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Awareness is the key to safe automation

Being aware of the pitfalls can help you stay safe and reap the benefits as you navigate the path to a more automated life. 

Awareness is the key to safe automation
[The KonG ; happyvector071 /AdobeStock]

In the past, James Bond-style spying was fascinating and intriguing to many, and it was left to nondescript agencies of the nations and states. People would take trips to spy-themed museums and parks. It was all in good fun, and this kind of spying was used for the betterment and protection of society.

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However, automation is changing that and making it easier for people to spy with bad intentions. People with a rudimentary understanding of technology can easily purchase bugging or tracking malware or devices and install them on any internet-connected device. Imagine a jealous ex who could easily slip an AirTag or listening device into your purse or place it in your home.

We shouldn’t view automation simply as something to fear, though. If it were only bad, we wouldn’t be moving toward a world where AI accomplishes almost every mundane task. Automation is also making our health care better by improving our ability to detect cancer. Automation has made it possible to put the homeless in 3D-printed houses. Automation has created a business environment where resources are conserved, value is delivered, and efficiency continues to improve.

People looking to embrace this new world will find themselves walking a fine line. On one hand, automation can bring new problems and scary scenarios that would have been a lot rarer only decades ago. On the other hand, automation promises to make life more convenient and efficient for almost everyone. Being aware of the pitfalls can help you stay safe and reap the benefits as you navigate the path to a more automated life.

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Automation is changing the way we live.

Automation has brought massive changes to the workplace. Software can now handle many mundane and repetitive tasks that lead to boredom, mental fatigue, and disengagement for the people doing them, with the result that 86% of employees in one study believed that automation made them more efficient.

Think of Google Cloud. All of the “as a service” cloud functions are built on a foundation of automation. Instead of having to build a template for a spreadsheet you’re working on, you can pull up a premade template from Google Sheets. Companies like Slack and Microsoft are developing automated workplaces where employees can collaborate easily and efficiently.

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You might have started adopting smart-home technology into your house as well. Those tools, such as smart thermostats, locks, lights, security systems, or even mobile assistants, are designed to automate many functions of your home, often for added convenience or energy efficiency.

Where are we heading?

As we continue to make our homes, cars, and workplaces smarter, we’re going to see a convergence of these technologies into a more seamless user experience. New homes are now being manufactured out of the box.

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Leaders in the automation industry are continuously developing new ways to automate nearly every device we use. Even older homes will be retro-fitted with automated hardware as these devices become more indispensable. Over the past few years, we’ve used piecemeal solutions, but we’ll soon see these solutions come from one place—any of several companies could outfit your entire home. Having a smart home, however, does come with its risks.

How do we protect ourselves?

As the internet intrudes into more and more of our everyday lives, dangers and possible inconveniences become more plentiful as well. These problems could be as benign as getting locked out of your house because your keyless entry runs out of batteries, but the increased attack surface area offered by a home full of IoT devices gives plenty of opportunities for unscrupulous actors.

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There are millions of cameras in the world, and it’s relatively easy for a hacker to gain access to the ones in your home; often all they have to do is drive by your house and pick up your Wi-Fi signal. As mentioned, a potential stalker doesn’t need much. All they need to do is get you to open a link in an SMS to gain access to your phone, which they can then use to track your location or listen in on your conversations.

Following good online cybersecurity practices, such as using complex passwords, being on the lookout for phishing emails, and keeping up to date with patching, is your best bet for hardening yourself against these threats. Just being aware of them makes you a more difficult target, and hackers will likely move on to less vigilant victims.

However, we can also expect companies to continue to build better products with better defenses loaded as a default. This could be something as simple as shipping a smart home device that has a default password and must be reset with a powerful private password. Home router manufacturers will likely increase the amount of security that comes default to better secure home networks. As home computing environments become increasingly complex, we need to hold our businesses to a higher standard when it comes to cybersecurity.

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Automation is still a net positive.

There are so many great examples of benevolent and helpful automation, and the list is long. My wife and I now wear Apple Watches primarily because we learned about how a timely alert of a medical emergency averted a potential disaster.

Recently, I saw a dog wearing what looked like a vest with an antenna sticking out the top. He had a habit of running away, so his owners had outfitted him with a GPS antenna so they could pick him up some distance from home without too much trouble. I’m not sure if they use their autonomous car to go get him, but they could.

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This is a fun story, but it also shows just how prominent automation has become in every aspect of our lives. It isn’t going anywhere. It brings too much benefit to so many things. However, the dangers are there. To protect ourselves, we have to be aware of them.

Start by not opening that random text from someone posing as your friend.


Founder, CEO, and CIO of HGM Fund, managing investments in the financial technology, health technology, and communications industries.

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