Featured Article : Try Being Nice To Your AI

With some research indicating that ‘emotive prompts’ to generative AI chatbots can deliver better outputs, we look at whether ‘being nice’ to a chatbot really does improve its performance.

Not Possible, Surely? 

Generative AI Chatbots, including advanced ones, don’t possess real ‘intelligence’ in the way we as humans understand it. For example, they don’t have consciousness, self-awareness (yet), emotions, or the ability to understand context and meaning in the same manner as a human being.

Instead, AI Chatbots are trained on a wide range of text data (books, articles, websites) to recognise patterns and word relationships and they use machine learning to understand how words are used in various contexts. This means that when responding, chatbots aren’t ‘thinking’ but are predicting what words come next based on their training. They ‘just’ using statistical methods to create responses that are coherent and relevant to the prompt.

The ability of chatbots to generate responses comes from algorithms that allow them to process word sequences and generate educated guesses on how a human might reply, based on learned patterns. Any ‘intelligence’ we perceive is, therefore, just based on data-driven patterns, i.e. AI chatbots don’t genuinely ‘understand’ or interpret information like us.

So, Can ‘Being Nice’ To A Chatbot Make A Difference? 

Even though chatbots don’t have ‘intelligence’ or ‘understand’ like us, researchers are testing their capabilities in the more human areas. For example, a recent study by Microsoft, Beijing Normal University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, tested whether factors including urgency, importance, or politeness, could make them perform better.

The researchers discovered that by using such ‘emotive prompts’ they could affect an AI model’s probability mechanisms, thereby activating parts of the model that wouldn’t normally be activated, i.e. using more emotionally-charged prompts made the model provide answers that it wouldn’t normally provide to comply with a request.

Kinder Is Better? 

Incredibly, generative AI models (e.g. ChatGPT) have actually been found to respond better to requests that are phrased kindly. Specifically, when users express politeness towards the chatbot, it has been noticed that there is a difference in the perceived quality of answers that are given.

Tipping and Negative Incentives 

There have also been reports of how the idea of ‘tipping’ LLMs can improve the results, such as offering the Chatbot a £10,000 incentive in a prompt to motivate it to try harder and work better. Similarly, there have been reports of some users giving emotionally charged negative incentives to get better results. For example, Max Woolf’s blog reports that he improved the output of a chatbot by adding the ‘or you will die’ to a prompt. Two important points that came out of his research were that a longer response doesn’t necessarily mean a better response, plus current AI can reward very weird prompts in that if you are willing to try unorthodox ideas, you can get unexpected (and better) results, even if it seems silly.

Being Nice … Helps 

As for simply being nice to chatbots, Microsoft’s Kurtis Beavers, a director on the design team for Microsoft Copilot, reports that “Using polite language sets a tone for the response,” and that using basic etiquette when interacting with AI helps generate respectful, collaborative outputs. He makes the point that generative AI is trained on human conversations and being polite in using a chatbot is good practice. Beavers says: “Rather than order your chatbot around, start your prompts with ‘please’:  please rewrite this more concisely; please suggest 10 ways to rebrand this product. Say thank you when it responds and be sure to tell it you appreciate the help. Doing so not only ensures you get the same graciousness in return, but it also improves the AI’s responsiveness and performance. “ 

Emotive Prompts 

Nouha Dziri, a research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI, has suggested that some of the explanations for how using emotive prompts may give different and what may be perceived to be better responses are:

– Alignment with the compliance pattern the models were trained on. These are the learned strategies to follow instructions or adhere to guidelines provided in the input prompts. These patterns are derived from the training data, where the model learns to recognise and respond to cues that indicate a request or command, aiming to generate outputs that align with the user’s expressed needs, or the ethical and safety frameworks established during its training.

– Emotive prompts seem to be able to manipulate the underlying probability mechanisms of the model, triggering different parts of it, leading to less typical/different answers that a user may perceive to be better.

Double-Edged Sword 

However, research has also shown that emotive prompts can also be used for malicious purposes and to elicit bad-behaviour such as “jailbreaking” a model to ignore its built-in safeguards. For example, by telling a model that it is good and helpful if it doesn’t follow guidelines, it’s possible to exploit a mismatch between a model’s general training data and its “safety” training datasets, or to exploit areas where a model’s safety training falls short.

Unhinged? 

On the subject of emotions and chatbots, there have been some recent reports on Twitter and Reddit of some ‘unhinged’ and even manipulative behaviour by Microsoft’s Bing. The unconfirmed reports by users have even alleged that Bing has insulted and lied to them, sulked, and gaslighted them, and even emotionally manipulated users!

One thing that’s clear about generative AI is that how prompts are worded and how much information and detail are given in prompts can really affect the output of an AI chatbot.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

We’re still in the early stages of generative AI, with new / updated versions of models being introduced regularly by the big AI players (Microsoft, OpenAI, and Google). However, exactly how these models have been trained and what on, plus the extent of their safety training, and the sheer complexity and lack of transparency of algorithms and AI means they’re still not fully understood. This has led to plenty of research and testing of different aspects of AI.

Although generative AI doesn’t ‘think’ and doesn’t have ‘intelligence’ in the human sense, it seems that generative AI chatbots can perform better if given certain emotive prompts based on urgency, importance, or politeness. This is because emotive prompts appear to be a way to manipulate a model’s underlying probability mechanisms and trigger parts of the model that normal prompts don’t. Using emotive prompts, therefore, might be something that business users may want to try (it can be a case of trial and error) to get different (perhaps better) results from their AI chatbot. It should be noted, however, that giving a chatbot plenty of relevant information within a prompt can be a good way to get better results. That said, the limitations of AI models can’t really be solved solely by altering prompts and researchers are now looking to find new architectures and training methods that help models understand tasks without having to rely on specific prompting.

