Category Archives: AI

Your Flickr Photos May Have Been Used for Facial Recognition

It has become common for people to post selfies, and photos of friends and family, online. Professional photographers who use models may post their photos in an online portfolio. Unfortunately, photos that include people’s faces are being used without permission by researchers who want to create facial recognition algorithms.

NBC News reported that, in January of 2019, IBM released a collection of nearly a million photos that were taken from Flickr and coded those photos to describe the subject’s appearance. According to NBC News, IBM promoted the collection to researchers as a progressive step toward reducing bias in facial recognition.

I personally feel that there are a lot of ethical problems with what IBM has done. The most obvious one is that it didn’t ask the photographers if it could use their photos.

A company as large as IBM has the money to pay photographers for the use of their photos. Stealing other people’s art is wrong. IBM is also big enough to hire a few people to get consent forms from the people who are in the photographs.

Another ethical problem is that facial recognition software is controversial. It evokes a “Big Brother is watching you” kind of feeling. Personally, I would feel disgusted if my face was used to train facial recognition software.

In July of 2018, the ACLU tested Amazon’s facial recognition tool (called “Rekognition”). It incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for a crime. False matches could result in police arresting the wrong person.

NBC News reported that IBM said Flickr users can opt out of the database. However, NBC News discovered that it’s almost impossible to get photos removed.

Now would be a good time to make your Flickr and Instagram accounts private. Don’t let grabby companies steal your photos and use them in an ethically questionable algorithm.

AI is Coming to Take Your Jobs

President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.

Reuters summarized it as “an executive order asking federal government agencies to dedicate more resources and investment into research, promotion and training on artificial intelligence, known as AI.” Reuters pointed out that there was no specific funding announced for the initiative.

According to Reuters:

AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and is set to trigger job displacements across industries and companies experts say.

The executive order comes after the White House held a meeting on AI in May with more than 30 major companies including Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co.,, Inc., and Microsoft Corp.

Personally, this makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve no idea what these companies (and others like them) will spend on replacing their current systems with AI – but I suspect it will cost them less than paying a human worker to do the same job. Robots and AI systems don’t need sick days, or health insurance coverage, or raises.

The executive order appears to require grants for training programs in high school, undergraduate programs, graduate fellowship, and alternative education. It does not include any AI training for people who are currently working in industries that are likely to invest in AI.

American workers now have to worry not only about robots coming to take their jobs, but also being replaced by AI.

DeepMind’s AlphaZero Beats State-of-the Art AI in Chess

DeepMind introduced AlphaZero in 2017. It is a single system that taught itself how to master chess, shogi, and Go, beating state-of-the-art programs in each case. AlphaZero has developed a ground-breaking, highly dynamic, and unconventional style of play.

A report titled: “A general reinforcement learning algorightm that masters chess, shogi an Go through self-play” was published by Science Magazine. Part of the report said: “The ability of AlphaZero to adapt to various game rules is a notable step toward achieving a general game-playing system.”

AlphaZero replaces the handcrafted knowledge and domain-specific augmentations used in traditional game-playing programs with deep neural networks, a general-purpose reinforcement learning algorithm, and a general-purpose tree search algorithm.

In chess, AlphaZero first outperformed Stockfish after just 4 hours. AlphaZero defeated the 2016 TCEC (Season 9) world champion Stockfish, winning 155 games and losing just six games out of 1,000.

In shogi, AlphaZero first outperformed Elmo after 2 hours. AlphaZero defeated the 2017 CSA world champion version of Elmo, winning 91.2% of games.

In Go, AlphaZero defeated AlphaGo Zero, winning 61% of games.

I wonder if, in the future, eSports will include competitions between AlphaZero and various other AI algorithms. It seems to me that people who love to play chess are very interested in AlphaZero and what it can do. I can see potential for chess players to learn some of AlphaZero’s strategies in an effort to improve their game.

Would You Let AI Choose Your Child’s Babysitter?

Parents want to find a reliable, experienced, and compassionate person to babysit their child. Some parents find that person in a relative or a very close friend. Others will ask for recommendations from other parents that they know and trust. This system of vetting potential babysitters has been used for a very long time.

The Washington Post has an article about a company called Predictim. That same article was also posted on

Predictim offers an online service that uses “advanced artificial intelligence” to assess a babysitter’s personality. It scans through the potential babysitter’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, and gives an automated “risk rating”.

According to the article, the “risk rating” can indicate the risk of the babysitter being a drug abuser. It also assesses the risk of the babysitter for bullying, harassment, being disrespectful, and having a bad attitude.

It does not gather any information about how long the person has been a babysitter. It doesn’t ask if the babysitter has a degree in Early Childhood Education, or Teaching. It doesn’t find out of the babysitter knows CPR, has worked with children who have special needs, or has worked in a daycare center.

The article says that price of a Predictim scan starts at $24.99. It requires a babysitter’s name, email address, and her consent to share broad access to her social media accounts. Babysitters who decline are told that “the interested parent will not be able to hire you until you complete this request.”

In my opinion, as a person who has a teaching degree and who has spent years working in daycare, the Predictim analysis is both dangerous and misleading. What does Predictim do with the data they collect from babysitter’s social media accounts? Will this data be shared with other employers in other fields? What if this data is leaked or stolen by nefarious people?

Many babysitters are teenagers, and I question the ethics of gathering personal data from people who are not adults. Does Predictim get permission from those people’s parents before grabbing information from the teenager’s social media account?

Another huge problem with using AI is that it tends to pick up the biases of whomever created it. Predictim’s AI could wind up excluding babysitters who are people of color, LGBT, of certain religious or ethnic backgrounds, or simply not photogenic enough in their Instagram posts.

Image by Pexels

A.I. Might Not Be All Bad

Much as the steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution, A.I. and intelligent machines will bring unimaginable change to the latter part of the  21st Century. Visionaries suggest that A.I. is more Pandora’s Box than Prometheus’ stolen fire, with many jobs likely to be consigned to the history books and it’s already clear that the transport industry is going to require far fewer people.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom though. Pushing back against the “A.I. equals job losses” trend, a recent study by Oneserve, a field service management company, suggests that UK-based manufacturing industries that take advantage of A.I. could boost productivity by the equivalent of nearly 7 days production per annum. That might not sound like much – it’s an increase of 2.5% – but when dealing with companies that turnover millions, it’s a healthy extra margin.

It’s still early days, though. The survey asked the management of manufacturing companies about A.I. and their responses were interesting.  Of the senior business leaders consulted, 93% said their workforce would be more productive as a direct result of moving towards A.I.-enabled systems….but the research also found there is a concerning lack of understanding around A.I. in the industry. Seven out of ten (72%) senior decision makers who took part said A.I. is important to the future of manufacturing, yet 67% also said the benefits are not clear.

Ideally, there’s opportunities for A.I. to reduce machine downtime, manage resources efficiently, and improve customer relations, all based on historical data analysis rather than guesstimates. The attached infographic (courtesy Oneserve) shows the impact of machine downtime in manufacturing and while the infographic is an oversimplification of the impact, the problem is still significant. Let’s hope A.I. can help keep the machines running, increase productivity and keep people in jobs.