Resources

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Parents are worried the Amazon Echo is conditioning their kids to be rude

“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'” Perhaps she should, he thinks. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
Alexa, how do you spell forest?
Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even. “If it’s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,” says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai.

For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.

“One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

WWW Inventor Tim Berners-Lee says, “the Internet has become the world’s largest surveillance network.”

“Tim Berners-Lee has said that the internet has fallen into the hands of large corporations and governments and become the “world’s largest surveillance network”.

Berners-Lee explained in an interview with The New York Times that his invention has steadily come under the control of powerful interests.

“It controls what people see. It creates mechanisms for how people interact. It’s been great, but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites completely undermines the spirit of helping people create,” he said.”

FBI and NIST developing software to track and categorise people by their tattoos

“An Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) investigation just revealed an awfully Orwellian fact: the FBI is working with government researchers to develop advanced tattoo recognition technology. This would allow law enforcement to sort and identify people based on their tattoos to determine “affiliation to gangs, sub-cultures, religious or ritualistic beliefs, or political ideology.”

“My name is Siri. I really can’t wait until some other app controls your phone.”

Summary: Short article basically speaking to how culture is transmitted, with an underpinning comment about how ubiquitous technology trumps real life relationships, even in small ways, such as real-life people’s names.

“I’ve become slow to respond to my name in public spaces for fear I’ll turn and smile at a stranger scowling into their phone. In protest, I’ve never used the feature and forbade my parents from using it on their iPhones.

“OMG, Siri like the iPhone,” should be engraved on my tombstone.

At worst, people air their grievances against Apple to me.”

Is Facebook eavesdropping on your phone conversations?

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

“RoboCop” deployed to Silicon Valley shopping centre

At the Stanford shopping center in Palo Alto, California, there is a new sheriff in town – and it’s an egg-shaped robot.

“Everyone likes to take robot selfies,” Stephens said. “People really like to interact with the robot.” He said there have even been two instances where the company found lipstick marks on the robot where people had kissed the graffiti-resistant dome.

The slightly comical Dalek design was intentional…”

Scientists put the brainwaves of a parasitic roundworm into Lego robot body

“Scientists believe they could be on the brink of creating artificial life after they digitized the brain of a worm and successfully placed it inside a robot.

Incredibly, they discovered that the bionic simulation behaved in exactly the same way as a real worm — despite the fact that they’d never coded its actual behavior.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Face recognition app taking Russia by storm may bring end to public anonymity

“If the founders of a new face recognition app get their way, anonymity in public could soon be a thing of the past. FindFace, launched two months ago and currently taking Russia by storm, allows users to photograph people in a crowd and work out their identities, with 70% reliability.

It works by comparing photographs to profile pictures on Vkontakte, a social network popular in Russia and the former Soviet Union, with more than 200 million accounts. In future, the designers imagine a world where people walking past you on the street could find your social network profile by sneaking a photograph of you, and shops, advertisers and the police could pick your face out of crowds and track you down via social networks.”

Founder Kabakov says the app could revolutionise dating: “If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request.” The interaction doesn’t always have to involve the rather creepy opening gambit of clandestine street photography, he added: “It also looks for similar people. So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages.”

It’s trivially easy to identify you based on records of your phone calls and texts

“Contrary to the claims of America’s top spies, the details of your phone calls and text messages—including when they took place and whom they involved—are no less revealing than the actual contents of those communications.

In a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford University researchers demonstrated how they used publicly available sources—like Google searches and the paid background-check service Intelius—to identify “the overwhelming majority” of their 823 volunteers based only on their anonymized call and SMS metadata.

Using data collected through a special Android app, the Stanford researchers determined that they could easily identify people based on their call and message logs.

The results cast doubt on [show as lies] claims by senior intelligence officials that telephone and Internet “metadata”—information about communications, but not the content of those communications—should be subjected to a lower privacy threshold because it is less sensitive.”

Welcome to the age of the chatbot. Soon you’ll be lonelier than ever.

“Very soon – by the end of the year, probably – you won’t need to be on Facebook in order to talk to your friends on Facebook.

