Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system — from fastcompany.com by Mike Elgan
In China, scoring citizens’ behavior is official government policy. U.S. companies are increasingly doing something similar, outside the law.

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

Have you heard about China’s social credit system? It’s a technology-enabled, surveillance-based nationwide program designed to nudge citizens toward better behavior. The ultimate goal is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” according to the Chinese government.

In place since 2014, the social credit system is a work in progress that could evolve by next year into a single, nationwide point system for all Chinese citizens, akin to a financial credit score. It aims to punish for transgressions that can include membership in or support for the Falun Gong or Tibetan Buddhism, failure to pay debts, excessive video gaming, criticizing the government, late payments, failing to sweep the sidewalk in front of your store or house, smoking or playing loud music on trains, jaywalking, and other actions deemed illegal or unacceptable by the Chinese government.

IT CAN HAPPEN HERE
Many Westerners are disturbed by what they read about China’s social credit system. But such systems, it turns out, are not unique to China. A parallel system is developing in the United States, in part as the result of Silicon Valley and technology-industry user policies, and in part by surveillance of social media activity by private companies.

Here are some of the elements of America’s growing social credit system.

 

If current trends hold, it’s possible that in the future a majority of misdemeanors and even some felonies will be punished not by Washington, D.C., but by Silicon Valley. It’s a slippery slope away from democracy and toward corporatocracy.

 

From DSC:
Who’s to say what gains a citizen points and what subtracts from their score? If one believes a certain thing, is that a plus or a minus? And what might be tied to someone’s score? The ability to obtain food? Medicine/healthcare? Clothing? Social Security payments? Other?

We are giving a huge amount of power to a handful of corporations…trust comes into play…at least for me. Even internally, the big tech co’s seem to be struggling as to the ethical ramifications of what they’re working on (in a variety of areas). 

Is the stage being set for a “Person of Interest” Version 2.0?

 

Amazon, Microsoft, ‘putting world at risk of killer AI’: study — from news.yahoo.com by Issam Ahmed

Excerpt:

Washington (AFP) – Amazon, Microsoft and Intel are among leading tech companies putting the world at risk through killer robot development, according to a report that surveyed major players from the sector about their stance on lethal autonomous weapons.

Dutch NGO Pax ranked 50 companies by three criteria: whether they were developing technology that could be relevant to deadly AI, whether they were working on related military projects, and if they had committed to abstaining from contributing in the future.

“Why are companies like Microsoft and Amazon not denying that they’re currently developing these highly controversial weapons, which could decide to kill people without direct human involvement?” said Frank Slijper, lead author of the report published this week.

Addendum on 8/23/19:

 

AI is in danger of becoming too male — new research — from singularityhub.com by Juan Mateos-Garcia and Joysy John

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

But current AI systems are far from perfect. They tend to reflect the biases of the data used to train them and to break down when they face unexpected situations.

So do we really want to turn these bias-prone, brittle technologies into the foundation stones of tomorrow’s economy?

One way to minimize AI risks is to increase the diversity of the teams involved in their development. As research on collective decision-making and creativity suggests, groups that are more cognitively diverse tend to make better decisions. Unfortunately, this is a far cry from the situation in the community currently developing AI systems. And a lack of gender diversity is one important (although not the only) dimension of this.

A review published by the AI Now Institute earlier this year showed that less than 20 percent of the researchers applying to prestigious AI conferences are women, and that only a quarter of undergraduates studying AI at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley are female.

 


From DSC:
My niece just left a very lucrative programming job and managerial role at Microsoft after working there for several years. As a single woman, she got tired of fighting the culture there. 

It was again a reminder to me that there are significant ramifications to the cultures of the big tech companies…especially given the power of these emerging technologies and the growing influence they are having on our culture.


