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Can Facial Recognition Software Do More Good Than Harm?

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Your face is the key to your personal identity: It distinguishes you from every Tom, Dick, and Harry; it unlocks your smartphone, and it gains entry to your bank account.

It also allows law enforcement to quickly and accurately identify a wanted person in a crowd, or match a simple image with a database of known criminals.

Which, understandably, has conjured a sort of Orwellian “Big Brother” impression across the country, where folks are concerned that ever-evolving facial recognition technology may not always be accurate.

Perhaps even more troubling is the idea of real-time databases fueled by drones, body cameras, and dash cams.

“The real concern is police on patrol identifying law-abiding Americans at will with body cameras,” Matthew Feeney, a specialist in emerging technologies at the Cato Institute think tank, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “This technology is, of course, improving, but it’s not as accurate as science fiction films would make you think.”

Not yet, at least.

Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are among the tech titans working on similar programs; the latter has controversially lent its Recognition software to police departments in an effort to “enable database matches.”

IBM, meanwhile, plans to launch a large-scale study to “improve the understanding of bias in facial analysis,” AFP said.

Facial recognition does have its upsides: According to the AFP, the technology helped Maryland police arrest a suspect in last month’s Capital Gazette newsroom shooting. Accused Jarrod Ramos reportedly refused to cooperate with the cops, who couldn’t immediately ID the culprit using fingerprints.

“We would have been much longer in identifying him and being able to push forward in the investigation without that system,” Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare told AFP.

It even helps astronomers better understand space.

Not everyone is onboard with the function, though: Facebook faces a class action lawsuit over its use of facial recognition software, allegedly does not comply with the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

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AI Experts Stand Up to Lethal Autonomous Weapons

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More than 2,500 AI researchers have vowed to steer clear of lethal autonomous weapons.

Google DeepMind and resident robot pessimist Elon Musk are among the organizations and individuals who pledged to neither participate in nor support the manufacture of artificially intelligent armaments.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to play an increasing role in military systems,” according to the letter published by the Future of Life Institute. “There is an urgent opportunity and necessity for citizens, policymakers, and leaders to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI.”

The pledge comes less than a year after the Institute released a short film, appropriately titled “Slaughterbots,” as part of its Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Designed to resemble actual events, the video highlights a future (or, more likely, a present) in which palm-sized drones can take out a single human with “surgical precision.”

A world where weapons, not people, make the decisions, and a $25 million order gets you enough killer bots to take out half a city—”the bad half,” of course.

“We would really like to ensure that the overall impact of the technology is positive and not leading to a terrible arms race, or a dystopian future with robots flying around killing everybody,” signatory Anthony Aguirre, a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, told CNN.

The threat, however, isn’t limited to walking, talking androids. A recent report from Undark revealed the everyday dangers of cyber weaponry—high-tech howitzers that have been in service for decades.

“In this light, we, the undersigned, agree that the decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine,” according to the pledge.

“There is a moral component to this position, that we should not allow machines to make life-taking decisions for which others—or nobody—will be culpable,” it said. “There is also a powerful pragmatic argument: Lethal autonomous weapons, selecting and engaging targets without human intervention, would be dangerously destabilizing for every country and individual.”

AI researchers agree that lethal autonomous weapons could become “powerful instruments of violence and oppression, especially when linked to surveillance and data systems.”

While most folks still carry physical firearms, some advanced armies are dropping cyber cannons, which can cause damage well beyond battle zones.

The Stuxnet virus, for example, emerged in 2010 as a cyber weapon jointly developed by U.S. and Israeli officials in an effort to shut down the develop of Iran’s nuclear program.

To combat future risks, pledge participants are calling on government officials to “create a future with strong international norms, regulations, and laws against lethal autonomous weapons.”

Independent of this promise, 26 countries in the United Nations have explicitly endorsed the call for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

For more, check out Geek’s lineup of 11 real-life sci-fi weapons that are the future of war.

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Sprawling Robot Climbs Walls, Crawls Like a Turtle

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If James Bond were a robot, he’d be the Rising STAR.

