VOA Science & Tech

Subscribe to VOA Science & Tech feed VOA Science & Tech
science-technology
Updated: 1 hour 24 min ago

VOA Interview: Kara Swisher

16 hours 48 min ago
Greta Van Susteren talks to technology journalist Kara Swisher about cybersecurity and privacy.

US University Puts Electronic Assistants in All Student Housing

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 20:25
One American university is putting electronic voice-controlled assistants in every student housing room on campus. Saint Louis University recently announced it will equip every student living space with Amazon’s Alexa system. The school in St. Louis, Missouri, will place about 2,300 Echo Dot “smart” devices in all student dorms and other university housing. Officials said the university will be the first in the world to put the devices in every student living space. The devices and the Alexa service are being provided at no costs to students. The Amazon Echo is a speaker with the ability to listen and “talk” to users and can perform some operations. The Alexa assistant competes with similar systems made by Google and Apple. Devices linked to the systems have become increasingly popular in homes in recent years. They can be used for things like looking up information, playing music, ordering food or buying things on the internet. The devices can also complete actions in the home. These include turning lights on and off, and controlling systems for heating and cooling and security. Amazon calls these different tasks Alexa can perform “skills.” Amazon said in a website post that Saint Louis University chose the Alexa system after carrying out a test program. The program involved the Echo Dot and a device from a competing company. It said the students had a better reaction to the Alexa system. The Echo Dots will include a special skill developed especially for Saint Louis University. It will provide information and answer questions about local school activities and campus life. Next year, the university plans to add more personalized skills, such as providing information about classes and grades. The university said it did not increase student tuition to pay for the project. Instead, officials said, it was financed through the school’s general fund, as well as partnerships with Amazon and n-Powered.  The company, based in Los Angeles, California, helped develop the parts of the system that are related to Saint Louis University. David Hakanson is Saint Louis University’s vice president and chief information officer. In announcing the project, he said it will fit well with students who are “highly driven to achieve success in and out of the classroom.” He added: “Every minute we can save our students from having to search for the information they need online is another minute that they can spend focused on what matters most: their education.” While the devices are being placed in every university housing space, students do not have to use them. For those wishing not to take part, the school suggests students just remove the devices from their rooms and put them away in a safe place. Other universities have also experimented with voice-controlled assistants in student living areas. A year ago, Arizona State University announced a program that provided Echo Dot devices to a special housing area for engineering students. In the program, all engineering students moving into the special housing community were given the choice of receiving an Echo Dot if they wanted one. As is the case at Saint Louis University, Arizona State students are able to use the system to get the latest information on university programs and events. However, the Arizona students also have the chance to sign up for classes that teach subjects related specifically to creating new uses for Alexa devices. Octavio Heredia is a director with Arizona State’s Fulton Schools of Engineering. He said he thinks it is a good idea for students to get as much experience as possible with the voice assistants to improve their development skills and prepare for future jobs. “Once they are familiar with the devices, they are going to want to further develop their own skills and begin integrating that technology - the hardware and the skills - into other projects,” he said.

How To Tell if Art is Real or Fake? Ask Scientists at the Met

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 14:49
How do you know if a piece of art is real or fake? Ask a scientist. At New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, chemistry, physics and geology are all playing a part in the detective work of determining whether a work of art is original or a forgery. Now teens are learning the tricks of that trade as well. Tina Trinh has more.

Modi Says India will Send Manned Flight into Space By 2022

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:04
India will send a manned flight into space by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday as part of India's independence day celebrations. He said India will become the fourth country after Russia, the United States and China to achieve the feat and its astronaut could be a man or a woman. The space capsule that will transport India's astronauts was tested a few days earlier. Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian to travel in space, aboard a Soviet rocket in 1984. As part of its own space program, India successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars in 2014. India won independence from British colonialists in 1947. Modi's 80-minute speech, broadcast live from the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, comes months before national elections.  Modi listed his government's achievements in the past four years in reforming the country's economy, reducing poverty and corruption. He announced a health insurance scheme for 500 million poor people providing a cover of 500,000 rupees ($7,150) per family a year. He said India will become a growth engine for the world economy as the "sleeping elephant'' has started to run on the back of structural economic reforms. He said its economy was seen as fragile before 2014 but was now attracting investment. India is the sixth largest economy in the world and Modi said international institutions see India as giving strength to the world economy for the next three decades. He said the structural reforms like a national tax replacing various national and local taxes, bankruptcy and insolvency laws, and a crackdown on corruption have helped transform the economy.

