Tuesday 14 November 2023

Why The British Government Wants You To Pay For Fraud, Not Stop It.

Through its own efforts and inattention, the British government has made fraud one of Britain's largest industry sectors. But it's chief response is to make you pay for it, rather than stop it, because the boom in fraud is also reflected in a boom in political donations, even while the rest of the economy is flat... 

In 2021, the financial cost of fraud was £137bn, making it the UK's sixth biggest industry sector. There were 3.7 million incidents of fraud in England and Wales in 2022, yet 86% of incidents are estimated to go under-reported. Virtually all UK adult internet users say they have seen fraudulent content. The UK was third internationally in the growth of attempted digital fraud between 2019 and 2022. The UK government's own contribution to fraud has been enormous, but not in a good way. According to the National Audit Office:

Most public bodies do not know how much fraud they face and cannot demonstrate that they have the correct level of counter fraud resources... 
The amount of fraud in government expenditure that was reported in the accounts audited by the NAO rose from £5.5 billion total in the two years before the pandemic (2018-19 and 2019-20) to £21 billion in total in the following two years. 
Of the £21 billion, £7.3 billion relates to temporary COVID-19 schemes. These estimates are in addition to an estimated around £10 billion of tax revenue lost to evasion and crime every year. The Public Sector Fraud Authority (PSFA) ...estimates that in 2020-21 there was between £33.2 billion and £58.8 billion of fraud and error in government spending and income unrelated to the pandemic. 
These figures likely understate the scale of the problem because they exclude any amounts that are too small to be reported in the context of any one set of accounts and no estimate was made of the level of fraud in the Department for Health and Social Care’s COVID-19 spend.

Not only is the UK government careless with how much taxpayers' money is lost to fraudsters, it is finding new ways to distribute the burden among consumers: in other words, you are paying for industrial quantities of fraud through both your income and expenditure while the government actively contributes to the problem. The Online Safety Act is designed to shift the burden of addressing online fraud onto tech companies, whose only means of recouping their costs is via consumers. Similarly, the Payment Systems Regulator has been tasked with ensuring that banks and payment service providers - and ultimately their customers - pay for increased 'authorised push payment' fraud.

In these circumstances it should come as no surprise that the UK government is also resisting checks on the sources of political donations. By creating a boom in dirty money, and leaving key loopholes for dodgy donations, the politicians have experienced a boom in political donations:

"...donations have almost trebled... rising from £41 million in 2001 to £101 million in 2019... with 60% of donations in 2019 coming from private individuals. 
The increases in donations have favoured the Conservative party, which had £27 million more in financial resources than Labour in 2019, even when taking account of the public funding received by Labour (known as ‘Short Money’) that is designed to balance resources across the parties."

You see what they did there?

Monday 10 July 2023

Machine Unlearning: The Death Knell for Artificial General Intelligence?

Dall-E and

Just as AI systems seem to be creating a world of their own through various 'hallucinations', Google has announced a competition between now and mid-September to help develop ways for AI systems to unlearn by removing "the influence of a specific subset of training examples — the "forget set" — from a trained model." This is key to allow individuals to exercise their rights 'to be forgotten', to object to processing, restrict processing or rectify errors under EU and UK privacy regulation, for example: Google accepts that in some cases it's possible to infer that an individual's personal data was used to train an AI model even after the personal data was deleted. But what does machine unlearning mean for the 'holy grail' of general artificial intelligence?

Unlearning is intended to be a cost effective alternative to completely retraining the AI model from scratch with the "forget set" removed from the training dataset. The idea is to remove  certain data and its 'influence' while retaining the accuracy or fairness of an AI model and its ability to generalize in ways that have already been held out as examples of what the model can achieve.

A problem with approaches to 'machine unlearning' to date has been inconsistency in the measures for evaluating their effectiveness, making comparisons impracticable. 

By standardizing the evaluation metrics Google hopes to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different algorithms and spark broader work on this aspect of AI.

As part of the challenge, Google will offer a set of information, some of which must be forgotten if unlearning is successful: the unlearned model should contain no traces of the forgotten examples, so that 'membership inference attacks' (MIAs) would be unable to infer that any of them was part of the original training dataset. 

