Google employee who helped lead protests leaves company


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Google employees stand outside the company’s London offices during last year’s protests.

A Google employee who helped lead protests over the company’s work for the military, its handling of AI ethics, and its sexual harassment policies has left the organization.

Meredith Whittaker was a program manager at Google, founder of the company’s Open Research Group, and co-founder of the NYU-affiliated AI Now Institute, which focuses on ethical questions involving artificial intelligence. Her departure was first reported by Bloomberg, and the news was later confirmed by Google to TechCrunch.

Whittaker was a prominent voice for change at Google. When it was revealed that the company was building AI tools for military drones, she spoke out against the work, with fellow Googlers praising her “ethical leadership.” She also criticized…

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This last-mile delivery startup wants to put robots in bike lanes


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A whole host of startups have launched in recent years with the aim of making last-mile deliveries using robots. But a company from Michigan has a new spin on this familiar enterprise: it wants to put those bots in bike lanes, at least part of the time.

Refraction AI came out of stealth last week, unveiling its autonomous delivery robot REV-1 onstage at a TechCrunch event. The company’s co-founder and CEO Matthew Johnson-Roberson, a University of Michigan professor, described the three-wheeled vehicle as a “Goldilocks” solution to last-mile delivery robots — neither too big nor too small.

REV-1 is larger than most delivery robots, which are about the…

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Amazon continues work on mobile home robot as it preps new high-end Echo, says report


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Amazon is still working on a mobile home robot, according to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. It’s also planning to add a high-end Echo to its lineup of Alexa devices.

We first heard about Amazon’s plans to build a wheeled home robot in April last year. The project is reportedly codenamed “Vesta” (after the Roman goddess of the hearth), and rumors suggest it’s a sort of “mobile Alexa” that’s able to follow users around their homes.

Today’s report doesn’t add significantly to this picture, but it seems Amazon is still keen to build the mobile device. It was apparently slated to launch this year but wasn’t ready for mass-production. Engineers have reportedly been pulled from other projects to work on Vesta, and Gurman reports that…

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Google is redesigning its News tab with more emphasis on headlines and publisher names


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Google is rolling out an update to the News tab of its desktop search function, with a refreshed design that sacrifices information density for clarity.

The new design, which the company announced in a tweet, brings the look of the News tab closer to that of the dedicated Google News site. News stories are now displayed in a card format rather than a list, making headlines and the names of publishers more prominent. It also seems like the company is grouping stories together more clearly, so if you search for a broad topic (like “MLB”) it’s easier to distinguish different strands of coverage.

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Facebook and CMU’s ‘superhuman’ poker AI beats human pros


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AI has definitively beaten humans at another of our favorite games. A program, designed by researchers from Facebook’s AI lab and Carnegie Mellon University, has bested some of the world’s top poker players in a series of games of six-person no-limit Texas Hold ‘em poker.

Over 12 days and 10,000 hands, the AI system named Pluribus faced off against 12 pros in two different settings. In one, the AI played alongside five human players; in the other, five versions of the AI played with one human player (the computer programs were unable to collaborate in this scenario). Pluribus won an average of $5 per hand with hourly winnings of around $1,000 — a “decisive margin of victory,” according to the researchers.

“It’s safe to say we’re at a…

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Yep, human workers are listening to recordings from Google Assistant, too


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A report from Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS has revealed how contractors paid to transcribe audio clips collected by Google’s AI assistant can end up listening to sensitive information about users, including names, addresses, and details about their personal lives.

It’s the latest story showing how our interactions with AI assistants are not as private as we may like to believe. Earlier this year, a report from Bloomberg revealed similar details about Amazon’s Alexa, explaining how audio clips recorded by Echo devices are sent without users’ knowledge to human contractors, who transcribe what’s being said in order to improve the company’s AI systems.

Worse, these audio…

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Google’s live camera translation is getting better AI and 60 new languages


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Google is rolling out a significant update to the camera feature on its Translate app. The new version of the app adds support for 60 new languages; makes the translated text less jumpy on users’ screens; and updates the underlying translation models, in some cases reducing errors in the final translations by as much as 85 percent.

