back to article Homeland Security backs off on scanning US citizens, Amazon ups AI ante, and more

Hello, welcome to this week's machine learning musings. We bring you news about the hottest topics in AI: Facial recognition, the so-called AI arms race between the US and China, and erm, GPUs in the cloud. US citizens won’t be subjected to facial biometric scans as they fly in and out of America, after all: The Department of …

  1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
    Facepalm

    With higher confidence, we assess that China’s government is not investing tens of billions of dollars annually in AI R&D, as some have suggested.

    Oh, duuhhhh!

    Why would China INVEST their own money when they can get EVERYTHING they need from hacking &/or espionage at a fraction of the cost?

    1. aks Bronze badge

      They're making the investments so they can copyright it and make money. That's what drives everybody else.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Because if you do your own R&D, you get to know what you want to know, not whatever someone else happened to uncover.

      That's basically the same reason everyone does R&D, even when everyone else's findings are published.

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge

    1) Announce something outlandish, 2) Pretend to give way a bit,

    3) Original objective achieved

    The Department of Homeland Security has withdrawn a proposal asking for everyone - including US citizens - to pass through facial recognition cameras as they travel in and out of the country.

    Bet they're still going to scan resident foreigners though.

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: 1) Announce something outlandish, 2) Pretend to give way a bit,

      Under current rules, US citizens and permanent residents can refuse to have their faces scanned at airport terminals by talking to a CBP officer or an airline representative.

      I assume anyone foolish enough to mess with Big Brother is, by objecting, immediately suspected of "having something to hide" and their life made a misery.

    2. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Bet they're still going to scan

      Everybody. It's just that now when they are caught at it they'll fall back to "rogue employee" or "equipment malfunction"

      Still awaiting a convertible leopard.

      Oops! folk wisdom is apparently not infallible:

      https://www.livescience.com/950-leopard-spots.html

      (References Alan Turing, too)

      Apparently a leopard _can_ change its spots, but only as part of the maturing process and not subject to voluntary control. Who Knew?

    3. onemark03

      Bet they're still going to scan resident foreigners though.

      The article says this.

  3. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner - so they probably also have an executive assistant commissioner, a deputy executive commissioner and an executive commissioner. Making up positions/job titles at the DHS for time served civil servants to give the illusion of importance?

    1. Arachnoid
      Stop

      Facial scanning

      Yea right they are not required to be scanned but just like when it occurred recently in London outside a Train terminal, anyone refusing was pulled over and questioned for several minutes.

      1. j.bourne

        Re: Facial scanning

        Several minutes - being long enough for a covert scan to be made from further away for instance?

    2. herman Silver badge

      You forgot the Commissioner Vice President the Commissioner President, the Commissioner General and ...

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Remember the hidebound cronyism and bureaucracy built into US govt institutions

      "Director" or "Executive" is a political position. "Deputy" are the career people - the ones with the _actual_ power.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      An intern reporting to the Personal Assistant to the Special Secretary to the Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner assures us that DEAC is an important role in the trim and efficient DHS bureaucracy, and that the DHS is in no way an enormous and unwieldy boondoggle created by an ill-considered merging of several already large and complicated Federal agencies with different structures and cultures.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    The efforts made by the Trump Administration to advance AI have often been viewed as lackluster. The US government is often criticized for not having a clear strategy and for not investing enough money and resources.

    For a second there I wondered if AI stood for Afghanistan-Iraq.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      For that matter, you could strike "to advance AI" from that sentence without losing any accuracy.

  5. Detective Emil
    Black Helicopters

    Sellafield, Maze, facial comparison …

    You can tell that something's become toxic when those who want to continue using it anyway start calling it something different.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Sellafield, Maze, facial comparison …

      Meh, things change their names all the time for all sorts of reasons. The ECSC became the EEC became the EC became the EU, as its ambitions became more political. The Holy Roman Empire became the Austrian Empire, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as nationalism became more important than historical continuity. St Petersburg became Petrograd became Leningrad, then back again, as governments changed their priorities.

      "Killer whales" were rebranded as "orca dolphins", which I suspect the real dolphins were none too happy about but wisely refrained from publicly objecting. The successor to the 80486 processor was renamed "Pentium" (from "80586") because Intel had realised it was hard to enforce a trademark on a number. Global warming became climate change, and now I'm beginning to see "global heating" bandied about.

      OK, in some of these cases there may have been a taint of ordure about the old name, but in most cases it's about either political fashion or commercial expediency.

  6. iron Silver badge

    > forced to hand over their facial recognition information

    You can't be forced to hand over your facial recognition information, you show it to everyone who sees you 24/7!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      And if you're masked, especially by religious tenet?

      1. aks Bronze badge

        You think you can walk into *any* country while wearing your burka? Is that what you were wearing when you had your passport photo taken? Iris and retinal scan, anyone?

        The real issue is whether the facial recognition captured at the desk is retained for further use or erased once you've been identified as safe to enter the country.

    2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Seeing != recording

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "extending the process to include American citizens was too risky"

    But treating every tourist like a potential terrorist isn't ?

    And why do they decide to do that when they just ask the NSA to warn them ? Come on, people, a bit of inter-agency cooperation isn't that hard, now is it ?

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: "extending the process to include American citizens was too risky"

      "This proposal would amount to disturbing government coercion, and as the recent data breach at Customs and Border Protection shows, Homeland Security cannot be trusted to keep our information safe and secure."

      Damned right. Our information as well, dontchathink?

    2. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Re: "extending the process to include American citizens was too risky"

      Well, they reckon that foreign governments, such as our own, will protest so strongly on our behalf to America, going to the wall to protect our individual rights on principle, and saving us from Leviathan, it might not be worth their while to hassle Britons.

