From Moscow to Amsterdam for AI

From Moscow to Amsterdam for AI

Edward Snowden, the world’s most celebrated whistleblower and subject of Laura Poitras’ Citizen Four (2014), joined director Tonje Hessen Schei by Skype after the November 24 screening of her iHuman.

The Q&A also saw contributions from investigative journalist Lee Fang, Google whistleblower Jack Poulson and human rights lawyer Ben Wizner.

iHuman offers a stark analysis of AI and its insidious influence over our social, commercial and personal interactions, as well as a series of grim predictions regarding our future as a species.

Snowden was asked if, five years after taking up asylum in Moscow, he had any regrets about the whistleblowing activities detailed in Poitras’ film.

Nobody really wants to do this, but it’s not about what you want. It’s about what we must do,” he answered, acknowledging the bravery of former Google employee Poulson, who is featured in iHuman.

“It is difficult for me to watch some of the footage in the film of data scientists who are talking almost with a sense of glee in the context of the Cambridge Analytica-type thing… and the fact that there are more and more gigabytes of data produced per person, per day, per year, and you just see their faces beam.”

He further offered a stark warning to audience members of the peril that each and everyone of us carries in our pocket.

“You are in the room right now, almost all of you have smart phones,” he said. “When they are turned on each of those phones is beaconing out to 100,000 different services all day long constantly.”

They are gathering your contacts list, they are gathering your location… They are seeing the contact graph, who you are talking to, who is interested in you, your frequency of connection, and what other decives are travelling with you.”

“If you use Bluetooth headphones they are also listening to other Bluetooth devices around you… and they can tell who that [other] person is on that bus [via] your phone, even though that person hasn’t opted into it [nor] consented to it.” 

 

“If you use Bluetooth headphones they are also listening to other Bluetooth devices around you… and they can tell who that [other] person is on that bus [via] your phone, even though that person hasn’t opted into it [nor] consented to it.”

 

“And this is happening 90 times a minute in every phone in the audience, and in every room around the world.”

 

Director Schei commented how, “the most challending, and also surprising and provoking thing has been to see the extreme power of the big tech companies, how they are controlling our information, manipulating more and more what we think and know about the world… and just to see how a few white, young and very rich men make decisions that impact most of humanity has been really astounding.”

 

Lawyer Ben Wizner quipped how he worries hot whether computers “are becoming smarter than people, but that people are becoming as stupid as computers.”

 

“What I mean by that is the way we are more and more comforming our own behaviour to match the expectations of these computers and these platforms,” he continued. “From very simple things like social media where we are all trained to communicate in 140 charecters, but more and more we have computers that are reading our resumés and our CVs, they are going to be grading our exams. And do you think they will reward creativity, do you think they will reward depth? No, we are all going to just try and please these computers.”