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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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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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