How tech companies are shaping the rules governing AI

How tech companies are shaping the rules governing AI

In early April, the European Commission published guidelines intended to keep any artificial intelligence technology used on the EU’s 500 million citizens trustworthy. The bloc’s commissioner for digital economy and society, Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel, called them “a solid foundation based on EU values.”

One of the 52 experts who worked on the guidelines argues that foundation is flawed—thanks to the tech industry. Thomas Metzinger, a philosopher from the University of Mainz, in Germany, says too many of the experts who created the guidelines came from or were aligned with industry interests. Metzinger says he and another member of the group were asked to draft a list of AI uses that should be prohibited. That list included autonomous weapons, and government social scoring systems similar to those under development in China. But Metzinger alleges tech’s allies later convinced the broader group that it shouldn’t draw any “red lines” around uses of AI.

Metzinger says that spoiled a chance for the EU to set an influential example that—like the bloc’s GDPR privacy rules—showed technology must operate within clear limits. “Now everything is up for negotiation,” he says.

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Man who threatened to kill Ajit Pai’s children gets 20 months in prison

Closeup shot of handcuffs hanging from a metal bar in a prison.

A man who threatened to kill the family of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai was today sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Markara Man, a 33-year-old from California, pleaded guilty on August 31, 2018 after making threats to Pai because he disagreed with the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules. In one email to Pai, Man wrote, “I will find your children and kill them.”

“Threatening to actually kill a federal official’s family because of a disagreement over policy is not only inexcusable, it is criminal,” US Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia said in a Justice Department announcement of the sentencing today. The case was heard at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

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AT&T denies that selling phone location data was illegal as FCC investigates

A smartphone mounted on a car dashboard and displaying a GPS map.

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have all told the Federal Communications Commission that they recently stopped selling their customers’ phone location information to other companies. Sprint said it is phasing out the sales and will shut them down by the end of this month.

The details came in letters to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who had demanded an update on the carriers’ sale of customers’ real-time geolocation data. Rosenworcel released the carriers’ responses yesterday.

Rosenworcel, a Democrat, criticized the Republican-controlled FCC for not taking action against the carriers over the privacy invasions.

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Macron defends his startup-friendly policies

For the third year as president, France’s president Emmanuel Macron talked to the French tech ecosystem at VivaTech in Paris. This time, he used this opportunity to defend his policies so far and say that tech startups have nearly everything they need to succeed

Frichti’s Julia Bijaoui, TransferWise’s Flora Coleman, OpenClassrooms’ Pierre Dubuc, Vinted’s Thomas Plantenga and UiPath’s Daniel Dines shared the stage with Macron and each asked one question about funding, European regulation, talent, the digital single market, etc.

Just like last year, Macron took a strong stance when it comes to corporate taxes. “In order to compete with American giants, you need to make sure that competition is fair. You pay taxes, so the tech giant that is competing against you should pay taxes too,” Macron said.

France recently approved a tax on tech giants. If you generate more than €750 million in revenue globally and €25 million in France, you have to pay 3 percent of your French revenue in taxes, even if your company is registered in Ireland, Luxembourg or the Netherlands.

“It’s a temporary measure because we want a tax at the European level, and more generally at the OECD level,” Macron said.

When it comes to funding, things look much better now than a few years ago. There are now more than a handful of French unicorns. And Macron defended his taxation policies, such as a the flat tax on capital gain and the end of the wealth tax on your shares in public or private companies.

And yet, it’s still complicated when it comes to exits — if you want to go down the public road, you most likely have to IPO in the U.S. “We have to build a European financial capital market,” Macron said. “It’ll require some modifications and deeper European integration,” he added later.

Given that Europe is about to vote for the European Parliament, a lot of Macron’s solutions involved the European Union. It sometimes felt like Macron was campaigning for his own party by saying that he wants to go further, but you need to vote for his party first.

When it comes to talent, Macron emphasized the quality of French universities and engineering schools. “We are competitive in terms of human capital and it’s no coincidence. A few years ago, everybody was saying ‘there are a lot of French people in Silicon Valley’. French people living in France are the same, but they cost much, much less,” Macron said.

He then mentioned the French Tech Visa to attract foreign talent, a special visa for tech talent and their families. The program has been overhauled a couple of months ago.

When it comes to regulation, Macron says that the European Union should follow the GDPR model. “What we did on privacy, one regulation for all, we have to do it for other areas,” he said. “On competition, on taxation, on data, we need to regulate.”

