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Scientists create online games to show risks of AI emotion recognition | Artificial intelligence (AI)

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It is a technology that has been frowned upon by ethicists: now researchers are hoping to unmask the reality of emotion recognition systems in an effort to boost public debate.

Technology designed to identify human emotions using machine learning algorithms is a huge industry, with claims it could prove valuable in myriad situations, from road safety to market research. But critics say the technology not only raises privacy concerns, but is inaccurate and racially biased.

A team of researchers have created a website – emojify.info – where the public can try out emotion recognition systems through their own computer cameras. One game focuses on pulling faces to trick the technology, while another explores how such systems can struggle to read facial expressions in context.

Their hope, the researchers say, is to raise awareness of the technology and promote conversations about its use.

“It is a form of facial recognition, but it goes farther because rather than just identifying people, it claims to read our emotions, our inner feelings from our faces,” said Dr Alexa Hagerty, project lead and researcher at the University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.

Facial recognition technology, often used to identify people, has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission said its use for mass screening should be halted, saying it could increase police discrimination and harm freedom of expression.

But Hagerty said many people were not aware how common emotion recognition systems were, noting they were employed in situations ranging from job hiring, to customer insight work, airport security, and even education to see if students are engaged or doing their homework.

Such technology, she said, was in use all over the world, from Europe to the US and China. Taigusys, a company that specialises in emotion recognition systems and whose main office is in Shenzhen, says it has used them in settings ranging from care homes to prisons, while according to reports earlier this year, the Indian city of Lucknow is planning to use the technology to spot distress in women as a result of harassment – a move that has met with criticism, including from digital rights organisations.

While Hagerty said emotion recognition technology might have some potential benefits these must be weighed against concerns around accuracy, racial bias, as well as whether the technology was even the right tool for a particular job.

“We need to be having a much wider public conversation and deliberation about these technologies,” she said.

The new project allows users to try out emotion recognition technology. The site notes that “no personal data is collected and all images are stored on your device”. In one game, users are invited to pull a series of faces to fake emotions and see if the system is fooled.

“The claim of the people who are developing this technology is that it is reading emotion,” said Hagerty. But, she added, in reality the system was reading facial movement and then combining that with the assumption that those movements are linked to emotions – for example a smile means someone is happy.

“There is lots of really solid science that says that is too simple; it doesn’t work quite like that,” said Hagerty, adding that even just human experience showed it was possible to fake a smile. “That is what that game was: to show you didn’t change your inner state of feeling rapidly six times, you just changed the way you looked [on your] face,” she said.

Some emotion recognition researchers say they are aware of such limitations. But Hagerty said the hope was that the new project, which is funded by Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), will raise awareness of the technology and promote discussion around its use.

“I think we are beginning to realise we are not really ‘users’ of technology, we are citizens in world being deeply shaped by technology, so we need to have the same kind of democratic, citizen-based input on these technologies as we have on other important things in societies,” she said.

Vidushi Marda, senior programme officer at the human rights organisation Article 19 said it was crucial to press “pause” on the growing market for emotion recognition systems.

“The use of emotion recognition technologies is deeply concerning as not only are these systems based on discriminatory and discredited science, their use is also fundamentally inconsistent with human rights,” she said. “An important learning from the trajectory of facial recognition systems across the world has been to question the validity and need for technologies early and often – and projects that emphasise on the limitations and dangers of emotion recognition are an important step in that direction.”

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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