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Banks across America test facial recognition cameras ‘to spy on staff, customers’ • The Register

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In brief Banks in America are reportedly rolling out cameras with machine-learning software to surveil people, claiming it’ll help reduce fraud, provide a better service to reduce wait times, and monitor homeless people sleeping near ATMs.

Top names like JP Morgan to Wells Fargo are deploying facial-recognition technology to observe staff and customers on a wide scale, according to Reuters this week.

Some banks, such as City National Bank of Florida, are testing software to identify customers and employees at its branches for security purposes. Others, such as Southern Bank, use cameras backed up by AI tech to detect any suspicious activity around ATMs and can transmit audio messages telling people hanging around the machines to move away. Chase said the software it installed is not designed to recognize people’s identity, race, or gender.

These software-enabled cameras aren’t welcome in branches in some regions in the US, however. For example, some cities, such as Portland in Oregon, have banned the use of facial-recognition cameras in public places.

“We are always reviewing potential new technology solutions that are on the market,” a bank known as The Charlotte in North Carolina, said.

Enormous processor chip just got more powerful

AI hardware startup Cerebras launched its second-generation chip packing in a whopping 2.6 trillion transistors on a silicon die measuring about 46,000mm2 – about the size of a tablet.

The new Wafer Scale Engine (WSE-2) seems a lot more powerful than its predecessor. Cerebras has jumped from 16nm to a 7nm TSMC fabrication node, and said its processor contains 850,000 AI cores plus a total of 40GB of onboard SRAM memory with a memory bandwidth of 20PB per second.

Having that much memory on a single die aids the training of large AI models, we’re told, though how well Cerebras’s hardware performs compared to its competitors with smaller chips is difficult to say.

“WSE-2 doubles the performance across all characteristics of the chip – the transistor count, core count, memory, memory bandwidth and fabric bandwidth, but we haven’t shared performance at different precisions,” a spokesperson told The Register.

The WSE-2 consumes up to 17kW of power and requires custom liquid cooling.

Watch your AI algorithms, or the FTC will do that for you

America’s Federal Trade Commission issued a warning that companies must be careful to deploy machine-learning algorithms that are fair and unbiased against race, gender, age, religion – you name it – or face legal repercussions.

“Keep in mind that if you don’t hold yourself accountable, the FTC may do it for you,” Elisa Jillson, an attorney at the regulator, warned in a public memo, this week. She reminded organizations that it had the power to prosecute them under the FTC Act, and algorithms applied in particularly high-risk areas, such as determining people’s employment, credit, housing, and insurance, should be thoroughly scrutinized.

Jillson urged businesses to be transparent about how their algorithms use data to arrive at decisions, and to audit their software. “In a rush to embrace new technology, be careful not to over promise what your algorithm can deliver,” she warned. For example, a facial-recognition algorithm boasting a high accuracy rate when it, in fact, struggles to identify people of darker skin may be deceptive and attract FTC enforcement action.

You can read Jillson’s blog post here.

AI robot simulations across different rooms

Researchers over at the Allen Institute of AI have updated their ManipulaTHOR physics engine environment to allow roboticists to train virtual agents to move objects across different rooms using software.

“Imagine a robot being able to navigate a kitchen, open a refrigerator and pull out a can of soda. This is one of the biggest and yet often overlooked challenges in robotics and AI2-THOR is the first to design a benchmark for the task of moving objects to various locations in virtual rooms, enabling reproducibility and measuring progress,” the research lab’s CEO Oren Etzioni said.

The Allen Institute of AI (AI2) focuses on natural language processing, and is working to build robots that can one day interact and communicate effectively with humans. “After five years of hard work, we can now begin to train robots to perceive and navigate the world more like we do, making real-world usage models more attainable than ever before,” Etzioni added.

You can get ManipulaTHOR version 3.0 from GitHub, and learn more about the software, here. ®

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London is the best European city for founders, Startup Genome report

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The UK capital was the only European city to make the top ten in Startup Genome’s ranking, tying with New York in second place for the second year in a row.

London is Europe’s number one start-up city, according to a recent report by Startup Genome. The research and advisory body which specialises in start-ups released its ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021’ report today (22 September).

The report identified London and New York as joint second-best cities in the world for start-ups. London was the only European location to make it into the top ten. The city is attractive to founders thanks to its educated workforce and tax incentives, the report found.

Silicon Valley in California took the top spot, unsurprisingly. This year’s global rankings were dominated by the US, with half of the top 30 ecosystems coming from this region, followed by Asia with 27pc and Europe with 17pc of the top performing ecosystems globally.

Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles alone contributed more than 70pc to the US’s total ecosystem value.

Paris made the top 20, coming in at number 12. The Amsterdam-Delta region followed in thirteenth place. Dublin improved its rank from the previous year’s report, coming in at number 36 this time.

Beijing, Boston, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seattle and Stockholm also made the top ten best start-up cities.

The global start-up economy is currently worth more than $3.8trn in ecosystem value. There are 79 ecosystems generating over $4bn in value, which is more than double the number identified in 2017. This time last year, 91 ecosystems had achieved unicorn status.

Also in 2020, Startup Genome published a report indicating its concerns over the future of the start-ups ecosystem during Covid-19. The report suggested that 42pc of start-ups were in what it called ‘the red zone,’ meaning they had three months or fewer runway ahead of them.

Several countries  including the UK, France and Germany introduced special support packages for start-ups. Irish non-profit Scale Ireland also introduced a similar start-up scheme for Irish companies.

“Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in Europe have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all,” commented JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome on the report’s release.

“The Global Startup Ecosystem Report is the foundation of knowledge where we, as a global network, come together to identify what policies actually produce economic impact and in what context,” Gauthier added.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Facebook oversight board to review system that exempts elite users | Facebook

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.

The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.

Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.

Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.

The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.

The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.

The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.

Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.

A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.

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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

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The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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