There has been a great deal of discussion in the public about the need for law enforcement agencies to actively pursue surveillance. The position of law enforcement has always been that they must have the ability to intercept communication to prevent terrorism, violent crime etc. While this argument is superficially reasonable in the sense that such an ability could have a positive impact, it does not take into account reality. Encryption is required for the security of all communication on the Internet, including bank transactions and military communications, and the technologies for such encryption are readily available.

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To prohibit the…


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In response to the podcast “A bit of optimism” by Simon Sinek

For those of you who don’t know Simon Sinek; his fame began with the TED talk (I am a big fan), I read Start with Why which made me see better what I already knew and the Infinite Game just solidified my appreciation of his work. Now he has been producing a podcast “A bit of optimism” which I’ve followed with excitement. All highly recommended.

In the podcast, a theme which has been mentioned frequently in several episodes, but which has not been articulated in depth is forgiveness. Many guests use forgiveness casually as an-obviously-good-thing-to-do, so obvious that they never…


On the recent “80,000 Hours Podcast” Rob Wiblin interviewed Owen Cotton-Barratt about their statistical analysis of existential threats, such as pandemics, nuclear war and super-human AI. It is a theme that I find exiting and their discussion was thought provoking.

A central thing I learned on this podcast was that it is highly unlikely that a single threat would cause the extinction of all humans. For example, it would surely be worth trying to avoid a pandemic with a death rate of 20 %, but it does not alone come anywhere near wiping out all humans since 80 % would…


© Tom Bäckström

Trustworthiness of research databases

Evidence-based research (often known as “science”) and development of new technologies is based on collecting, processing and analysing data. The scientific results are based on data. Researchers themselves, and the scientific principle in general, further take many precautions to make sure that their results reliably reflect the evidence present in the data. For example, to make sure that researchers from another group can verify results of my group, it is good practice to openly publish the data as well as the analysis software. Independent researcher can then reproduce my results by their own analysis of the same data and software.


A new community for researchers

Smart speech technology driven by AI has very recently become commonplace. We have voice assistants in our phones, TVs, smart home applications etc. The rapid introduction of this new technology is however about to backfire, since people are becoming increasingly worried about their privacy and rightly so. Poorly maintained privacy in smart speech interfaces can lead to invasive and unethical exploitation of users.

To encourage research in this area, we are proud to announce the founding of an ISCA Special Interest Group “Security and Privacy in Speech Communication” (SPSC). The International Speech Communication Association (ISCA) is a non-profit organization and…


Image: Sonos

Sonos acquires Snips, a privacy-by-design voice interface company

In a recent press release, Sonos announced the acquisition of Snips, a French company developing voice user interfaces with privacy-by-design (see also the story on the Verge). This is one of the most exciting moves in the smart speaker arena all year!

If we look back a year, Sonos was in a tight spot. They are known for their high-quality user-interfaces for high-quality speakers. The immaculate user-experience in audio reproduction is what differentiates them from their competition. Or that is what had differentiated them. Suddenly, Sonos was in a crowded segment of the market, where the GAFA companies and their…


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Voice assistants in smart devices are sometimes referred to as personal digital assistants. This highlights a feature of their design philosophy: they are personal, that is, they were initially envisioned as single-user services. Recently however, smart devices have increasingly started to include also multi-user devices such as smart speakers and TVs. In terms of privacy, this presents a significant problem.

The first stumbling block is the EULA. The owner/manager of the device clicks “Ok”when installing the device. But what about the other users? Even if it would be a legally passable contract, in terms of users it certainly is not…


Machine learning methods have taken tremendous steps in the last decade. State of the at is truly impressive. At the same time, I feel empty inside. Somehow the methodology feels…


On The Importance of Current Research Topics.

What are the privacy and security challenges that average users of technology face in their daily life? How important are they and how well do current research topics cover those challenges? In essence, I want to analyse the risks and consequences of different threats, to determine if all categories of threats are adequately covered by current researcher. In other words, the research effort spent on a particular topic should be proportional to the importance of that topic. …


Design of user-interfaces with respect to privacy

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

It is a well-documented fact that many users are willing to share information on social media and other platforms, also when it compromises their privacy. There are variations across geographic areas and age groups, but overarching principle is that people feel comfortable in sharing information on the Internet, even when they would not feel comfortable with shouting it out on the street.

Many researchers have studied this question; how much information are people comfortable to share on the Internet? I think it is a relevant question in terms of understanding people. We should study peoples’ preferences to understand people. …

Tom Bäckström

An excited researcher of life and everything. Associate Professor in Speech and Language Technology at Aalto University, Finland.

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