Addendum on 8/20/19:

  • Google’s Hate Speech Detection A.I. Has a Racial Bias Problem — from fortunes.com by Jonathan Vanian
    Excerpt:
    A Google-created tool that uses artificial intelligence to police hate speech in online comments on sites like the New York Times has become racially biased, according to a new study. The tool, developed by Google and a subsidiary of its parent company, often classified comments written in the African-American vernacular as toxic, researchers from the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence said in a paper presented in early August at the Association for Computational Linguistics conference in Florence, Italy.
    .
  • On the positive side of things:
    Number of Female Students, Students of Color Tackling Computer Science AP on the Rise — from thejournal.com
 

Alexa Skill Blueprints Publishing Now Available in Australia and New Zealand – Create and Publish a Skill, No Coding Required— from developer.amazon.com by James Ang

Excerpt:

We are excited to announce that now anyone can create and publish an Alexa skill on the Australian Alexa Skills Store using Alexa Skill Blueprints. Skill Blueprints enable you to create and share customised Alexa skills simply by filling in the blanks to one of the dozens of easy-to-use templates, with no coding required. Now you can publish skills created using Alexa Skill Blueprints to the Alexa Skills Store in Australia for customers to discover and use. We have also built new Skill Blueprints specifically for content creators, bloggers, and organisations so they can reach anyone with an Alexa-enabled device.

Create Fun Learning Tools
Whether you are a parent helping your child study or want to teach something you’re passionate about, Blueprints are easy tools to create new ways to learn. Use the QuizFlashcardsFacts, and Listening Quiz Blueprints to help teach new concepts, retain information, and prepare for the next exam. Add your content into the Skill Blueprint template without the need for any coding and make learning fun for everyone.

 

 

Top 10 Digital Transformation Trends For 2020 –from forbes.com by Daniel Newman

Excerpt (emphasis DSC):

A faster WiFi for a faster world: Although WiFi 6 and 5G are completely different technologies, both will be bringing us much faster processing and wireless connection speeds in 2020. 5G and WiFi 6 working in concert will create the perfect end-to-end combination of ultra-fast connectivity for home and office. Expect download speeds up to 3x faster than were achievable with WiFi 5, but that isn’t the best measure of the new standard’s value. The real value of WiFi 6 will be its ability to extend faster data speeds to far more devices than WiFi 5 was able to manage.

 

Amazon pledges $700 million to teach its workers to code — from wired.com by Louise Matsakis

Excerpt:

Amazon announced Thursday that it will spend up to $700 million over the next six years retraining 100,000 of its US employees, mostly in technical skills like software engineering and IT support. Amazon is already one of the largest employers in the country, with almost 300,000 workers (and many more contractors) and it’s particularly hungry for more new talent. The company currently has more than 20,000 vacant US roles, over half of which are at its headquarters in Seattle. Meanwhile, the US economy is booming, and there are now more open jobs than there are unemployed people who can fill them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Against that backdrop, Amazon’s jobs skills efforts provide some reassurance that—in theory at least—you could be retrained into a new role when the robots arrive.

 

From the announcement:

Based on a review of its workforce and analysis of U.S. hiring, Amazon’s fastest growing highly skilled jobs over the last five years include data mapping specialist, data scientist, solutions architect and business analyst, as well as logistics coordinator, process improvement manager and transportation specialist within our customer fulfillment network.

 

Also see:

  • Amazon to Invest $700M to Retrain 100,000 Workers for New Jobs — from pcmag.com by Michael Kan Icon
    ‘There is a greater need for technical skills in the workplace than ever before. Amazon is no exception,’ the company said. The goal is to ‘upskill’ one third of Amazon’s total work force by 2025 through free retraining programs.
 

Reflections on “Clay Shirky on Mega-Universities and Scale” [Christian]

Clay Shirky on Mega-Universities and Scale — from philonedtech.com by Clay Shirky
[This was a guest post by Clay Shirky that grew out of a conversation that Clay and Phil had about IPEDS enrollment data. Most of the graphs are provided by Phil.]

Excerpts:

Were half a dozen institutions to dominate the online learning landscape with no end to their expansion, or shift what Americans seek in a college degree, that would indeed be one of the greatest transformations in the history of American higher education. The available data, however, casts doubt on that idea.

