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How Do Workers Compete With Machines In the Near Future?

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 19:00
Many of today's jobs did not exist 10 years ago. And a decade from now, technology will likely replace some jobs we do today. What can workers do when machines become a prominent part of almost every industry? VOA's Elizabeth Lee finds out from a technical college in Los Angeles.

Global Tech Show to Celebrate Innovation Amid Mounting Concerns

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 09:28
Amid trade wars, geopolitical tensions and a decline in public trust, the technology sector is seeking to put its problems aside with the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual extravaganza showcasing futuristic innovations. The Jan. 8-11 Las Vegas trade event offers a glimpse into new products and services designed to make people's lives easier, fun and more productive, reaching across diverse sectors such as entertainment, health, transportation, agriculture and sports. "Smart" devices using various forms of artificial intelligence will again be a major focus at CES. Visitors are likely to see more dazzling TV screens, intuitive robots, a range of voice-activated devices, and folding or roll-up smartphone displays. Also on display will be refinements to autonomous transportation and gadgets taking advantage of 5G, or fifth-generation wireless networks. But the celebration of innovation will be mixed with concerns about public trust in new technology and other factors that could cool the growth of a sizzling economic sector. "I think 2019 will be a year of trust-related challenges for the tech industry," said Bob O'Donnell of Technalysis Research. CES features 4,500 exhibitors across 2.75 million square feet (250,000 square meters) of exhibit space showcasing artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart homes, smart cities, sports gadgets and other cutting-edge devices. Some 182,000 trade professionals are expected. Much ado about data There will be a focus on artificial intelligence that can "personalize" a user's experience with a device or a car, or even predict what someone is seeking — whether it's music or medical care. But because this ecosystem is built around data, confidence has been eroded by scandals involving Facebook, Google and other guardians of private information. "The public is wary because of recent events," said Roger Kay, analyst and consultant with Endpoint Technologies Associates. "I think the industry will be slowed by this skepticism." Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, said, "You'll definitely hear people talk about security more, and really looking at how you secure the data," at CES. Trade frictions The Consumer Technology Association, which operates the show, acknowledges that the sector is being hurt by tariffs and trade frictions between the two largest economic players, the United States and China. Tariffs on tech products jumped to $1.3 billion in October, according to CTA, raising fears about growth. "It's almost inevitable that an economic slowdown will occur if these tariffs continue," said Sage Chandler, CTA vice president for international trade. The U.S.-China trade issues and the arrest of a top executive of Chinese giant Huawei in Canada have thrown into question the "supply chain," the system in which U.S. designs are manufactured in China for the global market. "This does cast a shadow over CES," O'Donnell said. AI and personalization The auto sector will again have a major presence at CES with most major manufacturers on hand, some with prototypes of self-driving vehicles. Japanese carmaker Honda will be showing an "autonomous work vehicle" which can be configured for search and rescue operations, firefighting and other uses. Other exhibitors will be showing technology designed to serve as the "brains" of self-driving vehicles, not only for navigation but to create a better, more personalized "user experience" for travelers. The show includes startups offering "predictive" health care solutions designed to anticipate the kind of care senior citizens may need. Facial recognition, which is already being used on many smartphones, will be incorporated into vehicles, doorbells and security systems as part of efforts to increase personalization and improve security. And consumer products group Procter & Gamble, making its first appearance at CES, will demonstrate ways to use facial recognition and AI for improved skin care and beauty recommendations. The new applications raise questions on whether consumers are ready for technologies that evoke the notion of Big Brother and a surveillance state. Brenda Leong, senior counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington think-tank, said consumers should be mindful about whether data from facial recognition is kept only on the devices, such as in the iPhone, or held in a database. "Even if commercial institutions are collecting the data, everybody is worried about government access," she said. Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said consumers have shown a willingness to adopt these new technologies if they offer convenience. "If they are balanced from a benefit point of view, those worries are going to go away," he said. Moorhead noted that as facial recognition has become a standard feature for many smartphones, "those fears have faded." O'Donnell said consumers are starting to understand more about data and become more discerning about which companies and devices they trust. "Personalization is something people want, and they are willing to give up some privacy to get it," he said. "But if they can get personalization on the device without sending it to the cloud, they get the benefits without giving up privacy."

