From increased visibility to complete invisibility—this week we’ve been talking about how our faces and voices are becoming easier to identify thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI). Meanwhile, a savvy Google web engineer has figured out how to erase our digital presence completely.
How to make yourself disappear
Depending on which articles you’ve read recently, you probably think AI is the saviour of retail and the future of CX, or it’s going to lead to a scary surveillance state. One engineer, Jason Mayes, has found a new use—he’s used AI to turn the whole deepfake thing on its head by erasing people from webcam feeds in real time.
Like deepfakes, it’s prone to a few artifacts, or “glitches in the matrix”—as you can see here—but it’s pretty impressive. What’s the point? To stop hackers surreptitiously capturing footage and then using it for blackmail or other nefarious purposes. While we love the idea and are impressed by the results, it seems like overkill for a problem that can be solved by a bit of sticky tape.
Mayes has shared the test version of the tool on his blog—head over and try it out for yourself! Maybe you’ll be able to think of a better use for what’s definitely a cool bit of work.
We can (still) see you
Long before Covid-19, people had started to wear masks to filter out the crap in the city area. And, of course, protesters often use them to conceal their identities.
Under the guise of making life easier for the former—enabling them to enter all those buildings using access control without removing their mask—several AI companies have added thermal imaging to their facial-recognition systems. It would be slightly less worrying if work on this didn’t seem to be concentrated in countries with less than stellar human rights records—Chinese startup SenseTime is a leader in the field. This tech is now being pitched as a way to identify people with a higher temperature—an early indicator of Covid-19 infection—in public places. The sweating associated with moving around when you have a fever is probably quite a giveaway! It does seem a bit like these companies might be using the health-scare as an opportunity to increase overall surveillance.
It’s not just those living in authoritarian regimes that need to keep an eye (pun intended) on the growth of surveillance. It was only a few weeks ago that Barclays became the latest business to face a backlash for attempts to monitor how much time people spent away from their desks.
If you haven’t already read Shoshana Zuboff’s great book Surveillance Capitalism, get it on Amazon now. Or just say it out loud and Amazon will remind you.
And we can hear you too
Being retargeted as you browse around the web is nothing new. It’s become a favourite tool of digital marketers—though the same can’t be said for their audiences. If you’ve got a digital assistant like Amazon Echo or Google Home in your home, car or office, you might soon start seeing retargeting based on conversations that you’ve had.
The idea that tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google are collecting data from your speech isn’t exactly new. But what is new (and pretty interesting), is that the software behind these devices is being developed so that they can gauge the emotional state of the speakers.
As we all know, it’s not just the words that matter—there’s a big difference between “Yes please” and “Oh yes purleeeese”. Without the eye-roll, you need to consider the cadence and pitch, to decipher the intent. For example, you might show that you’re annoyed by speaking more quickly, even if the words you’re using aren’t particularly aggressive.
Amazon, for one, has been fairly transparent about its efforts to develop speech-emotion detection. Being able to detect the sentiment of a response would certainly make digital assistants more human and easier to interact with. It could also offer benefits to companies in all sectors—from identifying fraudulent activity, to more accurately gauging employee engagement.
The take-away message is that it’s not so much what you say—but how you say it. Perhaps in the future it won’t just be your partner that can have a strop or be passive aggressive, your appliances will have bad moods too.
Our favourite stories from the week
We’ve done the searching so you don’t have to—here are links to what we thought were the week’s most intriguing tech stories.
- Designing AI for human rights
Balancing the harmful bits of AI with some benefits (eyeondesign)
- Dodge COVID-19 with your smart devices
Go hands-free at home (staceyoniot)
- The contagion of social media
News spreads faster than the virus (Bloomberg)
- Walk in—and “Just Walk Out”
Amazon pushes cashierless shopping to other retailers (pymnts)
Posted by Katie on 13 March 2020