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A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer Is As Creepy As You Feared

More than 40 years ago, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft with a vision for putting a personal computer on every desk. […] In recent years, the tech industry’s largest powers set their sights on a new target for digital conquest. They promised wild conveniences and unimaginable benefits to our health and happiness. There’s just one catch, which often goes unstated: If their novelties take off without any intervention or supervision from the government, we could be inviting a nightmarish set of security and privacy vulnerabilities into the world. And guess what. No one is really doing much to stop it. The industry’s new goal? Not a computer on every desk nor a connection between every person, but something grander: a computer inside everything, connecting everyone.

Cars, door locks, contact lenses, clothes, toasters, refrigerators, industrial robots, fish tanks, sex toys, light bulbs, toothbrushes, motorcycle helmets — these and other everyday objects are all on the menu for getting “smart.” Hundreds of small start-ups are taking part in this trend — known by the marketing catchphrase “the internet of things” — but like everything else in tech, the movement is led by giants, among them Amazon, Apple and Samsung. [American cryptographer and computer security professional Bruce Schneier] argues that the economic and technical incentives of the internet-of-things industry do not align with security and privacy for society generally. Putting a computer in everything turns the whole world into a computer security threat. […] Mr. Schneier says only government intervention can save us from such emerging calamities. “I can think of no industry in the past 100 years that has improved its safety and security without being compelled to do so by government.”

Facial recognition used to identify and catalogue animals

Salmon are just the latest entry in a growing cornucopia of animal faces loaded into databases. For some animals, the biometric data gathered from them is being used to aid in conservation efforts. For others, the resulting AI could help ward off poachers. While partly creepy and partly very cute, monitoring of these animals can both help protect their populations and ensure safe, traceable livestock for developing communities…

U.K. researchers are using online resources like Flickr and Instagram to help build and strengthen a database that will eventually help track global tiger populations in real time. Once collected, the photos are analyzed by everyday people in a free app called Wildsense… The mighty lion is being surveilled too. Conservationists and wildlife teachers are using facial recognition to keep tabs on a database of over 1,000 lions… Wildlife experts are tracking elephants to protect them from encroaching poachers. Using Google’s Cloud AutoML Vision machine learning software, the technology will uniquely identify elephants in the wild. According to the Evening Standard, the tech will even send out an alert if it detects poachers in the same frame.

The story of whale facial tracking is one of crowdsourcing success. After struggling to distinguish specific whales from one another on his own, marine biologist Christian Khan uploaded the photos to data-competition site Kaggle and, within four months, data-science company Deepsense was able to accurately detect individual whale faces with 87% accuracy. Since then, detection rates have steadily improved and are helping conservationists track and monitor the struggling aquatic giant.

U.S. researchers are trying to protect “the world’s most endangered animal” with LemurFaceID, which is able to accurately differentiate between two lemur faces with 97% accuracy. But “In the livestock surveillance arms race China is definitely leading the charge,” the article notes, citing e-commerce giant JD.com and its use of facial recognition to monitor herds of pigs to detect their age, weight, and diet.

And one Chinese company even offers a blockchain-based chicken tracking system (codenamed “GoGo Chicken”) with an app that can link a grocery store chicken to “its birthplace, what food it ate and how many steps it walked during its life.”

Steven Rambam at HOPE XI, 2016

“First came the assault on privacy. Name, address, telephone, DOB, SSN, physical description, friends, family, likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies, beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, finances, every granular detail of a person’s life, all logged, indexed, analyzed and cross-referenced. Then came the gathering of location and communication data. Cell phones, apps, metro cards, license plate readers and toll tags, credit card use, IP addresses and authenticated logins, tower info, router proximity, networked “things” everywhere reporting on activity and location, astoundingly accurate facial recognition mated with analytics and “gigapixel” cameras and, worst of all, mindlessly self-contributed posts, tweets, and “check-ins,” all constantly reporting a subject’s location 24-7-365, to such a degree of accuracy that “predictive profiling” knows where you will likely be next Thursday afternoon. Today we are experiencing constant efforts to shred anonymity. Forensic linguistics, browser fingerprinting, lifestyle and behavior analysis, metadata of all types, HTML5, IPv6, and daily emerging “advances” in surveillance technologies – some seemingly science fiction but real – are combining to make constant, mobile identification and absolute loss of anonymity inevitable. And, now, predictably, the final efforts to homogenize: the “siloing” and Balkanization of the Internet. As Internet use becomes more and more self-restricted to a few large providers, as users increasingly never leave the single ecosystem of a Facebook or a Google, as the massive firehose of information on the Internet is “curated” and “managed” by persons who believe that they know best what news and opinions you should have available to read, see, and believe, the bias of a few will eventually determine what you believe. What is propaganda? What is truth? You simply won’t know. In a tradition dating back to the first HOPE conference, for three full hours Steven Rambam will detail the latest trends in privacy invasion and will demonstrate cutting-edge anonymity-shredding surveillance technologies. Drones will fly, a “privacy victim” will undergo digital proctology, a Q&A period will be provided, and fun will be had by all.”