✌️ I’m at peace with AI — Garry Kasparov / Humans + Tech - #18

+ China's surveillance made it blind to the coronavirus outbreak + The coming food disruption + Technology & democracy + Germans’ right to switch off in the digital age + Robots to help autistic kids


I’ve been reading The Privacy Project, a newsletter and column by Charlie Warzel for The New York Times, for many months now. They published the last issue in its current version a few days back. In this newsletter, in a Q&A with Shira Ovide, who is taking over from him, Charlie says this about his experience writing the column:

I was a little worried about focusing on privacy so closely. I’d always written some on the topic but in a very general way. But the project radicalized me.

The biggest lesson I learned is that privacy is the skeleton key to almost all the issues that plague tech right now. It’s actually even bigger than just tech. Data brokers are at the heart of our social platforms, the financial industry, the media and advertising industries and even in politics.

The collection and distribution of personal information powers all of modern society, and there’s a serious imbalance between those that provide it and those that collect it. That imbalance is at the heart of everything from fake news and election interference to fraud to surveillance of vulnerable populations. I started thinking this was something of a niche concern and have grown to believe that it’s the fundamental issue of our connected time.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been consuming tech news voraciously for years now, and Charlie’s words literally echo everything I’ve been feeling too.

I came across this article on Scientific American: Why it took so long to invent the wheel — It turns out that the difficult part was not making the wheel, it was figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to the wheel. I think we’re facing something similar with the internet and privacy. The internet is the wheel and we haven’t figured out how to integrate privacy (the axle) to provide a smooth and stable experience.

The good news is that there are positive signs of progress being made, with GDPR in Europe, CCPA in California, and various other national privacy laws enacted in countries around the world, including one recently passed in Kenya.

Onto this week’s articles:

✌️ I’m at peace with AI — Garry Kasparov

WIRED did an interview with Garry Kasparov, 22 years after he was beaten at Chess by IBM’s Deep Blue, at the prime of his career. This is an insightful interview. He says:

I always say I was the first knowledge worker whose job was threatened by a machine. But that helps me to communicate a message back to the public. Because, you know, nobody can suspect me of being pro-computers.

He is very positive about AI and says we are not moving fast enough, despite many saying we are moving too fast. He also addresses the concerns of job losses from AI and how we should focus on using technology to enhance human attributes. He shares a lot of wisdom and I would say this article is a must-read [WIRED]. The quote of the week further below is from one of his quotes in this article.

👁 Cornea Virus?

Zeynep Tufecki, in a very interesting article for The Atlantic, states that China’s mass surveillance and censorship may have been the reason that Chinese authorities were blind to the impending coranavirus outbreak until it was too late.

If people are too afraid to talk, and if punishing people for “rumors” becomes the norm, a doctor punished for spreading news of a disease in one province becomes just another day, rather than an indication of impending crisis.

He brings up other examples in China’s history where authoritarianism has led to officials being blindsided to the actual situation on the ground. Read the full article [The Atlantic].

+ The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic” [MIT Technology Review]

+ Here's how China is hunting down coronavirus critics [Vice]

+ Here's how China is silencing coronavirus critics in the U.S. [Vice]

+ How computer scientists are trying to predict the coronavirus's next moves [IEEE Spectrum]

🐄 Moo-ve Over

One of my favourite newsletters is Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View, which explores how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies and other trends. I highly recommend subscribing to it.

Last week, in a post titled “Reinventing food: The coming disruption” [Exponential View], they discuss the disruption coming to our food and agriculture system. A convergence of multiple technologies along with increased knowledge is going to help us to design food from the molecule up. They label it software-led food design.

Together with other methods like precision fermentation, it will enable us to generate milk without cows, and basically, any type of protein to replace meats. This will result in a ten-fold improvement in efficiency over generating food through livestock. It will be cheaper and make better use of resources—providing both economic and environmental benefits. However, the nutritional value of these new proteins is still to be studied.