Perhaps unlike the problem of hallucinations or fabrication (from which humans also suffer) - the advent of 'machine unlearning' provides another reason why 'artificial general intelligence' - a computer's ability to replicate human intelligence - will remain elusive, since humans often forget things only to recall them later, or are unable to recall events or aspects of them that we witnessed firsthand and/or were 'supposed' to remember (like an accident or a birthday or wedding anniversary).

Friday 23 June 2023

Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Coming To A Head?

Events of the past 24 hours suggest Putin is either about to back out of Ukraine or spark a war with NATO...

The Ukrainian President warned yesterday of intelligence that suggests the Russians are about to blow up the nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia.

That prompted an immediate bipartisan effort in the US Congress to send Putin/Russia a clear statement that using a tactical nuclear weapon, or blowing up a nuclear powerplant, in Ukraine would cause harm to NATO countries, especially Poland, in the form of radiation; and that would trigger a NATO response under Article 5 of the treaty. 

Meanwhile, Prigozhin, oligarch and owner of the brutal Wagner mercenary group, suddenly reappears with a 30 minute monologue presenting Putin's assault on Ukraine as effectively a coup by local Russian military/authorities and oligarchs who've been plundering Eastern Ukraine since 2014 and triggered the 'special military operation' as a cover for further personal gain. That would certainly set up a basis for he and Putin to back Russia out of Ukraine and pin the whole disaster on those 'culprits'...

Worryingly, this is far worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis, since that stand-off involved ships with warheads nearing a port, while this involves some random Russian soldier with a hand on a detonator...

How this ends depends on who's really in charge and how insane they are.

Not encouraging, based on what we've seen the Russians do since February 2022! 

Thursday 15 June 2023

The Tories' Love Affair With Boris Is Over... Isn't It?

The UK's Parliamentary Privileges Committee (a majority of which are Tories) has found that Boris Johnson so completely misled Parliament that they do not even want to allow him a former member's pass.

Of course, assuming Parliament votes to endorse the findings and the result, this won't be Johnson's first divorce.

And he quit as a Member of Parliament, anyway, so why does it matter?

Because, like the Terminator and his Orangutanian friend in the US, he'll be back. 

And he has plenty of people he hasn't fucked fans and flunkies lurking to support him despite years of fraudulent electoral promises designed to advance his own career. Sunak fears it too, hence the recent tug-of-war between he and Johnson over the release of ministers' and officials' WhatsApp messages from during the pandemic to Britain's Covid Inquiry; and the more recent round of 'dishonours' that the pair hastily agreed in advance of Johnson himself leaking the Privileges Committee report and resigning as an MP in high dudgeon, claiming that he had been hoisted by his own petard 'ousted'.

Good riddance to the man, I hear you say.

But, sadly, we'll be hearing a lot more from him, whether or not he ever slithers back into public office...

Saturday 18 March 2023

Financial Crisis: Death By A Thousand Cuts

Speaking 10 years after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Hank Paulson worried that, while banks were not over-leveraged, governments had no room to stimulate growth because they were already spending and borrowing record at record rates and interest rates couldn't go any lower. Another 5 years on, and the era of cheap money is over, inflation has rocketed and suddenly there's a crisis of confidence in banks, not governments. What the hell happened? Well, it's the same old problem: greed and stupidity are winning, but this time it's everywhere, all at once. 

The result is a broader crisis in confidence - or the lack of it. No matter where investors turn unexpected holes are appearing. A string of crypto collapses culminating in the discovery of a vast fraud in FTX and the ensuing crypto-contagion that bled into the banking system via Silvergate; the SEC finally calling time on numerous unregistered crypto-securities programmes, again stressing real world investors and funding providers; the Truss-Kwarteng 'mini-budget' producing unaffordable mortgages and declining property prices amid flat-lining business investment and other trade problems in Brexit Britain, now the basket-case of the G7; Russia's invasion of Ukraine driving energy price explosion and rampant inflation, to which central banks have responded with rapid interest rate rises that in turn cut the market value of long term bonds held by banks with needy depositors, like SVB, First Republic and other lesser US banks that Trump exempted from proper scrutiny. And then there's the perennial doom-spiral that is Credit Suisse. 

Where will it end?

Who knows. Buckle up and try to enjoy the ride.

Related Posts with Thumbnails