Nest Security Camera Knows Who’s Home with Google Face Tech

Nest Labs is adding Google’s facial recognition technology to a high-resolution home-security camera, offering a glimpse of a future in which increasingly intelligent, internet-connected computers can see and understand what’s going on in people’s homes.

The Nest Cam IQ, unveiled Wednesday, will be Nest’s first device to draw upon the same human-like skills that Google has been programming into its computers — for instance, to identify people in images via its widely used photo app. Facebook deploys similar technology to automatically recognize and recommend tags of people in photos posted on its social network.

Nest can tap into Google’s expertise in artificial intelligence because both companies are owned by the same parent company, Alphabet Inc.

With the new feature, you could program the camera to recognize a child, friend or neighbor, after which it will send you notifications about that person being in the home.

Nest isn’t saying much about other potential uses down the road, though one can imagine the camera recognizing when grandparents are visiting and notifying Nest’s internet-connected thermostat to adjust the temperature to what they prefer. Or it might be trained to keep a close eye on the kids when they are home after school to monitor their activities and send alerts when they’re doing something besides a list of approved activities.

The cost of facial recognition

The new camera will begin shipping in late June for almost $300. You’ll also have to pay $10 a month for a plan that includes facial recognition technology. The same plan will also include other features, such as alerts generated by particular sounds — barking dogs, say — that occur out of the camera’s visual range.

The camera will only identify people you select through Nest’s app for iPhones and Android devices. It won’t try to recognize anyone that an owner hasn’t tagged. Even if a Nest Cam IQ video spies a burglar in a home, law enforcement officials will have to identify the suspect through their own investigation and analysis, according to Nest.

Privacy concerns

Facial recognition is becoming more common on home-security cameras. Netatmo, for instance, introduced a security camera touting a similar facial recognition system in 2015. That camera sells for about $200, or $100 less than the Nest Cam IQ.

The way that the Nest and Netatmo cameras are being used doesn’t raise serious privacy concerns because they are only verifying familiar faces, not those of complete strangers, said Jennifer Lynch, who specializes in biometrics as a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital advocacy group.

But Lynch believes privacy issues are bound to crop up as the resolution and zoom capabilities of home security cameras improve, and as engineers develop more sophisticated ways of identifying people even when an image is moving or only a part of a face is visible. Storing home-security videos in remote data centers also raises security concerns about the imagery being stolen by computer hackers. “It definitely could become a slippery slope,” Lynch said.

The privacy issues already are thorny enough that Nest decided against offering the facial recognition technology in Illinois, where state law forbids the collection and retention of an individual’s biometric information without prior notification and written permission.

Further details

Nest’s $10-a-month subscription includes video storage for 10 days. Video can be stored up to 30 days with an upgrade to a subscription plan costing $30 per month.

The high-end camera supplements lower-resolution indoor and outdoor cameras that Nest will continue to sell for almost $200. Neither of the lower-end cameras is equipped for facial recognition.

US Homeland Security Chief to Visit Haiti

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is visiting Haiti on Wednesday for discussions on international cooperation.

Kelly is to meet with Haitian government officials including President Jovenel Moïse, the department’s website said in a Tuesday evening post. Talks also will cover “issues related to repatriation, as well as efforts to build Haiti’s maritime law enforcement capacity, and to encourage cooperation between the Dominican Republic and Haiti’s nascent border security unit.”

The notice did not say when Kelly would arrive. His visit is expected to span four hours, primarily spent on the grounds of the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, the Miami Herald and Haitian news outlets are reporting.

Kelly’s visit comes just over a week after Homeland Security announced a humanitarian aid program for Haitians temporarily living in the United States would be limited to a six-month extension. Haitian authorities, some U.S. lawmakers and immigration advocates had sought a longer term. Previous renewals had been for 18 months.

About 58,000 Haitian immigrants are registered for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), offered in the wake of a deadly 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It permits those visiting the United States at the time of the quake to work and live there. TPS was set to expire July 23 and has been extended through January 22.

In making his announcement, Kelly said the six-month period “should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure” and give the Haitian government sufficient time “to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Haiti’s government had sought at least another year.

