The misuse of technology isn't just about infringing on our right to privacy, it is chipping away at the heart of our society and the fundamental rights and freedoms we seek to protect.
We’re on a mission to help people understand the observations made about them, by companies and their technology, so that we can begin the work on understanding how, and why, we make the decisions that we do as individuals, and as a society.
"We exist at the intersection of artificial intelligence, human rights and consent."Nicholas Oliver, Co-Founder of FORTYEIGHT
In the last few years, as a society, we began to move past the point at which control over our personal data gave us the desired outcome of privacy, and the associated protections to our fundamental rights and freedoms.
Technology increasingly allows companies to know more about you, than you know about yourself. This inversion to the balance of knowledge does more than simply infringe upon our privacy; it begins to undermine many rights afforded to us, such that we can live a free life.
Our hope lies in transparency. Not only of the cause, but, more importantly, of the effect. By seeing the effect technology, and the companies who operate it, has on our lives as a result of the observations they make, we will finally have an ability to weigh the good with the bad, and to choose our own fate.
Technology is increasingly programmed to know you, without needing access to your personal data. It has been trained to see patterns in non-identifiable data that enable it to make observations about you - without knowing ‘you’.
An image recognition system, for example, could make an observation about the football team you support, by seeing the shirt you’re wearing. From this observation, the recognition system may then trigger an advert on a TV screen or provide directions to your team’s seating area in the stadium.
These observations are rarely made to an absolute certainty, and the very nature of the technology means that it has likely made many hundreds, if not thousands, of other observations from the same image, choosing only to select and then act upon the observations of highest confidence.
Smart technology like this is everywhere. It’s making observations about you to recommend the videos, news stories or social posts you might find interesting, it’s observing which mode of transport you prefer, morning noon and night, to help you arrive on time, it’s observing your route through the supermarket to make aisles more convenient, it’s even observing what exercise you enjoy to help tailor personalised fitness and training plans.
It makes our lives easier and more convenient, letting us focus on being ‘in the moment’, instead of dealing with menial tasks. So, why must we always scaremonger and frustrate the status quo?
‘Pulling the cord’ has lost its effect, and the technology of today is able to make highly accurate, and sometimes intrusive, observations about you without even accessing your personal data; negating the protections once afforded by the layer of consent typically required by data privacy regulation.
Access to your name, or date-of-birth is no longer a prerequisite of being identifiable to a company or technology, neither is your email address or your face. Now, technology enables your identification through even the most subtle of attributes from the shape of your ears, to the way you walk.
In one moment, this technology provides us with convenience, while in the very next it’s used to discriminate, coerce and enslave us. In the shadows, it’s observing when teenagers are insecure and vulnerable so as to sell them products, it’s making observations about whether you’re being truthful or not in police reports and insurance claims, it’s even observing you in the crowd to determine if you’re a leader of a group, to help break apart a protest.
The effect of an inaccurate observation on your life may, in one situation, be as inconvenient as an irrelevant film being promoted to you, yet, in another, it could tip the balance between freedom and imprisonment.
Building trust in technology and the companies who operate it, require transparency. Not just to the positive effects, but the bad also.
Our rights and freedoms have become a numbers game, played against companies who invest billions into research and development, unwilling to acknowledge the poor efficacy of their systems in fear of losing commercial contracts.
"US government tests find even top-performing facial recognition systems misidentify blacks at rates five to 10 times higher than they do whites."Wired Magazine, July 2019
While technology may not yet be the arbiter of justice, it can certainly lay claim to being the producer of it. By increasing the number of situations in which a person’s innocence is put in question, you begin to increase the likelihood of their being found guilty of something. As humans, we are, after all, wired to believe that wherever there is smoke, there must be fire.
Exacerbated by a legal system that favours tangible evidence over your subjective verbal account, or coercible witness statement, our credibility is also now being put to the test against some of the world’s most valuable and trusted technology brands, whose algorithms help provide the tangible evidence our legal systems crave.
We must challenge the status quo, to know when, how and why we've been observed. Not just when we're actually accused, but every other time aside from that also.
Beliefs that we are safe from harm until we reach human level intelligence or ‘artificial general intelligence’ are ill considered and wrong. Equally wrong is the argument that more encryption and anonymisation of data alone will save us.
Anonymisation may decrease the risk of spam emails or nuisance phone calls, but it also decreases your ability to prove that a negative effect that you may have suffered from a company was, in-fact, caused by the misuse of your data.
Encryption technology now enables a company to analyse and compute data without needing to unencrypt it. This may be more secure, to the extent you trust the company who’s got the keys to do this, but how then can a regulator regulate this company if they can’t see what the company is not choosing to show?
Similar too are the risks born out of IoT, edge computing and federated learning systems; a set of decentralised technologies designed to remove any single point of failure or control that might occur in a centralised system.
How then, if the processing and computing is at the edge, beyond the sight of its creator, do you regulate it, or even hope to monitor the effect it is having on the end user? Or do we consider the potential effect to be of such insignificance that we have no need to concern ourselves with this?
Each individual technology or system may not create a notable effect in isolation, but what of the aggregate? Much like the unwitting participant in a Derren Brown stage show, whose journey between their home and the theatre is used to subversively place a concept in their mind, do we not consider there to be a risk of manipulation to the way we think?
"[...] a montage of moments from that night, in which Brown gave verbal suggestions, sometimes via subtle mispronunciations or non sequiturs, that we had apparently absorbed subconsciously."How Derren Brown Remade Mindreading for Sceptics The New Yorker 2019
We must begin to consider whether the positive effects we gain benefit from as a result of these privacy preserving technologies continue to outweigh the less visible, more subversive and negative effects of reduced visibility.
We support those who seek to give people control over their personal data, to protect our right to privacy and to further advance technological solutions that limit the nefarious collection, misuse or theft of our personal data.
We support the right for people to choose, the right to know.
Introducing, FORTYEIGHT. Future transparency for artificial intelligence, facial recognition and technological surveillance.
We sit at the intersection of artificial intelligence, human rights and consent.
We’re on a mission to help people understand the observations made about them, by technology, so that we can begin the work on understanding how, and why, we make the decisions that we do as individuals, and as a society.
This is a personal journey for you, and for us. We’re human, after all.
Join us, become a part of future transparency.