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X-rays Help to Uncover Who Painted a Centuries-old Masterpiece in Albania

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A portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer helps scientists analyse a portrait of Saint George, one of Christianity’s most famous saints. (Photo: A. Silva/IAEA)

Albanian researchers have used X-rays to discover who painted a delicate, centuries-old masterpiece of Saint George, one of Christianity’s most famous saints. Their methods included non-destructive testing (NDT) and non-destructive assay (NDA) involving X-rays, which are widely used to study materials and the quality of objects, from analysing cultural artefacts and biomedical samples like blood and hair, to finding cracks or cavities in oil pipes and aeroplane parts.

“Non-destructive testing and assay let us evaluate the integrity and physical properties of objects without damaging them, which is critical when dealing with old, often very fragile artefacts,” said Esmeralda Vataj, a researcher at the Institute of Applied Nuclear Physics in Tirana, Albania. “X-rays also help us see the inner parts of an object and identify any cracks or flaws that may not otherwise
be visible.”

After recovering the portrait from an old church, researchers at the Institute of Applied Nuclear Physics worked with IAEA experts to study the portrait using NDT and NDA techniques. Their findings have helped conservationists at the National Museum of History in Tirana understand the painting’s history and choose the right methods to restore the precious piece of art.

“Originally when we received the portrait, we thought it had been painted by an anonymous artist,” said Vataj. After checking the structural integrity of the piece using industrial radiography, the researchers used X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) to identify the materials used to create the icon (see The Science box). They compared these materials to those used by various artists during different time periods and their analysis led to a match.

“Thanks to X-ray fluorescence analysis we have now identified the colour pigments used in the portrait of Saint George, which helped us to discover that the icon was painted by the Çetiri brothers in the 18th century,” said Vataj. “This information is also key to restoring the piece in an authentic way.”

The portrait of Saint George is one of thousands of cultural and archaeological treasures in the museum’s collection. Many of the pieces have been recovered from historical sites and churches. They are often delicate and deteriorating, which makes them precarious to handle. As NDT and NDA are both hands-off methods, they are often used by researchers to study such fragile objects.

Protecting cultural heritage worldwide

NDT and NDA can uncover valuable details in artwork and cultural artefacts that are undetectable to the naked eye. “Each piece contains a unique blend of elements and isotopes that carries information about the origin of the piece, from the techniques and materials used, to when and even where it was likely created,” said Patrick Brisset, an industrial technologist at the IAEA. “While this information can be used to preserve pieces and discover the history surrounding their creation, it can also be used to identify forgeries.”

Hundreds of specialists worldwide are working with the IAEA to use NDT and NDA to study and preserve cultural heritage and to identify forgeries. This can include receiving training and the necessary equipment and facilities to carry out these studies through IAEA coordinated research and technical cooperation projects. These projects are also an opportunity for specialists to share their expertise and knowledge, which helps to advance the field and preserve the history of human civilization.

“We are working together with the Institute of Applied Nuclear Physics because icons are one of the most important cultural heritage artefacts that we have. So, we are taking every possible step to make sure that they are being adequately analysed and preserved,” said Arta Dollani, Director of the Institute of Cultural Monuments of Albania, which works closely with the National Museum of History to restore cultural artefacts.

THE SCIENCE

X-ray fluorescence and industrial radiography

X-ray fluorescence, or XRF, is a non-destructive assay (NDA) method that detects the presence and measures the concentration of elements in virtually all types of material. Scientists normally use a small, portable device called an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to bombard a sample of the test material with X-ray beams. The beams interact with the atoms in the sample, displacing the electrons from the inner shells of these atoms. When an electron is displaced, it leaves behind a vacancy that is then filled by an electron from the higher orbit. When an electron moves from a higher orbit to a lower one, a certain amount of energy is released as electromagnetic radiation. This radiation is in the form of X-rays, which can be detected by the spectrometer and is used to unequivocally identify the element they originated from. The method is accurate because the energy of the emitted X-rays is unique to each element. XRF is widely used in archaeometry to investigate the composition of pigments or metals used in manuscripts, paintings, coins, ceramics, and other artefacts.

Industrial radiography is a non-destructive testing method used to verify the internal structure and integrity of objects. It uses ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, to create an image of the internal structure of solid and hard materials. The radiation passes through the material, hitting an exposed film placed on the other side. The darkness of the film varies depending on the amount of radiation that reaches it through the object: materials with areas of reduced thickness, cracks or voids, or a lower material density, allow more radiation to pass through. These variations in the image can be used to find any flaws or cracks hidden inside the object.

