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Russia is so good at facial recognition even US Intel paid them thousands of dollars

Artem Kuharenko’s company won a $25,000 prize in a competition run by the Director of National Intelligence

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(Forbes) – The Russians are pretty good at spear-phishing (ahem) and “highly persuasive, election altering” social media advertising, but they are even better at developing facial recognition systems. So great, in fact, that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), part of the Commerce Department, awarded Moscow-based NTechLab with this year’s Face Recognition Challenge Prize.

The first-ever facial recognition competition was devised the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research and development team run by the Director of National Intelligence. NIST scientists were the ones who chose NTechLab for their algorithms.

“Our job is to be the best and to build the best technology in the world you have to work with the best in the world,” says IARPA’s program manager for the facial recognition prize, Christopher Boehnen. “This is like a Nascar race. There are three different categories of prizes and NTech won two of them. It doesn’t matter where you are from. So long as your country has a relationship with the U.S., you’re welcome to try your luck.” Boehnen was one of the judges.

NTechLab beat out 16 companies.

They won for best one-to-one verification, which would be like using your face to log into your phone. And they won on speed and accuracy.  China’s YITU won for identification accuracy. NTechLab placed second in that category. Other competitors included U.S. based Rank One Computing; Imperial College London; Digital Barriers of the U.K.; Ayonix from Japan; Morpho from France, and Deep Sense of China.

Winners got a plaque recognizing their achievement and a check for $25,000.

With recognition comes the potential for procurement contracts.

“We’ve spoken with at least twenty companies since winning this prize,” says NTechLab’s 27-year-old co-founder Artem Kuharenko. “There’s been a lot of requests from new clients from all over the world, including American companies,” he says.

Artem Kuharenko, co-founder of NTechLab, developed the FindFace facial recognition app in Moscow. His company recently beat out a pool of 16 global players as best algorithm for facial recognition. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Kuharenko’s NTechLab is best known for their FindFace.ru app on the VKontakte social network in Russia. The two-year-old company has around 50 employees, with most of their engineers based in Moscow. NTechLab’s marketing team is based in New York.

NTEchLab sent its FindFace algorithm to the competition. The image dataset had 500 million faces with a reported accuracy of over 80%. NTechLab runs a project for an undisclosed multinational company with one billion faces for searching. Their technology can be used to identify people in real time through closed-circuit video security systems. Moscow uses it, as Bloomberg reported in September, to “spy on its citizens in (the) streets.” (Perhaps our street cams just take candid pictures and send them back to people should they wish to buy them.)

One way NIST judges deciphered who had the better algorithm was to take photos of the same people in different lighting and angles and pump them through the system of roughly two million images to see which algo finds them first, and which ones were more right than wrong.

“It takes less than one second to find you,” says Kuharenko from his home in Moscow.  “We can do 200 searches in a second, and that means looking over images of at least two million people. What is more important is that we can scale the solution to one billion people or two billion people and the search time will still be less than one second,” he says.

Most facial recognition software also finds faces within the same amount of time. Like an Olympic race, it is often the difference of a second or two between competing firms, with accuracy rates ranging from 70% to over 90%.

NIST routinely evaluates facial recognition technologies with a goal of creating standards within the industry. For IARPA, which has a different mandate than NIST, the goal is to find the best facial recognition solutions for American intelligence agencies. In a very real sense, NTechLab’s best-in-class algorithm is a way for IARPA and the 16 intelligence agencies under DNI to imitate it for its own use. Russia’s private sector could be seen helping to improve U.S. spyware.

IARPA is also developing its own facial recognition technologies. Boehnen’s Janus program has grants out to University of Maryland; University of Southern California; and a Woburn, Mass. based company called Systems & Technology Research. Systems engineers there have been using photos and videos of public figures pulled from the internet for their research. The four-year program ends next September.

“We are just a group of scientists at IARPA,” says Boehnen. “Who wins and who loses is not a political decision.”

IARPA program manager Chris Boehnen hands Artem Kuharenko, co-founder of Moscow-based NTechLab, an award for the U.S. government’s first-ever facial recognition tech prize.

Russia has been lambasted by Washington ever since the election of Donald Trump. Russian spearphishing programs compromised a number of computers, including those at the Democratic National Committee, leading to the leak of candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, according to one recent review by Dell’s SecureWorks. The release of those emails is believed to have cost her the election. It is unclear whether these computer system breaches were ordered by the Kremlin.

Trump’s campaign team is under investigation to see if any members colluded with the Russian government to paint Hillary in a negative light. There have been no serious allegations made against Trump, but his former campaign chairman, Paul Mannafort, was indicted on separate issues related to Ukraine. Trump’s ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn may face a similar fate, though also unlikely to be directly linked to Russia or the campaign, said a source with knowledge of the investigation who could not speak on the record.

NTechLab’s win is good for Russia. It at least shows that Russia is indeed more than one big gas station, as Senator John McCain likes to call it. IARPA’s recognition also highlights the role Russians play as influential innovators in the global tech community.

“Some companies still don’t like to work with us bad Russian guys,” Kuharenko says, facetiously. “Sometimes all this bias and opinion about Russians is just because of politics, but we are still working with Americans. But still, there are companies that won’t work with us because we are Russians,” he admits. “I’m not very happy about that. It would be much better if we got along.”

The IARPA contest is a reminder of the importance of a global talent pool to maintain America’s tech prowess. High tech firms and specialty research institutions often count on highly skilled foreign engineers to complement their domestic team. While there is no indication that such visas for high skilled foreign workers in science and technology are on the wane, Silicon Valley has continued to lobby in favor of the more notorious H1-B visa, a visa used overwhelmingly by Indian IT outsourcers like Infosys at this time.