Cubans Cheer as Internet Goes Nationwide for Day

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 07:02
Cuba’s government said it provided free internet to the Communist-run island’s more than 5 million cellphone users on Tuesday, in an eight-hour test before it launches sales of the service. Cuba is one of the Western Hemisphere’s least connected countries. State-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA announced the trial, with Tuesday marking the first time internet services were available nationwide. There are hundreds of WiFi hotspots in Cuba but virtually no home penetration. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, considered the country’s social media pioneer, raved that she had directly sent a tweet from her mobile. In another tweet, she called the test a “citizen’s victory.” On the streets of Havana, mobile users said they were happy about the day of free internet, even as some complained that connectivity was notably slower than usual. “This is marvelous news because we can talk with family abroad without going to specific WiFi spots, there is more intimacy,” said taxi driver Andres Peraza. Forty percent of Cubans have relatives living abroad. Leinier Valdez, one of a group of young people trying to connect, said, “this is great. Its better and more so when you can connect for free.” Hotspots currently charge about $1 an hour although monthly wages in Cuba average just $30. The government has not yet said how much most Cubans would pay for mobile internet, or when exactly sales of the service will begin. But ETECSA is already charging companies and embassies $45 a month for four gigabytes. Analysts have said broader Web access will ultimately weaken government control over what information reaches people in a country where the state has a monopoly on the media. Whether because of a lack of cash, a long-running U.S. trade embargo or concerns about the flow of information, Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access. Until 2013, internet was largely only available to the public at tourist hotels on the island. But the government has since made boosting connectivity a priority, introducing cybercafes and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots and slowly starting to hook up homes to the Web. Long before he took office from Raul Castro in April, 58-year-old President Miguel Diaz-Canel championed the cause. “We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online,” he told parliament in July, adding that Cubans could thus “counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content” on the internet.  

Tesla Appoints Independent Directors to Weigh Any Deal

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 02:10
Tesla's board named a special committee of three directors on Tuesday to evaluate possibly taking the electric carmaker private, although it said it had yet to see a firm offer from the company's chief executive, Elon Musk. The Silicon Valley billionaire last week said on Twitter he wants to take Tesla private at $420 a share, valuing it at $72 billion, and that funding was "secured." That earlier tweet triggered investor lawsuits and an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into the accuracy of his statement, according to multiple media reports. Musk on Monday gave his most detailed vision of how a take-private deal could work, but shares ended flat, indicating investor skepticism. The shares were last down 1 percent at $352.88 on Tuesday. Musk said Monday he had held talks with a Saudi sovereign fund on a buyout that would take Tesla off the Nasdaq exchange - an extraordinary move for what is now the United States' most valuable automaker. Tesla has a market capitalization of $60 billion, bigger than Detroit rivals General Motors Co or Ford Motor Co, who produce far more cars. The company said in the statement the special committee has the authority to take any action on behalf of the board to evaluate and negotiate a potential transaction and alternatives to any transaction proposed by Musk. Tuesday's announcement means three members of Tesla's board will now weigh whether it is advisable - or even feasible - to pursue what could be the biggest-ever go-private deal, and they are doing so before receiving a formal proposal from the CEO. "The special committee has not yet received a formal proposal from Mr. Musk regarding any Going Private Transaction," the company said in a public filing with U.S. securities regulators, the first it has made since Musk's tweets last week. Asked about the outcome of the special committee, analyst Chaim Siegel at Elazar Advisors said, "This is not easy. Anything is possible from pulling something together to nothing. I hope nothing - so the stock can trade and benefit from the earnings inflection," he said, referring to a promise by Musk the company would turn profitable later this year. A blogging, tweeting CEO Musk has yet to convince Wall Street analysts and investors that he can find the billions needed to complete the deal. Tesla's handling of Musk's proposal and its failure to promptly file a formal disclosure, meanwhile, have raised governance concerns and sparked questions about how companies use social media. Musk first tweeted he planned to go private and that funding was “secured” last week, sending Tesla shares soaring 11 percent, but investors have appeared skeptical about the details he has provided since. He blogged on Monday that recent talks with a Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave him confidence funding was nailed down, but that he was still talking with the fund and other investors. He tweeted later he was working with Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Silver Lake as financial advisers, though a source said the private equity firm was working in an unpaid, informal capacity and also not discussing participating as an investor. Goldman had not been formally tapped as a financial adviser by Musk when he revealed plans last week to take the automaker private and said he had secured the funding for the transaction, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. Goldman did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters. "Despite Elon Musk’s frustration with being a public company, I think there are more advantages to remaining public," said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy, citing cheaper access to capital and media exposure due to interest in a public company. Three-member panel Tesla said the committee consists only of independent directors: Brad Buss, Robyn Denholm and Linda Johnson Rice. But corporate governance and shareholder voting advisers Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services said they do not consider Buss an independent director, due to his connections to a solar panel business the company bought two years ago. Buss was chief financial officer of solar panel installer SolarCity for two years before retiring when Tesla paid $2.6 billion for the sales and installation firm in 2016. It was Tesla's last big deal and was criticized by some on Wall Street because the company, founded by two of Musk's cousins, had seen its business shrink before the takeover. Denholm, the first woman on Tesla's board, is chief operations officer of telecom firm Telstra and the ex-CFO of network gear maker Juniper Networks. Rice, the first African-American and second woman to join the board, is CEO of Johnson Publishing Company and Chairman Emeritus of EBONY Media Holdings, the parent of EBONY and Jet brands, according to Tesla's website. Tesla's other board members include Musk; his brother Kimbal Musk; Twenty-First Century Fox's CEO James Murdoch; Antonio Gracias, founder of Valor Equity Partners; and Ira Ehrenpreis, founder of venture capital firm DBL Partners. One director, Steve Jurvetson, is currently on leave of absence following allegations of sexual harassment. Tesla's board said on Aug. 8 that Musk had held talks with the directors in the previous week on taking the company private. Latham and Watkins LLP has been retained by the committee as its legal counsel. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati will be legal counsel for Tesla itself.  

