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Algorithms viewed as ‘unfair’ by consumers

The US-based Pew Research Center has found the American public is growing increasingly distrustful of the use of computer algorithms in a variety of sectors, including finance, media and the justice system.

report released over the weekend found that a broad section of those surveyed feel that computer programs will always reflect some level of human bias, that they might violate privacy, fail to capture the nuance of human complexity or simply be unfair.

How the “Math Men” Overthrew the “Mad Men”

Once, Mad Men ruled advertising. They’ve now been eclipsed by Math Men — the engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men’s adoration of data — coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their ‘science’ is nearly flawless — has aroused government anger, much as Microsoft did two decades ago.

The power of Math Men is awesome. Google and Facebook each has a market value exceeding the combined value of the six largest advertising and marketing holding companies. Together, they claim six out of every ten dollars spent on digital advertising, and nine out of ten new digital ad dollars. They have become more dominant in what is estimated to be an up to two-trillion-dollar annual global advertising and marketing business. Facebook alone generates more ad dollars than all of America’s newspapers, and Google has twice the ad revenues of Facebook.

How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met

From Slashdot:

“I deleted Facebook after it recommended as People You May Know a man who was defense counsel on one of my cases. We had only communicated through my work email, which is not connected to my Facebook, which convinced me Facebook was scanning my work email,” an attorney told Gizmodo. Kashmir Hill, a reporter at the news outlet, who recently documented how Facebook figured out a connection between her and a family member she did not know existed, shares several more instances others have reported and explains how Facebook gathers information. She reports:

Behind the Facebook profile you’ve built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users. Contact information you’ve never given the network gets associated with your account, making it easier for Facebook to more completely map your social connections. Because shadow-profile connections happen inside Facebook’s algorithmic black box, people can’t see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is, until an uncanny recommendation pops up. Facebook isn’t scanning the work email of the attorney above. But it likely has her work email address on file, even if she never gave it to Facebook herself. If anyone who has the lawyer’s address in their contacts has chosen to share it with Facebook, the company can link her to anyone else who has it, such as the defense counsel in one of her cases. Facebook will not confirm how it makes specific People You May Know connections, and a Facebook spokesperson suggested that there could be other plausible explanations for most of those examples — “mutual friendships,” or people being “in the same city/network.” The spokesperson did say that of the stories on the list, the lawyer was the likeliest case for a shadow-profile connection. Handing over address books is one of the first steps Facebook asks people to take when they initially sign up, so that they can “Find Friends.”

The problem with all this, Hill writes, is that Facebook doesn’t explicitly say the scale at which it would be using the contact information it gleans from a user’s address book. Furthermore, most people are not aware that Facebook is using contact information taken from their phones for these purposes.”

The Video Game That Could Shape the Future of War

“As far as video games go, Operation Overmatch is rather unremarkable. Players command military vehicles in eight-on-eight matches against the backdrop of rendered cityscapes — a common setup of games that sometimes have the added advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in development budgets. Overmatch does have something unique, though: its mission. The game’s developers believe it will change how the U.S. Army fights wars. Overmatch’s players are nearly all soldiers in real life. As they develop tactics around futuristic weapons and use them in digital battle against peers, the game monitors their actions.

Each shot fired and decision made, in addition to messages the players write in private forums, is a bit of information soaked up with a frequency not found in actual combat, or even in high-powered simulations without a wide network of players. The data is logged, sorted, and then analyzed, using insights from sports and commercial video games. Overmatch’s team hopes this data will inform the Army’s decisions about which technologies to purchase and how to develop tactics using them, all with the aim of building a more forward-thinking, prepared force… While the game currently has about 1,000 players recruited by word of mouth and outreach from the Overmatch team, the developers eventually want to involve tens of thousands of soldiers. This milestone would allow for millions of hours of game play per year, according to project estimates, enough to generate rigorous data sets and test hypotheses.”

Brian Vogt, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Capabilities Integration Center who oversees Overmatch’s development, says:

“Right after World War I, we had technologies like aircraft carriers we knew were going to play an important role,” he said. “We just didn’t know how to use them. That’s where we are and what we’re trying to do for robots.”

