Have you ever searched for something using Google or other search engines and then immediately noticed that advertising begins to appear on our screens, trying to sell us the very products or services we had just searched for? These ads then continue to appear before our eyes for days or even weeks. Employing the top commercial programmers and utilizing vast computing resources, internet entities such as Google aggressively scour our internet searches for input to be transformed into personalized "side-by-side" advertising aimed specifically at us when we again use their search engine or the pages of their advertising affiliates. Is it a nuisance, or a bother? Sometimes. However, it is pure capitalism at work. After all, we are using their search platforms to find whatever it is we are looking for and, contrary to the perception of Millennials who've been taught that they should never be confronted with bothersome inconveniences, those search platforms didn't just magically appear on the internet.
This is not a defense of Google. Far from it. Instead, it is to point out that when we choose to enter information on a Google platform of any sort, particularly when logged into a Google/Gmail account, what we key in can, in theory, be sorted, logged, stored, and used. I add that no one should somehow feel secure just by citing the privacy statements, either. Google, who, according to www.statista.com, now handles 86.87 percent of all internet searches worldwide. Marketing powerhouse, Amazon, the other company mentioned often in this report, will have netted 44 percent of all internet commerce in the United States in 2017 (38 percent or $149 billion in 2016), says www.recode.com. Both have extensive policies and good, legal-type window dressing, which upon reading, makes a person feel as they would when answering the door to hear, "Hello. We're from the government and we're here to help." Knowing that one or both of these behemoths has virtually all of one's life history and information, including various searches and purchases, is not going to help those who are prone to worry when trying to sleep at night.
Now, besides PC's, tablets, and smart phones, a new type of computer is becoming part of the fabric of homes around the planet. By now, a majority of Americans, and certainly many around the world, understand the promoted uses and appeal of the Amazon Echo and Google Home units. The uses of the Echo and Home units are many and the appeal is simple convenience. To some extent, their popularity could also be viewed as an indicator of our laziness. Perhaps a paragraph on slothfulness is in order here, but I'll resist and move on.
As a point of information for those yet unaware, it's probably good to define these units just a bit.
Using Google search (of course), I received the following definitions.
What is Amazon Echo? Answer: Amazon Echo is a voice controlled, hands-free speaker featuring Amazon's voice-controlled personal assistant, Alexa, since 2014.
What does Amazon Echo do? Answer: The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real-time information.
What is Google Home? Answer: As described by www.pocket-lint.com, "Google Home (released in 2016) is a Wi-Fi speaker that doubles as a smart home control centre and a personal assistant for the entire family... It's basically an Amazon Echo device, but it's Google version." Wikipedia.com adds, "Google Home speakers enable users to speak voice commands to interact with services through Google's intelligent personal assistant called 'Google Assistant.'"
What does Google Home do? Answer: You can use it to playback entertainment throughout your home, effortlessly manage everyday tasks, and ask Google things you want to know.
Information-age consumers have proven to be progressively more receptive to the Home and Echo products, with over 35 million units sold. A recent study from Juniper Research found that smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the Sonos One will be installed in over 70 million U.S. households by 2022, reaching 55 percent of all homes.
In a race for market share, both Amazon and Google cut prices for the smallest version of their speakers, the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, to as little as $29 from $50 for the holiday season in 2017. According to sources, they were losing money at that price but both companies expected any loss from slashing product prices to be offset quickly. Revenue gained through product and service sales garnered directly through Google Home and Amazon Echo devices is proving to be a marketing gold mine.
Apple delayed rolling out the new "HomePod" speaker in 2017 but is reportedly now ready to do so in early 2018. Apparently counting on their loyal user base, Apple's announced retail cost for the HomePod is $349 USD. Home speaker units are certainly a winner for Amazon and Google and presumably will be for Apple as well when their unit becomes available. Apple has announced they plan to promote their music service membership ($9.95 per month) as a perfect fit for HomePod users.
