Hashtag Trending May 19- U.S. government use invasive AI to track refugees; OpenAI releases iOS ChatGPT app; Microsoft bets on nuclear fusion

Can an AI become sentient? As fantastic as it sounds, maybe it’s already happened. Skeptical. Me too. But when I read the conversation between a researcher and Google’s LaMDa, I – didn’t know what to think. Listen to it on Hashtag Trending the weekend edition when it goes live on Saturday morning and judge for yourself.

The US government is using invasive, AI-powered monitoring to track refugees, asylum seekers and their own citizens. OpenAI puts ChatGPT on the iPhone. And Microsoft is placing a bet on nuclear fusion.

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These top tech news stories and more for Friday May 19, 2023, I’m your host Jim Love, CIO of IT World Canada, and Tech News Day in the US.

According to a report in Vice, Customs and Border Protection in the US is using an “invasive, AI-powered monitoring tool to screen travelers.” 

They’ll be using this on refugees, people seeking asylum and even citizens and permanent residents.

The tool is called Babel X and it can take a specific piece of information about a person – name, email, telephone number or social security number and get back an enormous amount of data from social media and other sources. The data includes things like name, address, date of birth, email, phone number, drivers license, social security number and even employment history.  But it doesn’t stop there. It gets info from social media postings, location data linked and even the unique identifiers from their mobile phone used by advertisers. 

A lot of this information is publicly or commercially available from providers who gather it on the so-called “dark web”, where hackers exchange information and the “deep web” which is not necessarily nefarious but consists of content that is not indexed by standard web search. 

Critics say that even legitimately purchasing some of this data without a warrant may violate Fourth Amendment rights. 

For example, warrants are required to access location data from cell towers, but the location data obtained by Babel X is generated from a variety of other sources using location data generated by smart phone apps.

In addition, the system not only collects information, but it also uses AI tools to do “sentiment analysis” from social and other data. But that data can be used to geo-fence a person and very accurately track a person, without them ever knowing.

The use of these tools was uncovered by a Freedom of Information filing by journalists at Motherboard. Organizations are required to file a document called a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) when they are initiating or updating a program that is regarded as “privacy invading.”

While these assessments must be done every three years, the data that is captured may be stored in other systems for up to 75 years.

Opponents of the program, like Carrie DeCell, an attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute, argue that the government has no legitimate interest in collecting and retaining such sensitive information on an immense scale.”

Customs and Border Services, it turns out are just the tip of the iceberg. The company that makes Babel X has also sold their system to the TSA, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Navy, the Air Force, Special Operations Command, the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and the State Department according to public records.

Sources include: Vice

Open AI has released a version of ChatGPT for the iPhone. 

While the app largely functions much like the web version, it does address a concern about the vast number of apps that have proliferated, many of which contain malware or are used as a part of cyber scams. Microsoft has already addressed these same concerns with an app for their Bing AI. 

The iOS app will bring this same security to those who want to use ChatGPT directly.

Like the web offering, it allows users to subscribe for a fee and get the more advanced capabilities of GPT-4. 

The app does have one difference from the web version. Speech input is supported using Whisper, OpenAI’s open-source speech recognition system. 

The app will be available in the U.S. and expanding to other countries in the coming weeks.  Android users may take heart. In a posting announcing the app and the timing, they noted:

P.S. Android users, you’re next. ChatGPT will be coming to your devices soon. 

Sources include: Axios 

And the US Supreme Court upheld the legal protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that protect internet companies from lawsuits regarding content posted by users. 

Section 230 provides safeguards for what it terms “interactive computer services” by ensuring that they are not regarded as a “publisher or speaker.”  

The Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling reversed a lower court decision where a family had sued Twitter maintaining that their son had been killed in a New Year’s celebration by Islamist gunmen arguing that the presence of militant groups on their platforms on Twitter was related to the killing. The family argued Twitter had aided and abetted the Islamic State by failing to police the platform for the group’s accounts or posts and that this was a violation of the Anti-Terrorist act.

Controversial conservative Justice Clarence Thomas authored the Supreme Court ruling and said, the allegations “point to no act of encouraging, soliciting or advising the commission” of the attack and didn’t constitute anything that could be described as aiding or abetting an act of terrorism.