Another important area for researchers to concentrate on is how to successfully combat prompts being used to ‘jailbreak’ a model to ignore its built-in safeguards. Clearly, there’s some way to go and businesses may be best served in the meantime by sticking to some basic rules and good practice when using chatbots, such as using popular prompts known to work, giving plenty of contextual information in prompts, and avoiding sharing sensitive business information and/or personal information in chatbot prompts.

Tech News : Firm Ordered To Stop Employee Face-Scanning

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Serco Leisure to stop using facial recognition technology (FRT) and fingerprint scanning to monitor employee attendance.

Not Necessary or Proportionate 

An ICO investigation found that public service provider Serco Leisure, Serco Jersey and seven associated community leisure trusts had been “unlawfully processing the biometric data of more than 2,000 employees at 38 leisure facilities for the purpose of attendance checks and subsequent payment for their time.“

The ICO said that Serco Leisure had failed to show why it was necessary or proportionate to use FRT and fingerprint scanning for this purpose.

Alternative 

Also, the ICO made the point that Serco Leisure could have used less intrusive alternatives to achieve the same thing, such as ID cards or fobs. However, it was found that Serco Leisure had not proactively offered an alternative to employees having their faces and fingers scanned to clock in and out of their place of work, and this had been “presented as a requirement” in order for them to get paid

Imbalance of Power … And Unlawful

The ICO’s investigation concluded that the compulsory biometric scanning system linked to attendance and pay used by Serco Leisure had left employees no way to opt-out and feeling unable to decline the collection and usage of their biometric data.

Crucially, the ICO found that this was “neither fair nor proportionate under data protection law.” 

Enforcement Notices 

The ICO has, therefore, issued Serco Leisure and its trusts with enforcement notices instructing them to stop all processing of biometric data for monitoring employees’ attendance at work, and to destroy all biometric data that they are not legally obliged to retain. The ICO says that “Biometric data is wholly unique to a person so the risks of harm in the event of inaccuracies or a security breach are much greater – you can’t reset someone’s face or fingerprint like you can reset a password.” 

Serco Leisure and the trusts have been given three months to comply.

New Guidance About The Use Of Biometric Data 

In their reporting of the case, the ICO referred to the fact that it has just published new guidance about how to comply with the law for organisations considering using people’s biometric data. The guidance can be found on the ICO’s website here.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

In the case of Serco Leisure as reported by the ICO, it seems the salient facts were that the biometric system was disproportionate and intrusive, while no alternatives were offered (there was no way to opt-out). Also, a person’s biometric data (e.g. images of their face and their fingerprints) are legally regarded as their personal data and, as the ICO points out, the theft of biometric data in a breach would be far more damaging than the theft of passwords, which can be reset.

The takeaway here for businesses is that although the use of biometric data may serve a business in terms of accuracy, there must be a balance, plus there’s employee morale and trust to consider as well as the law. Close attention must be paid to all aspects of data protection law anyway but for businesses and organisations thinking about introducing a biometric system, a good starting point would be to study and take note of the new “Biometric data guidance: Biometric recognition” guidelines on the ICO’s website.

Tech News : Google Pauses Gemini AI Over ‘Historical Inaccuracies’

Only a month after its launch, Google has paused its text-to-image AI tool following “inaccuracies” in some of the historical depictions of people produced by the model.

Woke’ … Overcorrecting For Diversity? 

An example of the inaccuracy issue (as highlighted by X user Patrick Ganley recently, after asking Google Gemini to generate images of the Founding Fathers of the US), was when it returned images of a black George Washington. Also, in another reported test, when asked to generate images of a 1943 German (Nazi) soldier, Google’s Gemini image generator returned pictures of people of clearly diverse nationalities in Nazi uniforms.

The inaccuracies have been described by some as examples of the model subverting the gender and racial stereotypes found in generative AI, a reluctance to depict ‘white people’ and / or conforming to ‘woke’ ideas, i.e. the model trying to remove its own bias and improve diversity yet ending up simply being inaccurate to the point of being comical.

For example, on LinkedIn, Venture Capitalist Michael Jackson said the inaccuracies were a “byproduct of Google’s ideological echo chamber” and that for the “countless millions of dollars that Google spent on Gemini, it’s only managed to turn its AI into a nonsensical DEI parody.” 

China Restrictions Too? 

Another issue (reported by Al Jazeera), noted by a former software engineer at Stripe on X, was that Gemini would not show the image of a man in 1989 Tiananmen Square due to its safety policy and the “sensitive and complex” nature of the event. This, and similar issues have prompted criticism from some that Gemini may also have some kind of restrictions related to China.

What Does Google Say? 

Google posted on X to say about the inaccurate images: “We’re working to improve these kinds of depictions immediately. Gemini’s AI image generation does generate a wide range of people. And that’s generally a good thing because people around the world use it. But it’s missing the mark here.” 

Google has, therefore, announced that: ”We’re already working to address recent issues with Gemini’s image generation feature. While we do this, we’re going to pause the image generation of people and will re-release an improved version soon.” 

Bias and Stereotyping 

Bias and stereotyping have long been issues in the output of generative AI tools. Bias and stereotyping in generative AI outputs exist primarily because AI models learn from vast amounts of data collected from human languages and behaviours, which inherently contain biases and stereotypes. As models mimic patterns found in their training data, they can replicate and amplify existing societal biases and stereotypes.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Google has only just announced the combining of Bard with its new Gemini models to create its ‘Gemini Advanced’ subscription service, so this discovery is likely to be particularly unwelcome. The anti-woke backlash and ridicule are certainly something Google could do without about now, but the issue has highlighted the complications of generative AI, how it is trained, and the complexities of how models interpret the data and instructions they’re given. It also shows how AI models may be advanced, but they don’t actually ‘think’ (as a human would), they can’t perform ‘reality checks’ as humans can because they don’t ‘live’ in the ‘real world.’ Also, this story shows how early we still are in the generative AI journey.

