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  • John Bell

Tech Sense June 2023: June Potpourri

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

June Potpourri

Last month I had the opportunity to do a presentation for the Laurel Senior Friendship Club. We designed this as a question-and-answer session where the audience asked questions about technology, and I did my best to answer them. The group asked many excellent questions, and I thought it would be nice to share some of the Q&A with my readers. To be fair, I asked the first question to kick the session off so I will start with that one.

Should I leave my computer on all of the time or should I turn it off when I am not using it?

I am surprised how often this is asked. Personally, I leave my computers on all of the time. Modern computers will reduce their power consumption automatically when not being used. But, when otherwise idle, the computers will take the opportunity to scan the computer for viruses, optimize the hard-drives, and install updates during this time. Some people still are not comfortable with leaving the computer on. If you must turn it off, make sure you leave it on Tuesday night through Wednesday. Microsoft installs important security updates on Tuesday nights, mostly the second Tuesday of each month.

I was using my computer on the Internet and suddenly there was a loud alarm, and the full screen was flashing and telling me I had a virus and not to turn it off or shut it down. What should I have done?

I asked him if it instructed him to call a number to help him fix it, and he said yes. My instructions were to hold one of the ALT keys down (they are to the left and right of the space bar) and hit the F4 key at the same time. That will close down the browser immediately. Assuming that works you should be able to start the browser again and continue browsing. If that doesn’t work turn the computer off and restart it again. These simple steps should work for the vast majority of the times this happens.

What you don’t ever do is call the number shown on the screen. There are people on the line that want to steal your money. They will also ask you to connect to your computer and while connected they will add malware and viruses to the computer. They will not actually help you. They want to cause harm.

Is now the time to consider buying a new 5G phone?

Yes, last year was the first time that I felt the benefits of 5G were worth it. Prices have dropped on 5G, and the carriers are finally providing the coverage and bandwidth 5G was supposed to deliver. I am getting 500 megabits per second on my Google Pixel 6a on T-Mobile. My wife gets the same speed on her Moto One 5G Ace phone. That is faster than the 250 megabits download speed I get on Comcast cable Internet and way better than Comcast’s terrible slow 12-megabit upload speed. Just for comparison, I am getting 800 megabits down and 900 megabits up from my Verizon Fios Internet.

Should I be using MFA?

Yes, this is one of the best ways to help protect your accounts. For those that don’t know MFA stands for Multi-factor Authentication. It requires additional proof that you are who you are. Along with the username and password, you also need to provide the additional factor. You may accomplish this by providing a fingerprint or an image of your face, or entering a code number provided by a message sent your phone, or email, or an app on your phone that generates the code. The messages, though commonly used by banks are not very secure. Even so, this is better than nothing.

Is it safe to do banking on the computer?

In general, yes, but I will go into some more detail. In my experience, it is safe to bank on your computer as long as you keep it malware free. I suggest that you reboot before connecting to a financial website and not run any other software except your browser. Go directly to the bank site and do not click any links to get there. I prefer Firefox for this because I feel it is more secure than Chrome and I don’t use Microsoft’s Edge at all.

I never bank on my phone, and I do not install or use banking applications on my phones. For years phones were not secure, and it was impossible to create a truly secure banking app on a phone. Today’s phones have special chips to enhance their security, but it seems that many banks are still not very good at writing secure banking code.

You may think this is a silly question, but how long do you believe it will be until AI leads to computer overlords taking over our society?

Actually, this is not a silly question at all and is a common discussion among many very intelligent people that work in the field and are concerned. We have seen AI change rapidly in just the past two years. AI is being used to generate art that competes with human artists winning art contests. AI can now generate voices that sound like the original voice. It is said that Disney now uses AI to generate the voice of Darth Vader so they can use the same voice even when James Earl Jones is no longer to add his voice. It can automatically improve our photos. My phone can automatically remove distractions from photos letting the AI fill in the background. AI is also used to recognize faces, license plates, and places.

What is going on with the new generation of AI is amazing but can also have many good and terrible applications and consequences. We have tended to look at some distant future AI as seen by Science Fiction. We rarely consider the intermediate steps that we encounter along the way.

Currently AI tends to be a single task focused on addressing specific classes of problems. To me these systems are not integrated in a way that lends itself towards sentience. If I had to guess, I would say we are still likely to be fifty years or more until then.

Out of Space

Once again, I am out of space and need to wrap this up. Many thanks to the Laurel Senior Friendship Club for inspiring this month’s column. I enjoyed spending the morning with your group. Welcome to Summer!

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