The Herald reported that Kelly also was expected to meet with the head of the U.N. mission to Haiti, Sandra Honoré. The United Nations announced in April that it would end its peacekeeping role in mid-April. Honoré said the country had made sufficient progress toward stabilization.

Kelly is not expected to visit other parts of the Caribbean nation, which were buffeted last October by a hurricane and by subsequent flooding. That led to water contamination and a resurgence of cholera cases.

Lawyer Says Independent Journalist Abducted in Georgia

An independent Azerbaijani journalist has been abducted from Georgia, where he had been living, and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

A court in this former Soviet republic was due to hold a hearing later on Wednesday to arrest Afgan Mukhtarli, who is facing charges of smuggling and crossing the border illegally.

 

Mukhtarli, who is also a civil rights activist, had been living in neighboring Georgia for two years. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told The Associated Press the journalist was abducted outside his home Monday evening, beaten up and taken to the land border between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Sadigov claimed that the journalist’s captors planted 10,000 euros ($11,180) on him, which led to the charges.

 

Eldar Sultanov, spokesman for the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office, said the journalist was detained late on Monday “after illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border” with a large sum of money.

 

Mukhtarli left Azerbaijan in 2015, around the time when several Azerbaijani journalists working for foreign or local independent media faced charges of tax evasion.

 

Mukhtarli’s wife, Leila Mustafayeva, told the AP she was waiting for her husband at home Monday evening but he never showed up. Mustafayeva said her husband had been investigating Georgian business ties of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family.

 

“Naturally, this created resentment in the presidential family,” she said, insisting that her husband’s disappearance is connected to his investigation.

 

Several dozen journalists rallied in the capital, Tbilisi, demanding that Georgian authorities explain how they allowed the reported abduction to happen.

 

Giorgi Gogia, Human Rights Watch director of South Caucasus, in a statement described Mukhtarli’s disappearance as another step in the Azerbaijani government’s “relentless crackdown on critics.”

 

Tech Show Displays Ways VR, AI Edging into People’s Lives

Inside the sprawling Acer stall at Computex Taipei, Asia’s largest tech show, staff displayed a laptop computer that’s ready for virtual reality play yet thinner than most PCs for gaming.  At the same exhibition, the Taiwanese tech hardware maker showed how its internet cloud uses artificial intelligence to predict what customers will do when shopping and allow the shop to make decisions accordingly.

VR and AI usher in a new world of technology

Acer was riding two major new themes at the annual show: virtual reality, often abbreviated to VR, and artificial intelligence, or AI.

Demand from gamers, a lucrative market of people willing to pay more than $10,000 for a personal computer (PC), is driving the VR side, compelling Acer and its peers to install new lines of processors that support immersive, 3D play with headgear and hand controls.

“You can see that the company is moving into more gaming centric, VR, new experience innovation,” said Vincent Lin, senior director of Acer’s global product marketing. “Not all gaming notebooks or not all notebooks are VR ready. There are certain requirements needed to be VR ready. VR, certainly it’s a growth area. It’s supposed to like grow five times or something over next 3 years.”

Revenue is forecast to rise quickly

Silicon Valley investment advisory firm Digi-Capital forecasts a surge in global revenue from $20 billion this year to $108 billion in 2021 in virtual reality technology and a similar technology known as augmented reality. 

The anticipation of growth inspired 60 Computex exhibitors to show games, gear or PCs that support virtual reality. The technology that first popped into public view in the 1980s is normally aimed now at computer gamers, though scientific researchers have used VR as well as the related augmented reality to model processes they can’t duplicate in real life. 

Near Acer’s stall, Computex visitors donned thick, black head-mounted goggles to race cars or fire at things, yelling in excitement through the dimly lit booths as they tested new products. 

PCs will be thinner, quieter and quicker to support VR

Developers were excited about Nvidia’s newly announced graphics processors that are designed to make PCs thinner and quieter. They also noticed the seventh update of Intel’s Core i5 processor, which stands to make PCs faster.

