Using drones to disrupt the status quo

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Drone-based digital imagery can be used to better estimate the size of large crowds.

From Standing Rock to Syria, drones are being used to hold the powerful to account. Let’s keep it that way.

The civil rights movement and Moore’s law are colliding to transform politics. On the street, smartphone technology is being used to document social life as never before, putting power into the hands of the public and making eyewitnesses of us all.

This same technology, bolted onto cheap and easy-to-fly drones, is also providing a birds-eye view of politics on the ground. Indeed, a recent explosion in the availability and affordability of drones has driven an uptick in their use in support of social movements. In the years since the first use of a drone to document a protest — a 2011 event organized against Russian president Vladimir Putin — they have been a consistent presence at protests in societies where democracy is under threat.

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Artificial intelligence will surveil and study released prisoners to “reduce recidivism”

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A group of researchers is launching a new artificial intelligence led study that will collect data from recently released prisoners.

Artificial intelligence applications are popping up everywhere these days, from our Internet browsing to smart homes and self-driving cars. Now a group of researchers is launching a new AI-led study that will collect data from recently released prisoners. The ultimate goal of the project is to identify – and, ostensibly, one day eliminate – the psychological and physiological triggers that cause recidivism among parolees.

Researchers at Purdue University Polytechnic Institute plan to monitor volunteer parolees using a panoply of AI-powered tools and methods, including smartphones and biometric wearable bracelets. These gadgets will record and analyze a variety of data, such as the ex-prisoners’ biological information (heart rate), photos, and location meta-data.

According to project-leads Marcus Rogers and Umit Karabiyik, the resulting data will assist them in conducting a forensic psychological analysis. While the monitoring will be gauged in intervals – not real-time – they believe it will help build a profile of the risky behaviors and stressful triggers that recent parolees face when returning to the outside world.

Citing a Department of Justice study, the researchers say over 80 percent of prisoners released from state prisons get arrested in their first 9 years and a plurality of those prisoners get arrested in less than a year.

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Face masks give facial recognition software an identity crisis

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As tech firms scramble to keep up with reality of coronavirus, some experts say users must change

It is an increasingly common modern annoyance: arriving at the front of the queue to pay in a shop, pulling out a smartphone for a hygienic contact-free payment, and staring down at an error message because your phone fails to recognise your masked face.

As more and more nations mandate masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, technology companies are scrambling to keep up with the changing world. But some experts are warning that the change may have to start with users themselves.

Apple’s Face ID is the most well-known example of a consumer facial verification system. The technology, which uses a grid of infrared dots to measure the physical shape of a user’s face, secures access to the company’s iPhones and iPads, as well as other features such as Apple Pay.

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Coronavirus: Google reveals travel habits during the pandemic

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Google is to publicly track people’s movements over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tech firm will publish details of the different types of places people are going to on a county-by-county basis in the UK, as well as similar data for 130 other countries.

The plan is to issue a regular updates with the figures referring back to activity from two or three days prior.

The company has promised that individuals’ privacy will be preserved.

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Smartphone data reveal which Americans are social distancing (and not)

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D.C. gets an ‘A’ while Wyoming earns an ‘F’ for following coronavirus stay-at-home advice, based on the locations of tens of millions of phones

 Location data firm Unacast identified places where residents are engaging in more social distancing in green — and less in orange.

If you have a smartphone, you’re probably contributing to a massive coronavirus surveillance system.

And it’s revealing where Americans have — and haven’t — been practicing social distancing.

On Tuesday, a company called Unacast that collects and analyzes phone GPS location data launched a “Social Distancing Scoreboard” that grades, county by county, which residents are changing behavior at the urging of health officials. It uses the reduction in the total distance we travel as a rough index for whether we’re staying put at home.

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There’s a privacy bracelet that jams smart speakers and, hell yeah, bring it

Smart speakers are creepy recording devices that eavesdrop on unsuspecting people. A new piece of custom technology offers the chance to fight back.

Stylized as a cyberpunk bracelet, a “wearable jammer” was developed by a trio of professors at the University of Chicago. In addition to looking punk rock as all hell, the device emits ultrasonic noise that interferes with microphones’ ability to record yet is inaudible to humans.

Oh, and the professors — Ben Zhao, Heather Zheng, and assistant professor Pedro Lopes — published schematics online so the more technically proficient of you can make one at home.

