Facial Recognition Proliferates, Bitcoin Bandits, and Sri Lanka Bans Facebook

This week in tech

Photo by Tom Roberts on Unsplash

Facial recognition technology has clearly transitioned from a research topic to a consumer product, and is proliferating quickly. Amazon has started requiring its Flex drivers take occasional selfies as part of an effort to reduce package theft. Uber implemented a similar policy back in 2016. A handful of Airlines have started using facial recognition as an alternative to a ticket, apparently using data from the United States Department of Homeland Security to identify its customers without first obtaining consent from any passengers. Even the New York Times is getting into facial recognition — although their goal was to demonstrate how cheap and easy it is to be a creepy internet stalker. Adoption is growing, but there are still serious concerns about the accuracy and bias of these systems, as MIT Technology Review explains.

In other AI news, researchers have taken impressive steps in translating the brain waves associated with vocal motor function (e.g. lip, tongue, and vocal cord movement) to text and synthesized speech. Plus the fully AI metal band Dada Bots are playing their endless song Relentless Doppelganger on this youtube channel you can read more about the “band” in The Verge.

There’s good news and bad news in the cryptocurrency world. Good news: a startup thinks it has found a way to get SEC approval for token offerings under something called Regulation A+. This matters because Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are a critical mechanism for cryptocurrency startups, but the SEC has been taking a harder line on ICOs after realizing that many were scams. Bad news: hackers have been systematically guessing the values of cryptocurrency private keys, allowing them to steal digital assets from quite a few wallets. Not all keys are susceptible — the attacks prey on users who generate their own easy to guess keys instead of generating fully random keys.

In security, a new “supply chain attack” was reported by Wired, this time targeting software used to build video games. Attackers were able to get game developers to use a corrupted version of a software authoring tool which embeds malware into the software built using the corrupted tool. And, an unknown hacker has been doxing state-sponsored Iranian hackers and releasing their code.

Elon Musk’s empire caught flame twice this week, once when leaked video showed a SpaceX capsule exploding, and again when Chinese CCTV footage emerged that shows a Tesla Model S erupting in a parking garage. But it’s not all bad news for Musk: Tesla has unveiled a new computer chip they say will be a key component in self driving cars, and The Boring Company seems to be making incremental progress towards it’s Hyperloop aspirations after publishing a new draft environmental assessment last week.

Finally, following a series of coordinated terrorist attacks, Sri Lanka banned Facebook. Reactions to the move have been mixed. Techlash thought leader Kara Swisher wrote that her first thought after hearing about the ban was, “good”, in her opinion piece for the New York Times. In Wired, Louise Matsakis made the opposing case, reminding us that terrorist attacks reflect our deeper societal issues and that broad government censorship rarely makes people safer.


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