Therefore, the long awaited day has finally arrived when man can acquire his very own inexpensive robot capable of performing an array of services, including answering questions about almost anything. No, the Echo doesn't look like a robot but the artificial intelligence available with a simple Wi-Fi connection is a bit breathtaking (Can you say "2001: A Space Odyssey," Hal?). Being able to converse with a manmade gadget that performs functions and services is no longer a fantasy from the black and white TV days depicting a crude six-foot tall robot. The Google Home and Amazon Echo devices (which are in essence information robots) are capable of learning and then doing for us what we do not want to take time to do for ourselves. We want the convenience of asking a machine to dial up a call to someone; select and play particular songs, artists, or podcasts; search-by-voice commands for whatever recipe our hearts desire to concoct for dinner; or to make an online purchase without our fingers ever touching a keyboard. "Okay," you say, "the computers are finally working for us! What is wrong with all of that?" The answer depends on how much one is willing to sacrifice for this convenience. Sacrifice? Just keep reading.
The current push by Google and Amazon to place these units in every home possible has one single goal. It is simply to acquire yet another stream of searchable information. Through algorithm programming and extraction, the information relayed to the Google and Amazon motherships can produce for these two marketing giants a huge endless supply of fresh, targeted leads.
We Sold Our Souls for... Alexa?
Millions have purchased these gadgets and placed them in their homes. Learning the various advertised conveniences is, of course, novel and different and the uses for these machines is expanding as time passes. People can set schedules and reminders, send voice texts and emails, quiz the machines on virtually any imaginable subject, and do a myriad of household chores like setting the burglar alarm, or the desired temperature, music, or room lighting. But I wonder how many consumers understand both the short-and long-term implications of making Google's and Amazon's artificial intelligence units a part of their family. Besides carrying on conversations with Amazon's Alexa or Google's Home Assistant, the Amazon Echo and Google Home units silently become phenomenal information stenographers, literally a digital sponge in our midst. They not only absorb all of the intended input we provide in interacting with them but theoretically they take in all of the sounds and perhaps the sights from our private environment. And that data, dear friend, is fed to the algorithm maze at Amazon or Google to be packaged into targeted, personalized advertising that Echo and Home users receive back via website ads, text push notifications, or emails. That thought should trouble anyone even remotely interested in personal privacy. However, where this is leading is far more concerning. What if the result isn't just advertising to sell products? What if, instead, it is to determine one's ideology, political persuasion, or religious beliefs.
Countless people around us - including many who should know better - have without understanding it trusted their privacy is secure and their personal information is safe just because it is encrypted and password protected. Not so fast. Google and Amazon have used our internet and website searches to target us with advertising. What else might they be doing, not only with the information gathered from our direct interactions with Amazon's Alexa or Google's Assistant, but with everything that could be known about us through the use of a microphone and/or camera planted in our homes with our consent and at our own expense?!
We are led to believe that the computers we buy and place in our homes and businesses, including Google Home and Amazon Echo, are going to be working for us. Instead, however, if we have these devices nearby, we are the targets of the information acquired by Amazon and Google through these devices. By the way, understanding that they are computers too, our so-called "smart" phones and tablets must be seen as mobile information gatherers for Google, Apple, and others as well. In fact, ANY computer, in any form, with a microphone and camera is capable of transmitting pictures and sounds, either with or without the owner's permission and approval. That's enough to make the paranoid among us unplug and go silent. But that is not necessarily what I am suggesting.
We can rest assured that no one and no group of people at Google, Amazon, or, for that matter, at the NSA, are sitting with headphones scanning our searches, texts, or conversations. The surveillance of our lives is not being carried out by humans. It is all done with artificial intelligence through the use of computers that can quickly and efficiently boil down huge amounts of data by the parameters that they are programmed to search for. For now, the main objective in this for Google and Amazon is simply money. Though Google was founded on the premise of advancing artificial intelligence (i.e., A.I.), some leading thinkers, such as Tesla co-founder and pioneer of SpaceX, Elon Musk, believe that man has created a force with A.I. that we will someday not be able to control. Musk stated that A.I. was probably humanity's "biggest existential threat." He added that he was increasingly inclined to think there should be some national or international regulatory oversight - anathema to Silicon Valley - "to make sure that we don't do something very foolish." He went on: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like, yeah, he's sure he can control the demon? Doesn't work out." Musk is not alone in his apprehensions.
As I cruised through search results looking for information on this topic, I ran across information about a recent Web Summit held in Lisbon in November 2017.
