The Guardian


Amazon's Alexa recorded private conversation and sent it to random contact

The Guardian

No matter how suspicious it has seemed that Amazon is encouraging us to put listening devices in every room of our homes, the company has always said that its Echo assistants are not listening in on or recording conversations. Over and over again, company spokespeople have promised that they only start recording if someone says the wake word: "Alexa". It's a spiel Danielle, an Alexa user from Portland, Oregon, had believed. She'd installed Echo devices and smart bulbs in every room in her house, accepting Amazon's claims that they were not invading her privacy. But today she asked the company to investigate after an Alexa device recorded a private conversation between her and her husband and sent it to a random number in their address book without their permission.


Emergency brake was disabled on self-driving Uber that killed woman

The Guardian

A federal investigation into a self-driving Uber SUV that hit and killed a pedestrian in March has found that the vehicle's emergency braking system was disabled. The preliminary report, issued by the National Transportation Safety Board, said on Thursday that while the vehicle's guidance system had spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, emergency braking manoeuvres were not enabled in order to "reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior". Instead, the Uber system anticipated that the human back-up driver would intervene. However, the automated system was not designed to alert the driver of the impending danger. The car was traveling at 43 miles per hour and its sensors determined that braking was needed 1.3 seconds before impact, according to the report.


Uber to develop flying taxis in Paris with new €20m research centre

The Guardian

Uber is opening a new research centre in Paris to develop the firm's flying taxis as part of its Elevate programme. The new Advanced Technologies Centre, which will open in the autumn, will be Uber's first development site outside the US. The taxi firm said that it would be investing €20m (£17.5m) over the next five years and is partnering with École Polytechnique on various research schemes. "Nearly a decade ago, the idea for Uber was born out of a need to get a ride on a cold night in Paris," said Eric Allison, head of aviation for Uber. "That's why we're excited to announce our new Advanced Technologies Centre in the city where it all began."


Uber shuts down self-driving operation in Arizona after fatal crash

The Guardian

Uber is to shut down its self-driving car programme in Arizona after one of its cars killed a pedestrian there in March. The company will focus its research efforts on Pittsburgh, where a number of AI car projects, including Ford's Argo AI program and Google's Waymo, are centred. Uber will also continue to test in San Francisco, where the company has its headquarters. In an internal email, the Uber executive Eric Meyhofer wrote that the company would be changing the way it tested its driverless cars. "When we get back on the road, we intend to drive in a much more limited way to test specific use cases," he said.


Amazon selling facial recognition software to police, records reveal

The Guardian

In the aftermath of the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of Michael Brown, police departments and policy makers around the country hit upon a supposed panacea to racist policing and police brutality: body-worn cameras. Many hailed the move as a victory for accountability. But among the few dissenters was Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a leader in the Black Lives Matter network, who warned early and often that the cameras could become tools of surveillance against people of color because "body-worn cameras don't watch the police, they watch the community being policed, people like me". The scope and scale of that surveillance became clearer Tuesday, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California released a collection of public records detailing how Amazon has been marketing and selling facial recognition software, called Amazon Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies. Amazon marketing materials promoted the idea of using Rekognition in conjunction with police body cameras in real time – exactly the outcome Cyril feared.


The revolutionising potential of medical AI Letters

The Guardian

The news that Theresa May has urged the NHS and technology companies to adopt artificial intelligence techniques in order to diagnose diseases such as cancer is extremely positive for both the healthcare community and for patients (May to promise millions for AI tools to help fight cancer, 21 May). But to usher in an age of AI, there are several obstacles that must first be overcome. Beyond the prime minister encouraging greater adoption, increased investment into how AI can safely and successfully augment healthcare and research is needed. Far greater collaboration across different disciplines and geographies is also needed to fully realise AI's potential. It's important to remember that while AI has great promise, it's not simply a case of "plug and play".


(Auto)complete fail: how search suggestions keep catching Google out

The Guardian

Sometimes, Google is just a bit too good at carrying out its stated goal to "organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Take search suggestions, the helpful feature that sees Google autocomplete phrases typed into its search engine. Type "How can I cook macaroni ..." and the site will add "cheese" on to the end, saving you six whole keystrokes. But it turns out there could be some less desirable implementations of the technology. The search-suggestion feature, and a similar feature that offers "related searches" at the bottom of the results page, could be helping to compromise the right to anonymity of complainants in UK rape and sexual assault cases.


Holograms: still the preserve of science fiction

The Guardian

The fragile apparition endured only long enough to say: "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" before flickering out. But R2D2's 3D projection gave millions of young eyes, including mine, their first taste of holograms, and planted unrealistic expectations of a future playing dejarik, the gruesome game of holographic chess played on board the Millennium Falcon. The concept of the hologram was already familiar, invented in the 1940s by physicist Dennis Gabor, but since the force reawakened the idea almost 40 years later, things haven't really moved on. That depends on your definition of a hologram. We have made astounding strides in 3D TV and virtual reality, and in the eye-twistingly complex world of computer-generated holography (CGH) – simply put, a way of recording and reproducing 3D images on a medium like standard images on film.


May to pledge millions to AI research assisting early cancer diagnosis

The Guardian

Theresa May will pledge millions of pounds of government funding to develop artificial intelligence able to transform outcomes through early diagnosis of cancer and chronic disease. In a speech in Mansfield on Monday that is being billed as the first of a series on industrial strategy, May will say: "Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths. "The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings, opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease." May wants industry and charities to work with the NHS to develop algorithms that can use patient data and lifestyle information to warn GPs when a patient should be referred to an oncologist or another specialist. The plans envisage at least 50,000 people being diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer each year.


Autonomous car innovations: from jam busters to cures for queasiness

The Guardian

An Oxford University startup, Oxbotica, proposes to solve the problem of liability in a collision involving autonomous vehicles by allowing insurers access to the vast amounts of data the car generates, even allowing them to control a car in real time if it detects a dangerous situation. A recent paper published in Transportation Research found that autonomous cars could bring about the end of congestion with no obvious explanation. These are caused by one driver's unexpected behaviour (most often braking) being copied and exaggerated by following vehicles. The study demonstrated the networked cars were able to slow more gently and not create jams. A recent study published in Nature from Google-backed AI company Deepmind claims to have developed an AI program that resembles the neural GPS system found inside the brain.