A couple of years ago, as Brian Brackeen was preparing to pitch his facial recognition software to a potential customer as a convenient, secure alternative to passwords, the software stopped working. Panicked, he tried adjusting the room's lighting, then the Wi-Fi connection, before he realized the problem was his face. Brackeen is black, but like most facial recognition developers, he'd trained his algorithms with a set of mostly white faces. He got a white, blond colleague to pose for the demo, and they closed the deal. It was a Pyrrhic victory, he says: "It was like having your own child not recognize you."
Facial recognition tech is becoming more sophisticated, with some firms claiming it can even read our emotions and detect suspicious behaviour. But what implications does this have for privacy and civil liberties? Facial recognition tech has been around for decades, but it has been progressing in leaps and bounds in recent years due to advances in computing vision and artificial intelligence (AI), tech experts say. It is now being used to identify people at borders, unlock smart phones, spot criminals, and authenticate banking transactions. But some tech firms are claiming it can also assess our emotional state.
The Los Angeles Police Department released formal guidelines on its proposal to fly drones during a one-year pilot program, spurring questions and concerns among members of a civilian oversight panel and the public at a contentious meeting Tuesday. "Our challenge is to create a policy that strikes a balance, that promotes public safety, the safety of our officers and does not infringe on individual privacy rights," Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala told the Los Angeles Police Commission at the packed meeting. Before outlining the guidelines, Girmala reviewed initial feedback from the community on the proposed drone initiative. Of 1,675 emails, only about 6% were positive and encouraged the LAPD to incorporate the new technology. The Police Commission must approve the pilot program before any of the unmanned aircraft are flown.
A recent, sprawling Wired feature outlined the results of its analysis on toxicity in online commenters across the United States. Unsurprisingly, it was like catnip for everyone who's ever heard the phrase "don't read the comments." According to The Great Tech Panic: Trolls Across America, Vermont has the most toxic online commenters, whereas Sharpsburg, Georgia "is the least toxic city in the US." The underlying API used to determine "toxicity" scores phrases like "I am a gay black woman" as 87 percent toxicity, and phrases like "I am a man" as the least toxic. The API, called Perspective, is made by Google's Alphabet within its Jigsaw incubator.
In the days before white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Bumble had already been in the process of strengthening its anti-racism efforts, partly in response to an attack the Daily Stormer had waged on the company, encouraging its readers to harass the staff of Bumble in order to protest the company's public support of women's empowerment. Bumble bans any user who disrespects their customer service team, figuring that a guy who harasses women who work for Bumble would probably harass women who use Bumble. After the neo-Nazi attack, Bumble contacted the Anti-Defamation League for help identifying hate symbols and rooting out users who include them in their Bumble profiles. Now, the employees who respond to user reports have the ADL's glossary of hate symbols as a guide to telltale signs of hate-group membership, and any profile with language from the glossary will get flagged as potentially problematic. The platform has also added the Confederate flag to its list of prohibited images.
Just one week after the sheriff's department in Cecil County, Md., got its brand new drone up and running, it was asked to investigate a case of stolen construction equipment. So the Cecil County Sheriff sent his Typhoon H Pro to investigate. The sheriff's department in Somerset County, N.J., hopes its drones could help it find missing people. "Years ago, when we had people wander off, we would bring out the rescue department, the fire department, fire department volunteers, K-9 if we had it and we'd search and search and search and never find the person," said Somerset County Sheriff Frank Provensano.
In early 2017, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new initiative in the city's ongoing battle with violent crime. The most common solutions to this sort of problem involve hiring more police officers or working more closely with community members. But Emanuel declared that the Chicago Police Department would expand its use of software, enabling what is called "predictive policing," particularly in neighborhoods on the city's south side. The Chicago police will use data and computer analysis to identify neighborhoods that are more likely to experience violent crime, assigning additional police patrols in those areas. In addition, the software will identify individual people who are expected to become – but have yet to be – victims or perpetrators of violent crimes.
The Anti-Defamation League hasn't been shy about its condemnation of Breitbart News, an outlet it calls the "premiere website" for the "loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists" it claims constitutes the so-called "alt-right" movement. So it came as a bit of a shock recently when the Jewish rights group discovered that it happened to number among the site's advertisers. The ADL wasn't the only one; As Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon's new White House gig brought renewed media attention to the agitative far-right site's less savory tendencies, Kellogg, Warby Parker, U.S. Bank and several other major brands also found that they had been unwittingly supporting it with their ad dollars. "We regularly work with our media buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren't aligned with our values as a company," a Kellogg spokesperson said at the time. "As you can imagine, there is a very large volume of websites, so occasionally something is inadvertently missed."