It seems that almost everyday we read and learn something new about AI. Often you’ll come across cool and interesting headlines on the advancements of such technologies, to seemingly be used for the good of our planet. I mean, why not use AI to tackle racial inequality, predict and prevent suicide attempts, diagnose medical conditions like dementia, offer legal advice (yes, we’re talking about AI lawyers here) and even combat homelessness? However, those cool and interesting headlines come with a catch. Following them closely are evergreen reminders of the terrifying potential this technology harbours in making the dystopian, Blade Runner-type future a reality.
Some of the more terrible uses and mistakes of AI includes its controversial use to spy on prison inmates’ phone calls in the US, Facebook’s AI racial failure in labelling black men as ‘primates’, its continued failings in distinguishing between people of colour altogether, the worrying economic exploitation of vocal profiling and its uncertain and uncontrollable future—to name a few. Such headlines essentially trigger the overarching fear of hyper surveillance, one which gen Zers are increasingly trying to combat. Take UNLABELED for instance. The new fashion and textile brand creates clothing that will help you hide from AI and its new “surveillance capitalism.”
Today, however, it seems that AI’s toxic surveillance could reach even further. According to world-renowned historian and best-selling author of the infamous book ‘Sapiens’, Yuval Harari, there is a seemingly overdue warning when it comes to this space-age technology. If not regulated, Al will soon be used by big corporations to ‘hack’ human beings. Sitting down with journalist Anderson Cooper in an interview for CBS’ 60 Minutes, Harari spoke on the insidious and downright-scary implications regarding the future of such AI.
“Today, the world’s data is worth much more than money. Ten years ago, you had these big corporations paying billions and billions for WhatsApp, for Instagram, and people wonder, [are] they crazy? Why do they pay billions to get this application that doesn’t produce any money? And the reason why? Because it produced data,” he told the show. So, why is this data so important and how will it be used to ‘hack’ us?
Well, according to Harari, everything is about data now, “The world is increasingly cut up into spheres of data collection, of data harvesting. In the Cold War you had the iron curtain, now we have the silicon curtain between the USA and China, and where does the data go?” Harari points to, what we all know by now, as the prolific issue of ill-intentioned tech corporations—we’re looking at you Zuckerburg—harbouring massive swatches of data on their users. Giving over your personal data so freely to such apps can only lead to our detriment, argued Harari.
“Netflix tells us what to watch and Amazon tells us what to buy,” he explained. “Eventually within ten or twenty or thirty years, such algorithms could also tell you what to study at college and where to work and whom to marry and even whom to vote for.” But what comes next in his explanation is a type of AI surveillance that even UNLABELED can’t escape—AI could soon spy on your biometric data. But what exactly is this data?
“It’s data about what’s happening inside my body,” Harari told Cooper in the interview. “What we have seen so far, it’s corporations and governments collecting data about where we go, who we meet, what movies we watch. The next phase is surveillance going under our skin.” This new and extreme level of scrutiny could lead to a population of what the author calls “hacked humans.”
“To hack a human being is to get to know that person better than they know themselves,” Harari stated. “And based on that, to increasingly manipulate you.” Because of these concerns, the historian is calling upon governments around the world for serious regulation of AI and data collection uses. “Certainly, now we are at the point when we need global cooperation. You cannot regulate the explosive power of artificial intelligence on a national level,” he continued. Adding how all such data should not be compiled in only one place, “That’s a recipe for dictatorship,” Harari summed up.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the philosopher however, with proper regulation AI could actually still be used for good. “The whole thing is that it’s not just dystopian. It’s also utopian. I mean, this kind of data can also enable us to create the best health care system in history… The question is what else is being done with that data? And who supervises it? Who regulates it?”
The integration of AI in today’s society is developing so rapidly, it is in part becoming our norm. Bringing swift and dramatic changes for a supposed good, AI is being used to tackle racial inequality, diagnose medical conditions like dementia, predict suicide attempts, combat homelessness in the UK and even offer you legal advice—that’s right, an AI lawyer. However, while newer technologies have their undeniably progressive qualities, AI also reminds us of the terrifying reality of a George Orwell 1984-level monitoring as well as its quite clearly evident failings.
