Facial recognition technology is growing quickly. More and more applications are asking for a look at your face as the ultimate in security. What does that mean, and what are the consequences?
You’re a digital-enabled human. That means, in all likelihood, some combination of Apple, Facebook, or Google knows everything about you that matters. ‘Tis the nature of the Almighty Cloud.
At the moment, the cloud(s) consist(s) of data you gave it voluntarily. If facial recognition were to become standard, to replace user IDs and credit card numbers as identification the way those things replaced signatures, it would link your physical self to that data.
In theory, anyone with the dough for a security camera or point-of-sale machine could buy the knowledge of what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, anywhere, anytime, so long as you were in eyeshot of a networked device.
Also in theory, fraud would be impossible, no criminal would go free, and no innocent person would ever be convicted of a crime. Right. Riiight.
Faces are unique, there’d be a camera on everything, and first in line to buy themselves some Every Breath You Take benevolent stalker gear would be the police. After all, if you’ve got a driver’s license, a residency card, a passport, or about nineteen other governmental thingamajigs, the Powers That Be already have your face. They’re just trusting humans to identify it. Robots might be better!
They also might not be (remember when police robots couldn’t tell the difference between a picture of sand dunes and a butt?).
Which is it? Who’s to say? Who gets to say?
The Verge recently asked that very question of a panel of very smart people. The result was a continuum of views on regulation of facial recognition technology, which is to say, at least 1 of these 5 people has probably correctly guessed how you’ll be interacting with technology for the next 50 years.
Lots of people are pro-regulation, but not always for obvious reasons.
First, as always, are the philosophers. Philosophers have been fretting about tech for so long one of the cave glyphs at Lascaux probably translates to “Fire: Is Society Ready?”
But philosophers are by no means always wrong, and in this case several have correctly noted that facial recognition technology is being marketed before the discussion of its limits has even begun.Right now, all the decisions on what the tech can and can’t do are being made by people who stand to benefit if it sells well.Click To Tweet
More moderate voices, ironically, speak to what could be even more serious concerns. Algorithms remain badly flawed when used in human-facing roles (remember Salter’s Law: for every person you replace putting AI in a customer-facing job, you will have to hire at least two more to handle the fallout when it screws up) and notoriously tend to perpetuate societal failings.
Current facial recognition software, for instance, has white guys down pat, but struggles to differentiate between people of color, women, children and the elderly. Likewise, it has an ugly habit of identifying innocent people as criminals if they happen to belong to the same minority group. The data we collect as a culture reflects our cultural biases, and all an algorithm can EVER do, is parse that data.
This is enough of a problem that many facial recognition companies are in favor of regulation, seeking to set development parameters from “go” in order to keep from perpetuating old ills.
On the anti-regulation side, shockingly, are early adopters who jumped in headfirst without triple-checking the consequences, and a bunch of people who sell facial recognition technology would quite like to have all the money, now, please.
They also have an extremely important point. The plain fact is that regulation cannot keep up with innovation.
Culture moves too quickly for laws to catch up now, and legislators are notoriously not tech-savvy. The people best qualified to understand exactly how facial recognition technology works, and therefore, to determine what limitations are necessary, are the people making it.
Opponents of regulation also point to the successes of facial recognition as implemented to date. Facial recognition has been used successfully in fields ranging from law enforcement to device security to shortening lines at the airport. Don’t know about y’all, but we at AG are all for improving all of those things.
So as of today, you are being surveilled. That’s fact.
If you’re in the States, over the course of your day, you will likely be surveilled by several different private entities. Including us, by the way. Hi! We call it “consumer data,” but it’s surveillance. If you’re in China, Russia or the UK, there’s an excellent chance your primary voyeur is the government instead, since they have the most active state-run surveillance systems. It’s the price of the Digital Age; someone is watching. How much are you willing to let them see?
In China, citizens are used to (therefore fine with) the government watching their every move on camera, but Americans aren’t historically open to Big Brother watching.
So, we’re really asking – is effortless, contactless shopping, travel and tech worth surrendering your face to the Omniscient Eye? Or is inefficiency a price worth paying for holding onto just that much of your privacy?
It bears repeating: facial recognition is happening, now. Decide quickly.
Study finds 1,000 phrases that accidentally activate smart speakers
(TECH GADGETS) Don’t worry about accidentally activating your nosy smart speakers… unless, of course, you utter one of these 1,000 innocuous phrases.
It’s safe to say that privacy concerns, especially in today’s digital era, are unquestionably valid. With new video recording technology making it easier to identify people at a glance (whether they like it or not) and concerns that your smart speakers are eavesdropping on you, it may feel like you’re bordering on slightly paranoid around modern technology.
After all, even though there have been cases of smart speakers picking up on intimate conversations, there’s absolutely no risk of them overhearing private things without your consent, right? Even though it’s been documented that these devices — including Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Google Home — have listened in relationship spats, criminal activity, and even HIPAA-protected data, you’re totally in the clear.
Oh yeah. The thing is, everything that gets broadcast into your smart speaker? There’s a completely random chance that someone back at headquarters may decide to sift through it in order to improve AI learning.
And while most of the time these conversations are totally benign, it doesn’t change the fact that a complete stranger is getting an earful of your private life. In fact, these transmissions? Are actually completely admissible in court, as several murder cases have already demonstrated. Their key evidence was none other than poor Alexa herself.
But wait, wait. These smart speakers can only get your information if you activate them, and that requires you to clearly enunciate their names. Right? Um. Not exactly. Even though you may think that you need to speak crisply into the speaker to activate it, it turns out that these devices are highly sensitive to any suggestion that you might be talking to them. It’s almost like your dog when you even remotely glance at his bag of doggie treats in the corner: one crinkle and Fido comes running, begging for some kibble and ready to serve you.