Kenya Struggles to Give Life to Futuristic 'Silicon Savannah' City

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 08:15
Laborers milled around an unfinished eight-story building in an expansive field in Konza dotted with zebra and antelope — the only visible sign of progress in a decade-old plan to make Kenya into Africa's leading technology hub by 2030. Grandiose plans, red tape and a lack of funding have left Konza Technopolis — the $14.5 billion new city to be built some 60 km (37 miles) southeast of Nairobi — way behind schedule on its goal of having 20,000 people on site by 2020. "It has taken too long and I think people have moved on," said tech entrepreneur Josiah Mugambi, founder of Alba.one, a Nairobi-based software company, who was initially excited by the government's ambitious project. Dubbed the Silicon Savannah, Konza aims to become a smart city — using tech to manage water and electricity efficiently and reduce commuting time — and a solution to the rapid, unplanned urbanization which has plagued existing cities. About 40 percent of Africa's 1 billion people live in towns and cities and the World Bank predicts the urban population will double over the next 25 years, adding pressure to already stretched infrastructure. Konza's dream is to become a top business process outsourcing hub by 2030, with on-site universities training locals to feed into a 200,000-strong tech-savvy workforce providing IT support and call center services remotely. But the first building has yet to be completed on the 5,000-acre former cattle ranch, three years after breaking ground, and business has shifted its focus to other African countries, like Rwanda, with competing visions to become modern tech hubs. "Nobody can wait that long for a city to be built. For a tech entrepreneur, they think about where their startup will be two to three years down the line," said Mugambi. Other smart cities planned across Africa include Nigeria's Eko Atlantic City near Lagos that will house 250,000 people on land reclaimed from the sea, Ghana's Hope City and an Ethiopian city styled as the real Wakanda after the film "Black Panther." Utopian Bringing such utopian schemes to life is no easy task for African governments that are struggling to provide adequate roads, power, water and security to their existing cities. "Upgrading infrastructure in places like Kibera (slum) in Nairobi to provide water and a better sewerage system is equally as important as building a new city such as Konza," said Abdu Muwonge, a senior urban specialist with the World Bank in Kenya. Some critics say Konza was ill-conceived from the start. "The vision is wrong; the vision is too big," said Aly-Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based independent financial analyst. "This is miles from anywhere. There are not leveraging the existing infrastructure ... It is assuming that you can bring in academia, you can bring in venture capital, you can bring in corporates." The first serious hurdle arose in 2012 when the National Land Commission (NLC), which manages public land, introduced a cumbersome land acquisition procedure, said Bitange Ndemo, who led a team that conceived Konza Technopolis in 2008. "The NLC was saying we should follow the processes of acquiring public land, which would take years to complete," Ndemo, now an associate professor of business at the University of Nairobi, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The delays caused at least one deal with a German university to fall through, he said, as the process was much slower than the old one where investors signed deals directly with government ministries which took care of land leases. To resolve this, the government transferred ownership of the site to the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA), set up in 2012 to co-ordinate development of the new city, which now allocates land to investors on 50-year renewable leases. Cold Feet Financing has also proven a major issue. In its strategic plan, the government promised to fund 10 percent of Konza, laying the infrastructure, while the private sector would come in with the rest of the money to build universities, offices, housing and hotels. But the government was slow to contribute its share and has yet to pass a law to create KoTDA as a legal entity which would make it easier to sign contracts with external lenders, said Lawrence Esho, one of Konza's project planners until 2013. "They are way behind schedule partly because the government took time to give Konza money," he said, adding that no money came in until 2013. "This stopped any work from starting at the site and investors may have developed cold feet as they waited." KoTDA's chief executive, John Tanui, said the government has committed to invest more than 80 billion shillings ($780 million). "When I say committed does not mean we have absorbed. Our absorption is less than 10 percent of that figure," he said, without elaborating. The government has stepped up funding since 2017, said Abraham Odeng, deputy secretary at Kenya's Information Communications and Technology ministry, without giving figures. Odeng pointed to a 40 billion shilling contract signed in 2017 with an Italian firm to build roads, water and sewerage infrastructure by 2021, funded by the Italian government. "That is a concessional loan, which is a long-term loan that the Kenyan government will pay," he said. Drop in the Ocean But Kenya's growing reliance on loans is causing jitters, with the International Monetary Fund warning of an increased risk of default. The Washington-based lender forecast Kenya's total public debt will reach 63 percent of economic output or GDP for 2018, up from 53 percent in 2016, citing the government's public investment drive and revenue shortfalls. The World Bank's Muwonge said the issue is eliminating challenges for the private sector to do business. "Getting Konza city off the ground will require that we pull in private capital with concessions for them to deliver certain kinds of infrastructure for which the government may not have resources," he said. Five local investors, including Nairobi-based software developer Craft Silicon and the state-run Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, are expected to build offices, residential buildings and hotels by 2020, KoTDA head Tanui said. But critics say it is not enough. "What (investors) have allocated so far is still a drop in the ocean," said Ndemo, the former government technocrat. And international interest is shifting elsewhere. Rwanda — widely regarded as the least corrupt country in East Africa — launched its Kigali Innovation City in 2015, designed to host 50,000 people in universities and tech companies on a 70-hectare site outside the capital. The $2 billion plan, due for completion by 2020, is seven times cheaper than Konza. "All these other (cities) have better proximity, have better density and have better collaborative feedback loops," said financial analyst Satchu. "We are now at a serious disadvantage vis-a-vis these other countries." ($1 = 102.5000 Kenyan shillings)

