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Manville Compares ‘Blade Runner’ Predictions to Los Angeles Today

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to LAist about how Los Angeles today has lived up to the predictions of the 1982 sci-fi cult classic “Blade Runner,” which takes place in an imagined future 2019. The film presents a “vision of a sort of hyper-dense metropolis of the future … that’s really not pleasant at all,” he said. While the film’s characters have been left behind on Earth, Manville points out that present-day Los Angeles is actually planning for a future with more people. Furthermore, he explains that the film presents aerial transit “in a highly stylized way that ignores most of the actual logistics,” whereas a real-life flying car service in a major city would cause huge congestion problems. “Blade Runner,” Manville concluded, “is one of the great urban backdrops, especially dystopian urban backdrops, in film, but its relevance to the Los Angeles we live in is probably pretty limited.” 


Product Liability Law Can Mitigate AI Harms, Villasenor Says

John Villasenor, professor of public policy, electrical engineering and management, wrote a report for the Brookings Institution about the intersection between artificial intelligence (AI) and product liability law. While AI-based systems can make decisions that are more objective, consistent and reliable than those made by humans, they sometimes make mistakes, Villasenor wrote. Product liability law can help clarify who is responsible for AI-induced harms, he added. “AI systems don’t simply implement human-designed algorithms. Instead, they create their own algorithms — sometimes by revising algorithms originally designed by humans, and sometimes completely from scratch. This raises complex issues in relation to products liability, which is centered on the issue of attributing responsibility for products that cause harms,” he wrote.  “Companies need to bear responsibility for the AI products they create, even when those products evolve in ways not specifically desired or foreseeable by their manufacturers,” he argued.


 

Graphic of an eye

Villasenor on AI Curriculum in Higher Education

John Villasenor, professor of public policy, electrical engineering and management, wrote an article for the Chronicle for Higher Education about the importance of preparing college students for an AI future. Artificial intelligence will have a profound and transformative impact — one that college students today have the opportunity to shape, Villasenor said. He advocated for a wide range of disciplines to incorporate issues surrounding artificial intelligence into their curricula. “We need philosophers, lawyers and ethicists to help navigate the complex questions that will arise as we give machines more power to make decisions,” he wrote. In addition, political scientists, urban planners, economists, public policy experts, climate scientists and physicians are among those who should harness the power of artificial intelligence to effect positive social change — and ensure that the technology is not hijacked by malicious actors.


 

Image of comparison between deepfake and real image of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

Villasenor on Widespread Use of Deepfakes

John Villasenor, professor of public policy, electrical engineering and management, spoke to CNBC about the proliferation of “deepfakes” on the internet. Deepfakes — videos or other digital representations that appear real but are actually manipulated by artificial intelligence —are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and accessible to the public, Villasenor said. They can make candidates appear to say or do things that undermine their reputation, thus influencing the outcome of elections, he warned. Deepfake detection software is being developed but still lags behind advanced techniques used in creating the misleading messages. “Will people be more likely to believe a deepfake or a detection algorithm that flags the video as fabricated?” Villasenor asked.


 

Holloway Wins Grant to Merge Technology, LGBTQ Health

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, has received an Avenir Award of more than $2 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to advance his research into health interventions for LGBTQ communities. Holloway leads a UCLA team that is developing a social media tool designed to offer highly personalized health information to prevent substance abuse and HIV infection among gay men. Under a previous grant, the researchers built a library of nearly 12,000 data points made up of text phrases and emojis that correlate with offline health behaviors. Holloway’s Avenir Award will be used to create a machine-learning system that will monitor social media interactions with participants’ consent, then send customized health reminders and other alerts via an app. The team’s goal is to develop a wide-reaching and cost-effective tool to promote public health, said Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin. The Avenir Awards, named for the French word for “future,” provide grants to early-stage researchers who propose highly innovative studies, particularly in the field of HIV and addiction.


 

Matute on Monetization of Google Maps

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fox Business about reports that Google Maps will soon launch advertising on the app — to the tune of $11 billion in annual revenues within four years, according to some estimates. The app has become so popular that its users are not expected to strongly object to the ads. “Google has developed a high-quality mapping product with a significant user base over the past two decades. That they haven’t fully monetized it sooner is the anomaly,” Matute said. Linking people with information about nearby businesses, services and events is a useful service, he added. Google has also announced plans to integrate bike riding, ridesharing and transit information into their maps. “Google Maps helps transit and commuters,” Matute said. “It provides them with easy-to-understand, actionable information in context, which can help them make informed travel decisions.”


 

Tilly on Apps That Disrupt the Payday Cycle

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to Bloomberg Law about new apps that allow workers to tap into their paychecks ahead of the traditional two-week cycle. At least five tech startups have entered the market, which is primarily aimed at workers who live paycheck to paycheck. By accessing their earnings earlier, people will gain more flexibility in paying bills and avoiding high-interest credit card charges, the services say. However, some observers say that speeding up pay cycles could mask a larger problem: stagnant wages. “The smoothing of pay availability over a pay period is advantageous to people who have very little savings,” said Tilly, a labor economist. “What it doesn’t address is why those people have very little savings in the first place. Low pay is low pay, and this is being intensified by increasing housing, health care and other costs in many places.”


 

Villasenor on Easy Access to Powerful Technology

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor spoke to Business Insider about “deepfakes,” phony videos and digital images manipulated using artificial intelligence. Easy access to both the technology to alter videos and the platforms to distribute them widely has heightened concern about deepfakes, Villsasenor said. “Everyone’s a global broadcaster now. So I think it’s those two things together that create a fundamentally different landscape than we had when Photoshop came out,” he said. Altered videos can be used in satire and entertainment, creating complications for legal efforts to crack down on malicious users. Time constraints are also an issue, Villasenor said, citing deepfakes used in political attacks. “Election cycles are influenced over the course of sometimes days or even hours with social media, so if someone wants to take legal action that could take weeks or even months,” he said. “And in many cases, the damage may have already been done.”


 

Holloway on Dating Apps as a Tool for Crime

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, spoke to NBC News about a string of attacks against gay men who were targeted through the dating app Grindr. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose 3 percent nationally in 2017, the story reported. In some cases, apps such as Grindr are used to identify victims who may be kidnapped, robbed, carjacked, assaulted or slain. Holloway noted that the risk is international in scope. “There are people impersonating romantic partners and friends in countries where being gay is illegal, then threatening to out the user,” he said. Experts advise app users to guard their personal information and create a safety plan. Holloway noted that LGBTQ dating platforms can have a positive impact. “Parts of the U.S. can be incredibly isolating for LGBTQ people, which is where the apps come in,” he said. “For people living in these areas or in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, apps can be a way to build community.”


 

Villasenor on ‘Deepfakes,’ Free Speech and the 2020 Race

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor narrated a short Atlantic video on the proliferation of “deepfakes,” videos and audio manipulated using sophisticated technology to convincingly present fiction as fact. Deepfakes are “engineered to further undermine our ability to decide what is true and what is not true,” he said. “We are crossing over into an era where we have to be skeptical of what we see on video.”  Villasenor, who studies the intersection of digital technology with public policy and the law, predicted that deepfakes will be used to deceive voters during the 2020 presidential campaign yet cautioned against aggressive laws to rein them in. While the technology could harm targeted individuals, the First Amendment protects free expression, including many forms of parody, he said. “As concerning as this technology is, I think it’s important not to rush a whole raft of new laws into place because we risk overcorrecting,” Villasenor said.