VOA Science & Tech
Updated: 57 min 8 sec ago
The U.S. Justice Department is preparing an investigation of Alphabet Inc.’s Google to determine whether the tech giant broke antitrust law in operating its sprawling online businesses, two sources familiar with the matter said. Officials from the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission, which both enforce antitrust law, met in recent weeks to give Justice jurisdiction over Google, said the sources, who sought anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. The potential investigation represents the latest attack on a tech company by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has accused social media companies and Google of suppressing conservative voices on their platforms online. One source said the potential investigation, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, focused on accusations that Google gave preference to its own businesses in searches. A spokesman for the Justice Department said he could not confirm or deny that an investigation was being considered. Google declined comment. FTC investigation Early in 2013, the FTC closed a long-running investigation of Google, giving it a slap on the wrist. Under FTC pressure, Google agreed to end the practice of “scraping” reviews and other data from rivals’ websites for its own products, and to let advertisers export data to independently assess campaigns. Google’s search, YouTube, reviews, maps and other businesses, which are largely free to consumers but financed through advertising, have catapulted it from a startup to one of the world’s richest companies in just two decades. Along the way, it has made enemies in both the tech world, who have complained to law enforcers about its market dominance, and in Washington, where lawmakers have complained about issues from its alleged political bias to its plans for China. Some welcome news TripAdvisor chief executive and co-founder Stephen Kaufer welcomed news that Google could face Justice Department antitrust scrutiny. “TripAdvisor remains concerned about Google’s practices in the United States, the EU and throughout the world,” Kaufer said in a statement. “For the good of consumers and competition on the internet, we welcome any renewed interest by U.S. regulators into Google’s anticompetitive behavior.” Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has pushed for action to break up Google, as well as other big tech companies. Senator Kamala Harris, who is also running for president on the Democratic ticket, has agreed. “This is very big news, and overdue,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican Google critic, said Twitter, regarding the investigation. Google has faced a plethora of overseas probes. Europe’s competition authority, for one, hit Google with a 2.4-billion-euro ($2.7-billion) EU fine two years ago for unfairly promoting its own comparison shopping service. Google has since offered to allow competitors to bid for advertising space at the top of a search page, giving them the chance to compete on equal terms.
Children who either played or watched a video game that included gun violence were more likely afterward to handle a gun and pull the trigger, a new study finds. More than 200 children were randomly assigned to play either a non-violent video game or a game with firearm violence. Soon after, more than 60% of kids who played the violent game touched a gun, compared to about 44% of those who played a non-violent game, researchers report in JAMA Network Open. The lessons from the new findings are that: "gun owners should secure their guns," and "parents should protect their children from violent media, including video games," said study coauthor Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University. "Each day in the United States, nearly 50 children and teenagers are shot with a firearm, often as a result of a child finding one loaded and unsecured," Bushman and his coauthor Justin Chang, a former graduate student at Ohio State, wrote. "Among firearm-owning households with children, approximately 20% keep at least one firearm loaded and unsecured." Bushman and Chang recruited 242 kids, ages 8 to 12, to look at the impact of violent video games. The children were partnered up and then randomly assigned to one of three groups: a version of Minecraft that included violence with guns, a version that included violence with swords and a non-violent version. No matter which game a pair of children was assigned to, one would play the game and the other would watch. After playing the games for 20 minutes, the children were moved to another room that contained toys for them to play with as well as two disabled guns with trigger counters that had been tucked away in a cabinet. Out of the 242 children recruited, 220 eventually found the guns and those kids were included in the study. Among the 76 children who played video games that included guns, 61.8% handled the weapon, as compared 56.8% of the 74 who played a game including sword violence and 44.3% of the 70 who played a non-violent game. Children who played violent video games were also more likely to pull the trigger, researchers found. How many times children pulled the trigger depended on the video game they watched. It was a median of "10.1 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with guns, 3.6 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with swords and 3.0 times if they played the version of Minecraft without weapons and monsters," Bushman said in an email. "The more important outcome, though, is pulling the trigger of a gun while pointing that gun at oneself or one's partner [children were tested in pairs]," Bushman said. There, the median was 3.4 times for the game with gun violence, 1.5 times for the game with swords and 0.2 times for non-violent games. The new study "is the most rigorous design that can be conducted," said Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. While "it's important to recognize certain types of entertainment can be violent, when it comes to firearms, the solution is to store guns safely so that children can't gain access," Crifasi said. "That doesn't mean children won't engage in other violent play. But we can cut off guns as a source of potential harm." Dr. Shari Platt agreed that the best way to protect kids is proper gun storage. "The study is interesting and I think they are touching on some very real fears parents have around graphically violent video games," said Platt, chief of pediatric medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine. But in the end, "education and prevention are always the answers." SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2EHXw4w and http://bit.ly/2EJslpC JAMA Network Open, online May 31, 2019.
