😇 What makes something actually "AI for good"? And a new report on China's AI network

Plus: Guess how many surveillance cameras we can expect by 2021?

I am sick and on deadline, so excuse…everything.

The Good

What makes an “AI for good” project actually legit and not a dumpster fire waiting to happen? Claiming “I know it when I see it’” is something I have absolutely said, but that doesn’t cut it. We need a framework to center a discussion around these potentially world-changing tools. A recent paper for the big NeurIPS conference next week tries to organize one researcher’s thoughts on this problem, including the larger world that the AI creators are working in.

He points out the difference between “reformist reforms” and “non-reformist reforms” with the former being a project that works within a system, no matter how shitty it is. A non-reformist reform thinks outside of the box and “what should be made possible in terms of human needs and demands.”

That is an excellent place to start! This next point should also be a guiding principle of every project, not just the ones claiming goodness:

Projects that purport to enhance social good without a reflexive engagement with social and political context are likely to reproduce the exact forms of social oppression that many working towards “social good” seek to dismantle.

These are big ideas that tech alone can not hope to solve or overcome, but are a great places to continue to revisit as a project is worked on. Other ideas I have across is thinking through how your project would be part of a Black Mirror episode and having someone who will be impacted by your tech at the table with a voice in how its created. I’m pretty hopeful that there are AI projects that can make the world a better place, full-stop, but more work needs to be done in this space to help guide those creations.

The Bad

A lot of big news out about China, including a new report trying to map out 23 of the country’s big tech companies and its influences across the world, including 5G, surveillance, smart city tech, and other services and products. There is an actual map that is a little overwhelming (the image above is a screenshot) but if you have the patience, it’s a way to dig into specific regions you are most interested in.

Part of the report goes into what companies’ tech is being used against the Uighurs, an area that had more info come out about this week. This includes how DNA data is getting added to surveillance systems, leaked documents about how the Uighur concentration camps work, and how the Congress passed a bill in the House (which passed in a 407-1 vote!) condemning China’s treatment of the Muslim minority.

It’s sometimes surprising to me how much news we get out of China despite the country’s best efforts. But there is a ton of interest driving the coverage. Of course, people are horrified by religious minorities being thrown into camps. There is also some economic fears. But I think there is also a sense of trying to get a sneak peek (and maybe learn some lessons?) at a technological landcape that seems just over the horizon for the rest of us.

More News

Facebook built a chatbot for employees to use over the holidays to figure out how to respond to criticism about the company.

Will driverless cars actually help senior citizens if they aren’t helping design them?

In other China news, some of the country’s subways are expanding face tech rec for payment systems. Optional for now, but we will see how long that lasts.

The UK already has the most surveillance cameras per capita outside of China. Now companies want to add face rec tech capabilities to all that video.

Portland might ban face rec tech for both private and government uses.

Remember when I mused what other states were doing with DMV data? Turns out North Carolina is selling that info to ICE!

The first of a three-part series on the history of Ring and how it “went from ‘Shark Tank’ reject to America’s scariest surveillance company.”

Homeland Security announced and then dropped plans to expand face rec tech at the border to Americans.

By 2021, the world could have a billion surveillance cameras.


You should be watching The Good Place for moral reasoning lessons and the lulz,