The Kitchen Sync

June 26, 2020

New legislation requires breakable encryption

What's new: Senators Graham, Blackburn, and Cotton have introduced legislation requiring makers of encrypted hardware and software to maintain the ability to decrypt data when served with a law enforcement warrant.

Why this matters: The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Actwould require tech companies to give law enforcement access to encrypted data if that data would help carry out a warrant. 

  • Supporters of the bill argue "unbreakable encryption" denies law enforcement the ability to get evidence from suspects' devices even in critical investigations into terrorism and child exploitation cases.

  • Opponents say strong encryption is one of the primary ways individuals, corporations, and governments protect themselves online and that, once created, cybercriminals and even foreign governments are likely to discover and exploit these "backdoors." 

What we're thinking:  This argument is important, but it isn't new. In fact, you can   read what Heritage said  about this debate previously. Here's our bottom lines:

  • No decision on special access will satisfy legitimate but competing interests.

  • Heritage scholars have long supported the use of lawful tools by law enforcement and the intelligence community in order to keep the U.S. safe, but we cannot ignore technological advances.

  • The case for special access by law enforcement to encrypted materials is one with noble objectives and intentions, but the reality is that technology has changed as to make this policy detrimental to cybersecurity and data integrity, with no guarantee of success.

  • Given these cybersecurity realities, the U.S. should not require technology and communication companies to provide law enforcement with special access to encrypted materials.


US catching up with Chinese AI, says former president of Google China

What's new: AI expert and chairman of Sinovation Ventures, Kai-Fu Lee, says the US is catching up with China when it comes to adopting AI.

Why this matters: In his 2018 book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Lee assessed that, while the US leads the world in AI innovation, China was more quickly adopting the technology at scale and building businesses around the innovation. 

  • Lee told Time that, "China was way ahead in things like mobile payments, food delivery, robotics for delivery, things like that, but we also saw recently, in the U.S., very quickly peoples’ habits were forming about ordering food from home, about use of robotics in various places, in using more mobile technologies, mobile payments.”

  • Before starting Sinovation Ventures in 2009, Lee was the president of Google China and had held executive positions at Microsoft and Apple.

What we're thinking: The AI race isn't really a "race." It's better understood as a decathlon, requiring competitors to demonstrate expertise in a host of areas while having very few flaws. The best "handicap" of where the US and China stand relative to one another on AI can be read here.

But, the real point is that the US and China are essentially peer competitors in a number of emerging technologies and that US technological dominance cannot be assumed.


China trying to hack VP Biden

What's new: Google says China-backed hackers are targeting Vice President Joe Biden and his campaign staff.

Why this matters: While the candidate and campaign do not appear to have been compromised, it's another reminder that the 2020 presidential election is an active cyber battleground.

Key points:

  • Head of Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG), Shane Huntley, tweeted that APT31 was observed phishing the Biden team.

  • TAG analysts speculate the primary motivation for the attack was ascertaining Biden's proposals for US-China policy.


20 Companies operating in the US tied to Chinese military

What's new: The Department of Defense has released a list of 20 Chinese companies the Pentagon says are "owned or controlled" by the Chinese military -- including Huawei and Hikvision.

Why this matters: This designation is likely a precursor to increased US sanctions on these companies.

  • DoD was tasked in 1999 to list all Chinese military companies operating in the US, but this is the first time this list has been compiled, according to Axios

Hereis the complete list of designated companies: Aviation Industry Corporation of China, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, China South Industries Group Corporation, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, China State Shipbuilding Corporation, China North Industries Group Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd. (Hikvision), Huawei, Inspur Group, Aero Engine Corporation of China, China Railway Construction Corporation, CRRC Corp., Dawning Information Industry Co. (Sugon), China Mobile Communications Group, China General Nuclear Power Corp., and China Telecommunications Corp.


Baidu goes bye-bye

What's new: Baidu, China's huge search giant, is leaving a US-led international partnership aimed at addressing the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI).

  • While the company says financial pressures and the cost membership in the partnership are to blame, the decision comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing continue to grow -- making collaboration more difficult.

  • The Partnership on AI's (PAI) annual report from last year showed a revenue of ~$8 million. Divided across its 23 for-profit members, this likely means dues were in the low six figures. In 2019, Baidu had a revenue of $15 billion.

  • PAI was formed in 2016 by Amazon, Facebook, Google, and IBM and later joined by Apple and the United Nations.

Why this matters: Baidu is commonly understood as "China's Google" and it has become a leader in Chinese AI technologies and applications. Its Apollo automated vehicle platform is used by several car manufactures in China and elsewhere.

What we're thinking: While wholesale decoupling between the US and China is almost impossible in the near-term, it is happening at lower levels and is likely to increase. Partnerships like PAI are beneficial to all stakeholders, including the US, in terms of shared resources, research, and insights. While not catastrophic, the exit of Baidu from PAI is notable and should be understood as yet another sign of the fracturing global internet.


Man goes to jail when AI gets it wrong

Last week, we discussed how Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM were pausing or ending their business of providing facial recognition software to law enforcement. Well, here's one example of why they feel this action is warranted.

Earlier this year, Detroit police arrived at the home of Robert Williams and arrested him in front of his wife and daughters after an AI algorithm wrongly identified him as the suspect in a jewelry store robbery. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the facial recognition software used by the police mistakenly identified two Black men as the same person.

  • While the mistake was eventually caught and the charges were dropped, Mr. Williams spent 30 hours behind bars.

  • Williams recently recounted his experience in a Washington Post op-ed, where he shared, “I never thought I’d have to explain to my daughters why daddy got arrested. How does one explain to two little girls that a computer got it wrong, but the police listened to it anyway?”

What we're thinking: Mistakes happen, especially with new technologies. But mistakes like these should have consequences and there's plenty of data suggesting facial recognition technologies have not earned the right to be unquestionably trusted.


Who doesn't get excited about graphene nanoribbons?

What's new: Researchers have successfully developed a new way of producing graphene nanoribbons.

Why this matters: Nanoribbons are a semiconductor material that is ultra-light and very stable and it is hoped that they might unlock the next discovery in advanced microprocessors. 

Key points:

  • Simply put, graphene nanoribbons are a two-dimensional carbon surface that looks like a honeycomb.

  • Scientists at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have pioneered a new way to producing these nanoribbons directly onto the surface of semiconductors, according to Phys.Org.

  • Previously, these complex structures could only be produced on metal surfaces; but, this new process allows scientists to customize the nanoribbons to suit specific computing needs. 

  • "Our new method allows us to have complete control over how the graphene nanoribbons are assembled. The process is technologically relevant as it could also be used at an industrial level. It is also more cost-effective than previous processes," explains chemist Konstantin Amsharov.