Facial Recognition: Not for LE and Intel Professionals? What? Hello, Reality Calling

July 30, 2018

I read “Facial Recognition Gives Police a Powerful New Tracking Tool. It’s Also Raising Alarms.” The write up is one of many pointing out that using technology to spot persons of interest is not a good idea. The Telegraph has a story which suggests that Amazon is having some doubts about its Rekognition facial recognition system. What? Hello, reality calling.

The “Raising Alarms” story makes this statement, obtained from an interview with an outfit called Kairos. I circled these statements:

“Time is winding down but it’s not too late for someone to take a stand and keep this from happening,” said Brian Brackeen, the CEO of the facial recognition firm Kairos, who wants tech firms to join him in keeping the technology out of law enforcement’s hands. Brackeen, who is black, said he has long been troubled by facial recognition algorithms’ struggle to distinguish faces of people with dark skin, and the implications of its use by the government and police. If they do get it, he recently wrote, “there’s simply no way that face recognition software will be not used to harm citizens.”

The write up points out:

Many law enforcement agencies — including the FBI, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and several departments in San Diego — have been using those databases for years, typically in static situations — comparing a photo or video still to a database of mug shots or licenses. Maryland’s system was used to identify the suspect who allegedly massacred journalists at the Capital Gazette newspaper last month in Annapolis and to monitor protesters following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Yep, even the Hollywood gangster films have featured a victim flipping through a collection of mug shots. The idea is pretty simple. Bad actors who end up in a collection of mug shots are often involved in other crimes. Looking at images is one way for LE and intel professionals to figure out if there is a clue to be followed.

Now what’s the difference between having software look for matches? Software can locate similar fingerprints. Software can locate similar images, maybe even the image of the person who committed a crime. The idea of a 50 year old man robbed at an ATM flipping through images of bad actors in a Chicago police station is, from my point of view, a bridge too far. The 50 year old will either lose concentration or just point at some image and say, “Yeah, yeah, that looks like the guy.”

Let’s go with software because there are a lot of bad actors, there are some folks on Facebook who are bad actors, and there are bad actors wandering around in a crowd. Don’t believe me. Go to Rio, stay in a fancy hotel, and wander around on a Saturday night. How long before you are robbed? Maybe never, but maybe within 15 minutes. Give this test a try.

Software, like humans, makes errors. However, it seems to make sense to use available technology to take actions required by government rules and regulations. That means that big companies are going to chase government contracts. That means that stopping companies from providing facial recognition technology is pretty much impossible.

I would suggest that the barn is on fire, the horses have escaped, and Costco built a new superstore on the land. Well, maybe I will suggest that this has happened.

Facial recognition systems are tools which have been and will continue to be used. Today’s systems can be fooled. I showed a pair of glasses which can baffle most facial recognition systems in my DarkCyber video a couple of months ago.

The flaws in the algorithms will be improved slowly. The challenge of crowds, lousy lightning, disguises, hats, shadows, and the other impediments to higher accuracy will be reduced slowly and over time.

But let’s get down to basics: The facial recognition systems are here to stay. In the US, the UK, and most countries on the planet. Go to a small city in Ecuador. Guess what? There is a Chinese developed facial recognition system monitoring certain areas of most cities. Why? Flipping through a book with hundreds of thousands of images in an attempt to identify a suspect doesn’t work too well. Toss in Snapchat and YouTube. Software is the path forward. Period.

Facial recognition systems, despite their accuracy rates, provide a useful tool. Here’s the shocker. These systems have been around for decades. Remember the Rand Tablet. That was in the 1960s. Progress is being made.

Outrage is arriving a little late.

Stephen E Arnold, July 30, 2018

Amazon Rekognition: The View from Harrods Creek

July 29, 2018

I read the stories about Amazon’s facial recognition system. A representative example of this genre is “Amazon’s Facial Recognition Tool Misidentified 28 Members of Congress in ACLU Test.” The write up explains the sample. The confidence level was set at 80 percent. Amazon recommends 95 percent.

The result? Twenty eight individuals were misidentified.

At a breakfast meeting this morning (Sunday, July 29, 2018) one uninformed Kentucky resident asked:

What if these individuals are criminals?

Another person responded:

Just 28?

I jotted down the remarks on my mobile phone. Ah, the Bluegrass state.

Stephen E Arnold, July 29, 2018

The Western Electric Model: Has It Resurfaced?

July 12, 2018

I read “Magic Leap Signs AT&T as sole U.S. Wireless Vendor and Gets Investment.” The story asserts that AT&T has become the exclusive distributor of the Magic Leap virtual realty device. The story makes no reference to Western Electric. Who remembers Western Electric, how its equipment deals worked, or how it meshed with Bell/AT&T. Perhaps the Western Electric model has surfaced again?