Notably, this is neither the first time someone has made a microphone jammer nor the first time that ultrasound has been used to screw with smart speakers. This device is special, however, for reasons greater than just its bracelet style.

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Socially aware algorithms are ready to help

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Better coding, not just laws and regulations, is the solution for tech’s failure to address the needs of actual humans

Calls for stronger government regulation of large technology companies have become increasingly urgent and ubiquitous. But many of the technology failures we hear about every day—including fake news; privacy violations; discrimination; and filter bubbles that amplify online isolation and confrontation—have algorithmic failures at their core.

For problems that are primarily algorithmic in nature, human oversight of outcomes is insufficient. We cannot expect, for example, armies of regulators to check for discriminatory online advertising in real time. Fortunately, there are algorithmic improvements that companies can and should adopt now, without waiting for regulation to catch up.

Given their frequent media portrayal as mysterious black boxes, we might be worried that rogue algorithms have escaped the abilities of their creators to understand and rein in their behaviors. The reality is thankfully not so dire. In recent years hundreds of scientists in machine learning, artificial intelligence and related fields have been working hard at what we call socially aware algorithm design. Many of the most prominent and damaging algorithmic failures are well understood (at least in hindsight), and, furthermore, have algorithmic solutions.

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The internet is getting less free

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A protester holds an Amazon box made into a sad face as part of a protest against the company’s cloud services contracts with Palantir, which supports ICE.

Election interference and government surveillance on social media are hurting internet freedoms.

 

Amazon has been under fire from protesters lately for assisting surveillance technology company Palantir — and, by extension, ICE — as well as for its own surveillance products like Ring.

Free speech and privacy on the internet declined globally for the ninth consecutive year according to the Freedom on the Net 2019 report by bipartisan watchdog and think tank Freedom House.

 

The report’s authors cite two main reasons for the decline: increased online election interference — by government and civilian actors alike — and increased government surveillance, both of which are spreading on social media platforms. These are topics that continue to dominate the news cycle, whether it’s Facebook’s ad policy that allows politicians to spread lies or Amazon’s growing relationships with police departments that use its Ring smart doorbells and associated social media products to surveil communities. Freedom House recommends increased transparency and oversight of these platforms in order to stop the situation from getting worse.

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Can the data poor survive?

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Will work for data

We’ve been running a data science experiment over the past few months. Our first goal was to compare and contrast the amount of data we could actively gather using a link to an online survey (please click here to take it) vs. the amount of data we could passively gather using our cookies and pixel-monitoring tools. Our second goal was to compare and contrast the value of self-reported data vs. observed behavioral data. Our final goal was to turn both data sets into actionable insights and analyze the results. We were shocked, but not surprised, by what we learned.

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Gatwick Airport commits to facial recognition tech at boarding

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Gatwick first trialled facial-recognition-based checks at some of its departure gates last year

Gatwick has become the UK’s first airport to confirm it will use facial-recognition cameras on a permanent basis for ID checks before passengers board planes.

It follows a self-boarding trial carried out in partnership with EasyJet last year.

The London airport said the technology should reduce queuing times but travellers would still need to carry passports.

Privacy campaigners are concerned.

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The fashion line designed to trick surveillance cameras

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Adversarial Fashion garments are covered in license plates, aimed at bamboozling a device’s databases

An Adversarial Fashion dress, modeled by the designer, Kate Rose.

Automatic license plate readers, which use networked surveillance cameras and simple image recognition to track the movements of cars around a city, may have met their match, in the form of a T-shirt. Or a dress. Or a hoodie.

The anti-surveillance garments were revealed at the DefCon cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas on Saturday by the hacker and fashion designer Kate Rose, who presented the inaugural collection of her Adversarial Fashion line.

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Facebook is funding brain experiments to create a device that reads your mind

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Big tech firms are trying to read people’s thoughts, and no one’s ready for the consequences.

In 2017, Facebook announced that it wanted to create a headband that would let people type at a speed of 100 words per minute, just by thinking.

Now, a little over two years later, the social-media giant is revealing that it has been financing extensive university research on human volunteers.

Today, some of that research was described in a scientific paper from the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers have been developing “speech decoders” able to determine what people are trying to say by analyzing their brain signals.

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