On the Humanist discussion list John Keating recommended the short video Slaughterbots that presents a plausible scenario where autonomous drones are used to target dissent using social media data. Watch it! It is well done and presents real issues in a credible short video.

While the short is really about autonomous weapons and the need to ban them, I note that one of ideas included is that dissent could be silenced by using social media to target people. The scenario imagines that university students who shared a dissenting video on social media have their data harvested (including images of their faces) and the drones target them using face recognition. Science fiction, but suggestive of how social media presence can be used for control.

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The war on (unwanted) dick pics has begun

Legislators and tech companies are finally working to protect women from receiving unwanted sexually explicit images online – will it work?

The war on (unwanted) dick pics has begun according to a Guardian article about a web developer who asked people to send her “dick pics” so she could train a machine to recognize them and deal with them. The Guardian rightly asks why tech-companies don’t provide more tools for users to deal with harassing messages.

The interesting thing is how many women get them (53% get lewd images) and how many men have sent one (27% of millenial men). (Data from Pew Online Harassment 2017 and the I’ll Show You Mine study.)

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Of Course Citizens Should Be Allowed to Kick Robots | WIRED

Seen in the wild, robots often appear cute and nonthreatening. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be hostile.

Wired magazine has a nice short piece that suggests, Of Course Citizens Should Be Allowed to Kick Robots. In some ways the point of the essay is not how to treat robots, but whether we should tolerate these surveillance robots on our sidewalks.

Blanket no-punching policies are useless in a world full of terrible people with even worse ideas. That’s even more true in a world where robots now do those people’s bidding. Robots, like people, are not all the same. While K5 can’t threaten bodily harm, the data it collects can cause real problems, and the social position it puts us all in—ever suspicious, ever watched, ever worried about what might be seen—is just as scary. At the very least, it’s a relationship we should question, not blithely accept as K5 rolls by.

The question, “Is it OK to kick a robot?” is a good one that nicely brings the ethics of human-robot co-existence down to earth and onto our side walks. What sort of respect do the proliferation of robots and scooters deserve? How should we treat these stupid things when enter our everyday spaces?

CIFAR Amii Summer Institute On AI And Society

Last week I attended the CIFAR and Amii Summer Institute on AI and Society. This brought together a group of faculty and new scholars to workshop ideas about AI, Ethics and Society. You can see  conference notes here on Some of the interventions that struck me included:

  • Rich Sutton talked about how AI is a way of trying to understand what it is to be human. He defined intelligence as the ability to achieve goals in the world. Reinforcement learning is a form of machine learning configured to achieve autonomous AI and is therefore more ambitious and harder, but also will get us closer to intelligence. RL uses value functions to map states to values; bots then try to maximize rewards (states that have value). It is a simplistic, but powerful idea about intelligence.
  • Jason Millar talked about autonomous vehicles and how right now mobility systems like Google Maps have only one criteria for planning a route for you, namely time to get there. He asked what it would look like to have other criteria like how difficult the driving would be, or the best view, or the least bumps. He wants the mobility systems being developed to be open to different values. These systems will become part of our mobility infrastructure.

After a day of talks, during which I gave a talk about the history of discussions about autonomy, we had a day and a half of workshops where groups formed and developed things. I was part of a team that developed a critique of the EU Guidelines for Trustworthy AI.

Conference notes for CSDH 2019

In early June I was at the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences. I took conference notes on the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities 2019 event and on the Canadian Game Studies Association conference, 2019. I was involved in a number of papers:

  • Exploring through Markup: Recovering COCOA. This paper looked at an experimental Voyant tool that allows one to use COCOA markup as a way of exploring a text in different ways. COCOA markup is a simple form of markup that was superseded by XML languages like those developed with the TEI. The paper recovered some of the history of markup and what we may have lost.

  • Designing for Sustainability: Maintaining TAPoR and This paper was presented by Holly Pickering and discussed the processes we have set up to maintain TAPoR and

  • Our team also had two posters, one on “Generative Ethics: Using AI to Generate” that showed a toy that generates statements about artificial intelligence and ethics. The other, “Discovering Digital Methods: An Exploration of Methodica for Humanists” showed what we are doing with

Amazon’s Home Surveillance Company Is Putting Suspected Petty Thieves in its Advertisements

Ring, Amazon’s doorbell company, posted a video of a woman suspected of a crime and asked users to call the cops with information.

