From automated eye scans to analysing the cries of new-born babies, faster drug development to personalised medicine, artificial intelligence (AI) promises huge advances in the field of healthcare. At the recent AI for Good Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, we were told how AI could speed up the development of new drugs, lead to personalised medicine informed by our genomes, and help diagnose diseases in countries suffering from underdeveloped health services and a chronic shortage of doctors. But there are two main obstacles preventing access to this utopian destination. One is that the AI being applied to the world's health problems isn't quite good enough yet. The other related issue is the lack of good quality digital data - less than 20% of the world's medical data is available in a form that AI machine learning algorithms can ingest and learn from, the WHO estimates.
Elon Musk has a predilection for grandeur. The billionaire tech provocateur made his fortune as a founder of the revolutionary online-payments company PayPal, and since then, he has announced his intention to revolutionize cars, trains, space travel, intercontinental flight, and city driving. SpaceX, his aerospace company, has begun work on the infrastructure to beam internet access down to Earth from satellites in orbit around the planet. And this week, Musk shifted his public ambitions to his next target: the human brain. Neuralink, a neurotechnology company owned by Musk, crept out of the corporate shadows Tuesday with a live-stream that included one of the founder's signature big promises: The company is developing a device to implant inside the brain that supposedly will allow people to control computers and other devices with their mind.
This week's furor over FaceApp has largely centered on concerns that its Russian developers might be compelled to share the app's data with the Russian government, much as the Snowden disclosures illustrated the myriad ways in which American companies were compelled to disclose their private user data to the US government. Yet the reality is that this represents a mistaken understanding of just how the modern data trade works today and the simple fact that American universities and companies routinely make their data available to companies all across the world, including in Russia and China. In today's globalized world, data is just as globalized, with national borders no longer restricting the flow of our personal information - trend made worse by the data-hungry world of deep learning. Data brokers have long bought and sold our personal data in a shadowy world of international trade involving our most intimate and private information. The digital era has upended this explicit trade through the interlocking world of passive exchange through analytics services.
The use of facial recognition in the United States public sector has received a great deal of press lately, and most of it isn't positive. There's a lot of concern over how state and federal government agencies are using this technology and how the resulting biometric data will be used. Many fear that the use of this technology will lead to a Big Brother state. Unfortunately, these concerns are not without merit. We're already seeing damaging results where this technology is prevalent in countries like China, Singapore, and even the United Kingdom where London authorities recently fined a man for disorderly conduct for covering his face to avoid surveillance on the streets.
A police department in Orlando has terminated its trial of Amazon's AI-powered facial recognition for the second time, citing costs and complexity. According to a report from Orlando Weekly, the department ended its trial of the technology, called Rekognition, after 15 months of glitches and concerns over whether the technology was actually working. 'At this time, the city was not able to dedicate the resources to the pilot to enable us to make any noticeable progress toward completing the needed configuration and testing,' Orlando's Chief Administrative Office said in a memo to City Council, as reported by Orlando Weekly. A police department in Orlando has ended its pilot of Amazon's facial recognition software after being unable to get its system working properly. The decision marks the second time in just 10 months that the department decided not to proceed with using the technology.
WASHINGTON/DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Iran said it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday but denied Washington's assertion that the U.S. Navy had downed an Iranian drone nearby this week, as tensions in the Gulf region rose again. Britain said it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf. The tanker's operator, Stena Bulk, said in a statement the ship was no longer under the crew's control and could not be contacted. Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted a military source as saying the vessel had turned off its tracker, ignored warnings from the Revolutionary Guard and was sailing in the wrong direction in a shipping lane. "We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters.
The area burned by wildfires each year across the Western United States has increased by more than 300 percent over the past three decades, and much of this increase is due to human-caused warming. Warmer air holds more moisture, and the thirsty air sucks this from plants, trees, and soil, leaving forest vegetation and ground debris drier and easier to ignite. Future climate change, accompanied by warming temperatures and increased aridity, is expected to continue this trend, and will likely exacerbate and intensify wildfires in areas where fuel is abundant. Park Williams, a Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory associate research professor and a 2016 Center for Climate and Life Fellow, studies climatology, drought, and wildfires. He has received a $641,000 grant from the Zegar Family Foundation that he'll use to advance understanding of the past and future behavior of wildfires.
Clinicians who order common diagnostic chest x-rays for patients have been sitting on a goldmine of unused prognostic information. The radiographs, used since the 19th century to detect specific abnormalities, could soon be repurposed to identify long-term mortality risk -- with a little help from machine learning. Using data from two large randomized trials, researchers have developed a convolutional neural network, called CXR-risk, that stratifies participants by all-cause mortality risk. They trained the artificial intelligence (AI) system with 85,000 x-rays and follow-up data from more than 40,000 individuals. Extracting information from single chest radiographs, the system found a graded association between risk score and mortality.
I was alarmed to read this week that the Alabama Senate has passed a bill to outlaw abortion under almost all circumstances, including cases of rape and/or incest. Under the bill, doctors face 10 years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy and 99 years for carrying out the procedure. Fortunately, for decades, women's reproductive rights groups, health providers, technologists, and hackers have been working together internationally to support a women's right to choose. They've created a legacy of work that may be able to help. The worst major city for abortion access is Rapid City, South Dakota, where women must travel 318 miles to get an abortion.
Ursula von der Leyen was elected on Tuesday as the new President of the European Commission by 383 Members of the new European Parliament. She is the first woman to hold the office. A centre-right politician and close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she was until this week Germany's defense minister. So what does her election mean for EU tech policy over the next five years? We did get a glimpse of her priorities in her Tuesday morning speech addressing the plenary of the European Parliament ahead of her confirmation vote.