 2017
Cortana the AI
Microsoft has gotten into the industry of AI creation for public users, and have since used cortana as their ‘personality’ for the users. Cortana has been for the past few years the artificial intelligence of all microsoft devices up to this point and has been through thick and thin with Microsoft and it’s users. Cortana obviously has its benefits through data scraping, however not many may be aware of the harm it can cause through the backside of its inner workings. Going forward, Microsoft continues to implement more features, which requires a certain amount of data from users that have seen issues with this idea ethically (1). Some customers are not ok with this, as they shouldn’t be, however it may not be as bad as they think due to Microsoft’s policy. Whether this AI, Cortana, is a good idea to handle users’ data, the implementation and usage of her can be used to help out people in a way that calendars and notebooks simply cannot do and is the way of the future, but implementing and handling that data is an issue for many groups of people, privacy wise and ethically, that can be solved through compromise.
To clearly define how it can be handled, the implementation of Cortana into the work environment and lives of its users, it must be clear what the intentions are of the company with the idea of managing the data for the various features. Before that is discussed, the lines must be drawn of who exactly are invested in this type of technology, and the aspects of their reasons for being apart of it. First and foremost is the company creating this software, Microsoft. Their idea was to bring and incorporate an AI into the lives of the customers in which it brings seamless aid to the users in their everyday lives that will provide invaluable features in numerous aspects of their lives. Not only is Cortana used in phones, but across all types of devices that Microsoft has to offer which makes her even more susceptible to threats in various ways. Microsoft also manages all the data going in and out of the devices including Cortana thus making the safety of that data top priority. The other stakeholder in this case is the government agency, more specifically the NSA and other various agencies such as the CIA that seek data of the country’s citizens and even non-citizens. Their reasoning in being apart of this circle of having value in Cortana is if they are able to get their hands on the data of the users which may provide value to them in getting information about certain people, however this leaves it open to major issues including blackmail, ransoming, and even treason (2). This of course is a what if at the moment, but there is always a possibility that it may become reality based on changing laws which the decisions must be looked over carefully. Lastly, the consumer, the customer, the users, are the people who will benefit from this directly, will see and get the most out of this technology through its plethora of features, and also are at the greatest risk for damage to their lives unless the ethics and policies of it are handled properly through careful regulation and management. For this to occur though, the ethics must be clear and the wrongs must be transparent so that it is avoided.
Cortana’s main purpose is to help people as quickly and efficiently as possible while giving them the maximum amount of time to focus on other more important and tending aspects of their everyday lives (3). To do this however, Microsoft must be able to get data and information from the users in a manner that allows the AI to take over tedious tasks such as scheduling, timing, question answering, seamless interactions between applications on the device and many more nontrivial abilities (3). To do this requires an excess amount of data from the user, that the user may not even know about unless they have read the entire policy and rules of the software. What is stated within that document is a clause that the data may be stolen since nothing is foolproof safe on all of Microsoft devices, in which case, the data and information can be used against the user depending on the type of information or data (13). An example is that the thieves or possible hackers can blackmail you depending what email or message they see that can be detrimental to you in your life and you can’t do anything about it or risk getting the information leaked by the thief. This is a huge sticky situation in which the company tries its best to stop this scenario from occurring but alas not successful. This ethical issue of is it even worth it is a question still being asked by the company today and the answer is the benefits outweigh the pros significantly, especially since the data is near impossible to steal. However, the thieves and hackers are not the only entity the users should be worried about, but the government agencies like the NSA or CIA (5). This has become a relevant entity that brings fear to tech companies such as Microsoft due to them forcefully taking the data anyway they can to “apprehend” criminals off of possible leads, which can be seen as a sign of abuse of power (6). This has become a huge issue because the FBI was trying its hardest in 2015 to get Apple to unlock the phone for a terrorist’s iPhone because they had leads and evidence. The issue with this is if Apple allowed it, it would give the FBI to unlock any iPhone regardless of whose it was, criminal or not (6). This is an ethical issue on its own but I digress. The issue regarding the privacy of the users have possible solutions, though it may be difficult to figure out through all the different entities involved. In this situation there are a couple plausible solutions all with their own benefits and fallings with different ethical ideals at the foundation of them but implementing them individually may be difficult, if not impossible to an extent.
Through understanding the problem of how to approach this issue of ethics and privacy, it becomes increasingly difficult on how to go about solving this issue though there are solutions. For example, one approach that I have came up with would be to simply cut off the data and not allow Microsoft to take data from the user unless the user manually allows what data gets sent to the AI for use throughout the software (10). This gives the Rights Approach ethical framework to the solution in that it protects the ethical rights of the people affected by the cause or action, in this case privacy rights that the users deserve (11). On the flip side, another solution would be to give the company strict instructions on how to distribute the technology and require them to warn the users beforehand. This solution I believe is the most optimal in providing the ethical idea of the Utilitarianism Approach inhibiting the ability to be for the greater good for most of the people affected by the privacy issues of Cortana (12). However, for the Rights Approach solution, not allowing Microsoft to take any data from the users without their specific consent would require a lot more compared to that of the utilitarianism Approach solution.
