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Google Perspective tackles trolling but sounds a bit 1984-esque

(TECH NEWS) Google’s new internet troll catcher, “Perspective” plagues us with lingering questions about censorship and reminds us vaguely of Orwell’s 1984…

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Google launches “Perspective” to ward off trolls

Google has debuted Perspective, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool designed to moderate online comments. The tool is crafted with the intention of helping communities do more than just filter out curse words.

As the tech world fawns over the advancement, let us pause to talk about a substantial flaw in using AI to censor human behavior…

Language is a wonderful and beautiful thing

It is something so ambiguous, so contradicting, so clearly defined by its many grey areas; it is a perfectly human concept. Its innate human-ness has been further enforced with the introduction of Google’s “Perspective” API. Unfortunate, then, that the creation of Perspective and the reasons for its flaws are due to such negative circumstances.

Sticks and stones

Fact: Technology is amazing. Artificial Intelligence is making progress at a substantial rate, robots are ever-increasing in efficiency, and the Internet is leading us to a more connected world.

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Alternative Fact: Whatever people can do, technology can do better.

Reasoning: Nothing can beat human creativity when it comes to finding ways to hurt and demean one another.

Trollololol

There is no questioning that the online environment has a significant “troll” population.

For those that may be unaware, I’m not talking about the kind of trolls that live under bridges attempting to eat unsuspecting billy goats.

Like Sauron’s army in the Lord of the Rings, they march forward, leaving a swath of destruction in the form of poorly worded hate comments in their digital wake. In the Lord of the Rings those were Orcs, of course, but their use of the English language was pretty similar, hence the analogy.

Often, a troll’s verbal vomit is not to express their true opinions, nor is to stir up an interesting ideological debate. Instead, it is merely to stir up chaos, just because they can. Sure, trolls can serve a purpose by pushing more people toward the center as they rant on the fringe, but most people just see their behavior as abusive.

Text toxicity

In response to the often-volatile nature of the comment section, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, created its Perspective API. Using machine-learning, the service had been created to weed out the toxic language that so often turns a section created to express opinions and create open-ended debates into a War of Words. The concept is simple: using an algorithm, Perspective searches for pre-programmed words and phrases.

These comments and phrases are then given a “toxicity” ranking determined by the program.

Perspective is a great idea, created with what are presumably good intentions. However, there are a couple of major issues with the service.

Robots still don’t have feelings

The biggest, and most notable problem is that while it can detect toxic words and phrases, there is no way for it determine context, and even more so, sentiment.

Upon reading David Auerbach’s article for MIT Technology Review, I checked out the Perspective website for myself which offers a free test of the service. Drawing inspiration from Auerbach, I attempted several different phrases to determine their toxicity ranking.

Overall, the service could detect clearly mean or hateful phrases fairly well.

However, just by spending a few moments with it I was able to detect key words it would pick up, and by omitting or substituting said words, comments that would still be considered toxic by human eyes received a comparatively minuscule toxicity ranking in the system. A prime example of this would be the use of swear words, which very much differ in meaning depending on context.

Six degrees of censorship

Another, more potentially troubling issue, is the fact that Perspective was created and is maintained by human programmers. As such, what it deems toxic will generally tend to fall in line with the programmers’ own ideological views.

Though it may be unintentional, one would naturally input words or phrases that they, personally, would deem offensive, while potentially omitting phrases they may be unaware that others would find offensive. Even more so, however, is the fact that Perspective would be marketed to businesses.

In effect, companies would have the potential to be able to weed out comments that did not fall within the range their own ideological beliefs.Click To Tweet

This would be especially harmful in relation to entities such as news sites and forums, which should serve as platforms for users to express and debate their opinions.

Perspective’s potential

Let me restate my belief that Perspective is a great idea created with genuinely good intentions. However, it will be some time before it is, if ever, one-hundred percent effective. And, like all powerful things, it has the potential to be dangerous if used in the wrong hands by creating echo chambers and ultimately, by eroding free speech.

PerspectiveProbz

Andrew Clausen is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and when he's not deep diving into technology and business news for you, he is a poet, enjoys rock climbing, monster movies, and spending time with his notoriously naughty cat.

Tech News

Google set to release new AI-operated meeting room kit… and it’s pretty baller

(TECH NEWS) Google’s newest toy is designed to “put people first” by alleviating video and audio issues for conference room meetings.

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Google Meet Series One is a new meeting kit that puts people first.

Remote meetings can be the worst sometimes. The awful video and audio quality are frustrating when you’re trying to hear important details for an upcoming project. Even with the fastest internet connection, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to clearly hear or see anyone who’s in the office. But Google is re-imagining conference rooms with their new video conferencing hardware.

Yesterday, the company introduced Google Meet Series One. In partnership with Lenovo, this meeting room kit is made exclusively for Google Meet and is poised to be the hardware that “puts people first.”

The Series One has several components that make it stand out. First is the “Smart Audio Bar,” powered by eight beam-forming microphones. Using Google Edge TPUs, the soundbar can deliver TrueVoice®, the company’s “proprietary, multi-channel noise cancellation technology.” It removes distracting sounds, like annoying finger and foot-tapping noises, so everyone’s voices are crystal clear from anywhere in the room.

