Topical News

Newsweek, 15 Sept, 2017

India has come to the final stage of a very ambitious plan rolling out a bio-metric database for the entire population of the country. The plan started in 2010 and seven years later now nearly 90 percent of 1.3 billion people, i.e. 1.16 billion have already been covered and received 12 digit ID card after each one offered 10 finger prints, one photograph and 3 iris scans to have a national database. The 12-digit ID  card would uniquely identify an individual in the national database and his or her bio-metric scan would help to match with his or her personal data.  This was a monumental task of epoch proportions. The advantage of this exercise is that it will cut down enormously the misuse of social welfare benefits, electoral fraud and crime; misuse of fake births, deaths and marriage certificates and stop fake passport applications. However, concerns have been raised by Human Rights Groups and libertarians that privacy and civil liberty of individuals will be sacrificed by this all-embracing government action.

It should, however, be noted that a similar scheme in the UK had been mooted for the last two decades and after spending hundreds of millions of pounds, the scheme had been ditched by successive governments because of enormous costs. Also logistics of maintaining a database for 65 million people in the UK had been found to be unmanageable. How can then India manage nearly 20 times bigger population with far, far less monetary costs? West should learn a thing or two from India.

Robots could destabilise world through war and unemployment, says UN

(From the Guardian, UK Edition; 27 Sept, 2017)

The UN has warned that robots could destabilise the world ahead of the opening of a headquarters in The Hague to monitor developments in artificial intelligence.

From the risk of mass unemployment to the deployment of autonomous robotics by criminal organisations or rogue states, the new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, has been set the goal of second-guessing the possible threats.

It is estimated that 30% of jobs in Britain are potentially under threat from breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to the consultancy firm PwC. In some sectors half the jobs could go. A recent study by the International Bar Association claimed robotics could force governments to legislate for quotas of human workers.

Meanwhile nations seeking to develop autonomous weapons technology, with the capability to independently determine their courses of action without the need for human control, include the US, China, Russia and Israel.

Irakli Beridze, senior strategic adviser at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, said the new team based in the Netherlands would also seek to come up with ideas as to how advances in the field could be exploited to help achieve the UN’s targets. He also said there were great risks associated with developments in the technology that needed to be addressed.

“If societies do not adapt quickly enough, this can cause instability,” Beridze told the Dutch newspaper de Telegraaf. “One of our most important tasks is to set up a network of experts from business, knowledge institutes, civil society organisations and governments. We certainly do not want to plead for a ban or a brake on technologies. We will also explore how new technology can contribute to the sustainable development goals of the UN. For this we want to start concrete projects. We will not be a talking club.”

In August more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence leaders, including the billionaire head of Tesla, Elon Musk, urged the UN to take action against the dangers of the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry, sometimes referred to as “killer robots”.

They wrote: “Lethal autonomus weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

Last year Prof Stephen Hawking warned that powerful artificial intelligence would prove to be “either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”.

An agreement was sealed with the Dutch government earlier this year for the UN office, which will have a small staff in its early stages, to be based in The Hague. Beridze said: “Various UN organisations have projects on robotic and artificial intelligence research, such as the expert group on autonomous military robots of the convention on conventional weapons. These are temporary initiatives. “Our centre is the first permanent UN office for this theme. We look at both the risks and the benefits.”

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