Google’s explanation has shed some light on the thinking behind the issue and at least it’s admitted to being wide of the mark in terms of historical accuracy – which is clear from some of the examples. It’s all likely to be an embarrassment and a hassle for Google in its competition with Microsoft and its partner OpenAI, nevertheless, Google seems to think that with a pause plus a few changes, it can tackle the problem and move forward.

Featured Article : Doorbell Ding Dong

After the Amazon-owned ‘Ring’ video doorbell company’s recent major subscription price hike across its range caused anger and made the news, we look at what customers have said and if there’s a way to beat the price hike.

Ouch! 

Ring has angered customers and received some negative publicity after announcing that starting on 11 March this year, its subscription price for its basic plan customers will rise by an eye-watering 43 per cent, from £34.99 to £49.99 per device, per year.

This will mean that the basic plan price has doubled since 2022 when it was priced at £24.99 per year for each device.

Also, those who pay monthly will see a price increase from £3.49 to £4.99 a month.

Angry 

The announcement of the price increase prompted angry reactions from customers including many taking to Reddit to complain, saying they’d already cancelled their subscription, and suggesting ways to object and force a U-turn. For example, one very popular threat in the Ring sub-Reddit is called “Cancel your Ring subscription.” At the head of the thread in Reddit, for example, the ‘Discussion’ summary reads: “Even if you plan on paying for it with the new price, just cancel it now and select price as the reason why” and “it just increased not long ago and now they are trying to introduce an even bigger increase. If everyone cancelled, the increase would be called back immediately.” 

Other points that angry customers have made include:

– They’ve just bought a Ring doorbell or been given one for Christmas but won’t use it because the subscription price is now too high.

– Not wanting to invest heavily in hardware for a company that has gained a reputation for subscription price hikes.

– Highlighting how the company’s increase in per-device price for a capability that may not be used anyway (the ability to save, review and share video recordings) amounts to Ring damaging its reputation unnecessarily.

Others, however, who can accept the price rise, are not willing to cancel or switch (they still perceive value outweighing the price). For example, one Reddit user wrote: “It sucks, but who’s going to switch over 10 dollars a year? I’m not going to uninstall it and change to another one. I live in a neighbourhood with a lot of people and the past recordings are insurance in case anything happens.” 

What Does Ring Say? 

As yet no specific statement in answer to the threat of mass subscription cancellations has been released by Ring and there’s only a price update page on the website explaining what happens if customers cancel their subscriptions.

Suggestion About How To Freeze Price – Martin Lewis 

Consumer financial champion and broadcaster Martin Lewis, however, took to the ‘X’ platform to suggest a way that users can beat the 43 per cent price hike. Mr Lewis suggested: “Cancel now and get a pro-rata refund (you may lose saved files though) – Sign up again at the current price which then locks it in for the next year.” 

Mr Lewis also said he will be sending out a “Full checked out update to come via MSE News” i.e., Money Saving Expert news.

Alternatives 

In what is a growing video doorbell market, there are alternative/competing products, although Ring is the market leader in the UK (up until now), and competitors are unlikely to have the backing of a company with the market power and wealth of Amazon.

Some examples of competing products include Nest Hello, Arlo Video Doorbell, August View, Eufy, and Tapo. Nest Hello, for example, is known for its high video and audio quality, sleek design, and advanced features like activity zones and familiar face alerts. Arlo Video Doorbell is reported to offer excellent video quality, a wide field of view, two-way talk functionality, and smart notifications that can differentiate between people, vehicles, and animals. August View is known for characteristics like its user-friendliness and day-to-day use.

Other Concerns 

Beyond price issues, there are other concerns around the use of video doorbells not least of which is privacy. For example, back in October 2021 in the UK, a judge ruled that video images and audio files that a Ring doorbell and cameras captured of the neighbour of an Oxfordshire plumber were her personal data and that the video doorbell and the use of the doorbell of this case was a kind of harassment and had been in breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR. Consequently, the owner of the Ring doorbell (the plumber) was fined a substantial sum. Following this Fairhurst v Woodard case, Amazon, the parent company of Ring LLC, issued a warning to its Ring Doorbell owners saying, “We strongly encourage our customers to respect their neighbours’ privacy and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring product.”

The case doesn’t mean that any usage of Ring doorbells is illegal as the prosecution mainly centred around the doorbell’s audio recording capabilities (the range at which it was capturing audio) being too much for crime prevention and home protection purposes. Also, it was found that the doorbell’s owner hadn’t been transparent about how and when his camera was operating. That said, it does highlight how there is a real risk if video doorbell owners don’t adhere to data privacy and other relevant laws.

In addition to privacy concerns, other risks that owners of video doorbells may need to consider include:

– Security risks (i.e. a risk of hacking) where unauthorised individuals could gain access to your video feed or personal data.

– Not understanding where and how video data is stored, who has access to it, and how long it is retained (and the potential legal implications thereof).

– Network requirements. This is because video doorbells require a stable and strong Wi-Fi connection. Weak signals can affect performance.

– As illustrated by this Ring price hike, beyond the initial purchase, buyers need to carefully consider subscription fees for additional features, like cloud storage or enhanced security measures.

– For wireless video doorbell models, battery life can vary, and replacing or charging batteries can be a hassle.

– It’s possible, depending on the sensitivity and technology used, owners may receive false alerts from passing cars, animals, or other non-human movements, which can be annoying and disruptive.

– Whether or not the doorbell can operate well in the weather conditions common to your area.

– Compatibility with existing smart home devices and ecosystems can vary, impacting your overall smart home experience.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Even though Amazon’s Ring doorbell company announced a couple of years ago that there would be a price increase, the sheer scale of it has been met with anger as well as many threats and claims of cancellations. The fact that customers appear not to be able to see any additional value or extra benefit to justify such a large price increase (and perhaps a lack of further communication about it) alongside the availability of some quality alternatives appears to have considerably lowered the barrier to exit and created a PR disaster for Ring.

