Divorced by Smart Software and Hopefully Outstandingly Objective Algorithms

July 13, 2020

Amica, someone’s pal. A divorce adjudicated by smart software.

We are not sure this is a good idea. Fossbytes reports, “Australian Governments Roll Out Amica AI for Settling Divorces.” Can an algorithm replace human arbitration in a heated divorce? Apparently, the Aussies in charge believe it can. Writer Nishit Raghuwanshi explains:

“The Australian government has rolled out an AI named Amica that will help the partners in dividing money and property. Moreover, the AI will also help in making appropriate parenting arrangements without hiring a lawyer. As reported in Gizmodo, Australian AG Christian Porter mentioned that the Australian government is trying its best to improvise the Australian family law system. The main priority of the government is to make the system a bit more fast and cheap. He concluded his statement by saying that the government is also working on making the divorce process less stressful for the partners and their children.

“As per the stats, most of the Australian couples were inclined towards dumping their partners owing to Coronavirus quarantine period. It is expected that just after a little relaxation from COVID-19, a large number of couples will appear in the court for separation cases.”

Apparently this dynamic means post-pandemic will be the perfect time to put the project into place. Australia’s family courts were already swamped, we’re told, and all this forced togetherness threatens to completely overwhelm them. Any time one partner refuses to accept the AI’s recommendations, however, a lawyer will still be required. So If the algorithm is not good at its job the court system may not see much relief. Currently, the tool is free to Australian citizens, but a fee between $113 and $303 will be enacted next year.

DarkCyber wonders if the system was developed by an objective humanoid, hopefully one unaffected by a parental dust up. Revenge? Maybe?

Cynthia Murrell, July 13, 2020

Amazon: We Love the Cheery Smile, But Does It Have a Darker Meaning?

July 13, 2020

Who needs the Dark Web when one has Amazon? The Markup reveals, “Amazon’s Enforcement Failures Leave Open a Back Door to Banned Goods—Some Sold and Shipped by Amazon Itself.” Investigators at The Markup began combing the site for banned goods after a series of deaths and illnesses attributed to one counterfeit pill maker. The fake-Percocet maker, now in prison, revealed he’d bought his pill press right off Amazon. The journalists were dismayed to find nearly 100 dangerous and/or illegal items readily available on the site. All of these products are explicitly banned in Amazon’s third-party seller rules and prohibitions for the U.S. market. Reporters Annie Gilbertson and Jon Keegan write:

“The Markup filled a shopping cart with a bounty of banned items: marijuana bongs, ‘dab kits’ used to inhale cannabis concentrates, ‘crackers’ that can be used to get high on nitrous oxide, and compounds that reviews showed were used as injectable drugs. We found two pill presses and a die used to shape tablets into a Transformers logo, which is among the characters that have been found imprinted on club drugs such as ecstasy. We found listings for prohibited tools for picking locks and jimmying open car doors. And we found AR-15 gun parts and accessories that Amazon specifically bans. Almost three dozen listings for banned items were sold by third parties but available to ship from Amazon’s own warehouses. At least four were listed as ‘Amazon’s Choice.’ The phrase ‘ships from and sold by Amazon.com’ appeared beneath the buy button of five of the banned items we found, which two former employees confirmed means those products are, in fact, sold by Amazon. In addition, one of the sellers we were able to reach also confirmed it sold the items to Amazon.”

Of course, “Amazon’s choices” are often chosen by algorithm, which is part of the problem. The site does have a process for finding and removing banned products, but the human reviewers cannot keep up with the onslaught of third-party uploads. The journalists found several products that evaded detection by being listed as something they are not—like the AR-15 vise block masquerading as a desk accessory, complete with paperclips and pencil erasers in the image. Other items simply avoid telltale keywords, but are plain as day to anyone who views the listing. It is apparent even the algorithm has a clue because it frequently recommends items related to the product at hand. See the article for more examples.

What will Amazon do about this alarming issue? Well, if we take spokesperson Patrick Graham’s responses as a guide, the answer is it will downplay the problem. Seems about right.

Cynthia Murrell, July 13, 2020

Germany Is Getting Serious about Content

July 13, 2020

If accurate, Germany is moving ahead of the Five Eyes’ group in terms of access to online data. “New German Law Would Force ISPs to Allow Secret Service to Install Trojans on User Devices” reports:

A new law being proposed in Germany would see all 19 federal state intelligence agencies in Germany granted the power to spy on German citizens through the use of Trojans. The new law would force internet service providers (ISPs) to install government hardware at their data centers which would reroute data to law enforcement, and then on to its intended destination so the target is blissfully unaware that their communications and even software updates are being proxied.