VICE has a story about how Amazon’s Home Surveillance Company Is Putting Suspected Petty Thieves in its Advertisements. The story is that Ring took out an ad which showed suspicious behaviour. A woman who is presumably innocent until proven guilty is shown clearly in order to sell more alarm systems. This information came from the police.

Needless to say, it raises ethical issues around community policing. Ring has a “Neighbors” app that lets vigilantes report suspicious behaviour creating a form of digital neighbourhood watch. The article references a Motherboard article that suggests that such digital neighbourhood surveillance can lead to racism.

Beyond creating a “new neighborhood watch,” Amazon and Ring are normalizing the use of video surveillance and pitting neighbors against each other. Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies institutional tech policy, told Motherboard in a phone call that such a “crime and safety” focused platforms can actively reinforce racism.

All we need now is for there to be AI in the mix. Face recognition so you can identify anyone walking past your door.

Rights Statements

At the SpokenWeb symposium at SFI I learned about a web site This site provides example rights statements to use and put on the web. For example In Copyright – Rights-Holder(s) Unlocatable or Unidentifiable. These often use American language rather than Canadian language, but they are a useful resource.

Another, better known source for rights statement is Creative Commons, but it is more for creators than for cultural heritage online.

AI, Ethics And Society

Last week we held a conference on AI, Ethics and Society at the University of Alberta. As I often do, I kept conference notes at: : AI Ethics And Society.

The conference was opened by Reuben Quinn whose grandfather signed Treaty 6. He challenged us to think about what labels and labelling mean. Later Kim Tallbear challenged us to think about how we want the encounter with other intelligences to go. We don’t have a good track record of encountering the other and respecting intelligence. Now is the time to think about our positionality and to develop protocols for encounters. We should also be open to different forms of intelligence, not just ours.

Centrelink scandal

Data shows 7,456 debts were reduced to zero and another 12,524 partially reduced between July last year and March

The Guardian has a number of stories on the Australian Centrelink scandal including, Centrelink scandal: tens of thousands of welfare debts wiped or reduced. The scandal arose when the government introduce changes to a system for calculating overpayment to welfare recipients and clawing it back that removed a lot of the human oversight. The result was lots of miscalculated debts being automatically assigned to some of the most vulnerable. A report, Paying the Price of Welfare Reform, concluded that,

The research concludes that although welfare reform may be leading to cost savings for the Department of Human Services (DHS), substantial costs are being shifted to vulnerable customers and the community services that support them. It is they that are paying the price of welfare reform.

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We Built a (Legal) Facial Recognition Machine for $60

The law has not caught up. In the United States, the use of facial recognition is almost wholly unregulated.

The New York Times has an opinion piece by Sahil Chinoy on how (they) We Built a (Legal) Facial Recognition Machine for $60. They describe an inexpensive experiment they ran where they took footage of people walking past some cameras installed in Bryant Park and compared them to known people who work in the area (scraped from web sites of organizations that have offices in the neighborhood.) Everything they did used public resources that others could use. The cameras stream their footage here. Anyone can scrape the images. The image database they gathered came from public web sites. The software is a service (Amazon’s Rekognition?) The article asks us to imagine the resources available to law enforcement.

I’m intrigued by how this experiment by the New York Times. It is a form of design thinking where they have designed something to help us understand the implications of a technology rather than just writing about what others say. Or we could say it is a form of journalistic experimentation.

Why does facial recognition spook us? Is recognizing people something we feel is deeply human? Or is it the potential for recognition in all sorts of situations. Do we need to start guarding our faces?

Facial recognition is categorically different from other forms of surveillance, Mr. Hartzog said, and uniquely dangerous. Faces are hard to hide and can be observed from far away, unlike a fingerprint. Name and face databases of law-abiding citizens, like driver’s license records, already exist. And for the most part, facial recognition surveillance can be set up using cameras already on the streets.

This is one of a number of excellent articles by the New York Times that is part of their Privacy Project.