British mobile phone operator EE on Thursday became the first in the country to launch a high-speed 5G service, but without smartphones from controversial Chinese technology giant Huawei. EE, which is a division of British telecoms giant BT, has launched 5G in six major cities comprising Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester — and more hubs will follow. "From today, the UK will be able to discover 5G for the first time thanks to EE," it announced in a statement, after an official launch featuring a performance from chart-topping grime act Stormzy on a boat on London's River Thames. Next-generation 5G mobile networks offer almost instantaneous data transfer that will become the nervous system of Europe's economy in strategic sectors like energy, transport, banking and health care. EE had announced last week that it would make its 5G network available to the public — but would not sell Huawei's first 5G phone, the Mate 20 X 5G. However, the Chinese company still provides 5G network infrastructure equipment to EE. "We are very pleased to be one of the partners supporting EE with a new era of faster and more reliable mobile connectivity over 5G in the UK," a Huawei spokesperson told AFP on Thursday. Rival British mobile phone giant Vodafone will launch its own 5G services on July 3 in seven UK cities — but it has also paused the sale of the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G smartphone. Vodafone does not use Huawei in its core UK network but uses a mixture of Ericsson and Huawei technology in its radio access network or masts, according to a company spokesman. He added that there are "multiple" layers of security between the masts and the core network. Huawei faces pushback in some Western markets over fears that Beijing could spy on communications and gain access to critical infrastructure if allowed to develop foreign 5G networks. The Chinese company flatly denies what it describes as "unsubstantiated claims" about being a security threat. US internet titan Google has meanwhile started to cut ties between its Android operating system and Huawei, a move that affects hundreds of millions of smartphone users, after the U.S. government announced what amounts to a ban on selling or transferring technology to the company. Earlier this week, Huawei asked a U.S. court to throw out US legislation that bars federal agencies from buying its products. The U.S. moves against Huawei come as the Washington and Beijing are embroiled in a wider trade war.
When a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — one altered to show the Democratic leader slurring her words — began making the rounds on Facebook last week, the social network didn't take it down. Instead, it "downranked" the video, a behind-the-scenes move intended to limit its spread. That outraged some people who believe Facebook should do more to clamp down on misinformation. Pelosi derided Facebook Wednesday for not taking down the video even though it knows it is false. But the company and some civil libertarians warn that Facebook could evolve into an unaccountable censor if it's forced to make judgment calls on the veracity of text, photos or videos. Facebook has long resisted making declarations about the truthfulness of posts that could open it up to charges of censorship or political bias. It manages to get itself in enough trouble simply trying to enforce more basic rules in difficult cases, such as the time a straightforward application of its ban on nudity led it to remove an iconic Vietnam War photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack. (It backed down after criticism from the prime minister of Norway, among others.) But staying out of the line of fire is harder than it used to be, given Facebook's size, reach and impact on global society. The social network can't help but run into controversy given its 2.4 billion users and the sorts of decisions it must make daily — everything from which posts and links it highlights in your news feed to deciding what counts as hate speech to banning controversial figures or leaving them be. Facebook has another incentive to keep its head down. The deeper it gets into editorial decisions, the more it looks like a publisher, which could tempt legislators to limit the liability shield it currently enjoys under federal law. In addition, making judgments about truth and falsity could quickly become one of the world's biggest headaches. For instance, Republican politicians and other conservatives, from President Donald Trump to Fox News personalities, have been trumpeting the charge that Facebook is biased against conservatives. That's a "false narrative," said Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. But as a result, he said, "any effort to clean up Facebook now would spark tremendous fury." Twitter hasn't removed the doctored Pelosi video, either, and