Schools are storing large amounts of data on children, China is scanning the faces of all new cell phone users / Humans + Tech - Issue #6

+ Australia is using AI to spot drivers using their phones, Micro implants could restore standing and walking, and Scientists finally build artificial brain cells.

Hi :)

Here are the articles for this week - some good, some bad, some scary, and some dystopian.

  1. 📱 All new cell phone users in China must now have their face scanned [MIT Technology Review]

  2. 📹 Australia rolls out AI cameras to spot drivers using their phones [Engadget]

  3. 🚶‍♀️ Micro implants could restore standing and walking [ScienceDaily]

  4. 🧠 Scientists finally build artificial brain cells [Futurism]

  5. 📝 Why parents in a school district near the CIA are forcing tech companies to erase kids’ data [The Guardian]


All new cell phone users in China must now have their face scanned

Charlotte Jee, writing for MIT Technology Review:

The news: Customers in China who buy SIM cards or register new mobile-phone services must have their faces scanned under a new law that came into effect yesterday. China’s government says the new rule, which was passed into law back in September, will “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace.”

A controversial step: It can be seen as part of an ongoing push by China’s government to make sure that people use services on the internet under their real names, thus helping to reduce fraud and boost cybersecurity. On the other hand, it also looks like part of a drive to make sure every member of the population can be surveilled.

Reading this, I was reminded of this quote:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

—Ayn Rand

It feels like humanity as a whole is regressing and technology and the loss of privacy are contributing towards it. This type of mass surveillance under the guise of security is becoming more and more common around the world. From governments as well as private enterprises.

Go to article


Australia rolls out AI cameras to spot drivers using their phones

Jon Fingas, writing for Engadget:

Phone use while driving remains a problem in many parts of the world, in no small part due to the difficulty of enforcing laws. How do you catch someone in the act? Australian police might not have that problem. The New South Wales government has started using the first cameras that can automatically detect when drivers are using their phones. The system uses AI to review photos for telltale signs of phone use, with human reviewing the flagged images to prevent any false positives. There will be both fixed and trailer-mounted cameras on hand to spot distracted motorists.

Officials are confident this will lead to fewer incidents. The NSW government’s Bernard Carlton said that “independent modelling” showed this could prevent 100 fatal and serious injury crashes in the space of five years.

Even if this only acts as a deterrent for people who may think of using their phones while driving, it will be useful. However, there should be safeguards in place to ensure that privacy is protected, as human reviewers are involved.

Go to article


Micro implants could restore standing and walking

From the ScienceDaily:

It’s taken Mushahwar a lot of work over two decades at the University of Alberta, but the Canada Research Chair in Functional Restoration is still fixated on the dream of helping people walk again. And thanks to an electrical spinal implant pioneered in her laboratory and work in mapping the spinal cord, that dream could become a reality in the next decade.

Because an injured spinal cord dies back, it’s not simply a matter of reconnecting a cable. Three herculean feats are needed. You have to translate brain signals. You have to figure out and control the spinal cord. And you have got to get the two sides talking again.

People tend to think the brain does all the thinking, but Mushahwar says the spinal cord has built-in intelligence. A complex chain of motor and sensory networks regulate everything from breathing to bowels, while the brain stem’s contribution is basically “go!” and “faster!” Your spinal cord isn’t just moving muscles, it’s giving you your natural gait.

There is still a long way to go before human trials start, but the sheer complexity involved in designing and developing this solution is mind-boggling. The article is worth reading, especially to learn about Vivian Mushahwar’s journey in developing this, from an idea two decades ago to a possibly viable solution today.

Go to article


Scientists finally build artificial brain cells

Dan Robitzski, writing for Futurism:

Scientists have finally decoded the bizarre behaviors of brain cells — and recreated them in tiny computer chips.

The tiny neurons could change the way we build medical devices because they replicate healthy biological activity but require only a billionth of the energy needed by microprocessors, according to a University of Bath press release.

The ultimate goal is to use these neurons to build medical devices that can better cater to patients’ needs, like a smarter pacemaker that can respond to new stressors and demands on a person’s heart — essentially upgrading devices to be more in tune with the body.

Medical breakthroughs like this that can mimic our bodies are always fascinating. They can also help significantly towards understanding how our bodies function. I only hope that security and privacy are one of the priorities when developing these technologies and devices, and not an afterthought.

Go to article


Why parents in a school district near the CIA are forcing tech companies to erase kids’ data

Lois Beckett, writing for The Guardian:

Like thousands of American public school districts, Montgomery county gives students laptops and has hired tech companies to track students’ activities on those computers, including monitoring what they search for and what websites they visit.

This digital surveillance – a booming industry – is marketed as a way to keep kids safe from school shootings and self-harm. It also generates detailed data on individual children. Montgomery county parents fear that data might someday be used against their kids.

This type of constant surveillance into everything we do is detrimental to human development. Childhood is a time to be curious, a time for discovery, and a time to be allowed to make mistakes. Children restricting their actions for fear that this data could be used against them in the future will affect the learning process.

One parent on the safe tech committee, who asked that her name not be used to protect her son’s privacy, had an experience similar to Shear’s.

She said her then eight-year-old son typed in “save the land” when doing a book report on conservation, “and up came the Ku Klux Klan … ‘Save the land, join the Klan.’ He didn’t know what that was,” she said.

When she talked to the teacher and suggested wiping the search from her son’s browser history, the teacher said that would not be possible, the parent recalled. 

If anyone was building a digital footprint of her son’s behavior, the parent said, there would now be a visit to a Klan site in it.

“Kids are curious. They’re just going to plug in some key words thinking that they’re funny, and it just might stick,” she said.

If we can’t let kids be kids, I fear what type of society we will become. As more and more schools worldwide adopt technology as the primary mode of learning, surveillance will only increase. After all, data is the new currency.

I hope parents worldwide take this issue seriously and find out what data schools are tracking and storing on their children and how they are using this data, including which third-parties have access to this data. And, push for regular deletion of this data, like the parents in this article did.

Go to article


Hope you enjoyed this issue.

I came across this quote that seemed particularly important, considering how much data is being collected on children by various entities.

“The goal of privacy is not to protect some stable self from erosion but to create boundaries where this self can emerge, mutate, and stabilize.”
― Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism

The responsibility lies with us to ensure we set the right boundaries when it comes to data collection on children, that allows them to “emerge, mutate, and stabilize” in a judgment-free environment.

It is not going to be an easy fight, but it is a worthy fight. Giving children the privacy to be themselves, discover themselves, and learn through mistakes, without having this affect their future in any way is crucial to society.

Wish you a brilliant day!

Neeraj