It was a big week for tech, and we’re not just talking about the Face ID fail at the iPhone X launch. While the new phone and its facial recognition capabilities opened a Pandora’s Box of the recognition/privacy debate, other big news was brewing. State of the European Union news, that is.
In his annual address, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged the growing cyber threat and vowed to strengthen the EU’s cyber agency, ENISA. Online safety and anti-terrorism efforts got a cursory mention, but all in all tech did not take centre stage.
While the big cyber announcement made headlines, news on the free flow of data slipped through with a post-speech release. Whatever the reason for the latter’s lower profile, at least Ansip and the Commission uphold their promise of fighting forced localisation laws.
Thanks to the newly unveiled iPhone X, facial recognition is the talk of the (global) town. British Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles reminded the public that some institutions – such as the UK police – have a large facial recognition database with 19 million custody photos in their archives. Should they keep these images and for how long? Should mug shots of suspects proven innocent be kept on file? Mr. Wiles believes that the rapid growth of police facial recognition capabilities could lead to innocent people being unfairly targeted and called for the “legislative deficit” to be addressed - quickly.
Continuing down the privacy and facial recognition track - we (should) all know that from CCTV to photos posted on social media platforms, our faces are constantly analysed. But did you ever think that with a photo, AI systems could identify your personal (and sometimes secret) traits such as your sexual orientation, level of intelligence or political views? Two Stanford University researchers just released a study revealing how they created an algorithm that was able to distinguish correctly between gay and straight women (71%) and men (81%) – far outpacing human judges – based on their faces alone. Watch for big brother-like applications and AI ethics battles.
Automation, robots and AI are cause for concern for many. But, some days new applications emerge that remind us of their value. Agriculture machinery giant John Deere just acquired the start-up Blue River, a company that developed a robot able to “view and understand the crops it is working with”. Its main application: identifying weeds and spraying them with a high-precision squirt of herbicide. Spraying herbicides like this instead of blindly applying them across the whole field can reduce their use by 90%. As the glyphosate debate rages on in Brussels, could tech render the age-old battle (90%) obsolete?
With cyber threats on the rise, cybersecurity solutions are being rapidly developed. Check out Check Point’s CEO handy guide on Quora. Hot tips: at any organisation, the underlying question is whether it should focus on detection - finding many types of malware on its network and then trying to figure out how to act upon it; remediation - accepting that attacks will happen no matter what; or prevention - looking at the entire organisation and creating a single architecture that covers all environments. The Commission clearly agrees this is a growing concern and its new cybersecurity package, showed a clear will to combat cybercrime, starting with retooling Europe’s cybersecurity agency, ENISA.
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