The World Today for June 30, 2023
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AI, Meet Europe
The European Parliament recently overwhelmingly passed the European Union Artificial Intelligence Act. While the legislation must overcome more hurdles to become a law, it’s an example of European lawmakers charging forward with regulations to control technology that thinkers like British physicist Stephen Hawking have warned could destroy the human race.
As a parliamentary press release detailed, the Act would prohibit the use of AI in certain sectors, like technology that fosters biometric surveillance, emotion recognition, (and) predictive policing that might assume someone is about to commit a crime. It would also designate high-risk technologies that might affect elections or spread misinformation. Firms would need to label content they generated using AI, too.
The vote came as consumer groups in Europe called on national governments to investigate the potential negative social effects of the technology. “Generative AI such as ChatGPT has opened up all kinds of possibilities for consumers, but there are serious concerns about how these systems might deceive, manipulate and harm people,” European Consumer Organization Deputy Director General Ursula Pachl said in an interview with Euronews.
European leaders have always been tougher on Silicon Valley tech giants than their American counterparts, the Washington Post explained. EU regulators, for example, are pressuring Google to break up its advertising operations that they allege are anti-competitive, Reuters noted. EU countries have also enacted stricter privacy rules and similar measures to regulate online activity. Still, numerous court cases related to AI and intellectual property rights and similar concerns are winding their way through US courts, the National Law Review wrote.
The chief executive officer of OpenAI, Sam Altman, who launched the wildly popular ChatGPT generative AI application, lobbied politicians throughout Europe to water down the EU AI Act, reported Time magazine. Altman succeeded in altering the law. But he failed to stop it. He also threatened to shutter OpenAI’s operations in Europe if the law succeed but he has since walked back that threat, according to the Associated Press.
The market with its 440 million consumers is just too big to resist.
Still, most AI models will not comply with the Act, argued Stanford University researchers who spoke to Axios. The researchers believed the law would help strengthen AI models, however, by providing guidance on avoiding the pitfalls that have raised concerns about the effects of AI on people, communities, and countries. Most AI providers, the researchers continued, don’t offer much information about how they prevent or mitigate those risks.
Paper shuffling can help the machines.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
The Waiting Room
Britain’s Court of Appeals ruled against a controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, a decision that marks another setback for the ruling Conservative government as it seeks to tackle the number of migrant boats entering the country via the English Channel, the New York Times reported.
On Thursday, the court said Rwanda was not a safe country, a ruling that reverses a verdict by the United Kingdom’s High Court in December. That previous court ruled in favor of the government’s plan, but said that specific deportation cases should be reconsidered.
Following Thursday’s decision, the British government said it will seek to appeal the case to the country’s top court, adding that Rwanda is a safe destination.
Last year, the United Kingdom and Rwanda reached a deal that allowed the UK to deport asylum seekers to the small African country. In return, Rwanda would receive nearly $152 million in development funding, with the British government covering the processing and integration costs for each relocated individual.
British officials hoped the policy would deter migrants and asylum seekers from making the dangerous crossing from France to the southern coast of England on small, often unseaworthy boats.
But human rights groups criticized the plan, while the United Nations refugee agency questioned whether the policy is compatible with Britain’s obligations under international refugee and human rights laws.
Questions also remain about the feasibility of the plan after the UK Home Office estimated this week that the cost of relocating each individual topped $200,000 per person.
Meanwhile, Rwanda disputed the court’s characterization as an unsafe destination, saying it is one of the safest countries in the world, and has been recognized by the United Nations refugee agency and other international institutions “for our exemplary treatment of refugees.”
The Dictator’s Muzzle
Meta’s content moderation board called on the company to suspend Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram accounts over a controversial election video, a decision that could impact how political speech is regulated online, the Guardian reported.
On Thursday, the Oversight Board – created by the social media giant to decide on difficult content decisions – overturned a previous decision by Meta to leave up a Facebook video in which the prime minister threatened his political opponents.
The video centered on a January speech by Hun Sen responding to allegations that his ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) had stolen votes during last year’s local elections.
Hun Sen – who has ruled Cambodia for more than four decades – exclaimed that the opponents who made the allegations should choose between the “legal system” and “a bat” but if they did not choose the legal system he would “gather CPP people to protest and beat you up.”
He later said in the video that “we don’t incite people (or) encourage people to use force.”
Meta reviewed the video twice, initially ruling that it did not violate its content policies. A second review found that it violated its policies, but the video could stay up because of Meta’s “newsworthiness allowance” – in which rule-breaking content is allowed because the public interest value outweighs the risk of it causing harm.
But the Oversight Board ruled that the decision was wrong, adding that the tech firm “rewarded” Hun Sen’s behavior. Because the board’s decision is binding, Meta will have to remove the video.
Following the decision, Hun Sen said he would stop using Facebook and move to the Telegram messaging app, although he would still use Instagram.
Meanwhile, analysts told the Washington Post that the ruling marks the first time the Oversight Board had asked a head of government to be banned from Meta’s platform. They noted that the decision could set a precedent for how the platform will regulate the behavior of other authoritarian leaders, who use social media to fuel disinformation and incite violence.