It’s great news for regular users of Google Translate, where the camera feature is fantastically useful for translating things like menus and signs. To date, the feature has been somewhat marred by low-quality translations, a jumpy interface, and limited language set, but this update should help ameliorate all three of those problems.

The updated Google Translate app includes smoother…

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Creators now have an easy way to incorporate AI into their workflow


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Machine learning can be a fantastic tool for creators, but integrating AI into your workflow is a challenge for those who can’t code. A new program called Runway ML aims to make this process easier by providing artists, designers, filmmakers, and others with an “app store” of machine learning applications that can be activated with a few clicks.

Say you’re an animator on a budget who wants to turn a video of a human actor into a 3D model. Instead of hiring expensive motion capture equipment, you could use Runway to apply a neural network called “PosetNet” to your footage, creating wireframe models of your actor that can then be exported for animation.

Or say you need to remove a coffee cup…

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Amazon’s Alexa will deliver NHS medical advice in the UK


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The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has announced what it claims is a world first: a partnership with Amazon’s Alexa to offer health advice from the NHS website.

Britons who ask Alexa basic health questions like “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” and “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?” will be given answers vetted by NHS health professionals and currently available on its website. At the moment, Alexa sources answers to such questions from a variety of places, including the Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

The partnership does not add significantly to Alexa’s skill-set, but it is an interesting step for the NHS. The UK’s Department of Health (DoH) says it hopes the move will…

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Google suspends Trends email alerts in New Zealand after breaching court order


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Google has backed down in a spat with the New Zealand government after its email alert system Trends breached a court order suppressing details of a high-profile murder case. According to Reuters and AFP, Google has suspended its Trends feature in the country following outcry from the New Zealand government.

Last December, these automated email alerts named the man accused of killing 22-year-old Grace Millane, a British backpacker traveling in the country. Her accused killer was granted temporary name suppression to ensure a fair trial, but Google’s automated Trends alerts put his name in the subject line of an email sent to thousands of users.

Google apologized for the error but refused…

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Bitcoin consumes more energy than Switzerland, according to new estimate


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<em>A construction worker walks past bitcoin mining equipment in Quebec. </em>

Bitcoin consumes more energy than the entire nation of Switzerland, according to new estimates published by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

An online tool that launched this week called the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, or CBECI, estimates how much energy is needed to maintain the Bitcoin network in real time, before using this to calculate its annual energy usage.

Currently, the CBECI says the global Bitcoin network is consuming more than seven gigwatts of electricity. Over the course of a year that’s equal to around 64 TWh or terawatt hours of energy consumption. That’s more than the country of Switzerland uses over the same time period (58 TWh per year), but less than Colombia (68 TWh per year).

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Facebook’s image outage reveals how the company’s AI tags your photos


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Everyone knows the bit in The Matrix when Neo achieves digital messiah status and suddenly sees “reality” for what it really is: lines of trailing green code.

Well, thanks to an outage currently affecting Facebook, users of the social network have been given a similar peek behind the digital curtain, with many images on the site now replaced with the tags they’ve been assigned by the company’s machine vision systems.

So if you browse through your uploaded photos, instead of seeing holiday snaps or pictures of food and friends, you’ll be shown text saying things like “image may contain: people smiling, people dancing, wedding and indoor” or just “image may contain: cat.”

In short: this is how your life looks to a computer. This is how…

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Copies of AI deepfake app DeepNude are easily accessible online — and always will be


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<em>The now defunct website for the DeepNude software. </em>

Once something has been shared online, it never truly goes away. This adage is particularly relevant for DeepNude, software that uses AI to create fake nude images of women.

The app came to public attention last week after a report from Motherboard highlighted its existence. Shortly afterward, the app’s creator pulled it from the web, saying that the probability the software would be misused to harass and shame women was “too high.”

