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Artificial Intelligence

Russia is using facial recognition to spy on its citizens

While you’ll soon be using facial recognition to unlock your smartphone, Russia is using the technology to spy on its citizens.

Moscow is adding facial recognition software to 170,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras positioned throughout the capital. The city has worked on the system for close to a year alongside NTechLabs, a Russian startup that released the popular app FindFace last year. People could take pictures of strangers and the app would figure out who was in the image by linking it to a database from Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte. The app was criticized after people used it to abuse porn stars.

Use of CCTV cameras to spy on citizens is notorious in the U.K., but Russia claims it has the largest network in the world. For the last five years, Moscow has been scrapping together millions of hours of video feeds and holding them for five days after they’re captured.

“We soon found it impossible to process such volumes of data by police officers alone,” Artem Ermolaev, head of the department of information technology in Moscow, told Bloomberg. “We needed an artificial intelligence to help find what we are looking for.”

Ermolaev said the technology was somewhere between testing and finished, and that a two-month trial resulted in six arrests of criminals who “hadn’t been caught in years.” CCTVs are aimed at more than 95 percent of the capital’s apartment buildings. The surveillance cameras scan for faces stored in a government database of criminals and can even run screenshots through the facial recognition software.

Addressing concerns of hackers gaining control of huge amounts of personal information, Ermolaev says data is kept in a closed system available to a limited number of users. He says deploying the software across all 170,000 cameras would triple operating costs, which already stand at a staggering $5 billion rubles, or about $86 million. Instead, Moscow is eyeing a limited release in some of its more crime-ridden neighborhoods.

H/T Bloomberg

Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/debug/russia-cctv-facial-recognition/

 

Fury at ‘Bodega’ tech startup that aims to put corner shops out of business

Bodega, which markets glorified vending machines where users can buy groceries, boasts: “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary.”

Bodega co-founders

 

A tech startup called Bodega that hopes to replace mom-and-pop shops with unmanned boxes that rely on an app and artificial intelligence is facing a massive backlash from immigrant business owners and skeptics across Silicon Valley.

The company, founded by two former Google employees and launched on Wednesday, is marketing five-foot-wide pantries that users can unlock with their smartphones to pick up non-perishable items. There are no humans at the stores which are already stationed in spots like apartment buildings, offices and gyms and a computer program automatically charges customers credit cards, according to Fast Company, which first reported on the startup.

Although the boxes appear to be little more than glorified vending machines, the company’s executives have been widely mocked, and criticized for explicitly stating that their mission is to displace neighborhood corner stores and put family-owned shops out of business.

“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” co-founder Paul McDonald, a former Google product manager, told Fast Company. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 ft away from you.”

McDonald backtracked on Wednesday, claiming in a blogpost that he is not trying to put bodegas out of business despite his earlier statements to the contrary: “Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal.”

The goal of disrupting a long-running industry and eliminating human interaction from the process of shopping at a convenience store is embedded in the roundly ridiculed Bodega name, which appropriates a commonly used term in the US for corner stores typically run by immigrants.

“It’s sacrilegious to use that name, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to fight this,” Frank Garcia, chair of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, told the Guardian. “It was devastating to find out and it’s not fair to the local bodegas now that don’t have the angel investors that these guys have.”

McDonald and co-founder Ashwath Rajan have secured funding from high-profile players in the tech industry, including investors from First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures and Homebrew and senior executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter and Dropbox, Fast Company reported.

Garcia said his grandfather was the head of the Latin Grocery Association in the 1960s and helped coin the term bodega, a name widely used for stores in New York City today.

“It’s his legacy and the legacy of these immigrants who came here with nothing to start a little grocery store, and came up with a concept to really help the community against racism,” he said, noting that existing grocers often would refuse to serve Puerto Ricans. “Don’t use our community to make a fast buck.”

McDonald claimed that the company conducted surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations and alleged that 97% said no.

Bodega co-founders
The founders of Bodega hope there will eventually be thousands of boxes with one always 100 ft away from you. Photograph: Ellian Raffoul for Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Bodega did not respond to an interview request and did not answer questions about the nature of the survey and how much funding the startup has raised.

In his blogpost, McDonald praised existing bodegas as fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations that stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. He also said he was surprised by the social media outrage about the name, offering an apology to “anyone we’ve offended.”

“Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores or worse yet, a threat we intended only admiration.”

He did not respond to a question about whether he was reconsidering the name.

Critics have also condemned Bodega as the latest example of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs attracting large sums of money to provide a service for which there is little demand, aimed at catering to a wealthy population. Juicero, a startup that raised $120m to sell $400 juicer machines that were revealed to be the equivalent of two hands squeezing a juice box, recently shut down.

McDonald told Fast Company he was unveiling 50 new locations on the west coast and plans to spread across the country, with more than a thousand Bodegas in place by the end of 2018. The boxes are supposed to use machine learning to assess which items are most in demand and adjust the supply accordingly, but some critics are already questioning whether the business model will be sustainable.

“Even if Bodega rapidly grows, many shoppers won’t want to abandon their local stores,” said Trisha Chakrabarti, senior program and policy manager at Mandela MarketPlace, a nonprofit that supports local grocery stores and is based in Oakland, California, where Bodega is headquartered.

“It’s about having neighbours in your community who know you, who have lived there and been in business for a long time, who have seen changes in the neighborhood and are responsive to customers needs,” she said. “That kind of personalization of service, you will never be able to find with an automated service.”