At one stall, Hong Kong developer Zotac showed off backpacks that can hold a gamer’s VR hardware system to prevent any tripping over wires – which might happen to someone immersed in a 3D scenario and unable to see the real floor.

“Right now the way the virtual reality equipment is made, you’re tethered to a system. That means you have to worry about tripping over cables, wrapping them around yourself as well,” Zotac product marketer Buu Ly said. “With our VR backpack, that removes those barriers so you are more free to experience VR the way it was supposed to be experienced.”

AI attracting much interest this year

Artificial intelligence also made its way into the show, where about 1,600 exhibitors occupied 5,010 booths, this year as companies test a relatively new technology that teaches computers to make decisions based on patterns they detect through analysis of user commands. 

Voice-activated assistants on mobile phones use artificial intelligence by searching the phone for requested information, even sending commands across apps to get answers.

Computex organizers have not tallied the number of exhibitors showing AI technology, but analysts in Taipei say a number are pursuing servers that can speed up development of AI functions allowed by the likes of Nvidia’s Jetson TX computer processing module.

With a compound annual growth rate of 63 percent from 2016 to 2022, the artificial intelligence market should be worth $16.06 billion by 2022, according to forecasts by the research firm Markets and Markets.

“AI has caught much of the spotlight in various exhibitions around the world and has become one of major deployment highlights for many companies in recent years,” said Ray Han, industry analyst with the Marketing Intelligence & Consulting Institute in Taipei. “The next battlefield will lie on platforms or chips.”

Internet of things

One contender is Socionext, a Japanese developer that has developed a processor partly for AI and the Internet of things, or IoT, which means using phones or PCs to control other electronic objects. Five customers are evaluating whether to install the chip, said Fumitaka Shiraishi, a Socionext business project management group member. 

“Our chip is a processor chip, so not too specific for AI but also suitable for AI because of the low power,” Shiraishi said. 

Artificial intelligence can help the Internet of things by picking the most relevant points from vast fields of data collected.

“In the future five years, I think IoT devices also need to judge some information — not just sensing,” Shiraishi said. 

Kushner, Merkel Top Questions at Contentious Briefing

Days after President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip, the contentious relationship between the news media and the White House was on full display. Embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly cut short the first post-trip press briefing after once again lecturing reporters about their treatment of the president. It comes as reports circulate of an impending shakeup among White House communications staff, as VOA’s Bill Gallo report.

Flynn to Provide Senate Committee Documents in Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has agreed to hand over documents to the Senate intelligence committee in connection with its investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election.

Flynn had previously refused a subpoena from the committee, with his lawyers asserting the request was too broad in what it was seeking. 

The committee filed a more narrow subpoena, and Flynn is now expected to provide some personal documents and those related to two businesses by next week.

The House intelligence committee is conducting its own investigation, and on Tuesday Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, turned down a request to provide information, calling it “poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered.”

The U.S. Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel in another investigation that also includes whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia.

Trump has rejected those allegations and dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the November election with a desire to help Trump’s chances of beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News,” Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

Later, at a White House briefing for reporters, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump “is frustrated … to see stories come out that are patently false, to see narratives that are wrong, to see, quote, unquote, fake news, when you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false, that are not based in fact.”

Trump’s Russia comment came as news reports continued to focus on Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, and his reported attempt to establish a back-channel communications link to Russian officials in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration in January.

Some foreign affairs experts said the move, while former President Barack Obama had weeks left in his term, worried them that it could undermine U.S. security, and some opposition Democrats have suggested Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked.  Other experts say exploring the creation of “backchannels” is commonplace, even during presidential transitions.

Spicer deflected several questions about Kushner’s actions, telling one reporter his inquiry “presupposes facts that have not been confirmed.”

The White House also is bracing for the upcoming congressional testimony of former FBI chief James Comey.  Trump fired Comey after allegedly asking him to drop the probe into Flynn and his close ties to the Kremlin.

Azeri Dissident, Snatched in Tbilisi, Turns Up in Baku

A prominent Azeri dissident and journalist who was kidnapped near his home in the capital of Georgia has turned up in custody in Baku, Azerbaijan, less than 24 hours after he disappeared.