declined comment on its handling of it. But YouTube yanked it down, pointing to community guidelines that prohibit spam, deceptive practices and scams. Facebook has a similar policy that prohibits the use of "misleading and inaccurate" information to gain likes, followers or shares, although it apparently decided not to apply it in this case. None of these companies explicitly prohibit false news, although Facebook notes that it "significantly" reduces the distribution of such posts by pushing them lower in user news feeds. The problem is that such downranking doesn't quite work, Vaidhyanathan said. As of Wednesday, the video shared on Facebook by the group Politics Watchdog had been viewed nearly 3 million times and shared more than 48,000 times. By contrast, other videos posted by this group in the past haven't had more than a few thousand views apiece. Further complicating matters is the fact that Facebook is starting to de-emphasize the news feed itself. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has outlined a broad strategy that will emphasize private messaging over public sharing on Facebook. And Facebook groups, many of which are private, aren't subject to downranking, Vaidhyanathan said. Facebook didn't respond to emailed questions about its policies and whether it is considering changes that would allow it to remove similar videos in the future. In an interview last week with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Facebook's head of global policy, Monika Bickert, defended the company's decision , noting that users are "being told" that the video is false when they view or share it. That might be a stretch. When an Associated Press reporter attempted to share the video as a test, a Facebook pop-up noted the existence of "additional reporting" on the video with links to fact-check articles, but didn't directly describe the video as false or misleading. Alex Stamos, Facebook's former security chief, tweeted Sunday that few critics of the social network's handling of the Pelosi video could articulate realistic enforcement standards beyond "take down stuff I don't like." Mass censorship of misleading speech on Facebook, he wrote, would be "a huge and dangerous increase in FB's editorial power." Last year, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook that the company focuses on downranking so-called "borderline content," stuff that doesn't violate its rules but is provocative, sensationalist, "click-bait or misinformation." While it's true that Facebook could just change its rules around what is allowed — moving the line on acceptable material — Zuckerberg said this doesn't address the underlying problem of incentive. If the line of what is allowed moves, those creating material would just push closer to that new line. Facebook continuously grapples with the right way to deal with new forms of misinformation, Nathaniel Gleicher, the company's head of cybersecurity policy, said in a February interview with the AP. The problem is far more complex than carefully manipulated "deepfake" videos that show people doing things they never did, or even crudely doctored videos such as the Pelosi clip. Any consistent policy, Gleicher said, would have to account for edited images, ones presented out of context (such as a decade-old photo presented as current), doctored audio and more. He said it's a huge challenge to accurately identify such items and decide what type of disclosure to require when they're edited.
Electric vehicles have struggled to gain mass appeal in much of the world despite the fanfare surrounding Tesla Motors, the world’s best-selling brand of plug-in cars last year. Drivers worry about prices, comfort and what happens when a battery expires in the middle of a trip. But in Taiwan, scooter vendor Gogoro doubles its sales every year largely because of a widespread battery exchange network supported by a central government that's keen to control emissions. Gogoro designs what it describes as ride-able scooters as well as engines for other brands, filling what the chief executive officer calls earlier market voids. “People say we’re the two wheels of Tesla, and in some ways, we are,” CEO and co-founder Horace Luke said. “We do a little bit of everything.” The company, which launched in 2011, first had to prove that it could all be done. “Nobody could believe that an electric vehicle could be cool and fun to ride, so we built that,” said Horace Luke, founder of Gogoro. “Nobody believed that you could swap batteries, so we enabled that.” Battery swaps Gogoro stands out among other electric scooter developers by working with Taiwan’s central government plus the city of Taipei to locate and pay for 1,300 battery swap stations. Those alleviate rider fears of running out of juice in mid-trip, a barrier to development of the world’s $17.43 billion electric vehicle industry. Battery