Though much of the conversation around mega-universities is speculative, we already know what a mega-university actually looks like, one much larger than any university today. It looks like the University of Phoenix, or rather it looked like Phoenix at the beginning of this decade, when it had 470,000 students, the majority of whom took some or all of their classes online. Phoenix back then was six times the size of the next-largest school, Kaplan, with 78,000 students, and nearly five times the size of any university operating today.

From that high-water mark, Phoenix has lost an average of 40,000 students every year of this decade.

 

From DSC:
First of all, I greatly appreciate both Clay’s and Phil’s thought leadership and their respective contributions to education and learning through the years. I value their perspectives and their work.  Clay and Phil offer up a great article here — one worth your time to read.  

The article made me reflect on what I’ve been building upon and tracking for the last decade — a next generation ***PLATFORM*** that I believe will represent a powerful piece of a global learning ecosystem. I call this vision, “Learning from the Living [Class] Room.” Though the artificial intelligence-backed platform that I’m envisioning doesn’t yet fully exist — this new era and type of learning-based platform ARE coming. The emerging signs, technologies, trends — and “fingerprints”of it, if you will — are beginning to develop all over the place.

Such a platform will:

  • Be aimed at the lifelong learner.
  • Offer up major opportunities to stay relevant and up-to-date with one’s skills.
  • Offer access to the program offerings from many organizations — including the mega-universities, but also, from many other organizations that are not nearly as large as the mega-universities.
  • Be reliant upon human teachers, professors, trainers, subject matter experts, but will be backed up by powerful AI-based technologies/tools. For example, AI-based tools will pulse-check the open job descriptions and the needs of business and present the top ___ areas to go into (how long those areas/jobs last is anyone’s guess, given the exponential pace of technological change).

Below are some quotes that I want to comment on:

Not nothing, but not the kind of environment that will produce an educational Amazon either, especially since the top 30 actually shrank by 0.2% a year.

 

Instead of an “Amazon vs. the rest” dynamic, online education is turning into something much more widely adopted, where the biggest schools are simply the upper end of a continuum, not so different from their competitors, and not worth treating as members of a separate category.

 

Since the founding of William and Mary, the country’s second college, higher education in the U.S. hasn’t been a winner-take-all market, and it isn’t one today. We are not entering a world where the largest university operates at outsized scale, we’re leaving that world; 

 

From DSC:
I don’t see us leaving that world at all…but that’s not my main reflection here. Instead, I’m not focusing on how large the mega-universities will become. When I speak of a forthcoming Walmart of Education or Amazon of Education, what I have in mind is a platform…not one particular organization.

Consider that the vast majority of Amazon’s revenues come from products that other organizations produce. They are a platform, if you will. And in the world of platforms (i.e., software), it IS a winner take all market. 

Bill Gates reflects on this as well in this recent article from The Verge:

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets.

So it’s all about a forthcoming platform — or platforms. (It could be more than one platform. Consider Apple. Consider Microsoft. Consider Google. Consider Facebook.)

But then the question becomes…would a large amount of universities (and other types of organizations) be willing to offer up their courses on a platform? Well, consider what’s ALREADY happening with FutureLearn:

Finally…one more excerpt from Clay’s article:

Eventually the new ideas lose their power to shock, and end up being widely copied. Institutional transformation starts as heresy and ends as a section in the faculty handbook. 

From DSC:
This is a great point. Reminds me of this tweet from Fred Steube (and I added a piece about Western Telegraph):

 

Some things to reflect upon…for sure.

 

From DSC:
First of all, a couple of articles:

This futuristic driverless pod will soon be delivering pizza in Texas — from digitaltrends.com by Trevor Mogg

Excerpt:

Global pizza purveyor Domino’s is planning to use self-driving pods to deliver its cheesy meals to hungry customers. The food company is partnering with California-based tech startup Nuro for a trial service in Houston, Texas later this year.

 

 

Amazon is creating detailed 3D models of suburbia to train its new delivery robots — from theverge.com by James Vincent
‘Eventually, we’ll be delivering around the world.’