The solution of not allowing the Company in general to take the data from the user’s of Cortana in its everyday functionality would completely hinder any entity from trying to hack into said device, rendering all privacy issues null. This is extremely simple and easy but it also means Cortana’s core functionality is also rendered null, thus making her useless which would not work in Microsoft’s model (9). A work around would be to be completely transparent at all times and allow the user to check off on all data getting sent in and out of Cortana thus giving the users full control of their data and letting them control their risks. This would allow the application of Cortana to be useful and still a viable product for users to use. The drawback, of course, is that it is much slower in performance based on the how much the user has to interact with it now and takes time away from other more pressing tasks to the users (9). Due to this issue, I believe this is simply not the best course of action thus leading me to believe that the ideal solution is unanimously the Utilitarian Approach in which the technology of Cortana maximizes the well-being of people that utilize the software providing the best solution in protecting user’s privacy with minimal possibility for intrusion.
In restricting the company and it’s developers in allowing how it handles its data is an excellent first step, which they as a company are already doing; however that’s not the only thing that must occur. In getting this solution to work without risk of data theft or hackers using people’s data for blackmail, an extra step should be implemented to have that extra layer of defense. I am talking about storing all valuable and important data on the device itself, which would make it difficult for the intruders to see the actual data because it would not be that possible to view the data, especially without connection to that data. With this in place, the data can be safely kept away from all possible entities that could do harm to any user of Cortana (6). This idea comes with a slight negative in operation of developers however, because not only would they have to change the software, but restrict themselves in how they store data and operate Cortana’s internals. This idea is reminiscent of the ethical framework, the Utilitarian Approach in that it provides the maximum amount of maximizing the well-being of the people who use these devices. With this idea put into place, it is evident that people would be inclined to not be in risk from the obvious criminals, but there is still the law abiding ones, the government agencies who can use these types of technology, regardless of what type of security walls are put into place if they can get policies put in place allowing them access (8). However this is simply not possible because like as explained earlier, the FBI was not successful in getting access to all iPhones, only the one terrorists phone. This means that Microsoft and other device companies that sell to the public must be careful in keeping their customers data protected from these possible abuse of power government agencies. However, this is highly unlikely due to existing laws prohibiting them from doing so, as of now. With this idea, of continuing as long as data storage gets set to local, and the customers get transparent feedback from their data, this would indeed be the optimal solution and ethical approach in protecting all customer’s privacy from dangerous entities.
The usefulness of Cortana is unlimited to the users in their everyday lives and can do so much more than was possible not so long ago, but the dangers of this type of free technology can lead to very consequential situations. Though through careful thought, the different solutions become evident in approaching this difficult issue of data privacy. In protecting the greatest amount of users possible from bad entities such as hackers and agencies from getting user’s data, this solution with the foundation of Utilitarian approach is invaluable to Microsoft and it’s customers in protecting the people’s privacy.
(1) Jones, B. “Is Cortana a Dangerous Step towards Artificial Intelligence?” Digital Trends. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
(2) Brandon, J. “How Microsoft Cortana will run your entire office by 2020” ComputerWorld. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
(3) Chacos, B. “Microsoft envisions a future where Cortana and a legion of smart bots act as our butlers” PC World. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
(4) Souppouris, A. “Microsoft hopes Cortana will lead an army of chatbots to victory” Engadget. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
(5) Molen, B. “Her name is Cortana. Her attitude is almost human.” Engadget. Web. 4 June. 2014.
(6) Chessen, M. “The AI Policy Landscape” A Medium Corp. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
(7) Chessen, M. “A Tale from the End of Humanity” A Medium Corp. Web. 15 Nov. 2016
(8) Dignan, L. “Can AI really be Ethical and Unbiased?” SDNet. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
(9) Singer, P. “Can Artificial Intelligence Be Ethical?” Project Syndicate. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
(10) Yudkowsky, E. “Complex Value Systems are Required to Realize Valuable Futures” Intelligence. Web. 2011.
(11) Monal, Patil. “Artificial Intelligence Vs Humans Will AI Surpass Humans” Academia. Web.
(12) Alhadeff, E. “The Smartest AI in the Universe Is More Human Than You Think” Microsoft. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.
(13)Al-Riyami, F. “The future of Cortana is intelligent, emotional, and potentially dangerous?” ONMSFT. Web. 2014.
(14) “AI Ethics and the Future of Humanity” Sparks & Honey. Web. 3 Nov. 2016