Microsoft’s pushback on its message reminder feature shows its AI strategy is far from smart | John Naughton

OOn May 20, Yusuf Mehdi, a man who enjoys the magnificent title of executive vice president, chief consumer marketing officer of Microsoft, launched its Copilot+ PCsa “new category” of Windows machines “designed for AI.” Needless to say, these are the “fastest, smartest Windows PCs ever” and will “let you do things you can’t do on other PCs.”

What kind of things are these? How about generating and refining AI images in near real-time right on the computer? How about overcoming language barriers by translating audio from over 40 languages ​​into English? Or allowing you to “easily find and remember what you’ve seen on your PC.”

Huh? This remarkable memory prosthesis is called Recall. It constantly takes screenshots in the background while you go about your daily computing. Microsoft’s Copilot+ machine-learning technology then analyzes (and “reads”) each of these screenshots to create a searchable database of every action you take on your computer, and stores it on the machine’s disk. So not only can you search for a website you’ve visited before, you can also search for a very specific thing you’ve read or seen on that site. That jacket you saw on a tab a few weeks ago but just can’t remember who was selling it. AI, on the other hand, knows about jackets and can find them. But of course, this memorization extends to other applications on your machine: those full-text passwords you used to access your bank or log into a pay site, for example. “Recall is like giving a photographic memory to everyone who buys a Copilot+ PC,” Mehdi said“Everything you’ve ever seen or done, you’ll now be able to more or less find again.” What’s not to love?

“It doesn’t end well”: Jodie Whittaker and Toby Kebbell in The Entire History of You. Photography: Channel 4

It turns out that a lot of things. As soon as Recall appeared in preview mode, people remembered Your whole story from the first season of Black mirrorIt was a hyper-modern science fiction society where everyone wears an implant that records everything they do, see and hear. (It doesn’t end well.) Security experts were immediately more suspicious – especially when we realized that Recall was running by default and I had to dive into Windows settings to disable it. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said it was “discussions with Microsoft” about Recall.

And Charlie Stross, the science fiction author and technology critic, He called it a “shit show” when it comes to privacy for any organization that handles medical records or has a legal duty of confidentiality; in fact, for any business that must comply with GDPR [general data protection regulation]He also said: “Suddenly, each Personal computers are becoming a discovery target in legal proceedings. Lawyers can subpoena and search your Recall database, not just emails, but also search for terms that appeared in Teams, Slack, or Signal messages, and potentially verbally via Zoom or Skype if speech-to-text is included in the Recall data.

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Faced with this resistance, Microsoft persisted for 17 days, but finally gave in on June 7. announcing that the recall would be made optional instead of being enabled by default, and also introducing additional security precautions – by only producing Recall results after user authentication, for example, and by never decrypting data stored by the tool before a search query.

The only good news for Microsoft is that it seems to have belatedly acknowledged that Recall was a flop. The more interesting question is what this says about the company’s internal culture. For decades, Microsoft was a boring but reliable behemoth, confident in the knowledge that even though it had missed the opportunities of the Web first—and, later, the smartphone—it had nevertheless maintained a monopoly in organizational computing. After all, nearly every business and government organization in the world runs on Windows. The company was a latecomer to cloud computing, and its general counsel, Brad Smith, assumed the role of the tech fraternity’s only adult, publishing ponderous think pieces on ethics, corporate responsibility, and other newsworthy topics.

And then came AI and ChatGPT, and the incredible preemptive strike by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who invested $13 billion in OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, to get a head start on other tech companies—especially Google—in the next big thing. But what’s most striking is how Nadella described what he was actually doing: trying to make Google “dance” that’s how he said it. The contrast with the old rdiet Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer’s speech could not have been more striking: They have always sought to destroy the opposition; Nadella simply wants to tease it. The subliminal message: Microsoft has gone through its midlife crisis. The company is no longer paranoid and is playing with its latest toy: artificial intelligence. The message of the companies’ recall fiasco, however, is that it is not a toy. And it can blow up in your face.

What I read

Irish Eyes
James Joyce was a complicated man is a thoughtful essay by Henry Oliver on the author’s conflicted relationship with his homeland.

Executive dysfunction
A detailed plan of what Donald Trump will do if elected can be found in Inside the 2025 project by James Goodwin. Chilling.

Running Man
Dan Gardner’s Fascinating Essay Team Biden and the Bay of Pigs examines the evil power of groupthink.

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