Kind Of Weird, When I Think About It

While writing my post the other day about tech companies and government contracts for AI., I started to realize how it’s a strange situation. The brands don’t seem to mix with the goals of the contracts.

Microsoft is the most normal seeming of the bunch, they are more of a B2B company that has probably been powering government for ages now. The Hololens is a way for them to be the computing platform of the future and make a play for being the dominant OS again. I would guess it’s the most brazen military use they’ve gone after, but they’re really just looking to become the military’s computing platform in the field. It fits.

Amazon and Google though. Those seem a bit…off.

Google’s involvement in Project Maven fits in that Big G dabbles in everything. They probably saw some interesting AI problem that could potentially be solved by a massive amount of compute and realized they could be paid for it. Also, identifying objects in an image via computer vision is basically a search problem. And search is kind of Google’s thing.

Amazon’s facial recognition efforts and push is really strange for a consumer retail and logistics company. But it makes a bit more sense if you view it as an AWS project. Even still, it just seems like a strange choice. Amazon is all about owning all aspects of the customer experience and positioning themselves as the only resource a consumer needs when it comes to shopping. Even AWS could be seen as a platform to power other companies in their serving of customers. Essentially getting a cut of any consumer activity that doesn’t happen on their platform. Rekognition is a weird fit. And for a company so focused on its reputation and having positive associations for customers, it seems like more of a potential liability than a win.

Ultimately these tech giants are becoming the new GEs. We may know them for a few specific things, but they appear to have designs on making money in every feasible way possible. Of course, that hasn’t worked out so great for GE in the long run so this could get interesting.

Of Tech Companies & Military Contracts 💣

There has been a trend of sorts lately around tech giant employees boycotting their employers’ activities related to military and government contracts within the realm of AI. [1] I get it, none of these people signed up to make weapons. This is putting aside the fact that not all of the activities that have been boycotted were direct weapons projects. But still, they probably took these jobs wanting to improve peoples’ lives, not take them.

But! I would argue these are the kinds of people we want developing these technologies. Especially the iterations that involve features with the terms “intelligence” or “intelligent” attached to them. I want people with moral hang ups about this tech’s usage having an active voice in their development process.

Also, these is a long history of milestone tech achievements being directly related to military R&D. Autonomous vehicles, it could be argued, are in part due to DARPA. Google Maps can thank the military’s Global Positioning System for being possible. And, oh yeah, the internet! Basically, this isn’t the first time that tech and war have intermingled.

I fear what gets lost in the decision making process of these individuals is that just because they say “no” doesn’t mean the military is just going to say “well, we tried” and walk away. Nor are other countries, friend or foe, going to take any notice of our hesitancy and let it guide their decisions. This means we could be left with only people who experience no moral qualms about the work developing the next generation of smart weapons and technologies. And honestly, that thought terrifies me.


  1. Google. Amazon (not war and the potential use cases do freak me out). Microsoft.

The Way You Walk

Move over facial recognition, there’s a new camera-based identification technology on the scene. Welcome gait recognition. 🚶‍♂️

Chinese company Watrix can now identify and track people based on the way they walk. So just walk like Monty Python all the time? Nope, won’t do the trick. 🙅‍♂️

According to Haung Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix: “You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity. Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

It appears that China is going to lead the way in all forms of tracking and recognition so it can all be bundled up in a citizen control monitoring system. Big Brother is watching indeed. 👁️

Src: Outer Places

Wu-Tang Was Right

Cash does rules everything around us. 💰

There seems to be a trend amongst Chinese tech companies to deflect when asked about what societal implications their tech could have by shrugging and talking dollar signs. 💲💲💲

Exhibit A:

“We’re not really thinking very far ahead, you know, whether we’re having some conflicts with humans, those kinds of things,” [SenseTime co-founder Tang Xiao’ou] said. “We’re just trying to make money.”

Src: Bloomberg

Exhibit B: (Outerplaces)

According to Haung Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix: “You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity. Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

Src: Outer Places

Exhibit C:

“We don’t support the government,” [Su Qingfeng, the head of ZTE’s Venezuela unit,] said. “We are just developing our market.”

