AI-aided hope on the horizon

AI-aided hope on the horizon

Despite some of my criticisms in the past there are some excellent examples of emerging artificial intelligence technologies. I've mentioned some of these from the medical world in earlier articles but a new one caught my eye this week, figuring out in which hotel a picture was taken. No, not to help people remember where holiday snaps were taken but to track down human trafficking where pics of women are taken to sell them for sex. The three groups behind this identification technology are from George Washington University, Temple University and Adobe, all in the US. Like many AI systems a large amount of source data is used and to help with this more than a million images have been collected from 50,000 hotels worldwide. Using all the room elements in backgrounds a neural network is being trained to identify a hotel chain and then a location.

The most interesting event going on as I write this is the Article 13 copyright directive being debated over at the European Union. The early quite justifiable fear was that the small to medium to single business owners would be targeted and the big boys in Silicon Valley would grow even more powerful. So far the latest draft looks good, with start-ups and small to medium companies excluded from the new framework, but it is still early days and that could all change before the final version is drafted and voted on. Before you get too weepy about the big boys losing out, Google for example is currently collecting about US$85 million (2.6 billion baht) per day in profits.

Huawei has been dropped by a number of, mostly first world, nations across the planet. The main reason is allegations that Huawei, as a Chinese government associated organisation, puts snooping technology in their product. Are they? I don't have enough information to confirm or deny that allegation but I do know that China has a formal, government-sponsored hacking group trying to crack into a plethora of locations across the globe, and China has a closer relationship with their businesses than many other nations do. It also has a history of less-than-legally acquiring another country’s technology and using it without any licensing or acknowledgment. In an unrelated aside, I met someone else who was talking about a new subject in earshot of their Android phone and within hours were receiving ads related to that subject. Think about the number of times you agreed to access to the microphone when installing a new application. In the latest versions of Android, you can now go back and remove that specific access on an app by app basis. I’d start with unnecessary microphone and camera access.

Last time I mentioned twins that had different results from genetic DNA testing companies. This week we have genealogist Bennett Greenspan of FamilyTreeDNA providing DNA test results to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, without checking with his customers first. Greenspan stated: “I would never do anything to betray the trust of my customers and at the same time I felt it important to enable my customers to crowd source the catching of criminals.” Which would seem to be a statement with an obvious and glaring contradiction. In FamilyTreeDNA terms the FBI would normally be considered a third-party source but somehow Greenspan defines them as an ordinary user. FamilyTreeDNA has since been struck from the Future of Privacy Forum list of companies that have upheld privacy guidelines.

Parents put trackers on their children’s smart devices as a form of protection. There is of course an expectation that only the parents can track their children and not the rest of the world. Reminding readers of James’ Law, “If it is in the digital domain consider that it is eventually available to everyone”, the company Gator has for the second time been found to have a vulnerability in their devices allowing them to be easily hacked. This would allow criminals to track the exact location of children for any variety of nefarious purposes. The bug has since been patched and the purpose of this story is a reminder that security is only as secure as the system, technology and human factors it is based on. It should be noted that there are other vendors also using unsecure transmission technologies.

Over the past couple of months, I have received a number of orders I’ve placed with Indiegogo. For the most part they have been excellent, if sometimes slower to deliver than anticipated. My new wireless headphones are still coming but the company concerned has found a couple of issues they wanted to fix first -- a good thing. The Hexgears X-1 mechanical wireless keyboard I ordered is very well made, works well and comes with a nice carry case. As the more technology-oriented pieces arrive I’ll give you some feedback.

James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years’ standing. You can contact him at

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