If you want a picture of the future, imagine a Roomba leaking pix of your home, forever

The game-plan for future Roombas may fit them with cameras that send images of your home to a remote service that identifies obstacles and lets the little robots clean around them -- what could possibly go wrong?

Roombas will be equipped with standard cameras. They will use standardized operating systems -- probably a stripped down GNU/Linux or BSD variant. Their network and USB firmware will come from the same factories that produce the components in your laptop. They will connect to the same home router that your phone and computers and set-top boxes use. The images will encrypted with the same crypto that everyone else uses. The servers that receive those images will be regulated by the same laws that regulate the servers that store instant messages, emails, and social media postings.

Each one of those components is under assault today.

The FBI and David Cameron have vowed to ban strong crypto. GCHQ and the NSA sabotage cryptographic protocols by sneaking saboteurs into standards bodies and using them to argue for the deliberate weakening of random number generators.

The Snooper's Charter will require service operators to retain the images they receive, and grant warrantless acess to law enforcement, government officials, and any crook or tabloid reporter who can bribe, trick or coerce a cop or a babu into leaking the password.

GCHQ and the NSA know about vulnerabilities in USB ports and other standardized components, but they keep these a secret, most likely so that they can weaponize them).

Roombas are pretty useful devices. I own two of them. They do have real trouble with obstacles, though. Putting a camera on them so that they can use the smarts of the network to navigate our homes and offices is a plausible solution to this problem.

But a camera-equipped networked robot that free-ranges around your home is a fucking disaster if it isn't secure. It's a gift to everyone who wants to use cameras to attack you, from voyeur sextortionist creeps to burglars to foreign spies and dirty cops.

Irobot is the first major company to propose using roving cameras to solve an appliance problem, but they won't be the last. Your home of the future will be stuffed full of cameras, some of which will be able to see through your clothes and your walls. Those Internet of Things videos where people dressed like extras from Tron use gestures to control their homes? Those are depicting houses where every square inch is under video surveillance.

Cybersecurity starts with defense. We can't make back doors that only good guys can walk through. Our spies and spooks and militaries can't make us secure by eroding our security. If we backdoor these things to help SWAT teams executing no-knock warrants, we'll leave them open to revenge-porn scum, the Syrian military, and corporate espionage contractors, too.

Roombas already can detect and avoid objects, but recognizing exactly what those objects are is a different beast entirely. By streaming video from its cameras to a cloud-based object-classification system, it can tell whether the object in front of it is a bookcase or a TV stand, label it accordingly on a map, and share that detailed plan with next-generation home-infrastructure systems.

The camera system wouldn’t be the only modification necessary for the Roomba to create maps of your home. Because iRobot’s map-making system uses the cloud to analyze, recognize, and label objects, connectivity would need to be built into the robot itself or its charging dock.

“It’s a camera and cloud-based AI engine where we trained it on faucets by going on the Web, downloading pictures of faucets, and using neural network learning on what makes a faucet,” Angle explains. “I think it’s pretty cool that it can actually differentiate dishwashers from ovens because ovens have windows in the door and dishwashers don’t.”

The Next Roomba May Recognize All Your Crap [Tim Moynihan/Wired]

Notable Replies

  1. Why should a vacuum cleaner know what object is what? Its role should be to understand floor, and everything else is outside of its sphere of influence.

    Cloud-based systems leak data from the red zone to the black one like a sieve with a big hole. The tragedy is that the plebes do not realize this because they do not spend the two minutes needed to familiarize themselves with the principle of functioning of whatever crap they decide to consume.

    Don't current SoC chips have enough power and cores for such tasks, entirely offline? Couldn't we be happy with a notch worse speech recognition that doesn't act as a bug, a notch dumber dumb vac puck that can't recognize a table leg from a chair leg but still can navigate around either? And what happens when the net connection is down for a while?

    Why does everything have to be a cloud, anyway?

  2. Because all of this is impossible without the Power of The Cloud (Just like SimCity5!). Our desire to allow our trusted business partners to present you with advertunities(tm) tailored to your personal lifestyle and interests is purely secondary.

  3. I know I posted it in the movie crit thread, where it describes modern art critics, but the same picture also summarizes how I feel about contemporary computing...

  4. If you ever tried to get a cat to submit to something nonconsensual (claw trimming, pill, bath...), you'd realize that either the robot has no chance or the cat wants it.

  5. No, as long as there are cats, stairs and those foofy things on the ends of Persian rugs, Roombas will not take over the world. I had a Red years ago. The cats rode it down the stairs, and then whizzed on it. It died in a squeaking, beeping paroxysm of pain.

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