Look Behind the Curtain

When I tell you the origin of this post, many of you might want to skip to the gallery and thank your quick wits or lucky stars that you dodged a technical bullet. I hope you stay for the story, as celebrity chef Nick Stellino says at the beginning of his show. I hope you stay because there is an important message, something to think about buried in all the mumbo-jumbo.

I was reading a story in Tech Republic about a series of research reports called “Predicts 2021” recently released by the analyst firm Gartner. I know, I know, “Dan, it’s Monday morning and my coffee isn’t strong enough for this.” I’m sorry, but this won’t fit on one line, it doesn’t have a door and David and Cheryl would throw me out of the bar if I brought this up on a Saturday. But I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t important.

Tech Republic says that the Gartner report “outlines the serious, wide-reaching ethical and social problems it predicts artificial intelligence (AI) to cause in the next several years.”

Hang on, the report talks about five things. I’m only going to mention one, and I promise, I won’t go into the weeds. I’m showing you their five, just in case you want to go read the report – but just reading the topics will hurt your head.

All of these give me reasons to be concerned.

If you’re still here, thank you. My first observation, “harm/misuse mitigation” will become part of the solution a year after the bad guys will have begun to be successful using the technology for evil.

That seems to be the way technology in the wild works. We have had horrible problems with spam phone calls and spam texts for years, but it’s only recently that the government and industry has taken steps to stop them – and those have been baby steps.

Gartner’s point is “blah, blah, blah, things are going to get bad before they get better.”

I would add “If they ever get better.” I add that because of what Gartner did, what Gartner always does, which is to consider the next five years as a single unit. If they didn’t, people wouldn’t buy their reports.

The next five years is not a unit!

The next five years will be part of a continuum that started eons ago and will continue for more eons. Nothing Gartner says about 2025 can be considered rock solid, since they don’t really understand what will happen between today and 2025. However, there is one thing that I know about the five things they mention:

Synthetic populations (1) will not help!   

I know, I actually used a footnote in a blog post. Hang on, I’m almost done.

Oh, they might help companies and governments avoid lawsuits regarding people’s privacy, but two bad things are going to happen during the construction of those “synthetic” populations:

Companies are going to cut corners – They have data from real populations. They have your data. Where you shopped, what you bought, where you traveled, what you eat, drink, read, watch and where, when, and how well you sleep (if you’re wearing an Apple Watch or similar device). They will say that they’re going to put this all in a blender, push the Puree button and eliminate all the you from that which is yours, but I don’t believe them.

Synthetic populations will best represent the real populations that create them – This is not a social complaint, it’s human nature. Consider that for decades, “historical data” about heart disease ignored the fact that heart disease in women is vastly different from heart disease in men. That’s because men compiled and used the historic data.

Why does this matter to you?

Social engineering is the sanitized term for the elaborate process by which criminals try to convince you to give them your credit card number, your Social Security Number, your bank account number and your money. It’s an ongoing dangerous operation that reaches your phone, email and blog comments on a daily basis.

Deepfake is the real, albeit often politicized term referring to text, images, soundbites, video, and news stories that look and sound so realistic that you want to believe your eyes and ears, even though your brain is saying, “this is bullsh*t.”

It is already hard to know what is true. It’s going to get harder. You’re going to have to get better.

There. I’m done.

(1) A synthetic population is a simplified microscopic representation of the actual population. A synthetic population matches various statistical distributions of the actual population, and therefore, is close enough to the true population to be used in modeling.


  1. Well I was having a good day until I read that Dan! The ‘deepfake’ thing is really disturbing as is ‘social engineering’ but what is really freaky is the “75% of workplace conversations…adding value and assessing risk”. Well that’s a relief, at least they won’t be invading anyone’s privacy or spying on them! Makes me kinda glad to be retired!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am very glad to be retired. I spend my entire career introducing and supporting computer technology and the notion of how great it would be when we had data to support decision making. I wasn’t thinking about this kind of data.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How does anyone come to a safe space given all this information? Never answer that unknown number? Keep everything wrapped in foil? No longer do anything regularly again? Very unsettling for the start of this week. Thanks for your amazing information.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to start your week off on a sour note. We do have to look at the way we have always done things and wonder if there’s a risk. Answering the phone? Saying “yes” when the robot/person asks “is this…?” It’s all scary.


  3. I also worry that a “synthetic population” will be a lowest common denominator of the data we already have, so not an actual full population, but the portion of the population that have provided the most data – so skewed in favor of people who spend more time online, and spend more money online, thereby leaving more data behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a very good point. Like the way political polls are skewed in favor of the people that answer the phone and agree to participate. The other scary part is when they don’t have enough data and convince people/organizations/governments to let them incorporate data they shouldn’t have. Promising, of course, to remove the identifying elements.


