VOA Science & Tech
Updated: 1 hour 48 min ago
American tech companies have long looked to China as a key partner to help build and sell cutting-edge devices and services. But tensions are rising between Washington and Beijing, and Silicon Valley may be caught in the middle. Michelle Quinn reports.
Alphabet's Google is investing more than $1 billion on a new campus in New York, becoming the second major technology company after Amazon to pick America's financial capital to expand and create thousands of jobs. The 1.7 million-square-foot campus, called Google Hudson Square, will include leased properties at Hudson Street and Washington Street, the company said in a blog post Monday. The new campus will be the main location for Google's advertising sales division, the Global Business Organization. Google hopes to start moving into two Hudson Street buildings by 2020, followed by a Washington Street in 2022 and will have the capacity to more than double its New York headcount, currently more than 7,000, in the next 10 years. The company's plans to invest outside its home base mirror those of other U.S. tech giants such as Apple Inc, which said last week it would spend $1 billion to build a new 133-acre campus in Austin, Texas. Last month, Amazon.com Inc said it would open offices in New York and the Washington, D.C. area, creating more than 25,000 jobs. Mountain View, California-based Google's move to invest in prime real estate on the lower west side of Manhattan also underscores the growing importance of New York as a hub for innovation and an incubator for technology companies. With a plethora of white-collar workers and good infrastructure, the city provides a better option to other places that would require more investment. "We're growing faster outside the Bay Area than within it," said Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Alphabet and Google. It is a "fairly sensible" move for Google given the amount of available talent pool, Atlantic Equities analyst James Cordwell said. It also makes sense for Google as New York has been the center for their core advertising business, Cordwell added. U.S. corporations are also under pressure from the Trump administration to create more jobs domestically. Companies that have moved jobs overseas or closed factories have drawn sharp rebukes from President Donald Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Google was nearing a deal to buy or lease an office building in New York City that could add space for more than 12,000 new workers. Google's first New York office at 111 Eighth Avenue is one of the city's largest buildings that it bought in 2010 for $1.77 billion. Earlier this year, the company announced a $2.4 billion purchase of the Manhattan Chelsea Market. It also has leased space on Pier 57 jutting into the Hudson, which will create a four-block campus. Google shares were down 1.7 percent at $1,032.84 amid a broader market sell-off.
Colin Kroll, a tech executive who was a co-founder of the popular apps HQ Trivia and Vine, was found dead Sunday in New York. Police said officers found the 34-year-old unresponsive in his apartment after receiving a call asking them to go check on him. Medical examiners are working to determine his cause of death. HQ Trivia launched in 2017 and became wildly popular, bringing users together for a nightly live game show that awarded cash prizes to winners. The show's host, Scott Rogowsky announced the company decided to cancel Sunday's game out of respect for Kroll. He said because Kroll loved animals, the $25,000 that was due to be awarded would instead be donated to the Humane Society. Rogowsky called Kroll a "visionary who changed the app game twice" by helping to launch both HQ Trivia and Vine, the service that allowed people to post six-second videos and was acquired by Twitter in 2012 before being shut down.
Fertilizer is made of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Chemical fertilizers require huge amounts of energy to produce. But there are other, natural and more readily available sources. The University of Michigan, with support from the National Science Foundation, is working at making our water cleaner, and our agriculture more sustainable, by capturing one of those sources, rather than flushing it down the toilet. On a hot summer afternoon near Brattleboro, Vermont, farmer Dean Hamilton has fired up his tractor and is fertilizing his hay field — with human urine. It takes a bit of time to get used to, says environmental engineer Nancy Love. “I’ve been surprised at how many people actually get beyond the giggle factor pretty quickly,” she said, “and are willing to listen.” Fine-tuning the recycling Rich Earth Institute, a nonprofit, is working with Love and her team. Abraham Noe-Hays says they are fine-tuning new methods to recycle urine into fertilizer. “There’s a great quote by Buckminster Fuller about how pollution is nothing but the resources that we’re not harvesting, and that we allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value,” he said. Harvesting the resource of urine — which is, after all, full of the same nutrients as chemical fertilizer — will fix two problems at once: eliminate waste and create a natural fertilizer. The Rich Earth Institute has been using urine as fertilizer since 2012. Kim Nace says they collect about 26,000 liters a year, thanks to a loyal group of dedicated donors. “We now have people who have some source-separating toilets in their homes. We also have people who have 55 gallon (200-liter) barrels where they collect and then we transport to our farms, and we’ve also got a large urine depot,” Nace said. They pasteurize the urine to kill any microbes, and then it is applied directly onto hay fields like Hamilton’s. Next level of project Now that they’ve partnered with the University of Michigan, Love says they’re looking to take their project to the next level. “There are three things we really are trying to do with the urine in this kind of next phase. We’re trying to concentrate it. We’re trying to apply technologies to reduce odor, and we’re trying to deal with trace contaminants like the pharmaceuticals,” she said. Dealing with pharmaceuticals is an important issue. Heat urine kills germs but has no effect on chemicals like drugs that pass through our bodies. “We know pharmaceuticals are a problem for aquatic organisms and water systems,” Love said. “It’s debatable about the impact on human health at very, very low levels. Independent of that, I think most people would prefer that they not be in their food.” 21st century infrastructure For Love, this is all about redesigning our wastewater infrastructure for the 21st century. Too many nutrients in the water leads to poor water quality by causing hazardous algal blooms. “Our water emissions are going into very sensitive water bodies that are vulnerable to these nutrient loads,” she said. “We need to change that dynamic. And if we can capture them and put them to a beneficial use, that’s what we’re trying to do.” Their efforts could make agriculture greener and our waterways cleaner.
