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Contact Tracing App Can Assist in Reopening Localities Safely, According to AI Task Force Panelists

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Screenshot of infectious disease physician Dr. Krutika Kuppalli from the webcast

July 9, 2020 — In the absence of federal leadership, the number of coronavirus cases has continued to climb in the United States, reaching a new single-day record number of infections on Wednesday with 60,000 cases recorded in 24 hours, according to infectious disease physician Dr. Krutika Kuppalli.

In a Wednesday hearing, members of the House Financial Services Committee’s task force on artificial intelligence were joined by contact tracing experts to discuss the importance of exposure notification and contact tracing apps in fighting the ongoing pandemic.

While some questioned the usefulness of tracking apps, many fought for their importance in allowing localities to safely reopen.

Kuppali called for the U.S. to learn from the global community by developing a national plan led by science.

She criticized the existing “patchwork system,” in which every municipality and state is making its own decisions. This approach makes it very difficult to combat the spread of the disease, she said.

Kuppali outlined three common components of successful domestic plans, crucial in fighting the pandemic: the development of a comprehensive national plan led by science, the rapid scaling up of testing and the implementation of contact tracing apps.

“Until we have a vaccine, maintaining cases will rely on surveillance, testing, contact tracing and isolation,” she said.

“We are still having problems with isolation and contact tracing,” Kuppali added, expressing frustration with the lack of federal initiative and overall progress. “We have been having these problems for months.”

According to the panelists, two-thirds of Americans say they would not trust a contact tracing app developed by major tech companies or the federal government.

Current adoption rates of contact tracing apps in the United States are extremely low, which panelists attributed to the fact that downloading these apps is often presented as a tradeoff to civil liberties.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., emphasized the importance of trust in getting Americans on-board with tracing apps, noting that it is extremely critical that citizens understand how data is being used.

Two experts on the panel have already developed software which could assist in the reopening process while avoiding the sacrifice of individuals’ privacy.

Ryan McClendon, CEO and founder of the CVKey project, which aims to help communities reopen responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic without compromising privacy, argued for the importance of using Bluetooth signals in tracing apps instead of GPS location data.

He maintained that the interface created by Apple and Google, which utilizes Bluetooth signals, could be extremely useful in countering the disease.

CVKey centralizes information for users, in an attempt to lessen the confusion caused by everchanging public health policies.

The app includes a symptom checker, clear guidelines on policies in the user’s area and a CVKey pass, which businesses can utilize to only allow low risk customers in.

Ramesh Raskar, MIT professor and founder of PathCheck, also argued for the worth of the Bluetooth tracking software created by Apple and Google.

PathCheck utilizes similar software, including a customizable mobile app and a production-ready exposure notification server based on the Google open source project.

Raskar argued that contact tracing apps can play a big role by allowing the country to track the spread of the disease cheaply, quickly and at scale.

He further contended that any app utilized should be built transparently and be open to scrutiny from the public.

McClendon said that local institutions, such as employers, universities and schools, play an important role in maximizing app adoption and so workplaces should be utilizing contact tracing to protect their workforce.

“We need 60 to 70 percent adoption for these apps to be useful,” said McClendon. “One of the best ways to do that is to work with local institutions — it is simply a marketing challenge.”

“Workplaces could become hot spots and shut down again, which people don’t like,” McClendon continued. “Preventing the shut down by keeping the communities safe is a strong argument for adoption, if we can communicate that message.”

Some panelists maintained doubt, saying that Americans are simply unlikely to adopt these apps.

“I can just tell you for a fact, my most rural counties are not going to utilize these apps,” said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, adding that he doesn’t blame them.

The experts contended that this is the greatest modern threat the country has seen and that how legislators choose to manage this disease will be their legacy.

Especially as a nation that enjoys boasting of its tech dominance, Kuppali said, the U.S., should lead in the arena.

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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Defense Department Must Continue Investing in Artificial Intelligence to Combat Cyber Threats: Google

Investing in AI will help prevent cyberattacks, in light of warnings about a possible increase in such attacks from Russia.

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Screenshot of Andrew Moore, vice president and director of Google Cloud, in 2019

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2022 – A Google executive is calling for the Department of Defense to continue making investments in artificial intelligence to protect the cyberspace, in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and warnings about a possible increase in cyberattacks against the private sector.

The DoD needs to invest in “training, technology, and management that will facilitate more experimentation, prototyping, and execution” of these technologies, Andrew Moore, vice president and director of Google Cloud, told a Senate subcommittee on cybersecurity Tuesday.