  4. We are slowly being grouped together, individuality is dwindling. We’ve been gradually working up to this for a while. Friends went on ‘my space’, so a lot more did – then Facebook and even more followed suit. The people you talk about creating the AI will have it made pretty soon – none of us will bother the fight the scams – we’ll just follow along.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When you said ‘synthetic population’, I thought you meant a population of robots like in that Bruce Willis’ movie called Surrogates 😂. But I understood what you meant, anyway; although I have always felt that statistical data is oversimplified and overrated. You shared some graphs on Twitter one time with a straight line forced through some completely diverse data. I remember you questioning it. That is how I always feel. There are too many trade-offs in statistical models for them to portray real life situations.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think we might be better off with that kind of synthetic population, Peter – as long as they nail down that “don’t harm the humans” bit. We rely on these models for more, larger and more important things. Then something like a pandemic hits, and we run out of everything, because just-in-time isn’t even close anymore. Lumber prices in the US are off-the-charts right now because of so many people working from home, having to stay home and wanting to add on or add outdoor living spaces or people that want houses to escape the cities. No statistical model could have predicted that, so the manufacturers have just jacked up the prices. We don’t create stuff with the hope of selling it, we create what the model tells us demand will be.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. These days, I question everything — relentlessly. Then when I totally exhaust myself, I dream of escaping to some unknown place without wifi or 5G or… When I give up on that, I start writing again and realize that I can only do what I can do. Good post, Dan. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we all dream of that escape, Gwen. But, like you say, we can only do what we can do. So much of the data-gathering is almost impossible to avoid. If I don’t give our grocery store my information, my groceries cost 10-15% more. There are cameras everywhere. Our phone broadcast our presence. It’s endless.


  7. Gee even ‘do no harm Google ! ? ! Probably into it already they are. And they will be the first ones to take that wrong short cut. I will have to look into this later Dan. Sounds like a binary pandora’s box. That has already been opened. She Who Must Be Obeyed has a list of projects before I can escape into the garden. We are about half way through. I am still adjusting to IBM buying out the internet portion of the Weather Channel. Do you think they will get into synthetic populations ? Or do they already have their binary toes in the water. They bought out WC so they could sell they data to companies. I figure synthetic populations will look just as lucrative to them. Good long shadow. The buds on the trees are bursting. We took a walk through the park yesterday afternoon. Lots of traffic on the exercise trail. And the icecream store was open on the way home. It was better than a dozen wings. Later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ice cream is the surest sign of spring, John. Ours is open and has been calling to me. It’s still a cash operation, do at least I can enjoy that under the radar.

      IBM already has synthetic populations for sale (I’m guessing, but it’s a good guess).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I was raised on Star Trek so I believed computers were good and they would help us. But science fiction has evolved and unfortunately most of it has become nonfiction. The whole concept of Artificial intelligence terrifies me. It is so insidious that we are not even aware of it. That computer chip is everywhere! Concept of privacy is nonexistent and we are constantly being recorded. Am I being paranoid, perhaps. But don’t pick your nose in public. Having your pictures at the end provided a wonderful soothing balm. Good post. Great pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to bring these thoughts to the surface on Monday morning, Pam. It is scary, and not the world Gene Roddenberry painted for us. The scariest part is that we’ve willingly given them our information.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I went to Liberal Arts universities and people disparaged my choices as being too flakey. However, if there is one thing that I learned in those institutions it was TO THINK CRITICALLY at all times, in all situations. Never has that lesson been more valuable than it is today. 🤓

    Liked by 1 person

  10. First of all, I real the entire post and did not get bored once. I was recently intrigued by an offering on the genealogy site “My Heritage” which allows you to ‘automate’ photos of ancestors. I thought about how great it would be to see my grandfather’s face move and look at me again. Then I did a little more research and fell into the deepfake hole and watched some pretty convincing videos of current public figures touting lies. That flipped the switch for me. There are a number of videos on YouTube of different people talking to Sophia, the very advanced AI robot. It is all presented as a ‘good for us’ technology and you know where that will go. I agree with Ally, those who have lost critical thinking skills will fall to their own inabilities to think for themselves. Great thought-provoking post – especially for a Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this comment, Maggie. I’m glad you weren’t bored. I, too, agree with Ally, critical thinking is important and will become more and more important as the years roll forward. We can’t stop what they are doing / trying to do, but we can control how we react.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Dan – it’s wise to be unique and not follow the crowd. I’m glad I’m in my dotage 3rd age – not too aged yet … but wary of what’s out there … and prefer to deal local, see local and get confirmation before going forward and confirming things in writing. I do worry about the future – just glad I don’t really need to … Mimi and Mumu: I reckon are the lucky ones – I’d quite like to curl up in a ball in the sun and zizz away!! It is lovely here … I’ll be out again soon – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad your natural protection is working, Hilary. When I see MuMu on the shelf above me, asleep and so very warm, I do get a bit jealous. We deal with a lot of local, but some things can’t be found near us. Then we have to think first.