Fertilizer is made of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Chemical fertilizers require huge amounts of energy to produce. But there are other, natural and more readily available sources. A project at the University of Michigan is aimed at making our water cleaner and our agriculture more sustainable by capturing one of those sources … rather than flushing it down the toilet. Faith Lapidus explains.
Facebook says a software flaw may have exposed private photos of nearly 7 million users, the latest in a series of privacy issues facing the social media company. Facebook said Friday that the photo glitch gave about 1,500 software apps unauthorized access to private photos for 12 days in September. "We're sorry this happened," Facebook said in a blog. It said it would notify users whose photos might have been affected. Irish regulator to investigate The software flaw affected users who gave third-party applications permission to access their photos. Facebook usually allows the apps to access only photos shared on a user's timeline. However, the glitch would have allowed the apps to see additional photos, including those on Marketplace and Facebook Stories, as well as ones uploaded but not shared. It is not known whether any of the photos were actually accessed. The lead regulator of Facebook in the European Union, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), said it was investigating the situation to determine whether the company complied with strict new EU privacy rules. While Facebook says the bug has been fixed, the revelation brought new scrutiny to a company that has faced a series of security and privacy breaches. Earlier issues Earlier this year, Facebook acknowledged that a political consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica, gained access to the personal data from millions of user profiles. In September, the company said it discovered a security breach affecting about 50 million user accounts that could have allowed hackers to access the accounts. The company said hackers exploited the "View As" feature, which lets users see how their own profiles would look to other people. Facebook has also come under criticism for fake political ads posted on its site from Russia and other countries. The company has more than 2 billion users worldwide.
Apple will build a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, break ground on smaller locations in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City, California, and over the next three years expand in Pittsburgh, New York and Colorado. The tech giant said Thursday that the new campus in Austin, less than a mile from existing Apple facilities, will open with 5,000 positions in engineering, research and development, operations, finance, sales and customer support. The site, according to Apple, will have the capacity to eventually accommodate 15,000 employees. The three other new locations will have more than 1,000 employees each. Early this year, Apple said that it would make more than $30 billion in capital expenditures in the U.S. over the next five years. That, the company said in January, would create more than 20,000 new jobs at existing and new campuses that Apple planned to build. Where U.S. companies open new facilities or plants has always had the potential for public and political backlash. That potential has intensified under the Trump administration, which has pushed companies to keep more of their operations inside the country’s borders. While CEO Tim Cook has steered mostly clear President Donald Trump’s ire, Apple did receive some push back three months ago from the White House. Apple sent a letter to the U.S. trade representative warning that the burgeoning trade war with China and rising tariffs could force higher prices for U.S. consumers. Trump in a tweet told Apple to start making its products in the U.S., and not China. Apple uses a lot of facilities overseas to produce components and its products, including China. Top tech executives from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm gathered at the White House earlier this month to discuss strained ties between the administration and the industry, and trade tensions with China. Cook was not among them, nor was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. There are already 6,000 Apple employees in Austin, its largest operation outside of company headquarters in Cupertino, California, where 37,000 people are employed. “Apple has been a vital part of the Austin community for a quarter century, and we are thrilled that they are deepening their investment in our people and the city we love,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a prepared statement Thursday. Apple said nearly a year ago that it would begin canvassing the U.S. for another campus. Cities offered incentives to lure the company, but Cook avoided a high-profile competition that pitted them against one another as Amazon did over the last year and a half. Amazon, too, expands Amazon announced in November after a 14-month search it had selected Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Virginia, as the joint winners. Each site will employ around 25,000 people. Cities are eager to bring in more tech employers because companies like Apple and Amazon ladle out six-figure salaries to engineers and other skilled workers. The infusion of thousands of new and highly paid residents can ripple through an economy, with those employees filling restaurants, theaters, buying property and paying taxes. Annual pay will vary at the new locations, but Apple workers in Cupertino have an average annual salary of about $125,000, according to a report the company submitted to the city.