When jokingly asked if he wanted an H1-B visa to come to the U.S. and develop an algorithm to assure Hillary Clinton doesn’t run for office again, Kuharenko chuckled and played along. “I think there’s a different Russian company that does that,” he says.

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Russia Lures International Arms Buyers With Half-Priced, More Effective Missile System

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery.

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Via Zerohedge


Russia has been pitching a rival missile platform that costs half of those made by US companies, reports CNBC, which has resulted in several countries dealing with the Kremlin “despite the potential for blowback.”

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery, while a THAAD battery made by Lockheed Martin costs just about $3 billion, according to people with first-hand knowledge of a US intelligence assessment.

Nearly 13 countries have expressed interest in buying Russia’s S-400, a move that could trigger potential U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017. In September, the U.S. slapped sanctions on China  for buying fighter jets and missiles from Russia. However, the U.S. could grant sanction waivers. –CNBC

Turkey, meanwhile, may be hit with US sanctions over their decision to purchase the S-400 defense system, which the United States says poses a risk to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

Meanwhile, India called the United States’ bluff over sanctions in late Ocotber, standing its ground in its decision to buy the S-400.

One of the reasons Russian systems are generally considered less expensive than their American counterparts is because they don’t include pricey ongoing maintenance.

“When foreign militaries buy American, above and beyond the purchase, they are buying a partnership with the U.S. military,” Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. “And that plus the maintenance and technical assistance is a big part of the cost difference.

The S-400 system made its debut in 2007, succeeding the S-200 and S-300 missile systems. According to CNBC, “the Russian-made S-400 is capable of engaging a wider array of targets, at longer ranges and against multiple threats simultaneously,” vs. US-made systems.

In terms of capability, one source noted that while there is no perfect weapon, the S-400 eclipses even THAAD, America’s missile defense crown jewel.

When asked why nations seek to buy the S-400 instead of America’s Patriot or THAAD systems, one of the people with knowledge of the intelligence report explained that foreign militaries aren’t willing to stick with the cumbersome process of buying weapons from the U.S. government. –CNBC

“Many of these countries do not want to wait for U.S. regulatory hurdles,” said a CNBC source with first hand knowledge of the assessment. “The S-400 has less export restrictions and the Kremlin is willing to expedite sales by skipping over any regulatory hurdles.

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Britain’s Enemy Is Not Russia But It’s Own Ruling Class, UN Report Confirms

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

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Authored by John Wright. op-ed via RT.com:


As the UK political establishment rips itself to pieces over Brexit, a far greater crisis continues to afflict millions of victims of Tory austerity…

A devastating UN report into poverty in the UK provides incontrovertible evidence that the enemy of the British people is the very ruling class that has gone out of its way these past few years to convince them it is Russia.

Professor Philip Alston, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent two weeks touring the United Kingdom. He did so investigating the impact of eight years of one of the most extreme austerity programs among advanced G20 economies in response to the 2008 financial crash and subsequent global recession.

What he found was evidence of a systematic, wilful, concerted and brutal economic war unleashed by the country’s right-wing Tory establishment against the poorest and most vulnerable section of British society– upending the lives of millions of people who were not responsible for the aforementioned financial crash and recession but who have been forced to pay the price.

From the report’s introduction:

“It…seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

Though as a citizen of the UK I respectfully beg to differ with the professor’s claim that such social and economic carnage seems “contrary to British values,” (on the contrary it is entirely in keeping with the values of the country’s Tory establishment, an establishment for whom the dehumanization of the poor and working class is central to its ideology), the point he makes about it being “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes,” is well made.

For it is now the case that in every town and city centre in Britain, it is impossible to walk in any direction for more than a minute before coming across homeless people begging in the street. And the fact that some 13,000 of them are former soldiers, casualties of the country’s various military adventures in recent years, undertaken in service to Washington, exposes the pious platitudes peddled by politicians and the government as reverence for the troops and their ‘sacrifice,’ as insincere garbage.

Overall, 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty, a figure which translates into an entire fifth of the population. Four million of them are children, while, according to Professor Alston, 1.5 million people are destitute – that is, unable to afford the basic necessities of life.

And this is what the ruling class of the fifth largest economy in the world, a country that parades itself on the world stage as a pillar of democracy and human rights, considers progress.

The values responsible for creating such a grim social landscape are compatible with the 18th not 21st century. They are proof positive that the network of elite private schools – Eton, Harrow, Fettes College et al. – where those responsible for this human carnage are inculcated with the sense of entitlement and born to rule ethos that defines them, are Britain’s hotbeds of extremism.

Professor Alston:

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.”

Here, set out above in bold relief, is the barbarism that walks hand in hand with free market capitalism. It is the same barbarism that was responsible for pushing post-Soviet Russia into a decade-long economic and social abyss in the 1990s, and the values that have pushed 14 million people in the UK into the same economic and social abyss in our time.

Austerity, it bears emphasizing, is not and never has been a viable economic response to recession in a given economy.

Instead, it is an ideological club, wielded on behalf of the rich and big business to ensure that the price paid for said economic recession is borne exclusively by those least able to bear it – namely, the poor and working people. It is class war by any other name, packaged and presented as legitimate government policy.

However, in Britain’s case in 2018, this is a war like no other because, as Professor Philip Alston’s report lays bare, only one side in this war has been throwing all the punches and only one side has been taking them.

With Christmas season upon us, the scale of human suffering across the UK ensures that the elaborate ad campaigns inviting us to shop and indulge to our heart’s content – ads depicting the middle class dream of affluence and material comfort – take on the character of a provocation. In fact, they call to mind the truism that wars take place when the government tells you who the enemy is, while revolutions take place when you work it out for yourself.

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

 

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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

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Via Zerohedge


Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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