“Are you happy now? The uncertain future of emotion analytics”

Elise Thomas writes at Hopes & Fears:

“Right now, in a handful of computing labs scattered across the world, new software is being developed which has the potential to completely change our relationship with technology. Affective computing is about creating technology which recognizes and responds to your emotions. Using webcams, microphones or biometric sensors, the software uses a person’s physical reactions to analyze their emotional state, generating data which can then be used to monitor, mimic or manipulate that person’s emotions.”

Corporations spend billions each year trying to build “authentic” emotional connections to their target audiences. Marketing research is one of the most prolific research fields around, conducting thousands of studies on how to more effectively manipulate consumers’ decision-making. Advertisers are extremely interested in affective computing and particularly in a branch known as emotion analytics, which offers unprecedented real-time access to consumers’ emotional reactions and the ability to program alternative responses depending on how the content is being received.

For example, if two people watch an advertisement with a joke and only one person laughs, the software can be programmed to show more of the same kind of advertising to the person who laughs while trying different sorts of advertising on the person who did not laugh to see if it’s more effective. In essence, affective computing could enable advertisers to create individually-tailored advertising en masse.”

“Say 15 years from now a particular brand of weight loss supplements obtains a particular girl’s information and locks on. When she scrolls through her Facebook, she sees pictures of rail-thin celebrities, carefully calibrated to capture her attention. When she turns on the TV, it automatically starts on an episode of “The Biggest Loser,” tracking her facial expressions to find the optimal moment for a supplement commercial. When she sets her music on shuffle, it “randomly” plays through a selection of the songs which make her sad. This goes on for weeks.

Now let’s add another layer. This girl is 14, and struggling with depression. She’s being bullied in school. Having become the target of a deliberate and persistent campaign by her technology to undermine her body image and sense of self-worth, she’s at risk of making some drastic choices.”

What Makes You Click (2016)

“The biggest psychological experiment ever is being conducted, and we’re all taking part in it: every day, a billion people are tested online. Which ingenious tricks and other digital laws ensure that we fill our online shopping carts to the brim, or stay on websites as long as possible? Or vote for a particular candidate?

The bankruptcies of department stores and shoe shops clearly show that our buying behaviour is rapidly shifting to the Internet. An entirely new field has arisen, of ‘user experience’ architects and ‘online persuasion officers’. How do these digital data dealers use, manipulate and abuse our user experience? Not just when it comes to buying things, but also with regards to our free time and political preferences.

Aren’t companies, which are running millions of tests at a time, miles ahead of science and government, in this respect? Now the creators of these digital seduction techniques, former Google employees among them, are themselves arguing for the introduction of an ethical code. What does it mean, when the conductors of experiments themselves are asking for their power and possibilities to be restricted?”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The data analytics company Cambridge Analytica

The Guardian is running an article about a ‘mysterious’ big-data analytics company called Cambridge Analytica and its activities with SCL Group—a 25-year-old military psyops company in the UK later bought by “secretive hedge fund billionaire” Robert Mercer. In the article, a former employee calls it “this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump.”

Mercer, with a background in computer science is alleged to be at the centre of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network.

“Facebook was the source of the psychological insights that enabled Cambridge Analytica to target individuals. It was also the mechanism that enabled them to be delivered on a large scale. The company also (perfectly legally) bought consumer datasets — on everything from magazine subscriptions to airline travel — and uniquely it appended these with the psych data to voter files… Finding “persuadable” voters is key for any campaign and with its treasure trove of data, Cambridge Analytica could target people high in neuroticism, for example, with images of immigrants “swamping” the country.

The key is finding emotional triggers for each individual voter. Cambridge Analytica worked on campaigns in several key states for a Republican political action committee. Its key objective, according to a memo the Observer has seen, was “voter disengagement” and “to persuade Democrat voters to stay at home”… In the U.S., the government is bound by strict laws about what data it can collect on individuals. But, for private companies anything goes.”

Facebook: Cracking the Code (2017)

“What’s on your mind?” It’s the friendly Facebook question which lets you share how you’re feeling. It’s also the question that unlocks the details of your life and helps turn your thoughts into profits.