World's First Commercial 3D-Printed Concrete Homes Planned

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 08:46
The world will soon have its first batch of commercially available 3D-printed concrete homes. A consortium of the Dutch municipality of Eindhoven, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), and three private firms has joined forces to build five of these unique homes in the hub city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

Tesla's Slow Disclosure Raises Governance, Social Media Concerns

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 07:33
Tesla's handling of Chief Executive Elon Musk's proposal to take the carmaker private and its failure to promptly file a formal disclosure has raised governance concerns and sparked questions about how companies use social media. Musk stunned investors last Tuesday by announcing on Twitter that he was considering taking Tesla private in a potential $72 billion transaction and that "funding" had been "secured." Tesla's shares closed up 11 percent before retrenching after the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had asked Tesla why Musk announced his plans on Twitter and whether his statement was truthful. Musk provided no details of his funding until Monday, when he said in a blog on Tesla's website that he was in discussions with Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and other potential backers but that financing was not yet nailed down. Musk said his tweet and blogs were issued in his personal capacity as a private bidder for Tesla's stock. A Tesla spokesman pointed Reuters to Musk's blog in response to a request for comment. Putting aside whether Musk misled anyone, the unorthodox manner in which he announced the news and Tesla's failure to promptly clarify the situation with a regulatory filing is a corporate governance lapse that raises questions about how companies use social media to release market-moving news, securities lawyers said. "Management buyouts or other take-private transactions already suffer from serious information asymmetry between management and public shareholders," said Gabriel Rauterberg, a University of Michigan law professor. SEC rules typically require companies to file an 8-K form within four business days of a significant corporate event. While several securities lawyers said Musk's tweets alone did not trigger this obligation, such a filing would be prudent given the unusual circumstances, David Axelrod, a partner at law firm Ballard Spahr LLP, said. "An 8-K would provide some more details, it would say what stage negotiations are in, and provide more information than 53 characters in a tweet," he added. Full and fair disclosure SEC guidelines published in 2013 allow companies and their executives to use social media to distribute material information, provided investors have been alerted that this is a possibility. Tesla did this in a 2013 filing. But such disclosures have to be full and fair, meaning the information is complete and accessible by all investors at the same time, a bar that Musk's tweets may not have met. "Twitter is not designed to provide full and fair disclosure. That doesn't mean that you couldn't, but in a series of 20 to 30 characters I'm not sure you're getting full disclosure," said Zachary Fallon, a former SEC attorney and principal at law firm Blakemore Fallon. The SEC declined to comment Monday. Securities lawyers said there was also a question mark over whether Musk selectively disclosed information on the possible terms of the deal when he subsequently replied to followers, two of whom claim in their handles to be investors. Those tweets were not immediately visible to all followers of Musk's main feed until he retweeted them. History of Twitter use The 47-year-old billionaire's history of joking about Tesla and using twitter to bait his critics also appears to have undermined trust in Musk's feed as a reliable source of company information, with many investors initially believing Tuesday's tweet was a prank. In his blog, Musk said he made the announcement on Twitter to ensure all investors were aware of his plan before speaking with the company's largest shareholders. But his claim to have done so as a private person presents a potential conflict of interest, said Nimish Patel, a lawyer with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. "If you're speaking on behalf of the company using resources like Twitter and the company website, while at the same time saying you're a private individual expressing your own personal views, you are being inconsistent and creating confusion for investors. And when there's confusion, the SEC is likely going to get involved," he added.