  12. The editors asterisk looks like spider splat😅 Either that or she really disliked it!  That airplane looks too close😳. I like this iPhone I was given for those robocalls.  It lets me hear calls only from my contacts, the others are silenced.  My Samsung said it would do that but didn’t.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

    • My phone has that feature, but, unfortunately, I get calls from people I don’t have as contacts but I need to talk to, so I can’t use it. The Editor traps spiders and sets them free outside, so that’s showing her interest level. I should point out that she is very careful about spam calls, robocalls, emails, etc.

      The plane does appear to be too close. That park is exactly one mile from the end of the runway at BDL. I should get a picture from the bowling alley that’s across the street from the runway :)

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I always hope not being on any ‘social media platform’ except WP will save me. I doubt it, but a girl can dream. The Editor’s tipping point made me laugh. I stayed because of the Nick Stellino reference and because when you wrote Gartner, I thought you meant (Ina) Garten and this was going to be a column about online recipes. heavy sigh Have a good one, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I’m sorry, Lois. I didn’t mean to trick you into staying. I should have put the Editor’s mark at the top, but then no one would have read this. I think a limited social media presence helps. That is to say, I think an active social medai presence is damaging to your privacy. Silly surveys like “which movie star do you think you look like?” or “where would you rather vacation, Boise or the Bahamas?” are all means to gather more information about you. People think nothing of answering those questions. I avoid them like the plague. So you don’t leave without a recipe, here’s Nick Stellino’s spice mix (I know, you’ve heard this a hundred times)

      1 tablespoon Brown Sugar.
      1 tablespoon salt.
      1 tablespoon pepper.
      1 tablespoon paprika.
      1 tablespoon onion powder.

      There you go!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. There’s a reason why a lot of CEO’s and inventors have taped over their cameras on their devices and disabled the microphones. AI is getting creepy.

    I haven’t heard the name Nick Stellino in ages! I used to watch him when he was on every week-end. His food always looks so delicious.

    I hope you and Maddie have some lovely walks this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Long ago we only had “deep thoughts” which I could view humorously. Now we’ve got “deep fake” which goes well with “deep state” or “deep church”. The world today makes me feel like I’m living in a spy novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s just hope the good guys win, Frank.

      Thoughts, at least the ones people share in social media, state and church all have a baseline in my mind. When I hear things going to far off that line, I get very suspicious, very fast.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. As you know from reading Eternal Road, I loved this post. I have laid out what I consider the most logical end-state of the AI analysis on what is best for the Earth. I had to laugh out loud at the point the Editor was bored. Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Welcome to “1984.” Glad I didn’t read this first thing in the morning. My IT husband likes to read Krebsonsecurity.com where you can fin more depressing but vital information. We take as many steps toward security and privacy as we can, but it really is somewhat of losing battle, especially if you have a smartphone, use a credit card, etc. In Arizona, we’re back in the land of having to use grocery store apps/numbers to get sale items or special deals. Just another invasion on privacy for the benefit of the store, although that one bothers me less than most others.


    Liked by 1 person

    • This might not have been the best morning read. We keep tabs on Krebs, too. We have to use the grocery store cards here, but only a two stores we don’t use as often as our favorite market. As for everything else we do, I’m afraid it’s being collected.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The website is called Clickworker. They have app (I don’t have a cell phone so those I can’t do). Through the app, you take videos of you doing exercises, doing hand signals , etc to train the AI. They also have tasks where you send in pictures of old IDs and your kid. They also have tasks where you record phases. The tasks I do are where you judge which voice sounds more human and if it has errors. I really like doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Ummmm…..all valuable information to be sure. Did I ever mention I think The Editor and I have much in common? But I stumbled and recovered to enjoy the info about identity theft and deep fake processes. In a world where people so want to believe ridiculous things, that is an awfully dangerous tool.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. That was a heckuva big bird on that wire — Oh, that was an airplane…. I appreciate your tech posts, Dan. Since my pal Jane passed, I don’t have anybody keeping me current on all things tech.

    Liked by 1 person

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