Inside AI - December 4th, 2019

Inside AI (Dec 4th, 2019)

DHS face recognition plan / Amazon Kendra / Facebook VP of AI interview

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1. Anybody who enters and leaves the U.S., including citizens, could undergo facial recognition checks under a new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In a recent filing, the agency says it wants to expand its "biometric entry-exit data system" to include previously-exempt U.S. citizens, who "may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure" at airports and possibly other border checkpoints. Right now, the system is used at 17 airports for non-U.S. citizens traveling to and from the U.S. It uses facial recognition to scan passengers' faces and match them with photos on file with the government taken during the entry inspection, U.S. passports and visas, and previous DHS encounters. The proposal has drawn criticism from privacy advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which wrote on Twitter that “travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive face recognition scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel.” Democratic Senator Ed Markey says he will propose legislation to block the DHS plan, which doesn't have a specific rollout date yet. - TECHCRUNCH

2. Intel is reportedly in talks to purchase the AI chip maker Habana Labs for $1 billion to $2 billion. Intel Capital, the company's investment arm, participated in Habana's Series B funding round last year, which brought in $75 million. The Israel-based semiconductor company makes AI processors for inference and training applications, including the Goya inference processor introduced in 2018. Earlier this year, it launched its Gaudi training processors, which it claims can outperform GPU training workloads by nearly four times. Meanwhile, Intel launched its Nervana neural network processors for deep learning training and inference several weeks ago. - THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

3. During Amazon’s annual cloud event this week, the company announced two services that use machine learning to process data. The tools - which are Contact Lens for Amazon Connect and Amazon Kendra - are now available for preview on Amazon Web Services (AWS). According to Matt Wood, VP for AI services at AWS, neither requires machine-learning expertise, so "you don’t have to get into all the weeds and get the training data and label the data and all those sorts of things." Kendra is an enterprise search tool that provides natural language search across different content repositories. Contact Lens involves analytics technology for Amazon's Connect contact center service, which claims to recognize people’s emotions during phone calls so human representatives can troubleshoot issues with customers. The system allows employees to search through call and chat transcripts and data analytics through the Connect console. - WSJ

4. Subways across the Chinese city of Zhengzhou are rolling out face recognition payment systems on a large scale, the South China Morning Post reports. The city, which is the capital of China's northeast Henan province, started conducting trials of the software in September. Since then, close to 200,000 commuters have chosen to undergo face scans to authorize payments using the system's metro service app. While other Chinese cities also use the technology, Zhengzhou is the first to use it across its entire subway network. According to a report from iiMedia Research, about 118 million people in China have signed up for facial recognition payments this year, up from 61 million in 2018. That number is expected to surpass 760 million people by 2022. - SCMP

5. Portland, Oregon, is weighing a ban on facial recognition software that would affect not only city agencies but airlines and private retailers. If passed, the new law would expand on current bans of facial recognition technology in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California, which only apply to city agencies such as police departments. Leading the proposal for a ban is Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who said that the technology is "biased against people of color and women" while calling the automated surveillance and collection of people’s data "unacceptable." The City Council will hold a work session on the ban before it's expected to take effect this spring. - USA TODAY

6. A month after Microsoft introduced quantum computing for Azure customers, Amazon this week announced it is launching a preview of its own quantum computing platform, Amazon Braket. Widely regarded as the next phase of artificial intelligence and cloud computing, quantum research is in the early stages. Still, Amazon, like Microsoft, is getting a headstart on turning the technology into a service that customers can access over the internet, if only on an experimental basis for now. While Amazon Braket will run on a set of quantum computers managed by partners D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti, it “is a fully managed AWS service, with security & encryption baked in at each level,” the company explained in a blog post. - THE VERGE

A version of this story first appeared in Inside Cloud.

7. AI and computer vision startup Accel Robotics has raised $30 million in a funding round led by SoftBank. The Series A included participation from New Ground Ventures, Toyo Kanetsu Corporate Venture Investment Partnership, and RevTech Ventures. San Diego-based Accel developed a commerce platform for checkout-free cashier-less stores, which uses AI technology to scan and register what shoppers buy and charge them automatically. The company says the cash infusion will help boost its manufacturing capacity and scale the platform with retailers and brands worldwide. - VENTURE BEAT

8. AI drug discovery firm Genesis Therapeutics has spun out of Stanford research. The San Francisco-based startup formally launched following a $4.1 million seed funding round that included investors such as Andreessen Horowitz and Felicis Ventures. The capital will be used to expand the firm's drug-discovery team and hire more software engineers, AI engineers, and scientists. PotentialNet, which can predict molecular properties, is the initial component of the startup's proprietary AI platform. Genesis got its start at Stanford University, where founder and CEO Evan Feinberg was researching AI advancements. - MED CITY NEWS

9. Microsoft updated its Seeing AI app to include five new languages. The app - which uses a power object recognition system to describe text and objects to blind people - was previously only available in English but now has support for Dutch, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. Launched in 2017, the app is now on iOS in 70 countries. Microsoft has yet to say when it could arrive on Android. - ENGADGET

10. During a recent interview, Facebook VP of AI Jerome Pesenti says the rate of progress in the field is not sustainable cost-wise and experiments will "hit the wall." Pesenti, formerly of IBM’s Watson AI platform and Benevolent AI, told Wired that there is an advantage to scaling AI, but "If you look at top experiments, each year the cost is going up 10-fold." As the compute power needed for advanced AI continues to rise exponentially, Pesenti says that "at some point we're going to hit the wall" and "in many ways, we already have." Soon, businesses will have to think more in terms of optimization and cost-benefit, including "how we get most out of the compute we have," he notes. - WIRED

Written and curated by Beth Duckett in Scottsdale, Arizona. Beth is a former reporter for The Arizona Republic who has published a book about the solar industry and frequently writes about hobby and commercial drones. You can follow her tweets about breaking news in artificial intelligence here.

Editor: Sheena Vasani, Inside Dev editor

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