How to Find and Delete Where Google Knows You've Been

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 20:15
Even if you have “Location History” off, Google often stores your precise location. Here’s how to delete those markers and some best-effort practices that keep your location as private as possible. But there’s no panacea, because simply connecting to the internet on any device flags an IP address that can be geographically mapped. Smartphones also connect to cell towers, so your carrier knows your general location at all times. To prevent further tracking For any device: Fire up your browser and go to myactivity.google.com. (You’ll need to be logged into Google) On the upper left drop-down menu, go to “Activity Controls.” Turn off both “Web & App Activity” and “Location History.” That should prevent precise location markers from being stored to your Google account. Google will warn you that some of its services won’t work as well with these settings off. In particular, neither the Google Assistant, a digital concierge, nor the Google Home smart speaker will be particularly useful. On iOS: If you use Google Maps, adjust your location setting to “While Using” the app; this will prevent the app from accessing your location when it’s not active. Go to Settings Privacy Location Services and from there select Google Maps to make the adjustment. In the Safari web browser, consider using a search engine other than Google. Under Settings Safari Search Engine, you can find other options like Bing or DuckDuckGo. You can turn location off while browsing by going to Settings Privacy Location Services Safari Websites, and turn this to “Never.” (This still won’t prevent advertisers from knowing your rough location based on IP address on any website). You can also turn Location Services off to the device almost completely from Settings Privacy Location Services. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps will still work, but they won’t know where you are on the map and won’t be able to give you directions. Emergency responders will still be able to find you if the need arises. On Android: Under the main settings icon click on “Security & location.” Scroll down to the “Privacy” heading. Tap “Location.” You can toggle it off for the entire device. Use “App-level permissions” to turn off access to various apps. Unlike the iPhone, there is no setting for “While Using.” You cannot turn off Google Play services, which supplies your location to other apps if you leave that service on. Sign in as a “guest” on your Android device by swiping down from top and tapping the downward-facing caret, then again on the torso icon. Be aware of which services you sign in on, like Chrome. You can also change search engines even in Chrome. To delete past location tracking: For any device: On the page myactivity.google.com, look for any entry that has a location pin icon beside the word “details.” Clicking on that pops up a window that includes a link that sometimes says “From your current location.” Clicking on it will open Google Maps, which will display where you were at the time. You can delete it from this popup by clicking on the navigation icon with the three stacked dots and then “Delete.” Some items will be grouped in unexpected places, such as topic names, google.com, Search, or Maps. You have to delete them item by item. You can wholesale delete all items in date ranges or by service, but will end up taking out more than just location markers.  

‘Everybody Should See This’: Perseids Light up Bosnian Sky

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 16:21
A meteor shower lit up the skies above eastern Bosnia Saturday night, giving star gazers a rare opportunity to see a display of shooting stars with the naked eye. “I think that everybody should see this,” said Miralem Mehic, a Bosnian from an international group of star gazers who watched the light show at the Sand Pyramids, an area of naturally occurring sand columns, near the town of Foca. The so-called Perseids meteor shower returns to the skies every August and are best viewed in the northern hemisphere in isolated areas where there is little light pollution. They arise when the Earth passes through the debris of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. Meteors are parts of rock and dust that hit the Earth’s atmosphere, heat up and glow. Most vaporize as they descend, but some explode. “This year the moon is young and will not obstruct the vision, so we will be able to see 100 ‘shooting stars’ an hour,” Muhamed Muminovic, a member of the Sarajevo Orion astrological society, told Reuters.