swap sites are placed every 500 meters in urban Taiwan, usually in obvious roadside locations. They turn up every two to five kilometers in other parts of the island. The central government pays half the cost of building the swap stations and offers publicly accessible land, Luke said. The government’s National Development Fund invested venture capital in Gogoro in 2014. “You should have seen how hard it was for first 50 stations; it was almost impossible,” recalled Luke, 49, a Seattle native and former software designer who moved to Taiwan for the engineering talent and supply chain. He co-founded Gogoro in 2011. “And our consumers are the ones voicing out. They go to the government and say ‘I want this here’,” he said. Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and hacking them by 20 by 2030. For the government now, Luke added, “it’s a win-win situation for them to adopt electric.” Gogoro’s stations do 90,000 swaps per day. Those transactions give Gogoro the data it needs to know where it should resupply batteries. Worldwide, just “a handful” of countries have “significant market share” of electric cars, the independent, intergovernmental International Energy Agency says. Norway led in 2017 with 39 percent of new sales in 2017, followed by Iceland at 11.7 percent and Sweden at 6.3 percent. Taiwanese still want to know more about their next battery, said Paul Hsu, co-founder of Okgo.life, a fellow Taiwanese electric scooter brand with an app that lists types and prices of batteries at the swap sites on its roster. “Every rider has a plan for every trip. The riders know where they’re going but not how much money it will take to get there,” Hsu said. For example, he said, “a short trip should have a short-distance vehicle and a short-distance price.” ‘Fun to ride’ Gogoro has raised its sales as well by designing scooter models attractive to men who like bigger motorcycles along as well as vehicles aimed at female riders. Sales doubled last year and they’re on track to double again this year, Luke said. Total sales are about 160,000, or 16 percent of the total Taiwan scooter fleet. Tesla, by comparison, sold about 532,000 cars worldwide from 2012 to 2018. Taiwanese adapted especially fast because of the earlier prevalence of gas-powered scooters. Riders were comfortable with the idea of scooters in general – just not the noise and pollution they kick up. Tsai Cheng-yang, 36, an urban designer of the southern Taiwan city Tainan, has five electric scooters in his household. Compared to gas-powered scooters, he said, electric ones a quieter, give off less heat and lack the stench of fuel, he said. Operation costs are about the same, he said. “If all vehicles were an electric powered, you’d feel it was quite peaceful, with no odors either, quite happy and a different experience,” Tsai said. Gogoro plans to overcome competitors such as Yamaha and Aeon by selling motors to them, giving it a cross-brand presence, Luke said. “The idea is to create a platform allowing others to create their own vehicles,” he said.
MacKenzie Bezos, who just months ago divorced the world's richest man, has pledged to give away half her fortune to charity. The former wife of Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos is one of the 19 new signatories to the Giving Pledge who have promised to donate more than 50% of their wealth, the organization said. "I have a disproportionate amount of money to share,'' MacKenzie Bezos said in a letter released Tuesday. "My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won't wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty." Bezos' personal fortune is worth nearly $37 billion, making her the 22nd-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The Giving Pledge was created by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010. It asks the world's wealthiest people to promise to give away half their wealth during their lifetimes or in their wills. Bezos' former husband, who is worth an estimated $114 billion, has not yet signed the pledge but tweeted his support for his ex-wife's decision. "MacKenzie is going to be amazing and thoughtful and effective at philanthropy, and I'm proud of her," he said on Twitter. Other billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge include Elon Musk, oil baron T. Boone Pickens, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and his wife, Tegan.
Whether you live in a city of somewhere more rural, there are always things in the air, invisible to the naked eye that could make you sneeze or cause major illness. Detecting these microscopic materials such as pollen, mold and pollutants could be time consuming and costly. A lab at the University of California, Los Angeles is trying to solve that problem by developing a handheld allergen detector for consumers. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.
