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Issue #881: June 9-15, 2024

Geek Note: For lack of questions from you, dear reader Geeks, I turned to a rather unlikely source: my own dear sweet wife, whom I lovingly refer to as Spouse Peripheral.  She sent me a couple of great questions to use while I wait for more to arrive from you.

• • •

 Q: I currently use the Microsoft Copilot AI to do everything from helping when I’m writing to doing web searches. I watched an article on TV recently with a report about Microsoft AI Copilot Plus. This new upgrade includes an addition to the basic AI that records everything you type and search. The article indicated that this may be fine for convenience as you are working and need to remember something, but you may have a problem if someone gets access to your computer. Do you have any suggestions about being careful using an AI on our computers and would the Copilot Plus be something to be very careful of?

 – Spouse P.
Bluewater Bay, Florida

A: At long last, someone has asked about one of the hottest technology topics to hit the trends in recent years!  I’m talking, of course, about Artificial Intelligence or AI for short.  Let’s talk a little about what AI is, and what it’s not, then get to Spouse Peripheral’s question.

First, and perhaps most important, AI is technology designed to mimic human behaviors and abilities to the point of giving the impression to the casual observer that there is an intelligence behind the interactions.  This can mean many different things, and indeed, there are many different kinds of AI.  The movies have given us plenty of examples of AI, from HAL-9000 in 2001, A Space Odyssey to C3PO in the Star Wars universe.  Although fictional in their times, they represent where AI is headed, and I expect we will eventually supersede these fictional examples.

At its core, AI is software.  As such it is programmable by humans.  Even modern cutting-edge AIs are frequently tweaked to filter out undesirable traits that show up in the AI’s output, such as racial or gender bias.  AIs are not designed to be malevolent entities that figure out humans are actually a virus and become bound and determined to eradicate us.  Fictional accounts often have AIs “escaping” from their environment by loading themselves onto someone’s phone or computer, or even transmitting themselves over the Internet.  The truth is that modern AIs require gigantic server farms and an immense infrastructure to run.  The idea of one “escaping” in such a manner is laughable.

Traditional AIs include one’s you’re probably familiar with: the likes of Siri, Alexa, and so forth.  The newest AIs, and the ones that have been so prevalent in the media in recent years are called Generative AI (GenAI).  These are the chatbots like ChatGPT, Google Bard, DALL-E2, and yes, the Microsoft Copilot mentioned in SP’s question above.  Rather than focusing on analyzing data and performing specific tasks, GenAI can take your input, be it text, image, audio/video, software source code, etc., and generate entirely new content.  There is ongoing research in such projects as generating essays and source code, language translation, genetics, music, 3D imagery, and so much more.

SP’s question is specifically about the newest version of Microsoft Copilot, called Copilot Plus.  As stated in the question, one of the features of this new version records everything you do on your PC.  The feature, called “Recall” is still being tested.  It takes “images of your active screen every few seconds” which are then stored on your PC’s hard drive.  Microsoft goes on to say, “You can use Recall to locate the content you have viewed on your PC using search of a timeline bar that allows you to scroll through your snapshots.”

As beneficial as they might try and make this sound, there are a few things one must consider before using such a tool.  First is the rather creepy idea of every single screen image being recorded in real-time.  That will include credit card and bank statements, personal family photos, and other privacy-related issues I can’t even think of right now.  Second, a stream of screenshots occurring every few seconds is going to add up to an enormous amount of hard drive space over time, not to mention the system overhead required to capture and maintain this privacy nightmare library.  If you think your computer runs slow now, imagine it trying to work under the burden of taking and storing a screenshot every few seconds.  Between that, and the obvious privacy concerns, I really can’t imagine why anyone would want this new capability on their PC.


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