Efqan Muxtarli has been charged with illegally crossing the border from Georgia into Azerbaijan and smuggling 10,000 euros in cash, his attorney told VOA Tuesday. Known for years as a fierce critic of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Muxtarli presumably could face other charges in his homeland related to his dissident activities.

Human-rights advocates have called for immediate action to investigate Muxtarli’s apparent abduction, but Georgian government officials have provided no information about the dissident, who is said to suffer from diabetes.

Muxtarli telephoned his wife at about 6 p.m. Monday and said he would be home in 15 minutes, she said. He never appeared, and his cellphone was turned off. His fate was unknown until an attorney in Baku, Elchin Sadigov, said Tuesday he had met with Muxtarli in the Azeri capital.

Lawyer supports dissident’s story

Sadigov told VOA’s Azeri Service Muxtarli gave him a dramatic account of his abduction, which began when unidentified men grabbed him on a street in Tbilisi:

“They used force to put him in the back of a car, tied him up, put him in a sack and beat him,” Sagidov said. The journey continued for some time, but the kidnappers changed cars at least twice.

“The people in the last car spoke Azerbaijani,” the lawyer continued, recounting his conversation with Muxtarli. “When he was taken out of the car, he found himself at the border,” where he was told he faced trespassing and smuggling charges. Sadigov said the smuggled cash had been put in Muxtarli’s pants pocket before he was turned over to Azeri authorities.

The dissident’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, told VOA’s Georgian Service her husband clearly had been targeted for his “professional activities.”

She also noted how ironic it was that he was charged with illegally crossing an international border at a time when he had no passport with him. It had been left at his home in Tbilisi.

Human Rights Watch fears torture

A representative in the South Caucasus region for Human Rights Watch, Giorgi Gogia, told VOA that the government of Georgia must not cooperate in the extradition or repatriation of anyone who faces “an imminent risk of ill-treatment and torture in his home country.”

Muxtarli “was seeking safety and had to flee [Azerbaijan] as a result of a government oppression,” Gogia said in a telephone interview with VOA Georgian. He called on Georgian authorities to immediately investigate the dissident’s disappearance and “ensure the safety of other activists who fled Azerbaijan.”

“It is clear that Georgia’s government is under pressure from the Azeri government,” Gogia said, but he added that authorities in Tbilisi were clearly obliged to take action to protect the dissident from harm, if possible.

Muxtarli himself told VOA Azeri a week ago that he was concerned after learning that Georgian intelligence offices had been quietly approaching Azeri expatriates and dissidents and “recommending” that they leave Georgia and return home.

Baku has denounced dissidents abroad

Georgian authorities had no comment on Muxtarli’s recent remarks, on Tuesday’s report from Sadigov in Baku, or on Mustafayeva’s complaints, but they are understood to have said that there was no legal justification for any detention or arrest of Muxtarli. Local police in Tbilisi have told Mustafayeva they are investigating the possibility that he was kidnapped.

This week’s developments follow a report by a pro-government website in Azerbaijan denouncing dissidents based in Tbilisi for carrying out “underground anti-Azerbaijani activities.”

Muxtarli and Mustafayeva have lived in Georgia for three years, since Mustafayeva began graduate studies in journalism at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), an institution known for training future generations of civil servants and media professionals. They collaborated on a series of investigative reports disclosing alleged corrupt activities in their homeland, which was published by Meydan TV, a Berlin-based group founded by dissident blogger and former political prisoner Emin Mill.

The husband-and-wife team focused their journalistic efforts on the family of Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev, who has ruled his country since 2003 and has steadily consolidated his power, such as in February of this year, when he named his wife the country’s first vice president.

President Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev, had ruled Azerbaijan as a communist when it was a republic of the Soviet Union; he lost power for a time then returned to control after independence arrived when the USSR broke apart in 1991. The younger Aliyev, who had been in charge of the state oil company, ran for and won the presidency after his father stepped down due to ill health in 2003, several months before his death.

