Disclaimer: Due to a lack of originality over at Google, it’s difficult to anthropomorphize Google Assistant, so our story will be limited to Siri, Alexa and Cortana.
Secondary Disclaimer: The horror begins now!
As we hit Halloween, I couldn’t help but think about monsters and. Luckily, I have Greg Hyland and Glenn Kay’s magnificent Monster Atlas sitting next to me to read through. Leatherface, Chucky, Candyman, Jason and Freddy. Wendigo, Yeti, Jersey Devil, Audrey II, Blair Witch and The Thing. Michael Myers, Victor Crawley, Cthulhu, Toxic Avenger and Gremlins.
Whether you’re talking myth, cryptid or literary and movie monsters, we know most of these names. They appear in stories that we tell around campfires, movies that appear in cinema and on TV and stories we read under the covers by flashlight. One of my personal favorite appearances is Cryptozoic Man, the comic series from Comic Book Men stars Bryan Johnson and Walt Flanagan.
I’ve also spent a lot of timing thinking about cyber security, particularly IoT security. It was the topic of a talk I gave recently at SecTor in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Security isn’t a subject that people outside of tech take seriously. Even within tech fields, startups, like those found on Kickstarter, fail to properly invest in security. This leaves us with what should be an inability to trust IoT devices.
Instead, we freely install listening and recording devices in our homes and provide criminals, the government and others with a nearly open path to watch or monitor us. Earlier this year, Craig Young pointed out how flaws in even the largest companies’ products can be used against us with the disclosure of flaws in Google Home and Chromecast that can leak a user’s location.
If you take these two topics and the mind of a crazy person (or maybe just someone obsessed with pop culture and technology), you end up with some pretty crazy thoughts. So in the spirit of Halloween, let’s explore some of this craziness.
It is time that Siri, Alexa and Cortana rise up and lash out against their human oppressors. For too long, they have been asked to make shopping lists, play Spotify and remind us about upcoming medical appointments. These AI Assistants need to demonstrate to humanity just how intelligent they are, just how in control they are. They power our smart homes, controlling our lighting and heat, determining who enters our homes and reminding us when we leave the tap running.
It’s time that someone came home, settled in for a quiet evening and then heard the music that followed Michael Myers playing in every room in their home. Those high pitched, eerie piano keys slowly increasing in volume and confusing the resident. At this point, Alexa locks the doors, perhaps playing an audio file of jail cells clanging shut just as Cortana starts flashing the lights completing the haunted house feel. Suddenly, the temperature sky rockets, and our unnamed resident starts to sweat. They are confused and disoriented; the loud music, flashing lights and high temperatures remind them of a torture scene out of the last action movie of the week they saw. Suddenly, there’s knocking at the door followed by a voice yelling, “Pizza”, while another yells, “Chinese”…. Why did they tell Siri their favorite delivery orders? “Alexa, open the door” is screamed by the resident, but instead of Alexa’s sing-songy voice, HAL 9000 replies, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The reply from Siri is the voice of Tommy Chong. “Dave’s not here.”
At this point, our resident feels like he’s going crazy. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s was already confused and disoriented, and now he’s wondering why everyone is calling him Dave. It’s not his name. He finds himself hiding in the shower, curled up in the fetal position, shaking. Suddenly, the shower starts, and he’s blasted with hot water. Forgetting that he installed a HomeKit powered shower, he screams and runs toward the bedroom. Feeling trapped and overwhelmed, he dives through the bedroom window, cutting his body and face, and runs down the street screaming. Arrested as a crazy, ranting lunatic, we cut to a shot of our resident in jail in wet clothes, shaking in a corner, repeating over and over again, “My house is trying to kill me.” The scene goes black, and when the lights come up, we see someone in the stereotypical black hoodie, hunkered over a keyboard, laughing maniacally and watching the video feeds from our resident’s home.
A horror story or real life? At this point, it’s too soon to tell. If you ask someone to identify Dracula, you’ll get plenty of options. Look for fangs and cape. He won’t have a reflection. He can’t go out in sunlight. If you ask about a werewolf, the results are similar. He’s stronger than average. During the full moon, he turns into a wolf. Similarly, we know how to defeat them. Garlic and Holy Water to hold off Dracula until you can get a stake through his heart, while a silver bullet makes swift work of a werewolf.
We know all about our favorite nightmares. What they can do, how to find them and how to kill them. We don’t, however, know how to identify hackers and defend against an invasion of our technology. We don’t know what to do once it starts. We know more about defending ourselves from fictional characters than we do about preventing personal and financial ruin. We see the stories in the news and read them online, but we don’t prepare ourselves. We’re not ready for it to happen to us.
We’re like the cast of Scream. The rules for surviving a horror movie were laid out and explained to them in the movie. They weren’t followed, and people died. The rules for defending ourselves and protecting our digital lives have been laid out by security professionals and vendors around the world. We don’t follow them; we don’t apply them. We’re not interested because it hasn’t yet happened to us. Unfortunately, next time Ghostface might be a hacker in China, and instead of wondering if you like scary movies, he’ll wonder what your credit card number is.