It’s the same for your smart speakers. As it turns out, there are over a thousand words or phrases that can trigger your device and invite it to start recording your voice. These can range from the perfectly reasonable (Cortana hearing “Montana” and springing to attention) to the downright absurd (Alexa raising her hackles over the words “election” and “unacceptable”). Well, crap. Now what?
It’s no secret that someone is listening in on your conversations. That’s been clearly documented, researched, dissected, and even accepted at this point. However, if you thought that they’d only listen to it if you gave them implicit permission by activating your device (which, to be fair, should not even count as permission in the first place), you were wrong.
So what’s a privacy-loving person to do? Just suck it up and try to choose between the lesser of two evils? On one hand, yes, these smart speakers are super convenient and can make your life easier. On the other?
Well, if you’re a fan of your privacy, then perhaps these devices aren’t meant for you. At this point, you’ve got little recourse. These companies will continue to use your data, and there’s nothing stopping them from spying on you. That is, unless you prevent them from doing it in the first place.
If you want to keep your private conversations private, either unplug your smart speaker when you’re not using it, or don’t get one in the first place. Otherwise, you’ll continue to give your implied consent that you’re totes cool with them butting in on your personal life, and they’ll continue to be equally totes cool with using it without your permission.
HEY needs to fix its issues to be the Gmail killer it claims to be
(TECH NEWS) You would hope that HEY, the paid email service, would launch without issues but it has a few. Let’s hope some of that money goes to fixing them.
Last week, we covered HEY–a new email service that seemingly has a lot to offer–and while we largely praised the service despite it being a paid client awash in a sea of free email options, not everyone is fully on board with HEY’s inimitable charm–at least, not yet.
Adam Silver, an interaction designer focused on user experience, had some criticisms of HEY–many of which he identified as “pretty surprising oversights.” Though Silver does mention that his overall opinion of the service is good, these oversights are the focus of his review.
“All of these things are really easy to fix,” amends Silver.
Another issue Silver highlights is the inbox (imbox?) sorting. As we mentioned previously, there are three locations for email: the imbox, the feed, and the paper trail, each of which serves a different purpose. The problem with this system is that organizing emails by only three overarching categories affords little flexibility; furthermore, Silver notes that the menu for accessing each folder leaves a lot to be desired from a design standpoint.
The feed is also the subject of Silver’s criticism in that it doesn’t function enough like a traditional inbox to the point that it is actually difficult to use. Especially given the feed’s purpose–to store newsletters and such in a free-scrolling manner–this is a hold-up for sure; coupled with the feed’s lack of notifications, you can see how this problem cripples the user experience without active attention to the ancillary feed inbox.
Lastly, Silver mentions that the name “imbox” is, well, stupid. “This is not a typo but it’s not good,” he says. “You need a really good reason not to keep things simple.”
This is actually a point that we initially glossed over in our overview, but it’s another instance of a company doing a little too much to stand out–and, in doing so, potentially disrupting the user experience. “Keeping it simple” by calling the delivery place for your email the “inbox” won’t sink your brand, and the name “imbox” is sure to, at best, annoy.
It’s important to reaffirm that HEY’s driving principle–accessible email that prioritizes your privacy and charges you a relatively nominal fee for doing so–is good, and that’s the tough part of any app’s development; should they choose to follow Silver’s lowkey advice and make a few tweaks, they’ll have a winning product.
Live captioning via AI is now available for Zoom, if a little limited
(TECH NEWS) In order to be more inclusive, and improve the share of information with your team, live captioning is a great option for your next Zoom call.
The ubiquitous all-father Zoom continues to prompt innovation–and in a time during which most companies are still using some form of remote communication, who can blame them? It’s only fitting that someone would come along and try to flesh out Zoom’s accessibility features at some point, which is exactly what Zoom Live Captioning sets out to accomplish.
Zoom Live Captioning is a Zoom add-on service that promises, for a flat fee, to caption up to 80 hours per month of users’ meetings via an easy-to-implement plugin. The allure is clear: a virtual communication environment that is more time-efficient, more accessible, and more flexible for a variety of usage contexts.
Unfortunately, what’s less clear is how Zoom Live Captioning proposes to achieve this goal.
The live-captioning service boasts, among other things, “limited lag” and “the most accurate [speech-to-text AI] in the world”–a service that, despite its sensational description, is still only available in English. Furthermore, anyone who has experienced auto-captioning on YouTube videos–courtesy of one of the largest technology initiatives in the world–knows that, even with crystal-clear audio, caption accuracy is questionable at best.
Try applying that level of moving-target captioning to your last Zoom call, and you’ll see what the overarching problem here is.
Even if your Zoom call has virtually no latency, everyone speaks clearly and enunciates perfectly, your entire team speaks conversational English at a proficient degree across the board, and no one ever interrupts or experiences microphone feedback, it seems reasonable to expect that captions would still be finicky. Especially if you’re deaf or hard of hearing–a selling point Zoom Live Captioning drives home–this is a problematic flaw in a good idea.
Now, it’s completely fair to postulate that any subtitles are better than no subtitles at all. If that’s the decision you’d like to make for your team, Zoom Live Captioning starts at $20 per person per month; larger teams are encouraged to contact the company to discuss more reasonable rates if they want to incorporate live captioning across an enterprise.
Nothing would be better for speech-to-text innovation than being wrong about Zoom Live Captioning’s potential for inaccuracy, but for now, it’s safe to be a little skeptical.
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