“One of AI’s critical uses is finding anomalies in activity that would indicate a new threat vector,” Moore said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, government officials have warned about potential increased cyberattacks against the United States.

The DoD can use AI capabilities in defense against attacks as AI monitors known threats on a massive scale, analyzes historical data and monitors active exploitation, the subcommittee heard. AI provides on-demand scanning of software and active scanning for malicious sites.

AI can also break down and unify data sources by cross-linking and joining data, allowing for constant pattern detection for unexpected defensive concerns, it heard further.

“The Department must have the ability for teams to quickly build, adapt and leverage an AI system – in hours or days – to address problems like finding a ship lost at sea or responding to an active threat event,” said Moore.

Moore claimed that Google has developed a “level of insight and visibility into the world of cyber threats that allows [them] to assess and develop cutting edge defenses to whole classes of threats, not just particular attacks.”

There have been concerns raised in the past year that the federal government has not welcomed AI technology, leading to a possible global economic divide and national security threats.

AI development needs experienced workforce

Training and educating will greatly help the DoD make necessary investments as employees gain confidence and familiarity with AI.

The DoD was further called by Eric Horvitz, technical fellow and chief scientific officer at Microsoft, to invest in training and education to strengthen the U.S. workforce in cybersecurity.

“For cybersecurity and in the context of national security, having the upper hand in AI against your adversary is critical,” Moore said.

“There is a race to see who can get machines to provide as much defense as possible,” he added. “For example, AI systems are absolutely necessary to automate aspects of cybersecurity. The US remains the leader in AI, but we must ensure we continue to do this at scale.”

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Artificial Intelligence

Scott Heric: Robots Benefit Industrial Processes Most by Enhancing the Efforts of Humans

It is time to understand the impact robots have and the best route to using them to optimize labor practices.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Scott Heric, co-founder of Unionly

If you have had a cup of coffee lately, you have probably been served by a robot. It may not have been a “baristabot” that took your order or handed you your latte at your local coffee shop, but somewhere along the line from bean to breve, an intelligent machine most likely played a role in producing your coffee.

Employing robots and other intelligent machines in industrial processes is part of a movement that is often referred to as the automation revolution. While it promises to shape the future of many industries, it is not futuristic.

Intelligent machines are already being employed in ways we never thought possible a few years ago. And now is the time to understand the impact they can have and the best route to using them to optimize labor practices.

Are robots taking over the workplace?

Presently, “robot density per employee,” which is a measure used to gauge the degree to which automation is being embraced, stands at 126 robots per 10,000 employees. While that may seem small, it is more than double the number recorded in 2015, a trend that has some concerned.

In early 2020, Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report titled “Work of the Future” that was developed in part to address a growing anxiety related to the automation revolution.

In its coverage of the report, MIT Technology Review explained the anxiety in this way: “There’s a growing fear among many American workers that they’re about to be replaced by technology, whether that’s a robot, a more efficient computing system, or a self-driving truck.”

While a robot revolution resulting in a large-scale displacement of human workers is a popular concern that has been explored in an endless number of science fiction movies, it misses the broader potential of an automation revolution. Robots benefit industrial processes most by enhancing the efforts of human workers, not by replacing them.

A recent report by The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania shows that organizations that increase their automation through the use of robots typically hire more workers. This results from robots enhancing productivity, which grows business and demands an increase in non-robotic jobs. Wharton found that jobs were cut more often in companies that have not embraced the automation revolution. By resisting automation, they fell behind competitors, lost business, and had to let employees go.

What are the next steps?

This new paradigm of robots playing a more integral role in the workplace will not develop in a vacuum. Politically and culturally, people will need to accept intelligent machines and adapt accordingly. The automation revolution will require a shift not only in the way we work, but also in the way we think about work.

In the 1980s, computers entered the workplace. Some resisted, seeing the new technology as a tool that would be used to supplant the systems that were in place at that time.

Today, very few workplaces could survive without computers. Rather than supplanting systems, computers became a tool to optimize systems. Rather than displacing workers, they created a new universe of jobs.

Robots and other intelligent machines offer the same potential to those who are willing to see them as a tool that can be wielded to increase efficiency and productivity. Those who resist will watch from the sidelines as the automation revolution advances.

 Scott Heric, Co-Founder of Unionly, has years of experience helping organizations to raise funds online. He helped develop sales and account management for Avvo, growing from 30 to 500 people over seven years. Heric then took a chief of staff role at Snap Mobile Inc., where he oversaw development of the product, marketing, sales, and account management, leading to the company becoming a leading digital fundraising platform in higher education. His company Unionly was acquired in January of 2020. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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