Facebook has dropped 51 accounts, 36 pages, and seven groups after the cybersecurity firm FireEye revealed they were fake accounts originating in Iran. Three Instagram accounts were also deactivated. The FireEye report Tuesday says the phony accounts pretended they came from the United States and impersonated legitimate Middle Eastern news sources to push a pro-Iranian agenda. Posts written in both English and Arabic included discussions about American and British politics, Islam, Arab minorities, and the influence of Saudi Arabia. The posts represented both conservative and liberal points of view. One post said the best way to honor the memory of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was for the U.S. to stop sending aid to the Saudi coalition fighting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. The fake posters even succeeded in getting letters to the editors published in a number of U.S. newspapers, includingThe Los Angeles Times and The New York Daily News. The author of the FireEye report, Lee Foster, was careful not to directly blame the Iranian government for the illegitimate accounts, saying the investigation is continuing. Facebook says it is also investigating and is sharing information with law enforcement. "We're constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," Facebook said. It added it canceled the suspect accounts for their behavior, and not because of content.
Artificial intelligence-driven phones that turn photos into 3D images and PCs with interactive speakers will come a step closer to reality this week during Asia’s biggest consumer technology show. Organizers of the Computex Taipei show with 1,685 exhibitors -- including a who’s who of global high tech companies -- call artificial intelligence one of their top 2019 themes. Microchip developers Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm are expected to talk up their latest gear during the four-day show that opens Tuesday. Memory chip maker Micron Technology says it will exhibit a “broad portfolio of memory and storage” for artificial intelligence. “My personal expectations toward AI this year are quite high,” said Helen Chiang, general manager of market research firm IDC in Taipei. “Whether from the perspective of the information systems or the technology, I’ve got some anticipation for these device-plus things.” Artificial intelligence -- AI for short -- lets computers make human-like decisions based on data collected from hardware. Classic examples available to common users now include speech recognition, e-mail spam filters and personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa. Apps, speakers and 3D images Almost all the world’s chief hardware and software developers say they are researching what they else can do with AI. That push promises more functions that will be built into PC operating systems and mobile phone apps. Forrester Research, a leading industry advisory firm, predicts that artificial intelligence will reach a market value of $1.2 trillion per year by 2020 as investment triples from 2018. Consumers should expect in the short term to find AI-assisted matchmaking apps, more chatbots used by financial services companies to talk with customers, and new tools for processing financial data, said Jamie Lin, founding partner of AppWorks Ventures, a startup accelerator in Taipei. One app designer is working with a Taiwanese smartphone company on AI technology that would turn camera images into 3D scenes, Lin said. “Pretty soon you’re going to see phone device ODMs (developers) coming to the market where phones that are able to capture 3D images are loaded with software to help you turn that 3D image into content that can be used for different formats, for example games or 3D playbacks of sceneries,” he said. Among AI-enabled hardware, “smart” speakers are especially likely to reach mass markets next year, Lin added. Consumers will be able to ask them questions such as the day’s weather forecast or the latest NBA scores, he expects. Speakers already make up the highest growth category among “smart home devices” because of their “easy” voice interface, Forrester said in a May 21 report. The rapid expansion of AI consumer products may not last. The market research firm Gartner forecasts that growth in the business value of artificial intelligence will slow through 2025 from a peak of 70 percent to just 7 percent as companies end up seeking “niche solutions that address one need very well.” But the show host Taiwan is forecasting a boom for now. Premier Su Tseng-chang said in mid-May the government would help train 10,000 people every year to work in AI research and development. Taiwan, a global tech hardware hub since the 1980s, already has enough engineering knowhow to draw big-name Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Microsoft to open local R&D centers. Computex 2019 Among the Computex exhibitors, Microsoft will show AI-enabled software and applications, said Mark Linton, general manager for Microsoft’s partner-devices unit. AI features included in its Office 365 software already direct the PowerPoint program to make downloaded images “gel” into its presentations, he said. “There’s no doubt that AI is a transformative area of the technology industry, and over time it will prove to be a major investment area for Microsoft and I think the industry as a whole,” Linton said. “And really the benefits that we’re looking to get there is to make systems and applications smarter, more intuitive.” A lot of AI-linked gear is expected to surface this year at the show's InnoVEX segment. This zone for startups grew last year to 388 exhibitors, and 456 have registered for the event this week. Gartner anticipates that startup firms working with AI will overtake Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM this year in “driving the artificial intelligence economy” for businesses. The Taipei show, now in its 38th year, expects to draw 5,508 exhibition booths, up nearly 10 percent over 2018. The number of exhibitors should rise 5%, the organizer said in a pre-show statement.
