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Sex and the Single Robot

As I was reading the New York Times book review section this morning, I came across a review of David Levy's book, Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, SBN: 9780061359750; ISBN10: 0061359750, 2007).

Quoting from the review:

"Humans, Levy writes, are hard-wired to impute emotions onto anything with which weâ''re in intimate contact, to feel love for objects both animate and inanimate. And robots, he argues, might turn out to be even more lovable than some humans. By 2025 'at the latest,' he predicts, 'artificial-emotion technologies' will allow robots to be more emotionally available than the typical American human male. 'The idea that a robot could like you might at first seem a little creepy, but if that robotâ''s behavior is completely consistent with it liking you, then why should you doubt it?'

The review, by Robin Marantz Henig, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine goes on in its concluding paragraph:

"Levy spends so much time laying out his logical arguments about how and why we will fall in love with robots that he gives short shrift to the bigger questions of whether we would really want to. Iâ''d have liked a little less gee-whiz, and a little more examination about whether a sexbot in every home, a Kama Sutra on legs that never tires, never says no, and never has needs of its own is what we really want."

This book should provoke some interesting discussion. Robots that have are more emotionally available than the typical American human male by 2025? How about French or Italian men? Is that 2030? I guess I'll have to get the book to see what Levy says about the emotional availability of the typical American woman.

Maybe the idea of creating future sex robots can help get students interested in taking up computer science at Cambridge University again.

Another UK Government Agency Admits Lost CDs

If confession is good for the soul, then the UK government must be feeling awfully good right about now.

The London Telegraph is now reporting that the Department for Work and Pensions "has suspended all 'data exchanges' with local authorities because discs containing details of council tax and housing benefit claimants have been mislaid."

"At least 45,000 names and personal details are known to have gone missing from one council, with the DWP admitting last night that more authorities have lost discs."

According to the Telegraph, the DWP said that discs from only a "tiny number" of councils had been lost, and that the DWP "thinks" that the discs are "somewhere in the system."

The council discs were lost in September but the fact of their being lost - I beg your pardon, "mislaid" - is only coming to light now. I seriously doubt that if the HM Revenue and Customs ID scandal had not happened, the DWP security blunders would never have come to light.

Massachusetts Warns Senior Citizens of Possible ID Theft

ComputerWorld is reporting that Massachusetts is warning 150,000 members of its Prescription Advantage insurance program that their personal information may have been stolen.

According to the story, a lone identity thief was arrested in August who had been using information taken from the program in an attempted identity theft scheme. Massachusetts officials think that only a small number of identities were involved.

DC Tax Scam Gets Bigger

The Washington Post reports today that the DC tax scam has now increased to $44 million from $31 million just a week ago, the latter amount being one which grew from the original $16 million estimate at the beginning of November. The scam also looks like it has been going on for at least nine years now instead of the three year time frame first thought which was then revised to seven years.

The Post also reports that, "New information from the city's chief financial officer indicates that at least two and as many as four top leaders of the D.C. tax office, including its director, should have personally reviewed the refunds before they were issued." When questioned by the Post as to why they didn't, these folks naturally declined to answer.

The Post also reported that,"An FBI affidavit says that five more low-level employees helped process fraudulent refund paperwork before it got to Walters [the alleged ring-leader] but does not address what, if anything, they knew about the alleged scheme."

No doubt, this story will continue for awhile, and again, I say let's impose the same requirements on the equivalent government officials as are laid on those heading public corporations. Taxpayers deserve as much protection as shareholders do.

LAUSD Payroll Problem is Only A Matter of Image

The LA Daily News reported last week that the LA Unified School District decided to quietly hire two public relations consultants at a cost of about $270 thousand as well as hire the public relations firm Rogers Group for an unspecified cost to focus exclusively on dealing with fallout from the inept implementation of its new payroll system.

As the LA Times pointed out in reference to the LAUSD's hiring of its new image fixers, institutions in crisis tend to focus on their image. But as it also points out, maybe the LAUSD needs to concentrate more of its efforts on fixing the payroll problem, instead of its image.

I wonder if the money spent on PR shouldn't really be counted in as part of the payroll system IT project's budget?