If accurate, this is an important law. Germany’s experience with this type of legislation will put some oomph in the Five Eyes’ partners efforts as well as influence other European entities.

Stephen E Arnold, July 13, 2020

Possibly Harmful Smart Software: Heck, Release It

July 13, 2020

So, what changed? A brief write-up at Daijiworld reports that the “Elon Musk-Founded OpenAI Releases Text Tool it Once Called Dangerous.” This software can rapidly generate fake news that is so believable its makers once deemed it too dangerous to be released. Now, though, OpenAI seems to have had a change of heart. The API is being released in a private beta rather than into to the world at large as a test run of sorts. Citing an OpenAI blog post, the write-up reveals:

“‘In releasing the API, we are working closely with our partners to see what challenges arise when AI systems are used in the real world,’ OpenAI said in a blog post last week. ‘This will help guide our efforts to understand how deploying future AI systems will go, and what we need to do to make sure they are safe and beneficial for everyone.’ The API that OpenAI finally decided to release provides a general-purpose ‘text in, text out’ interface, allowing users to try it on virtually any English language task. Interested buyers can integrate the API into their product and develop an entirely new application. ‘Given any text prompt, the API will return a text completion, attempting to match the pattern you gave it. You can “program” it by showing it just a few examples of what you’d like it to do; its success generally varies depending on how complex the task is,’ OpenAI said.”

Where will it go from here—will OpenAI decide a general release is worth the risk? We’re guessing it will. Evidently this software is just too juicy to keep under wraps.

Cynthia Murrell, June 25, 2020

Do Those Commercial Satellites Just Provide Internet? Maybe Not

July 12, 2020

Much has changed since the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, not the least of which is the state of observation technology. We learn from Bloomberg that “Satellites Are Capturing the Protests, and Just About Everything Else on Earth.” Satellite-captured images of protests pervade recent news coverage, particularly a photo of D.C.’s yellow “Black Lives Matter” street mural captured by Planet Labs, Inc. This company, founded in 2010, brings satellite imagery to the masses. Journalist Ashlee Vance reports:

“The company that took the photo, Planet Labs Inc., has hundreds of satellites floating around Earth, enough that it can snap at least one photo of every spot on the planet every day, according to the startup. Such imagery used to be rare, expensive and controlled by governments. Now, Planet has built what amounts to a real-time accounting system of the earth that just about anyone can access by paying a fee.

Over the next couple months, Planet is embarking on a project that will dramatically increase the number of photos it takes and improve the quality of the images by 25% in terms of resolution. To do that, the company is lowering the orbits of some of its larger, high-resolution satellites and launching a half-dozen more devices. As a result, Planet will go from photographing locations twice a day to as many as 12 times a day in some places. Customers will also be able to aim the satellites where they want using an automated system developed by Planet. ‘The schedule is shipped to the satellite, and it knows the plan it needs to follow,’ said Jim Thomason, the vice president of products at Planet.”

The implications are both amazing and alarming. The very concept of privacy may become hypothetical when anyone willing to pay can see just about anything and anyone, anywhere, at nearly any time. On the other hand, there are more benign possibilities, like the investors who examine parking lots to determine how lucrative certain retail businesses are. And, of course, there is the ability to chronicle a large scale social-justice movement. During the Covid-19 pandemic, analysts have also used satellite imagery to track activity slowdowns, military activity, and shipments of goods.

Planet Labs is not the only private company in the satellite imagery market. Rivals include Capella Space and Iceye. As the competition heats up, how many more objects will be placed into orbit around our planet? As I recall, we already have too much stuff flying around out there. I suppose, though, that concern is beyond the purview of companies looking to cash in on the technology.

Cynthia Murrell, July 12, 2020

Intelligence Agencies and Covid

July 11, 2020

Ever since (probably before) China unleashed the COVID-19 virus on the world, countries have prepped their intelligence agencies one how to gather information about a vaccine. Ekathimerini spoke with retired CIA operative Marc Polymeropoulos about gathering intelligence in, “The Key Role Of Intelligence In The Corona Virus Battle.” Polymeropoulos stated he would have deployed agents around the world to not only gather information, but potentially recruit people to assist the CIA. He also said:

“ ‘The first matter of business for the secret service in the pandemic is not looking for ventilators or diagnostic tests, as Israel’s Mossad did. It’s checking whether the scientific data being reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by China, for example, is accurate or not. To do this, they recruit whistleblowers, tap communications between civil servants, and mine information from open sources,’ says Polymeropoulos. ‘Their second mission is to evaluate whether the spread of the virus and the reactions of the public in the places that are being hit the hardest are affecting the stability of their governments…”

Whoever had the latest scientific information related to the virus would mean billions of dollars for the winning country. Polymeropoulous, however, explained that the US secret services were warned about COVID-19 back in January, but dropped the ball. He believes once the pandemic is over, Congress will investigate why it got out of control.