San Francisco, California recently became the first U.S. city to ban police and other city agencies from using facial recognition technology. The city is not alone. More people are growing wary of the powerful tech, at the same time that others are embracing it. Deana Mitchell reports.
When a natural disaster strikes, some of first pieces of infrastructure to go down are communication networks. And for first responders, that could lead to chaos and in some cases even lives lost. But a group of entrepreneurs, with some help from IBM, has created what they think is a solution to the problem. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.
The Circus Maximus Experience, opened in Rome this week and offers visitors the chance to relive the ancient splendors of chariot racing in the Imperial period of Rome through augmented and virtual reality. The innovative project implements interactive display technologies never before used in such a large outdoor area. "Now you find yourself in front of the Arch of Titus, which was possibly built in the place of a more ancient arch and dedicated in the year 81 After Christ by the Roman Senate and people to Emperor Flavius". This is just an example of what modern-day visitors will be listening to in their headsets, while at the same time through special visors see a virtual rendering of the majestic 20-meter Arch of Titus in Rome's Circus Maximus. Thanks to a ground-breaking project using interactive display technology never before used in such an extended outdoor area, visitors are able to re-live the life in one of Rome's undisputed landmarks. Visitors immerse themselves in history for with overlapping images from the past and those of the reality of today. They are able to visualize architectural and landscape reconstructions of what life was like during all of the historical stages of the Circus Maximus. They can see the ancient Murcia Valley enriched with buildings and walk around in the Circus among the shops of the time. They can visualize the Circus during Imperial times, the Middle Ages and in a more modern age. The full itinerary involves eight stops including: the valley and the origins of the Circus, the Circus from Julius Caesar to Trajan, the Circus during the Imperial age, the cavea or tiered seating arena, the Arch of Titus, the tabernae or shops, the Circus during the Middle Ages and modern age, and lastly "A Day at the Circus" for an experience of the exciting chariot race of the quadrigas with the screams of incitement of the public and the overturning of wagons. Visitors are able to enjoy similar experiences in Rome at the Baths of Caracalla, the Ara Pacis and the Domus Aurea.
A water-proof drone is being used by Australian scientists to collect the highly-treasured nasal mucus of migrating whales. The snot is rich with fresh DNA, viruses and bacteria, and is collected by a drone that hovers over the blowholes of humpback whales as they embark on their epic annual journey along Australia's east coast. Whales, like all mammals need air, and come to the surface to breathe through a blowhole. Vanessa Pirotta, a marine biologist at Macquarie University, says that nasal mucus indicates the health of the whale. “It is the juicy biological mixture that you see as a whale takes a breath as they surface from the water," she said. "You often see that plume and it sounds like this like [sounds of sharp breaths] as a whale breathes because, after all, they are mammals like you and I and they have two nostrils, and it is the humpback whale that I am talking about. So as they take a breath it is a lot of lung bacteria coming out from their lungs, which we can collect to provide a snapshot of whale health.” Australian researchers have attached a petri dish that is used in scientific tests to a drone which flies through the whale’s nasal mist. “As a whale comes to take a breath — you can actually see it coming to the surface on really good weather days that is — the drone then lowers, the petri dish is then opened and the drone is flown through the densest part of the whale snot, collecting the sample in the petri dish. Now once this happens the lid is shut and the drone is flown back to the research vessel and we collect the sample to later process it in the laboratory,” said Pirotta. The research could help to solve one of the mysteries of another magnificent creature of the deep — the Southern right whale. Its numbers have recovered on Australia’s west coast since hunting was outlawed but its population on the eastern seaboard remains stubbornly low. In the past studies into whale health had to rely on examining whales that were either killed or those whales that had been stranded on a beach. Drones allow scientists to collect samples from free-swimming whales to gather information in a safe and non-invasive way.