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US Blacklist of Chinese Surveillance Companies Creates Supply Chain Confusion

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The United States Department of Commerce’s decision to blacklist 28 Chinese public safety organizations and commercial entities hit at some of China’s most dominant vendors within the security industry. Of the eight commercial entities added to the blacklist, six of them are some of China’s most successful digital forensics, facial recognition, and AI companies. However, the two surveillance manufacturers who made this blacklist could have a significant impact on the global market at large—Dahua and Hikvision.

Putting geopolitics aside, Dahua’s and Hikvision’s positions within the overall global digital surveillance market makes their blacklisting somewhat of a shock, with the immediate effects touching off significant questions among U.S. partners, end users, and supply chain partners.

Frost & Sullivan’s research finds that, currently, Hikvision and Dahua rank second and third in total global sales among the $20.48 billion global surveillance market but are fast-tracking to become the top two vendors among IP surveillance camera manufacturers. Their insurgent rise among IP surveillance camera providers came about due to both companies’ aggressive growth pipelines, significant product libraries of high-quality surveillance cameras and new imaging technologies, and low-cost pricing models that provide customers with higher levels of affordability.

This is also not the first time that these two vendors have found themselves in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. In 2018, the U.S. initiated a ban on the sale and use of Hikvision and Dahua camera equipment within government-owned facilities, including the Department of Defense, military bases, and government-owned buildings. However, the vague language of the ban made it difficult for end users to determine whether they were just banned from new purchases of Dahua or Hikvision cameras or if they needed to completely rip-and-replace existing equipment with another brand. Systems integrators, distributors, and even technology partners themselves remained unsure of how they should handle the ban’s implications, only serving to sow confusion among U.S. customers.

In addition to confusion over how end users in the government space were to proceed regarding their Hikvision and Dahua equipment came the realization that both companies held significant customer share among commercial companies throughout the U.S. market—so where was the ban’s line being drawn for these entities? Were they to comply or not? If so, how? Again, these questions have remained unanswered since 2018.

Hikvision and Dahua each have built a strong presence within the U.S. market, despite the 2018 ban. Both companies are seen as regular participants in industry tradeshows and events, and remain active among industry partners throughout the surveillance ecosystem. Both companies have also attempted to work with the U.S. government to alleviate security concerns and draw clearer guidelines for their sales and distribution partners throughout the country. They even established regional operations centers and headquarters in the country.

While blacklisting does send a clearer message to end users, integrators, and distributors—for sales and usage of these companies’ technologies—remedies for future actions still remain unclear. When it comes to legacy Hikvision and Dahua cameras, the onus appears to be on end users and integrators to decide whether rip-and-replace strategies are the best way to comply with government rulings or to just leave the solutions in place and hope for the best.

As far as broader global impacts of this action, these will remain to be seen. While the 2018 ban did bring about talks of similar bans in other regions, none of these bans ever materialized. Dahua and Hikvision maintained their strong market positioning, even achieving higher-than-average growth rates in the past year. Blacklisting does send a stronger message to global regulators though, so market participants outside the U.S. will just have to adopt a wait-and-see posture to see how, if at all, they may need to prepare their own surveillance equipment supply chains for changes to come.

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After Google’s new set of community standards: What next?

Sisir Devkota

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After weeks of Google’s community standard guidelines made headlines, the Digital Industry Group Inc. (Australia based NGO) rejected proposals from the regulating body based in the southern hemisphere. The group claimed that regulating “fake news” would make the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a moral police institution. In late August, Google itself forbade its employees from indulging in the dissemination of inadequate information or one that involved internal debates. From the outset, the picture is a bit confusing. After the events in Australia, Google’s latest act of disciplinary intrusion seems all but galvanizing from certain interests or interest groups.

A year earlier, Google was shaken by claims of protecting top-level executives from sexual crimes; the issue took a serious turn and almost deteriorated company operations. If anything but Google’s development from the horror of 2018 clearly suggests a desperate need from the hierarchy to curb actions that could potentially damage the interests of several stakeholders. There is no comprehensive evidence to suggest that Google had a view on how the regulations were proposed in Australia. After all, until proven otherwise, all whistleblowing social media posts and comments are at one point of time, “fake”. Although the global giant has decided to discontinue all forms of unjustifiable freedom inside its premises; however, it does profit by providing the platform for activism and all forms of censure. The Digital Industry Group wants the freedom to encourage digital creative contents, but Google’s need to publish a community guideline looks more of a defensive shield against uncertainties.