NASA Sends Parker Solar Probe to ‘Go Touch the Sun’

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 15:39
A NASA spacecraft rocketed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before. The Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) of the sun’s surface, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible. No wonder scientists consider it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun, and what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday as NASA noted. “Fly baby girl, fly!!” project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before liftoff. She urged it to “go touch the sun!” Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking. ​Parker watches namesake go For the second straight day, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named. He proposed the existence of solar wind, a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun, 60 years ago. It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn’t about to let it take off without him. Saturday morning’s launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. “I’m just so glad to be here with him,” said NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. “Frankly, there’s no other name that belongs on this mission.” The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe, the size of a small car and well under a ton, racing toward the sun. From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun (150 million kilometers), and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.​ Speed record on agenda Parker will start shattering records this fall.On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. By the time Parker gets to its 22nd orbit of the sun, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour). Nothing from Planet Earth has ever hit that kind of speed. Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission’s derring-do. “To me, it’s still mind-blowing,” she said. “Even I still go, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’” Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe — it’s ours, after all — and so this is one of NASA’s big-time strategic missions. By better understanding the sun’s life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted. In today’s tech-dependent society, everyone stands to benefit. With this mission, scientists hope to unlock the many mysteries of the sun, a commonplace yellow dwarf star around 4.5 billion years old. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as the University of Chicago’s Parker accurately predicted in 1958? “The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun,” Fox said. “We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there.” The spacecraft’s heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. If there’s any tilting, the spacecraft will correct itself so nothing gets fried. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help. ​Technology catches up to the dream A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun’s punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus. “We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” Fox said. “It’s incredible to be standing here today.” More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind. “I’ll bet you 10 bucks it works,” Parker said.

Cars Powered by New Fuel Type Tested in Australia

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 21:28
Australian scientists have test driven two cars powered by a carbon-free fuel derived from ammonia.  A team from the Australian government’s research agency, the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), says the pioneering technology will allow highly flammable hydrogen to be safely transported in the form of ammonia and used as a widely available fuel.   Researchers have found a way to use a thin membrane to turn Australian-made hydrogen into ammonia.  This could be shipped safely to markets in Asia, as well as parts of Europe.  At its destination, the liquid ammonia would then be converted back into hydrogen, and used to power cars and buses,  as well as for electricity generation and industrial processes. David Harris, CSIRO research director says “the special thing about the technology that we have is that it allows you to produce very pure hydrogen directly with a membrane system from ammonia.” The technology has the support of Japanese car maker Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company. ‘Watershed moment’ Scientists say hydrogen, a highly-flammable gas that can be volatile and hard to transport safely, creates a low emission fuel for cars.  The Australian team describes the membrane technology that separates hydrogen from other gases as a “watershed moment for energy.” Claire Johnson, the chief executive of Hydrogen Mobility Australia, an industry association, says the pioneering research could forever change the transport sector. “We see that as a really exciting opportunity to decarbonize the transport sector, but also position Australia as one of the lead suppliers of hydrogen around the world.  There is some competition to play that role, however.  Norway, Brunei and Saudi Arabia have all flagged that they wish to be an exporter of hydrogen around the world.” There are only a handful of hydrogen-powered cars in Australia, but there are tens of thousands across Japan, South Korea and Singapore.  The South Korean government has recently announced plans for 16,000 more hydrogen-fueled cars and 310 special refilling stations.    

