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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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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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