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Update July 2018


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Technology
 

July 14, 2018 - July 20, 2018

Some Amazon investors side with ACLU on facial recognition

Shankar 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 Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Sally Ho

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 against minorities.

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.

John Harrington, 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 behemoth.

Harrington said 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 stakeholders.

“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,” Harrington said.

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.

Privacy advocates 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, they said.

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.

Amazon previously noted that some agencies have used the program to find abducted people, and amusement parks have used it to find lost children.

British broadcaster 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

Michael Liedtke

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 users are.

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 existing software.

Apple expects calling centers for large metropolitan areas to upgrade more quickly than those in rural areas.

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 lead.

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

Dr. Noam 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)

Matt O’Brien

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.

“Subsidizing space 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 rebutting it.

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 informed decisions.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Some Amazon investors side with ACLU on facial recognition


Apple sets up iPhones to relay location for 911 calls


IBM pits computer against human debaters


 



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