Oct 1, 2021 9 min read

China's CBDC rollout continues; Twitter's AI bias revealed; Uber saves lives; and more...

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Table of Contents

Wiser #37: China's CBDC rollout is on track according to expert Richard Turrin; Twitter opens up its algorithms to scrutiny for AI bias; Uber saves lives and a roundup of the top stories from September.


In this issue of the Wiser! Newsletter;

  • China update on their plans for CBDC
  • Twitter opens its AI algorithms to scrutiny
  • Uber saves lives
  • Plus a roundup of all the top stories from September; including several stories featuring Apple, Facebook's Ray-Ban smart-glasses, El Salvador's Bitcoin Day, Lemonade's CEO Daniel Schreiber, Epic Games take on Apple and more...

***CHINA CBDC***

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China won't let its plans for CBDC be derailed

When the International Olympic Committee announced this week that the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be open "exclusively to spectators residing in China’s mainland, who meet the requirements of the COVID-19 countermeasures”, it threw a spanner in the works for the CBDC party.

China's Central Bank Digital Currency "CBDC" is called the e-CNY, aka digital yuan. It is currently being trialled throughout mainland China and is “on the home straight” for being ready for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, according to Fan Yifei, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China.

The restrictions for the Winter Olympics is a major blow as this would have been would a global showcase for the e-CNY given the huge influx of foreign visitors.

Wiser! readers will remember that a couple of months back I interviewed Richard Turrin, THE expert on China's transition to a cashless society and their move to be the world's first major economy with a digital version of their sovereign currency.

Premium Members can read the article here.👇

China: the journey to a cashless society
Newsletter #15 (Premium): Central Bank Digital Currencies are coming. It’s not a question of whether, but when. And China has stolen the march and is years ahead of the rest of the world.

Richard posts expert comments and analysis every day on Linkedin about China-related tech news. You can follow him here. (It's worth it!)

On Thursday this week, Richard wrote this about the decision to close the Beijing games to foreign visitors and its impact on the CBDC.

"The 2022 Beijing Olympics were going to be the international “coming out” party for China’s new CBDC. A showcase of new technology all designed to put CBDC cards in the hands of tourists so that they could experience going “Cashless” "China-style" for the first time.

"An entire e-CNY ecosystem is being built with this tourist-focused tech:

👉Tourist cards: a CBDC hard wallet the size of a credit card with a tiny e-ink screen.

👉Tourist card dispenser: Insert a $100 bill and the machine spits out a new e-CNY card or adds balance.

👉Point Of Sale systems: All POS systems including things like vending machines are all CBDC ready.

👉ATM: A CBDC enabled ATM that adds balance with funds taken from a foreign credit card.

👉Mobile apps: CBDC ready mobile apps so that tourists can use mobile wallets if they choose.

👉CBDC gloves: Ok these may be a stretch but so your hands won’t get cold gloves with a built-in CBDC wallet."

My take: it may be a missed PR opportunity but this won't stop China's pursuit of the bigger goal, which is to be a digital economy unlike anywhere else in the world. This is about more than just replacing coins and notes with a digital code you can use on your mobile phone.

The bigger picture is about removing the friction, cost and barriers to trading that exist in the current financial systems and mechanisms.

China is building a technical infrastructure for the 21st century that is built on digital currency, blockchain trading systems and a bloc of Belt and Road Initiative trading partners that do not rely on the US Dollar as the trading currency.

Imagine CBDCs carried on blockchain technology that can make cross-border payments in seconds, instead of days. And at half the cost. That's what's coming.

Sources: CNN, Ledger Insights, The Register, Time Magazine

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👉Click on the image to go to Amazon to buy the book

Meanwhile, over in the US of A...

America is still contemplating its navel when it comes to CBDCs, and lawmakers are conflating cryptocurrencies with digital ones (a CBDC is not a cryptocurrency.)


***BigTech***

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Twitter’s AI found to have racial bias

In a rare act of transparency from BigTech, Twitter opened up its image-cropping algorithm to public scrutiny. Twitter's AI ethics team held a public competition to find bias in the algorithm after a white user noticed that Twitter’s AI had cropped out his black colleague in a photo where both of them were present, only displaying him.

The issue is that whilst AI has created the ability to recognise a face or apply filters to an image, these same AI algorithms can also reflect unconscious bias when making its decisions. This comes about because AI algorithms are computer programs that are trained using real human beings.

So, if the majority of the coders are white males or the training of the algorithms is done using students on a college campus, the outcomes will not reflect the diversity of a global population.

To tackle this issue, Twitter announced in late July that the company would hold the first-ever “algorithmic bias bounty challenge.”

