Posts Tagged ‘Data Mining’

Flawed algorithms mark people for death

February 18, 2016

The National Security Administration’s Skynet system marks people for death based on algorithms and metadata—the same technology that Amazon uses to guess what books you’ll probably like.

I find that chilling.  I find the precedent it sets even more chilling.

Now an expert has come along who says the Skynet program is inherently flawed and has likely resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

TravelPatternsDocuments leaked to The Intercept indicate that the Skynet program collects data on people in Pakistan by monitoring their phone calls.  Supposedly terrorists can be identified within a certain margin of error by characteristics that, on average, differentiate them from non-terrorists.

Patrick Ball, director of research for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and a frequent expert witness before human rights tribunals, told Ars Technica that the problem with this is that the terrorist sample is based on a very small number—seven individuals—and the innocent sample is based on a random sample of 100,000 people.

Since there is usually no independent way of verifying that the victim really was a terrorist, that means that there is no “learning” process, as would be the case with a commercial algorithm, such as Amazon’s, which is based on commercial responses.

One of the variables in setting the algorithms is that the fewer false negative (real terrorists who are not detected by the system), the more false positives there will be (innocent people who are marked as terrorists).

Bell said that if the algorithm is set at 50 percent false negatives, that means thousands of innocent people will be killed for every real terrorist who dies.

[Added later]  Martin Robbins wrote in The Guardian that Skynet is used to identify likely Al Qaeda couriers, who are not killed but tracked so as to reveal the locations of Al Qaeda camps and safe houses.   It is a fact that computer algorithms are used to target people for killing, but Skynet isn’t as clear an example as I originally thought.


A note on the transparent society

June 10, 2015

Yesterday I bought a Timex wristwatch at a local JC Penney store.

Today I clicked on a link on my own web log and an ad for Timex wristwatches at JC Penney popped up.

Coincidence?  I think not.

It is chilling to think that I am being tracked by data miners who can figure everything about my life—including things I don’t know myself.

It is even more chilling to think that these data miners aren’t human—just computer algorithms programmed to mimic human surveillance.


The Hypocrisy of the Internet Journalist by Quinn Norton for The Message.  [Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist]

Why Google Is a political matter: A conversation with Julian Assange by John Keane for Australia’s The Monthly.  [Hat tip to naked capitalism]