Understanding Tech for Businesses: What Is a Bot?

Answers to your questions about technology today.

Technically speaking, bots are automated programs designed to perform a specific task, like tweet every new word that appears in the New York Times, colorize black and white photos on Reddit, or connect you with a customer service agent. There are bad ones, good ones, and countless more in between. A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate human conversation. Bots are often associated with sites like Twitter, but there are many other types.

Read article at WIRED magazine

Microsoft argues facial-recognition tech could violate your rights

From Yahoo Finance News: On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided a good reason for us to think carefully about the evolution of facial-recognition technology. In a study, the group used Amazon’s (AMZN) Rekognition service to compare portraits of members of Congress to 25,000 arrest mugshots. The result: 28 members were mistakenly matched with 28 suspects.

The ACLU isn’t the only group raising the alarm about the technology. Earlier this month, Microsoft (MSFT) president Brad Smith posted an unusual plea on the company’s blogasking that the development of facial-recognition systems not be left up to tech companies.

Saying that the tech “raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” Smith called for “a government initiative to regulate the proper use of facial recognition technology, informed first by a bipartisan and expert commission.”
But we may not get new laws anytime soon. The nuances are complex, while Congress remains as reluctant as ever to regulate privacy. We may find ourselves stuck struggling to agree on norms well after the technology has redefined everything from policing to marketing.
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Why Government & Policymakers Need Tech Advisors & Their Disbanded Tech Advisory Board

from Clive Thompson at Wired Magazine July 2018

Technology impinges upon every part of our civic sphere. We’ve got police using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to determine which neighborhoods to patrol, Facebook filtering the news, and automation eroding the job market. Smart policy could help society adapt. But to tackle these issues Congressfolk [and all legislators and government administrators] will first have to understand them. It’s cringe-inducing to have senators like Orrin Hatch seem unaware that Facebook makes money from ads.

Our legislators need help. They need a gang of smart, informed nerds in their corner. Which means it’s time to reboot the Office of Technology Assessment…. The OTA was Capitol Hill’s original brain trust on tech. Congress established the office in 1972, the year of Pong, when it realized the application of technology was becoming “extensive, pervasive and critical.” The OTA was staffed with several hundred nonpartisan propellerheads who studied emerging science and tech. Every year they’d write numerous clear detailed reports–What happens if Detroit gets hit with an atom bomb? What’ll be the impact of automation?– and they were on call to help any congressperson.

It worked admirably. Its reports helped save money and lives: The OTA found that by expanding Medicaid to all pregnant women in poverty would lower the cost of treatment for low birth weight babies by as much as $30,000 per birth. It pointed out the huge upsides for paying for rural broadband, and of preparing for climate change. With a budget of only $20 million a year, the little agency had an outsize impact.

Alas, the OTA was doomed by the very clarity of its insight. It concluded that Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense wouldn’t work–which annoyed some Republicans. In 1995, when Newt Gingrich embarked on his mission of reducing government spending, the low-profile agency got the chop, at precisely the wrong time: Congress defunded its tech advisor just as life was about to be utterly transfigured by the Internet, mobile phones, social networking and AI (artificial intelligence). Nice work, guys!

Today Washingtonians of different stripes are calling for a re-boot. Continue reading “Why Government & Policymakers Need Tech Advisors & Their Disbanded Tech Advisory Board”