Virgin Galactic is preparing for a new flight test Thursday that aims to fly higher and faster than before toward the edge of space. The U.S. company run by British tycoon Richard Branson is aiming to be the first to take tourists on brief trips into microgravity. Virgin Galactic's fourth flight test on the VSS Unity is scheduled for Thursday, weather permitting. The flight will take off from a spaceport in Mojave, California. The vessel does not launch from Earth but is carried to a higher altitude — about nine miles (15 kilometers) high — attached to an airplane. Then, two pilots on the VSS Unity fire the engines toward the frontier of space, typically defined as an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers). In July, after burning the rocket motor for 42 seconds, the VSS Unity reached a height of 32 miles, a part of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Commercial airplanes typically fly at an altitude of about six miles. The VSS Unity reached a top speed of over 1,530 miles per hour, or beyond Mach 2. "Overall the goal of this flight is to fly higher and faster than previous flights," said a statement from Virgin Galactic. "If all goes to plan our pilots will experience an extended period of microgravity as VSS Unity coasts to apogee, although — being pilots — they will remain securely strapped in throughout." Another U.S. rocket company, Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is also racing to be the first to send tourists to space, but using a small rocket to get there. Virgin's first flight date has been pushed back multiple times, following a test flight accident that killed a co-pilot in 2014. Branson told CNN in November he hoped to send people to space "before Christmas." More than 600 clients have already paid $250,000 for a ticket.
California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor. The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission. The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan. Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations. The newspaper says it's unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.
Sports, disaster and death were among the top searches on Google last year. Each December, the technology company releases it's top trending searches of the year. Topics that drew the interest of Americans included the World Cup, Hurricane Florence and three people who died in 2018 — rapper Mac Miller, designer Kate Spade and TV host and author Anthony Bourdain. Google does not come up with its lists based on the number of total searches. Instead, the company looks at the search terms that enjoyed the highest spike compared to the previous year. "Black Panther" topped the list of most searched movies, while rising stars in the Democratic party dominated the list of most searched politicians. Here are the Top 10: 1. World Cup 2. Hurricane Florence 3. Mac Miller 4. Kate Spade 5. Anthony Bourdain 6. Black Panther 7. Mega Millions Results 8. Stan Lee 9. Demi Lovato 10. Election Results Other categories include: News 1. World Cup 2. Hurricane Florence 3. Mega Millions 4. Election Results 5. Hurricane Michael People 1. Demi Lovato 2. Meghan Markle 3. Brett Kavanaugh 4. Logan Paul 5. Khloe Kardashian Politicians 1. Stacey Abrams 2. Beto O'Rourke 3. Ted Cruz 4. Andrew Gillum 5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Movies 1. Black Panther 2. Incredibles 2 3. Deadpool 2 4. Avengers: Infinity War 5. A Quiet Place All of the 2018 Google top trending search lists can be found here.
Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey is under fire for failing to address the humanitarian crisis involving the Rohingya Muslims during his recent meditation retreat in Myanmar. Dorsey published a thread on his Twitter page Sunday praising Myanmar's people as "full of joy," and heaping equal praise on the nation's cuisine. Critics angrily accused Dorsey of ignoring the plight of more than 700,000 Rohingyas who fled from northern Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh to avoid a scorched earth campaign launched by the military in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya militants on security outposts. A special United Nations fact-finding mission said the military acted "with genocidal intent" against the Rohingyas, based on interviews with hundreds of Rohingyas, who revealed numerous atrocities, including gang rapes, the torching of entire villages and extrajudicial killings. Dorsey responded Wednesday that he was "aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar," and that he did not "intend to diminish them by not raising the issue." But he conceded that he "could have acknowledged that I don't know enough and need to learn more." Critics have also pointed the finger at Twitter for allowing virulent anti-Rohingya hate speech onto the site during the height of the crackdown. Dorsey said people can use Twitter "to share news and information about events in Myanmar, as well as to bear witness to the plight of the Rohingya and other peoples and communities." This is not the first time the Twitter boss has gotten into hot water during his overseas travels. Dorsey caused a stir in India last month when a photograph emerged of him holding a poster that read "Smash Brahminical patriarchy," a reference to India's highest Hindu caste.
