Around the Web

Issue No. 003

Predictive policing without oversight, the wall in which Deep Learning crashed, cryptocurrencies in wartime, and billionaires won’t save us.

A coughing hello.

I had a meeting with SarS CoV 2 and my head wrapped in cotton for a few days. Thanks to the vaccinations, I’m mostly fine so far, and will hopefully be back on track next week.

Nonetheless, I’ve saved some links. So let’s get linking.

What are you looking at?

Gizmodo has reported that the Department of Justice in the USA, which is in theory responsible to survey funding of predictive policing programs, has no idea how much money actually police departments have spent. So now there is an unknown amount of money poured into technology, which does not prevent crime while discriminating against minotirised groups in society. Well done.

In Europe, we see the fallout of the takeover of encrypted messaging service Encrochat by police in France. Throughout Europe, we see lawsuits, based on intercepted chats, the evidence has been heavily manipulated, and the original is not available to the public, as France has classified the records as military secrets. Which might set dangerous precedents for lawsuits based on digital evidence, as reports.

This ain’t intelligence

Wired has published an interview with Palmer Luckey, one of the leading figures in AI assisted defence tech. It’s another example of the role of ideology which manifested in their products, as well as the presented justifications. To answer with «I'm still really proud of our work that we do with border security» if you are asked how the separation of families and imprisonments of children by the ICE made you feel, takes some serious amounts of dehumanisation.

 Ukraine reportedly uses Clearview’s facial recognition product in the ongoing war. Does the end justify the means? Probably not, giving the fact that Clearview’s massive database has been largely scraped from the web, without asking anyone for consent.

There’s a longer article by Gary Marcus in Nautilus, in which he explains how Deep Learning as we know it today came to be, and why it is not making any significant progress at the moment.

In truth, we are still a long way from machines that can genuinely understand human language, and nowhere near the ordinary day-to-day intelligence of Rosey the Robot, a science-fiction housekeeper that could not only interpret a wide variety of human requests but safely act on them in real time. Sure, Elon Musk recently said that the new humanoid robot he was hoping to build, Optimus, would someday be bigger than the vehicle industry, but as of Tesla’s AI Demo Day 2021, in which the robot was announced, Optimus was nothing more than a human in a costume. Google’s latest contribution to language is a system (Lamda) that is so flighty that one of its own authors recently acknowledged it is prone to producing “bullshit.” Turning the tide, and getting to AI we can really trust, ain’t going to be easy.

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The road to hell is paved with crypto intentions

The war in Ukraine has been of the moments of crypto so far. Numerous projects mobilised their users and mobilised substantial amounts of money. Still, grift and bullshit seem to follow where crypto goes. While projects like the UkraineDAO collected money in good faith, things collapsed when they airdropped their LOVE tokens and the helpers turned LOVE into a speculative asset. Episode 7 of Scam Economy covers the good help and the bad grift in the context of the Ukraine war. Among it also how crypto bros pressured Ukraine into opening wallets of their tokens, instead of, dunno, sending dollars or something.

Peter Howson explores the history of cryptocurrencies in Ukraine, and its troubled relation to despotic regimes around the world, which are undoubtedly also happening in Ukraine, when we see donations to right-wing paramilitaries. Ukraine in crypto have a long history. During the time of the Euromaidan revolution, half of the world’s Bitcoin were mined in Ukraine. This might explain, a point also made by Matt Binder in Scam Economy, the role of crypto in the war, and Ukraine’s willingness to accept crypto as part of their fundraising, but might make it hard for cryptocurrencies to play a similar role in other conflicts.

What we are seeing here is not new, at all. Crypto positions itself in the heart of capitalism, amplifying its dynamics, and gives a fresh, digital paint job. So while we see signs of the hype cycle around NFTs and web3 dying down, cryptocurrencies are certainly here to stay as long as capitalism is.

Okay. Let’s cut the seriousness for a moment. NFTs. The buyer of a Pepe the Frog NFT the sum of $537,084 for the receipt of this image. Shortly after, his costly receipt got «devalued», as 99 receipts were released for … free, as was announced beforehand. The buyer is now suing. You can’t make this shit up.

Meanwhile, Spotify has decided to jump on the NFT bandwagon. Supposedly to help pay artists. Which is pretty funny, given the fact that Spotify is the streaming service which pays the lowest royalties to artists. So instead of over-engineering bullshit, they could just pay the artists. But that’s not tech enough, I guess.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a flagship of philantrophy made bold claims about ending hunger, and increasing crops in Africa. It has since became quieter, and attempting to escape systematic review. The datapoints of the Growing Africa’s Agriculture which are available, however, paint a dire picture. Billionaires won’t save us.

That’s it for this week. Stay sane, hug your friends, and donate to Bildungsinitiative Ferhat Unvar.