      We shall never be slaves.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: "extending the process to include American citizens was too risky"

      "But treating every tourist like a potential terrorist isn't ?"

      Exactly this - and exactly what's been costing the USA a large (and increasing) chunk of travel/tourism revenue as more and more people who can route around the USA choose to do so.

    4. veti Silver badge

      Re: "extending the process to include American citizens was too risky"

      For a foreigner to get into the USA, they already have to complete at least one form (possibly more), be fingerprinted, and interviewed by an immigration official who is on average about as welcoming as Joe Stalin. All that after getting a visa to travel in the first place, which is where they demand access to your social media accounts.

      I don't see anyone who's prepared to put up with all that making much fuss about a photograph. I've been avoiding the USA since 2002, but enough people don't to keep it in business.

  8. KBeee Bronze badge
    Happy

    People who are after Government (i.e. taxpayers) money always point to a Gap between the US and the Bogeyman Of The Day. Remember the Nuclear Gap, the Missile Gap, the Bomber Gap etc. Now we have an AI Gap. All these Gaps turn out to be bullshit, but by then they've got their hands on your money. Thank goodness for Georgetown University and its Center for Security and Emerging Technology throwing some cold water on the scare mongering.

  9. FrogsAndChips Silver badge
    FAIL

    ensure that innocent American citizens are never forced to hand over their facial recognition info

    Because who cares about innocent people from the rest of the world?

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: ensure that innocent American citizens are never forced to hand over their ...

      To be fair, many people in the US find the CBP's treatment of non-US-citizens outrageous, or at least exceptional. But the resources to fight the DHS are limited. The ACLU routinely objects to infringements of civil rights for citizens and non-citizens alike, but they have to pick their battles. Similarly, people like Ed Markey1 have only a certain amount of political capital and attention from the press to use as a bully pulpit.

      The present Federal administration is not going to make any consideration whatsoever for people who aren't US citizens. They're occasionally forced into a bit of a retreat by the courts, but they don't give a damn about the rights of foreigners.

      1Who's on the side of the angels for this issue, but is hardly a saint, any more than any other member of Congress. He was one of the driving forces behind the idiotic extension of Daylight Saving Time, for example, based on pseudoscientific evidence from a highly flawed and long-outdated study conducted by the Department of Transportation.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: ensure that innocent American citizens are never forced to hand over their ...

        "Who's on the side of the angels for this issue, but is hardly a saint, any more than any other member of Congress. He was one of the driving forces behind the idiotic extension of Daylight Saving Time, for example, based on pseudoscientific evidence from a highly flawed and long-outdated study conducted by the Department of Transportation."

        There will always be a debate about Daylight Saving Time, simply because it affects everyone differently. The proponents are often from the northern parts of the country (the likes of Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, and Boston) who have to deal with too much and then too little daylight every year; the opponents are often from the southern parts (Miami, Phoenix, Houston) whose days don't really swing enough for them to bother.

  10. Reginald Onway
    Big Brother

    Facial ID withdrawn....

    More than likely ...temporarily... withdrawn until the right scary moment arrives to ram it through in the dead of night.

  11. Scott Pedigo
    Big Brother

    The Motivation For Face Scanning Is (Presumably)...

    to recognize wanted criminals, people on a no-fly list, or potential terrorists, but...

    recent shootings at U.S. military bases were:

    (a) Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii : a 22 year old disgruntled service member, who killed two contractors and then himself (probably not terrorism)

    (b) Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida : a Saudi pilot in training, at the base for two years, who bought a Glock 9 in a local gun store, and then used it to shoot some sailors at the base, killing three (categorized as terrorist attack)

    I don't know what the existing facial scanning may have stopped (because whatever it was didn't happen, and didn't make the news), and same for the "Muslim ban" on flights from certain countries (conveniently not including Saudi Arabia), but for sure neither of those was able to stop the latter terrorist attack, whereas better vetting and monitoring of the Saudi pilot might have.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: The Motivation For Face Scanning Is (Presumably)...

      to recognize wanted criminals,

      Considering the TSA has consistently failed utterly to do this, even when hiring its own employees, I don't have much hope the CBP will do better.

      people on a no-fly list,

      The no-fly list is pointless security theater, and everyone knows it. (Also, it applies to the TSA, not the CBP, and it's the latter who are deploying the facial-recognition tech.) The TSA would prefer not to identify people on the no-fly list, because preventing them from flying doesn't do shit to improve security, and it's a hassle for everyone involved, including other people trying to get through security. The list is just for the TSA to use as (bogus) evidence that they're accomplishing something.

      or potential terrorists

      Who isn't a potential terrorist? What attribute prevents someone from ever becoming a terrorist? Well, being dead, I guess. But aside from that?

      What you want to be able to detect is actual terrorists. Given the small number of actual terrorists in the world population, and the presumably much smaller fraction of those for whom we have decent facial photographs, automated detection is going to perform very badly. An automated system would have to have astounding precision and recall to provide decent false-positive and false-negative rates given the very low rate of true occurrence in the data.

      Of course, it's also possible someone at the DHS misunderstood Miss Pym Disposes and is hoping to reinvent criminal physiognomy. "Yes, sir, the AI positively identified this man as a terrorist based on his eyebrow shape."

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Under current rules, US citizens and permanent residents can refuse to have their faces scanned at airport terminals by talking to a CBP officer or an airline representative."

    I'm curious, what's the percentage actually talking to an office to refuse that check? And in that group, what's the percentage that then has to submit to a completely random* secondary inspection?

    * Using an officially approved random-number generator

    https://www.awesomedice.com/collections/specialty-dice/products/awd101

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Fool me once - Shame on you

    Fool me twice - Shame on me.

    I seem to have lost count.

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