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The world's first voice AI crime

The world’s first voice AI crime

We might have witnessed the first crime powered by artificial intelligence in the world where synthetic audio was used for imitating the voice of a chief executive to trick his subordinate in transferring an excess of 240,000 US Dollars into a secret account.

The insurer of the company, Euler Hermes did not name the company which was involved. On a fateful day, the company’s managing director was called and a voice resembling his superiors instructed him to wire the amount to an account-based in Hungary. The money was supposed to cut on the fines of late payment and the financial details of the transaction were sent over email while the managing director was on call. Euler Hermes said that the software was able to mimic the voice along with the exact German accent, tonality, and punctuation. 

The thieves tried for a second attempt to transfer funds in this manner but this time the managing director suspected the intentions and directly called his boss. While he was on the phone with his real boss, the artificial voice demanded to speak to him. 

Deepfakes have been growing in complexity in the last few years. It cannot be detected easily by the online platforms and companies have struggled to handle it. Its constant evolution has made it clear that simple detection would not serve any purpose as it has been gaining an audience through monetization and constant generation of viral content. There are apps that can put someone’s face on any actor’s film clips making it a source of entertainment. This kind of technology would have sounded fancy a few years ago but now it can be misused by anyone who has a creative bent of mind channeling in improper ways. There are many positive uses too. It can be used in humanizing the automated call systems and help the mute people to talk again. But if unregulated it can cause fraud and cybercrime on a massive scale. 

Cybersecurity firm Symantec reported that they managed to find a minimum of three instances where the executives’ voice was mimicked to loot cash from the companies. However, it did not comment on the victim companies. 

In this technique, a person’s voice is processed and broken down into its phonetic fundamentals such as syllables or sounds. Then these can be rearranged to form new phrases with a similar tone and speech patterns. 

Researchers are working hard to develop systems that can detect fraud audio clips and combat them. While Google, on the other hand, has also created one of the world’s most persuasive AI services, Duplex service that can call restaurants for booking tables in a simulated, lifelike voice. 

Scientists have to be cautious when these technologies are released along with framing proper systems to fight scams. 

Want the money now or later? It may depend on your age

Want the money now or later? It may depend on your age

Imagine winning the lottery and having it payout over a scheduled period of time. Would you want the largest payments right away? Or would you rather start small and save the biggest windfall for later?

Your choice may depend on how old you are, according to new research from Corinna Loeckenhoff, associate professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. The finding could have real-life implications.

“Retirement income is shifting from defined monthly pensions to flexible payouts from 401(k)s and other retirement savings plans,” Loeckenhoff said. “This means that retirees now have more control over when they spend their money, and spending too much of one’s nest egg in early retirement could, of course, spell trouble down the line.”

Fortunately, older adults do not appear to pursue immediate gratification at all cost.

Loeckenhoff’s paper, “Age Differences in Intertemporal Choice: The Role of Task Type, Outcome Characteristics, and Covariates,” published Aug. 14 in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. Her co-author was Gregory Samanez-Larkin, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

In their study, the researchers asked nearly 300 people of different ages how they would distribute a series of monetary gains and losses over time. Confirming prior findings by the researchers as well as from peers within the field, most participants preferred to get their winnings sooner rather than later and were more likely to postpone their losses. However, preferences for payment schedules differed by age. Older adults were more likely than younger adults to schedule the largest payouts first, the researchers say.

The study included a second task that asked participants to make trade-offs between a smaller payout available immediately and a delayed larger payout. In this setting, where asking for an earlier payout was costly, no differences based on age were found.

According to Loeckenhoff, this suggests that “retirement advisers can help older adults to make responsible choices by clearly spelling out the hidden costs of spending down one’s savings too early.”

More research is needed to understand underlying mechanisms, Loeckenhoff said. Although the present study examined a range of potential contributors – from subjective health to perceived time left in life – none of them could account for the observed age effects. Also, the amount of money at stake ($150 vs. $1,500) and the length of the delay (i.e., months vs. years) did not affect the pattern of findings.

In future work, the authors hope to examine a wider range of potential explanations and extend their findings beyond laboratory studies to real-life retirement savings scenarios.

Materials provided by Cornell University

libra digital

Facebook announces its entry in the world of cryptocurrency with Libra

On Tuesday, Facebook revealed its plans for a new cryptocurrency named Libra. Through Libra, Facebook pledges to give a stable virtual currency which is based on smartphones and can bring more than a billion people who are currently not in the financial system. The Libra plan is funded by various financial partners and it represents a very ambitious plan as it is initiated by the biggest social network in the world and has the potential to bring cryptocurrency to the masses. An open source code for Libra has been released for developers by Facebook and its partners so that creators can build several apps and services before its global release next year.

Libra will be monitored by the nonprofit Libra Association situated in Geneva. Its value will be kept stable by a real-world asset reserve. Dante Disparte of the Libra Association said that the service could provide online financial services at a very affordable cost to more than a billion people who do not have bank accounts or avail facilities such as loans for meeting their necessities. He also added that if people are provided money and opportunity at a very low cost similar to the access of internet for information then a lot more stability can be created than now.

Facebook will be one among many associations in this initiative, but it is also creating its own digital wallet, Calibra. Calibra’s VP of Operations, Tomer Barel said that Calibra is seen as a complement to Facebook’s mission in providing people the way to exchange value just as Facebook allows people to connect to each other. In many places of the world, people use Facebook but they do not have access to banking facilities.

However, financial regulators and politicians are worried about how a new money can be regulated. Maxine Waters, head of financial services committee in House of Representatives in United States said that due to the troubled past of Facebook, it should agree to pause on creating its cryptocurrency until the Congress check all the issues and other related details. Finance Minister of France, Bruno Le Maire said that sovereign currencies can never be replaced by digital ones. He added that sovereignty must lie in the hands of countries and not with the private companies with other interests.

Calibra will be built into Messenger and WhatsApp so that Libra can be exchanged by users in the way they send text messages. Libra has learned from other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and is designed to prevent any random changes in its valuation.

Its creators told that it will be backed by real world currencies such as US Dollars and Euro so as to provide it stability. With this, Facebook wants to clean its damaged image of misusing privacy and data protection which affected it in the past.