Of course, the app is still available, with numerous copies floating around forums and message boards. The Verge was able to find links that ostensibly offer downloads of DeepNude in a variety of places, including Telegram channels, message boards like 4chan, YouTube video descriptions, and even on the…

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Facebook’s Silicon Valley campus given all clear after suspected sarin exposure


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Facebook’s Menlo Park campus in Silicon Valley has been given the all clear after fears of a sarin exposure yesterday led to the evacuation of several buildings. A spokesperson for the company confirmed the news to The Verge after it was first reported by Reuters.

Facebook’s spokesperson said the scare started after mail delivered to one of the company’s mail rooms was “deemed suspicious.” According to a report from Business Insider, the social media company uses automatic detectors to spot dangerous chemicals and substances, and these flagged a mailbag as containing traces of the nerve agent sarin.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we evacuated four nearby buildings and began a thorough investigation in coordination with local…

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Endless AI-generated spam risks clogging up Google’s search results


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Over the past year, AI systems have made huge strides in their ability to generate convincing text, churning out everything from song lyrics to short stories. Experts have warned that these tools could be used to spread political disinformation, but there’s another target that’s equally plausible and potentially more lucrative: gaming Google.

Instead of being used to create fake news, AI could churn out infinite blogs, websites, and marketing spam. The content would be cheap to produce and stuffed full of relevant keywords. But like most AI-generated text, it would only have surface meaning, with little correspondence to the real world. It would be the information equivalent of empty calories, but still potentially difficult for a search…

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An Amazon engineer made an AI-powered cat flap to stop his cat from bringing home dead animals


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Machine learning can be an incredible addition to any tinkerer’s toolbox, helping to fix that little problem in life that no commercial gadget can handle. For Amazon engineer Ben Hamm, that problem was stopping his “sweet, murderous cat” Metric from bringing home dead and half-dead prey in the middle of the night and waking him up.

Hamm gave an entertaining presentation on this subject at Ignite Seattle, and you can watch a video of his talk above. In short, in order to stop Metric from following his instincts, Hamm hooked up the cat flap in his door to an AI-enabled camera (Amazon’s own DeepLens) and an Arduino-powered locking system.

Training images collected and hand-labeled by Hamm. (Yes, those numbers are in the…

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Deepfake detection algorithms will never be enough


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You may have seen news stories last week about researchers developing tools that can detect deepfakes with greater than 90 percent accuracy. It’s comforting to think that with research like this, the harm caused by AI-generated fakes will be limited. Simply run your content through a deepfake detector and bang, the misinformation is gone!

But software that can spot AI-manipulated videos will only ever provide a partial fix to this problem, say experts. As with computer viruses or biological weapons, the threat from deepfakes is now a permanent feature on the landscape. And although it’s arguable whether or not deepfakes are a huge danger from a political perspective, they’re certainly damaging the lives of women here and now through the…

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Google accused of inappropriate access to medical data in potential class-action lawsuit


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Google is being sued in a potential class-action lawsuit which accuses the tech giant of inappropriately accessing sensitive medical records belonging to hundreds of thousands of hospital patients.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, is the latest example of how tech giants’ forays into the trillion-dollar healthcare industry are being met by concerns over privacy.

In recent years, companies including Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all pitched their services to medical institutions, promising that they can help organize medical data and use this information to develop new AI diagnostic tools. But these plans are often met with resistance from privacy advocates, who say that this data will give tech giants an unprecedented view into the…

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New AI deepfake app creates nude images of women in seconds


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<em>The DeepNude app creates AI fakes at the click of a button. </em>

A new AI-powered software tool makes it easy for anyone to generate realistic nude images of women simply by feeding the program a picture of the intended target wearing clothes.

The app is called DeepNude and it’s the latest example of AI-generated deepfakes being used to create compromising images of unsuspecting women. The software was first spotted by Motherboard’s Samantha Cole, and is available to download free for Windows, with a premium version that offers better resolution output images available for $99.

Both the free and premium versions of the app add watermarks to the AI-generated nudes that clearly identify them as “fake.” But in the images…

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