ALCU asks Amazon to Limit Public Use of Facial Recognition Software
The American Civil Liberties union sent a letter to Amazon Web Services CEO Jeff Bezos this week, asking him to place limitations on the ways that state and public agencies would be allowed to use its Amazon Rekognition technology. The technology allows the client to upload or reference a set of portraits, then scan the faces of a crowd or queue to identify the individuals in the dataset. The letter explains concerns that the ACLU, along with several other civil rights organizations, have about potential misuses of the software.
The ALCU is concerned that the technology could be used to monitor “persons of interest” such as social activists or protesters in a crowd, and warns that “People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government.” The issues were raised shortly after and in reference to a case study posted by AWS on its collaboration with Washington County. The County has stated that they are not using Rekognition for mass or real time surveillance, and that to do so would be a violation of policy. Another customer of the software, the City of Orlando, says it is not using the technology for investigative purposes “at this time”.
Amazon responded to the letter by publishing a response on their website, saying that fear of technology was no reason to prevent its use. They also went on to give a few examples of more admirable ways that the technology has been used. According to the response, customers will be expected to comply with the law, and that violators could face suspension of service.
Alibaba Unveils AI Restaurant Ordering Technology
A demonstration unit was revealed by Alibaba this week, containing a new AI system that will allow customers to place voice orders at a kiosk, then have those orders displayed on screen for confirmation or correction. The AI can recognize natural speech patterns, allowing for more complex ordering than previously enabled. For example, a customer could ask for two drinks with partial sugar and decaf, then change their mind and add a fourth, non-decaf drink, then specify the whole thing is to-go.
The breakthrough for the kiosk comes from the Alibaba team’s research into Spoken Language Understanding, a fields that combines Speech and natural language processing. Yan Zhijie, leader of Alibaba Machine Intelligence Technologies, said that while this particular usage is for coffee orders, he sees the future of the tech in home appliances, cars, and retail environments.
The technology has the potential to draw more small and medium sized businesses into the Cloud processing arena, with benefits such as reduce labor costs and faster customer service. Currently the kiosk can only recognize Chinese spoken language, and is not slated for consumer release until the fall. As Alibaba Group- and Alibaba Cloud with it- expand their technological horizon, they threaten to close the gap in the race for cloud dominance.
Amazon Pursues Chile and Latin America
An AWS representative met with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera early this week, likely to discuss AWS investment in Latin America. Shortly after the meeting, a senior Amazon executive announced that the company is looking forward to including Chile in a larger Latin American expansion plan. Both Chile and it’s neighboring Argentina have been courting the shipping and cloud giant over the course of the past year, hoping to entice AWS into investing in more regional offerings for businesses.
The executive stated that no announcement about Amazon investment in Latin America was imminent, and that they would be looking for progressive, forward thinking telecommunications industries to work with in the region. This falls in line with the stated goals of President Pinera, as he wants to position Chile as a digital and information services platform for Latin America.
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