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Did the Chinese government use Amazon to spy on Americans?

(TECH) A contentious report indicates the Chinese government hacked American citizens, which Homeland Security denies, despite rising tensions.

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A year after Amazon sold off its Chinese servers, a new report places the blame upon a Chinese government spy program.

TechCrunch alleges that last year’s move by Amazon to offload its server presence in China is not due to an exit from the Chinese marketplace as previously speculated. Rather, Bloomberg reports reveal that a vital link in the computer manufacturing supply chain has been compromised by Chinese corporate espionage, leaving Amazon — and many other American companies — vulnerable to cyber-attack.

Bloomburg asserts that the physical motherboards of the servers were compromised during construction, where malicious microchips created by a Chinese military unit were introduced into the motherboards without Amazon’s knowledge. These microchips are about the size of a pencil lead, and once activated, allow the server’s operating system to be altered.

These compromised motherboards were then sold to SuperMicro, an American startup company. SuperMicro then used these parts to construct servers for Elemental, a software company which dealt primarily with video compression.

Elemental was eventually acquired by Amazon, but not before doing direct business with the United States government.

According to Bloomberg, “Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency.”

If these allegations are true, it implies that Amazon knew of the compromised servers, but decided to quietly deal with the matter internally.

A public acknowledgement of victimization from cyber-attacks could hurt their public image, along with possibly leaving themselves open to public outrage or even class action from customers angry over the exposure of their personal data.

However, the alternative implies turning a blind eye to the possibility that their company may have unknowingly aided in international espionage.

Amazon denies the veracity of Bloomberg’s claims, including both the existence of and the knowledge of malicious spy hardware embedded into their servers. “As we shared with Bloomberg BusinessWeek multiple times over the last couple months, this is untrue,” reads a recent statement from Amazon. “At no time, past or present, have we ever found any issues relating to modified hardware or malicious chips in SuperMicro motherboards in any Elemental or Amazon systems. Nor have we engaged in an investigation with the government.”

The American government backs Amazon to deny the hack, but doing otherwise reveals vulnerabilities our government would not be wise to admit to. Tensions are rising as the current administration pushes the Chinese government to do business on a level playing field. We anticipate more discoveries of this nature in coming months.

James M Lane, AINS was born into this world without his consent an ornery 60 year old man with a full beard. He has worked in the insurance industry for the last half decade, and was a foreign language preschool teacher for years before that. He writes horror in his spare time. Follow him on Instagram for deliberations on pro wrestling and beards.

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China no longer dependent on U.S. for smartphone components

(TECH NEWS) Trump’s trade war, more specifically, the ban on shipping phone components, to China has begun to take a toll on chip manufacturing.

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Once upon a time, the U.S. and China were buddies, exporting and importing from each other with ease. However, President Trump’s recent actions regarding trade with China is certainly putting a damper on things.

It seems that Chinese companies have moved past the need to import certain products, like smartphone chips, from the U.S. – something they previously relied heavily on by working with American companies like Qorvo, Inc. in North Carolina, Skyworks, Inc. in Massachusetts, Broadcom, Inc. in California, and Cirrus Logic in Texas.

Since the ban in May, Trump specifically barred shipments from the U.S. from companies like Qualcomm and Intel Corp to companies like Chinese tech conglomerate, Huawei Technologies Co. But much like the bans that came before the Trump administration, it didn’t last long. With tensions high, the U.S. actually recently started rolling back some aspects of the ban and started making exceptions that allow American tech companies to continue to work with Chinese companies like Huawei.

Of course, China’s lack of U.S. parts hasn’t stopped them from rolling out new and improved products. As a matter of fact, in September, Huawei unveiled its newest phone, the Mate 30, which boasts highly-desired features, such as a curved screen and a wide angle camera. This makes the phone a pretty solid competitor of Apple’s newest iPhone, the iPhone 11, of which China was sent 10 million of in September and October.

After Huawei’s announcement, investment and banking firm UBS, and Japanese technology lab Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, partnered up and took to their labs to analyze the phone’s components. Their analysis was simple and straightforward. They found that there were absolutely zero American components in the phone. In fact, the chips in the Mate 30 are actually from Huawei’s in-house chip design agency, HiSilicon. They also provided Huawei with WiFi and Bluetooth chips. With HiSilicon’s 20 + years experience in the industry, 200+ chipsets, and 8000+ patents, it’s no wonder U.S. chip companies are getting nervous. Qualcomm, for example, announced a 31-40% decrease in estimated chip shipments over the next year.

