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Central Asian young app developers rewarded at the YouthMobile Contest

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From November 2018 to January 2019, UNESCO held the Central Asian YouthMobile Contest challenging and leading youth in developing Free and Open Source solutions in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Twelve mobile phone applications were developed throughout the competition by sixteen young app developers aged 16-28 from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Contest particularly encouraged the participation of young girls and women, contributing to highlight the under-representation of women in the technology sector, including in Central Asia. The final female participation rate of 87.5% demonstrates the success of UNESCO’s effort to promote gender equality through empowering girls with digital skills. The 14 female participants in the competition built and submitted eleven open source applications.

UNESCO Almaty awarded the first place prize to “AIR – Advance in Robotics”, a complex application was developed by heart<bR>ers, a team of five girls from Kazakhstan (Nargiz Askarbekkyzy, Lyubov Dudchenko, Medina Shuriyeva, Diana Smagulova, Zhaniya Amangaliyeva). The app teaches coding and robotics. The members of the winning team, all young girls innovators thanked UNESCO for winning a computer for the first place in the YouthMobile competition. “We are going to use it among our heart<bR>ers team, further develop our application, and make it easier for children to be interested in robotics coding”, said Lyubov Dudchenko on behalf of the winning team.

During the final ceremony in Alamaty, Kazakhstan, last January, five other apps were given special recognition as some of the best in the contest, offering a great range of solutions relating to local communities. The top-performing apps include:

“Machmuai testho”: an analogue of the universal knowledge testing in Tajik and Russian languages;

“Alippe”: an augmented reality 3D app for books for children;

“Toktogul”: a community-based medium that fights against inequality;

“Kazahk Latin Converter”: a translator of texts from Kazak Cyrillic to Latin script;

 “Zvook”: a hearing aid that recognizes and transfers the danger and specific sounds into vibration and light.

These applications, most of which are already available on Google Play store or App Store, propose ideas relevant to SDG 4 on Education, SDG 8 on Sustainable economic growth, SDG 9 on Innovation and SDG 10 on Inequalities.

The YouthMobile contest was organized by the UNESCO Office in Almaty to encourage the development of open solutions in Central Asia, promoting access to information and sustainable development, and involving youth in building solutions to local community and addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UNESCO YouthMobile initiative deploys and supports projects worldwide to promote training in digital technical skills and abilities among young women and men.

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Triumph of Simulacra – How Deepfakes Aim to Rule Our Minds

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Deepfakes are famous for fake pornography and YouTube videos with dancing politicians. But how can else they challenge our society?

Menace from the 90s

According to Antispoofing Wiki The deepfake technology can be traced back to 1997 when the first digital face manipulation tool Video Rewrite was presented by the Interval Research Corporation. Funnily, the first deepfake in history was political — it made JFK lip-sync to a “I never met Forrest Gump” phrase.

In 2017 deepfake videos have turned into a mainstream threat as their production tools became widely available to the common users. Someone, under the alias “deepfake” posted on Reddit a few pornographic videos. In them, faces of a few Hollywood actresses — Gal Gadot being one of them — were glued to the real adult genre divas with the dark wizardry of generative deep learning. This is how the deepfake era began. 

Currently, deepfakes are considered as the gravest threat coming from AI and machine learning technologies. Crime Science reports that deepfakes are capable of producing devastating societal harm: from political slender and fake news to petty money thefts via realistic impersonations.

The study also mentions that deepfake technology proliferation is simple to orchestrate: it can be quickly shared, sold, and copied by the perpetrators. (Unlike physical crime tools like guns — these require covert logistics.)

So, why are deepfakes so dangerous?

Destructive Qualities of Deepfakes

Falsified media can cause unpredictable results. For example, deepfake allegations nearly sparked an upheaval in Gabon. The military top ranks accused the president’s administration of using a synthesized video of the country’s leader Bongo Ondimba who, supposedly, died from a heart attack sometime earlier in 2019.

Allegedly, to avoid losing power, the corrupt officials quickly whipped up a New Year’s deepfake address that would soothe the suspicious public and help them win some time.

Picture: Bongo’s alleged usage of Botox and poor health caused deepfake speculations among his rivals

The fabricated rumors were used by the national guards as a pretext to seize the central radio station — they pleaded for the citizens to stop whatever they were doing and flood the streets in righteous anger. However, the coup d’état failed.