On its statement, the disciplinary clause, significantly mentions about the actions that will be taken against staffs providing information that goes around Google’s internal message boards. In 2017, female employees inside the Google office were subjected to discrimination based on the “gender-ness” of working positions. Kevin Kernekee, an ex-employee, who was fired in 2018, confirmed that staff bullying was at the core of such messaging platforms. Growing incidents inside Google and its recent community stance are but only fuelling assumptions about the ghost that is surrounding the internet giant’s reputation. Consequently, from the consumer’s point of view, an instable organization of such global stature is an alarm.

The dissidents at Google are not to be blamed entirely. As many would argue, the very foundation of the company was based on the values of expression at work. The nature of access stipulated into Google’s interface is another example of what it stands for, at least in the eyes of consumers. Stakeholders would not wish for an internal turmoil; it would be against the enormous amount of trust invested into the workings of the company. If google can backtrack from its core values upon higher forces, consumers cannot expect anything different. Google is not merely a search engine; for almost half of the internet users, it is almost everything.

“Be responsible, Be helpful, Be thoughtful”. These phrases are the opening remarks from the newly engineered community guideline. As it claims in the document, three principles govern the core values at Google. Upon closer inspection, it also sounds as if the values are only based on what it expects from the people working for the company. A global company that can resort to disciplining its staff via written texts can also trim the rights of its far-reaching consumer groups. It might only be the beginning but the tail is on fire.

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How to Design Responsible Technology

MD Staff

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Biased algorithms and noninclusive data sets are contributing to a growing ‘techlash’ around the world. Today, the World Economic Forum, the international organisation for public-private cooperation has released a new approach to help governments and businesses counter these growing societal risks.

The Responsible Use of Technology report provides a step-by-step framework for companies and governments to pin point where and how they can integrate ethics and human rights-based approaches into innovation. Key questions and actions guide organizations through each phase of a technology’s development process and highlight what can be done and when to help organizations mitigate unethical practices. Notably, the framework can be applied on technology in the ‘final’ use and application phase, empowering users to play an active role in advocating for policies, laws and regulations that address societal risks.

The guide was co-designed by industry leaders from civil society, international organizations and businesses including BSR, the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, IDEO, Deloitte, Omidyar Network and Workday. The team examined national technology strategies, international business programmes and ethical task forces from around the world, combining lessons learned with local expertise to develop a guide that would be inclusive across different cultures.

“Numerous government and large technology companies around the world have announced strategies for managing emerging technologies,” said Pablo Quintanilla, Fellow at the World Economic Forum, and Director in the Office of Innovation, Salesforce. “This project presents an opportunity for companies, national governments, civil society organizations, and consumers to teach and to learn from each other how to better build and deploy ethically-sound technology. Having an inclusive vision requires collaboration across all global stakeholders.”

“We need to apply ethics and human rights-based approaches to every phase in the lifecycle of technology – from design and development by technology companies through to the end use and application by companies across a range of industries,” said Hannah Darnton, Programme Manager, BSR. “Through this paper, we hope to advance the conversation of distributed responsibility and appropriate action across the whole value chain of actors.”

“Here, we can draw from lessons learned from companies’ efforts to implement ‘privacy and security by design,” said Sabrina Ross, Global Head of Marketplace Policy, Uber. “Operationalizing responsible design requires leveraging a shared framework and building it into the right parts of each company’s process, culture and commitments. At Uber, we’ve baked five principles into our product development process so that our marketplace design remains consistent with and accountable to these principles.”

This report is part of the World Economic Forum’s Responsible Development, Deployment and Use of Technology project. It is the first in a series tackling the topic of technology governance. It will help inform the key themes at the Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit in San Francisco in April 2020. The project team will work across industries to produce a more detailed suite of implementation tools for organizations to help companies promote and train their own ‘ethical champions’. The steering committee now in place will codesign the next steps with the project team, building on the input already received from global stakeholders in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

About the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network

The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network brings together more than 100 governments, businesses, start-ups, international organizations, members of civil society and world-renown experts to co-design and pilot innovative approaches to the policy and governance of technology. Teams in Colombia, China, India, Israel, Japan, UAE and US are creating human-centred and agile policies to be piloted by policy-makers and legislators, shaping the future of emerging technology in ways that maximize their benefits and minimize their risks. More than 40 projects are in progress across six areas: artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, blockchain, data policy, drones and the internet of things.

The Network helped Rwanda write the world’s first agile aviation regulation for drones and is scaling this up throughout Africa and Asia. It also developed actionable governance toolkits for corporate executives on blockchain and artificial intelligence, co-designed the first-ever Industrial IoT (IIoT) Safety and Security Protocol and created a personal data policy framework with the UAE.

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