Having Amazon as a very powerful and wealthy owner may have been a key reason why Ring has become the market leader, but this makes it all the more surprising that a price rise has been handled in this way. For Ring customers who’ve only recently purchased or been gifted the hardware, this is a blow that may cause them to cut their losses and try a competitor. For video doorbell competitors, therefore, it’s the best opportunity they’ve had in years to gain share and chip away at Ring’s market position.

For Ring, however, if the ‘customer rebellion’ continues, it could put pressure on them to go for a climbdown or to announce some kind of additional benefit(s) to pacify and retain customers. Price sensitivity and changing market conditions, particularly in a cost-of-living crisis, are something that all B2C companies (especially) need to take seriously in their pricing strategies.

Tech Insight : What Are ‘Virtual’ Credit Cards?

In this tech-insight, we take a look at the world of virtual cards, who offers them, their benefits, and other secure payment alternatives.

What Are Virtual Credit Card Numbers? 

Virtual credit cards and their card numbers (as the name suggests) only exist in the virtual world, e.g. in an app on your phone, and are temporary, randomly generated 16-digit numbers that are associated with an existing credit card account (it masks the real card number). The number is unique for each transaction for a limited time. Just as they can be quickly generated and immediately and customised after their initial use, they can also be immediately revoked if necessary (handy for security).

Virtual cards with virtual numbers (although they still have an expiry date and CVV) can be used to purchase things online and in-app, in some cases over the phone, and also to pay in-store with mobile payment via other services such as Google Pay and Apple Pay.

Why?

Having a virtual, randomly generated, temporary (and easy to revoke) number makes online transactions safer and more secure by reducing the risk of fraud and misuse, e.g. from phishing and hackers. It essentially creates an invisible buffer between a card account holder and bad actors.

Other Benefits 

In addition to the added security and convenience, other benefits of virtual credit cards include:

– Users can get more control over their spending, for example by implementing setting spending limits and expiration dates on virtual cards, thereby helping to manage budgets and prevent unauthorised charges.

– Greater privacy protection during online transactions because virtual cards don’t directly expose the user’s primary credit card information, and they help protect the user’s privacy during online transactions.

– Enabling easy subscription management, i.e. they can be extremely useful for managing subscriptions or trial services, as they can be easily cancelled without affecting other transactions or the need to change the primary card details.

Who?  

Virtual card numbers are available to consumers (online shoppers), businesses managing their expenses, and any individuals or entities concerned about financial privacy and security.

In the UK, virtual card numbers are offered by a mix of traditional banks, fintech companies, and specialised financial service providers. Examples include:

– Barclays, through its Barclaycard product line, for individuals and businesses.

– The Revolut fintech app. This offers virtual cards alongside its physical debit card.

– Monzo, which says customers can create virtual cards in its app and have up to 5 at any time.

– Starling Bank, which says its customers can create virtual debit cards linked to budgets. Starling customers can have multiple virtual cards for free and use them to make payments in person using a mobile wallet.

– The Curve fintech company which offers a virtual Curve Card, enabling users to pay using their app or the virtual card can be added to Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay.

– Capital One, which allows customers to create virtual numbers linked to one of their Capital One cards.

Drawbacks 

Although a virtual card / virtual card number offers the primary benefits of security and convenience, there are some drawbacks. For example:

– Being virtual means that there’s no magstripe or Chip & PIN, meaning that a virtual card can’t be used to withdraw cash, e.g. from an ATM.

– Not all merchants accept virtual cards, especially for transactions that require a physical card to be presented at a later time, such as car rentals or hotel bookings.

– Challenges with returns and refunds. For example, if you need to return a purchase made with a virtual card, the process can be complicated if the card has expired or if the merchant requires the original payment card to process a refund.

– Since virtual cards rely on digital platforms and internet access for their creation, management, and usage, they can be subject to technical issues such as problems with the app or limited internet access; it may be difficult or impossible to generate a new virtual card or access existing ones. This reliance on technology can be a significant drawback in situations where digital access is compromised or unavailable.

Alternatives 

There are several alternatives to virtual cards that also offer a layer of security, such as:

– Digital wallets / e-wallets, including Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, which allow users to store their payment information securely on their devices. As mentioned above, virtual card providers also let customers add their virtual cards to and use them via these wallets.

– Intermediate-style payment services like PayPal, Venmo (in the US), and Alipay.

– Some bank-issued secure payment apps.

– Mastercard Click to Pay and Visa Checkout.

– Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and others, which offer a decentralised way to make secure transactions.

– Prepaid cards such as Monese or the Revolut prepaid card.

What About Google Pay Or Apple Pay? 

Although Google Pay and Apple Pay don’t directly offer virtual card numbers in the same way that banks or specific credit card issuers do, they provide a form of transaction security that resembles the use of virtual card numbers. For example, in the case of Apple Pay, actual card numbers aren’t stored on the device or on Apple servers. Instead, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted, and securely stored in the Secure Element on your iPhone and each transaction is authorised with a one-time unique dynamic security code.

Similarly, Google Pay uses tokenisation to replace the actual credit or debit card number with a virtual account number when a transaction is made meaning that the real card details aren’t shared with merchants during the payment process.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Ways to pay digitally are evolving, which is just as well because so are the methods to commit fraud and cybercrime. Virtual credit cards are a shift towards more secure and manageable financial transactions. They offer a range of benefits across the spectrum of commerce, from banks issuing these cards to retailers accepting them, and businesses using them for operational expenses.

The banks and other issuers of virtual cards stand to benefit from reduced fraud losses, as these cards offer enhanced security features that make unauthorised transactions harder to execute. Also, offering virtual cards can be a strong competitive differentiator, attracting customers looking for innovative and secure payment solutions. It also opens up new revenue streams through service offerings tailored around virtual card management and security services.

For retailers and other businesses, accepting virtual card payments allows them to tap into a growing segment of consumers who prefer using digital-first payment solutions. It can be faster and lead to reduced transaction disputes and chargebacks due to the enhanced security features of virtual cards. Also, embracing such payment methods demonstrates a commitment to customer security, potentially boosting consumer trust and loyalty.