Artificial Intelligence Helps Sniff Out Suspected Secret Nuclear Weapons Programs

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 06:50
Scientists with the complicated task of tracking secret nuclear weapons developments around the world are getting some help from a new and more-advanced artificial intelligence system. Nuclear explosions, even underground ones on the other side of the world, leave signature traces of radioactive gasses. This system helps sort through masses of data to find which radioactive traces are relevant and which are naturally occurring, which are new and which are left-overs. Faith Lapidus reports.

Electric Vehicles Poised for Global Growth

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 06:50
Electric vehicles are on the verge of a major growth spurt, according to many experts. Around the world, concerns about pollution and climate change are growing, and EVs provide an attractive alternative to fossil fuel-powered vehicles. But high sticker prices remain a challenge. VOA's Steve Baragona has more on an industry on the rise.

US Military Turns to Latest Tech Tools for Training For Combat

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 06:50
As technology advances, there are new tools for the military to train and be better prepared for combat. To assist the U.S. Department of Defense, researchers at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies have been working on a project that creates 3D landscape models to be used in virtual and augmented reality to enhance military training exercises. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

NASA Probe to Make History New Year's Day

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 14:00
NASA scientists are getting a very special New Year's Day gift. The New Horizons spacecraft is moving into unexplored space beyond Neptune to investigate objects so far out in our solar system they can hardly be seen by telescope. As VOA's Kevin Enochs reports, the trip far out in space may help scientists figure out how the solar system was created.

Tiny Tracking Devices Help Protect Endangered Species From Poaching

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 14:00
A French technology company has created a tiny tracking device to combat poaching. The tracker is smaller, lighter and cheaper than previous methods, such as radio collars. The creators say the technology can also allow those in remote villages to share information on the internet regardless of language or literacy barriers. Arash Arabasadi reports.