Your Facebook avatar will dutifully wish people happy birthday, congratulate them on the new job, accept invitations, and send them jolly texts punctuated by your favourite emojis – all while you’re asleep, or shopping, or undergoing major surgery.

Using IBM’s powerful Watson natural language processing platform, The Chat Bot Club learns to imitate its user. It learns texting styles, favourite phrases, preferred emojis, repeated opinions – and then it learns to respond in kind, across an ever-broadening range of subjects.”

“Humans aren’t perfect, and AI is a bit the same way,” he said. “AI is not significantly smarter than the people who program it. So AI is always going to encounter circumstances that it was not prepared for.”

Facebook is monitoring your reactions to serve you ads, warn Belgian Police

Belgian police have asked citizens to shun Facebook’s “Reactions” buttons to protect their privacy. In February, five new “Reaction” buttons were added next to the “Like” button to allow people to display responses such as sad, wow, angry, love and haha. According to reports, police said Facebook is able to use the tool to tell when people are likely to be in a good mood — and then decide when is the best time to show them ads. “The icons help not only express your feelings, they also help Facebook assess the effectiveness of the ads on your profile,” a post on Belgian’s official police website read.

“By limiting the number of icons to six, Facebook is counting on you to express your thoughts more easily so that the algorithms that run in the background are more effective,” the post continues. “By mouse clicks you can let them know what makes you happy. “So that will help Facebook find the perfect location, on your profile, allowing it to display content that will arouse your curiosity but also to choose the time you present it. If it appears that you are in a good mood, it can deduce that you are more receptive and able to sell spaces explaining advertisers that they will have more chance to see you react.”

Marketers hungry for data from wearable devices

“In the future the data procured from smartwatches might be much more valuable than what is currently available from laptop and mobile users,” reports David Curry, raising the possibility that stores might someday use your past Google searches to alert you when they’re selling a cheaper product.”

Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality

“Google democratized information, Uber democratized car rides, and Twitter democratized publishing a single sentence. But to the World Bank, the powerful Washington-based organisation that lends money to developing countries, Silicon Valley’s technology firms appear to be exacerbating economic inequality rather than improving it.”

Snowden: ‘Governments Can Reduce Our Dignity To That Of Tagged Animals’

“NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden writes a report on The Guardian explaining why leaking information about wrongdoing is a vital act of resistance. “One of the challenges of being a whistleblower is living with the knowledge that people continue to sit, just as you did, at those desks, in that unit, throughout the agency; who see what you saw and comply in silence, without resistance or complaint,” Snowden writes. “They learn to live not just with untruths but with unnecessary untruths, dangerous untruths, corrosive untruths. It is a double tragedy: what begins as a survival strategy ends with the compromise of the human being it sought to preserve and the diminishing of the democracy meant to justify the sacrifice.” He goes on to explain the importance and significance of leaks, how not all leaks are alike, nor are their makers, and how our connected devices come into play in the post-9/11 period. Snowden writes, “By preying on the modern necessity to stay connected, governments can reduce our dignity to something like that of tagged animals, the primary difference being that we paid for the tags and they are in our pockets.”

Google AI has access to 1.6M people’s health records (UK)

“A document obtained by New Scientist reveals that the tech giant’s collaboration with the UK’s National Health Service goes far beyond what has been publicly announced. The document — a data-sharing agreement between Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust — gives the clearest picture yet of what the company is doing and what sensitive data it now has access to. The agreement gives DeepMind access to a wide range of healthcare data on the 1.6 million patients who pass through three London hospitals.

It includes logs of day-to-day hospital activity, such as records of the location and status of patients – as well as who visits them and when. The hospitals will also share the results of certain pathology and radiology tests.

As well as receiving this continuous stream of new data, DeepMind has access to the historical data that the Royal Free trust submits to the Secondary User Service (SUS) database – the NHS’s centralised record of all hospital treatments in the UK. This includes data from critical care and accident and emergency departments.

Google says it has no commercial plans for DeepMind’s work with Royal Free and that the current pilots are being done for free. But the data to which Royal Free is giving DeepMind access is hugely valuable. It may have to destroy its copy of the data when the agreement expires next year, but that gives ample time to mine it for health insights.”

