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Contextual oops

Let’s start with a story. This might be my favorite story in all the annals of geekdom, which is saying something for someone whose literal job is “purveyor of geeky stories.” On March 1, 1990, in AG’s beloved hometown of Austin, Texas, the United States Secret Service raided a “suspected ring of hackers.”

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It was a full-on, TV level bust: armed agents broke locks, tore up files, carted off computers, even did that “simultaneous raid so the masterminds can’t get word to their button men” thing at the home of one of the people involved. Hooray! The cops beat the bad guys! Not so much.

Right reason, wrong time

Three years and a court decision later, the Secret Service had to fess up: they’d raided a game company. A tabletop game company. As in paper and dice, neither noted for being connected to the Internet. They weren’t hackers. At all. They’d written a game about hackers, and in the grim darkness of 1990, the Secret Service was fuzzy on the difference. That poor guy who got his very own private raid? He wrote their cyberpunk setting, and had dared to do research on the subject.

That’s as close as anyone there got to l33t h4x0r doings, and it turned out to be close enough for armed cops in a private citizen’s living room without an invitation.

There’s a halfway happy ending to that story, involving money paid to the company, an epic tonguelashing from a circuit court judge, and the founding of the leading advocacy organization for digital privacy rights, but the point is the Secret Service. Their actions weren’t malicious. Stupid, yes. Hilarious in hindsight, absolutely. Catastrophic to a small business innocent of any wrongdoing, big time. But they thought they were doing the right thing. They just Did It Wrong.

Doing It Wrong

As AI saturates our lives, I reflect, as I often do, on Doing It Wrong. Fundamentally, that ridiculous case came down to a misunderstanding of context. The Secret Service didn’t have the background or expertise to differentiate between hacking and a game about hacking. That’s absurd, that’s their job, but they didn’t.

Hacking, at least most hacking, is still a bad thing.

As simultaneously hilarious and horrible as it is to pull the equivalent of yanking a guy off his couch and charging him with murder for shooting someone in “Call of Duty,” shooting people is generally undesirable outside a fictional context.

Does AI know that?

Can AI make the distinction between “die, [expletive here]” in your favorite combat simulator and “die, [expletive here]” when an unpleasant person attempts to end the pizza guy with a fork? Because the Secret Service couldn’t, and they were human. Humans are pre-built for context. Computers have to be made that way, and it’s usually really hard. That’s a shade worrisome, what with AI growing like kudzu and the data it collects being used for everything from market analysis to, yes, murder investigations.

So consider this a gentle reminder that even the smartest computer is still fundamentally a box of switches.

Zero and one, off and on, puts certain limitations on a binary system’s ability to comprehend the complex, subjective, frankly weird human condition. Getting AI to understand context is a top priority for some of the best minds in computer science, but while they’re working we h. sapiens will have to double down on patience and nuance, because one of our most pervasive tools won’t be very good at either. They may never be as good at it as we are, though three years ago I’d have said that about go.

Mind your audience

For at least the next few years, everyone from multinational corporations and national governments down to the data junkies and media consumers reading this article will need to exercise some extra caution when it comes to AI and its assessment of people and their doings.AI doesn’t understand us quite yet.

It is, if not blind, at least a little nearsighted when it comes to context, which is basically the most important human thing.Click To Tweet

We’re going to have to keep doing that part ourselves. Fail in this, and you risk becoming your own hilarious Doing It Wrong cautionary tale. Nobody wants that.

This story originally ran on July 26, 2017.



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New privacy concerns over FaceApp, tech expert says personal information is at risk

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LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The internet sensation called FaceApp is all over social media for days but it’s also raising some privacy concerns.

With just one tap, celebrities, normal people, and even the Good Morning Las Vegas news team were eager to see how they would look if they were older.

FaceApp also transforms user’s pictures to look young or to a different gender.

LATEST: Sen. Chuck Schumer calls for investigation into viral FaceApp

The free mobile app uses a type of artificial intelligence to transform people’s face.

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Meteorologist Justin Bruce
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13 Action News does want to clarify the morning team was not aware of the privacy concerns until later that day.

Like everyone else, they checked out the app because it had been trending on social media for days.

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Tech analyst Rob Enderle says a Russian company owns FaceApp.

He says as of now they are only able to use the picture users provided for the age transformation.

“The issue with this is, it’s a Russian owned application and it grants a lot of permissions,” Enderle says.

Enderle told 13 Action News that the sneak peek of the “wrinkly you” is not worth the download, nonetheless losing privacy.

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DNC tells campaigns not to use FaceApp ‘developed by Russians’

“The permissions you agreed to are overly broad. They indicate they can pull your location, contact information, they can pull other stuff off your phone you may not want them to have,” Enderle says.

Since users accept the terms and conditions, Enderle says it “opens up potential exposures.”

In a worst-case scenario, Enderle says someone’s information can be sold to another third party app or steal personal information.

“They can execute phishing attacks on people you know, they would know who you know. They can execute phishing attacks against you because they’ll know a great deal of you,” Enderle says.

FaceApp answered some privacy questions, here is the statement in full:

We are receiving a lot of inquiries regarding our privacy policy and therefore, would like to provide a few points that explain the basics:

1. FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.

2. We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.

3. We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority. For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using “Settings->Support->Report a bug” with the word “privacy” in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.

4. All FaceApp features are available without logging in, and you can log in only from the settings screen. As a result, 99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person.

5. We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties.

6. Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.

FaceApp responded to privacy concerns but it did not explain or address the part of its terms of service that has caused most concern, in which users are asked to agree to give up the rights to any images they edit with the app.



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