Making Voting Easy is Scaring the Life Out of Security Experts

Apollo 11 was the spaceflight which landed the first two humans on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module, Eagle, on July 20, 1969. Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface six hours later, and Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later. The two astronauts spent about two and a quarter hours outside the spacecraft, and they collected 47.5 pounds of lunar material to bring back. Command module pilot Michael Collins flew the command module, Columbia, alone in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the Moon’s surface. Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21.5 hours on the lunar surface before rejoining Columbia in lunar orbit, and then returning to Earth. The documentary movie was fantastic, and included never before seen footage.

I was two years out of engineering school at the time of the historic flight. Although I was not involved in any way, my employer, IBM, was one of the lead contractors. I was proud of that but I remember being on the edge of my chair in fear. There were so many things which could go wrong. Imagine being strapped in on top of a three-stage rocket. The first stage was 138 feet tall, 33 feet in diameter, and full of liquid oxygen. The first stage provided over 7,600,000 pounds of thrust. While I was in fear, the three astronauts were fearless. They believed in the technology.

Speaking of fear, this week, the Los Angeles Times published “The vote-by-phone tech trend is scaring the life out of security experts”. Vote-by-phone (and Internet voting) has been tested successfully by West Virginia and others. Estonia has been using it for more than a decade without issues. Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet properly said, “We can do this”. But the security experts are afraid, like I was about Apollo 11 in 1969. It almost seems they enjoy being quoted in the press about all the things which could go wrong. We could put men on the moon 50 years ago and a robot on Mars more recently, but we can’t figure out how to vote electronically with security, privacy, and verifiability? Why aren’t the “experts” willing to say we could do it if we planned carefully and took precautions A, B, and C?

The bottom line reason, in my view, is the experts compare Internet voting to a perfect online system which we will never ever have, and they are unwilling to compare it to the 150 year-old paper based system of today which disenfranchises millions of voters. This morning, Axios reported the 2020 election turnout may be the biggest of all times. I am afraid. What I am afraid of is hours-long lines, broken 15-year-old voting machines, elderly people standing in line in inclement weather and damaging their health, ballots from overseas getting lost in the mail or arriving late and not counted, paper ballots in the U.S. not getting counted because something was wrong with the signature on the outer envelope, and thousands (or millions) of others who were unable to get to the polls due to last minute issues with work or family. When it comes to voting, we should worry about Russian attempts to influence us, but we should also worry about a repeat of 2016 when 100 million eligible voters did not vote because they could not get to the polls. Congressmen, afraid of technology, want to go to all paper rather than fund investments in technology, like we do for NASA, to strengthen our democracy in a way which makes it safe and convenient for American citizens.

Silicon Valley is having some success in a crusade for voting by phone. Computer security experts are aghast to see election officials signing on.

Source: The vote-by-phone tech trend is scaring the life out of security experts – Los Angeles Times

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Internet Guru’s Theory of Evolution

JRP on roof of an I.M. Pei building in Somers, NY

Thanks to Mike Maney, Founder of ManeyDigital, for posting the picture on Instagram. The picture also appears on Instagram at #johnrpatrick. Mike was Public Relations Manager for our Internet Technology group at IBM back in 2000. There was an upcoming story (below) which was to appear in the Los Angeles Times and they wanted a picture. Mike did not want to give them any picture, he wanted it to be special. He convinced the facilities manager to let a professional photographer on the roof of one of five beautiful I. M. Pei designed buildings of IBM in Somers, New York. The picture shoot day was just under 20 years ago, and I remember it well. Tributes should go to Mr. Pei who died yesterday at age 102.

As important as Mike’s picture was the story about the future of the Internet. It is hard to describe how much skepticism about the Internet still existed at the beginning of the 21st century. I had no doubts. Exactly 18 months later, Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It was published by Perseus of Cambridge, MA. I wrote an updated version called Net Attitude: What it is, How to Get it, and Why it is More Important Than Ever which published 15 years later in 2016. As you read the article, keep in mind the iPhone was not introduced until seven years later.