Facebook has the ability to track much of your browsing history, even when you’re not logged on, and even if you aren’t a member of the social network at all. This is one of the methods used to deliver targeted advertising and ‘news’ to your Facebook feed. This is why you are unlikely to see anything that challenges your world view.

This feedback loop is fuelling the rise and power of ‘fake news’. “We’re seeing news that’s tailored ever more tightly towards those kinds of things that people will click on, and will share, rather than things that perhaps are necessarily good for them”, says one Media Analyst.

This information grants huge power to those with access to it. Republican Party strategist Patrick Ruffini says, “What it does give us is much greater level of certainty and granularity and precision down to the individual voter, down to the individual precinct about how things are going to go”. Resultantly, former Facebook journalist, Adam Schrader thinks that there’s “a legitimate argument to this that Facebook influenced the election, the United States Election results.

“Creepy new website makes its monitoring of your online behaviour visible”

“If YOU think you are not being analysed while browsing websites, it could be time to reconsider. A creepy new website called clickclickclick has been developed to demonstrate how our online behaviour is continuously measured.

The site, which observes and comments on your behaviour in detail, and is not harmful to your computer, contains nothing but a white screen and a large green button. From the minute you visit the website, it begins detailing your actions on the screen in real-time.

The site also encourages users to turn on their audio, which offers the even more disturbing experience of having an English voice comment about your behaviour.

Designer Roel Wouters said the experiment was aimed to remind people about the serious themes of big data and privacy. “It seemed fun to thematise this in a simple and lighthearted way,” he said.

Fellow designer Luna Maurer said the website her own experiences with the internet had helped with the project. “I am actually quite internet aware, but I am still very often surprised that after I watched something on a website, a second later I get instantly personalised ads,” she said.”

“Yahoo has a creepy plan for advertising billboards to spy on you”

Yahoo has filed a patent for a type of smart billboard that would collect people’s information and use it to deliver targeted ad content in real-time.

To achieve that functionality, the billboards would use a variety of sensor systems, including cameras and proximity technology, to capture real-time audio, video and even biometric information about potential target audiences.

But the tech company doesn’t just want to know about a passing vehicle. It also wants to know who the occupants are inside of it.

That’s why Yahoo is prepared to cooperate with cell towers and telecommunications companies to learn as much as possible about each vehicle’s occupants.”

“Various types of data (e.g., cell tower data, mobile app location data, image data, etc.) can be used to identify specific individuals in an audience in position to view advertising content. Similarly, vehicle navigation/tracking data from vehicles equipped with such systems could be used to identify specific vehicles and/or vehicle owners. Demographic data (e.g., as obtained from a marketing or user database) for the audience can thus be determined for the purpose of, for example, determining whether and/or the degree to which the demographic profile of the audience corresponds to a target demographic.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

CIA’s “Siren Servers” can predict social uprisings several days before they happen

“The CIA claims to be able to predict social unrest days before it happens thanks to powerful super computers dubbed Siren Servers by the father of Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier.

CIA Deputy Director for Digital Innovation Andrew Hallman announced that the agency has beefed-up its “anticipatory intelligence” through the use of deep learning and machine learning servers that can process an incredible amount of data.

“We have, in some instances, been able to improve our forecast to the point of being able to anticipate the development of social unrest and societal instability some I think as near as three to five days out,” said Hallman on Tuesday at the Federal Tech event, Fedstival.

This Minority Report-type technology has been viewed skeptically by policymakers as the data crunching hasn’t been perfected, and if policy were to be enacted based on faulty data, the results could be disastrous. Iraq WMDs?”

I called it a siren server because there’s no plan to be evil. A siren server seduces you,” said Lanier.

In the case of the CIA; however, whether the agency is being innocently seduced or is actively planning to use this data for its own self-sustaining benefit, one can only speculate.

Given the Intelligence Community’s track record for toppling governments, infiltrating the mainstream media, MK Ultra, and scanning hundreds of millions of private emails, that speculation becomes easier to justify.”