In a building a few miles from Google and Facebook’s plush campuses is the Pentagon’s sparse outpost in Silicon Valley. Here, military personnel and civilians look for commercial technology that can help the armed services solve problems they face in the field. That could be working with a local commercial rocket company to deploy satellites faster. Or finding an up-and-coming firm that has created a novel communication system that works in some of the harshest conditions. Defense Innovation Unit Founded four years ago, the Defense Innovation Unit has a sense of urgency now more than ever, says its director, Michael Brown, formerly chief executive of Symantec, the cyber security firm, and of Quantum, a computer storage firm. Because of the new so-called Tech Cold War, tensions are surging between the U.S. and China over emergent technologies, such as 5G mobile phone networks, artificial intelligence and autonomous driving. “The Defense Innovation Unit’s mission has never been more critical, given the tech race that we’re in with China, than it is today,” Brown said. Chinese investors and companies also are here, for many of the same reasons — to find the breakthroughs that will help their nascent and growing tech industry. But they’re presence is under increasing scrutiny, fueled by a concern that Chinese investors and companies are part of a system of transferring technology out of the U.S. and into the hands of an adversary, the Chinese government. Raising alarms Brown is the co-author of a report that shed light on the growing presence of Chinese firms and investors in Silicon Valley and raised alarms over whether the U.S. was in danger of losing key technology to the Chinese. The U.S. government has expanded its restrictions on Chinese companies buying firms deemed to hold key technology. And Chinese investors are finding it harder to be part of funding rounds of U.S. startups. “Investors have become much more sensitive to the issue,” said Rebecca Fannin, author of “Tech Titans of China.” “They’re more cautious about investing.” Mixed reception Some in the tech industry are skeptical of working for either the Pentagon or Chinese companies and the Chinese government. Employees at Google this year pushed back on projects involving both. Brown’s job is two-fold. With his deep ties in the tech industry, he helps find technology that might help the military. He is also an ambassador of sorts for the Pentagon in Silicon Valley, building a bridge to tech firms large and small. “For areas like artificial intelligence or cyber, we need those companies more than they need us,” he said. “But when we’re talking about smaller companies that are trying to get off the ground, get to their first $100 million in revenue, they’re interested in large customers. So, we have found no reluctance at all, in fact, enthusiastic response that they participate in our solicitations.” American tech companies have long argued for the same access to China’s market that Chinese companies have here, for a “level playing field.” That hasn’t happened yet, but some are skeptical that disengaging from the Chinese economy is the right approach. Vigilance, engagement At a recent event by the Asia Society Northern California, investors, former tech executives and intellectual property experts discussed the conflict with China. Engagement with China has worked, argued Andy Rothman, an investment strategist at Matthews Asia, an investment firm, even if there is still a lot China hasn’t done that it said it would do.“The level of personal freedom that the Chinese people have today is dramatically better than it was 30 or 40 years ago and part of that is due to engagement with the rest of the world,” Rothman said. For Brown, the issue isn’t how far China has come. It’s about the U.S. maintaining its technology edge and getting tech firms to think twice about working with the Chinese, even though the country represents a huge, largely untapped market. “We do not share the same values as the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. “We need to be aware of that as we’re looking to make the next dollar. There’s other things at stake.” However the trade war is settled, the ongoing tensions over whether there will be one or two tech super powers likely will remain.
Silicon Valley has long been a power center of American innovation. Now that high-tech is also becoming a focus of tensions between the U.S. and China, companies based here are trying to understand how they fit in. VOA's Michelle Quinn speaks with the head of the U.S. Defense Department's local outpost who sees the tech industry as key to U.S. national security.