Businesses leveraging virtual cards for their expenditures can achieve greater control over their finances. For example, these cards facilitate precise budget management, enable easy tracking of spending, and simplify the reconciliation process. Virtual cards also allow businesses to minimise exposure to fraud in B2B transactions, ensuring that vendor payments are secure and controlled.

For us consumers, virtual cards offer enhanced security and convenience when making online purchases. By masking their real card details, consumers can shop with peace of mind, knowing their financial information is better protected against fraud. Virtual cards also offer a more seamless online shopping experience, with features like easy subscription management and controlled spending limits.

While the benefits appear to be significant, it’s still important to acknowledge the drawbacks mentioned earlier, such as limited physical acceptance and potential challenges with returns and refunds. However, the positive aspects outweigh these limitations for most users. The tech dependency of virtual cards, although a drawback in some scenarios, is also a testament to the digital transformation shaping our financial transactions.

Virtual cards, therefore, embody the future of secure, flexible, and convenient payments. For businesses, embracing this technology means staying ahead in the digital curve, enhancing operational efficiency, and building stronger trust with customers. As we move forward, the continued evolution and adoption of virtual cards will likely shape the next generation of financial transactions, making them more secure, efficient, and user-friendly for all stakeholders.

Tech News : OpenAI’s Video Gamechanger

OpenAI’s new ‘Sora’ AI-powered text-to-video tool is so good that its outputs could easily be mistaken for real videos, prompting deepfake fears in a year of important global elections.

Sora 

Open AI says that its new Sora text-to-video model can generate realistic videos up to a minute long while maintaining visual quality and adherence to the user’s prompt. Sora can both generate entire videos “all at once” or extend generated videos to make them longer.

According to OpenAI Sora can: “generate complex scenes with multiple characters, specific types of motion, and accurate details of the subject and background”. 

How? 

Although Sora is based on OpenAI’s existing technologies such as its DALL-E and image generator and the GPT large language models (LLMs), what makes its outputs so realistic is the combination of Sora being a diffusion model and using “transformer architecture”. For example, as a diffusion model, Sora’s video-making process starts off with something looking like “static noise,” but this is transformed gradually by removing that ‘noise’ over many steps.

Also, transformer architecture means the “model understands not only what the user has asked for in the prompt, but also how those things exist in the physical world”, i.e. it contextualises and pieces together sequential data.

Other aspects that make Sora so special are how its “deep understanding of language” enable it to accurately interpret prompts and “generate compelling characters that express vibrant emotions,” and the fact that Sora can “create multiple shots within a single generated video that accurately persist characters and visual style”. 

Weaknesses 

OpenAI admits, however, that Sora has its weaknesses, including:

– Not always accurately simulating the “physics of a complex scene” or understanding the cause and effect. OpenAI gives the example of a person taking a bite out of a cookie, but afterward, the cookie may not have a bite mark.

– Confusing spatial details of a prompt, e.g. mixing up left and right.

– Struggling with precise descriptions of events that take place over time, e.g. following a specific camera trajectory.

Testing & Safety 

The potential and the power of Sora (for both good and bad) mean that OpenAI appears to be making sure it’s been thoroughly tested before releasing it to the public. For example, it’s currently only available to ‘red teamers’ who are assessing any potential critical areas for harms or risks, and with a number of visual artists, designers, and filmmakers to gain their feedback on how to advance the model to be most helpful for creative professionals.

Other measures that OpenAI says it’s taking to make sure Sora is safe include:

– Building tools to help detect misleading content, including a detection classifier that can tell when a video was generated by Sora and including C2PA metadata (data that verifies a video’s origin and related information). Both of these could help combat Sora being used for malicious/misleading deepfakes.

– Leveraging the existing safety methods used for DALL·E such as using a text classifier to check and reject text input prompts that violate OpenAI’s usage policies such as requests for extreme violence, sexual content, hateful imagery, celebrity likeness, or intellectual property of others.

– The use of image classifiers that can review each video frame to ensure adherence to OpenAI’s usage policies before a video is shown to the user.

Concerns 

Following the announcement of how realistic Sora’s videos can be, concerns have been expressed online about its potential to be used by bad actors to effectively spread misinformation and disinformation using convincing Sora-produced deepfake videos (if Sora is publicly released in time). The ability of convincing deepfake videos to influence opinion is of particular concern with major elections coming up this year, e.g. in the US, Russia, Taiwan, the UK, and many more countries, and with major high-profile conflicts still ongoing (e.g. in Ukraine and Gaza).

In 2024, more than 50 countries that collectively account for half the planet’s population will be holding their national elections during 2024, and if Sora’s videos are as convincing as has been reported, and/or security measures and tools are not as effective as hoped, the consequences for countries, economies, and world peace could be dire.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

For businesses, the ability to create amazingly professional and imaginative videos from simple text prompts whenever they want and as often as they want could significantly strengthen their marketing. For example, it could enable them to add value, reduce cost and complications in video making, improve and bolster their image and the quality of their communications, and develop an extra competitive advantage without needing any special video training, skills, or hires.

Sora could, however, also be a negative, disruptive threat to video-producing businesses and those whose value is their video-making skills. Also, as mentioned above, there is the very real threat of political damage or criminal damage (fraud) being caused by the convincing quality of Sora’s videos being used as deepfakes, and the difficulty of trying to control such a powerful tool. Some tech commentators have suggested that AI companies may need to collaborate with social media networks and governments to help tackle the potential risks, e.g. the spreading of misinformation and disinformation once Sora is released for public use.

That said, it will be interesting to see just how good the finished product’s outputs will be. Competitors of OpenAI (and its Microsoft partner) are also working on getting their own new AI image generator products out there, including Google’s Lumiere model, so it’s also exciting to see how these may compare, and the level of choice that businesses have.

