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Featured January 6, 2023

Internet Users Matched Surveillance With Resilience in 2022



Internet Users Matched Government's Surveillance Efforts With Resilience in 2022
Protest for free internet in Moscow, Russia, 2019.

The past year was riddled with attempts by different governments to modify web security and usage for their citizens.

The attempts were pervaded through lawmaking, direct network interference, and alongside requests from governments to internet governance authorities. Similarly, these attempts led to the growth of anti-censorship tools to help people gain more access to the world.

EU digital identity framework criticized

Though it has been functional since 2014, the European Union’s electronic IDentification, Authentication, and trust Services (eIDAS) framework witnessed several amendment proposals in 2022. The amendments raised in the European Parliament eventually sparked several conversations and reactions from the public.

A significant amendment worth noting is the proposed change to Article 45 of the framework. The amendment, when implemented, would require web browsers to trust only government-designated third parties, with or without required security features. Based on this, several people have described the amendment as potentially disrupting traditional web trust models.

An evaluation of the amendment led to the discovery that it solves no problem but would instead cause more issues. Users would have to pay heavily for Qualified Web Authentication Certificates (QWACs) in place of the cheap and free certificates. They would also have to depend on and use only government-approved Certificate providers -a move that could expose users to vulnerabilities.

Despite the massive outcry about the amendment, the EU council still executed the amendment.

Russia and Ukraine tackle war disinformation through the Internet

Following its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government embarked on a different attempt to ensure media censorship. Its various censorship tools included blocking VPNs and anonymity protocols like Tor. Several analysts described these actions as an attempt to prevent dissent and monitor the people.

Numerous international sanctions have also contributed to the problems. Like other businesses, certificate providers have stopped issuing new certificates to Russia’s “.ru” websites. As a result, the Russian government decided to solve the problem by creating the “Russian Trusted Root CA” to meet its needs.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian government asked other world authorities to remove top Russian websites from the Internet. The government requested the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to remove Russia without considering the consequences.

The US-Based ICANN, which supervises global internet domain names and IP addresses, responded by declining the request. Had it been approved, it would not only affect Russia but also negatively impact web security forever.

How the Internet shaped Iranian protests 

Protests in Iran started due to the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested in Tehran by the morality police on September 13, 2022. Her death birthed a nationwide protest spanning the nooks and crannies of the country -the protest was also in full force on the world wide web.

Internet Users Matched Surveillance With Resilience in 2022

Iranian women protest (Source: BBC)

To curtail the uprising, the Iranian government blocked several online services in the country. This was part of the Iranian government’s effort to prevent dissent and restrict citizens from accessing certain information outside the country.

To achieve this, the Iranian government formulated a policy tagged the “Regulatory System for Cyberspace Services Biill.” Though the bill hasn’t been implemented, there are rumors that some parts of it are already functional.

Social media bill in Nigeria

The Nigerian government also tried to regulate social media usage, generating negative responses from its largely youthful population.

According to several local media reports, the bill was designed to serve as a framework of regulation for using the Internet and various social platforms in the country. The Nigerian government banned the social media platform Twitter for seven months because it could undermine the country’s corporate existence.

However, the ban, alongside the previous attempts at media regulations within the country, failed because internet users found a way to circumvent the nationwide ban through VPNs.

Building formidable anti-censorship tools

The development of several anti-censorship tools, alongside avoidance of blocked network traffic, is helping in the fight against government censorship.

Two crucial tools worth noting are Snowflake and Tor. Snowflake allows people to access censored websites and applications. On the other hand, Tor is a browser with automatic connection features that usually redirect and connect to Tor bridges.

The Iranian government’s blockade of Signal was also countered with a leeway around the problem. Signal Foundation President Meredith Whittaker made an open call for “Signal Proxies.” Whittaker described how to host Signal proxies to help Iranians connect to the platform. It also includes descriptions of how to avoid being discovered by the government.

To help beat censorship, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) launched a training course. The class would teach beneficiaries how to calculate the level of censorship on blocked sites and their data collection.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.


Americans Turn to Artificial Intelligence to Curb Gun Violence



Americans Turn to Artificial Intelligence to Curb Gun Violence
Is this how the curbing will be done?