“Bodega is launching at a time when local bodegas are barely scraping by,” said Chakrabarti. These are marginalized business owners to begin with in places like Oakland, New York and San Francisco. Their businesses are threatened by ever increasing rents.

She said she was particularly shocked to see the startup founders openly boasting about striving to wipe out this industry: “I hope that they fail.”

“In New York, where there are a large number of Yemeni-owned corner stores, some are known for using honour systems in which they let regular customers pay at a later date if they are low on cash and have immediate needs,” said Debbie Almontaser, board president of the Muslim Community Network.

“They work with communities when they don’t have money, people living paycheck to paycheck that need milk and diapers,” she said. “All of their customers are just so grateful that they have this kind of trust in them … I can’t imagine they would want to see these manufactured little kiosks in their communities.”

Garcia said his organization would explore any legal options it may have to challenge Bodega’s name, adding that he hoped lawmakers would regulate this kind of business and not let the startup bypass government rules existing stores have to follow.

He noted that even when 7-Eleven, the chain of convenience stores, has moved into neighborhoods with small businesses, executives have met with community leaders and representatives of bodegas.

“At least they respected the community,” he said. “These guys have not.”

At one residential skyscraper in San Francisco where a Bodega box is, tenant Nripesh Koirala said he would consider shopping from one since it’s convenient, but that he didn’t think the startup would threaten retail shops.

“It’s just their arrogance if they’re saying they are going to replace stores,” said Koirala, a 23-year-old student. “At a corner store, there are a lot of things you can choose from and you can ask them questions … You can’t talk to a vending machine.”

Contact the author: sam.levin@theguardian.com

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/13/tech-startup-bodega-corner-stores

Should we ban sex robots while we have the chance? | Jenny Kleeman

“AI sex dolls are on their way, with potentially sinister social consequences. So before they hit the market, we must ask whether they should,” writes robotics expert Jenny Kleeman.

sex robots

 

People are blowing a fuse about sex robots or rather, rape robots. Journalists from the New Statesman and the New York Times among others have all reported on the sex robot Roxxxy TrueCompanions controversial Frigid Farrah setting: a mode in which she has been programmed to resist sexual advances and which will allow men to act out rape fantasies.

Women’s rights activists have lined up to condemn Roxxxy. Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates describes her as the sex robot that’s yours to rape for just $9,995. Writing in the Times on Thursday, the barrister Kate Parker called for sex robots like Roxxxy to be criminalised. “The sophistication of the technology behind Roxxxy marks a step forward for robotics. For human society, it’s an unquestionable regression,” she says.

Rise of the sex robots
Theres a problem with this story: the robot doesnt exist. Douglas Hines, the man behind Roxxxy TrueCompanion, has been drumming up publicity for his creation ever since he unveiled her to the public at the 2010 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Even though his website pulsates with throbbing Order Her Now! buttons, no journalist has seen or photographed Roxxxy since 2010, and no one in the surprisingly extensive robot enthusiast community has ever reported owning one.

I tried to meet Hines in person many times over the past year while researching a documentary and article on sex robots, and although he was happy to talk over the phone he avoided meeting me when I asked to see Roxxxy in the flesh. Roxxxy, much like the replicants and Stepford Wives of science fiction, seems to be nothing more than fantasy.

But while Roxxxy may not be available to buy, models like her will be very soon. Abyss Creations are due to ship the first talking, animatronic, AI-enabled heads for their hyper-realistic silicone sex dolls by the end of the year. And while the sex robots on offer from China and Japan may currently have more in common with push-button talking baby dolls than Ava from Ex Machina, theres commercial pressure to get sophisticated models with AI on sale as soon as possible.

The sex tech industry is worth $30bn a year, and with two thirds of heterosexual men in a recent survey saying they could imagine buying a sex robot for themselves, the race is on to make the fantasy a reality. But before sex robots hit the market, we have the space to ask whether they should.

The issue with sex robots in general not just hypothetical ones programmed to have a resist function is how their existence will affect how human beings interact with each other. Sex robots are different from sex dolls and sex toys because they have AI. More than just a mechanism for giving you an orgasm, a sex robot is designed to be a substitute partner: a vibrator doesnt laugh at your jokes and remember your birthday, but Abyss Creations Harmony model can.

If men (and it will be men even the few male sex dolls produced by Abyss Creations every year are generally shipped to male customers) become used to having sex with synthetic companions that are programmed to meet their most precise specifications, how will they then interact with real women who have the inconvenience of having their own idiosyncrasies and free will? If you are used to having sex with ultra-life-like humanoids whenever and however you want, will you be more likely to expect complete dominance in your relationships with other humans?

Young people who have grown up in the age of online porn might consider shaved pubic hair and double penetration to be completely normal. Similarly, the generation growing up when sex robots are commonplace might see brutally selfish sex as both desirable and achievable.

Sex robots exist purely to satisfy their owners. Is any sexual relationship healthy if its only ever about one persons pleasure? Can sex with a robot ever be consensual? This isnt about robot rights its about the kind of sex that will become normal within human societies if we start having sex with robots.

Child sex dolls have been banned in the UK because of fears they will encourage the desire to abuse among paedophiles, rather than simply sate it. Parker is calling for a similar ban for all sex robots. But while we might be able to stop them being imported or manufactured here, we cant stop them being developed overseas.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is why there is a market for sex robots in the first place. Why do some people find the idea of a partner without autonomy so attractive? Until we have the answer to that, well need to prepare ourselves for the inevitable rise of the sex robots.

Jenny Kleeman is a freelance journalist

 

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/25/ban-sex-robots-dolls-market

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