Social Media’s Year of Falling From Grace

Sat, 12/29/2018 - 17:05
Silicon Valley has enjoyed years of popularity and growing markets. But 2018 has been rocky for the industry. Data breaches, controversies over offensive speech and misinformation — as well as reports of foreign operatives’ use of their services — have left many people skeptical about the benefits of social media, experts say. Worries about social media in Congress meant tech executives had to testify before committees several times this year. “2018 has been a challenging year for tech companies and consumers alike,” said Pantas Sutardja, chief executive of LatticeWork Inc., a data storage firm. “Company CEOs being called to Congress for hearings and promising profusely to fix the problems of data breach but still cannot do it.”   WATCH: Social Media's Year of Falling From Grace An apology tour Facebook drew the most scrutiny. The social networking giant endured criticism after revelations that its lax oversight allowed a political consulting firm to exploit millions of its users’ data. In the spring, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, went on what was dubbed “an apology tour” to tell users that the company would do a better job of protecting their data. The California firm faced other problems when data breaches at the site compromised user information. Other sharp criticism hit Facebook when false reports on its site sparked violence in places like Myanmar and Sri Lanka. ​Using social media to sow division “Are America’s technology companies serving as instruments of freedom?” asked Kevin McCarthy, R-California and the House Majority Leader during a congressional hearing. “Or are they serving as instruments of manipulation used by powerful interests and foreign governments to rob the people of their power, agency, and dignity?” Adding to concerns, the year saw new revelations of foreign operatives using social media to secretly spread divisive and often bogus messages in the U.S. and worldwide. “It doesn’t matter to whose benefit they were operating,” said Walt Mossberg, a former tech columnist with the Wall Street Journal. “What bothers people here is that a foreign country, using our social networks, digital products and services that we have come to feel comfortable in … has come in and used that against us.” ​Tech workers stand up In addition to data privacy and misinformation, online speech became a big issue this year. Under pressure, social media companies like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook’s Instagram tightened restrictions on the kinds of speech they tolerate on their sites. Tech workers pressed managers about their company’s government contracts, and Google workers staged a worldwide walkout over the treatment of female colleagues. The issue of user data has led some companies such as LatticeWork, a data storage firm, to create new ways for users to protect their data and themselves. Playing off people’s concerns about data, LatticeWorks markets its products as a way to “bring your data home.” #DeleteFacebook? What’s unclear however is whether concerns about personal data and tech company decisions will spur users to leave these services. Facebook revelations prompted some like Mossberg to give up Facebook and its other services such as Instagram. He wants federal law to limit U.S. internet firms collection and use of user data. “Governments and citizens of countries around the world need the right to regulate them without closing down free speech,” he said. “And that’s tricky.” Some congressional members have vowed to pass a federal data privacy bill in the coming year, something that tech firms say they support. But whether new regulations build trust in digital services remains to be seen.

Social Media's Year of Falling From Grace

Sat, 12/29/2018 - 17:00
For firms like Facebook and Google, 2018 brought more scrutiny of their handling of data breaches and online speech. VOA's Michelle Quinn reports that may mean new rules and more regulation in the future.

US Army Looks for a Few Good Robots, Sparks Industry Battle

Sat, 12/29/2018 - 13:15
For more than a decade, the United States has deployed remote-controlled rovers to disable bombs on the battlefield. But the future robotic Army is smarter and nimbler, capable of doing a lot more. VOA's Jesusemen Oni reports.