The alarming rate of gun violence in the United States in 2023 has led to increased calls for more gun safety measures. But with that unlikely to happen anytime soon, individuals and organizations have been turning to other alternatives, including artificial intelligence (AI).

In recent years, artificial intelligence has emerged as one of the possible solutions. The growing interest in the technology is primarily due to its promise of detecting shooters and preventing violence.

The CEO of Omnilert, a security company, Dave Fraser, said the technology represents a breakthrough in how AI is used to further human protection.

How AI helps

Most of the technologies currently offered by security companies using AI rely on detection by using high-tech cameras to identify suspects, predictive algorithms that flag potential shooters, and metal detectors capable of seeing hidden guns.

According to companies in the sector, using security cameras equipped with AI can make up for the errors of security officers. Watching multiple video screens while trying to identify threats leaves margins for error.

But artificial intelligence boasts better accuracy, distinguishing between identifying potential mass shooters minutes or seconds before they strike.

Given how ubiquitous security cameras are today, improving them with AI to become more effective in preventing mass shootings seems like a no-brainer.

The challenges

But some experts are concerned about how the impacts on privacy, especially since the effectiveness of the products remains questionable. Most AI security companies don’t provide independently verified data about the accuracy of their products.

Speaking to ABC News, the senior policy analyst at ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, Jay Stanley, said:

“If you’re going to trade your privacy and freedom for security, the first question you need to ask is: Are you getting a good deal?”

Besides that, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, Jake Wiener, said:

‘The biggest concern with these systems is false positives when the system wrongly identifies someone who isn’t actually holding a gun.”

A false positive is a situation where an innocent individual can be wrongly profiled as a mass shooter.

Market rises for AI tools

But such misgivings are unlikely to deter interest in the sector. The high rate of mass shootings in recent years has led potential targets, such as schools, offices, retailers, etc., to consider AI security.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that 83% of public schools use security cameras as of the 2017-18 school year. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has recently begun an artificial intelligence-based gun detection program.

With the rising interest, Future Market Insights projects that the market for high-tech products capable of detecting concealed weapons will be worth $1.2 billion by 2031, almost twice the $630 million it was in 2022.

Meanwhile, several companies are already establishing themselves in the sector. One of them is Austin-based Scylla which offers AI that helps security cameras identify concealed weapons and suspicious activity.

Gun Detection Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI gun detection (Source: Scylla)

The system notifies officials when it identifies any threat and can immediately lock doors and deny access. The vice president of the company Kris Greiner noted that such a system could have a significant impact on ensuring safety. Other companies, such as Zero Eyes, focus on gun detection.

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China Catches Up On Quantum Computers, Makes 1st Delivery



China Catches Up On Quantum Computers, Makes 1st Delivery

China has officially caught up with Canada and USA in the race to deliver a complete quantum computer system to a customer according to a state media report.

Chinese quantum computing company, Origin Quantum Computing Technology developed a 24-qubit Wuyuan system before delivery to an unknown user more than a year ago, the science ministry’s Science and Technology Daily reported.

Also read: How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development

According to Origin Quantum, they are the only Chinese company in the quantum computing industry that can deliver real quantum computers as well as full-stack development and follow up services.

According to a statement sent to the Global Times on Monday by East China’s Anhui Province based Quantum Computing Research Centre, the group developed the computer and successfully delivered it to a user.

“More than 100 quantum computing companies in the world have put enormous investment into quantum research and development. Canada’s quantum computing company sold its first quantum computer in 2011, followed by IBM of the US in 2019.

“Chinese Origin Quantum delivered a quantum computer in 2021,” Zhang Hui, director of the Anhui Quantum Computing Engineering Research Center was quoted as saying.

Eyebrow raising announcement

The announcement by Chinese state media has raised eyebrows among skeptics questioning its timing.

Weifeng Zhong, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va told TechNewsWorld that this could be a gimmick to just show China as a tech giant with a transparent administration.

“Quantum technology has a high priority for national security in China. If this were something very important, I doubt it would be disclosed like this in a transparent way by Chinese authorities,” explained Zhong.