Samsung's New Phone Shows How Hardware Innovation Has Slowed

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 00:40
Samsung's new smartphone illustrates the limits of innovation at time when hardware advances have slowed. The new phone, the Galaxy Note 9, will be faster and will last longer without a recharge. But while earth-shattering new features are in short supply, it will carry an earth-shattering price tag: $1,000. The minor improvements reflect a smartphone industry that has largely pushed the limits on hardware. Major changes tend to come every few years rather than annually, and this isn't the year for anything revolutionary in the Note. The new phone will get some automatic photo editing and a stylus that can serve as a remote control. But the highlights will be a bigger battery, a faster processor and improved cellular speeds. "You don't see massive breakthroughs anymore from a hardware perspective," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies. "Everything is a little bit better, but nothing's revolutionary." A 21 percent boost in battery capacity from last year's Note 8 should translate to more than a day of normal use without a recharge. Samsung has been conservative on battery improvements ever since its Note 7 phone in 2016 developed a tendency to burst into flame, prompting an expensive recall and delivering a hit to the company's reputation. Since then, Samsung has subjected its phones to multiple inspections, including X-rays and stress tests at extreme temperatures. The company is also sending phones to outside labs, including UL, for independent safety tests. "We're three generations removed now," Samsung's director of U.S. product marketing, Suzanne De Silva, said of the company's renewed confidence in the battery. "This is the right innovation at the right time." Although Samsung's Note phones are large, niche products intended for power users, they offer a preview of what's to come in the mass-market Galaxy S line. A dual-lens camera, with better zooming, came to the Note 8 months before the S9 Plus got it, for instance. The Note also got curved edges before that became standard on Samsung's flagship phones. The new phones will come out Aug. 24 in the U.S. Borrowing from the iPhone's playbook, the Note 9 will have the same price regardless of carrier. The starting price is $1,000, an increase from the Note 8, but on par with Apple's top-of-the-line iPhone X. The Note 9 will get double the storage, at 128 gigabytes, compared with typical high-end phones, including the iPhone X. Samsung will also sell a 512-gigabyte version for power users for $1,250. Even though the improvements from last year aren't huge, Technalysis Research analyst Bob O'Donnell said they will come across as major for those who haven't upgraded for a few years. Thursday's announcement in New York comes about a month before Apple is expected to unveil new iPhones. There's been speculation — unconfirmed by Apple — that all new iPhones will ditch the home button and fingerprint sensor and rely entirely on facial-recognition technology found in the iPhone X. The Note 9 will still have a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone. In a jab at Apple, Samsung executives also frequently emphasize that their phones have standard headphone jacks, which newer iPhones no longer do. The camera in the Note 9 will use artificial intelligence to detect what's in a scene — whether that's food, flowers or a sunset — to automatically tweak images to make them pop. It's much like applying filters with an app, except that the phone will do this itself, much the way Google's Pixel phones already do. As with the Pixel, the Note won't be saving a version without the tweaks. Purists can turn the feature off to get images that reflect what the eye sees — an option unavailable with Pixel. The camera will also offer a warning if someone blinked in a shot, or if the image is blurry. The Note's stylus will now have Bluetooth, allowing people to control phones and apps from up to 30 feet away. This will let people control music or snap selfies just by clicking the stylus. Samsung also said the popular shooter game "Fortnite" is coming to Android and will be exclusive to Samsung phones until Sunday.

Drones Can Help Farmers Grow Healthier and More Abundant Crops

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:30
Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, can become an important tool for farmers around the world within the next 10 years. Researchers at Texas A&M University in College Station are looking at different applications of precision farming with drone technology. VOA's Elizabeth Lee has the details.

Kids + Screen Time = Dry Eyes

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 16:59
Kids are addicted to cell phones, tablets ... anything with an electronic screen. The problem is, it’s bad for their eyes. With the popularity of video games and online activities, dry eye is becoming increasingly prevalent in children and teens glued to their screens. The condition can cause permanent eye damage. But, now there’s an app for that. Optometrist explains Professor James Wolffsohn is an optometrist at Aston University in Britain who has noticed something troubling. “What we’re beginning to see is now with the use particularly of screens, digital screens, tablets, smartphones that even children are reporting dry eyes,” he said. Tears contain oil, Wolffsohn explained, and your eyes should always have a thin layer of tears. “The tear film on the front of your eye is there all the time not just when you cry. It’s less than the tenth of the thickness of a human hair, but without it you probably wouldn’t see at all,” he said. That’s because, without tears, your eyes would dry up, likely get infected or scratched. With kids spending more and more time in front of a screen, many are at risk for developing dry eyes. “When you concentrate very hard on a task such as on a computer screen, you blink less, and also instead of fully blinking you partially blink and so what’s happening is damage is being done to the front of the eye,” Wolffsohn said. When tears aren’t being produced, they evaporate and leave behind their salty content, which can do further damage to your eyes. The app But now, there’s a smartphone app that can diagnose dry eyes. People tested it at a demonstration in London. The app asks some simple questions and tests how long you can comfortably stare at a screen without blinking. Wolffsohn notes the irony of using an app on the very device that is causing the problem. “We’re actually using the technology that potentially could cause problems, if you use a lot of it, to actually help us with the diagnosis,” he said. Doctors say even if you don’t have the app, you can protect your eyes by simply remembering to blink when you’re in front of a screen. And you should remind your kids to do the same.

Kids + Screen Time = Dry Eyes

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 13:25
If you've ever spent a lot of time in front of a computer, you've probably come away bleary eyed. That's because you don't blink as much when you are working on a computer, which could lead to dry eyes. With the popularity of video games and online activities, dry eye is becoming increasingly common in children and teens glued to their screens. The condition can cause permanent eye damage, but fortunately, as VOA's Carol Pearson reports, there's an app for that.

