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Facial Recognition thinks you might be a toaster, really

(TECH NEWS) Facial Recognition is still a log way from being perfect. Ceci n’est pas une toaster. Really. Repeat it with me: I am not a toaster.

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Facial recognition failure

Using facial recognition seems pretty seamless, think of your iPhone. Yet, a human face has actually been confused with a toaster, according to a facial recognition technology expert.

If a computer, which is thought to be highly reliable, will confuse a human face for a toaster, what might that mean for facial recognition accuracy when seeking out suspects of crimes? Possibly, not so reliable.

“Obviously, the technology has immense value in promoting societal interests such as efficiency and security but it also represents a threat to some of our individual interests, particularly privacy,” Nessa Lynch, associate professor of law at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Lynch and other experts are part of a research project that will be completed in mid-2020. The researchers presented some of their findings during a panel recently held at the university.

Some of the very first images used to test data were those of convicted felons in Florida. They had abused meth and had great cheekbones. But, that presented problems when using facial recognition on actual real folk without a meth habit.

The cheekbones are very different than the average person, which can happen when you eat food. Data from such a source was not useful when training a system to recognize normal people, said Rachel Dixon, Privacy and Data Protection Deputy Commissioner at the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner in Australia.

Companies who sell the technology products often claim they are highly reliable, but Dixon said, often they are reliable because of the environments where they are used, which may be unvarying. And, the systems are tuned for these specific environments.

“…Picking you out walking randomly down the street can be quite challenging. There’s a whole bunch of environmental factors there that go to essentially reducing the confidence level,” Dixon said in a story published on Ideasroom. “None of this is absolute. There is no one-to-one match. And by perturbing an image even a small amount you can make the machine-learning system think the person is a toaster. I’m not joking.”

If a computer recognizes a face, for example, as person of interest in a crime, it is very hard to change that perception, even if it is wrong, because humans have a hard time believing a machine can make a mistake, especially if it has said it is the correct match, Dixon explained.

In the United States, a conservative estimate is that roughly a quarter of all the 18,000 law enforcement agencies have access to facial recognition systems, particularly for the use in investigations. Yet, Georgetown Law Professor Clare Garvie said there are no laws – at the state or federal level – governing its use.

Garvie, a senior associate at the center on privacy and technology at Georgetown said, “As a result, this technology has been implemented largely without transparency to the public, without rules around auditing or public reporting, without rules around who can be subject to a search. As a result, it is not just suspects of a criminal investigation that are the subject of searches. In many jurisdictions, witnesses, victims or anybody associated with a criminal investigation can also be the subject of a search.”

Because there is little reporting and auditing of the use of the technology, it’s unclear if agencies are checking to determine if it’s being misused or if it is actually a helpful and successful tool, Garvie said. Are law enforcement officials “catching the bad guys” or is the use of the technology a waste of money, which she said she suspects it is in some jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, it may come as no surprise to some, those often caught in the crosshairs are from lower socio-economic status or marginalized populations.

In one instance, a person who was ranked 319th for being a likely match based on the algorithmic ranking, was the one police arrested. The police also failed to provide the ranking evidence to the defense lawyers.

In the United Kingdom, the technology has been used extensively and with mixed results by law enforcement and businesses in order to search for people on watch lists, according to Dr. Joe Purshouse from the School of Law at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

“The human rights implications for privacy, freedom of assembly – those are chilling, Purshouse said, adding the marginalized are caught in the middle such as, “Suspects of crime, people of lower socio-economic status who are forced to use public space and rely more heavily on public space than people who have economic advantages, perhaps.”

Mary Ann Lopez earned her MA in print journalism from the University of Colorado and has worked in print and digital media. After taking a break to give back as a Teach for America corps member and teaching science for a few years, she is back with her first love: writing. When she's not writing stories, reading five books at once, or watching The Great British Bakeoff, she is walking her dog Sadie and hanging with her cats, Bella, Bubba, and Kiki. She is one cat short of full cat lady status and plans to keep it that way.

Tech News

Get all your digital organization in one place with Routine

(TECH NEWS) Routine makes note-taking and task-creating a lot easier by merging all your common processes into one productivity tool.

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A desk with a laptop, notepad, smartphone, and cup of coffee settled into an organized routine.

Your inbox can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Without organization, important emails with tasks, notes, and meetings can become a trash pile pretty quickly. Luckily, there are a lot of tools that aim to help you improve your efficiency, and the latest to add to that list is Routine.

Routine is a productivity app that combines your tasks, notes, and calendar into one easy-to-use app so you can increase your performance. Instead of having to switch between different apps to jot down important information, create to-do lists, and glance at your calendar, Routine marries them all into one cool productivity tool. By simply using a keyboard shortcut, you can do all these things.

If you receive an email that contains an actionable item, you can convert that email into a task you can view later. Tasks are all saved in your inbox, and you can even schedule a task for a specific day. So, if Obi-Wan wants to have Jedi lessons on Thursday, you can schedule your Force task for that day. Likewise, chat messages that need follow-up can also be converted into tasks and be scheduled.