“The fact that it was delayed for a year suggests that they realize now that it’s not important to national security, so they’re trying to use it to build China’s image as a technology leader at a time when they’re trying to open up their economy to the rest of the world,” added Zhong.

But what is quantum computing?

A quantum computer is a type of computer that uses quantum mechanics to store and process data, as opposed to classical computers that use classical mechanics. Quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits), which can exist in multiple states at once, to perform computations that are not possible on classical computers, making them particularly well-suited for certain types of complex calculations.

The  24-qubit Wuyuan quantum computer based on superconducting technology developed by the same company  becomes the third to be delivered to customers after Canada in 2011 and USA’s IBM in 2019.

Superconducting technology is currently one of the most mature and well-developed implementations of quantum computing, and many companies and research organizations are working to develop and commercialize superconducting quantum computers. Superconducting technology is one of the main implementations of quantum computing.

In superconducting quantum computers, quantum bits (qubits) are made from tiny electrical circuits that are cooled to very low temperatures, close to absolute zero, in order to minimize the amount of thermal energy and increase their coherence time, which is the time during which a qubit can maintain its quantum state.

What does China offer in its quantum computers

Speed: Quantum computers can perform certain operations much faster than classical computers, which can greatly speed up complex computations.

Parallel processing: Quantum computers can perform multiple calculations simultaneously, which allows for more efficient processing of large amounts of data.

Simulating complex systems: Quantum computers can be used to simulate complex systems, such as molecules and materials, which can lead to new discoveries in fields such as chemistry and materials science.

Cryptography: Quantum computers can be used to break certain encryption algorithms, which makes them useful for developing new, more secure encryption methods.

Optimization problems: Quantum computers can be used to solve complex optimization problems, such as logistics and scheduling problems, which have many potential real-world applications.

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OpenAI Develops Tool to Spot AI-Written Texts



OpenAI Develops Tool to Spot AI-Written Texts

OpenAI, the startup behind ChatGPT, has released a free web-based plagiarism checker to determine whether machines or humans wrote a text.

According to OpenAI, the web-based tool is not entirely accurate. Its performance will depend on the similarity between the analyzed text and the writing that OpenAI tools are trained to write.

Speaking about the tool, OpenAI’s CTO Mira Murati said the new tool is “not perfect, but it’s a step forward in distinguishing between AI and human-written text.” She added that the company was looking forward to reviews from its users.

ChatGPT’s soaring start

Since OpenAI launched ChaGPT last year, the ability of the AI tool to create spontaneous texts that look very similar to what a human would write has garnered it much acclaim. But not all of the attention has been positive.

Several stakeholders have expressed concerns about increased AI-generated misinformation. Educators are also concerned that students might start relying on AI tools and submitting plagiarized works. This has led some school districts to ban ChatGPT on their networks.

But these bans don’t have much effect on preventing the usage of ChatGPT for academic plagiarism. With the new tool from OpenAI, educators might finally have the necessary detection equipment.

How OpenAI’s tool will work

According to the company, the new tool works best on text samples in English and above 1,000 characters. It has a five-point system to measure an AI system’s likelihood of texts being generated. Apart from OpenAI, several other individuals and organizations are also working on similar tools.

Concerns about AI texts rise

Meanwhile, concerns about AI writing tools are not limited to educators. There are also concerns in some circles that the rapid development of AI writing tools might soon deprive writers of jobs as companies will opt for cheaper automation options.

A Fortune article from December 2022 predicted that ChatGPT and AI tools might take not only the jobs of writers but also has the potential to replace programmers. ChatGPT can convert human prompts into codes in several programming languages.

Will AI make writers jobless?

Expert writers believe that AI writing tools can create coherent texts based on a set of rules. It will forever remain inferior to humans when it comes to creativity.

The songwriter Nick Cave shares this view. In response to a fan who sent him a song written by ChatGPT in the style of Nick Cave, he noted that he was not enthusiastic about the new technology. He said that songs arise from a “complex, internal human struggle of creation,” which algorithms can’t feel.

He added:

“I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy, but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI – that it will forever be in its infancy, as it will always have further to go.”

However, some writers are more welcoming and believe that AI technologies can serve as collaborative tools for writers and help them produce something new and exciting.

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