Tesla Board Evaluating CEO Musk's Idea to Go Private

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 00:52
Tesla Inc's board said it was evaluating taking the company private, a day after Chief Executive Elon Musk surprised shareholders with the idea of launching the biggest leveraged buyout of all time. In a statement on Tesla's website on Wednesday, six of Tesla's nine directors said the board had met several times over the last week to discuss such an idea and was "taking the appropriate next steps to evaluate this." Musk said on Twitter on Tuesday that he was considering taking the loss-making electric car-maker private at $420 a share, which would value a deal at more than $70 billion. He said funding was "secured," without elaborating. Tesla said on Wednesday the discussions had addressed the issue of how to fund such a deal, but gave no details. The statement did not address how the $420-per-share price was established. Several securities attorneys told Reuters that Musk could face investor lawsuits if it was proven he did not have secure financing at the time of his tweet. Public companies have four days to report certain material events that shareholders should know about to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Tesla's shares were down 2.1 percent at $371.70 on Wednesday after closing up 11 percent on Tuesday. Some Wall Street analysts were skeptical of Musk's ability to gather the huge financial backing to complete such a deal, given that Tesla loses money, has $10.9 billion of debt and its bonds are rated junk by credit ratings agencies. "Who gives $30 to $50 billion to buy back the shares?" asked NordLB analyst Frank Schwope. "And if you stay as a shareholder you get less information than before and you depend more and more on Elon Musk." The deal would be the biggest leveraged buyout of all time, beating the $45-billion record set by Texas power utility Energy Future Holdings. The most obvious equity partners for Musk would be a sovereign wealth fund such as Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which sources said on Tuesday had taken a stake of just below 5 percent in Tesla, or a major technology investment fund such as SoftBank Group Corp's Vision Fund, bankers said. China's Tencent Holdings Ltd, which took a 5-percent stake in Tesla last year, could also be a possible partner. Surprise move In a letter after his tweet on Tuesday, Musk fleshed out his idea, suggesting shareholders would get the option to sell their shares for $420 each or remain investors in a private Tesla, out of the glare of Wall Street and its need for positive quarterly results. He said that would allow Tesla to "operate at its best, free from as much distraction and short-term thinking as possible." Some on Wall Street shared that view. "They're being bombarded with questions that we don't think are as relevant to the long-term value of the company," said Sam Korus, an analyst for ARK Investment Management, which had 443,874 Tesla shares as of June 30. Korus said he would need more details from Musk to judge whether a buyout offer would be practical and at what price it would be attractive. Musk has been under intense pressure this year to turn his money-losing, debt-laden company into a profitable higher-volume manufacturer, a prospect that has sent Tesla's valuation higher than that of General Motors Co. The company is still working its way out of what Musk called "production hell" at its home factory in Fremont, California, where a series of manufacturing challenges delayed the ramp-up of production of its new Model 3 sedan, on which the company's profitability rests. Going private is one way to avoid close scrutiny by the public market as Musk and the company face those challenges. Musk has feuded publicly with regulators, critics, short sellers and reporters, and some analysts suggested that less transparency would be welcomed by Musk. The six board members who issued the statement on Wednesday included James Murdoch, chief executive of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc and Brad Buss, who was the chief financial officer of solar panel maker SolarCity until it was bought by Tesla in 2016. Other board members mentioned in the statement included Robyn Denholm, Ira Ehrenpreis, Antonio Gracias and Linda Johnson Rice. Tesla's other board members are Musk, his brother Kimbal Musk and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson.

Twitter Breaks With Tech Giants, Keeps Alt-Right InfoWars

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 23:39
After several social media outlets banned alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his show InfoWars earlier this week, Twitter announced it would be keeping Jones, sparking backlash from users. “We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote. Jones, who has become notorious for hosting The Alex Jones Show on InfoWars, has more than 860,000 followers on Twitter. On Monday, sites such as YouTube and Facebook banned Jones and his pages from their platforms, claiming that Jones’s videos violated the sites’ hate speech guidelines. Jones has repeatedly used language incendiary towards Muslim and transgender people, and in July he appeared to threaten to shoot U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating President Trump and his White House on possible ties to Russia. "[Mueller is] a demon I will take down, or I'll die trying," Jones said on a July broadcast, miming a gun-firing motion with his hands. "You're going to get it, or I'm going to die trying, bitch." In the past, Jones has baselessly alleged the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Connecticut were hoaxes perpetrated by the U.S. government. Several parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting are suing Jones for defamation. In a court document, the parents of one of the slain children claimed Jones broadcast his personal information on his show. At the time of its removal, Jones’s YouTube channel had more than 2.4 million subscribers, with 1.5 billion views across all of its videos. Twitter’s hateful conduct guidelines bar “wishes for the physical harm, death, or disease of individuals or groups” as well as “behavior that incites fear about a protected group.” “We do not tolerate behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another person’s voice,” the site’s guidelines say. While Dorsey acknowledged in a Tweet that accounts such as InfoWars can “sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” he also wrote that it “serves the public conversation best” for “journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly.” Several journalists pushed back against Dorsey’s request. “I am not getting paid to clean up your website for you,” wrote Matt Pearce, a journalist for The Los Angeles Times, in a response to Dorsey’s Tweet. Twitter has banned significant alt-right personalities in the past. In 2016, alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who has ties to white nationalist groups, was permanently banned from the site after instigating racist and sexist harassment against American actress Leslie Jones, who is black. And in 2017, Twitter suspended the account of James Allsup, a white nationalist who spoke at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier that year. “We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term,” Dorsey wrote Tuesday.

