Despite the headlines, artificial intelligence is no silver bullet to society’s ills. In many ways, it’s actually part of the problem.

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Artwork by Cynthia Alonso

Artificial intelligence is no futuristic, dystopian notion. When we hear “AI”, we often think of sci-fi: Arnold Schwarznegger’s fierce Terminator, the machinic overlords from The Matrix, or the pitiful boy robot from Spielberg’s frankly titled AI.

But AI is not a distant reality, and in most cases, it looks nothing like a robot. AI is very much with us in the here and now, and it’s already determining our lives in ways we are not even aware of.

AI has a host of different names and applications, including machine learning, automated decision-making, algorithms, computer vision, and facial recognition. …


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Artwork by Cynthia Alonso

In recent months, the troubling issue of facial recognition has hit headlines.

Following the explosion of Black Lives Matter protests around the globe, a highly publicised moratorium on facial recognition by several big tech companies, and even a segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, people have become alert to the many dangers of this mushrooming technology.

In light of the calls for racial justice sweeping the globe, the issue of bias in facial recognition systems has ignited particular anger. But, in many cases, the problems at the heart of facial recognition run deeper than bias alone.

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Digital activists have been pointing out for years that facial recognition technology identifies some faces better than others — namely, white male faces. …


By Sheetal Kumar

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A couple of years ago, the global telecommunications company, Ericsson, doubled its estimate of the number of ‘things’ (or devices) expected to be connected to the internet by 2023: it now expects 30 billion connected devices by this time.

This will seem like an abstract number to anyone who doesn’t follow the “internet of things” or “IoT” industry — but what it means for us in reality is that we will be surrounded by more and more things which collect, receive, and transmit data about our daily lives, including personal and sensitive data about our locations, our habits, our political views and even our sexual preferences. …


By Steve Song

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The idea of a “splinternet” or “Balkanization” of the internet is not new, although the exact manner by which this is becoming a reality is evolving.

Early discussions on the topic focused around cultural or policy differences and extraterritoriality that could result in a fractioned internet. For example, China’s Great Firewall is implementation of a national policy which creates an “intranet” connected to the greater Internet.

However, there is another shift in internet infrastructure that is less talked of and even more fundamental to its functioning — the physical backbone of fibre-optic cables crossing oceans and international borders that enables the relatively seamless experience of the internet regardless of location. …


By Iris Lapinski

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November 2039. Brent, London, England.

Sarah woke up. Her head was aching. A drink too much the night before. She looked at the alarm clock. It was 9.00am. She listened if she could hear noises in the house, but it was silent. She was relieved. Her two children, Selena and Brandon, had already woken up, made themselves breakfast and had gone to school.

Then she remembered her appointment and rushed out of bed: 9:30am at her local Citizens Advice Bureau. To get from Chalkhill Estate to the High Road she would need to run and have some luck to catch the bus on time.

In the bus on the way to her appointment, she felt like this journey had been in the making for a long time. Four years ago, her sister Chantell, who had cerebral palsy and heavily relied on support, had her home care visits dramatically cut from 56 to 32 hours a week. A new algorithm had reassessed the amount of care her sister would be given. Her sister had pleaded with the assessor, explaining how that simply wasn’t enough support, but neither the assessor nor her sister seemed to quite understand how the decision was reached by the computer to reduce the amount of care. …


By Ingrida Milkaite & Eva Lievens

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Internet connected devices and applications are increasingly present in individuals’ lives and homes. These trends inevitably also affect children.

From a young age, they use smart devices that are created for them, such as internet connected smart toys, enabling play and learning. They are also affected by devices that are not directly targeted at them but are nevertheless “around” in their daily reality, such as smart home assistants that record and process everything that is said in a home, including children’s conversations.

Interactive toys, such as the “Hello Barbie” and “My Friend Cayla” dolls engage in conversation with children, record children’s voices, store them through the services of different companies and may also transfer recorded data to advertising, analytics or other companies. Cuddly toys or baby clothing contain medical sensors that monitor children’s body temperature, heart rate and blood oxygen saturation levels which may be consequently sent to a parent or doctor’s app. Finally, cute connected robots now share features which include voice recognition, remote video control, gesture-based interactions and facial tracking of children. …


By Stacie Walsh

Colourful waves of light that feel “digital”
Colourful waves of light that feel “digital”

Emerging technologies and digital services offer incredible possibilities to create a more inclusive and accessible world.

However, unless urgent action is taken to enhance digital inclusion and access, societies will become more polarised, with deepening digital and social divides. Digital exclusion will impact an individual’s rights, such as the right to work, access to public services and information, civic participation, and association.

Who is at Risk?

The ‘digital divide’ is no longer a dichotomy between who has access to the internet and who does not. The digital divide has evolved into a broader concept including access to digital services, relevance of content, affordability and education. Factors driving digital exclusion include language, gender, (dis)abilities, age, skillset and income. …


Illustration of figures with location trackers overhead walking through DNA and cells
Illustration of figures with location trackers overhead walking through DNA and cells
Artwork by Cynthia Alonso

The current pandemic has shown itself to be a breeding ground for mass surveillance. States and companies around the world now have ample justification for collecting our most intimate personal data: our body temperature, our facial expressions, our movements, even our pulse and breathing.

Given the dangers posed by coronavirus, measures from tracking apps to temperature-checking drones may seem reasonable. But many are being hurried in with little legal scrutiny, and fly in the face of our most fundamental rights.

Transparency is often in short supply, the risk of “mission creep” is high, and some measures are, quite simply, irreversible.

I n April, tech giant Amazon installed thermal cameras in its warehouses in the UK and US to scan its workers for fevers. …

About

Digital Freedom Fund

The Digital Freedom Fund supports partners in Europe to advance digital rights through strategic litigation. https://digitalfreedomfund.org/

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