Macron concluded by defending a third way to regulate and foster tech companies, which is different from China and the U.S. “Europe can become the tech leader of tomorrow because we are building a tech ecosystem that is compatible with democracy,” he said.

According to him, China doesn’t do enough when it comes to individual rights and human rights, which could eventually backfire for tech companies. And American companies have become too powerful and out of control for the U.S. government.

Utility equipment sparked massive California wildfire, investigators say

workers rebuilding power lines in California.

California Fire officials have determined that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), one of the state’s largest utilities, was responsible for the deadliest fire in a century.

The Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and burnt down nearly 15,000 homes, was sparked by PG&E power lines, according to a report that Cal Fire officials discussed with the press. The report was not widely released, but it was forwarded to the Butte County district attorney’s office.

The district attorney may bring criminal charges against the utility, and Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler told reporters that, “Investigators determined there were violations of law.” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, charges could include “recklessly causing a fire or manslaughter.”

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Trump tries to shut Huawei out of US market with executive order

Customers purchase mobile phones at a Huawei store in China.

The Trump administration yesterday took two actions that could effectively prevent Huawei from buying US technology and prevent it from selling products to US companies.

An executive order issued by President Trump and a separate action taken by the US Commerce Department could “cut the Chinese telecommunications giant off from American suppliers and ban it from doing business in the US,” The Wall Street Journal wrote.

The order doesn’t mention Huawei or China by name, but it was widely seen as targeting Huawei and other Chinese companies such as ZTE. Huawei is the second-biggest smartphone vendor in the world, according to IDC, and it sells a large amount of network equipment to telecom providers and other companies.

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Facebook changes algorithm to promote worthwhile & close friend content

Facebook is updating the News Feed ranking algorithm to incorporate data from surveys about who you say are your closest friends and which links you find most worthwhile. Today Facebook announced it’s trained new classifiers based on patterns linking these surveys with usage data so it can better predict what to show in the News Feed. The change could hurt Pages that share click-bait and preference those sharing content that makes people feel satisfied afterwards.

For close friends, Facebook surveyed users about which people they were closest too. It then detected how this matches up with who you are tagged in photos with, constantly interact with, like the same post and check in to the same places as, and more. That way if it recognizes those signals about other people’s friendships, it can be confident those are someone’s closest friends they’ll want to see the most of. You won’t see more friend content in total, but more from your best pals instead of distant acquaintances.

A Facebook News Feed survey from 2016, shared by Varsha Sharma

For worthwhile content, Facebook conducted surveys via news feed to find out which links people said were good uses of their time. Facebook then detected which types of link posts, which publishers, and how much engagement the posts got and matched that to survey results. This then lets it determine that if a post has a simialr style and engagement level, it’s likely to be worthwhile and should be ranked higher in the feed.

The change aligns with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent comments declaring that Facebook’s goal isn’t total time spent, but time well spent with meaningful content you feel good about. Most recently, that push has been about demoting unsafe content. Last month Facebook changed the algorithm to minimize clickbait and links to crappy ad-filled sites that receive a disproportionately high amount of their traffic from Facebook. It cracked down on unoriginality by hiding videos ripped off from other creators, and began levying harsher demotions to repeat violators of its policies. And it began to decrease the distribution of “borderline content” on Facebook and Instagram that comes close to but doesn’t technically break its rules.

While many assume Facebook just juices News Feed to be as addictive in the short-term as possible to keep us glued to the screen and viewing ads, that would actually be ruinous for its long-term business. If users leave the feed feeling exhausted, confused, and unfulfilled, they won’t come back. Facebook’s already had trouble with users ditching its text-heavy News Feed for more visual apps like Instagram (which it luckily bought) and Snapchat (which it tried to). While demoting click-bait and viral content might decrease total usage time today, it could preserve Facebook’s money-making ability for the future while also helping to rot our brains a little less.

White House unveils new tool to report censorship by social media giants

The landing page for the White House censorship reporting tool.

Donald Trump has long accused social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube of political bias. On Wednesday, his White House launched a new online form that allows members of the public to report political bias in their content moderation decisions.

“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the form says (capitalization in the original, of course). “Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies. No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”

The form asks users to provide their name and basic demographic and contact information. Users then provide details about the content that was censored and can provide screenshots of messages from social media companies about moderation decisions.

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