While Twitter was the party in the suit, other companies like Google and Facebook were certainly watching this closely, but one of the most interested parties may have been Reddit and Wikipedia, who worried that their armies of volunteer moderators would have been severely affected if Twitter had been found liable.

Sources include: Reuters 

And Microsoft is placing a big bet on an incredible technological leap to cut its carbon emissions’ – fusion power.

Fusion is a nuclear reaction that has been used to develop bombs that have immense destructive power. But fusion reactors don’t explode. Nor do they use uranium or other radioactive elements. 

They use hydrogen and turn it into harmless gases like helium and the process generate huge amounts of heat energy. It’s the same reaction that powers the sun.

The catch is, it’s amazingly difficult to contain that reaction which happens at temperatures of over 100 million degrees Kelvin, which for those who are still struggling with Fahrenheit or Celsius, is six times hotter than the core of the sun.

The other catch is that it takes an enormous amount of energy to start the reaction and until recently, nobody has been able to get more power from the reaction than it took to heat it up and contain it. That is, until recently. 

Last year, researchers at Lawrence Liverpool National Laboratories made a major breakthrough and, if you do a little fuzzy accounting, could make the claim that they generated more energy than it took to kick off the reaction. They got 3.15 megajoules of energy and it took 2.05 megajoules to kick it off. Success.

Well, unless you count the fact that it need power to run the lasers that start the reaction and those lasers take 322 megajoules. 

And before we get carried away about megajoules – 3.15 megajoules is about .875 kilowatt hours not even enough to run a small air conditioner. 

Despite that, it was a victory. Based on that, a company named Helion has convinced Microsoft that it will have a commercial reactor producing commercial levels of power by 2028.

One critic calls their claims voodoo fusion.

Despite that, and other issues, Microsoft has agreed to buy power from the company to run its many data centres. 

It seems a little fantastic, but Microsoft is serious enough to agree to buy the power – no one knows if they’ve invested money in the company as well.

Is it a good decision? Well, let’s ask our WWBD.  What would Bill do? Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft is investing in small nuclear reactors, using standard nuclear fission but on a small scale to make them safer and generating less nuclear waste. It’s also a technology that is proven and functioning. 

Who will win the bet on this one? We don’t care. But with data centers using about one per cent of electrical energy and expect to grow to eight per cent of global electrical energy by 2030, we just know that we can’t power our lust for computing on current carbon burning technology.

Source: The Register

And Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on personal devices. Governments around the world have insisted that users removed TikTok from government supplied devices, but this is the first instance of it being banned on private devices.

TikTok responded saying that there were hundreds of thousands of users in Montana and that the ban “infringes on the first amendment rights of the people of Montana.”  TikTok is expected to challenge the ban. 

There are going to be difficulties in enforcing this ban because the penalties apply only to corporations and not individual users. That would mean that Apple or Google or others who have an app store could be fined up to 10,000 dollars if they fail to comply with the Montana ban which, unless the penalty was per download would be minimal. Plus, almost everyone in Montana who wants TikTok probably has downloaded it already. 

 But the ban might be the thin edge of the wedge. Despite its popularity with over 150 million users in the US, just under half of the population of the country use TikTok –governments seem inclined to weather the storm and take action against what they perceive is a threat from the Chinese government. Early in March the US government said that the Chinese parent company ByteDance should sell TikTok or face a ban. 

Even the claim that the data is stored and protected by Oracle, a US company, has not reduced the criticism.

So if Montana, where perhaps a third of the population use the app, is willing to face the heat and ban it, it could encourage others. And if other government’s join in, it could become a trend – the ban could go viral.

Just a matter of time. 


Sources include: BBC

That’s the top tech news for today.  We go to air with a daily newscast five days a week, as well as a special weekend interview with an expert on topics relevant to today’s tech news.

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I’m your host, Jim Love.  Have a Fantastic Friday!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Jim Love
Jim Lovehttp://www.itworldcanada.com
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO of a great company - IT World Canada - Canada's leading ICT publisher.

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