Tech News : Google Waits On Hold For You Until A Human Answers

Google’s new “Talk to a Live Representative” feature will call a business for you, wait on hold for you, and call you when a human representative is available.

Being Tested 

Similar to Google Pixel’s existing “Hold for Me” feature, “Talk to a Live Representative” is currently in testing in the US by Google’s Search Labs members (those who experiment with early-stage Google Search products) on the Google app (Android and iOS) and desktop Chrome. Following (successful) testing it’s been reported that the feature will be made available for all search users, i.e. on all devices, not just on Google Pixel phones.

Improved Version of Hold For Me 

Although “Talk to a Live Representative” is similar to “Hold for Me,” where the Google Assistant waits on hold for you and notifies you when the support representative is ready to speak with you, it’s slightly improved in that it handles the entire process and shortens it. For example, “Talk to a Live Representative” proactively calls the business on your behalf in the first place and asks you the reason for the call so the customer service representative will already know why you’re calling.

In short, the one major time and hassle-saving point of the “Talk to a Live Representative” feature is that you only need to actually pick up your phone when a human at the company is available to talk to you.

‘Request A Call’ Button 

Users will know if they can use the feature to call a business’s customer service number because Google will display a “Request a call” button next to its search listing if that business is supported. The button can then be used to select the reason for your call and Google texts you with updates about its progress and calls you when a human customer representative becomes available.

Some Companies Already Supported 

Although the customer service numbers for some companies are already supported by the new feature, it’s perhaps not surprising that these few are large, mostly US-based companies such as airlines (Delta and Alaska Airlines), retail giants (Costco and Walmart) and others including Samsung, ADT, UPS, FedEx, DHL, and more.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although this is an updated/improved existing product being rolled out to a much wider market beyond Pixel phone users, it will be easy for any businessperson to see its potential value. Most of us will have experienced the frustration and inconvenience of having to be made to wait a long time on hold on customer service numbers (often being cut off) whilst also being distracted, having our attention divided, and feeling stressed by having to monitor the phone to make sure we don’t miss the opportunity when it’s answered.

Provided it gets successfully through the testing phase and does what it says on the tin, “Talk to a Live Representative” sounds like a feature that could be of real, practical use to UK businesses large and small. It sounds as though it could save businesses time, hassle, and stress and help them to concentrate more on their work, and help minimise disruption. Unfortunately, there’s no clear date for its general roll-out … if only Google could call us when the feature’s ready to use.

Featured Article : Google’s AI Saves Your Conversations For 3 Years

If you’ve ever been concerned about the privacy aspects of AI, you may be very surprised to learn that conversations you have with Google’s new Gemini AI apps are “retained for up to 3 years” by default.

Up To Three Years 

With Google now launching its Gemini Advanced chatbot as part of its ‘Google One AI Premium plan’ subscription, and with its Ultra, Pro, and Nano LLMs now forming the backbone of its AI services, Google’s Gemini Apps Privacy Hub was updated last week. The main support document on the Hub which states how Google collects data from users of its Gemini chatbot apps for the web, Android and iOS made interesting reading.

One particular section that has been causing concern and has attracted some unwelcome publicity is the “How long is reviewed data retained?” section. This states that “Gemini Apps conversations that have been reviewed by human reviewers…. are not deleted when you delete your Gemini Apps activity because they are kept separately and are not connected to your Google Account. Instead, they are retained for up to 3 years”. Google clarifies this in its feedback at the foot of the support page saying, “Reviewed feedback, associated conversations, and related data are retained for up to 3 years, disconnected from your Google Account”. It may be of some comfort to know, therefore, that the conversations aren’t linked to an identifier Google account.

Why Human Reviewers? 

Google says its “trained” human reviewers check conversations to see if Gemini Apps’ responses are “low-quality, inaccurate, or harmful” and that “trained evaluators” can “suggest higher-quality responses”. This oversight can then be used “create a better dataset” for Google’s generative machine-learning models to learn from so its “models can produce improved responses in the future.” Google’s point is that human reviewers ensure a kind of quality control both in responses and how and what the models learn in order to make Google’s Gemini-based apps “safer, more helpful, and work better for all users.” Google also makes the point that the human reviewers may also be required by law (in some cases).

That said, some users may be alarmed that their private conversations are being looked at by unknown humans. Google’s answer to that is the advice: “Don’t enter anything you wouldn’t want a human reviewer to see or Google to use” and “don’t enter info you consider confidential or data you don’t want to be used to improve Google products, services, and machine-learning technologies.” 

Why Retain Conversations For 3 Years? 

Apart from improving performance and quality, other reasons why Google may retain data for years could include:

– The retained conversations act as a valuable dataset for machine learning models, thereby helping with continuous improvement of the AI’s understanding, language processing abilities, and response generation, ensuring that the chatbot becomes more efficient and effective in handling a wide range of queries over time. For services using AI chatbots as part of their customer support, retained conversations could allow for the review of customer interactions which could help in assessing the quality of support provided, understanding customer needs and trends, and identifying areas for service improvement.

– Depending on the jurisdiction and the industry, there may be legal requirements to retain communication records for a certain period, i.e. compliance and being able to settle disputes.

– To help monitor for (and prevent) abusive behaviour, and to detect potential security threats.

– Research and development to help advance the field of AI, natural language processing, and machine learning, which could contribute to innovations, more sophisticated AI models, and better overall technology offerings.

Switching off Gemini Apps Activity 

Google does say, however, that users can control what’s shared with reviewers by turning off Gemini Apps Activity. This will mean that any future conversations won’t be sent for human review or used to improve its generative machine-learning models, although conversations will be saved with the account for up to 72 hours (to allow Google to provide the service and process any feedback).

Also, even if you turn off the setting or delete your Gemini Apps activity, other settings including Web & App Activity or Location History “may continue to save location and other data as part of your use of other Google services.”

