July 14, 2018 - July 20, 2018
Some Amazon investors side with ACLU on facial recognition
Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, left, speaks at
a news conference outside Amazon headquarters, Monday, June 18, 2018, in
Seattle. Representatives of community-based organizations urged Amazon
to stop selling its face surveillance system, Rekognition, to the
government. They later delivered the petitions to Amazon. (AP
Seattle (AP) -
Some Amazon company investors said Monday they are siding with privacy
and civil rights advocates who are urging the tech giant to not sell a
powerful face recognition tool to police.
The American Civil
Liberties Union is leading the effort against Amazon’s Rekognition
product, delivering a petition with 152,000 signatures to the company’s
Seattle headquarters, telling the company to “cancel this order.”
They’re asking Amazon to stop marketing Rekognition to government
agencies over privacy issues that they say can be used to discriminate
Amazon said it’s an
object detection tool. The company through a spokesman said it can be
used for law enforcement tasks ranging from fighting human trafficking
to finding lost children, and that just like computers, it can be a
force for good in responsible hands.
But a group of 19
investment managing companies, including Harrington Investments, Inc.
and Walden Asset Management, expressed concerns about the tool.
president and CEO of the California-based Harrington Investments, Inc.,
said the investors collectively manage about $10 billion in common
voting stock among thousands of individual investors. They account for a
small percent of shareholders, between 5 and 10 percent, for the online
there are concerns Rekognition could open the company up to lawsuits. In
a letter last week, the companies told Amazon to stop expanding,
developing and marketing it until it could demonstrate there was
adequate fiduciary oversight. They also want Amazon to place appropriate
guidelines and policies in place to protect citizens, customers and
“We don’t know of
any restrictions or parameters or policy decisions that Amazon made in
going ahead and marketing this. We’re concerned about some serious
privacy right issues and also we’re concerned this may be litigious,”
It’s not clear how
many law enforcement agencies have purchased the tool since its launch
in late 2016 or since its update last fall, when Amazon added
capabilities that allow it to identify people in videos and follow their
movements almost instantly.
are worried that it could have potentially dire consequences for
minorities who are already arrested at disproportionate rates,
immigrants who may be in the country illegally or political protesters,
On Monday, the
advocates against the product cited the dangers of blanket police
surveillance in front of Amazon’s Spheres building. The demonstration
happened steps away from where young tech workers sat eating lunch and
lounged on giant bean bags in a courtyard.
“We know what
surveillance can do. Surveillance can kill people,” said Garry Owens of
the Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing.
noted that some agencies have used the program to find abducted people,
and amusement parks have used it to find lost children.
Sky News used Rekognition to help viewers identify celebrities at the
royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last month.
July 7, 2018 - July 13, 2018
Apple sets up iPhones to
relay location for 911 calls
San Francisco (AP) - Apple
is trying to drag the U.S.’s antiquated system for handling 911 calls
into the 21st century.
If it lives up to Apple’s promise,
the iPhone’s next operating system will automatically deliver quicker
and more reliable information pinpointing the location of 911 calls to
about 6,300 emergency response centers in the U.S.
Apple is trying to solve a problem
caused by the technological mismatch between a 50-year-old system built
for landlines and today’s increasingly sophisticated smartphones.
An estimated 80 percent of roughly
240 million emergency calls in the U.S. this year will come from mobile
phones, most of which are capable of precisely tracking where their
Emergency calling centers, however,
don’t get that detailed location information from mobile 911 calls.
Instead, they get the location of the cellular tower transmitting the
call, and must rely on other methods to figure out where the caller is.
That can take up precious time and
often isn’t very accurate, especially when calls come from inside a
building. Emergency responders are sometimes dispatched a mile or more
away from a caller’s location.
Apple’s upcoming 911 feature relies
on technology from RapidSOS, a New York startup. The approach developed
by Apple and RapidSOS sends location data from an iPhone to a
“clearinghouse” accessible to emergency calling centers. Only the 911
calling centers will be able to see the data during the call, and none
of it can be used for non-emergency purposes, according to Apple.
Individual call centers will each
have to embrace the technology required to communicate with the RapidSOS
clearinghouse. Some centers already have the compatible software,
according to Apple, but others will have to install upgrades to their
Apple expects calling centers for
large metropolitan areas to upgrade more quickly than those in rural
Tom Wheeler, a former chairman for
the Federal Communications Commission, believes Apple’s new approach for
locating 911 calls will set a new industry standard. “This is going to
save a lot of lives,” said Wheeler, now a visiting professor at Harvard
University. He said he hopes other phone makers will follow Apple’s
The planned changes were announced
Monday in Nashville, Tennessee during a 911 convention. They’ll be part
of iOS 12, the next version of Apple’s iPhone software, which the
company will release in September as a free update.
June 30, 2018 - July 6, 2018
IBM pits computer against human debaters
Slonim, principal investigator, stands with the IBM Project Debater before a
debate between the computer and two human debaters Monday, June 18, 2018, in
San Francisco. The system, called Project Debater, is designed to be able to
listen to an argument, then respond in a natural-sounding way, after pulling
in evidence it collects from Wikipedia, journals, newspapers and other
sources to make its point. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
San Francisco (AP) -
IBM pitted a computer against two human debaters in the first public
demonstration of artificial intelligence technology it’s been working on for
more than five years.
The company unveiled
its Project Debater in San Francisco on Monday, asking it to make a case for
government-subsidized space research - a topic it hadn’t studied in advance
but championed fiercely with just a few awkward gaps in reasoning.
exploration is like investing in really good tires,” argued the computer
system, its female voice embodied in a 5-foot-tall machine shaped like a
monolith with TV screens on its sides. Such research would enrich the human
mind, inspire young people and be a “very sound investment,” it said, making
it more important even than good roads, schools or health care.
The computer delivered
its opening argument by pulling in evidence from its huge internal
repository of newspapers, journals and other sources. It then listened to a
professional human debater’s counter-argument and spent four minutes
An IBM research team
based in Israel began working on the project not long after IBM’s Watson
computer beat two human quizmasters on a “Jeopardy” challenge in 2011.
But rather than just
scanning a giant trove of data in search of factoids, IBM’s latest project
taps into several more complex branches of AI. Search engine algorithms used
by Google and Microsoft’s Bing use similar technology to digest and
summarize written content and compose new paragraphs. Voice assistants such
as Amazon’s Alexa rely on listening comprehension to answer questions posed
by people. Google recently demonstrated an eerily human-like voice assistant
that can call hair salons or restaurants to make appointments.
But IBM says it’s
breaking new ground by creating a system that tackles deeper human practices
of rhetoric and analysis, and how they’re used to discuss big questions
whose answers aren’t always clear.
“If you think of the
rules of debate, they’re far more open-ended than the rules of a board
game,” said Ranit Aharonov, who manages the debater project.
As expected, the
machine tends to be better than humans at bringing in numbers and other
detailed supporting evidence. It’s also able to latch onto the most salient
and attention-getting elements of an argument, and can even deliver some
self-referential jokes about being a computer.
But it lacks tact,
researchers said. Sometimes the jokes don’t come out right. And on Monday,
some of the sources it cited - such as a German official and an Arab sheikh
- didn’t seem particularly germane.
“Humans tend to be
better at using more expressive language, more original language,” said
Dario Gil, IBM’s vice president of AI research. “They bring in their own
personal experience as a way to illustrate the point. The machine doesn’t
live in the real world or have a life that it’s able to tap into.”
There are no immediate
plans to turn Project Debater into a commercial product, but Gil said it
could be useful in the future in helping lawyers or other human workers make