If short films are shorter than feature films and commercials are shorter than both, what’s shorter than everything? GIFs. At 18 seconds or less, these micro-films are getting their time in the spotlight. Tina Trinh reports.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday that Chinese cyber activity in the United States had risen in recent months, targeting critical infrastructure in what may be attempts to lay the groundwork for future disruptive attacks. "You worry they are prepositioning against critical infrastructure and trying to be able to do the types of disruptive operations that would be the most concern," National Security Agency official Rob Joyce said at a Wall Street Journal cybersecurity conference. Joyce, a former White House cyber adviser for President Donald Trump, did not elaborate. A spokeswoman for the NSA said Joyce was referring to digital attacks against the U.S. energy, financial, transportation and healthcare sectors. The comments are notable because U.S. complaints about Chinese hacking have to date focused on espionage and intellectual property theft, not efforts to disrupt critical infrastructure. China has repeatedly denied U.S. allegations it conducts cyber attacks. Joyce's remarks coincide with U.S. prosecutors preparing to unveil as early as this week a new round of criminal hacking charges against Chinese nationals. They are expected to charge that Chinese hackers were involved in a cyber espionage operation known as "Cloudhopper" targeting technology service providers and their customers, according to people familiar with the matter. The U.S. Congress is looking into the allegations of increased Chinese hacking activity. Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department are scheduled to testify Wednesday morning at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "China's Non-Traditional Espionage Against the United States: The Threat and Potential Policy Responses."
Protesters disturbed a U.S.-sponsored event promoting fossil fuels on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks on Monday. The event called "U.S. innovative technologies spur economic dynamism," touting the benefits of burning fossil fuels more efficiently, infuriated campaigners and many government delegations who want the talks to focus on moving away from coal, oil and gas. Some 100 protestors in the audience at the event seized a microphone and interrupted opening remarks by Wells Griffith, the man President Donald Trump appointed as senior director for energy at the National Security Council. They waved banners and chanted: "keep it in the ground." "I'm 19 years old and I'm pissed," shouted Vic Barrett, a plaintiff in the "Juliana vs U.S." lawsuit filed in 2015 by 21 young people against the government for allowing activities that harm the climate. "I am currently suing my government for perpetuating the global climate change crisis... Young people are at the forefront of leading solutions to address the climate crises and we won't back down." Before the interruption, Griffiths said it was important to be pragmatic in dealing with climate change in a world still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. "Alarmism should not silence realism... This administration does not see the benefit of being part of an agreement which impedes U.S. economic growth and jobs," he said. The conference, in Katowice, Poland, aims to work out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, the global pact on combating climate change. The United States, the world's top oil and gas producer, is the only country to have announced its withdrawal from the accord.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai is expected to tell members of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday he runs the U.S. technology giant without political preference. "I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests," according to remarks prepared for the hearing. Republican committee members are expected to question Pichai about allegations Google is biased against conservative voices. President Donald Trump is among those who have accused the company of censoring conservative content, tweeting in August Google is "RIGGED" and that "Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out." Pichai's testimony comes after he angered committee members in September by declining an invitation to testify about manipulation of online services by foreign governments to influence U.S. elections. The CEO may also be questioned about the company's planned "Dragonfly" project, a censored search engine for China. An international group of 60 human rights and media groups submitted a letter Tuesday to Pichai, calling on him to abandon the project, warning that personal data would not be safe from Chinese authorities. Reporters Without Borders, a signatory to the letter, said China ranked 176 out of 180 countries in its Freedom of the Press Index. Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 after China insisted on censoring search results. Click to read Pichai's remarks in their entirety.
