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Microsoft working on ‘trustworthy AI’ to curb fake news

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Redmond (Washington), May 12: Alarmed by the mammoth spread of fake news, tech giant Microsoft is working round-the-clock on building “trusted” algorithms to control false news on its platforms like Bing Search engine and professional networking website LinkedIn.

According to David Heiner, Strategic Policy Advisor at Microsoft, the problems Facebook and YouTube are facing with fake news today have alerted the tech companies the world over and Microsoft is right on the job in building Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven systems to fight back.

“We are already working on a couple of such AI-powered initiatives towards Bing and Linkedin. We are also trying to forge tie-ups with trusted news sources and then indicate to users what is the source of the news and letting them make their own decisions,” Heiner told IANS at the company’s sprawling, 500-acre campus here.

The main challenge, according to him, are concerns regarding censorship and defining what is fake news.

“A very high percentage of people get news from Facebook and (Google-owned) YouTube and both these major platforms are having troubles with handling fake news.

“In the meantime, we have to draw a line for giving too much power to tech companies – in order to figure out what is being presented to the users that often leads to utterly fake news which is injurious to democracy and the civil society,” the senior company executive noted.

The need of the hour is to build “trustworthy AI” that is fair and doesn’t differentiate between religion, caste and colour.

“The whole idea is to build applications around AI in a trustworthy way. People will not share data and they must not be. With respect to users’ privacy, we need trusted AI systems that are safe and transparent,” Heiner explained.

There is a notion outside that a handful of big US tech companies or Chinese ones like Tencent Holdings and Alibaba will finally control the AI technology.

“Our vision is very different. We want AI for humanity, for all. AI is the new fundamental technology in terms of creating a huge impact on the society,” the executive emphasised.

There are six core concepts to achieving “trustworthy AI”.

AI-based systems need to treat everyone fairly, must be safe, protect privacy and security, include everyone and need to be transparent as algorithms can be mysterious at times.

“Lastly, people who are deploying AI systems — be it at Microsoft or at other companies – are to be treated as accountable for the trustworthiness of their AI systems,” Heiner explained.

Microsoft is infusing AI into a whole range of applications — Office 365, Azure Cloud, cognitive services and translation solutions, etc.

“The challenge is to ensure how data is it being collected and fed into an AI system. This demands utmost fairness and responsibility and we are very serious about it,” he added.

AI promises new capabilities but it has also raised questions about potential disruptions to the nature and distribution of jobs.

“It is really hard to predict the future on whether AI will kill jobs. Technology has always eliminated certain jobs and created new ones. We don’t know yet whether this will hold true for AI.

“But one thing is sure. Technology in overall, irrespective of AI, will have some impact on jobs like with automation in the recent past,” Heiner said.

What will not be transferable to AI, perhaps, are distinct human qualities like judgment, emotions and empathy.

Microsoft is optimistic that AI systems are needed to be built in such a way that they augment human capabilities.

The company has announced “AI for Accessibility” — a new $25 million, five-year programme for developers globally including in India.

“AI is well suited to us as we build software to improve lives. The technology can do wonders in voice, speech recognition and translation solutions. Aided by AI, humans can reduce errors to a great extent — almost negligible — be it in healthcare or any other field,” Heiner noted.

IANS

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Is Alexa recording your bedroom talk?

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Photo Credit- (Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint)

New Delhi, Feb 19: At a time when digital assistants in smart devices at home or office are talking to us like never before, some users have begun to worry: Is Alexa or Google Home listening and recording personal conversations beyond the “wake” word?

There are multiple triggers to such concerns, the latest one being a person in Germany using Amazon’s voice assistant who received 1,700 audio files from a person he never met.

A woman in the US state of Oregon was in shock last year when the Amazon Echo device at her Portland home recorded a private conversation and then shared it with one of her husband’s employees in Seattle.

Amazon later clarified that Alexa mistakenly heard a series of commands and sent the recording as a voice message to one of the husband’s employees.

The threat is very much real, with more and more Indians being hooked to the always-on and Internet-connected smart home devices.

