We could see federal regulation on face recognition as early as next week

On May 10, 40 advocacy groups sent an open letter demanding a permanent ban on the use of Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, by US police. The letter was addressed to Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy, the company’s current and incoming CEOs, and came just weeks before Amazon’s year-long moratorium on sales to law enforcement was set to expire. 

The letter contrasted Bezos’s and Jassy’s vocal support of Black Lives Matter campaigners during last summer’s racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd with reporting that other Amazon products have been used by law enforcement to identify protesters.

On May 17, Amazon announced it would extend its moratorium indefinitely, joining competitors IBM and Microsoft in self-regulated purgatory. The move is a nod at the political power of the groups fighting to curb the technology—and recognition that new legislative battle grounds are starting to emerge. Many believe that substantial federal … Read the rest

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The race to understand the exhilarating, dangerous world of language AI

On May 18, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced an impressive new tool: an AI system called LaMDA that can chat to users about any subject.

To start, Google plans to integrate LaMDA into its main search portal, its voice assistant, and Workplace, its collection of cloud-based work software that includes Gmail, Docs, and Drive. But the eventual goal, said Pichai, is to create a conversational interface that allows people to retrieve any kind of information—text, visual, audio—across all Google’s products just by asking.

LaMDA’s rollout signals yet another way in which language technologies are becoming enmeshed in our day-to-day lives. But Google’s flashy presentation belied the ethical debate that now surrounds such cutting-edge systems. LaMDA is what’s known as a large language model (LLM)—a deep-learning algorithm trained on enormous amounts of text data.

Studies have already shown how racist, sexist, and abusive ideas are embedded in these models. They associate … Read the rest

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Embracing the rapid pace of AI

In a recent survey, “2021 Thriving in an AI World,” KPMG found that across every industry—manufacturing to technology to retail—the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) is increasing year over year. Part of the reason is digital transformation is moving faster, which helps companies start to move exponentially faster. But, as Cliff Justice, US leader for enterprise innovation at KPMG posits, “Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of digital in many ways, across many types of technologies.” Justice continues, “This is where we are starting to experience such a rapid pace of exponential change that it’s very difficult for most people to understand the progress.” But understand it they must because “artificial intelligence is evolving at a very rapid pace.”

Justice challenges us to think about AI in a different way, “more like a relationship with technology, as opposed to a tool that we program,” because he says, “AI is something that … Read the rest

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Evolving to a more equitable AI

The pandemic that has raged across the globe over the past year has shone a cold, hard light on many things—the varied levels of preparedness to respond; collective attitudes toward health, technology, and science; and vast financial and social inequities. As the world continues to navigate the covid-19 health crisis, and some places even begin a gradual return to work, school, travel, and recreation, it’s critical to resolve the competing priorities of protecting the public’s health equitably while ensuring privacy.

The extended crisis has led to rapid change in work and social behavior, as well as an increased reliance on technology. It’s now more critical than ever that companies, governments, and society exercise caution in applying technology and handling personal information. The expanded and rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) demonstrates how adaptive technologies are prone to intersect with humans and social institutions in potentially risky or inequitable ways.

“Our … Read the rest

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China has landed a rover on Mars for the first time—here’s what happens next

On March 14, China’s space program took a huge leap forward when it landed a rover on Mars for the first time, according to state media. China is now only the second country to land successfully on Mars. The rover, named Zhurong (after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology), joins NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers as the only wheeled robots trekking around the surface of the planet. 

“This is really a milestone for the Chinese space program,” says Chi Wang, the director of the National Space Science Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “It signifies Chinese space exploration steps out of the Earth-Moon system and heads for the [Mars] planetary system. A mission like this demonstrates China has the capability to explore the entire solar system.”

Zhurong is part of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission that China launched last July, the same month as NASA’s launch of the … Read the rest

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We need to design distrust into AI systems to make them safer

Ayanna Howard has always sought to use robots and AI to help people. Over her nearly 30-year career, she has built countless robots: for exploring Mars, for cleaning hazardous waste, and for assisting children with special needs. In the process, she’s developed an impressive array of techniques in robotic manipulation, autonomous navigation, and computer vision. And she’s led the field in studying a common mistake humans make: we place too much trust in automated systems.

On May 12, the Association for Computing Machinery granted Howard this year’s Athena Lecturer Award, which recognizes women who have made fundamental contributions in computer science. The organization honored not only Howard’s impressive list of scientific accomplishments but also her passion and commitment to giving back to her community. For as long as she has been a celebrated technologist, she has also created and led many programs designed to increase the participation and retention of … Read the rest

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A paralyzed man is challenging Neuralink’s monkey to a match of mind Pong

A man with a brain implant that allows him to control computers via mental signals says he is ready to challenge Elon Musk’s neuroscience company Neuralink in a head-to-head game of Pong—with a monkey.

Neuralink is developing advanced wireless brain implants so humans can connect directly to computer networks. In April, researchers working with the company showed off videos of a rhesus monkey named Pager who can play the classic paddle game using thought signals. The company’s monkey MindPong video won raves from Musk acolytes, who acclaimed it as the billionaire’s latest mind-blowing deed.

“As soon as I saw it I said, ‘I wonder if I could beat that monkey,’” says Nathan Copeland, who six years ago received a different type of implant that he regularly uses to play video games.  

Copeland was hurt in car accident and now can’t walk or move his fingers. He does retain movement … Read the rest

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Language models like GPT-3 could herald a new type of search engine

In 1998 a couple of Stanford graduate students published a paper describing a new kind of search engine: “In this paper, we present Google, a prototype of a large-scale search engine which makes heavy use of the structure present in hypertext. Google is designed to crawl and index the Web efficiently and produce much more satisfying search results than existing systems.”

The key innovation was an algorithm called PageRank, which ranked search results by calculating how relevant they were to a user’s query on the basis of their links to other pages on the web. On the back of PageRank, Google became the gateway to the internet, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page built one of the biggest companies in the world.

Now a team of Google researchers has published a proposal for a radical redesign that throws out the ranking approach and replaces it with a single large AI … Read the rest

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Top researchers are calling for a real investigation into the origin of covid-19

A year ago, the idea that the covid-19 pandemic could have been caused by a laboratory accident was denounced as a conspiracy theory by the world’s leading journals, scientists, and news organizations.

But the origin of the virus that has killed millions remains a mystery, and the chance that it came from a lab has become the theory that cannot be put to rest.

Now, in a letter in the journal Science, 18 prominent biologists—including the world’s foremost coronavirus researcher—are lending their weight to calls for a new investigation of all possible origins of the virus, and calling on China’s laboratories and agencies to “open their records” to independent analysis.

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the scientists write.

The letter, which was organized by the Stanford University microbiologist David Relman and the University of Washington virologist Jesse Bloom, takes … Read the rest

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Podcast: Can AI fix your credit?

Credit scores have been used for decades to assess consumer creditworthiness, but their scope is far greater now that they are powered by algorithms. Not only do they consider vastly more data, in both volume and type, but they increasingly affect whether you can buy a car, rent an apartment, or get a full-time job. In this second of a series on automation and our wallets, we explore just how much the machines that determine our credit worthiness have come to affect far more than our financial lives.

We Meet:

  • Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at National Consumer Law Center  
  • Michele Gilman, professor of law at University of Baltimore
  • Mike de Vere, CEO Zest AI


This episode was produced by Jennifer Strong, Karen Hao, Emma Cillekens and Anthony Green. We’re edited by Michael Reilly.



Miriam: It was not uncommon to be locked out of … Read the rest

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