US Army Looks for a Few Good Robots, Sparks Industry Battle

Fri, 12/28/2018 - 21:07
The U.S. Army is looking for a few good robots. Not to fight — not yet, at least — but to help the men and women who do. These robots aren't taking up arms, but the companies making them have waged a different kind of battle. At stake is a contract worth almost half a billion dollars for 3,000 backpack-sized robots that can defuse bombs and scout enemy positions. Competition for the work has spilled over into Congress and federal court. The project and others like it could someday help troops “look around the corner, over the next hillside and let the robot be in harm's way and let the robot get shot,” said Paul Scharre, a military technology expert at the Center for a New American Security. The big fight over small robots opens a window into the intersection of technology and national defense and shows how fear that China could surpass the U.S. drives even small tech startups to play geopolitics to outmaneuver rivals. It also raises questions about whether defense technology should be sourced solely to American companies to avoid the risk of tampering by foreign adversaries. Regardless of which companies prevail, the competition foreshadows a future in which robots, which are already familiar military tools, become even more common. The Army's immediate plans alone envision a new fleet of 5,000 ground robots of varying sizes and levels of autonomy. The Marines, Navy and Air Force are making similar investments. “My personal estimate is that robots will play a significant role in combat inside of a decade or a decade and a half,” the chief of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, said in May at a Senate hearing where he appealed for more money to modernize the force. Milley warned that adversaries like China and Russia “are investing heavily and very quickly” in the use of aerial, sea and ground robots. And now, he added, “we are doing the same.” Such a shift will be a “huge game-changer for combat,” said Scharre, who credits Milley's leadership for the push. The promise of such big Pentagon investments in robotics has been a boon for U.S. defense contractors and technology startups. But the situation is murkier for firms with foreign ties. Concerns that popular commercial drones made by Chinese company DJI could be vulnerable to spying led the Army to ban their use by soldiers in 2017. And in August, the Pentagon published a report that said China is conducting espionage to acquire foreign military technologies — sometimes by using students or researchers as “procurement agents and intermediaries.” At a December defense expo in Egypt, some U.S. firms spotted what they viewed as Chinese knock-offs of their robots. The China fears came to a head in a bitter competition between Israeli firm Roboteam and Massachusetts-based Endeavor Robotics over a series of major contracts to build the Army's next generation of ground robots. Those machines will be designed to be smarter and easier to deploy than the remote-controlled rovers that have helped troops disable bombs for more than 15 years. The biggest contract — worth $429 million — calls for mass producing 25-pound robots that are light, easily maneuverable and can be “carried by infantry for long distances without taxing the soldier,” said Bryan McVeigh, project manager for force projection at the Army's research and contracting center in Warren, Michigan. Other bulkier prototypes are tank-sized unmanned supply vehicles that have been tested in recent weeks in the rough and wintry terrain outside Fort Drum, New York. A third $100 million contract — won by Endeavor in late 2017 — is for a midsized reconnaissance and bomb-disabling robot nicknamed the Centaur. The competition escalated into a legal fight when Roboteam accused Endeavor, a spinoff of iRobot, which makes Roomba vacuum cleaners, of dooming its prospects for those contracts by hiring a lobbying firm that spread false information to politicians about the Israeli firm's Chinese investors. A federal judge dismissed Roboteam's lawsuit in April. “They alleged that we had somehow defamed them,” said Endeavor CEO Sean Bielat, a former Marine who twice ran for Congress as a Republican. “What we had done was taken publicly available documents and presented them to members of Congress because we think there's a reason to be concerned about Chinese influence on defense technologies.” The lobbying firm, Boston-based Sachem Strategies, circulated a memo to members of the House Armed Services Committee. Taking up Endeavor's cause was Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat — and, like Bielat, a Marine veteran — who wrote a letter to a top military official in December 2016 urging the Army to “examine the evidence of Chinese influence” before awarding the robot contracts. Six other lawmakers later raised similar concerns. Roboteam CEO Elad Levy declined to comment on the dispute but said the firm is still “working very closely with U.S. forces,” including the Air Force, and other countries. But it's no longer in the running for the lucrative Army opportunities. Endeavor is. Looking something like a miniature forklift on tank treads, its prototype called the Scorpion has been zipping around a test track behind an office park in a Boston suburb. The only other finalist is just 20 miles away at the former Massachusetts headquarters of Foster-Miller, now a part of British defense contractor Qinetiq. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The contract is expected to be awarded in early 2019. Both Endeavor and Qinetiq have strong track records with the U.S. military, having supplied it with its earlier generation of ground robots such as Endeavor's Packbot and Qinetiq's Talon and Dragon Runner. After hiding the Scorpion behind a shroud at a recent Army conference, Bielat and engineers at Endeavor showed it for the first time publicly to The Associated Press in November. Using a touchscreen controller that taps into the machine's multiple cameras, an engineer navigated it through tunnels, over a playground-like structure and through an icy pool of water, and used its grabber to pick up objects. It's a smaller version of its predecessor, the Packbot, which was first used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 and later became one of soldiers' essential tools for safely disabling improvised explosives in Iraq. Bielat said the newer Scorpion and Centaur robots are designed to be easier for the average soldier to use quickly without advanced technical training. “Their primary job is to be a rifle squad member,” Bielat said. “They don't have time to mess with the robot. They're going to demand greater levels of autonomy.” It will be a while, however, before any of these robots become fully autonomous. The Defense Department is cautious about developing battlefield machines that make their own decisions. That sets the U.S. apart from efforts by China and Russia to design artificially intelligent warfighting arsenals. A November report from the Congressional Research Service said that despite the Pentagon's “insistence” that a human must always be in the loop, the military could soon feel compelled to develop fully autonomous systems if rivals do the same. Or, as with drones, humans will still pull the trigger, but a far-away robot will lob the bombs. Said P.W. Singer, a strategist for the New America Foundation think tank: “China has showed off armed ones. Russia has showed them off. It's coming.”  

