Can machines think – and, if so, can they think critically about race and gender? Recent reports have shown that machine-learning systems are picking up racist and sexist ideas embedded in the language patterns they are fed by human engineers. The idea that machines can be as bigoted as people is an uncomfortable one for anyone who still believes in the moral purity of the digital future, but there’s nothing new or complicated about it. “Machine learning” is a fancy way of saying “finding patterns in data”. Of course, as Lydia Nicholas, senior researcher at the innovation thinktank Nesta, explains, all this data “has to have been collected in the past, and since society changes, you can end up with patterns that reflect the past. If those patterns are used to make decisions that affect people’s lives you end up with unacceptable discrimination.”
Tag Archives: Hi-Tech
It was just a friendly little argument about the fate of humanity. Demis Hassabis, a leading creator of advanced artificial intelligence, was chatting with Elon Musk, a leading doomsayer, about the perils of artificial intelligence.They are two of the most consequential and intriguing men in Silicon Valley who don’t live there. Hassabis, a co-founder of the mysterious London laboratory DeepMind, had come to Musk’s SpaceX rocket factory, outside Los Angeles, a few years ago. They were in the canteen, talking, as a massive rocket part traversed overhead. Musk explained that his ultimate goal at SpaceX was the most important project in the world: interplanetary colonization.Hassabis replied that, in fact, he was working on the most important project in the world: developing artificial super-intelligence. Musk countered that this was one reason we needed to colonize Mars—so that we’ll have a bolt-hole if A.I. goes rogue and turns on humanity. Amused, Hassabis said that A.I. would simply follow humans to Mars.This did nothing to soothe Musk’s anxieties (even though he says there are scenarios where A.I. wouldn’t follow).
There’s been one particularly misleading claim repeated throughout coverage of CIA documents released by WikiLeaks today: That the agency’s in-house hackers “bypassed” the encryption used by popular secure-chat software like Signal and WhatsApp.By specifically mentioning these apps, news outlets implied that the agency has a means of getting through the protections built into the chat systems. It doesn’t. Instead, it has the ability, in some cases, to take control of entire phones; accessing encrypted chats is simply one of many security implication of this. Wikileaks’ own analysis of the documents at least briefly acknowledges this, stating that CIA “techniques permit the CIA to bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman by hacking the ‘smart’ phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”
It’s difficult to buy a new TV that doesn’t come with a suite of (generally mediocre) “smart” software, giving your home theater some of the functions typically found in phones and tablets. But bringing these extra features into your living room means bringing a microphone, too — a fact the CIA is exploiting, according to a new trove of documents released today by WikiLeaks.According to documents inside the cache, a CIA program named “Weeping Angel” provided the agency’s hackers with access to Samsung Smart TVs, allowing a television’s built-in voice control microphone to be remotely enabled while keeping the appearance that the TV itself was switched off, called “Fake-Off mode.” Although the display would be switched off, and LED indicator lights would be suppressed, the hardware inside the television would continue to operate, unbeknownst to the owner. The method, co-developed with British intelligence, required implanting a given TV with malware—it’s unclear if this attack could be executed remotely, but the documentation includes reference to in-person infection via a tainted USB drive. Once the malware was inside the TV, it could relay recorded audio data to a third party (presumably a server controlled by the CIA) through the included network connection.
There are very few things that $5bn can’t buy, but one of them is manners. This week video emerged of Travis Kalanick, the CEO and founder of ride-share app Uber, patronising and swearing at one of his own drivers, who complained that harsh company policies had forced him into bankruptcy. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” sneered Kalanick. Truer words were never spoken by a tycoon: for Uber, along with many other aggressive corporations, not taking responsibility for your own shit isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a business model.Uber has barely been out of the news this year, with a succession of scandals cementing the company’s reputation as a byword for cod-libertarian douchebaggery. Accusations of strike-breaking during protests against Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” sparked a viral campaign to get customers to delete the app. A week later, a former employee went public with accusations of sexual harassment and institutional misogyny. Kalanick, who was pressured to withdraw from a position as a business adviser to Trump, is now facing legal suits across the world from drivers who insist that they would be better able to “take responsibility” for their lives if they could earn a living wage.
On a bitter, soul-shivering, damp, biting gray February day in Cleveland—that is to say, on a February day in Cleveland—a handless man is handling a nonexistent ball. Igor Spetic lost his right hand when his forearm was pulped in an industrial accident six years ago and had to be amputated. In an operation four years ago, a team of surgeons implanted a set of small translucent “interfaces” into the neural circuits of his upper arm. This afternoon, in a basement lab at a Veterans Administration hospital, the wires are hooked up directly to a prosthetic hand—plastic, flesh-colored, five-fingered, and articulated—that is affixed to what remains of his arm. The hand has more than a dozen pressure sensors within it, and their signals can be transformed by a computer into electric waves like those natural to the nervous system. The sensors in the prosthetic hand feed information from the world into the wires in Spetic’s arm. Since, from the brain’s point of view, his hand is still there, it needs only to be recalled to life.
In the coming decades, artificial intelligence will replace a lot of human jobs, from driving trucks to analyzing X-rays. But it will also work with us, taking over mundane personal tasks and enhancing our cognitive capabilities. As AI continues to improve, digital assistants—often in the form of disembodied voices—will become our helpers and collaborators, managing our schedules, guiding us through decisions, and making us better at our jobs. We’ll have something akin to Samantha from the movie Her or Jarvis from Iron Man: AI “agents” that know our likes and dislikes, and that free us up to focus on what humans do best, or what we most enjoy. Here’s what to expect.
When Slate was founded in 1996, people all over the world spent much of their day speaking into telephones. In 2016, as Slate celebrates its 20th birthday, the phone call is a thing of the past.
It is mildly subversive and perhaps a little quaint when someone clings to their flip phone and refuses a smartphone. Refusing both kinds of phones is viewed as downright lunacy, especially if the person refusing was born after the mid-1970s. But I’ve never had a cellphone and I’m not going to get one. I have several reasons, and they are good ones.The first is cost. No cellphone means no monthly bill, no possibility for an upgrade, no taxes, and no roaming charges (whatever those are). In an era of stagnant wages and growing income inequality, it is remarkable that people unthinkingly spend $75 or more per month on something that we hardly knew existed 15 years ago, much less counted as a necessity.
Stepping outside the bubble of gloom this week I noticed something surreal. Kodak was reviving its Ektachrome film range to meet a surging demand for high-end traditional film. Was this the same Kodak, I wondered, that went bankrupt in 2012 after 47,000 job losses, a moment hailed by seers as when the digital revolution finally came of age? It now appeared that users had found traditional film something unimaginable to those seers – something called “better”.