Are virtual personal assistants letting criminals into our home?
Are virtual personal assistants letting criminals into our home?

The digital assistant is more popular than ever and as the world around us becomes more automated, we are increasingly leaning on digital assistants such as Cortana, Echo, Alexa and Siri to run our lives.

But, despite an improved quality of life, is there a darker side to giving away all this control to artificial intelligence technology? Recently, Westworld – the sci-fi thriller about a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated by androids that malfunction and begin killing the human visitors – became the biggest watched show of all time on Sky Atlantic[1]. Could this act of fiction actually be closer to reality than many of us would care to admit?

Is the future robotic?

For almost two-thirds of respondents to our recent study[2], the answer is yes. Some 62 per cent of those UK adults polled thought that a Westworld scenario of robots malfunctioning and killing humans is likely to happen in the future. This number rose significantly to over seven in ten (72 per cent) of Centennials and 71 per cent of Millennials.

How much we allow artificial intelligence (AI) to infiltrate our lives is a quandary for many as there are several obvious benefits, especially when they are able to take on some of the menial tasks we all hate. In the same survey, six in ten (60 per cent) UK adults agreed that having a home robot would save them time on their household chores. Although it was more of a case of keeping up with the Joneses for some, with half (51 per cent) admitting that it would be a cool thing to have in their house when people came over.

AI in our homes

When it comes to AI in our homes, should we be as worried? The answer is yes. As with any connected device, AI driven personal assistance is at risk of being hacked by cyber-criminals and with millions of these devices now in homes across the world, consumers could be at risk. Connected home devices are already viewed with scepticism by the UK public with 43 per cent thinking break-ins and home invasion would increase due to flaws in their security.

Cyber-criminals are becoming smarter and it's not just the physical security of our homes that we are worried about. The lack of security currently surrounding personal assistants also means that criminals can listen in and record conversations, steal credit card details and even find out when you're on holiday.

Our research shows that almost 80 per cent of those looking to buy AI products, such as personal assistants, may reconsider their purchase due to the threat of hackers targeting AI technology. With this threat already harming the adoption rate of innovative consumer technologies in Britain, it is vital cyber-security is prioritised to prevent a 1984-esque Orwellian future with hackers, spies and security services being able to listen in on our private conversations.

Quality must be the priority

Consumer confidence on such issues is typically based on experience using these products and services. What this shows us is that for AI to truly hit the mainstream – more so than digital assistants already have – the businesses creating and manufacturing them will need to work hard to prove that they are safe and secure from being hacked and thus improve consumer trust. To do this they need to prioritise quality to protect their customers and ensure it is taken more seriously in the development phase. Quality in this context is more than just the engineering, it is about the quality of all the digital processes from the original idea to the final product created.  

When it comes to AI and robotics, life is beginning to imitate art. There are several benefits to AI, especially when they are able to take on the menial tasks we all hate, such as cleaning the house and even driving long distances. However, thought must be put into quality to ensure that innovation is not jeopardised by software quality issues and AI can continue to develop. As the technology itself continues to morph, quality assurance needs to be undertaken in both a timely manner and continuously at regular intervals. Not just to prevent crime, but also to ensure that AI enriches all our lives.

Contributed by Dik Vos, CEO, SQS

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media or Haymarket Media.