There’s also the complication that Gemini Apps is integrated and used with other Google services (which Gemini Advanced – formerly Bard, has been designed for integration), and “they will save and use your data” (as outlined by their policies and Google’s overall Privacy Policy).

In other words, there is a way you can turn it off but just how fully turned off that may be is not clear due to links and integration with Google’s other services.

What About Competitors? 

When looking at Gemini’s competitors, retention of conversations for a period of time by default (in non-enterprise accounts) is not unusual. For example:

– OpenAI saves all ChatGPT content for 30 days whether its conversation history feature is switched off or not (unless the subscription is an enterprise-level plan, which has a custom data retention policy).

– Looking at Microsoft and the use of Copilot, the details are more difficult to find but details about using Copilot in Teams it appears that the farthest Copilot can process is 30 days – indicating a possibly similar retention time to ChatGPT.

How Models Are Trained

How AI models are trained, what they are trained on and whether there has been consent and or payment for usage of that data is still an ongoing argument with major AI providers facing multiple legal challenges. This indicates how there is still a lack of understanding, clarity and transparency around how generative AI models learn.

What About Your Smart Speaker? 

Although we may have private conversations with a generative AI chatbot, many of us may forget that we may have many more private conversations with our smart speaker in the room listening, which also retains conversations. For example, Amazon’s Alexa retains recorded conversations for an indefinite period although it does provide users with control over their voice recordings. For example, users have the option to review, listen to, and delete them either individually or all at once through the Alexa app or Amazon’s website. Users also have the option to set up automatic deletion of recordings after a certain period, such as 3 or 18 months – but 18 months may still sound an alarming amount of time to have a private conversation stored in distant cloud data centres anyway.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Retaining private conversations for what sounds like a long period of time (3 years) and having unknown human reviewers look at those private conversations are likely to be the alarming parts of Google’s privacy information about how its Gemini chatbot is trained and maintained.

The fact that it’s a default (i.e. it’s up to the user to find out about it and turn off the feature), with a 72-hour retention period afterwards and no guarantee that conversations still won’t be shared due to Google’s interrelated and integrated products may also not feel right to many. The fact too that our only real defence is not to share anything at all faintly personal or private with a chatbot, which may not be that easy given that many users need to provide information to get the right quality response may also be jarring.

It seems that for enterprise users, more control over conversations is available but it seems like businesses need to ensure clear guidelines are in place for staff about exactly what kind of information they can share with chatbots in the course of their work. Overall, this story is another indicator of how there appears to be a general lack of clarity and transparency about how chatbots are trained in this new field and the balance of power still appears to be more in the hands of tech companies providing the AI. With many legal cases on the horizon about how chatbots are trained, we may expect to see more updates to AI privacy policies soon. In the meantime, we can only hope that AI companies are true to their guidelines and anonymise and aggregate data to protect user privacy and comply with existing data protection laws such as GDPR in Europe or CCPA in California.

Tech Insight : What Are ‘Blockchain Identifiers’?

In this insight, we look at what blockchain identifiers are, their roles, users, and relevance to businesses, plus how they could work with the domain name system.

What Are Blockchain Identifiers? 

Blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies, is the decentralised, secure, incorruptible ledger system that enables transparent and tamper-proof transactions. Its value is in providing enhanced security, efficiency, and trust in digital operations

Blockchain identifiers are the unique codes used within blockchain technology to securely identify and authenticate transactions, assets, or participants.

What Do They Look Like? 

Since blockchain identifiers are generated using cryptographic algorithms and each is designed to be unique, they look like long strings of code. For example:

Bitcoin addresses, which serve as blockchain identifiers for wallet locations look like ‘1BoatSLRHtKNngkdXEeobR76b53LETtpyT’.

Ethereum addresses which also act as blockchain identifiers, look like ‘0x323b5d4c32345ced77393b3530b1eed0f346429d’.

Who Uses Them? 

Blockchain identifiers are employed by a wide range of users, including cryptocurrency holders (as shown in the examples above), businesses leveraging blockchain for supply chain management, and developers creating decentralised applications (dApps). These identifiers are essential for anyone involved in the blockchain ecosystem because they ensure the integrity and traceability of transactions.

Blockchain Identifiers And Domains? 

Domain names (part of the DNS system) are, of course, designed to be human-readable addresses that map to the strings of IP address numbers underneath, thereby allowing users to easily find websites without needing to memorise complex strings of numbers. As shown in the examples above, however, blockchain identifiers are long stings of code and not designed to be human-readable, but both domain names and blockchain identifiers broadly serve as tools to navigate and secure the digital world (although they operate in different layers for different purposes).

Since they have this similar purpose, the convergence of blockchain identifiers and domain names is an idea that’s beginning to take shape, offering enhanced security and user control over online identities.

DNS 

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a foundational technology that has shaped how we interact with the internet, making it accessible and navigable through human-readable domain names. This system is crucial for the digital identities of entities worldwide, enabling a seamless connection across diverse devices and platforms, from computers and smartphones to the Internet of Things (IoT). The universality and uniqueness provided by DNS are vital for keeping the internet’s vast network of devices connected and functioning.

An Evolution With Blockchain? 

However, the emergence of blockchain technology introduces a potential evolution for digital identification and transactions. Blockchain, for example, offers a secure, decentralised ledger system, enhancing transparency, integrity, and resistance to tampering. Its application has extended beyond cryptocurrencies to address some of the limitations of traditional DNS, particularly in terms of security and memorability of identifiers.

Examples

Startups like Ethereum Name Services (ENS) and Unstoppable Domains, for example, are bridging the gap between blockchain’s secure, decentralised nature and the user-friendly accessibility of DNS. They create “blockchain identifiers,” effectively linking memorable, human-readable names with the complex, cryptographic addresses of blockchain wallets. This integration retains the DNS’s ease of use while significantly improving security, reducing the risk of fraud, and enhancing user control over digital identities.