Although the chip ban has made a big impact on larger U.S. companies who make and supply chips to China, there are still many other businesses that have been affected in Trump’s trade war. As it happens, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently confessed that, since May, when the ban was put in place, the U.S. has received at least 260 requests, asking that they excuse them from the ban and be allowed to work with China as they previously had.

But really, at the end of the day, with so many American companies relying on China for both import and export, it’s probable that the ban will be short-lived and that exceptions won’t need to be made. As Americans, we can be hopeful that the end-result of this trade war will be a positive one, but only time will tell.

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AI cameras could cut down traffic deaths, but there may be flaws

(TECH NEWS) Traffic accidents have plagued humanity since motor vehicles were created, can AI help cut down on text and drive incidents?

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What if we told you Australian officials believe they have found a way to reduce driving deaths by almost 30% in just two years? It’s a pretty appealing concept. After all, Australia alone faces an average of over 3 deaths a day due to driving accidents. And Australia’s average death rate clocks in at just half of what we face in the United States.

There’s just one problem with Australia’s proposed solution: it’s basically Big Brother.

Basically, Australia plans to use AI cameras to catch people texting and driving. There are plenty of places that have outlawed texting and driving, but that rule is very hard to enforce – it basically means catching someone in the act. With AI cameras, hands free driving can be monitored and fined.

Australia has already started rolling out some of these systems in South Wales. Because this is a new initiative, first time offenses will be let off with a warning. The following offenses can add up quickly, though, with fines anywhere from $233 to $309 USD. After a six month trial period, this program is projected to expand significantly.

But there are real concerns with this project.

Surprisingly, privacy isn’t one of these worries. Sure, “AI cameras built to monitor individuals” sounds like a plot point from 1984, but it’s not quite as dire as it seems. First, many places already have traffic cameras in order to catch things like people running red lights. More importantly, though, is the fact these machines aren’t being trained to identify faces. Instead, the machine learning for the cameras will focus on aspects of distracted driving, like hands off the wheel.

The bigger concern is what will come from placing the burden of proof on drivers. Because machine learning isn’t perfect, it will be paired with humans who will review the tagged photographs in order to eliminate false positives. The problem is, humans aren’t perfect either. There’s bound to be false positives to fall through the cracks.

Some worry that the imperfect system will slow down the judicial system as more people go to court over traffic violations they believe are unfair. Others are concerned that some indicators for texting while driving (such as hands off the wheel) might not simply apply texting. What if, for instance, someone was passing a phone to the back seat? Changing the music? There are subtleties that might not be able to be captured in a photograph or identified by an AI.

No matter what you think of the system, however, only time can tell if the project will be effective.

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DeepComposer: AWS’ piano keyboard turns AI up to 11

(TECH NEWS) Amazon has been busy with machine learning, which includes a camera, a car, and now DeepComposer that’s able to add to classics on the fly

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Musicians, listen up, there’s a new kid in town, its name is DeepComposer and it’s coming to take your creativity and turn it up to 11.

Artificial Intelligence has taken a leap into what has long been considered the “pinnacle of human creativity”, as Amazon revealed what is said to be the world’s first machine learning-enabled keyboard capable of creating music.

Amazon unveiled its AWS DeepComposer keyboard Monday during AWS re:Invent, a learning conference Amazon Web Services hosted for the global cloud computing community in Las Vegas.

Demonstrating DeepComposer’s abilities, Dr. Matt Wood, Amazon’s VP of Artificial Intelligence, played a snippet of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and then let the keyboard riff on it with drums, synthesizer, guitar, and bass, sharing a more rockin’ version of the masterpiece.

Generative AI, is considered by scientists at MIT to be one of the most promising advances in AI in the past decade, Wood told the crowd. Generative AI allows for a machine not only to learn from example, as a human would but to take it next level and connect the dots, making the next creative step to composing something completely new.

“It [Generative AI] opens the door to an entire world of possibilities for human and computer creativity, with practical applications emerging across industries, from turning sketches into images for accelerated product development, to improving computer-aided design of complex objects, Amazon said on its AWS re:Invent website.

How does it work? The Generative AI technique pits two different neural networks against each other to produce new and original digital works based on sample inputs, according to Amazon. The generator creates, the discriminator provides feedback for tweaks and together they create “exquisite music”, Wood explained.

A user inputs a melody on the keyboard, then using the console they choose the genre, rock, classical, pop, jazz or create your own and voila, you have a new piece of music. Then, if so desired users can share their creations with the world through SoundCloud.

This is the third machine learning teaching device Amazon has made available, according to TechCrunch. It introduced the DeepLens camera in 2017 and in 2018 the DeepRacer racing cars. DeepComposer isn’t available just yet, but AWS account holders can sign up for a preview once it is.

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