The Guardian


Facial recognition tech: watchdog calls for code to regulate police use

The Guardian

The information commissioner has expressed concern over the lack of a formal legal framework for the use of facial recognition cameras by the police. A barrister for the commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, told a court the current guidelines around automated facial recognition (AFR) technology were "ad hoc" and a clear code was needed. In a landmark case, Ed Bridges, an office worker from Cardiff, claims South Wales police violated his privacy and data protection rights by using AFR on him when he went to buy a sandwich during his lunch break and when he attended a peaceful anti-arms demonstration. The technology maps faces in a crowd and then compares them with a watchlist of images, which can include suspects, missing people or persons of interest to the police. The cameras have been used to scan faces in large crowds in public places such as streets, shopping centres, football crowds and music events such as the Notting Hill carnival.


Dreams becomes reality: the game that can make an artist out of anyone

The Guardian

As a digital artist and experimental games designer, I was one of the first in line to dive into Dreams – a PlayStation 4 game that aims to give everyone the ability to unlock the potential artist within – when the developer Media Molecule opened up limited early access in April. From the breadth of its artistic toolset to the community of creators it is enabling, Dreams feels like the start of a genuine revolution in accessible, creative play. The promise was that Dreams would represent a space where almost anything is possible, and Media Molecule has somehow got closer than I ever imagined. Dreams is hard to sum up succinctly, but it sits somewhere at the intersection of art studio, game engine and vibrant creative community hub. Almost the first thing new players see is a fun video of the development staff, smiling together in their office and holding up handmade "Welcome" signs.


Alexa, why does the brave new world of AI have all the sexism of the old one?

The Guardian

When women are over-represented in the workforce, it tends be in industries of assistance – cleaning, nursing, secretarial work and, now, the world of virtual assistants. Research by Unesco has shown that using default female voices in AI – as Microsoft has done with Cortana, Amazon with Alexa, Google with Google Assistant and Apple with Siri – is furthering the belief that women exist merely to help men to get on with more important things. There is no real reason for AI technologies to be gendered at all, but we are at the mercy of tech companies "staffed by overwhelmingly male engineering teams", fixated on living out a Captain Kirk fantasy and delegating to the subservient, silky-voiced computers of Star Trek. These systems are unapologetically built by men, for men. They can even struggle to understand the "breathy" voices of women as software is often developed with male voice samples.


Facial recognition tech prevents crime, police tell UK privacy case

The Guardian

Facial recognition cameras prevent crime, protect the public and do not breach the privacy of innocent people whose images are captured, a police force has argued. Ed Bridges, an office worker from Cardiff, claims South Wales police violated his privacy and data protection rights by using facial recognition technology on him. But Jeremy Johnson QC compared automated facial recognition (AFR) to the use of DNA to solve crimes and said it would have had little impact on Bridges. Johnson, representing the police, said: "AFR is a further technology that potentially has great utility for the prevention of crime, the apprehension of offenders and the protection of the public." The technology maps faces in a crowd and then compares them with a watch list of images, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest to the police.


Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa entrench gender biases, says UN

The Guardian

Assigning female genders to digital assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa is helping entrench harmful gender biases, according to a UN agency. Research released by Unesco claims that the often submissive and flirty responses offered by the systems to many queries – including outright abusive ones – reinforce ideas of women as subservient. "Because the speech of most voice assistants is female, it sends a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like'hey' or'OK'," the report said. "The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it. It honours commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone or hostility. In many communities, this reinforces commonly held gender biases that women are subservient and tolerant of poor treatment."


Office worker launches UK's first police facial recognition legal action

The Guardian

An office worker who believes his image was captured by facial recognition cameras when he popped out for a sandwich in his lunch break has launched a groundbreaking legal battle against the use of the technology. Supported by the campaign group Liberty, Ed Bridges, from Cardiff, raised money through crowdfunding to pursue the action, claiming the suspected use of the technology on him by South Wales police was an unlawful violation of privacy. Bridges, 36, claims he was distressed by the apparent use of the technology and is also arguing during a three-day hearing at Cardiff civil justice and family centre that it breaches data protection and equality laws. Facial recognition technology maps faces in a crowd and then compares them to a watchlist of images, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest to the police. The cameras scan faces in large crowds in public places such as streets, shopping centres, football crowds and music events such as the Notting Hill carnival.


Minecraft at 10: a decade of building things and changing lives

The Guardian

Hidden away somewhere in my attic is an old Xbox 360 that I'll never throw away. On its hard drive is a Minecraft save file that contains the first house my oldest son ever built in the game. He was seven and, coming from a boy on the autism spectrum with a limited vocabulary and no patience to draw and paint, his creation was a revelation. Sure, it is a monstrous carbuncle, a mess of wooden planks, cobblestone and dirt. But it is also the greatest building I ever saw.


Minecraft Earth: block building game moves into the real world

The Guardian

Since its beta launch in 2009, the blocky, world-building adventure game Minecraft has been released on more than 20 different platforms, from PC to consoles to mobile phones, selling 176m copies. News of a Minecraft AR (augmented reality) app leaked a few weeks ago, but now Microsoft has officially announced Minecraft Earth. It is being developed at the company's Redmond campus, using an array of its mobile, GPS and tracking technologies. Minecraft Earth is best pictured as Pokémon Go with building blocks. When you enter the game, you see an overhead map of your surroundings (Microsoft is working with StreetMap), overlaid with the quaint blocky look of the Minecraft world.


'I've seen more self-aware ants!' AI: More Than Human – review

The Guardian

In 2016, a machine beat the world's best (human) player at the ancient strategy game Go, which up to then was said to be too intuitive for a computer. AlphaGo's victory was doubly stunning because it taught itself Go by trial and error. Does the fact that computers can now learn mean that artificial intelligence (AI) has moved from science fiction to reality? The story of AlphaGo is told in a specially isolated display, almost like a little temple, at the heart of the Barbican's sprawling survey of the past, present and future of machines that can think for themselves. It's a show that's sorely needed.


Let me into your home: artist Lauren McCarthy on becoming Alexa for a day

The Guardian

In a gallery in downtown Manhattan, people are huddling around four laptops, taking turns to control the apartments of 14 complete strangers. They watch via live video feeds, and respond whenever the residents ask "Someone" to help them. They switch the lights on and off, boil the kettle, put some music on – whatever they can do to oblige. The project, called Someone, is the latest in a series exploring our ever more complicated relationship with technology. It's by the American artist Lauren McCarthy and is a sort of outsourcing of Lauren, an earlier work in which she acted as a real-life Alexa, remotely watching over a home 24 hours a day, responding to its occupants' questions and needs like a flesh and blood version of Amazon's voice-operated virtual assistant.