 

 

From DSC:
Instead of Amazon having their army of robots/drones, Domino’s having their army of driverless pods, etc…perhaps we should think about how we want this all to unfold in the future — especially with an eye on what the world will be like for future generations.

 

“The company won’t say where or when it plans to expand these tests…”

 

From DSC:
It should NOT be Amazon’s decision (nor Domino’s decision, nor any other company’s decision) to expand any tests here! It should be up to citizens to weigh in on what we want our future to look like before any such endeavors are allowed to move forward another inch.

 

From DSC:
Are you kidding me!? Geo-fencing technology or not, I don’t trust this for one second.


Amazon patents ‘surveillance as a service’ tech for its delivery drones — from theverge.com by Jon Porter
Including technology that cuts out footage of your neighbor’s house

Excerpt:

The patent gives a few hints how the surveillance service could work. It says customers would be allowed to pay for visits on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis, and that drones could be equipped with night vision cameras and microphones to expand their sensing capabilities.

 

Amazon launches Personalize, a fully managed AI-powered recommendation service — from venturebeat.com Kyle Wiggers

Excerpt:

Amazon [on 6/10/19] announced the general availability of Amazon Personalize, an AWS service that facilitates the development of websites, mobile apps, and content management and email marketing systems that suggest products, provide tailored search results, and customize funnels on the fly.

 

 

 

How surveillance cameras could be weaponized with A.I. — from nytimes.com by Niraj Chokshi
Advances in artificial intelligence could supercharge surveillance cameras, allowing footage to be constantly monitored and instantly analyzed, the A.C.L.U. warned in a new report.

Excerpt:

In the report, the organization imagined a handful of dystopian uses for the technology. In one, a politician requests footage of his enemies kissing in public, along with the identities of all involved. In another, a life insurance company offers rates based on how fast people run while exercising. And in another, a sheriff receives a daily list of people who appeared to be intoxicated in public, based on changes to their gait, speech or other patterns.

Analysts have valued the market for video analytics at as much as $3 billion, with the expectation that it will grow exponentially in the years to come. The important players include smaller businesses as well as household names such as Amazon, Cisco, Honeywell, IBM and Microsoft.

 

From DSC:
We can no longer let a handful of companies tell the rest of us how our society will be formed/shaped/act. 

For example, Amazon should NOT be able to just send its robots/drones to deliver packages — that type of decision is NOT up to them. I have a suspicion that Amazon cares more about earning larger profits and pleasing Wall Street rather than being concerned with our society at large. If Amazon is able to introduce their robots all over the place, what’s to keep any and every company from introducing their own army of robots or drones? If we allow this to occur, it won’t be long before our streets, sidewalks, and air spaces are filled with noise and clutter.

So…a  question for representatives, senators, legislators, mayors, judges, lawyers, etc.:

  • What should we be building in order to better allow citizens to weigh in on emerging technologies and whether any given emerging technology — or a specific product/service — should be rolled out…or not? 

 

 

Is your college future-ready? — from jisc.ac.uk by Robin Ghurbhurun

Excerpt:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming science fact rather than science fiction. Alexa is everywhere from the house to the car, Siri is in the palm of your hand and students and the wider community can now get instant responses to their queries. We as educators have a duty to make sense of the information out there, working alongside AI to facilitate students’ curiosities.

Instead of banning mobile phones on campus, let’s manage our learning environments differently

We need to plan strategically to avoid a future where only the wealthy have access to human teachers, whilst others are taught with AI. We want all students to benefit from both. We should have teacher-approved content from VLEs and AI assistants supporting learning and discussion, everywhere from the classroom to the workplace. Let’s learn from the domestic market; witness the increasing rise of co-bot workers coming to an office near you.

 

 

Stanford team aims at Alexa and Siri with a privacy-minded alternative — from nytimes.com by John Markoff

Excerpt:

Now computer scientists at Stanford University are warning about the consequences of a race to control what they believe will be the next key consumer technology market — virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

The group at Stanford, led by Monica Lam, a computer systems designer, last month received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant is for an internet service they hope will serve as a Switzerland of sorts for systems that use human language to control computers, smartphones and internet devices in homes and offices.

