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Context and why it matters that AI doesn’t have a clue what it is

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) AI is learning and growing faster than ever. However, one flaw that AI cannot seem to get around is context.

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Contextual oops

Let’s start with a story. This might be my favorite story in all the annals of geekdom, which is saying something for someone whose literal job is “purveyor of geeky stories.” On March 1, 1990, in AG’s beloved hometown of Austin, Texas, the United States Secret Service raided a “suspected ring of hackers.”

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It was a full-on, TV level bust: armed agents broke locks, tore up files, carted off computers, even did that “simultaneous raid so the masterminds can’t get word to their button men” thing at the home of one of the people involved. Hooray! The cops beat the bad guys! Not so much.

Right reason, wrong time

Three years and a court decision later, the Secret Service had to fess up: they’d raided a game company. A tabletop game company. As in paper and dice, neither noted for being connected to the Internet. They weren’t hackers. At all. They’d written a game about hackers, and in the grim darkness of 1990, the Secret Service was fuzzy on the difference. That poor guy who got his very own private raid? He wrote their cyberpunk setting, and had dared to do research on the subject.

That’s as close as anyone there got to l33t h4x0r doings, and it turned out to be close enough for armed cops in a private citizen’s living room without an invitation.

There’s a halfway happy ending to that story, involving money paid to the company, an epic tonguelashing from a circuit court judge, and the founding of the leading advocacy organization for digital privacy rights, but the point is the Secret Service. Their actions weren’t malicious. Stupid, yes. Hilarious in hindsight, absolutely. Catastrophic to a small business innocent of any wrongdoing, big time. But they thought they were doing the right thing. They just Did It Wrong.

Doing It Wrong

As AI saturates our lives, I reflect, as I often do, on Doing It Wrong. Fundamentally, that ridiculous case came down to a misunderstanding of context. The Secret Service didn’t have the background or expertise to differentiate between hacking and a game about hacking. That’s absurd, that’s their job, but they didn’t.

Hacking, at least most hacking, is still a bad thing.

As simultaneously hilarious and horrible as it is to pull the equivalent of yanking a guy off his couch and charging him with murder for shooting someone in “Call of Duty,” shooting people is generally undesirable outside a fictional context.

Does AI know that?

Can AI make the distinction between “die, [expletive here]” in your favorite combat simulator and “die, [expletive here]” when an unpleasant person attempts to end the pizza guy with a fork? Because the Secret Service couldn’t, and they were human. Humans are pre-built for context. Computers have to be made that way, and it’s usually really hard. That’s a shade worrisome, what with AI growing like kudzu and the data it collects being used for everything from market analysis to, yes, murder investigations.

So consider this a gentle reminder that even the smartest computer is still fundamentally a box of switches.

Zero and one, off and on, puts certain limitations on a binary system’s ability to comprehend the complex, subjective, frankly weird human condition. Getting AI to understand context is a top priority for some of the best minds in computer science, but while they’re working we h. sapiens will have to double down on patience and nuance, because one of our most pervasive tools won’t be very good at either. They may never be as good at it as we are, though three years ago I’d have said that about go.

Mind your audience

For at least the next few years, everyone from multinational corporations and national governments down to the data junkies and media consumers reading this article will need to exercise some extra caution when it comes to AI and its assessment of people and their doings.AI doesn’t understand us quite yet.

It is, if not blind, at least a little nearsighted when it comes to context, which is basically the most important human thing.Click To Tweet

We’re going to have to keep doing that part ourselves. Fail in this, and you risk becoming your own hilarious Doing It Wrong cautionary tale. Nobody wants that.

This story originally ran on July 26, 2017.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

Hardware tokens are what folks serious about avoiding hackers use

(TECH) Hardware tokens have been around for a while, but people most serious about avoiding hackers swear by them.

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hardware token

How many passwords do you have? How many sites do you use each of your passwords for? Information Today research estimates over half of all adults have five or more unique passwords, while one in three adults have 10 or more unique passwords that have to be remembered.

This particular study was from 2012. I’d wager that most of us use many more passwords today than we did just six years ago. With the risk of your accounts being hacked increasing, you might be wary – you might not even trust an online password manager.

If you struggle with remembering all of your passwords and want to make sure you are managing passwords and protecting your accounts, you might want to consider a hardware token.

What is a hardware token?

This piece of hardware is a physical device, similar to a USB drive, that lets you gain access to an electronically restricted resource. It’s actually a simple two-factor authentication source.

Once your account is set up to accept the hardware token, you log in to the account with your user ID and password. You’ll be asked to insert the hardware token into the device, which gives you access to your account. It’s another layer of protection and authentication.

Hardware tokens have been on the market since 2002. Although many use the USB port on your device, Bluetooth tokens and smart cards are other types of hardware tokens. Setting up a hardware token is fairly easy. You can use your hardware token with most websites that have two-factor authorization.

The challenges with hardware tokens is that they are very easy to lose and can easily be stolen. That’s a pretty significant downside.

The YubiKey, one of the current offerings on the market, costs about $50. It could be expensive to have a hardware token for everyone in your organization. Google Titan, another brand of hardware key, costs about the same.

Some argue that not everyone needs this much security, but those people probably have never been hacked. If it protects your accounts, it might be worth taking a look.

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Tech News

Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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Tech News

This AI program wants to be your graphic designer

(TECH NEWS) If you’re a small business looking for branding or to re-brand but don’t have the time nor budget, this tool can help you get it done!

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AI is growing, now it can even be your own personal graphic designer.

The new company Brandmark uses AI to create custom brand identities in minutes. All you need to do is describe your business and leave the designing up to them.

Brandmark describes their system as “more than just a logo,” as they aid people in developing an entire brand identity. This includes a complete style guide, color scheme and even a WordPress compatible website template.

It is the perfect tool for small businesses and entrepreneurs who may not have the budget to hire an in-house designer to join their team.

The creators of Brandmark have attempted to give the platform personal elements as well, so that you can understand the design decisions and even have the chance to make it your own.

The process is as simple as it can get. All that Brandmark requires is for you to type in a few keywords that best describe your business. For example, a coffee shop might type in “coffee, hot, lounge, mocha, books, relaxation.” These keywords are anything that can be associated with your brand so it is important to include adjectives as well. Consider how you want customers to feel when they see your product or walk into your shop for the first time.

All of these details will help Brandmark create a unique and personal identity for you.

The creators of the tool wanted it to feel like a true designer. That is why they have developed a system that understands design principles. After creating a look, Brandmark will explain the design choice and how it relates to your brand. In addition, you have access to features that allow you to customize the design.

Just like any professional service, Brandmark provides a style guide that can be used to apply your brand - including logo, color scheme and font - to various type of products. Click To Tweet

For instance, the same coffee shop would know how to apply their logo to coffee cups, bags, mugs and menus by following the guide. In addition, website layouts are offered to get your online business started. It’s an all-in-one package to get your business up and running with a professional look.

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