British and Japanese mobile phone companies said Wednesday they're putting on hold plans to sell new devices from Huawei, in the latest fallout from U.S. tech restrictions aimed at the Chinese company. Britain's EE and Vodafone and Japan's KDDI and Y! Mobile said they are pausing the launch of Huawei smartphones, including some that can be used on next generation mobile networks, amid uncertainty about devices from the world's No. 2 smartphone maker. The U.S. government last week restricted technology sales to Chinese telecom gear suppliers because of alleged security risks, though telecom carriers got a 90-day grace period to let them find other suppliers. The sales ban is part of a broader trade war between Washington and Beijing. British mobile chip designer Arm said separately it was complying with the U.S. rules, after the BBC reported it was suspending business with Huawei — a move that could hobble the Chinese tech company's ability to produce chips for new devices. Vodafone said in a statement that it's “pausing pre-orders” for the Mate 20X, Huawei's first phone for 5G networks, as “a temporary measure while uncertainty exists regarding new Huawei 5G devices.” EE CEO Marc Allera said sales would not resume until it gets “the information and confidence and the long-term security” that customers will be supported over the device's lifetime. The company was also set to sell the Mate 20X followed by Huawei's Mate X folding handset. EE said it's working with Huawei and Google, which makes the Android mobile operating systems to make sure it “can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance.” The Trump administration's order last week cuts Huawei's access to American chips and Google, which makes the Android operating system and services for its smartphones. Y! Mobile, owned by Japanese technology company Softbank, said sales of the Huawei P30 lite, set for May 24, have been delayed, and advance orders were canceled. SoftBank spokesman Hiroyuki Mizukami said the company wants its “customers to feel safe using our products.” KDDI also indefinitely delayed its sales, initially set for late May. It's unclear when, or if, the companies will lift the sales freezes. British carriers plan this year to roll out 5G services while Japan will follow in 2020. Fifth generation mobile networks will enable superfast downloads and pave the way for new innovations like connected cars and remote medicine. Arm, which is also owned by Softbank and designs mobile microprocessors that power most of the world's smartphones and tablets, said it “is complying with all of the latest regulations set forth by the U.S. government.” The company told employees to halt all business deals with Huawei, the BBC reported, citing a company memo that said its designs contained “U.S. origin technology.” In response to the report on Arm, Huawei said it recognizes that some of its partners are under pressure as a result of “politically motivated decisions” but that it's “confident this regrettable situation can be resolved.”
A new personal home robot follows you around your home, navigating past obstacles, so you can multitask while staying connected. Deana Mitchell takes a tour.
Information technologies are changing the lives of many Cameroonian farmers who previously were dependent on brokers who charged fees to serve as middlemen to purchasers. Now they can use the Internet to find customers more easily and increase their income. Farmer Loic Domguia sells almost all of his produce online and through phone apps. He's been using the internet for the last year and say it's improved his income. Domguia says before now, they waited to produce before looking for buyers, but through the platform they can work, knowing that they have a precise customer who has already placed the order. He says it reduces the stress on the producer who no longer waits to look for clients. He says they sleep well knowing they already have orders. Domguia uses a local platform that links producers and buyers, allowing producers to sell directly to the customer without brokers who work as intermediaries. The App even makes it possible for the farmers to receive advanced payments. The application is called Jangolo Farmers. Designers Rose Ngameni says it helps farmers to sell before harvest. There is also a difference regarding the price when you buy a product on Jangolo Farmer says Ngameni. Since the number of intermediaries is considerably reduced, the buyer gains by buying a product at a lower price and the farmer has a higher profit margin by selling through our application, she says. Cameroon national institute of statistics reports that 25% of the population is connected daily to the internet and users are more often buying agri-food products online. Pierre Freddy Ngoudi, Jangolo Farmer User says he is one of those who is benefiting from the electronic trade. Ngoudi says he makes orders to buy chickens online just because he does not have enough time as he works at a gym from morning till night. Ngoudi says he chooses to place an order online so that it can be delivered at his job site. Cyprain Tankeu, electronic trade specialist says it's a good initiative to develop agri-food online sales platforms, but much remains to be done. Tankeu says if a company does not own stores, it would be difficult for buyers to evaluate the product they are buying. Tankeu says there should be a space where one can evaluate the product before paying as the lack of a store is an obstacle to the development of this type of e-commerce. The African Development Bank estimates there are more than a billion mobile phone subscribers in Africa, making the market bigger than either the European Union or the United States.
Information technologies are changing the lives of many Cameroonian farmers, who previously were dependent on brokers, who charged fees to serve as middlemen to purchasers. Now they can use the Internet to find customers more easily and increase their income. Moki Edwin Kindzeka narrates this report by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu from Douala in Cameroon.
Extreme weather and rising sea levels are putting pressure on the natural world and on the infrastructure we have put in place to manage waste water. Rebuilding aging infrastructure is expensive so National Science Foundation research is teaching old infrastructure new tricks to handle new problems. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.