Following the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, everyone is a little more conscious about their digital activity, and keeping their data secure. But with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), what other factors may we need to consider? Imagine a scenario where you are in the supermarket. Your eyes fixed on a box of cereal for a few seconds, you hear your mobile phone beep and you receive a special offer for that particular product. This futuristic-sounding scenario may not actually be too far away from becoming a reality, and some important questions need to be asked.
Executives from Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Charter Communications, Google, and Twitter are heading to Washington Wednesday to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on the topic of privacy. As ever, the main question will be: Are these companies doing enough to protect consumer privacy, and if not, what should Congress do about it? It has been the backdrop to just about every hearing with tech leaders over the last year--and there have been many. And yet, the threat of regulation carries new weight this time around. Over the summer, California passed the country's first data privacy bill, giving residents unprecedented control over their data.
A photo from a summer camp posted to the camp's website so parents can view them. Venture capital-backed Waldo Photos has been selling the service to identify specific children in the flood of photos provided daily to parents by many sleep-away camps. Camps working with the Austin, Texas-based company give parents a private code to sign up. When the camp uploads photos taken during activities to its website, Waldo's facial recognition software scans for matches in the parent-provided headshots. Once it finds a match, the Waldo system (as in "Where's Waldo?") then automatically texts the photos to the child's parents.
It has been, to be quite honest, a fairly bad week, as far as weeks go. But despite the sustained downbeat news, a few good things managed to happen as well. California has passed the strongest digital privacy law in the United States, for starters, which as of 2020 will give customers the right to know what data companies use, and to disallow those companies from selling it. It's just the latest in a string of uncommonly good bits of privacy news, which included last week's landmark Supreme Court decision in Carpenter v. US. That ruling will require law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing cell tower location data.
Nick Monaco is a research associate at Alphabet's human rights focused think-tank and technology incubator Jigsaw. He is also a research associate on the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. Samuel Woolley is the Director of Research of the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. A troubling trend is sweeping Silicon Valley--big tech acquiescing to digital authoritarianism to gain access to the Chinese market. In July, Apple removed VPNs from its Chinese app store and announced plans to build a data center in Guizhou to comply with China's new draconian cybersecurity laws.
The more hopeful among these respondents cited a series of changes they expect in the next decade that could improve the tone of online life. They believe: Technical and human solutions will arise as the online world splinters into segmented, controlled social zones with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). While many of these experts were unanimous in expressing a level of concern about online discourse today many did express an expectation for improvement. These respondents said it is likely the coming decade will see a widespread move to more-secure services, applications, and platforms, reputation systems and more-robust user-identification policies. They predict more online platforms will require clear identification of participants; some expect that online reputation systems will be widely used in the future. Some expect that online social forums will splinter into segmented spaces, some highly protected and monitored while others retain much of the free-for-all character of today's platforms. Many said they expect that due to advances in AI, "intelligent agents" or bots will begin to more thoroughly scour forums for toxic commentary in addition to helping users locate and contribute to civil discussions. Jim Hendler, professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, wrote, "Technologies will evolve/adapt to allow users more control and avoidance of trolling.
Helen of Troy may have had a "face that launch'd a thousand ships", according to Christopher Marlowe, but these days her visage could launch a lot more besides. She could open her bank account with it, authorise online payments, pass through airport security, or raise alarm bells as a potential troublemaker when entering a city (Troy perhaps?). This is because facial recognition technology has evolved at breakneck speed, with consequences that could be benign or altogether more sinister, depending on your point of view. High-definition cameras combined with clever software capable of measuring the scores of "nodal points" on our faces - the distance between the eyes, the length and width of the nose, for example - are now being combined with machine learning that makes the most of ever-enlarging image databases. Applications of the tech are popping up all round the world.