A Chinese court has ordered a ban in the country on most iPhone sales because of a patent dispute between iPhone maker Apple and U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm. The Fuzhou Intermediate People's Court granted Qualcomm's request for preliminary injunctions against four subsidiaries of Apple, ordering them to immediately stop selling the iPhone 6S through the iPhone X that use older versions of Apple's iOS operating system, according to a statement from Qualcomm Monday. Apple said in a statement Monday its iPhones using newer operating systems remain on sale in China. The Chinese court found Apple violated two of Qualcomm's software patents involving resizing photographs and managing applications on a touch screen. Apple shares fell Monday on the news. "Qualcomm's effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world," Apple said in its statement. Qualcomm's general counsel, Don Rosenberg, said in a statement Monday "Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm's vast patent portfolio." China's court decision is the latest legal action in a long-running dispute between the California tech giants. Qualcomm has also asked regulators in the United States to ban several iPhone models over patent disputes, however U.S. officials have so far declined to do so.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk dismissed the idea that the company's new chairwoman can exert control over his behavior. Robyn Denholm, an Australian telecommunications executive, was appointed chairwoman of Tesla's board last month, replacing Musk as part of a securities fraud settlement with U.S. government regulators. But Musk said "it's not realistic" to expect Denholm to watch over his actions because he remains the electric car company's largest shareholder. "It's not realistic in the sense that I am the largest shareholder in the company," Musk said in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," broadcast Sunday evening, adding that a large percentage of shareholders support him and all he needs is about one-third of them. "I can just call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want," he said. Musk, who owns about 20 percent of Tesla, gave up the chairman role under a settlement with the Securities Exchange Commission, which had charged the CEO with misleading investors in August with a tweet that said he had "funding secured" for taking the company private. The SEC settlement also required the company to vet Musk's tweets and other comments about the company before they are released to the public. Musk also shrugged off that provision, saying none of his tweets have been censored so far and the company does not review his posts to determine beforehand whether they could potentially affect the company's stock price. "I guess we might make some mistakes. Who knows?" Musk said. Musk said he does not respect the SEC, but when asked if he would obey the settlement, he said: "Because I respect the justice system." After the interview was aired, Tesla said in a statement that the company is complying with the SEC settlement. The part that requires pre-approval of communications that could affect the stock price technically must be in place by December 28, the company said. Denholm's appointment in November drew a mixed response from corporate governance experts, who praised her financial expertise but questioned her ability to carve out an independent path for a board that has been dominated by Musk. Denholm has been on Tesla's board for five years. She is the chief financial officer and strategy head at Telstra Corp. Ltd., Australia's largest telecommunications company, but will step down from that company after a six-month notice period and work at Tesla full-time. Musk told "60 Minutes" interviewer Lesley Stahl that he had hand-picked Denholm. The SEC settlement would allow Musk to return as chairman after three years, subject to shareholder approval. Musk said he would not be interested. "I actually prefer to have no titles at all," Musk said. Amid its CEO's erratic behavior, Tesla delivered on promises to accelerate production of its pivotal Model 3 sedan, progress seen as essential to the company's ability to repay $1.3 billion in debt due within the next six months. The company also fulfilled a pledge to make money during the third quarter, and Musk has said he expects the company to remain profitable. He said Tesla would consider buying any plant that rival GM closes as part of a restructuring plan that could cost up to 14,000 jobs.
NASA's Voyager 2 has become only the second human-made object to reach the space between stars. NASA said Monday that Voyager 2 exited the region of the sun's influence last month. The spacecraft is now beyond the outer boundary of the heliosphere, some 11 billion miles from Earth. It's trailing Voyager 1, which reached interstellar space in 2012. Interstellar space is the vast mostly emptiness between star systems. According to NASA, the Voyagers are still technically in our solar system. Scientists maintain the solar system stretches to the outer edge of the so-called Oort Cloud. It will take thousands of years for the spacecraft to get that far. Despite the great distance, flight controllers are still in contact with Voyager 2. The Voyagers launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1977.
The International Telecommunication Union reports that for the first time in history, half of the global population is using the internet. A new report finds by the end of the year, 3.9 billion people worldwide will be online. The report finds access to and use of information and communication technologies around the world is trending upwards. It notes most internet users are in developed countries, with more than 80 percent of their populations online. But it says internet use is steadily growing in developing countries, increasing from 7.7 percent in 2005 to 45.3 percent this year. The International Telecommunication Union says Africa is the region with the strongest growth, where the percentage of people using the internet has increased from just over two percent in 2005 to nearly 25 percent in 2018. The lowest growth rates, it says, are in Europe and the Americas, with the lowest usage found in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to data on internet usage, newly released statistics show mobile access to basic telecommunication services is becoming more predominant. ITU Senior Statistician, Esperanza Magpantay says access to higher speed mobile and fixed broadband also is growing. “So, there is almost 96 percent of the population who are now covered by mobile population signal of which 90 percent are covered by 3G access. So, this is a high figure, and this helps explain why we have this 51 percent of the population now using the internet,” she said. With the growth in mobile broadband, Magpantay says there has been an upsurge in the number of people using the internet through their mobile devices. The ITU says countries that are hooked into the digital economy do better in their overall economic well-being and competitiveness. Unfortunately, it says the cost of accessing telecommunication networks remains too high and unaffordable for many. It says prices must be brought down to make the digital economy a reality for the half the world’s people who do not, as yet, use the internet.
The role drones play in our lives today is becoming greater and greater, as are the capabilities of these autonomous flying robots. Genia Dulot visited CalTech, the California Institute of Technology, where the potential for drones is being explored for surprising new uses.