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World Broadband Speeds Released, Broadband Competition Questions, Social Media Algorithms

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Taiwan has the world’s fastest broadband, while the United States comes in at 15th place, according to the annual Worldwide Broadband Speed League report released by Cable.co.uk on Tuesday.

The report analyzes more than 276 million broadband speed tests collected by M-Lab, an open source project involving civil society organizations, educational institutions, and private sector companies.

While the average global speed has increased, the gap between the fastest and slowest countries has widened as well, causing concern among researchers.

“Faster countries are the ones lifting the average, pulling away at speed and leaving the slowest to stagnate, said Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable.co.uk. “Last year, we measured the slowest five countries at 88 times slower than the five fastest. This year they are 125 times slower.”

According to telecoms watchdog Ofcom, the minimum speed required to meet the typical needs of a family or small business is 10Mbps. This goal is still unmet by 141 countries.

FCC clashes with San Francisco over city ordinance

The Federal Communications Commission is attempting to overrule a San Francisco ordinance that prevents owners of residential and commercial buildings from blocking tenants from accessing certain internet service providers.

In a blog post on June 18, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the ordinance an “outlier” and “a policy which deters broadband deployment.”

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., introduced a budget amendment barring the FCC from finalizing the ruling. The amendment passed in the House but has yet to pass the Senate.

“The communications industry is in dire need of more competition,” Porter said in a statement. “San Francisco’s Article 52 has been incredibly effective in promoting broadband competition — giving residents the benefit of competition and choice in the market, increasing their service quality while decreasing their monthly bills.”

Sen. Johnson requests more information on social media algorithms

On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, wrote a letter to Facebook and Instagram executives requesting information on their use of algorithms and artificial intelligence by July 10.

“The lack of transparency regarding human bias and the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence is troubling,” Johnson wrote. “As a result, policymakers and the American public deserve to understand the facts behind the content and suggestions they are served on these internet platforms.”

The letter follows a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing about the use of persuasive technology on internet platforms, at which Johnson raised concerns about the presence of political bias in the algorithms.

Artificial Intelligence

Deepfakes Pose National Security Threat, Private Sector Tackles Issue

Content manipulation can include misinformation from authoritarian governments.

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Photo of Dana Roa of Adobe, Paul Lekas of Global Policy (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2022 – Content manipulation techniques known as deepfakes are concerning policy makers and forcing the public and private sectors to work together to tackle the problem, a Center for Democracy and Technology event heard on Wednesday.

A deepfake is a technical method of generating synthetic media in which a person’s likeness is inserted into a photograph or video in such a way that creates the illusion that they were actually there. Policymakers are concerned that deepfakes could pose a threat to the country’s national security as the technology is being increasingly offered to the general population.

Deepfake concerns that policymakers have identified, said participants at Wednesday’s event, include misinformation from authoritarian governments, faked compromising and abusive images, and illegal profiting from faked celebrity content.

“We should not and cannot have our guard down in the cyberspace,” said Representative John Katko, R-NY, ranking member of House Committee on homeland security.

Adobe pitches technology to identify deepfakes

Software company Adobe released an open-source toolkit to counter deepfake concerns earlier this month, said Dana Rao, executive vice president of Adobe. The companies’ Content Credentials feature is a technology developed over three years that tracks changes made to images, videos, and audio recordings.

Content Credentials is now an opt-in feature in the company’s photo editing software Photoshop that it says will help establish credibility for creators by adding “robust, tamper-evident provenance data about how a piece of content was produced, edited, and published,” read the announcement.

Adobe’s Connect Authenticity Initiative project is dedicated to addressing problems establishing trust after the damage caused by deepfakes. “Once we stop believing in true things, I don’t know how we are going to be able to function in society,” said Rao. “We have to believe in something.”

As part of its initiative, Adobe is working with the public sector in supporting the Deepfake Task Force Act, which was introduced in August of 2021. If adopted, the bill would establish a National Deepfake and Digital task force comprised of members from the private sector, public sector, and academia to address disinformation.

For now, said Cailin Crockett, senior advisor to the White House Gender Policy Council, it is important to educate the public on the threat of disinformation.

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Artificial Intelligence

Should the Federal Government Regulate Artificial Intelligence?

