Is It OK If Your Phone Saves You From COVID?

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted December 11, 2020

We've known for a while now that our phones are eavesdropping on us. 

There have been numerous times when I was talking to my friends about a movie, a TV show, or even an actor, and I opened up my phone to advertisements for that very content. 

Or I'll have a question about some obscure fact: Who was it that starred in the 1977 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau

So I take out my phone to Google it and the auto-complete feature gets conspicuously ahead of me. 

Burt Lancaster and Michael York. 

Amazon's Alexa famously does this as well. 

In fact, according to an article at Komando.com, Amazon has "a global team of analysts that listen to and transcribe audio samples from Alexa owners" — even when Alexa isn't activated.

They listen to as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, "scanning harvested clips for 'keywords' that Alexa is already familiar with, such as a brand name or musical artist." Then they "transcribe and annotate the clips to improve Alexa’s overall recognition."

Such a job gets frighteningly personal, though, as Alexa can sometimes record its surroundings without being prompted. It's caught mundane things like boring conversations and people singing in the shower. But more distressingly, these engineers have also heard screams for help and even sexual assaults. 

Still, many, many Americans have determined that they're willing to exchange a little bit of their privacy for convenience. And the same is true of our phones, which have been opened up to our voices as well as our faces (using facial recognition technology).

That access, though, has found new purpose in the time of COVID. 

Federal and local governments around the world have deployed apps that use a phone's tracking software to analyze population movement and even perform contact tracing. They notify people who have been in close proximity to infected individuals so that they can be tested. 

And now a research team at MIT says its advanced artificial intelligence technology can identify asymptomatic COVID carriers by hearing their cough as it's recorded by their cellphone. 

The researchers trained the model on tens of thousands of samples of coughs, submitted to them voluntarily. When they fed the model new cough recordings, it accurately identified 98.5% of coughs from people who were confirmed to have COVID-19, including 100% of coughs from people who said they had no symptoms but tested positive for the virus anyway.

The team is working on incorporating the model into a user-friendly app, which, if FDA-approved and adopted on a large scale, could potentially be a free, convenient, noninvasive prescreening tool to identify people who are infected.

Again, it's simply a matter of reconciling privacy with technology.

And it's a judgment we're going to have to make more and more frequently going forward.

For example, I previously reported on another COVID-busting technology: facial recognition.

It uses AI, thermal imaging, temperature screening, and facial recognition technology to identify potentially sick people. It's even capable of reaching out to bystanders who may have come into contact with disease carriers.

Better still, it can count the number of individuals entering and exiting a store, ensuring businesses comply with new laws governing capacity. And it can measure the distance between individuals to monitor social distancing protocols. 

That's why it's already being implemented across the country.

Businesses like Amazon and Walmart are using it to scan their employees upon arrival. The facial recognition aspect ensures that every person coming and going is cleared to be there. And the infrared and surface temperature components flag anyone with a fever.

It's also being installed at airports to not only slow the spread of COVID, but also identify terrorists and potential security threats and reduce contact between individuals and surfaces.

Those benefits are clearly groundbreaking. 

Yet there's still some hesitancy — or even stigma — about the widespread use of facial recognition technology

And that's fair.

We shouldn't race ahead with these technologies, giving them carte blanche to take over our planet without considering the potential consequences down the road. 

Nevertheless, they are being deployed. And in many cases, they've been effective. Even lifesaving. 

So as an investor, it's worth considering the upside profit potential. 

And if that's something that interests you, you should check out my complete report here.

Fight on,

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Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is Assistant Managing Editor of the Outsider Club and Investment Director of The Wealth Warrior, a financial advisory focused on security companies and defense contractors. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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