Connect with us

Tech

We could see federal regulation on face recognition as early as next week

Published

on

We could see federal regulation on face recognition as early as next week


On May 10, 40 advocacy groups sent an open letter demanding a permanent ban on the use of Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, by US police. The letter was addressed to Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy, the company’s current and incoming CEOs, and came just weeks before Amazon’s year-long moratorium on sales to law enforcement was set to expire. 

The letter contrasted Bezos’s and Jassy’s vocal support of Black Lives Matter campaigners during last summer’s racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd with reporting that other Amazon products have been used by law enforcement to identify protesters.

On May 17, Amazon announced it would extend its moratorium indefinitely, joining competitors IBM and Microsoft in self-regulated purgatory. The move is a nod at the political power of the groups fighting to curb the technology—and recognition that new legislative battle grounds are starting to emerge. Many believe that substantial federal legislation is likely to come soon. 

“People are exhausted”

The past year has been pivotal for face recognition, with revelations of the technology’s role in false arrests, and bans on it put in place by almost two dozen cities and seven states across the US. But the momentum has been shifting for some time.

In 2018, AI researchers published a study comparing the accuracy of commercial facial recognition software from IBM, Microsoft, and Face++. Their work found that the technology identified lighter-skinned men much more accurately than darker-skinned women; IBM’s system scored the worst, with a 34.4% difference in error rate between the two groups.

Also in 2018, the ACLU tested Amazon’s Rekognition and found that it misidentified 28 members of Congress as criminals—an error disproportionately affecting people of color. The organization wrote its own open letter to Amazon, demanding that the company ban government use of the technology, as did the Congressional Black Caucus—but Amazon made no changes.

“If we’re going to commit to racial equity in the criminal justice system … one of the simplest and clearest things you can do is end the use of facial recognition technology.”

Kate Ruane, ACLU

During the racial justice movements against police brutality last summer, however, Amazon surprised many by announcing that it was halting police use of Rekognition, with exceptions for federal law enforcement officers such as ICE. The company’s announcement said it hoped the pause “might give Congress enough time to put in place appropriate rules.” 

Evan Greer is the director at Fight for the Future, a technology advocacy group that believes in the abolition of face recognition technology and says there is growing public support for it to be regulated. She says this week’s extension of the moratorium shows that “Amazon is responding to this enormous pressure that they’re receiving, not just around facial recognition,” adding, “I really give tremendous credit to the nationwide uprisings for racial justice that have happened over the last year and a half.” 

“A political reality”

Although there is pressure building on large technology providers, the reality is that most law enforcement and government users don’t buy facial recognition software from companies like Amazon. So though the moratoriums and bans are welcome to advocacy groups, they don’t necessarily prevent the technologies from being used. Congress, meanwhile, has yet to pass any federal legislation on facial recognition in law enforcement, government, or commercial settings that would regulate smaller providers.

Some hope that federal legislation is soon to come, however, either through direct congressional action, a presidential executive order, or upcoming appropriation and police reform bills. 

“I think best-case scenario is that Congress passes a moratorium on the use of it,” says Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU. She thinks that new uses should only be permitted after more legislative work.

Several federal bills have already been proposed that would rein in access to facial recognition. 

  • The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act calls for banning use of the software by any federal entities and withholding federal grant money from any state and local authorities that do not enact their own moratorium. It was proposed by four Democratic members of Congress and introduced to the Senate last year. 
  • The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would prevent the use of facial recognition in body cameras. The bill has already passed in the House and is expected to reach the Senate this coming week. President Biden has asked that the bill be passed ahead of the anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25. 
  • The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by 18 senators, limits the government from working with technology providers that break terms of service. In practice, it would largely prevent government access to systems that engage in web scraping, such as Clearview AI. 

Mutale Nkonde, the founding CEO of AI for the People, a nonprofit that advocates for racial justice in technology, believes we are likely to see additional federal legislation by the midterm elections next year. 

“I do think there is going to be federal legislation introduced that is going to govern all algorithmic systems, including facial recognition,” Nkonde says. “I think that that’s a political reality.” 

Nkonde says the concept of impact assessments that evaluate technological systems on the basis of civil rights is gaining traction in policy circles on both sides of the aisle. 



Tech

Why can’t tech fix its gender problem?

Published

on

From left to right: Gordon MOORE, C. Sheldon ROBERTS, Eugene KLEINER, Robert NOYCE, Victor GRINICH, Julius BLANK, Jean HOERNI and Jay LAST.


Not competing in this Olympics, but still contributing to the industry’s success, were the thousands of women who worked in the Valley’s microchip fabrication plants and other manufacturing facilities from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Some were working-class Asian- and Mexican-Americans whose mothers and grandmothers had worked in the orchards and fruit can­neries of the prewar Valley. Others were recent migrants from the East and Midwest, white and often college educated, needing income and interested in technical work. 

With few other technical jobs available to them in the Valley, women would work for less. The preponderance of women on the lines helped keep the region’s factory wages among the lowest in the country. Women continue to dominate high-tech assembly lines, though now most of the factories are located thousands of miles away. In 1970, one early American-owned Mexican production line employed 600 workers, nearly 90% of whom were female. Half a century later the pattern continued: in 2019, women made up 90% of the workforce in one enormous iPhone assembly plant in India. Female production workers make up 80% of the entire tech workforce of Vietnam. 

Venture: “The Boys Club”

Chipmaking’s fiercely competitive and unusually demanding managerial culture proved to be highly influential, filtering down through the millionaires of the first semiconductor generation as they deployed their wealth and managerial experience in other companies. But venture capital was where semiconductor culture cast its longest shadow. 