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2018

Google: Office Pix

June 27, 2018

A brief write-up at the Android Police supplies a bit of PR for Google— “Tip: Google Photos Can Find All the Photos You’ve Taken at ‘Work’.” We like that “work” angle. Writer Rita El Khoury observes that one of Google’s finest products, as she sees it, has added several features since it came out, including a function that auto-groups users’ photos. It seems she and her colleagues stumbled upon one apparently unheralded feature. She writes:

“But did you know that you can search Photos for ‘work’ and get all the images you’ve snapped at work? I didn’t. We’re not sure how new or old the functionality is, but we just ran across it and it seems very helpful. If your work requires you keep tab of documents or items, or if you make creative products that you catalog, or if you snap pics at work for any other miscellaneous reason, you may want an easy way to filter those photos. You can quickly do that by typing ‘work’ in the Google Photos search field. Photos is probably using your Google location setting for home and work to quickly sift and find pictures taken at work. However, doing a search for ‘Home’ doesn’t yield results of pictures taken at home — instead it shows me all photos of houses and homes that I’ve taken.”

Perhaps Google recognizes there could be more security issues behind automatically grouping photos taken at “home” than there would be for those taken at “work.” That’s a welcome bit of common sense, but it still seems problematic to assign a “work” grouping unbidden. I suppose I’m just old-fashioned that way.

Cynthia Murrell, June 27, 2018

Terror Database Enriched with Social Media Pix

April 24, 2018

A question is surging through the tech and espionage communities after a recent article that makes some big implications in both worlds. That’s because a company formed by ex-spies is using facial recognition software to create a database of images from social networks like Facebook. This raises a ton of questions, but they all start with the recent Daily Mail piece, “Surveillance Company Run by Ex-Spies is Harvesting Facebook Photos.”

According to the story, the program is called Face-Int and they have a specific goal in mind:

“Its creators say the software could lead to the identification of terror suspects, captured in promotional and other material posted online… “Experts are concerned that the company’s efforts extend beyond this remit, however, and into the political realm…’It raises the stakes of face recognition – it intensifies the potential negative consequences,’ Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Forbes.”

While it is admirable that a company is aiming to help capture terrorists through social media, it leaves one to worry about several things. For starters, it’s pretty safe to assume many terrorists will not appear on social media or, at the least, not without something covering their face. Thus, accuracy becomes a concern. However, the larger concern is that This, however, does not touch upon the greater concern that private, law abiding citizens are also getting funneled into this database. The opportunities for invading one’s privacy is alarmingly high. Time will tell how this shakes out, but we have a hunch the general public will never be told.

Patrick Roland, April 24, 2018

Facial Recognition for a Certain Type of Bro

April 11, 2018

Male white privilege is a topic that pervades social and cultural discourse, but according to The Seattle Times the bias exists in facial recognition technology, “Facial-Recognition Technology Works Best If You’re A White Guy, Study Says.” AI’s ability to recognize people is improving more and more each day. The technology’s developers improve the technology by feeding AI data that help it learn to discern between physical differences such as gender, skin color, facial features, and other traits. It seems, however, that the data groups are overwrought with white men.

Apparently facial recognition software is 99 percent accurate in identifying white men, but the darker a person’s skin is the more errors that arise. MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini discovered the disparities and said it was a reflection of real word biases. The AI is only as smart as the people that program it:

“In modern artificial intelligence, data rules. AI software is only as smart as the data used to train it. If there are many more white men than black women in the system, it will be worse at identifying the black women. One widely used facial recognition data set was estimated to be more than 75 percent male and more than 80 percent white, according to another research study.”

Another alarming factor is that facial recognition and related technologies have a high adoption rate, such as companies that use them to target social media ads and automated decisions such as hiring people and money lending. Do not forget that law enforcement officials are relying more on the technology and minorities are more likely to singled out in databases.

While this information is disparaging, it makes a bigger issue out of something that can be easily remedied. Yes, the data is skewed towards white males, because, based on statistics, more white men work in the technology field so they draw on data they have ready access to. It is the same with the genetics field, European and Asian genes are more accurately represented than African DNA, because these countries are more developed than the mother continent. To resolve this conundrum, they need to start feeding facial recognition technology data with more females and people with darker skin. It is probably not that hard to find the data, just visit social media or an image library, then download away.

Whitney Grace, April 11, 2018

Artificial Intelligence: Tiny Ears May Listen Well

March 29, 2018

The allegations that Facebook-type companies can “listen” to one’s telephone conversations or regular conversations may be “fake” news. But the idea is worth considering.

