Is Apple losing the AI race? Italy lifts the ban on ChatGPT as OpenAI unveils new privacy controls and the World Wide Web turns 30.
These stories and more as we bring you the top tech news stories for Monday May 1st. I’m your host Jim Love, CIO of ITWC – IT World Canada and Tech News Day in the US.
Is Apple falling behind in the race to generative AI a failure or a brilliant strategy?
A report in the Information details how late last year, a trio of engineers who had just helped Apple modernize its search technology began working on large language models and generative AI, much like the OpenAI systems that had taken the world by storm.
But to do this type of leading-edge work, the three top engineers left Apple to go to work for Google. According to that report the three were recruited directly by Google’s CEO with Apple’s Tim Scott unable to convince them to stay.
According to reports this top-level defection is a reflection of a wider frustration with Apple’s conservative and go-slow approach to AI.
For example, a report in ArsTechnica claimed that the team working another slow to market technology – Apple’s mixed reality VR headset – was so frustrated with the underlying technology of Siri that it considered developing a totally new voice control system for the headset.
Siri, Apple’s legacy voice control system is not generative AI. It is a highly structured and equally limited control system consisting of a limited number of human written questions and responses.
It’s not that Apple isn’t working on AI initiatives. John Giannadrea, Apple’s head of AI, originally recruited from Google, has been working since 2018 to bring together the various AI initiatives to make the company more competitive in this area – but most of their focus has been on very practical applications, primarily improvement in user experience for the iPhone and iPad – such as new biometric security to eliminate passwords, photo editing tricks and improvements to user help with applications.
Solid, but certainly not sexy or even leading edge.
It’s a strategy that has worked before for Apple. Let others do the bleeding edge development and “pick up the pieces when they crash and burn.” Their metaverse strategy is a case in point. Meta has thrown billions into a strategy that has drawn scorn at its legless avatars, Google has had two unsuccessful launches of Google glasses and Microsoft is reportedly struggling with its expensive and nausea inducing VR headset. Apple has been able to work quietly and at its own pace, avoiding a splash and burn.
Siri may have her frustrations, but she has avoided scandals like Microsoft’s Sydney whose AI “hallucinations” have led to reports of the AI trying to lure a reporter away from his wife and threatening to ruin the reputation of another. Similarly, Siri has not made a huge and obvious mistake in answering a factual question as Google’s Bard did in a recent demonstration – a gaff that led to a 100 billion dollar decline in share value.
There are risks to the blinding speed of development that Apple’s competitors are caught up in.
But the defection of the three top engineers shows the “slow but steady” strategy also has risks – could it lead to a brain drain from Apple and if so, is there a point where it’s ability to innovate is compromised?
It’s a tough question but one that will have big implications for the company that has lived by the slogan “Think Different.”
Is Ransomware with us forever? The COVID of cybersecurity?
According to reports in Axios, that’s the general tone from this year’s RSA cybersecurity conference that wrapped up last week.
The RSA conference attracts vendors and experts from around the world some of whom appear to be coming to a consensus that ransomware will be with us far into the foreseeable future.
Ransomware, as many know, is a pervasive threat which has turned cyber-attacks into a hugely profitable business where the company that is the victim is blackmailed into paying a ransom, usually in untraceable bitcoin. Either the data is encrypted and held for ransom or stolen with threats of release of highly confidential data or the are threatened with denial-of-service attacks. Sometimes, it’s all three.
While the worldwide number of ransomware attacks has declined from its peak in 2021, it’s still the major threat to many companies. Cybersecurity company Sophos presented a study at RSA that claimed ransomware was at the heart of 68 per cent of cybersecurity attacks.
One reason that Ransomware will continue to survive, if not thrive, is geopolitical. Many of the threat actors are protected or benignly ignored by Russia and other rogue states. Rob Joyce, the NSA director of cybersecurity told reports during a briefing at RSA that Russian hackers are attacking not only Ukrainian, but also companies in all western-allied countries.
A second reason is that many companies still don’t have effective prevention and user education programs and continue to fall behind on even basic cyber-hygiene.
Third, even though more companies say they will not pay a ransom, there are still enough that will pay to make this a highly profitable business.
The Hacker News reported this weekend that ChatGPT is back in operations in Italy after promising to make some big changes in terms of privacy and safety.
Although a number of European companies had expressed concerns, it was Italy’s Data Protection Authority that took the extreme step a few weeks back of actually blocking ChatGPT effective March 31st.
OpenAI in a new FAQ says that filters hate speech, adult content, excessvie or unnecessary aggregation of personal information and of course, spam.
Open AI states “ChatGPT and our other services are developed using (1) information that is publicly available on the internet, (2) information that we license from third parties, and (3) information that our users or human trainers provide.”
In response to recent incidents where private or even highly sensitive data has been shared and presumably incorporated into the general ChatGPT model, OpenAI has increased its warnings and even offers a “privacy mode” where users can specify that no information from a user session will be retained after than session is completed.
But specifically addressing Italy and other European concerns, the company has promised that it will comply with the European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and that they have completed a data protection impact assessment to ensure that they are collecting and using information legally and responsibly.
While some degree of personal information is a requirement of training, particularly to store information about individuals in the public eye, the company promises to “reduce the processing of personal information when training our models. For example, we remove websites that aggregate large volumes of personal information, and we try to train our models to reject requests for private or sensitive information about people.” Open AI also notes that it will not sell its training information.
As well, OpenAI has made it clear in this FAQ exactly how anyone whose data is collected can ask to have it removed from OpenAI by filling out an online form and giving an email address that individuals can write to.
Based on this, Italy has agreed to lift its ban and all of this was announced as the European Parliament is poised to approve a draft of the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act in a committee meeting on May 11th in preparation for a vote by member states to enact the new law.
And the World Wide Web turned 30 yesterday. On April 30th 1993 scientists from CERN introduced the start of a wave of developments that turned a geeky set of networking standards and operations into what we would call the World Wide Web. In its early days it gave us HTML, the web-browser and it led to the global networking and vast resources that we tap into daily.
It was, by today’s standards a very primitive development. One HTML page that still exists to this day.
At the time, the web was seen as a way providing free and open access to research and other information. It was to be freely shared. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web never sought profit, never patented it or protected it in any way.
What Lee didn’t envision was how corporate interests would shape and even control his invention. The web rapidly changed how information was disseminated and shared. Encyclopedias became virtually extinct. But its doubtful that anyone saw the commercial impact of ecommerce. Nor did they predict the social media networks that dominate our lives.
In later years, Berners-Lee was, in his words, “devastated” by what his invention had become. He told Vanity Fair in a 2018 interview: “We demonstrated that the web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places”
But Lee remained hopeful that there would be ways to decentralize control once again. Whether his vision will ever be realized is, especially in the advent of the AI driven internet, an unanswered question.
That’s the top tech news for today. We go to air with a daily newscast five days a week, as well as a special weekend interview with an expert on topics relevant to today’s tech news.
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I’m your host, Jim Love. Have a Marvelous Monday!