Digital doubles: Researchers create accurate 3D avatars from smartphone selfies

It’s now possible to reproduce someone’s head, digitally, using no more than a smartphone camera and an algorithm.

Researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, created the algorithm which will one day be able to replicate a person’s whole body digitally.

They say the mapping tool will be able to be used to create avatars for gaming, virtual reality, video conferences and also potentially in some medical situations as well.

“We wanted the process to be fast and easy: all you have to do is take a video of yourself and then snap a few more shots to get facial expressions, and our algorithm does the rest,” said researcher Alexandru Ichim.

“The goal was to make the process accessible to anyone with a smartphone, even an old model, as long as it can take video,” said the researcher.

The set-up works by taking a video around a person’s head, along with some still images of their face, the algorithm created is then able create a virtual 3D version of what has been captured.

They say that the digital double can be shown on a screen and animated in real time using a video camera that follows the movements of the person being created.

The researchers say that for this sort of technology to ever be used in a real-world scenario, they needed to be able to get the technology to work with low quality images. These could be ones that are blurry, poorly lit, or a combination of factors.

And, as with almost everything, the first impression of the technology will lead to a person not using the technology again.

“A small detail will turn people off immediately,” said Ichim. “The avatar has to have the right facial geometry and reproduce the texture, color and details like face wrinkles.”

Images courtesy of EPFL

Images courtesy of EPFL

The technology still has a little way to go, however, as generic teeth, ears, and hair styles are slapped onto the 3D faces at the moment.

Creating individual textures for a persons’ hair is still too challenging for the technology to be able to create in a short amount of time.

The researchers’ paper: Dynamic 3D avatar creation from hand-held video input, can be found here.

China uses facial recognition to monitor ethnic minorities

China has been criticised for adding facial recognition to an already obtrusive surveillance system in Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region in the country's far west. The "alert project" matches faces from surveillance camera footage to a watchlist of suspects, and supposedly is designed to thwart terrorist attacks.

Source: Engadget

Microsoft execs say the ultimate form of AI is a digital assistant

In an interview with Business Insider, Microsoft president Brad Smith and EVP of AI and research Harry Shum have said the ultimate manifestation of AI in 20 years will be in a digital assistant that will serve as an "alter ego." The two argue that we need to set ground rules for our AI assitants while we still can.

Facebook’s head of AI isn't impressed by Sophia the robot

Facebook's head of AI, Yann LeCun, isn't happy with Sophia the robot. Following a Business Insider interview with Sophia, LeCun took to Twitter to call the whole thing “complete bullsh*t”. He went on to say Sophia masquerading as a semi-sentient entity was "to AI as prestidigitation is to real magic”.

Source: The Verge

Drone saves the lives of two swimmers

Two teenage boys were rescued by a brand new lifesaving drone in Australia, while lifeguards were still training to use the device. When a member of the public spotted them struggling in heavy surf about 700m (2,300ft) offshore the drone was sent out and dropped an inflatable rescue pod, which allowed the pair to make their way safely to shore.

Source: BBC

Google defends the right to not let people be forgotten online

Google is going to court to defend it's right to not abide by "the right to be forgotten", which it says “represent[s] a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information. Two anonymous people want the search engine to take down links to information about their old convictions because search engine results attract “adverse attention”.

Source: Bloomberg

UK Police delivering daily briefings via Amazon Echo

Lancashire police have begun streaming daily briefings straight to peoples' homes through Amazon Echo. Users will get hourly updates as well as pictures of wanted and missing people sent directly to their devices. "Alexa works alongside traditional policing methods to inform the public about the important issues in their neighbourhoods," said PC Rob Flanagan.

Source: BBC

A quarter of ethical hackers don’t report cybersecurity concerns because it’s not clear who they should be reporting them to

Almost a quarter of hackers have not reported a vulnerability that they found because the company didn’t have a channel to disclose it, according to a survey of the ethical hacking community.

With 1,698 respondents, the 2018 Hacker Report, conducted by the cybersecurity platform HackerOne, is the largest documented survey ever conducted of the ethical hacking community.

In the survey, HackerOne reports that nearly 1 in 4 hackers have not reported a vulnerability because the company in question lacks a vulnerability disclosure policy (VDP) or a formal method for receiving vulnerability submissions from the outside world.

Without a VDP, ethical, white-hat hackers are forced to go through other channels like social media or emailing personnel in the company, but, as the survey states, they are “frequently ignored or misunderstood”.

Despite some companies lacking a VDP, the hackers surveyed in the report did say that companies are becoming more open to receiving information about vulnerabilities than they were in the past.

Of the 1,698 respondents, 72% noted that companies have become more open to receiving vulnerability reports in the past year,

That figure includes 34% of hackers who believe companies have become far more open.

Unlike a bug bounty program, a VDP does not offer hackers financial incentives for their findings, but they are still incredibly effective.

Organisations like the US Department of Defence have received and resolved nearly 3,000 security vulnerabilities in the last 18 months from their VDP alone.

India (23%) and the United States (20%) are the top two countries represented by the HackerOne hacker community, followed by Russia (6%), Pakistan (4%) and the United Kingdom (4%).

The report revealed that because bug bounties usually have no geographical boundaries the payments involved can be life changing for some hackers.

The top hackers based in India earn 16 times the median salary of a software engineer. And on average, top earning hackers make 2.7 times the median salary of a software engineer in their home country.

In terms of which demographics are attracted to a life of ethical hacking, the report found that over 90% of hackers are under the age of 35, and unsurprisingly the vast majority of hackers on the HackerOne platform are male.