The Valley’s original venture capitalists were a tight-knit bunch, mostly young men managing older, much richer men’s money. At first there were so few of them that they’d book a table at a San Francisco restaurant, summoning founders to pitch everyone at once. So many opportunities were flowing it didn’t much matter if a deal went to someone else. Charter members like Silicon Valley venture capitalist Reid Dennis called it “The Group.” Other observers, like journalist John W. Wilson, called it “The Boys Club.”

The men who left the Valley’s first silicon chipmaker, Shockley Semiconductor, to start Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 were called “the Traitorous Eight.”

WAYNE MILLER/MAGNUM PHOTOS

The venture business was expanding by the early 1970s, even though down markets made it a terrible time to raise money. But the firms founded and led by semiconductor veterans during this period became industry-defining ones. Gene Kleiner left Fairchild Semiconductor to cofound Kleiner Perkins, whose long list of hits included Genentech, Sun Microsystems, AOL, Google, and Amazon. Master intimidator Don Valentine founded Sequoia Capital, making early-stage investments in Atari and Apple, and later in Cisco, Google, Instagram, Airbnb, and many others.

Generations: “Pattern recognition”

Silicon Valley venture capitalists left their mark not only by choosing whom to invest in, but by advising and shaping the business sensibility of those they funded. They were more than bankers. They were mentors, professors, and father figures to young, inexperienced men who often knew a lot about technology and nothing about how to start and grow a business. 

“This model of one generation succeeding and then turning around to offer the next generation of entrepreneurs financial support and managerial expertise,” Silicon Valley historian Leslie Berlin writes, “is one of the most important and under-recognized secrets to Silicon Valley’s ongoing success.” Tech leaders agree with Berlin’s assessment. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs—who learned most of what he knew about business from the men of the semiconductor industry—likened it to passing a baton in a relay race.

Continue Reading

Tech

Predicting the climate bill’s effects is harder than you might think

Published

on

Predicting the climate bill’s effects is harder than you might think


Human decision-making can also cause models and reality to misalign. “People don’t necessarily always do what is, on paper, the most economic,” says Robbie Orvis, who leads the energy policy solutions program at Energy Innovation.

This is a common issue for consumer tax credits, like those for electric vehicles or home energy efficiency upgrades. Often people don’t have the information or funds needed to take advantage of tax credits.

Likewise, there are no assurances that credits in the power sectors will have the impact that modelers expect. Finding sites for new power projects and getting permits for them can be challenging, potentially derailing progress. Some of this friction is factored into the models, Orvis says. But there’s still potential for more challenges than modelers expect.

Not enough

Putting too much stock in results from models can be problematic, says James Bushnell, an economist at the University of California, Davis. For one thing, models could overestimate how much behavior change is because of tax credits. Some of the projects that are claiming tax credits would probably have been built anyway, Bushnell says, especially solar and wind installations, which are already becoming more widespread and cheaper to build.

Still, whether or not the bill meets the expectations of the modelers, it’s a step forward in providing climate-friendly incentives, since it replaces solar- and wind-specific credits with broader clean-energy credits that will be more flexible for developers in choosing which technologies to deploy.

Another positive of the legislation is all its long-term investments, whose potential impacts aren’t fully captured in the economic models. The bill includes money for research and development of new technologies like direct air capture and clean hydrogen, which are still unproven but could have major impacts on emissions in the coming decades if they prove to be efficient and practical. 

Whatever the effectiveness of the Inflation Reduction Act, however, it’s clear that more climate action is still needed to meet emissions goals in 2030 and beyond. Indeed, even if the predictions of the modelers are correct, the bill is still not sufficient for the US to meet its stated goals under the Paris agreement of cutting emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030.

The path ahead for US climate action isn’t as certain as some might wish it were. But with the Inflation Reduction Act, the country has taken a big step. Exactly how big is still an open question. 

Continue Reading

Tech

China has censored a top health information platform

Published

on

China has censored a top health information platform


The suspension has met with a gleeful social reaction among nationalist bloggers, who accuse DXY of receiving foreign funding, bashing traditional Chinese medicine, and criticizing China’s health-care system. 

DXY is one of the front-runners in China’s digital health startup scene. It hosts the largest online community Chinese doctors use to discuss professional topics and socialize. It also provides a medical news service for a general audience, and it is widely seen as the most influential popular science publication in health care. 

“I think no one, as long as they are somewhat related to the medical profession, doesn’t follow these accounts [of DXY],” says Zhao Yingxi, a global health researcher and PhD candidate at Oxford University, who says he followed DXY’s accounts on WeChat too. 

But in the increasingly polarized social media environment in China, health care is becoming a target for controversy. The swift conclusion that DXY’s demise was triggered by its foreign ties and critical work illustrates how politicized health topics have become. 

Since its launch in 2000, DXY has raised five rounds of funding from prominent companies like Tencent and venture capital firms. But even that commercial success has caused it trouble this week. One of its major investors, Trustbridge Partners, raises funds from sources like Columbia University’s endowments and Singapore’s state holding company Temasek. After DXY’s accounts were suspended, bloggers used that fact to try to back up their claim that DXY has been under foreign influence all along. 

Part of the reason the suspension is so shocking is that DXY is widely seen as one of the most trusted online sources for health education in China. During the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, it compiled case numbers and published a case map that was updated every day, becoming the go-to source for Chinese people seeking to follow covid trends in the country. DXY also made its name by taking down several high-profile fraudulent health products in China.

It also hasn’t shied away from sensitive issues. For example, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia in 2019, it published the accounts of several victims of conversion therapy and argued that the practice is not backed by medical consensus. 

“The article put survivors’ voices front and center and didn’t tiptoe around the disturbing reality that conversion therapy is still prevalent and even pushed by highly ranked public hospitals and academics,” says Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. 

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2021 Seminole Press.