Such examples include its potential use in the US to spy on prison inmates, Facebook’s AI racial failure in labelling black men as ‘primates’, the economic exploitation of vocal profiling, its continued inability to distinguish between different people of colour and its worryingly uncontrollable future—to name but a few. This small list of incidents is enough for us to beg the question, should we fear AI? Well, a new fashion brand on the rise seems to think so.
UNLABELED (stylised as all-capitalised) is an incredible and exciting new artist group and textile brand that is shaping fashion’s relationship with AI. Founded in Japan—in collaboration with Dentsu Lab Tokyo—creators Makoto Amano, Hanako Hirata, Ryosuke Nakajima and Yuka Sai have developed what is described as a “camouflage against the machines.” Its specially designed garments are constructed with specific patterns that prevent any AI used in the real world from recognising you. Don’t worry, we’ll break down how this all works, but first, let’s look at why the team decided to create the brand.
The details of the creators’ project—found on the Computational Creativity Lab—divulge the reasoning behind the creation. “Surveillance capitalism is here,” it states, “Surveillance cameras are now installed outside the homes as well as in public places to monitor our activities constantly. The personal devices are recording all personal activities on the internet as data without our knowledge.” In the brand’s accompanying project documentation video found on the same page, it further details how this acquired data on us may be used, “The system transforms our everyday behaviour into data and abuses it for efficiency and pursuit of profit.”
For the creators, “the physical body is not an exception” when it comes to AI exploitation of our data. “With the development of biometric data and image recognition technology for identifying individuals, the information in real space is instantly converted into data,” they write. “Thus, our privacy is threatened all the time. In [this] situation, what does the physical body or choice of clothes mean?” From this question, UNLABELED’s fashion camouflage to evade information exploitation was born.
Showcasing a video example of their garments in action, via the Computation Creativity Lab website, a comparison is shown between two individuals—one wearing the garment and one in normal clothes. “[When] wearing [UNLABELED’s] particular garments, AI will hardly recognise the wearer as ‘human’, [while] people wearing normal clothes are easily detected,” the video narrates. And it appears to work. The camera is no longer able to recognise the person wearing UNLABELED. The brand’s name is definitely fitting, but how does it work?
If you guessed AI, you’d be right. UNLABELED is fighting AI with AI. The brand’s team have developed a series of patterns—like the one showcased above—that work to confuse surveillance AI. The patterns were created by another AI model utilised by the inventive creators, “In order to fool AI, we adversarially trained another AI model to generate specific patterns inducing AI to misrecognize, then created a camouflage garment using the pattern,” they narrated in the project documentation video.
This technique is described by UNLABELED as an “Adversarial Patch” or “Adversarial Examples.” This unique method involves adding specific patterns—or small noises naked to the human eye—to images or videos with the intention of inducing false recognition in the AI. When successful, the resulting patterns created from this particular approach causes AI to misrecognize shapes and objects. UNLABELED notes that this technique is currently widely used as part of research to actually improve on the shortcomings of surveillance but has in turn flipped this shortcoming to its products’ benefit and “protect our privacy.”
“Once the adversarial pattern is made, we lay them out onto the 2D-pattern. Then, the pattern [is] printed onto plain polyester blend fabric with transcription. After printing, we follow the general garment production procedure,” UNLABELED states. The brand has even developed a skateboard in the same AI-evading patterns. The products are available for purchase on the brand’s website.
While such fashion technology is not available on a wide scale, it does indicate the continuous positive shift against heavy monitoring—I mean, we all hate it when those adverts pop-up a few minutes after we’ve merely mentioned the name of a specific product. I know you’re listening to me, Apple. However, there’s two sides to every coin, even when it comes to AI. While this technology could better aid us to avoid surveillance, it could better aid anyone to avoid surveillance, if you know what I mean. For my own perspective however, it’s another sign of a generation rebelling against the norm—and I fucking love it.