“Why RFID Chips are Like a Dog Collar” Interview with Sushant Agarwal, Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab

 

Sushant would you please introduce yourself and tell us about your scientific work and background?

 

Sushant: My name is Sushant Agarwal. I did my Bachelor and Masters in India in Aerospace Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.During this time, I did an internships at the University of Cambridge where I worked on a project related to RFID. There I had to carry several RFID enabled cards – key cards to unlock the university doors, college main entrance, my dorm room and also an id-card for a library. I used to wonder why they don’t just create one RFID chip which would work for everything. Later, I started my thesis which dealt with machine learning. This was the time I started thinking about privacy and how centralisation is not always a good approach. After my studies, I got an opportunity here to work on a project that combined both privacy and RFID.

Would you tell us a little more about this project?

The EU project which was called SERAMIS (Sensor-Enabled Real-World Awareness for Management Information Systems) has been dealing with the use of RFID in fashion retail. My work focused more on the privacy aspects. If you look at clothes that you buy from big fashion retailers, along with the price tags there can be RFID chips as well, which are slowly replacing the security tags or the fancy colour bombs they were using before.

Would you also tell us about the tool you created at the Lab called “PriWUcy”?

This was part of the SERAMIS project as well. We had to develop a tool for Privacy Impact Assessments. When we started developing this tool the landscape of data protection related regulation changed to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Because of this regulatory change a lot of things in our Privacy Impact Assessment tool had to be adjusted. This was the time when we thought about a sustainable solution and came up with the idea to model the legislation in a machine-readable way in order to easily update the tool based on the changes in the interpretation of the GDPR.

 

Sushant, what is privacy for you?

For me personally, privacy is all about control. I want to have the ultimate control of my data. At least I should be allowed to say who should get my data, as well as what kind of data they should have access to. So it shouldn’t be like logging in online and starting Facebook in one of your tabs and then Facebook tracks you for all the rest of the websites that you browse. That is something I really hate. I try to use online services where I can have the maximum amount of control possible.

 

Would you give us an example for how you make use of your knowledge on privacy in your daily life?

 

Yes, for me the concept of smart homes is something very interesting. And to try this out on a small scale, I started out with some smart bulbs. I bought  some smart-bulbs from China to experiment with. These bulbs work using Wi-Fi and through a switch in my apartment I was communicating first with a server in China and then the server was controlling my light switch. One could say the server in China was a middleman in the process of switching on my lights. And I didn’t really like this design so I looked at some open source alternatives like https://home-assistant.io/ where I had better control and I could avoid the middleman.

 

A GlobArt Workshop at WU’s Privacy & Sustainable Computing Lab November 10, 2017

The Privacy & Sustainable Computing Lab together with GlobArt and Capital 300 hosted a Round Table discussion about artificial intelligence (AI), Ubiquitous Computing and the Question of Ethics on the 9th of November 2017 in Vienna. We were happy to have Jeffrey Sachs as our distinguished guest at this 4-hour intense Workshop on the future of AI. Other distinguished speakers were Bernhard Nessler from Johannes Kepler University Linz introducing to the limits of AI as well as Christopher Coenen unveiling the philosophical and historical roots of our desire to created artificial life.

The session and its speakers were structured by three main questions: What can general AI really do from a technical perspective?

What are the historical and philosophical roots of our desire for artificial life?

What sorts of ethical frameworks should AI adhere to?


The speakers argued that there is a need to differentiate between AI (Artificial Intelligence) and AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), where AI (like IBM Watson) needs quality training as well as quality data, lots of hardware and energy. In contrast, AGI is able to work with unstructured data and can have a better energy consumption rate. The other advantage of AGI is that it can react to un- foreseen situations and could be more easily applicable to various areas. One point that was stressed during the debate was that a lot of the terminology used in the scientific field of AI and AGI is borrowed from neuroscience and humans proper intelligence. Since machines – as experts confirmed – do not live up to this promise, using human-related terminology could lead to a misleading of the public as well as overly confident promises by industry.

It was discussed whether the term ”processing” might be more suitable than ”thinking” – at least at the current state.

Another phenomenon could be due to science fiction (Isaac Asimov, Neal Stephenson …) or Movies like ”Her” or ”Ex Machina”, where we rather should differentiate the terms AGI and Artificial Life. 
What are the socio-cultural, historical and philosophical roots of our desire to create a general artificial intelligence and to diffuse our environments with IT systems?
 ”The World, the Flesh & the Devil” a book published in 1929 by J. Desmond Bernal was a named inspiration for the concept of the ”mechanical man”. This book in turn provided an excellent introduction into the debate about transhumanism, which often goes hand in hand with the discussion about AI. Some prominent figures in technology – such as Ray Kurzweil or Elon Musk – frequently communicate transhumanistic ideas or philosophies.

What ethical guidance can we use as investors, researchers and developers or use in technical standards to ensure that AI does not get out of control? Concerning this question, there was a general agreement on the need to have some basic standards or even regulations of upcoming AI technology. Providing one example of such standards, the IEEE is working on Ethical Aligned Design guidelines under the leading phrase “Advancing Technology for Humanity.” Here particular hope is put into P7000 (Model Process for Addressing Ethical Concerns During System Design) that sets out to describe value based engineering. Value based engineering is an approach aiming to maximize value potential and minimize value harms for human beings in IT-rich environments. The ultimate goal of value based engineering is human wellbeing.

In conclusion, the event provided an excellent basis for further discussions about AI and it’s ethics for both experts and students alike.

Speakers at the Roundtable:

  • Christopher Coenen from the Institute for System Analysis and Technology Impact Assessments in Karlsruhe
  • Peter Hampson from the University of Oxford
  • Johannes Hoff from the University of London
  • Peter Lasinger from Capital 300
  • Konstantin Oppel from Xephor Solutions
  • Michael Platzer from Mostly AI
  • Bill Price who is a Resident Economist
  • Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University
  • Robert Trappl from the Austrian Research Institute for AI
  • Georg Franck who is Professor Emeritus for Spacial Information Systems
  • Bernhard Nessler from Johannes Kepler University
  • Sarah Spiekermann – Founder of the Privacy & Sustainable Computing Lab and Professor at WU Vienna.

 

Welcome

Welcome to the new Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab blog!

We look forward to having further blog posts listed here in the next few weeks, giving visitors to this website a better insight on what we’re doing. If you have questions about the Lab please don’t hesitate to contact: ben.wagner@wu.ac.at.