In a latest Forrester report titled “Secure The Rise Of Intelligent Agents”, Amy DeMartine and Jennifer Wise argue that currently, introductory versions of intelligent agents include Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. However, security is not part of the equation, and unless security pros get involved, the implications are more worrisome for businesses than normal human beings.

“Alexa doesn’t currently authenticate or authorise individuals who access it, leaving a company’s Alexa skills unprotected from anyone who can remember another user’s commands,” reads the report.

“A hacker has already developed a method to install malware on a pre-2017 Amazon Echo that streams the microphone to any remote computer, accesses the owner’s Amazon account, and installs ransomware,” the Forrester report added.

Apple logs and stores Siri queries but they are not associated with an Apple ID or email address, and the company deletes the association between queries and their numerical codes after six months.

Amazon and Google devices, however, save query histories until the customer deletes them, and Microsoft Cortana users must manage their own data retention preferences in the Cloud and on their devices.

According to Puneesh Kumar, Country Manager for Alexa Experiences and Devices, Amazon India, the threat of Alexa recording all your conversations is not real as the company has created layers of privacy protections in all of its Echo device.

“It includes a mute button involving a hardware press that electrically disconnects the microphones and cameras, clear visual indicators when utterances are being captured and streamed, as well as the ability to see and delete voice recording history for their devices,” Kumar told IANS.

Echo speakers use on-device keyword spotting to detect the “wake” word and only the “wake” word. When the “wake” word is detected, the light ring around the top of the device turns blue to indicate that Alexa is streaming audio to the Cloud.

“At any time, you can turn the microphone off by pushing the microphone button on the top of the device and this creates an electrical disconnect to the mic, which will turn on a red ring to visually indicate that the device is muted,” informed Kumar.

According to Amazon, the voice utterances spoken to the device may be used in order to deliver and improve its services.

The users, if needed, can delete specific voice recordings associated with their accounts by going to History in Settings in the Alexa App, drilling down for a specific entry, and then tapping the delete button. You can also delete all voice recordings associated with your account for each of your Alexa-enabled products.

IANS

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Can begin 5G trial within a month of Indian govt’s approval: Huawei

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New Delhi, Feb 19: Amid reports speculating that Huawei may not get the government’s approval for 5G trial in India, CEO Jay Chen on Tuesday said the Chinese tech major can start 5G trial within a month of nod from the government.

“All of my engagements with the government have been positive so far. We are fully prepared. We can start the 5G trial within one month of getting approval from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT),” Chen told news agency IANS on the sidelines of a media workshop on 5G in the national capital.

Chen further stated “We are in talks with all the major telecom operators in India including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and the state-run BSNL for 5G roll-out in India”.

Huawei is leading the 5G race globally with its huge investments in R&D but the tech giant is witnessing the heat from some Western countries, especially the US which alleges that Huawei 5G network could pose a national security threat.

Refuting the allegations as mere “politics”, Chen said that no country has been able to give any proof of wrongdoing on Huawei’s part.

“It would not be logical to exclude Huawei from the 5G trial in India as it would mean losing the benefits of innovative technologies that we can bring to the 5G ecosystem in the country,” Chen pointed.

WeForNews

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Facebook accused of leaking sensitive health data of users

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San Francisco, Feb 19: Social networking giant Facebook has been accused of revealing sensitive health data of users in its groups.

“Facebook has marketed this product as a Personal Health Record and it then leaked the health data that those patients uploaded to the public,” a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) noted on Monday.

According to the Verge report, the issue was first noticed in July, when members of a women’s group with a gene mutation discovered how easily the names and email addresses of members could have been downloaded in bulk, either manually or through a Chrome extension.

During that time, Facebook reportedly claimed to have made changes to “Groups” that stopped the practice and emphasised on the option for join “Secret Groups” – that are, although difficult to join, but have a more limited discoverability.

However, the complaint pointed that public sharing of privately posted personal health information is in violation of the law, which is a major problem with Facebook’s privacy implementation methods.

The complaint further added “Facebook has ignored our requests to fix the specific issues we have identified to the company, and denies publicly that any problem exists. All of this represents unfair, deceptive and misleading interactions between Facebook and its users in violation of the FTC act”.

WeForNews

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