They argue that these new technologies will lead to cows facing an existential crisis. Somehow, I think the cows are secretly hoping this technology becomes mainstream sooner rather than later. It reminds of this clip from the Bee Movie :) [YouTube]

✍️ Democrazy

Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, posed the following question to 979 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers, and activists:

Technology’s impact on democratic institutions/representation: Between now and 2030, how will use of technology by citizens, civil society groups and governments affect core aspects of democracy and democratic representation? Will they mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation, mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation or not much change in core aspects of democracy and democratic representation?

49% said that technology will mostly weaken democracy.
33% said that technology will mostly strengthen democracy. 
18% said there would be no significant change.

It’s important to note that the results were only tallied from those who responded and that this was a non-scientific survey on a non-random sample. Read the full article and the observations of the expert respondents [Pew Research Center].

Looking at the events worldwide in the last decade, the way humans are implementing technology, the rise of surveillance capitalism, and the current state of leadership worldwide, I would probably agree with the 49%.

What’s your opinion? Let me know by replying to this email or by adding a comment to this post. We’ll reconvene in 2030 and see whose crystal ball works the best.

👩‍💻 To work or not to work? That is the question … if you’re German.

In 2003, the EU introduced mandatory work/rest periods. The Germans, who love their work-life balance, embraced it and allowed fewer exceptions to the rules than any other EU member state. A mandatory 11-hour break every 24 hours is required. That includes no work emails or work calls. The law was created to ensure that people devote time to both their mental and physical health.

With the huge growth in internet-enabled mobile devices from 2007 onwards, work email just a glance away, and people working together across many timezones, the rules are regularly being broken. Some of it is by employees’ personal choice, some of it is mandated by employers, going against the law.

The reality is that there have been radical changes in work dynamics with increased connectivity in the last decade. It now requires a law that is more flexible, but fair at the same time so that employees are not taken advantage of. A challenging problem to solve. Josie Le Blond, explores these issues in the article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age? [BBC]”.

Hat tip to Shruthi of Ammaua for sharing this article. Ammaua makes an incredible line of designer clothing that feature a fusion of African and Indian design. Check them out on Instagram and Facebook!

🤖 Robots that teach autistic kids social skills

A robot programmed to teach a human emotion – empathy – to a human, so that the human can interact with better with other humans.

I love it when technology is implemented in ways that make lives better like this. This also has the potential to save parents of autistic children a lot of money as human therapists can get very expensive.

Another point to note is that Maja J. Matarić and her team at the University of Southern California, who developed these robots, are looking at the minimum amount of data required to train the robot’s machine-learning algorithms, in order to protect privacy.

An amazing team, with amazing ideas, and the right values to go with it. Read the full article [MIT Technology Review].

🗞 A few other interesting articles

+ A course that teaches seniors how to spot fake news [NPR]

I think we should make everyone take this course before they are allowed on the internet 😅.

+ How hard will robots make us work? [The Verge]

AI is now managing humans in warehouses, call centres, and various other sectors. They’re making work more stressful, gruelling, and dangerous. When you put AI in charge of humans, they will expect you to work like the robots that they are.

+ Amazon has opened a bigger cashier-less grocery shop [Reuters]

It’s called Amazon Go Grocery. You enter the store by scanning a code on your Amazon Go app, bag whatever you need, and walk out. Amazon knows what you picked via an array of ceiling cameras and weight sensors on the shelves. They charge you via the payment method registered on the app + all the data they gain by watching you and tracking your purchases.

+ Amazon made a bigger camera-spying store—so we tried to steal its fruit [Ars Technica]

This is simply hilarious. Sam Machkovech of Ars Technica tried to get the better of Amazon’s Go Grocery store. It’s a fun read - click the link above to find out if he was successful.

Quote of the week

This week’s quote is from Garry Kasparov’s interview with WIRED.

People say, oh, we need to make ethical AI. What nonsense. Humans still have the monopoly on evil. The problem is not AI. The problem is humans using new technologies to harm other humans.

— Garry Kasparov

I burst out laughing when I read “Humans still have the monopoly on evil.” Sad, true, and funny, all at the same time. Do less evil, fellow humans 😄.

Wish you a brilliant day ahead as always :)