Src: Reuters

I find it interesting that state supported companies in a Communist country keep using Capitalism as a shield. 🛡️


SenseTime is Watching 👀

Computer vision is the engine behind China’s Panopticon, and SenseTime is the engine behind many of these computer vision capabilities. And a lot of what they have developed has a dystopian feel to it with hidden cameras scanning faces and more and triggering the appropriate actions via AI. 📹

“That’s really how they see future interactions,” says Jean-François Gagné, who runs Canadian startup Element AI Inc. “You don’t need to log in to your computer, you don’t need to get a boarding pass, you don’t need to do anything anywhere. You’re just recognized.”

Not gonna lie, that does sound pretty cool. No more remembering passwords or tickets, no panicked pocket checking. But that glosses over the tyrannical implications of the tech as well, like freezing a dissident out of everything based on their face. 👤

Src: Bloomberg

Google Wages War on Gender

Ok, not really. But I can imagine that being a headline of some inflammatory “news” article. 🗞️

They’re working to remove implicit, societal gender bias from machine translations in Google Translate by changing the underlying architecture of the machine learning model they use. Basically, the model now produces a masculine and feminine version and then determines which is most likely needed. It appears that in some cases, like translating from the gender-neutral Turkish language, the system will return both versions. ✌️

This is after they announced that all gender pronouns will be removed from Gmail’s Smart Compose feature because it was showing biased tendencies with its recommendations. 📧

It’s early in the process but it appears that they are dedicated to this work and have big dreams. 🔮

This is just the first step toward addressing gender bias in machine-translation systems and reiterates Google’s commitment to fairness in machine learning. In the future, we plan to extend gender-specific translations to more languages and to address non-binary gender in translations.

Src: Google AI blog

They’re Making a List, And Checking it Lots 📇

Oh yay, China is exporting its panopticon. 🤐

First up? Venezuela. The land of oil, soaring inflation, an imploding economy, and a leader that’s super into overt political intimidation. 🔨

It can’t be that bad, right? 🤷

“What we saw in China changed everything,” said the member of the Venezuelan delegation, technical advisor Anthony Daquin. His initial amazement, he said, gradually turned to fear that such a system could lead to abuses of privacy by Venezuela’s government. “They were looking to have citizen control.”

Uh, maybe it can. 😟

This holiday season’s must have gift? A build-your-own-authoritarian-regmie kit. 🎁

Src: Reuters

Listen Up : Digital Immortality ♾️

What do you do if you and your loved one want to be together forever? You work on recreating yourselves as robot clones that aren’t subject to these finicky flesh bags we call bodies. This podcast doesn’t focus on the tech end of this story, but it includes some interesting interactions with and overviews of the work. 🤖

I have been curious about what the future will look like as realistic voice technologies continue to improve since they could conceivably be trained on someone’s social media body of work. Can we create digital twins of ourselves with which we can converse? Will we free ourselves from death not through life extension but through self digitization? Will we consider these digital clones to be a version of us, a human analog? 🤔

Src: This Is Love podcast

Pair with the LifeAfter podcast, a sci-fi story based on people being able to interact with deceased loved ones through the social media history they left behind.

Just a quick note, I am not anti-death. I don’t long for a radically increased life span. I worry about what impact “freeing ourselves from mortality” would have on our humanity and life in general.

Do The Digital Worm 🐛

Step 1: recreate the brain of the C. elegans worm as a neural network 🧠

Step 2: ask it to park a car 🚗

Researchers digitized the worm brain, the only fully mapped brain we have, with a 12 neuron network. The goal of this exercise was to create a neural network that humans can understand and parse since the organic version it is based on is well understood. 🗺

An interesting realization that came out of this exercise: 👇

Curiously, both the AI model and the real C. elegans neural circuit contained two neurons that seemed to be acting antagonistically, he said—when one was highly active, the other wasn’t.

I wonder when this switching neuron feature will be rolled into an AI/ML/DL architecture. 🤔

Src: Motherboard