VOA News has a similar story: “COVID-19 Offers ‘World Of Opportunity’ For Spies, Terrorists Australians Spy Boss Says.” Australia’s spy chief and Australian Security Intelligence Organization warned that the world is going to face more cyber-crime, extremist propaganda, and espionage during the pandemic. The panic associated with the pandemic makes people ripe for exploitation.

“It believes that extremist groups have spread their ideology and tried to radicalize Australians.  Other common scams include phishing for personal information, online shopping fraud and the theft of pension funds, as well as fake crypto currency and celebrity endorsements.  There are also allegations that foreign governments have used the pandemic to covertly gather sensitive information online.”

The pandemic has promoted fear, which makes people more susceptible to disinformation, cyber attacks, and scams. Some politicians even use it as an excuse to spy on their citizens and restrict their privacy rights online.

Maintaining order and safety is paramount during crises, but no one has found the right balance between citizens’ rights and government power.

One thing intelligence agencies know is that human behaviors have changed based on past emergencies.

Whitney Grace, July 11, 2020

Search History: Mostly Forgotten and Definitely of Zero Interest to the Smart Software Crowd

July 10, 2020

There’s an interesting, if selective, write up about online information search and retrieval. Navigate to “The Bourne Collection: Online Search Is Older Than You Think.”

An interesting statement appears in the write up:

Founder Roger Summit had been part of Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation’s mid-1960s Information Sciences Laboratory (1964). He had built his ideas about iterative search—a “dialog” between the user and the computer—into a separate online search division for Lockheed. (This was very different from the “take your best shot” approach of modern search engines, where you generally need to run a new search to refine irrelevant results). Dialog licensed access to leading databases in a variety of fields, which you could search with its powerful tools. While the overall amount of information was far smaller than on the modern web, it was far, far more relevant and better organized.

For the modern online experts, such a quaint, irrelevant, and inefficient concept.

Stephen E Arnold, July 10, 2020

Google and Social: Peanut Butter and Jelly?

July 10, 2020

We read with interest “Google+ Rebranded as Google Currents: Check New App Features.” Google’s Orkut was a fascinating service. Certain interesting users in Brazil made it a semi-hit, particularly among law enforcement officers. Then there were other social services, most notably Google + or Plus. Searching for symbols was clever. Close enough but I wrote out the plus. A word. Easy to search.

Google Plus bit the dust, but the write up points out that Google Plus is now Currents. Either electric chair type or flowing water. Maybe berries?

We noted this statement in the article:

Google+, although never exactly a successful platform, was marred by two major data leaks, potentially exposing data of tens of millions of users to outside developers. One leak that was kept secret for months, and the other one, which leaked the data of 52.5 million people, prompted Google to prepone [sic] the shutdown by four months.

“Prepone” caught our eye, but the write up does remind one about Google’s security capabilities.

The killer factoid in the write up warranted a blue circle with a pen and one exclamation point:

Google has, on multiple occasions, acknowledged that Google+ has not been able to meet the expectations. In a blog post in October, Google’s Ben Smith wrote that 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds long.

Five seconds. Interesting. Definitely not sticky.

Stephen E Arnold, July 10, 2020

Google and the Middle Kingdom

July 10, 2020

Remember when Google nosed into China and suggested that the country change how it approached life, business, and online? Few do. Suffice it to say that Google’s Silicon Valley inputs did produce one reaction: A small dish of day old sweet red bean dumplings. Yummy.

Flash forward to the present. “Google Shuts Down Cloud Project, Says No Plan to Offer Cloud Services in China” reports that Google

has shut down its cloud project named ‘Isolated Region’ and added that it was not weighing options to offer its cloud platform in China.

The article states:

The search engine giant, however, said that the project’s shutdown was not due to either of those two reasons and that it has not offered cloud platform services in China.

Perhaps Google became impatient waiting for China to modify its methods?

Stephen E Arnold, July 10, 2020

Optical Character Recognition for Less

July 10, 2020

Optical character recognition software was priced high, low, and in between. Sure, the software mostly worked if you like fixing four or five errors per scanned page with 100 words on it. Oh, you use small sized type. That’s eight to 10 errors per scanned page. Good enough I suppose.

You may want to check out EasyOCR, now available via Github. The information page says:

Ready-to-use OCR with 40+ languages supported including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai.

Worth a look.

Stephen E Arnold, July 10, 2020

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