Lighting a Match
French authorities arrested at least 180 people this week following the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy by a police officer that set off days of violent protests that continued into Friday morning, which underscored the long-standing tensions between police and communities in disadvantaged neighborhoods, CBS News reported Thursday.
The unrest began when an officer shot the teenager – known as Nahel – during a traffic check in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday.
Nanterre’s police chief said the officer has been taken into custody amid an ongoing murder investigation. He added that the use of the weapon was not justified.
Meanwhile, authorities are also investigating the circumstances of the teen’s refusal to comply with the police’s order to halt his vehicle.
Regardless, violent protests erupted across France with angry crowds attacking police stations, town halls and public transport.
Around 170 officers were injured in the clashes. The government deployed 40,000 police around the country amid fears of more violence, the Associated Press added.
Government officials, including President Emmanuel Macron, strongly condemned the killing as “inexplicable and inexcusable” and called for calm.
Observers noted that the incident sparked anger over what protesters perceive as police violence and abuse of power, particularly in marginalized communities such as Nanterre. It also renewed calls from activists and community leaders for more police reform and greater accountability.
This week, Russian authorities detained Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine over allegations that he sided with mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin during the short-lived rebellion over the weekend, Al Jazeera reported. His arrest comes as part of an alleged purge of military officials following a short-lived uprising by the Wagner mercenary forces over the weekend. Surovikin, who is known as “General Armageddon” in the Russian media due to his alleged ruthlessness, is a veteran of Russia’s conflicts in Chechnya and Syria and has received commendations from President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, Prigozhin and members of his Wagner force will not face criminal charges for their role in the armed mutiny in Russia, the New York Times reported. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) announced the end of the criminal case, saying that the participants had “stopped their actions directly aimed at committing a crime.”
By way of contrast, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Wagner troops were preparing to hand over their military equipment to the army. The fate of Wagner’s heavily armed forces has been a lingering question following Prigozhin’s armed rebellion on June 24. President Putin had previously stated that all private armies fighting on behalf of Russia in Ukraine would have to come under the supervision of the Defense Ministry. However, the details of how much equipment would be relinquished and how many fighters would agree to be placed under the Russian Army’s command remain unclear. There is speculation that Wagner may keep some equipment and continue operating as a private militia in Africa, where they have been involved in alleged human rights abuses.
- Meanwhile, Prigozhin flew into exile in Belarus as part of a deal that ended the mutiny by his fighters as part of the deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Reuters added. Belarus offered an abandoned military base to the Wagner fighters, sparking concerns among neighboring countries. Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland called for NATO to strengthen its eastern borders. NATO reiterated its commitment to protecting every ally including those in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Ukraine, now, hopes that the chaos caused by the rebellion attempt will weaken Russian defenses as Kyiv presses a counteroffensive.
- Russian convicts who joined the Wagner Group as mercenaries in Ukraine have been involved in violent crimes upon their return to Russia, according to CBS News. At least seven cases have been identified, including murder, sexual assault, robbery and theft. Wagner chief Prigozhin claimed to have recruited 50,000 convicts for Ukraine, promising them freedom after their service. At the same time, President Putin confirmed signing pardon decrees for convicts fighting in Ukraine. The use of convicts in the conflict has raised concerns about recidivism rates and the potential consequences for Russian society.
- The United Nations human rights office released a report detailing how Russian forces engaged in widespread and systematic torture of civilians detained in connection with the Ukraine conflict, the Associated Press wrote. The report documented over 900 cases of civilians, including children and elderly individuals, being arbitrarily detained, with the majority of cases attributed to Russia. The victims reported being subjected to torture and sexual violence during detention, with the purpose of forcing confessions, and compelling cooperation, especially those with pro-Ukrainian views. The report also highlighted 75 cases of arbitrary detention by Ukrainian security forces, with a significant number amounting to enforced disappearances. More than half of those detained by Ukrainian forces reported being mistreated or tortured. The Ukrainian government granted the UN investigators access to detainees, except for a group of 87 Russian sailors, while Russia denied such access. The report also noted that Ukrainian laws on detention for national security reasons may go beyond what is permissible under international law. The UN urged both sides to provide information on the fate and whereabouts of detainees.
The Mystery of Flutes
In 1955, archaeologists discovered a number of 12,000-year-old bird bones in northern Israel that contained perforations, puzzling over their purpose.
Now a new study has suggested that they were flutes used by prehistoric humans to hunt for birds in the region, Gizmodo reported.
In their paper, a research team analyzed the remains and found that seven wing bones belonged to coots and teals. A close inspection showed that the perforations were actually tiny holes bored into their sides.
Researchers theorized that the peculiar artifacts were used as flutes to imitate the calls of birds of prey. They would be used to scare migratory birds to take flight, which would then make them easy targets for the ancient hunters.
To test their theory, the team created a replica flute using the mallard bones and generated a series of high-pitched frequencies that mimicked the calls of two birds of prey that were known to inhabit the Neolithic Levant: The Common kestrel and the sparrowhawk.
Co-author Hamudi Khalaily noted that the alleged flutes could be “the earliest evidence of the use of sound in hunting.”
Still, he and his colleagues explained that there is a lot of uncertainty, such as whether the perforated bones were even blown by the ancient inhabitants.
Even if they were, maybe they weren’t used for hunting and served as the earliest musical instruments, they added.
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