Audio deepfakes seem to be an equally serious threat. In the UAE a massive heist was orchestrated with the help of a voice-cloning tool. Fraudsters mimicked a company director’s voice and successfully requested a $35 million transfer from a Hong Kong bank.

The pressing issue of deepfakes spurred regional and international alarm. For instance, the European Parliament published a study Tackling Deepfakes in European Policy. The document lists among all other risk categories brought by the technology: bullying, extortion, identity theft, election and stock-price manipulations, etc.

However, one of the most destructive properties of deepfakes are the liar’s dividend and truth apathy. While some are paranoid that one day they will be targeted by the odious technology and jeopardized beyond any belief, others can rejoice. Deepfakes will finally allow them to refute any compromising materials.

Liar’s dividend can produce a scarily damaging impact on our society. The paradigm don’t believe what you see can actually help some unscrupulous politicians and public figures wiggle out of a scandal.

Even though the legitimacy of a video or audio can be confirmed with technical means — like double compression analysis — regular observers are often distrustful of the expert verdict. It’s always easy to discard something you don’t really comprehend.    

If the liar’s dividend is Phobos, then reality apathy is Deimos in this duet. Not being able to trust their own senses, people may ignore actually important materials. As long as there’s no reliable, trustworthy and universally available way to tell a fake from bona fide media, deception will prevail over common sense.

A Challenger Appears

Deepfake isn’t alone: it has a sibling called “cheapfake”. Cheapfakes are a type of falsified media that are easy, cheap and quick to produce. Con artists don’t even need to operate neural networks to make them.

They can churn out cheapfakes in gargantuan amounts with simple editing tools: Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere/Audition and of course Photoshop. The famous “drunken Pelosi hoax” is a textbook cheapfake. It was produced by simply slowing down the speed of the original video, making the target appear intoxicated.

Yes, cheapfakes wouldn’t get their moniker for nothing. They are cheap indeed. And quite easy to spot too, like in the Pelosi hoax case. However, in certain areas where technological literacy leaves a lot to be desired, cheapfakes can lead to tragic events.

In 2018 a series of cheapfakes began circulating in the Indian WhatsApp group chats. It showed motorcycle riders “kidnapping” children for organ harvesting. It was accompanied by some really gruesome footage of dead kids “killed by the harvesters”.

It promptly stirred a panic and paranoia in the villages of Karnataka, Maharashtra and other Indian states. Villagers assembled in lynching mobs and attacked random outsiders, tourists and bikers — at least 20 random people got killed in light of this hoax.

In reality, the cheapfake used a recontextualization technique presenting some irrelevant footage in a completely different light. For instance, the images of the dead children were captured a few years prior to the hysteria to document war casualties among kids. As for the “bike-riding kidnappers”, it was simply a clip withdrawn from a social advertising that warned parents of how easy it is to abduct a child.    

Countermeasures

Experts indicate that lack of awareness and technological illiteracy are the two main factors that sparked mass lynching in India. Another vital factor is that social media and messenger apps are ideal channels for the deepfakes and cheapfakes to proliferate. It makes them similar to a viral disease.

Right now, there are just a handful of methods to neutralize false media. First, researchers recommend paying attention to visual clues: unnatural facial feature alignment, weird complexion, posture, gestures, lip movement/voice mismatches. Plus artifacts (such as distortion or blur) can be spotted in areas where one body part transitions into another: neck, elbows, wrists, etc.

Second, we should mention the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) proposed by Adobe. This initiative seeks to establish standards, as well as introduce a universal platform that will protect original media content from malicious tampering. This is achievable by inserting unerasable metadata — the special data that reveals who, where and when produced the content.

But of course these countermeasures won’t work solo. They need strong support from educators around the world. Starting in schools and finishing in communities living in the less developed regions. Ignorance is a breeding ground for many negative phenomena. And deepfakes are one of them.

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Implications of remote conformity assessment for developing countries

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is pleased to announce the launch of a publication titled “Remote conformity assessment in a digital world: Opportunities, challenges and implications for developing countries”.

The publication provides a high-level overview of how remote assessment/audit techniques have developed in recent years and applied in different conformity assessment contexts. It also highlights the associated benefits of such techniques along with the challenges and implications for the future. 