Chasing details on this, I found a Fox News headline that read, "Stephen Hawking says artificial intelligence could 'destroy' humanity."
Hawking told conference goers, "AI could be the worst invention of the history of our civilization that brings dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many."
"AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us. In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity."
Cell phone provider, Sprint, debuted a TV ad during the 2018 Super Bowl depicting a scientist being quizzed by his created Artificial Intelligence robot, Evelyn. The human became quickly befuddled as the A.I. beings provided him with data and then other robots began badgering him as to why he hadn't abandoned Verizon as his cell phone carrier and switched to Sprint. By the time the 60-second ad concluded, the robots were intimidating, even mocking, their creator with one simply saying to him, "You've got a dumb face." I wonder what percentage of the millions who watched the game on February 4 understood that this attempt at comedy wouldn't be the least bit funny to some. Anyone understanding the precarious predicament that many tech experts contend A.I. will, and is now presenting, to mankind certainly weren't laughing.
If that wasn't disconcerting enough, A.I. has already spawned a religion of its own. Ex-Google and Uber executive, Anthony Levandowski, has founded a church where people worship an artificial intelligence god. The bullet points from a Daily Mail article on January 30, 2018, to detail this.
- Called the Way Of The Future, the religion will have a gospel called 'The Manual'
- Anthony Levandowski filed papers with the Internal Revenue Service in May
- It will 'promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence'
- As 'dean' of the religion, Levandowski has complete control until his death
- In October Elon Musk spoke out against Levandowski's controversial proposals
There are also at least three separate religious organizations that exist around the aspects of "The Force" from Star Wars. Online you'll find "Temple of the Jedi Order," "The Jedi Church," and "The Church of Jediism." The latter has accumulated 500,000 members worldwide and in the last UK census was the seventh largest religion listed.[i] Considering the popularity and longevity of George Lucas' films, the fact that religions now exist stemming from his enterprise are not a shock but a sign of the times we are living in. Is it a stretch to think that in a world desperately trying to ignore God Almighty, some seeking spiritual enlightenment would turn to Lucas' mystical ideas, which are rooted in Buddhism? Also, let's remember that A.I. is a major feature in the various Star Wars films as well.
Astoundingly, outgoing Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, recently stated his dismay about possible future tyrannical use of A.I. by Russia and China.
The Daily Mail reported (Jan. 27, 2018) that in speaking at BBC's Tomorrow's World Live at London's Science Museum with Professor Brian Cox, Schmidt, 62, admitted he worries about what rival countries could do with their technology.
"I'm very concerned about this," he said in response to a question from a member of the audience about the AI race between China and Russia.
"I think that both the Russian and the Chinese leaders have recognized the value of this, not just for their commercial aspirations, but also their military aspirations." The Daily Mail headline read, "Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt says he is 'very concerned' that Russia and China will use AI to conquer the world."
When it comes to trading privacy for security, many would be willing to do so and, while we are glad when cameras catch a bad actor carrying out a crime, the days ahead could have the authorities checking on you and me to see if we are subversives. Us, subversives? People accepting Christ and living during the dark days of the biblical Tribulation period will surely be deemed the enemies of the state under Antichrist. But don't think for a moment that many who've placed Christ above all and who trust God's Word aren't now looked upon as being as dangerous as any terrorist you can name.
We who understand truth and error, and who know because of the Scriptures where all of the events around us are leading, stand directly in the path opposing the grand plans of the globalists. That plan is, of course, the building of the utopian one-world system. Nationalists, patriots, conservatives and, above all, biblical Christians are already disdained, ridiculed, and even hated by the growing numbers of socialists surrounding us. Someday, we will be the enemies of the state.
Eric Barger is the founder and president of Take A Stand! Ministries headquartered in the Seattle, Washington, area. He is the author of numerous books and has produced dozens of videos detailing various aspects of the Cults, the Occult, World Religions, Current Events, Bible Prophecy, and today's Entertainment Industry all in the light of a biblical worldview. Now in his 35th year in Christian Apologetics and Discernment Ministry, he travels extensively to conferences and churches across the US and Canada presenting the Take A Stand! Seminar series. Eric also serves as the co-host of "Understanding The Times Radio with Jan Markell" and hosts Take A Stand! TV weekly. Please visit www.ericbarger.com for more.