An upgrade to David Zarrouk’s original sprawl-tuned autonomous robot (STAR), RSTAR has an added degree of freedom: its body can move separately from its legs.

It sounds crazy, I know; humans can’t separate their torso from their limbs without suffering long-term health issues. But this wee bot can do things people only dream of.

The latest in a series of sprawling robots from Zarrouk, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, RSTAR’s new functionality alters its center of mass, enabling advanced behaviors.

“Not only can the robot climb over larger obstacles without flipping over, but it can also climb vertically up closely spaced walls and ‘crawl’ through narrow gaps by adopting a legged walking gait,” according to a report by IEEE Spectrum.

See for yourself in Zarrouk’s video, which highlights RSTAR’s abilities (none of which are autonomous—yet).

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As director of Ben-Gurion’s Bioinspired and Medical Robotics Laboratory, Zarrouk has led the creation of several unique designs, including a single-motor steerable android and a multi-joined cyborg arm, powered by a traveling motor.

In May, he presented Rising STAR at the 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Brisbane.

“We were looking to increase the capabilities of STAR in overcoming obstacles by adding a simple mechanism with one motor,” Zarrouk wrote in an email to IEEE Spectrum. “We quickly converged to the concept of extending the distance between the wheels to the body.”

That so-called “sprawl” allows for the robot’s legs to be angled (adjustably) downward and outward from the body—a simple yet highly effective change.

Just two months after unveiling their next-gen machine, the team is already eyeing additional upgrades, including the use of machine learning algorithms to teach simple maneuvers.

In the future, Zarrouk hopes to put the STAR family of bots to work, performing search and rescue operations, “especially in unstructured environments such as collapsed buildings or flooded areas,” he said.

“We built RSTAR having in mind that it should be simple, reliable,” Zarrouk continued. “And that it should be able to overcome multiple commonly available obstacles without any external mechanical intervention.”

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This 21-Year-Old 3D Printed a Working Underwater Jetpack

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Most people leave college with a diploma and a dream. Archie O’Brien is not most people.

As a product design student at Loughborough University—and a self-proclaimed adrenalin junkie—O’Brien dreamt of flying weightlessly through water.

But, discouraged by the cost and capability of existing underwater jet drives, he took matters into his own hands.

Enter CUDA.

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The 3D-printed alternative is worn like a backpack, offering users a hands-free experience “of ultimate freedom, whether it be gliding through the converging tectonic plates in the crystal-clear waters of Iceland, or off the coast of Bora Bora, being accepted into a pod of wild dolphins,” according to O’Brien.

Inspired by a love for exploration and nature, the recent graduate buried himself in research, design, and construction, creating a predominantly 3D-printed prototype.

“I want this to be something so cool that you’re wearing it when you’re not even using it,” O’Brien told Digital Trends. “You feel like James Bond.”

CUDA is made of roughly 45 printed parts—including a hand-held trigger that controls speed—and can be assembled in fewer than 10 minutes. Rechargeable batteries promise quick replacement and continuous use in remote locations.

What began as a student project only a year ago is expected to go into production in 2019; possible future applications include water rescue, videography, and commercial use.

3D-printed CUDA is worn like a backpack (via 3D Hubs)

O’Brien hopes to sell his device for an as-yet-unconfirmed price of about $6,000.

“By this time next year, I’m planning on having the production model. I’ll be going around doing promo videos around the world,” he said, vying for sponsorships from GoPro and Red Bull.

“The idea is to be able to produce this one, get enough funding to reinvest it in the company, and try and make a much cheaper model,” Digital Trends reported. “That’s almost working it like Tesla did, with something that really grabs people’s attention, and then bringing that price down to something people can afford more.”

Oh, honey, you might not want to base your life goals on this guy

Already well on his way to becoming the Elon Musk of watersports propulsion, O’Brien is just getting started.

“I’ve got many more ideas I’m not working on at the moment, but I’ve got draft drawings [to] expand this brand,” he told Digital Trends. “I’ve got a very clear vision of where this can go. The plan is to be the market leader.”

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