Internet Guru’s Theory of Evolution Monday, April 3, 2000 Q&A: IBM’s chief Web evangelist foresees a fundamental change in the way we live. Increased connectivity, he says, seems inevitable. April 03, 2000 | CHARLES PILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO–IBM is one of the principal advocates of ubiquitous networked computing. The concept holds that a multitude of always-on, always-connected devices–from PCs to refrigerators, cell phones to garage door openers–will gradually make the Internet not just a part of everyday life, but the connection that links together most human activities.

The company’s top researchers suggest that Internet appliances will soon eclipse the PC as the focus of most people’s computing experience.

John Patrick, vice president for Internet technology at IBM’s Somers, N.Y., campus, is the company’s chief evangelist for the “next-generation Internet.”

Patrick, who will lay out those views in his keynote speech Wednesday at the Internet World trade show in Los Angeles, talked with The Times about how the Internet will expand its role and further alter society in coming years.

* * *

Question: How will the Internet evolve in the next few years? Will it contrast sharply with today’s reality?
Answer: Most people think about [changes in the Internet] as speed alone. Speed is important and we all need more of it. . . . But as I think about the evolution of the Internet, I think about seven characteristics: fast, always on, everywhere, natural, intelligent, easy and trusted. . . .
Something north of 90% of Web access is via a browser and a PC. Within two years that is going to be 50%–and not because of any decline in the PC. It is because of a whole series of new kinds of devices. The biggest factor of course being the cell phone, the PDA [personal digital assistant, such as a hand-held computer], things like Palm VII. It is a whole new class of devices that we could think of as information appliances. . . . Turn them on and there’s the Web.

* * *

Q: Does this suggest that the PC will no longer form the center of most people’s computing experience?
A: Getting the first 100 million or 200 million users of people on the Web is relatively easy because there are people that want to do it. Getting from 200 million to 2 billion is going to involve a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to do it [if] . . . that require[s] them to learn about computers. When they realize that they can sit on a train and read the news on their phone or pay their bills or send instant messages, that is pretty neat [and they will be hooked on the Net].

* * *

Q: I hope they know a good optometrist. After all that squinting into a cell phone, they’ll need one.
A: I was just out at the PC Forum [trade show] and I saw all kinds of [impressive optical] devices there. . . . One device that looked like a cell phone and you literally put it up to your eye and looked in it like you would a telescope. . . . The clarity was amazing. It was like looking at a full-screen PC.

* * *

Q: Presumably, that kind of technology will be extended to eyeglasses.
A: They had a pair there. They were amazing. Like a lot things about the Internet, the answer is yes. People say, “Is it the PC or is it the network computer?” The answer is yes. “The mobile phone or the PDA?” Yes. “Eyeglasses for the optics or is it something you hold up to your eye?” Yes.

* * *

Q: Can you give an example of the Internet becoming a more “natural” experience?
A: I am excited about language translations. [Today, instant online translation] is not good enough for contracts but it is good enough for conversation. It is good enough for customer service and support. So, for example, a Spanish-speaking person can ask a question of customer service and a Chinese person can answer it in Chinese and the Spanish person hears it in Spanish. [As such services become broadly available, they will] make the Internet a lot more natural for large numbers of people.

* * *

Q: The future home is often seen as having refrigerators and dishwashers and other appliances connected to the Internet. Aside from a few people who are interested in technical novelties, most people seem to view such devices as adding a layer of unwanted complexity.
A: I am not sure I really want my refrigerator on the Internet either. . . . The innovators had a vision. It takes the businesspeople to come behind them and turn that innovation and that vision into something practical.

* * *

Q: My current PC crashes as often as the one I used in 1982. And networks are notoriously insecure and unstable. What happens if I’ve grown dependent on Internet-connected devices everywhere, then the network crashes?
A: In 1982, that computer was doing one thing at a time and not 50 things at a time. It is like two totally different worlds. On the point of crashes, I think you have to separate this into three buckets: the pervasive devices; the PC; and the server.

With the pervasive devices–your cell phone or your smart pager or your PDA or your Palm–you turn it on, it works. When you are finished, you turn it off. There is no concept of rebooting. That proves that in a relatively fixed set of functions you can achieve a noncrash environment. My Palm has never crashed. My cell phone has never crashed.