Another arrest arouses suspicion

The recent Azerbaijani accusation of “underground” activities by dissidents operating out of Tbilisi cited the arrest on May 25 of a senior official in an opposition party led by one of the Aliyev family’s longtime political foes, Abulfaz Elchibey.

Goze Bayramli, a deputy chairwoman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, was detained while returning from a trip to Georgia and accused of smuggling into Azerbaijan $12,000 in U.S. currency that she had not declared to customs inspectors.

Muxtarli shared his fears about future developments with his friends in Tbilisi. “He was worried especially after the arrest of Bayramli and an extradition case involving a Turkish citizen,” said Dave Bloss, a Tbilisi-based investigative journalist who taught Mustafayeva at GIPA.

Muxtarli’s wife said she is deeply concerned about her husband’s health and about what he might face in Baku. “Journalists are killed – or in the best cases, tortured,” Mustafayeva said. “That’s why we fled Baku.” She told VOA she holds the governments of both Azerbaijan and Georgia responsible for her husband’s abduction.

Eka Maghaldadze contributed to this story, first reported by VOA’s Georgian Service.

Mexico’s Top Diplomat Says Venezuela No Longer a Democracy

Mexico’s top diplomat Luis Videgaray said on Tuesday that Venezuela is no longer a functioning democracy, one day before foreign ministers from across the Americas are due to meet to discuss the crisis gripping the South American country.

The comments mark one of the most aggressive critiques of the government of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro to date from Videgaray, the former finance minister and close confidant of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

“We have to call things by their name, and what we have here is a country that, in fact, has ceased to be a functional democracy and this is a tremendously dangerous thing for the region,” Videgaray said at the Americas Conference Series in Miami, Florida.

The conference was organized by the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald news organizations as a forum of international business and government leaders.

Videgaray has been sharply criticized by Maduro’s government but has nonetheless pledged to use all diplomatic channels to help reach a peaceful political solution to the bloody crisis in Venezuela.

Anti-government protests have intensified in Venezuela for two months and left nearly 60 people dead. The country is in a steep recession, with widespread shortages of food and medicine and skyrocketing inflation.

Maduro has said the protests are a violent effort to overthrow his government, and insists that the country is the victim of an “economic war” supported by Washington.

Asked at the forum if Venezuela is governed by a dictatorship, Videgaray said, “Well, I believe that, today, it is not a democracy and we are frankly seeing authoritarian actions,” citing as an example the use of military tribunals to try civilians.

He said the solution to “re-establish democracy” in the South American OPEC nation is in the hands of the Venezuelan people and the Maduro government.

Videgaray said he hoped that a Wednesday meeting in Washington, D.C., of foreign ministers from members of the Organization of American States could yield a resolution calling for elections in Venezuela, a restoration of the national assembly’s powers, and release of political prisoners.

Mexico to Review Rules of Origin to Help NAFTA Renegotiation

Mexico’s foreign minister says the country is “inevitably” set to review rules of origin when renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving a boost to President Donald Trump’s manufacturing push.

Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray said Tuesday at an event in Miami that NAFTA has allowed Mexican industry to enter the U.S. market with lax rules of origin. The rules dictate how much U.S. content a product assembled in Mexico must have in order to escape tariffs when being imported into the United States. Currently set at 62.5 percent for the auto industry, that number could increase.

“One part that must inevitably be reviewed is the chapter on rules of origin,” Videgaray said at the University of Miami. “Over time, the free trade agreement has sometimes been used — not always, of course, but sometimes — as a way to access the U.S. market perhaps with laxity in some ways of rules of origin.”

The Trump administration told Congress this month there would be 90 days of consultations on the renegotiation of the 23-year-old pact before beginning talks with Canada and Mexico. Annual trade of goods between Mexico and the U.S. was worth $525 billion in 2016, with the U.S. running a trade deficit of more than $63 billion.

The foreign minister said Mexico won’t entertain any talks on building a wall along the border. Videgaray maintained it is seen as an unfriendly sign and questioned its efficiency. Trump’s budget seeks $2.6 billion for border security technology, including money to design and build a wall along the southern border. Trump repeatedly promised voters during the campaign that Mexico would pay for a wall.