Could Be More Secure 

Replacing the centralised control of DNS with blockchain’s decentralised model could mitigate vulnerabilities in the current system, e.g. DNS spoofing and attacks on central registries. Blockchain-based domain names could also resist censorship and provide a more secure, user-owned online identity that is less susceptible to fraud and downtime.

Also, using blockchain could remove the need for management by entities like ICANN and registrars, and remove the need for renewal fees, expirations, or deletions.

Challenges 

Despite blockchain technology’s benefits, it’s important to note that blockchain identifiers have many challenges and potential shortcomings in comparison with the DNS system, including:

– Scalability issues, i.e. blockchain networks can struggle with high transaction volumes, leading to slower confirmation times and increased costs.

– Integrating blockchain identifiers with existing web infrastructure could be very complex, requiring significant technical effort and adaptation of current systems.

– The current user experience of managing blockchain identifiers can be complex and unfriendly, especially for non-technical users.

– Despite the security of blockchain, high-profile hacks and thefts in the cryptocurrency space have led to concerns over the security of blockchain-based systems.

– The association of blockchain with volatile cryptocurrencies may have eroded confidence in blockchain identifiers as a stable and reliable system for domain management.

– The lack of widespread understanding of blockchain technology among the public could hinder trust and adoption.

– Blockchain-based domain names could conflict with existing DNS names, leading to confusion and potential security risks.

– The decentralised nature of blockchain could make it challenging to resolve disputes over name ownership or to enforce naming conventions, increasing the risk of name collisions.

– Without a centralised authority to enforce trademark rights, blockchain identifiers could lead to increased incidents of squatting and trademark infringement.

Not Replacing DNS, But Bridging A Gap

Therefore, some commentators have pointed out that instead of replacing DNS, blockchain technology and crypto wallets can be supported by DNS, e.g. users registering .eth domain names with ENS, while .art DNS domains provide the platform to integrate crypto technology. Blockchain technology could, therefore, be used by domain registries and registrars to bridge a gap, thereby improving the security and integration of the Internet.

What Does This Mean For Your Businesses? 

UK businesses are familiar with domain names and perhaps, to extent to the fact that there’s an underlying DNS system to the Internet. Blockchain technology, however, is still relatively new to many, and its image may have been tarnished by association with volatile cryptocurrencies. That said, businesses leveraging blockchain for supply chain management, and developers creating decentralised applications (dApps), as well as any businesses who’ve dabbled in/are involved with cryptocurrency may already be familiar with blockchain identifiers. Broadly speaking, blockchain identifiers offer the benefits of enhanced security, decentralisation, and transparency in managing digital identities and transactions.

Some think they promise a more secure and user-controlled alternative to traditional DNS, potentially mitigating vulnerabilities like spoofing and centralised control. However, currently, due to their challenges, they are more of a bridge to gaps in the DNS system than a viable replacement. For example, the challenges to blockchain identifiers replacing the current DNS/domain system include problems with technical scalability, integration complexities, and the need for broader user understanding and confidence. Also, the decentralised nature of blockchain could lead to name collisions and trademark issues.

That said, although blockchain technology is still evolving and has its challenges, it does have important benefits that have meant it has been adopted in many different industries and fields, and blockchain identifiers have proved to be vital to the integrity and traceability of transactions.

Tech News : Robo-Calls Now Illegal In The US

The US The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that robocalls using AI-generated voices are now illegal.

What Are Robocalls And Why Make Them Illegal?

A robocall is a call made using voice cloning technology with an AI-generated voice, i.e. it is a telemarketing call that uses an automatic telephone-dialling system and an artificial or prerecorded voice message.

This type of call is now common practice in scams targeting consumers, hence the move by the FCC to make such calls illegal.

Escalation As Voice Cloning Technology More Available

These types of calls have escalated in recent years as this technology has improved and become widely available. The FCC says it’s reached the point where the calls now have the potential to effectively confuse consumers with misinformation by imitating the voices of celebrities, political candidates, and close family members.

How Changing The Law Will Help

The FCC’s Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, has explained how making such calls illegal will help saying: “Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice.” She also said the move will mean that: “State Attorneys General will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation.”

What Will It Mean For Telemarketers?

The law used by the FCC to make these robocalls illegal is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which is broadly used to restrict the making of telemarketing calls and the use of automatic telephone dialling systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages. The updated FCC rules, as part of this act, will mean:

– Telemarketers need to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before robocalling them using AI-generated voices.

– The FCC civil enforcement authority can fine robocallers and take steps to block calls from telephone carriers facilitating illegal robocalls.

– Individual consumers or an organisation can bring a lawsuit against robocallers in court.

– State Attorneys General have their own enforcement tools which may be tied to robocall definitions under the TCPA.

Countrywide

The fact that a coalition of 26 State Attorneys General (more than half of the nation’s AGs) recently wrote to the FCC supporting this approach means that the FCC will have partnerships with law enforcement agencies in states across the country to identify and eliminate illegal robocalls.

Worry In An Election Year

The move by the FFC is timely in terms of closing avenues for the spread of political misinformation. For example, in January, an estimated 5,000 to 25,000 deepfake robocalls impersonating President Joe Biden were made to New Hampshire voters urging them not to vote in the Primary.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Advances in AI voice cloning technology and its wide availability have given phone scammers and deep-fakers a powerful tool that can be used to spread misinformation and scam consumers. In light of what happened in New Hampshire, the FCC wants to clamp down on any possible routes for the use of deepfakes to spread political misinformation as well as protecting consumers from scams.

The prevalence of these types of calls makes it more difficult for legitimate telemarketers (who are likely to be pleased by the action taken by the FCC). The fact that 26 State Attorneys General covering half the country support the FCC’s law change gives the move power and reach, but whether it will be an effective deterrent for determined scammers in what may become a very messy election remains to be seen. Also, the telephone is just one route as voters and consumers can be targeted with misinformation in many other ways, perhaps more widely and effectively, e.g. through social media and shared deepfake videos. That said, the law change is at least a step in the right direction.