Author: Natasha Lomas

FaceApp apologizes for building a racist AI

TECHCRUNCH If only all algorithmic bias were as easy to spot as this: FaceApp, a photo-editing app that uses a neural network for editing selfies in a photorealistic way, has apologized for building a racist algorithm. The app lets users upload a selfie or a photo of a face, and offers a series of filters that can then be applied to the image to subtly or radically alter its appearance — its appearance-shifting effects include aging and even changing gender. The problem is the app also included a so-called “hotness” filter, and this filter was racist. As users pointed out, the filter was lightening skin tones to achieve its...

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Lyrebird is a voice mimic for the fake news era

TECHCRUNCH A Montreal-based AI startup called Lyrebird has taken the wraps off a voice imitation algorithm that the team says can not only mimic the speech of a real person but shift its emotional cadence — and do all this with just a tiny snippet of real world audio. The public demo, released online yesterday, consists of a series audio samples of (fake) speech generated using their algorithm and one minute voice samples of the speakers. They’ve used voice samples from Presidents Trump, Obama and Hilary Clinton to demo the tech in action — and for maximum FAKE NEWS impact, obviously. Here’s a sample of the...

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Dave wants to save you from expensive overdraft fees

TECHCRUNCH Meet Dave: an AI dressed up in a bearsuit that’s just launched to save you from the evils of expensive overdraft fees. Hand Dave access to your checking account and the app’s machine learning algorithms will get busy crunching your spending data so the bear can warn you about pending transactions — like a monthly subscription for Netflix or your typical Saturday night Uber bill — which might push you into the red and incur an expensive bank penalty. The US-only app predicts a user’s “7 Day Low”, aka the lowest it thinks your bank balance will drop in the next seven days, in...

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AI report fed by DeepMind, Amazon, Uber urges greater access to public sector datasets

TECHCRUNCH What are tech titans Google, Amazon and Uber agitating for to further the march of machine learning technology and ultimately inject more fuel in the engines of their own dominant platforms? Unsurprisingly they’re after access to data. Lots and lots of data. Specifically, they’re pushing for free and liberal access to publicly funded data — urging that this type of data continue to be “open by default”, and structured in a way that supports “wider use of research data”. After all, why pay to acquire data when there are vast troves of publicly-funded information ripe to be squeezed for fresh economic gain? Other items on this machine learning advancement wish-list include new open standards for data (including metadata); research study design that has the “broadest consents that are ethically possible”; and a stated desire to rethink the notion of ‘consent’ as a core plank of good data governance — to grease the pipe in favor of data access and make data holdings ‘fit for purpose’ in the AI age. These suggestions come in a 125-page report published today by the Royal Society, aka the UK’s national academy of science, ostensibly aimed at fostering an environment where machine learning technology can flourish in order to unlock mooted productivity gains and economic benefits — albeit the question of who, ultimately, benefits as more and more data gets squeezed to give up its precious insights is the overarching theme and unanswered question here. (Though the supportive presence of voices from three of tech’s most powerful machine learning deploying platform giants suggests one answer.)...

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Books and roses

TECHCRUNCH Next Story Online grocery platform Farmdrop raises £7M Series A led by Atomico Anyone who thinks paper books are dead has never been in a Barcelona bookshop the day before Sant Jordi. The Patron Saint festival is Catalunya’s equivalent of Valentine’s day. But as well as giving long-stemmed red roses people give books. Lots and lots of books. Some €20 million worth of books are sold (gifted) on the day itself. April 23 also happens to be World Book day — a more recent celebration of ink spilt on the printed page. But in Barcelona today is El Dia de Sant Jordi. In the days leading up to the festival every bookshop in the Catalan capital is packed with people, tables piled high with shiny paperbacks perpetually ringed by shoppers seeking the perfect literary gift. Stop for a moment to thumb through a title and you’ll invariably be jostled aside by the sheer force of foot traffic as book buyers criss-cross each others’ alphabetic desires. This year the bone-white balconies of Gaudí’s Casa Batlló have been dressed in skirts of red roses to mark the occasion, catching the eyes of a smattering of tourists who stand in Passeig de Gracia taking what I imagine they believe to be romantic selfies. Meanwhile, across the road in the book-lined aisles of Casa del Libro, another expression of love: the cash registers are under siege like it’s Christmas eve. According to 2015 statistics from the city government, Sant Jordi represents between 5% and 8% of regional booksellers’ annual turnover. Some 1.5 million...

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Form an orderly queue! Google wants your blood (and other bodily fluids). Oh and your medical records

TECHCRUNCH Alphabet’s (Google’s) life sciences division Verily has launched its public pitch for a massive, multi-year health study it’s leading along with Duke University School of Medicine, Stanford Medicine, and Google proper. Verily is hoping to recruit some 10,000 Americans to volunteer to share their medical records and have blood and other bodily fluids extracted and linked to a Google account in order for the company and its partners to try to “spur the next generation of medical discoveries”, as it couches it. In exchange, participants will get some of their own health data shared back with them (though it cautions not to expect to get “medical care or...

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Uber allows more time for sexism probe, expects report by end of May

TECHCRUNCH Uber’s management is expecting an external investigation of its workplace culture to report by the end of May. The investigation was announced earlier this year after a storm of negative publicity following a blog post written by Susan Fowler, a female former employee, which contained allegations of sexual harassment and systemic sexism in the workplace. In an internal memo sent by Uber board director Arianna Huffington yesterday, and obtained by Recode, the company briefly updates its employees on the progress of the investigation, saying that Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, the partners at law firm Covington & Burling who are leading the probe, have requested...

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Mastercard trials biometric bankcard with embedded fingerprint reader

TECHCRUNCH Mastercard is trialling a Chip and PIN bankcard that includes an embedded fingerprint reader, introducing a biometric authentication layer for card payments — and taking a leaf out of the book of Apple Pay et al in the process. The thinking here being: why pay by entering a four-digit PIN when you can securely stick your thumb on it? So far the biometric card has been trialled at two locations in South Africa, with additional trials planned over the next few months in Europe and Asia Pacific, according to a spokeswoman, and a full rollout expected later this year. “We are targeting consumer rollout by end...

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