Quality Infrastructure is the combination of initiatives, institutions, organizations, activities, and people that help ensure products and services meet customers’ requirements. Conformity assessment is a central part of this important work as it links regulation, industry, and markets. Evidence shows that establishing a Quality Infrastructure can assist a nation in pursuing a development track in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Remote assessments/audits play a crucial role in the context of digital transformation of Quality Infrastructures around the world, with the global disruptions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic having accelerated this process and injected urgency into the adoption of new technologies. where the use of remote assessment techniques to ensure the continuity of conformity assessment and confidence in its outcomes became a strategic imperative.

The need to stay abreast of the latest developments to ensure that no country is left behind in the increasingly digitalized world of conformity assessment makes this publication relevant for developing countries and a wider audience. Pragmatic steps that can be taken to address this need are presented accordingly.

UNIDO remains committed to continuing its support to developing countries, assisting them in overcoming the challenges and making the most of the opportunities posed by the growing use of remote assessment techniques.

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Privacy vs Security in the online world

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New technological developments and the rise of the internet allowed many people access to the digital world by making it possible to do so from anywhere and anytime. But, with all its benefits, this has significantly increased the amount of data we have on the internet. From cookies to the browser and device fingerprinting, we leave data behind every time we visit a website. How private or secure is your data online?

What is the difference between privacy and security?

Some people use these terms interchangeably, but there is a difference between them. Privacy is related to your right to control your personal information and how that information is used, while security determines how that personal information is protected.

For example, you can choose to share your data on a social media platform, which is a matter of privacy, while how that platform protects that data is a matter of security. The same applies to signing on the eCommerce site. You are choosing to disclose your data to them to use their services, but it is up to them to keep your data safe, maintaining your privacy and security. If they sell or release your information to a third party, your privacy would be compromised, but not necessarily security. In a successful cyberattack, both your security and privacy have been compromised.

Compromised privacy doesn’t necessarily threaten your online safety, but it remains an essential aspect of it.

Dangers of privacy and security loss

With our growing online presence, more and more of our personal data ends up online. This data is in danger of being compromised by companies selling or sharing it with unauthorized 3rd parties to be used for advertising, political manipulation, or other nefarious purposes. The risk gets even higher on social media, where people reveal various details about them that malicious parties can use. Luckily, they are starting to realize the importance of data privacy. According to the research, 81% of people are more concerned about their social privacy than last year.

The loss of privacy is real, but how does this impact our security? The truth is it leaves us vulnerable to various types of cyberattacks and fraud attempts, such as data breaches and identity fraud. The threat from cybercriminals, hackers, and fraudsters keeps growing with our rising dependence on the internet. While the cyber attacks are nothing new, the truth is that the development of technology has allowed them to step up with their malicious attacks, making them harder to trace and able to affect more people than ever. According to the Telegraph, cyber fraud is currently the fastest-growing category of crime, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But does that mean you have to stop using the internet to remain safe from these threats? Of course not; you just need to take the proper steps to minimize the risk while enjoying your online life.

How can you ensure your privacy and security online?

With our digital footprints growing constantly, it is time to start taking necessary actions to protect ourselves.

  1. The first step you need to do is install Antivirus and Firewall programs to protect yourself from various cyber threats. Just remember to keep them up to date, and you will significantly reduce the danger.
  2. Practice good password hygiene. More than 80% of data breaches directly resulted from poor passwords, which is why you should never use easily guessable passwords such as your date of birth or even something simple like “123456”. You should also always choose unique and complex passwords for all of your accounts, making it harder for cybercriminals to gain access to different accounts.
  3. Reduce the risk of your account data being stolen and used for malicious purposes by not saving credit and debit cards in the system when making online purchases. The truth is that every website is vulnerable to attack. You don’t want to put yourself at unnecessary risk because you need to invest a few more seconds to type in your card details.
  4. Be mindful of what you share online and on social media. Most people are not aware of how public the data on social media actually is, and they keep oversharing. This can allow cyber criminals and fraudsters to discover important personal information and use it for their malicious actions. Review your privacy settings on social media sites and think twice before posting something personal.

Cybercriminals and fraudsters keep evolving their methods to exploit as many people as they can reach. Learn how to protect yourself and stay safe online.

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