UK Privacy: A New Closet Full of Shoes to Drop

The London Telegraph reports today that the confidential details of 9 million people's investments worth a total of £60 billion continue to be sent by post - and I love this - "HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) requires these discs to be unencrypted."

The Telegraph article says that the "HMRC requires fund managers to submit details every year of all investors' names, addresses, dates of birth, National Insurance numbers and the amount each individual has invested in Isas and Peps. The intention is to prevent investors exceeding limits on individual savings account (Isa) and personal equity plan (Pep) tax shelters."

"But fund managers are alarmed that HMRC requires this data to be delivered in an unencrypted extended binary coded decimal interchange code (EBCDIC) or American standard code for information interchange (ASCII) text format."

The article goes on to note that there have been least two recent instances where Pep and ISA data has been compromised.

This whole, continuing UK HMSC data security fiasco reminds me of Karl Marx's quote, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." What is it when it repeats a third time?

TJX Pays Up

TJX will pay as much as $40.9 million in a settlement with Visa and the bank that processes TJX's credit card payments over a massive breach of TJX customers' card data, according to an AP wire report.

The money will be used to help U.S. credit card issuers recover costs related to the breach. Issuers of at least 80% of eligible cards must accept the offer by Dec. 19 for the settlement to take effect. TJX's press release about the settlement is here.

As far as I know, the person or persons who hacked into TJX's database still have not been discovered.

Suing Over Weather Forecasts

The Drudge Report has a link to a Orlando Florida television news story that tells of Central Florida's most famous hotel owner, Harris Rosen, who is threatening to sue hurricane expert Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University for his hurricane storm predictions saying they have damaged state tourism.

According to the story, Rosen rhetorically asks Gray:

"Look, doctor, you've made these forecasts and you were wrong once. You made the forecast and you were wrong twice. Are you going to continue to make these forecasts?"

Rosen said he believes Florida lost billions of dollars in business because of Gray's outlook, and claims that surveys show 70 percent of guests not returning to his hotels cited hurricane fears as the reason why.

I don't know why Rosen focused on Gray alone, and not the others who also had less than accurate forecasts the last two years. I also doubt Rosen is going to have much luck in filing a lawsuit, and his real target should probably be the media for over-hyping the accuracy of the forecasts which as one commentator points out "are experimental works in progress." If one could sue for inaccurate weather predictions based on computer generated models, the court system would grind to a halt in about three days.

As a side note, Herbert Saffir, who co-created with Robert Simpson the five-category hurricane-scale, passed away about a week ago.

Protests Against TSA Wanting More of Your Information

In August, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) proposed that passengers be requested to provide their full names, birth dates and genders when making airplane reservations. Many airlines are against the proposal, however, USA Today reported today. Airlines are unhappy at the prospect, not only because they view the proposal as invasive, confusing, and useless and would likely only serve to irritate passengers, but it will pose unacceptable costs to the airlines as they will once again have to reprogram their reservation systems to collect the information.

TSA is proposing that airlines and travel agents would be required to ask people reserving flights for their birth date, gender and full name. However, you would not be required to give the information. But if you don't, then you might be "more easily mistaken for a terrorist" - wink, wink - and "may be more likely to experience delays, be subjected to additional screening (or) be denied transport," nudge, nudge - or should I say, shove, shove.

Maybe the TSA and UK government ought to get together and just demand one set of data, including your resume, whom you dated in high school, who you first kissed, and the first person you had a crush on in grammar school.

Are We Running Out of Shoes Yet?

The London Telegraph wrote today that, "HM Revenue and Customs sent out letters with national insurance and child benefit numbers printed on the top and many have been dropping through the wrong letter boxes, raising new fears of a security breach."

Ironically, the information was printed on HMRC letters apologizing to those whose names were on those lost CDs. Every every parent who fails to receive an apology letter is being urged to contact the HMRC to ensure that their correct address information is in the HMRC database.

The thought does cross your mind about whether it would be safer not to let HMRC know your proper address - that way, when it loses the next set of CDs, data thieves will have a slightly harder time stealing your identity.

The HMRC, in its defense, says that it isn't to blame if folks don't update their addresses. True, but did it really have to post confidential data in the apology letters? Or was this information also seen as being too expensive to remove?


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Willie D. Jones
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