In early August anyone could peruse the code underpinning Twitter’s image-cropping algorithm, then submit a bias assessment for the chance to win one of five cash prizes up to $3,500. The algorithm in question had been used by Twitter since 2018 and has now been decommissioned.

Twitter received nearly 50 submissions from the week-long review. First prize went to a university researcher who found that the algorithm prioritized young, slim, and lighter-skinned faces.

Other winners found that the algorithm rarely chose to feature people pictured in wheelchairs, that it preferred emojis with lighter skin tones, and that for memes, it was more likely to showcase English text than Arabic script.

The issue comes down to something called "saliency".

Saliency algorithms are widely seen as a shortcut for identifying the most important or relevant aspects of a photo. It’s also the type of model that Twitter had used to crop images in the algorithm under review.

The problem with saliency is that the algorithms are trained via human eye-tracking, e.g., where someone’s eyes go first when shown an image. This makes the training of the AI open to unconscious bias.

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Twitter praised the contest entry as important in a world where many of us use camera and editing apps that apply beauty filters before we share photos with friends or on social media. That can distort our expectations of attractiveness.

Beauty and apps filters are widespread. Facetune promises to help you "stand out on social media", whilst B612 offers a "smart beauty" tool that can recommend changes to your face shape and other appearance changes. However, Google has disabled its automatic touch-ups by default in its Pixel camera app after concluding that beautification filters can "negatively impact mental well-being." Google has also stopped calling its adjustments "beauty" filters.

Sources: CNET, Vice


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Uber saves lives

Uber has saved many lives that would’ve been lost to drunk driving, according to a new study based on internal Uber data. Ride-sharing has decreased alcohol-related US traffic fatalities by 6.1% and reduced overall US traffic deaths by 4%. Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Uber


Pegasus Spyware

Wiser! readers will remember that I covered the Pegasus Spyware issue back in June in issue #25. The latest news is that 5 French ministers may have been targeted by Israeli NSO's Pegasus Spyware. The ministers' cellphones had 'suspicious marks,' according to a leaked document, suggesting at least an attempt to infect the device with the Pegasus spyware in 2019. Source: Haaretz, Wiser! #25


***In case you missed it***

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These were the top stories in Wiser! in September

Apple delays its new child protection measures

After a month of sustained criticism and indignant outrage from privacy campaigners, Apple announced a delay to the new measures, known as CSAM. Link, Video

Apple working on iPhone features to help detect depression & cognitive decline

Apple's focus on healthtech has been with the Apple Watch, but now, according to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is working on technology to help diagnose a range of mental health and well-being conditions using the iPhone. Link, Video

Government-imposed Internet shutdowns are on the rise

Between January 2019 and June 2021, 228 major internet shutdowns in 41 countries. Link, Video

Changing the way people think about insurance

Lemonade is a terrific story about tech applied to insurance to change the way insurance works. In this exclusive interview, I spoke with CEO Daniel Schreiber about their first 5 years. Premium, Video

El Salvador's Bitcoin Day

The smallest island in Central America has adopted Bitcoin as legal tender. In the first month, a third of the population has a Chivo cryptocurrency wallet. Link, Premium

Amazon's productivity algorithms come under more scrutiny

Amazon's relentless pursuit of operational efficiency combined with unprecedented pandemic fuelled growth in demand for home shopping has a challenging workplace for employees. Link, Video, Past Article

Facebook unveil Ray-Ban smart glasses

Mark Zuckerberg's latest venture into the next computing platform. Link

The judge rules on Epic Games v Apple in the battle for the App Store

Apple has to change its rules somewhat but still retains control. Whilst Epic doesn't get all its own way and has to pay Apple for breaking them. Link, Video

Bitcoin Power Consumption Index

Research showed that the power consumed by all the fridges in the USA is more than the global consumption of power by Bitcoin. Link, Video

China's BigTech Crackdown: Part 2

China introduced new laws that requires all data broadly defined as "critical information" is to be stored in China. This includes user data. Link, Video

Zoom versus Teams: which one consumes the most power?

Did you know that uou could use 75% less electricity if you turn off video when on a call? Find out which of these video meeting platforms consumes more power. Link, Video

Microsoft study revealed the reality of remote working

A report published by Microsoft revealed how remote working affected 60,000 of its staff during the pandemic. Link

Facebook knows Instagram is bad for teenagers' mental health

"32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse," a Facebook internal document reveals. Link

Litecoin/Walmart fake news hoax

Dubbed the "Litecoin pump and dump", this story reminds us that these are early days in the unregulated crypto market. Plus the power of social media to manipulate behavious. Link


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