Disney is spying on you, and so is your Roomba

Coming soon to a theater near you… maybe. How would you feel if you went to the movies and later found out that cameras installed at the front of the theater were watching your face and the faces of everyone else in the audience? Not just to take pictures, but to use a new generation of facial recognition software to see if you were laughing, crying, getting bored or falling asleep? That sounds creepy, but it’s also some really useful data if you happen to be in the business of making films that hold everyone’s attention. And Disney is already prototyping it for screening new releases. (Fast Code Design)

Disney Research has developed a neural network that seems to be chasing a similar idea–but for the world of movies. The system has been trained to watch an audience of theatergoers as they watch a film. It can track reactions like smiling and laughter on hundreds of faces in a dark theater, allowing Disney to quantify whether or not a film is working as intended on a granular scale. It’s easy to imagine such technology eventually reaching well beyond the movie theater, into the real world, where Disney parks could react to your mood with real-time Disney magic…

As Disney Research scientist Peter Carr put it to Phys.org: “It’s more data than a human is going to look through. That’s where computers come in–to summarize the data without losing important details.” Impressively, the neural net isn’t just capable of summarizing takeaways. Within just a few minutes of watching a filmgoer, it could predict their facial expressions throughout the rest of the film.

But what’s the harm, right? I mean, if you’re sitting in the theater anyway and all they’re doing is trying to gauge how much you’re enjoying the film, is anyone really being hurt? Fair enough. So that one probably doesn’t creep you out too much.

If you’re the type to be rather sanguine about that, let’s bring the next story a bit closer to home. Do you have one of those charming little Roomba robot vacuum cleaners? You know the ones. They plug themselves into a charging station and then periodically move out and creep around the house, vacuuming up as they go. It’s just such a cool idea!

But if you have one of the newer models, did you know that the Roomba is also making a map of your house which it records and improves on every time it cleans? It knows where there is furniture, which areas you spend the most time in (because they become dirty faster) and the best path to get from one part of the house to the next. Are you beginning to get an uneasy feeling?

You probably should because Roomba is most likely about to begin selling those maps to companies like Google and Amazon. (Gizmodo)

The Roomba is generally regarded as a cute little robot friend that no one but dogs would consider to be a potential menace. But for the last couple of years, the robovacs have been quietly mapping homes to maximize efficiency. Now, the device’s makers plan to sell that data to smart home device manufacturers, turning the friendly robot into a creeping, creepy little spy.

While it may seem like the information that a Roomba could gather is minimal, there’s a lot to be gleaned from the maps it’s constantly updating. It knows the floor plan of your home, the basic shape of everything on your floor, what areas require the most maintenance, and how often you require cleaning cycles, along with many other data points. And, according to Reuters, that data is the future of its business strategy.

Once the map of your home is being collected by the robot and distributed via the Internet of Things, all bets are off. Sure, they can sell the information to companies who want to target you for marketing. (Roomba thinks you need a new couch for this room.) But keep in mind that when the big DNS server blackout happened, it was done by enslaving smart devices on the Internet of Things. I bet you can’t wait until your refrigerator tells your Roomba to go park itself at the top of the stairs and wait until you’re walking down for your morning cup of coffee. The police and the coroner will record your death as a tragic slip and fall accident. Nobody would ever think to blame the adorable little robot who was vacuuming up the blood when they arrived.

So, sleep tight, shoppers. I’m off to shoot my vacuum cleaner.

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