China Debuts Anbot, the Police Robot

Google files patent for injecting a device directly into your eyeball

“Second to the contact lenses that monitor for diabetes, Google’s parent company Alphabet has filed a patent which takes their development to another level. The patent specifically covers a method for “injecting a fluid into a lens capsule of an eye, wherein a natural lens of the eye has been removed from the lens capsule.” It’s powered by “radio frequency energy” received by a small antenna inside. The gadget even has its own data storage. Forbes reports, it is designed to “improve vision.”

Samsung is also one of the most recent companies to receive a patent for smart contact lenses. Their lenses are for “experimenting with new methods of delivering augmented reality interfaces and data.”

Wikipedia Is Basically a Corporate Bureaucracy

This study, that details the “Evolution of Wikipedia’s Norm Network,” could speak analogously to the supposed “democratisation” that technology pundits constantly invoke when idealising the web, not just in regards to Wikipedia, but even in more general terms about the Screen Culture. Also, mix in a reading of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ for good measure.

Emphasis added:

“Wikipedia is a voluntary organization dedicated to the noble goal of decentralized knowledge creation. But as the community has evolved over time, it has wandered further and further from its early egalitarian ideals, according to a new paper published in the journal Future Internet. In fact, such systems usually end up looking a lot like 20th-century bureaucracies. […] This may seem surprising, since there is no policing authority on Wikipedia — no established top-down means of control. The community is self-governing, relying primarily on social pressure to enforce the established core norms, according to co-author Simon DeDeo, a complexity scientist at Indiana University. […] “You start with a decentralized democratic system, but over time you get the emergence of a leadership class with privileged access to information and social networks,” DeDeo explained. “Their interests begin to diverge from the rest of the group. They no longer have the same needs and goals. So not only do they come to gain the most power within the system, but they may use it in ways that conflict with the needs of everybody else.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

“From Uber To Eric Schmidt, Tech Is Closer To the US Government Than You’d Think”

“Alphabet’s [Google] executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, recently joined a Department of Defense advisory panel. Facebook recently hired a former director at the U.S. military’s research lab, Darpa. Uber employs Barack Obama’s former campaign manager David Plouffe and Amazon.com tapped his former spokesman Jay Carney. Google, Facebook, Uber and Apple collectively employ a couple of dozen former analysts for America’s spy agencies, who openly list their resumes on LinkedIn.

These connections are neither new nor secret. But the fact they are so accepted illustrates how tech’s leaders — even amid current fights over encryption and surveillance — are still seen as mostly U.S. firms that back up American values. Christopher Soghoian, a technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union, said low-level employees’ government connections matter less than leading executives’ ties to government. For instance, at least a dozen Google engineers have worked at the NSA, according to publicly available records on LinkedIn. And, this being Silicon Valley, not everyone who worked for a spy agency advertises that on LinkedIn. Soghoian, a vocal critic of mass surveillance, said Google hiring an ex-hacker for the NSA to work on security doesn’t really bother him. “But Eric Schmidt having a close relationship with the White House does…”

How Big Data Creates False Confidence

“The general idea is to find datasets so enormous that they can reveal patterns invisible to conventional inquiry… But there’s a problem: It’s tempting to think that with such an incredible volume of data behind them, studies relying on big data couldn’t be wrong. But the bigness of the data can imbue the results with a false sense of certainty. Many of them are probably bogus — and the reasons why should give us pause about any research that blindly trusts big data.”

For example, Google’s database of scanned books represents 4% of all books ever published, but in this data set, “The Lord of the Rings gets no more influence than, say, Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria.” And the name Lanny appears to be one of the most common in early-20th century fiction — solely because Upton Sinclair published 11 different novels about a character named Lanny Budd.

The problem seems to be skewed data and misinterpretation. (The article points to the failure of Google Flu Trends, which it turns out “was largely predicting winter”.) The article’s conclusion? “Rather than succumb to ‘big data hubris,’ the rest of us would do well to keep our sceptic hats on — even when someone points to billions of words.”