Can a Robot Know When It’s Wrong?

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 06:26
Today’s robots can be programmed to do many things – from vacuuming floors to assembling cars. But teaching them to recognize and correct a mistake is much harder to do. A group of scientists, led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, is trying to solve that problem. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Tesla CEO Drops Latest Bombshell With $72B Buyout Proposal

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 04:40
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is considering leading a buyout of the electric car maker in a stunning move that would end the maverick company's eight-year history trading on the stock market. In his typically unorthodox fashion, the eccentric Musk dropped his bombshell on his Twitter account, which he has used as a platform for pranks, vitriol and now for a proposal to pull off one of the biggest buyouts in U.S. history. Musk got the ball rolling Tuesday after the stock market had already been open more than three hours with a tweet announcing he might buy all of Tesla's stock at $420 per share with no further details. At that price, the buyout would cost nearly $72 billion, based on Tesla's outstanding stock as of July 27, but it's unlikely the deal would cost that much because Musk owns a roughly 20 percent stake in the Palo Alto, California, company. He also said he intends to give Tesla's existing shareholders the option of retaining a stake in the company through a special fund, if they want. "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured," Musk wrote in his first tweet, following up with "good morning" and a smiley emoji. His tweet came hours after the Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund had built a significant stake in Tesla Inc., but it was unclear if that was the funding Musk was referring to. The Financial Times, citing unnamed people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund had built a stake of between 3 and 5 percent of Telsa's shares. Musk's announcement was initially met with widespread skepticism, with many people connecting the proposed $420-per-share offer with 420 being a common slang term for marijuana. Musk also previously used his Twitter account to joke that Tesla was going bankrupt in an April Fool's Day tweet and his stability was called into question last month after he called a British diver who helped rescue children from a Thailand cave a pedophile. That baseless tweet was quickly deleted and Musk apologized to the diver. The confusion caused by Musk's Tuesday announcement via Twitter also prompted regulators of the Nasdaq stock market to temporarily suspend trading in Tesla's stock. Musk later brought some clarity to the situation in an email to Tesla employees that was also posted on Tesla's blog. Trading in Tesla's stock resumed shortly after, and the stock climbed 11 percent to $379.57. Musk's offer is 9 percent higher than Tesla's peak closing price of $385 reached nearly a year ago. By taking Tesla private, Musk believes that the company will be able to sharpen its long-term focus of revolutionizing an automobile industry dominated by fuel-combustion vehicles without having to cater to investors' fixation on how the business is faring from one quarter to the next. Making money has proven elusive for Tesla while it has been investing in electric car technology and ramping up production of its vehicle, including a sedan with a starting price of $35,000 to appeal to a broader audience. The company has only posted a quarterly profit twice in its history and has never made money during an entire calendar year, something that Musk has been trying to change by cutting costs, including recent mass layoffs that trimmed Tesla's workforce by 9 percent. Tesla lost another $717.5 million in its most recent quarter. Despite its challenges, Tesla has remained a favorite among many investors, partly because of their faith in Musk, who made his initial fortune as a co-founder of PayPal and also is the CEO of a trail-blazing aerospace company, SpaceX, that's already private. But another substantial segment of investors are convinced Tesla is doomed to fail and are betting on the company's eventual demise by becoming "short sellers" of its stock. Short sellers borrow shares from other investors and then immediately sell them on the premise that they will be able to buy them back at a lower price later to replace they stock they borrowed. Musk has long raged against short sellers and mentioned his desire to be rid of them as one of his reasons for taking Tesla private. "Being public means that there are large numbers of people who have the incentive to attack the company," he wrote.

Pages