The PC is harder to achieve that with because . . . the user is constantly reconfiguring the functionality of machines. . . . So it is a trade-off between the flexibility to be able to do whatever you want to do that conflicts with complete stability. I would argue that it is getting better. It is not perfect.

I don’t want to get into a Microsoft discussion, but with Windows 2000 on my ThinkPad, I almost never reboot anymore. With Windows 98, I would reboot multiple times per day.

And Linux [a rival computer operating system] changes the game here also. With Linux you have hundreds of thousands of people contributing into the open source community [volunteer programmers who rapidly improve the product]. . . . Apache [a Web server product produced by the open-source community] is still gaining market share, and why is that? It doesn’t crash. . . . The other part of the answer is that, as we become more of a network society, it is incumbent upon the service deliverers, the corporate intranets, to make sure that they are investing in the technology and the training and the discipline and procedures to assure five nines–99.999% availability.

* * *

Times staff writer Charles Piller can be reached at [email protected]
Original article: http://articles.latimes.com/2000/apr/03/business/fi-15428

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When Have We Seen Enough Drug Ads on TV?

Pills and Money

I believe Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is doing a good job of trying to improve our broken healthcare system. The move to allow states to seek a Federal waiver to implement Medicaid in ways tailored to their needs has a lot of potential. Some states have already shown they can reduce cost and improve patient safety and quality. Azar is also trying to make drug pricing more transparent. Manufacturers make deals with middlemen who extract significant revenue which translates directly into higher prices for consumers. His latest move is to require drug companies to show the retail price of the drugs they advertise on TV.

Given the incredible lock the drug companies have on Congress, perhaps this is the best he could do. It may help, but I would prefer to have the TV advertising banned completely. All but one developed country in the world do not allow drug advertising on TV. Consumers know how to get answers. If someone has toe fungus, they can Google toe fungus and see all available information about diagnoses and cures.

The main problem with the TV ads is they use professional actors to look and act like people who have the particular health condition for which they are advertising expensive drugs. I have no doubt, nor do the advertisers, that TV watchers may say to themselves, “Oh, maybe that is what I have”, and they call their doctor to prescribe the expensive drug and then Medicare ends up paying for it, even though a generic drug or non-drug alternative may be equal or better than the expensive advertised drug.

I have written a number of articles for various publications about TV advertising of prescription drugs. I have also talked about healthcare on Fox BusinessTV. The TV news programs are unlikely to invite me in to talk about the subject of drugs since the pharmaceutical industry spends $5 billion per year on TV advertising. My latest article was published in Pharmaceutical Processing. You can read it here. The six reasons why the ads should be banned are highlighted below. Read the complete article here.

1. Direct to consumer advertising creates artificial demand.
2. The ads do not improve American health.
3. The TV ads are inappropriate for young people
4. The ads urge people to get expensive drugs no better than cheaper alternatives.
5. The TV ads are subsidized by taxpayers through tax deductions.
6. European countries with excellent healthcare do not allow TV ads for drugs.

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Investigating Crime

Investigating crime. Magnifying glass and handcuffs

Robot Attitude is coming this summer! Click here to get an alert when it publishes.

This is the final post about the use of voices and AI. As we have seen in the prior posts, voice analytics can play a role in numerous areas. In the case of criminal investigations, it can do much more. One of the leading scientists in the field of voice recognition is Rita Singh at Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute. Over the period of more than 20 years she and her team have developed techniques to extract a lot of intelligence from a small sample of our voices. Simon Brandon, reporting from the World Economic Forum in 2018, explained,

The techniques developed by Singh and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon analyse and compare tiny differences, imperceptible to the human ear, in how individuals articulate speech. They then break recorded speech down into tiny snippets of audio, milliseconds in duration, and use AI techniques to comb through these snippets looking for unique identifiers. Your voice can give away plenty of environmental information, too. For example, the technology can guess the size of the room in which someone is speaking, whether it has windows and even what its walls are made of. Even more impressively, perhaps, the AI can detect signatures left in the recording by fluctuations in the local electrical grid and can then match these to specific databases to give a very good idea of the caller’s physical location and the exact time of day they picked up the phone.[i]

In 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard was working on a case where an unknown person had made 28 false distress telephone calls. The emergency responses to the calls cost an estimated $500,000.[ii] The investigators had little to go on other than the recordings of the emergency calls. They reached out to Ms. Singh at Carnegie Mellon. Using nothing more than the voice recordings, she was able to determine the hoax caller’s age, height, and weight.[iii] The case is ongoing, but having this information provided valuable clues for the investigation.