Machine Logic: Our lives are ruled by big tech’s decisions by data

The Guardian’s Julia Powles writes about how with the advent of artificial intelligence and so-called “machine learning,” this society is increasingly a world where decisions are more shaped by calculations and data analytics rather than traditional human judgement:

“Jose van Dijck, president of the Dutch Royal Academy and the conference’s keynote speaker, expands: Datification is the core logic of what she calls “the platform society,” in which companies bypass traditional institutions, norms and codes by promising something better and more efficient — appealing deceptively to public values, while obscuring private gain. Van Dijck and peers have nascent, urgent ideas. They commence with a pressing agenda for strong interdisciplinary research — something Kate Crawford is spearheading at Microsoft Research, as are many other institutions, including the new Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. There’s the old theory to confront, that this is a conscious move on the part of consumers and, if so, there’s always a theoretical opt-out. Yet even digital activists plot by Gmail, concedes Fieke Jansen of the Berlin-based advocacy organisation Tactical Tech. The Big Five tech companies, as well as the extremely concentrated sources of finance behind them, are at the vanguard of “a society of centralized power and wealth. “How did we let it get this far?” she asks. Crawford says there are very practical reasons why tech companies have become so powerful. “We’re trying to put so much responsibility on to individuals to step away from the ‘evil platforms,’ whereas in reality, there are so many reasons why people can’t. The opportunity costs to employment, to their friends, to their families, are so high” she says.”

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The Internet of Things will be the world’s biggest robot

Computer security expert and privacy specialist Bruce Schneier writes:

“The Internet of Things is the name given to the computerization of everything in our lives. Already you can buy Internet-enabled thermostats, light bulbs, refrigerators, and cars. Soon everything will be on the Internet: the things we own, the things we interact with in public, autonomous things that interact with each other.

These “things” will have two separate parts. One part will be sensors that collect data about us and our environment. Already our smartphones know our location and, with their onboard accelerometers, track our movements. Things like our thermostats and light bulbs will know who is in the room. Internet-enabled street and highway sensors will know how many people are out and about­ — and eventually who they are. Sensors will collect environmental data from all over the world.

The other part will be actuators. They’ll affect our environment. Our smart thermostats aren’t collecting information about ambient temperature and who’s in the room for nothing; they set the temperature accordingly. Phones already know our location, and send that information back to Google Maps and Waze to determine where traffic congestion is; when they’re linked to driverless cars, they’ll automatically route us around that congestion. Amazon already wants autonomous drones to deliver packages. The Internet of Things will increasingly perform actions for us and in our name.

Increasingly, human intervention will be unnecessary. The sensors will collect data. The system’s smarts will interpret the data and figure out what to do. And the actuators will do things in our world. You can think of the sensors as the eyes and ears of the Internet, the actuators as the hands and feet of the Internet, and the stuff in the middle as the brain. This makes the future clearer. The Internet now senses, thinks, and acts.

We’re building a world-sized robot, and we don’t even realize it.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

“Faceless” recognition can identify you even when you hide your face

“With widespread adoption among law enforcement, advertisers, and even churches, face recognition has undoubtedly become one of the biggest threats to privacy out there.

By itself, the ability to instantly identify anyone just by seeing their face already creates massive power imbalances, with serious implications for free speech and political protest.”

Microsoft pitches technology that can read facial expressions at political rallies.

“But more recently, researchers have demonstrated that even when faces are blurred or otherwise obscured, algorithms can be trained to identify people by matching previously-observed patterns around their head and body.

In a new paper uploaded to the ArXiv pre-print server, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Saarbrücken, Germany demonstrate a method of identifying individuals even when most of their photos are un-tagged or obscured. The researchers’ system, which they call the “Faceless Recognition System,” trains a neural network on a set of photos containing both obscured and visible faces, then uses that knowledge to predict the identity of obscured faces by looking for similarities in the area around a person’s head and body.”

[…]

“In the past, Facebook has shown its face recognition algorithms can predict the identity of users when they obscure their face with 83% accuracy, using cues such as their stance and body type. But the researchers say their system is the first to do so using a trainable system that uses a full range of body cues surrounding blurred and blacked-out faces.”

 

Is Facebook eavesdropping on your phone conversations?

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.”

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.”

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.”