To enrich your tasks, notes can be attached to them. In your notes, you can also embed checkboxes, which are tasks of their own. And if you have tasks that aren’t coming from your inbox, you can import them from other services, such as Gmail, Notion, and Trello.

To make sure you can stay focused on the events and tasks at hand, Routine makes it easy to take everything in. By using the tool’s keyboard-controlled console, you can access your dashboard to quickly see what tasks need to be addressed, what’s on your calendar, and even join an upcoming Zoom session and take notes about the meeting.

Routine is available for macOS, iOS, web, and Google accounts only. Overall, the app centralizes notes and tasks by letting you create and view everything in one place, which helps make sure you stay on top of things. Currently, Routine is still in beta, but you can get on a waitlist to test the product out for yourself.

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Tech News

The paradox of CAPTCHAs: Too smart for humans vs AI?

(TECH NEWS) AI is catching up to our cybersecurity technology and often tricking humans too — so what’s next for CAPTCHAs and the internet?

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Person using phone with laptop to verify CAPTCHAs and code.

We’ve all encountered it before: The occasional robot test that feels impossible to beat. If you’ve felt like these tests, also known as CAPTCHAs, have gotten harder in the last couple of years, you aren’t wrong—and the reason is as ironic as it is baffling.

Simply put, AI are just as good as—and often better than—humans at completing CAPTCHAs in their classic format. As machine learning and AI become more advanced, the fundamental human attributes that make consistent CAPTCHA formats possible become less impactful, raising the question of how to determine the difference between AI and humans in the future.

The biggest barrier to universal CAPTCHA doctrine is purely cultural. Humans may share experiences across the board, but such experiences are typically basic enough to fall victim to the same machine learning which has rendered lower-level CAPTCHAs moot. Adding a cultural component to CAPTCHAs could prevent AI from bypassing them, but it also might prevent some humans from understanding the objective.

Therein lies the root of the CAPTCHA paradox. Humans are far more diverse than any one test can possibly account for, and what they do have in common is also shared by—you guessed it—AI. To create a truly AI-proof test would be to alienate a notable portion of human users by virtue of lived experience. The irony is palpable, but one can only imagine the sheer frustration developers are going through in attempting to address this problem.

But all isn’t lost. While litmus tests such as determining the number of traffic cones in a plaza or checking off squares with bicycles (but not unicycles, you fool) may be beatable by machines, some experts posit that “human entropy” is almost impossible to mimic—and, thus, a viable solution to the CAPTCHA paradox.

“A real human being doesn’t have very good control over their own motor functions, and so they can’t move the mouse the same way more than once over multiple interactions,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, a former click fraud expert from Google. While AI could attempt to feign this same level of “entropy”, the odds of a successful attempt appear low.

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Tech News

Move over, Clubhouse: Slack adds their own audio chat rooms

(TECH NEWS) Slack planning to co-opt Clubhouse’s synchronous audio rooms has lead to mixed response. Did it really need to be done?

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Woman in green cardigan and headphones listening to audio chat room on mobile, where Slack becomes a competitor.

Slack is adding a synchronous audio chat room feature similar to what Clubhouse already has. While not everyone is happy about it, the addition is true to Slack’s ongoing form—if a little redundant.

Slack’s audio rooms would work similarly to Clubhouse’s current feature of the same persuasion. The rooms themselves would be ongoing for as long as they were open, and users would be able to drop in and out of calls at their leisure, even joining the conversation when permitted by the host or settings. In theory, it’s a cool way to round out Slack’s platform and make for yet another way for people to engage during the work day.

But not everyone is stoked about the addition. Pocketnow’s Nadeem Sarwar makes a strong point about the redundancy of adding a Clubhouse feature to the already-packed Slack deck: “…from a regular remote worker’s perspective, I’d rather use services such as Telegram, Discord, or Google Meet that we’ve grown accustomed to using for jumping into a group call with my teammates.”
“…[T]he need for audio chatrooms to get in a chaotic chat with colleagues, with whom you already chat over work and share memes five days a week, doesn’t make much sense,” he adds.

Sarwar also references research about remote meeting fatigue from Stanford and The Washington Post, positing that—since video conferences are already played out at this point—adding another quasi-conference option to Slack doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

He isn’t wrong. There are multitudinous conference options on the market now, many of which are free. One could argue that Slack, having marketed itself as a text-first communication hub, has no business entering the audio chat landscape.

That argument falls on its face when you consider Slack’s model—something both Sawar and the Slack CEO himself mention—involves “stealing” and implementing “good ideas” from others in order to make their own platform as comprehensive as possible. If one is able to use Slack for the majority of tasks that Google, Discord, and Clubhouse offer, that makes the platform a lot more attractive to users who are on the fence.

And, perhaps more importantly, it ensures that current users won’t migrate to a comparable platform in the future—especially if their colleagues are making the same choice.

It’s a smart move for Slack, especially given Clubhouse’s lack of Android support at this time—something Clubhouse has said probably still won’t launch for a couple of months.

The Clubhouse team, for their part, continues to add new features in efforts to maintain the platform’s upward mobility. One such feature is the option for paid subscriptions to content creators, allowing for people to monetize their presence on the platform. At the time of this writing, Clubhouse is valued at around $1 billion.

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