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Sri Lanka Robotics took Bronze at First Global Robotics

Sri Lanka reached the semi-finals of the FIRST Global Challenge, an annual Robotics Olympiad that was held this year in Dubai from 25-27 October with 189 countries participating.

The team also won the Judges’ Award for Technical Excellence for the best designed robot for the second year running.

http://www.ft.lk/it-telecom-tech/Sri-Lanka-wins-Bronze-Medal-and-Judges–Award-in-Robotics-Olympiad/50-688665

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2019 in Education, Robotics

 

Facebook scrutiny. Why everyone, not just the governments should do it

When it comes to foreign election interference, data theft, and broken promises about safeguarding privacy it’s Facebook and not just some secret government surveillance program we have to guard against. Mark Zuckerberg has become the face of a privatized Big Brother. Ironically it’s the government that’s now trying to peel back the curtain.

As Zuck faces questions on Capitol Hill this week this week, the questions about Libra, it’s cryptocurrency product have been asked. This blockchain product “could create a whole new threat to Americans and national security,” said Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York. Libra’s mission, according to the Facebook White Paper, is a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.”

The blockchain on which it is based is Libra, and the unit of its currency is also a ‘libra.’ It’s backed by Lyft, Spotify, Uber, and Farfetch among its tech partners.  But others are not well known, such as Bison Trails and Xapo which is a very large crypto storage service.

Much of this –and the lack of trusted names that are part of this group –should give us reason to read behind the lines of what comes out this week. Worth reading the article on The Verge, that called it an attempt to build the ‘Bank of Facebook.’ Or more to the point, that this blockchain move is its secret weapon that will help Facebook “to create a quasi-nation state ruled by mostly corporate interests.” Reuters reports that France and Germany have pledged to block Libra in Europe. Do they know something we don’t?

 

 
 

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Chandler data center’s super annoying hum. It’s the sound of us!

Chandler, Arizona with a population of just over 25,000 is growing so fast we see apartment complexes and retirement homes sprouting like weeds in the desert. Many of us in the once sleepy bedroom community bordering Gilbert wonder why. Is it the still rural quality –including the wafts of cow farms in winter– and the low crime rate? I drive past horses and goats on my way to work each morning, which is quite a refreshing alternative to being stuck on a freeway.

I just received my copy of The Atlantic, and just after the Jeff Bezos cover story is a piece titled, “The End of Silence” by Bianca Bosker. It’s about the annoying hum of a data center that has been bothering people in the vicinity of south Chandler. As the writer puts it, “Arizona attracts data centers the way Florida attracts plastic surgeons.”

The kicker is in the conclusion, where Bosker astutely observes that the groaning of the chillers that keep the data centers running is the sound of us, constantly Googling the odd recipes and trivia, and paying our bills online. In other words, we’ve done this to ourselves. And it’s moving in next door in a very real way.

I just hope the horse ranches and the grain elevators along Germann Road won’t be lost to our darn data.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2019 in Technology

 

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Hide Your face, shield your eyes! The dark side of biometrics

The use of facial recognition is not something that only comes from totalitarian regimes. It’s being used for domestic spying, in malls and casinos. Combined with AI, biometrics can turn PI (Personal information) and PII (personally identifiable information) into a weapon. I bring this up every semester to make sure my students are aware of what they are opening themselves to, should they share information even on benign sites, or “trusted” browsers.

Biometrics involve “biological measurements” such as fingerprints, facial features, and retina scans. The Department of Homeland Security, explains that “biometrics are used to detect and prevent illegal entry into the U.S., grant and administer proper immigration benefits, vetting and credentialing, facilitating legitimate travel and trade, enforcing federal laws, and enabling verification for visa applications to the U.S.” You would think biometrics is something average citizens only need to worry about if they own a passport (the new ones have an embedded chip with biometric markers), or a smart phone with facial recognition.

But biometric detection is coming closer to us than we realize. Kaspersky, the software cybersecurity company explain how “Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill downloaded photos of 20 volunteers from social media and used them to construct 3-D models of their faces. The researchers successfully breached four of the five security systems they tested.” Rental cars may soon come with biometric analyzers. Cities may use facial recognition without our knowledge as a pre-emptive way to assist law enforcement.

More alarming is the use of ‘public domain’ images to fuel the facial recognition business. The New York Times reports that family photos scrubbed off Flicker have been used to power surveillance technology. Hiding our faces, or making sure our children’s faces don’t show up in unscrupulous social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook may become a necessity. Or is it too late for those who have uploaded hundreds of photos to these leaky sites? As I warned manhttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/11/technology/flickr-facial-recognition.htmly times here and elsewhere these sites are “free” for a reason – they trade the data and meta-data of these posts and pictures without your knowledge. Digital human trafficking, in which many of us have become unwilling accomplices.

Interesting controversy. Tiffany and Co had to withdraw an ad that had a model covering her right eye. Why? It was accused of imitating the symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, where protestors routinely cover their face, or eyes with a mask or helmet so as to avoid facial recognition cameras.  In fact, the mock eye patch has itself become a symbol of the protest.

 

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2019 in Communications, Social Media

 

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Ugh! “Face Forensics” and “synthetic speech” creep into our vocabulary

I have been looking at the swirling issues around Deepfake technology. Much of this is still under the radar, but possibly under investigation by players that range from tech forensic companies, to governments, and those developing AI.

I’m glad Google has stepped into the breach. Google declared yesterday that it has partnered with an organization involved in ‘Face Forensics’ and another group that was formerly one of its experimental subsidiaries. How quickly the language of the Web changes. We just got comfortable with cyber-security, botnets and ransomware! This story is worth keeping tabs on.

 

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2019 in Communications

 

Cutting out “empty words”: Presentations this week in class

This week, my students are preparing their 12-slide presentation for a project titled, “The Future is Now.”

This is the culmination of a research project and a 3-page report based on Google’s Moonshot program. But it’s not just about creating the content and formatting the slides. I tell my students that they happen to be in “a communications class that pretends to be a computer class”. This week they are watching a TED talk by a 12-year old. But there is another student worth watching this week, Greta Thunberg,  the 16-year old activist from Sweden.

She railed against the grown-ups in the room, for stealing this generation’s childhood with their “empty words.” Speaking of Feedback loops, risks, and tipping points, her emotionally-charged speech warned that “change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

UN Envoy, Sri Lankan, Jayathma Wickramanayake, called climate change “the defining issue of our time. Millions of young people all over the world are already being affected by it.”

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2019 in Activism, Communications, Education

 

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Photo-Ops that didn’t change history

When a US president shakes hands with another leader it’s pure theatre. These photo ops then become legacy shots –timestamps of a presidency. Just like when Richard Nixon met Zhou Enlai in 1972, now a milestone of a major diplomatic overture.

But these photo ops have a mixed meaning around the time they’re taken. Some seem to do it just for the symbolism – somewhat like teenagers taking selfies in front of a coffee shop to seek validation among their followers.

Donald Trump,Kim Jong Un

In my September column, I feature 5 Photo-Ops that have taken on new meaning by now, but have not been treated kindly by history.

  • 1456876549762Adolph Hitler and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, 1938
  • George W. Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln, 1 May, 2003
  • Richard Branson, October 2011
  • Dennis Rodman, 2013
  • Donald Trump and Kim Kim Jong-Un, 30 June 2019

Read the article here.

 

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2019 in Communications