The hardware also has 4K smart cameras that allow for high-resolution video and digital PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) effects. Processed with Google AI, the device knows to automatically zoom in and out so all of the meetings’ participants are framed in the camera. With an i7 processor and Google Edge TPUs, the system is built to “handle the taxing demands of video conferencing along with running the latest in Google AI as efficiently and reliably as possible.”

The meeting kit has Google grade security built-in, so the system automatically updates over-the-air. The system also works seamlessly with Google services and apps we already use. Its touch control display is powered by a single ethernet cable. From the admin controls, you can manage meeting lists and control room settings. Powered by assistant voice commands, their touch controller provides a “touchless touchability”; if you want to, you can join a meeting just by saying, “Hey Google, join the meeting.”

These new meeting kits are easy to install and are versatile. They can be configured to fit small, medium, and large-sized rooms. “Expanding kits for larger rooms can be done with just an ethernet cable and the tappable Mic Pod, which expands microphone reach and allows for mute/unmute control.”

According to the Google Meet Series One introductory video, the meeting room kits are “beautifully and thoughtfully designed to make video meetings approachable and immersive so everyone gets a seat at the table.”

Currently, there is no release date set for Google Meet Series One. However, pre-orders will soon be available in the US, Canada, Finland, France, Norway, Spain, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium.

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Tech News

One creepy way law enforcement might have your private data

(TECH NEWS) Wait, geofences do what? Law enforcement can pull your private data if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Man walking on crosswalk with phone, but his private data could be vulnerable.

By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that our smartphones are tracking us, but what you might not be aware of is just how much law enforcement is taking advantage of our private data. Now, the good news is that some places have gotten wise to this breach of privacy and are banning certain tactics. The bad news is: If you were ever in the vicinity of a recent crime scene, it’s quite possible your privacy has already been invaded.

How are law enforcement doing this? Well, it starts with a geofence.

At its core, a geofence is a virtual border around a real geographic location. This can serve many purposes, from creating marketing opportunities for targeted ads to tracking shipping packages. In the case of law enforcement, though, geofences are often used in something called a geofence warrant.

Traditionally, warrants identify a subject first, then retrieve their electronic records. A geofence warrant, on the other hand, identifies a time and place and pulls electronic data from that area. If you’re thinking “hey, that sounds sketchy,” you are–forgive the pun–completely warranted.

With a geofence, law enforcement can dig through your private data, not because they have proof you were involved in a crime, but because you happened to be nearby.

This practice, though relatively new, is on the rise: Google reported a 15-fold increase in geofence warrant requests between 2017 and 2018. As well as invading privacy, these warrants have led to false arrests and can be used against peaceful protesters. Not to mention, in many cases, geofence warrants can be extremely easy to acquire. One report in Minnesota found judges signed off on these cases in under 4 minutes.

Thankfully, there have been signs of people pushing back against the use of geofence warrants. In fact, there have been multiple federal court rulings that find the practice in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” including your electronic data.

If you’re still worried about your privacy, there are ways to keep your electronic data on lock. For example, turn off your location services when you’re traveling, and avoid connecting to open Wi-Fi networks. You can also work to limit location sharing with apps and websites.

These and other tips can be a great way to help you avoid not just geofence warrants, but others who want to use your electronic information for their own gain.

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Tech News

Incoming! Amazon drones will be dropping off packages soon (we hope)

(TECH NEWS) The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Amazon for drone delivery service, but when will the drones actually take flight?

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One of Prime Air's drones ready for test flights.

Amazon has finally received the stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deliver packages by drones. This pivotal step brings the online retailer closer to their promise of delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

In 2013, during CBS’s “60 Minutes” interview, Amazon CEO and Founder, Jeff Bezos, said drones would be delivering customers’ packages within five years. Although the estimate is a couple of years off, it seems like that day might be right around the corner.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when little floating presents are sailing through the sky (Animal Crossing balloons, anyone?). Despite our excitement to see our latest Amazon impulse purchase land on our doorstep, it isn’t going to happen overnight.

The Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate Amazon obtained for its fleet of Prime Air drones will allow the company to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) “to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.” Although the FAA certification is allowing Amazon to begin test trials, Bloomberg reports that the retail giant still has “regulatory and technical hurdles” to overcome.

In addition, the FAA has yet to set regulations that will “serve as a framework to expand drone flights over crowds, a building block necessary for deliveries.” Amazon hasn’t said when and where it will start testing the delivery service either.

David Carbon, Amazon Vice President who oversees Prime Air, made this statement: “This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world.”

This approval is definitely a step forward, but Amazon has been working on the drone delivery service for years. Early last year, the giant retailer revealed they would start offering one-day shipping. They have followed through on this, at least. And during a Las Vegas Conference in June 2019, they revealed their “fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.” But it still doesn’t answer when we can expect to see whizzing drones overhead.

I’m not sure when Amazon will fulfill their last promise. But it is getting closer. What I do know is that I look forward to the Amazon drones taking flight. I can’t wait to place my orders knowing that I will get that last-minute present I ordered just in time.

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