Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to President Donald Trump, recently made the claim that microwave [ovens] at Trump Tower were turned into cameras and used to spy on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Like many, at first I laughed at the suggestion. Then I thought about the Internet of Things (IoT). Regardless of the politics here, the idea of a microwave oven listening to you is not that farfetched when you consider the potential reach of the IoT. If such a microwave were voice enabled, it would be listening to you.
Ms. Conway is not an engineer so her explanation of an eavesdropping microwave was incomplete and her motive is not to educate anyone on the science of such appliances. But an internet-connected microwave is not impossible. (I doubt that it will “turn into a camera,” although any microwave could come with a camera. And the microwave oven certainly could be recording Mr. Trump’s voice.)
General Electric is supposed to have a smart refrigerator that you can access while grocery shopping to make sure you don’t miss an item. Washing machines connect to the internet to gather data on water usage and frequency as well as how the appliance performs. Toaster-appliance manufacturers seek to internet-enable their products to see how often they are used. “Smart” light bulbs already exist. Same with internet-enabled home thermostats and even garage door openers. Your front door can be internet-enabled and opened by your smart phone.
I haven’t seen the internet-enabled coffee maker or microwave oven yet, but they could be in the works.
Could these devices spy on you? One could argue that they already are. One purpose of these internet-enabled appliances is to gather data on what you are doing with them so that marketers can make more attractive products.
The other purpose is to help build artificially intelligent systems. Users of products like the Echo, whether they are aware of it or not, are participating in the education of Amazon’s artificial intelligence program. These devices may not store your words for posterity, but they are using them to learn how we speak, how we phrase things, and eventually how we think.
Is this spying? Perhaps. Does it matter to you? How much of your privacy will you trade for innovation and convenience?
Filed Under: Design World articles, IoT • IIoT • internet of things • Industry 4.0