Artificial intelligence’s ability to process written data is unparalleled. However, the technology has always lagged pretty severely when it comes to spoken words. Soon, that will be a thing of the past if this recent article is to be believed. We learned more from the Smart Data Collective piece, “Natural Language Processing: An Essential Element of Artificial Intelligence.”

According to the story:

“Natural Language Processing (NLP) is an important part of artificial intelligence which is being researched upon to aid enterprises and businesses in the quick, speedy and fast retrieval of both structured and unstructured organizational data when needed. In simple terms, natural language processing (NLP), is the skill of a machine to understand and process human language within the context in which it is spoken.”

This technology is really taking off in the food industry. According to sources, shoppers in London are the first to use language processing apps to help them determine what vitamins their body may be lacking. It may sound like a stretch, but this is the sweet spot where AI really soars. The technology seems to really take off in industries that previously felt like it needed no help. Watch for language processing to begin bleeding into everyday life elsewhere, too. If one is carrying a mobile phone, is it listening and recording, converting text to speech, and indexing that content for psychographic analysis?

Patrick Roland, March 29, 2018

A Step Forward but Museum Image Collections Remain a Search Challenge

March 8, 2018

For a few decades, art and history museums have been struggling with their online presences. The experience of seeing a Jpeg of a painting or sculpture is not the same as seeing it in person. That’s true. But there is one area where museums are holding a lot of valuable data and just now it’s starting to be searchable. We discovered this recently when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s database “MetPublications.”

According to the page:

“MetPublications includes a description and table of contents for most titles, as well as information about the authors, reviews, awards, and links to related Met titles by author and by theme. Current book titles that are in-print may be previewed and fully searched online, with a link to purchase the book. The full contents of almost all other book titles may be read online, searched, or downloaded as a PDF.”

This includes over five hundred books about various exhibits that have spanned the last five decades. These slim volumes, usually released in conjunction with various exhibits, is fully searchable and a huge score for art lovers and historians. Previously, it was seen as too daunting and, potentially impossible. As far back as 2002 Computer Weekly was bemoaning the fact that museums had missed the digital boat. Turns out museums like the Met didn’t miss the boat, it’s just that their ship sails a little more slowly than the white knuckle world of Silicon Valley. Better late than never, we say.

Patrick Roland, March 8, 2018

Visual Search Enters Its Next Phase

February 16, 2018

About a year ago, some of the biggest names in search declared that visual search was the next big horizon in the industry and that they were pouring great gobs of money into this world. If you are like us, visual search is not exactly part of your everyday life yet. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving, as we discovered in a fascinating Digital Trends story, “Not Happy With Pinterest Search Results? Refine it With Text and Photo Queries.”

According to the story:

Pinterest announced the addition of text searches that work within the visual search tool, allowing users to give Pinterest Lens a bit more direction on the intent of the search. According to Pinterest, users make an average of 600 million searches every month.”

That’s a serious trend and an uptick from past numbers we have seen. However, all these advances still don’t seem to be creeping into our daily life…yet. As reported by IT Pro Portal, retailers are seriously starting to adopt visual search technology. This directly stems from the rise of shopping via cell phone, as opposed to laptops. And, as we all know, phones are custom made for visual search thanks to their cameras. The technology sounds like it is there, our interest is there as shoppers, and we think the storm is on the horizon where visual search overtakes the retail market soon.

Patrick Roland, February 16, 2018

Transcribing Podcasts with Help from Amazon

January 19, 2018

I enjoy walking the dog and listening to podcasts. However, I read more quickly than I listen. Speed up is a feature which works well for those in their mid 20s. At age 74, not so much.

Few podcasts create transcripts. Kudos to Steve Gibson at Security Now. He pays for this work himself because other podcasts on the Twit network don’t offer much in the way of transcripts. And in the case of This Week in Law, there aren’t weekly programs. Recently, no programs. Helpful, no?

You can get the basics of the transcriptions produced by Amazon Transcribe in “Podcast Transcription with Amazon Transcribe.”

One has to be a programmer to use the service. Here’s the passage in the write up I highlighted:

The first thing that I would want out of this is speaker detection, i.e. knowing how many different speakers there are and to be able to differentiate their voices. Podcasts typically have more than one host, or a host and a guest for an interview, so that would be helpful. Also, it would be great to be able to send back corrections on words somehow, to help with the training. I’m sure Amazon has a pretty good thing going, but maybe on an account level? Or for proper nouns? I still think it would be good for people to provide that feedback.

Perhaps the podcast transcript void can be filled—at long last.

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2018

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