Ms. Singh, through years of research, has learned the voice carries information which predicts demographic, environmental, medical, physical, physiological and other characteristics of the speaker. The tiny snippets of human voice patterns are called microsignatures and they can be used to create profiles of people. Ms. Singh acknowledges the technology is not perfect. For example, age can only predict within a three-year range. However, research is improving the predictive capability and opening up new areas. McCormick said,

Ms. Singh and her team recently demonstrated a system that could reconstruct 60% to 70% of a person’s face just from their voice, she says. Ms. Singh says voice-analysis technology still has a long way to go, but its potential is enormous. “It would enable machines to understand humans a lot better than perhaps even humans can,” she says.[iv]

Summary AI and related technologies have awesome power to uncover a lot from human voices including the ability to determine who we are, and what our emotions of the moment are. The tools can empower others to identify and profile us. The concerns about privacy are obvious. On the other hand, we have seen in the posts how voices can enhance mental health treatment, keep drivers awake, fight heart disease, enhance call center experience, improve job recruiting, combat fraud, and investigate crimes. The challenge facing technologists and policymakers will be to achieve a balance which can be tolerated.


[i] Simon Brandon, “How to Catch a Criminal Using Only Milliseconds of Audio,”  World Economic Forum (2018), https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/catch-criminal-milliseconds-audio-rita-singh-carnegie/
[ii] McCormick, “What Ai Can Tell from Listening to You”.
[iii] Brandon, “How to Catch a Criminal Using Only Milliseconds of Audio”.
[iv] McCormick, “What Ai Can Tell from Listening to You”.

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Combatting Fraud

About 10 percent of the property and casualty insurance industry’s incurred losses and loss adjustment expenses each year are fraudulent[i] During the five-year period from 2013 to 2017, the fraud amounted to approximately $30 billion each year.[ii] The most common fraud is when an insured pads or inflates actual claims, misrepresents facts on an insurance application, or submitting claims for damage or injuries which never occurred. Most insurers use software technology to detect and combat the fraud.

One of the most common technologies used today are automated red flags, which automatically highlights suspected fraudulent activity. The software can look at the claim and compare it to similar situations or find patterns of claims which do not look normal. Sophisticated data analysis can sometimes uncover relationships between groups across multiple claims which might represent organized fraud rings. Insurers realize no single technology is sufficient to combat opportunistic or organized fraud. A relatively new technology they are evaluating is voice AI.

Nemesysco Ltd., a privately held company founded in 2000 with headquarters in Israel, has developed technology which uses voice analysis for emotion detection, personality, and risk assessment.[iii] McCormick explains how a Slovakian insurer is using the technology,

Insurer Allianz-SP Slovakia, a subsidiary of Allianz ALIZF +2.66% group, handles claims using Nemesysco’s voice-stress analysis technology. The tool picks up people’s reactions to a set of scripted questions asked by the claims handler. The system looks for a combination of markers, such as tiny pauses when a person is speaking, that may indicate the speaker is providing false information, according to Allianz-SP Slovakia. “The aim is to pay a claim without any problems immediately and to prevent any fraud-like exaggeration of a claim,” says Jaroslava Zemanová, head of control and special activities at Allianz-SP Slovakia.[iv]

Allianz-SP Slovakia emphasizes the voice analysis is not proof of wrongdoing. The company views the analysis as a first stage in detecting the possibility of fraud. An investigation would determine if there is more evidence which may justify rejecting a claim. The company says the technology is saving it time and money so far. [v]



[i] “Background On: Insurance Fraud,”  Insurance Information Institute (2018), https://www.iii.org/article/background-on-insurance-fraud
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Investigation Focus Tool,”  Nemesysco (2019), http://nemesysco.com/
[iv] McCormick, “What Ai Can Tell from Listening to You”.
[v] Ibid.

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