The researchers’ biggest concern is that virtual assistants, as they are designed today, could have a far greater impact on consumer information than today’s websites and apps. Putting that information in the hands of one big company or a tiny clique, they say, could erase what is left of online privacy.

 

Amazon sends Alexa developers on quest for ‘holy grail of voice science’ — from venturebeat.com by Khari Johnson

Excerpt:

At Amazon’s re:Mars conference last week, the company rolled out Alexa Conversations in preview. Conversations is a module within the Alexa Skills Kit that stitches together Alexa voice apps into experiences that help you accomplish complex tasks.

Alexa Conversations may be Amazon’s most intriguing and substantial pitch to voice developers in years. Conversations will make creating skills possible with fewer lines of code. It will also do away with the need to understand the many different ways a person can ask to complete an action, as a recurrent neural network will automatically generate dialogue flow.

For users, Alexa Conversations will make it easier to complete tasks that require the incorporation of multiple skills and will cut down on the number of interactions needed to do things like reserve a movie ticket or order food.

 

 

10 things we should all demand from Big Tech right now — from vox.com by Sigal Samuel
We need an algorithmic bill of rights. AI experts helped us write one.

We need an algorithmic bill of rights. AI experts helped us write one.

Excerpts:

  1. Transparency: We have the right to know when an algorithm is making a decision about us, which factors are being considered by the algorithm, and how those factors are being weighted.
  2. Explanation: We have the right to be given explanations about how algorithms affect us in a specific situation, and these explanations should be clear enough that the average person will be able to understand them.
  3. Consent: We have the right to give or refuse consent for any AI application that has a material impact on our lives or uses sensitive data, such as biometric data.
  4. Freedom from bias: We have the right to evidence showing that algorithms have been tested for bias related to race, gender, and other protected characteristics — before they’re rolled out. The algorithms must meet standards of fairness and nondiscrimination and ensure just outcomes. (Inserted comment from DSC: Is this even possible? I hope so, but I have my doubts especially given the enormous lack of diversity within the large tech companies.)
  5. Feedback mechanism: We have the right to exert some degree of control over the way algorithms work.
  6. Portability: We have the right to easily transfer all our data from one provider to another.
  7. Redress: We have the right to seek redress if we believe an algorithmic system has unfairly penalized or harmed us.
  8. Algorithmic literacy: We have the right to free educational resources about algorithmic systems.
  9. Independent oversight: We have the right to expect that an independent oversight body will be appointed to conduct retrospective reviews of algorithmic systems gone wrong. The results of these investigations should be made public.
  10. Federal and global governance: We have the right to robust federal and global governance structures with human rights at their center. Algorithmic systems don’t stop at national borders, and they are increasingly used to decide who gets to cross borders, making international governance crucial.

 

This raises the question: Who should be tasked with enforcing these norms? Government regulators? The tech companies themselves?

 

 

San Francisco becomes first city to bar police from using facial recognition— from cnet.com by Laura Hautala
It won’t be the last city to consider a similar law.

San Francisco becomes first city to bar police from using facial recognition

Excerpt:

The city of San Francisco approved an ordinance on Tuesday [5/14/19] barring the police department and other city agencies from using facial recognition technology on residents. It’s the first such ban of the technology in the country.

The ordinance, which passed by a vote of 8 to 1, also creates a process for the police department to disclose what surveillance technology they use, such as license plate readers and cell-site simulators that can track residents’ movements over time. But it singles out facial recognition as too harmful to residents’ civil liberties to even consider using.

“Facial surveillance technology is a huge legal and civil liberties risk now due to its significant error rate, and it will be worse when it becomes perfectly accurate mass surveillance tracking us as we move about our daily lives,” said Brian Hofer, the executive director of privacy advocacy group Secure Justice.

For example, Microsoft asked the federal government in July to regulate facial recognition technology before it gets more widespread, and said it declined to sell the technology to law enforcement. As it is, the technology is on track to become pervasive in airports and shopping centers and other tech companies like Amazon are selling the technology to police departments.

 

Also see:

 

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