Minneapolis police used fake social media profiles to surveil Black people
“Since 2010, of the 14 individuals that MPD officers have killed, 13 of those individuals were people of color or Indigenous individuals,” the report states. “People of color and Indigenous individuals comprise approximately 42% of the Minneapolis population but comprise 93% of all MPD officer-involved deaths between January 1, 2010, to February 2, 2022.”
A clear racial disparity can be seen in the widespread use of chemical and other “less-lethal” weapons as well. MPD officers deploy pepper spray against Black people at a higher rate than they do against white people. From the report: “Officers recorded using chemical irritants in 25.1% of use of force incidents involving Black individuals. In contrast, MPD officers recorded using chemical irritants in 18.2% of use of force incidents involving white individuals in similar circumstances.” Overall, according to the report, “between January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2020, 63% of all use of force incidents that MPD officers recorded were against Black individuals.”
Traffic stops were unfortunately no different. “Although Black individuals comprise approximately 19% of the Minneapolis population, MPD’s data shows that from January 1, 2017, to May 24, 2020, 78%—or over 6,500—of all searches conducted by MPD officers were searches of Black individuals or their vehicles during officer-initiated traffic stops.” Black people in Minneapolis are at six times greater risk of being treated with force during traffic stops than their white neighbors, according to the report.
The Minneapolis Police Department has not replied to our request for comment.
The Secret Police: An MIT Technology Review investigation
This story is part of a series that offers an unprecedented look at the way federal and local law enforcement employed advanced technology tools to create a total surveillance system in the streets of Minneapolis, and what it means for the future of policing. You can find the full series here.
The report also describes the department’s use of secret social media accounts to monitor Black people: “MPD officers used covert, or fake, social media accounts to surveil and engage Black individuals, Black organizations, and elected officials unrelated to criminal activity, without a public safety objective.”
Online, officers used covert accounts to follow, comment in, and message groups like the NAACP and the Urban League while posing as like-minded individuals.
“In one case, an MPD officer used an MPD covert account to pose as a Black community member to send a message to a local branch of the NAACP criticizing the group. In another case, an MPD officer posed as a community member and RSVP’d to attend the birthday party of a prominent Black civil rights lawyer and activist,” the report says.
Similarly, MIT Technology Review’s reporting shows that officers kept at least three watch lists of people present at and around protests related to race and policing. Nine state and local policing groups were part of a multi-agency response program called Operation Safety Net, which worked in concert with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Homeland Security to acquire surveillance tools, compile data sets, and increase communication sharing during the racial justice protests in the state. The program continued long past its publicly announced demobilization.
Though our investigation did not probe the extent of racial bias, it showed that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies learned to work in concert to render anonymous protesting—a core tenet of free-speech protection under the First Amendment of the US Constitution—all but impossible.
The Download: AI films, and the threat of microplastics
The Frost nails its uncanny, disconcerting vibe in its first few shots. Vast icy mountains, a makeshift camp of military-style tents, a group of people huddled around a fire, barking dogs. It’s familiar stuff, yet weird enough to plant a growing seed of dread. There’s something wrong here.
Welcome to the unsettling world of AI moviemaking. The Frost is a 12-minute movie from Detroit-based video creation company Waymark in which every shot is generated by an image-making AI. It’s one of the most impressive—and bizarre—examples yet of this strange new genre. Read the full story, and take an exclusive look at the movie.
—Will Douglas Heaven
Microplastics are everywhere. What does that mean for our immune systems?
Microplastics are pretty much everywhere you look. These tiny pieces of plastic pollution, less than five millimeters across, have been found in human blood, breast milk, and placentas. They’re even in our drinking water and the air we breathe.
Given their ubiquity, it’s worth considering what we know about microplastics. What are they doing to us?
The short answer is: we don’t really know. But scientists have begun to build a picture of their potential effects from early studies in animals and clumps of cells, and new research suggests that they could affect not only the health of our body tissues, but our immune systems more generally. Read the full story.
