The Wise Way to Use ‘Smart’ Tools During a Pandemic

We live in a “smart-everything” world. We have artificial intelligence (AI) at our fingertips for nearly every part of our day. From AI-based wearable technology to phones, tablets, computers, and even appliances, nearly every aspect of our lives is being tracked, recorded, and processed by some form of algorithmic technology. And there are incredible advantages to these technologies. We now have safer and more effective medical treatment and vaccine development. Our neighborhoods are more connected and safer than ever before because of video surveillance and various communication tools. Our homes are even more efficient and comfortable. And our families have convenient access to more information than previous generations could have imagined.

Before the onset of COVID-19, one popular narrative suggested that our technological progress might ultimately lead to the eradication of sickness, disease, and in some cases even death itself. In his New York Times best-seller Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrowworld-renowned Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari argues that, with small exceptions here and there, humanity has essentially overcome the three big problems that have plagued our lives since the dawn of civilization: famine, war, and plague. He then proudly predicts that we will shift our creative energies toward tackling two other major issues: happiness and death itself. Even granting that Harari’s views of humanity and technological progress are fairly extreme, there is widespread hope and hype surrounding the field of AI and its potential to remake our world.

But how does the turbulent and momentous year of 2020 fit into this grand vision of the future? So far, we have seen devastating famines in Africa, major conflicts between world powers such as the US and China, grotesque racial injustice, and a ferocious worldwide pandemic. And we still have several months to go.

The Rundown

How an AI grading system missed the markAxios

Bias, positive and negative, is a fact of human life — a fact that this AI system was meant to counter. But poorly designed algorithms risk entrenching a new form of bias that could have impacts that go well beyond university placement including criminal justice reform and even policing.

Trump gives TikTok a new deadline: 90 days instead of 45The Verge

In an executive order issued on August 14, President Trump extended the deadline for ByteDance to sell or spinoff TikTok to a US-based company. Citing national security concerns in his original executive order on August 6, President Trump gave the Chinese company until September 20; now it has until November 12.

Secret Service reportedly paid to access phone location dataCNet

A recent Motherboard report highlights documents that show evidence that the Secret Service used a product called Locate X to track individuals’ locations via apps on their cell phones. But along with the potential benefits comes the very real possibility of government overreach and invasion of privacy.

Facebook and NYU use artificial intelligence to make MRI scans four times fasterThe Verge

This collaborative project called fastMRI uses machine learning to accomplish this incredible feat. The computer uses its neural network to “learn” through exposure to multitudes of sample images what a base medical image looks like.

QAnon groups hit by Facebook crackdownNBC

Last Wednesday Facebook took down 900 pages, 1,500 ads, and 2,000 groups with ties to QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory notorious for its spread of misinformation and threats of violence. They also banned 10,000 Instagram pages that posted content supportive of QAnon in this massive crackdown. 

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