Two experts were on opposite sides of the debate about how to mitigate the downsides of AI.

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Screenshot of the panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2022 – Representatives from academia and a nonprofit diverged at a Bipartisan Policy Center event Tuesday about whether the government should step in and minimize problems associated with artificial intelligence, including bias and discrimination in algorithms.

“We really do want actors to help us establish national and international guidelines,” said Miriam Vogel, president, and CEO of EqualAI, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce bias in AI. “We are driving full speed without lanes, without speed limits to manage the expectations.”

While acknowledging the benefits of AI in society today, Vogel said its algorithms present risk that often leads to bias and discrimination. She shared the example of how facial recognition misses certain voices or skin tones.

AI is used in various sectors and powers algorithms that cater services to individuals. Panelists referenced the use of AI algorithms in suspect identification for criminal justice, in disease diagnosis in health care, and for movie and employment recommendations.

Vogel said regulation will establish clear expectations for AI companies to minimize such risks.

Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said he is “a little skeptical that we should create a regulatory AI structure” and instead proposed educating workers on how to set best practices for risk management. He called this an “educational institution approach.”

He said that because of how long federal law takes to enact, he wants to reach AI workers directly, such as the computer programmers and AI innovators “of tomorrow” to do a better job of “baking best practices” into AI.

“I think baking best practice principles in by design begins with an educational focus,” said Thierer.

Thierer said he wants to give this job to trusted third parties to suggest pathways forward, including ethical evaluations and consultations with AI companies. He said that when it comes to AI rules across different sectors, “we don’t need one overarching standard to rule them all.”

Thierer added that because of how fast AI is changing, “it can’t go through the same regulatory process.” He argued if regulation is put in place, we will lose AI innovators.

Vogel disagreed with Thierer, saying she doesn’t believe that there is a risk of losing innovators with regulating AI, and instead, said, “I see regulation is the partner to innovation.”

She said that because there is no government regulation for AI, companies are left to do it themselves if they choose, referencing the Badge Program at EqualAI that seeks to help companies navigate risks.

“We need to have a governance system put in place to make sure continual testing is taking place,” said Vogel.

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Artificial Intelligence

FTC Commissioner Says Agency Report on AI for Online Harms Did Not Consult Outside Experts

The FTC released a report that warned about the dangers of AI’s use to combat online harms.

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Photo of FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips said last week that a report by the commission about the use of artificial intelligence to tackle online harms did not consult outside experts as Congress asked.

The FTC’s “Combatting Online Harms through Innovation” report – approved by a 4-1 vote to send to Congress and released on June 16 – warns against using AI as a policy solution for online problems, as the commission says it contains inherent design flaws, bias and discrimination, and features commercial surveillance concerns. The commission concluded that the potential adoption of AI could increase additional harms.

However, the report found that amid the use of AI by Big Tech platforms to address online harms, “lawmakers should consider focusing on developing legal frameworks that would ensure that AI tools do not cause additional harm.”

The one dissenting opinion on the report was from Phillips, who said the FTC did not do the study that was required by Congress. As part of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress asked the FTC to conduct a study on how artificial intelligence could address online harms such as fake reviews, hate crimes and harassment and child sexual abuse.

“I do not believe we conducted the requisite study, and I do not think the report on AI issued by the Commission takes sufficient care to answer the questions Congress asked,” Phillips said in his dissenting statement.

Phillips said the report mainly focuses on the technology of AI itself and lacks the outside perspective from individuals and companies who use AI and try to combat the harms of AI online, which he said is “precisely what Congress asked us to evaluate.”

Phillips added that in the 12 months the FTC was given to complete this study, “rather than use this time to solicit input from all relevant stakeholders, the Commission chose to conduct a kind of literature review.

Phillips said in his statement he would have liked to see interviews of market participants or surveys conducted, which allegedly isn’t included in the recent report and adds that he is instead concerned about the “quantity of self-reference” used by the FTC in the report.

“Still, we should at least endeavor to produce a report that reflects the full diversity of experiences and viewpoints on these important issues concerning AI.” Phillips also noted the report doesn’t include a serious cost-benefit analysis of using AI to combat online harms.

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