Microplastics are everywhere. What does that mean for our immune systems?
Here, bits of plastic can end up collecting various types of bacteria, which cling to their surfaces. Seabirds that ingest them not only end up with a stomach full of plastic—which can end up starving them—but also get introduced to types of bacteria that they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. It seems to disturb their gut microbiomes.
There are similar concerns for humans. These tiny bits of plastic, floating and flying all over the world, could act as a “Trojan horse,” introducing harmful drug-resistant bacteria and their genes, as some researchers put it.
It’s a deeply unsettling thought. As research plows on, hopefully we’ll learn not only what microplastics are doing to us, but how we might tackle the problem.
Read more from Tech Review’s archive
It is too simplistic to say we should ban all plastic. But we could do with revolutionizing the way we recycle it, as my colleague Casey Crownhart pointed out in an article published last year.
We can use sewage to track the rise of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, as I wrote in a previous edition of the Checkup. At this point, we need all the help we can get …
… which is partly why scientists are also exploring the possibility of using tiny viruses to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections. Phages were discovered around 100 years ago and are due a comeback!
Our immune systems are incredibly complicated. And sex matters: there are important differences between the immune systems of men and women, as Sandeep Ravindran wrote in this feature, which ran in our magazine issue on gender.
Welcome to the new surreal. How AI-generated video is changing film.
Fast and cheap
Artists are often the first to experiment with new technology. But the immediate future of generative video is being shaped by the advertising industry. Waymark made The Frost to explore how generative AI could be built into its products. The company makes video creation tools for businesses looking for a fast and cheap way to make commercials. Waymark is one of several startups, alongside firms such as Softcube and Vedia AI, that offer bespoke video ads for clients with just a few clicks.
Waymark’s current tech, launched at the start of the year, pulls together several different AI techniques, including large language models, image recognition, and speech synthesis, to generate a video ad on the fly. Waymark also drew on its large data set of non-AI-generated commercials created for previous customers. “We have hundreds of thousands of videos,” says CEO Alex Persky-Stern. “We’ve pulled the best of those and trained it on what a good video looks like.”
To use Waymark’s tool, which it offers as part of a tiered subscription service starting at $25 a month, users supply the web address or social media accounts for their business, and it goes off and gathers all the text and images it can find. It then uses that data to generate a commercial, using OpenAI’s GPT-3 to write a script that is read aloud by a synthesized voice over selected images that highlight the business. A slick minute-long commercial can be generated in seconds. Users can edit the result if they wish, tweaking the script, editing images, choosing a different voice, and so on. Waymark says that more than 100,000 people have used its tool so far.
The trouble is that not every business has a website or images to draw from, says Parker. “An accountant or a therapist might have no assets at all,” he says.
Waymark’s next idea is to use generative AI to create images and video for businesses that don’t yet have any—or don’t want to use the ones they have. “That’s the thrust behind making The Frost,” says Parker. “Create a world, a vibe.”
The Frost has a vibe, for sure. But it is also janky. “It’s not a perfect medium yet by any means,” says Rubin. “It was a bit of a struggle to get certain things from DALL-E, like emotional responses in faces. But at other times, it delighted us. We’d be like, ‘Oh my God, this is magic happening before our eyes.’”
This hit-and-miss process will improve as the technology gets better. DALL-E 2, which Waymark used to make The Frost, was released just a year ago. Video generation tools that generate short clips have only been around for a few months.
The most revolutionary aspect of the technology is being able to generate new shots whenever you want them, says Rubin: “With 15 minutes of trial and error, you get that shot you wanted that fits perfectly into a sequence.” He remembers cutting the film together and needing particular shots, like a close-up of a boot on a mountainside. With DALL-E, he could just call it up. “It’s mind-blowing,” he says. “That’s when it started to be a real eye-opening experience as a filmmaker.”