Cybersecurity Law: Vietnam Will Censor Internet, Not Close Websites

Fri, 12/28/2018 - 13:52
Expect to get caught if you post anti-government material on the internet in Vietnam or take a phishing trip. From 2019 authorities can build evidence against you from material provided by email services and social media networks including Facebook. Yet the country, mindful of its role in the emerging digital economy, won’t close down websites the way China does. Vietnam has long walked a thin line between a free internet as part of its economic growth and resistance against what market research firm IDC’s country manager Lam Nguyen calls “digital disasters.” The country is getting testier toward online dissent at the same time. A draft Cybersecurity Law decree to take effect Jan. 1 after 18 months in the making will help the communist government reach these goals by ordering service providers to do some of its surveillance work. Despite objections from Google and Facebook, global social media as well as email and e-commerce providers may be asked to store data in Vietnam, according to the Cybersecurity Law. Alternately, they can self-censor, turn over customer profiles and delete certain content, Nguyen said. “It’s like saying OK, as an online service provider with Vietnam users, you do collect data about such users and their online activities, but you are letting users use your platform or services for unlawful activities, so please come to the front of the line (so) that we can keep an eye out for you,” said Yee Chung Seck, partner with the Baker McKenzie law firm in Ho Chi Minh City. Catching up in cybersecurity According to a United Nations index, Vietnam ranked 101 out of 165 countries in exposure to cyberattacks.  “Vietnam has been historically weak when in it comes to cybersecurity,” cyber intelligence analyst Emilio Iasiello wrote in a commentary for the Cyber Research Databank. Domestic websites were hit by more than 6,500 malware or phishing attacks in the first eight months of 2018, Viet Nam News reports. Vietnam does not block the websites of foreign internet services that could spread objectionable content. Vietnam, like much of Asia, is trying to develop a digital economy, but unlike China it lacks easy-to-control homegrown alternates to the major Silicon Valley internet firms. “Obviously, the business and user communities are more likely hoping to avoid censorship of the internet outright, due to the growing digital commerce economy and also wanting a platform where freedom of expressions and opinions are allowed,” Nguyen said. A digital economy gives Vietnam an opportunity to resolve “big issues in its economic development,” the deputy minister of industry and trade was quoted saying in June. The manufacturing-reliant economy has grown 6 to 7 percent per year since 2012. About 70 percent of Vietnam’s 92 million people use the internet, with 53 million on social media sites. Protest from multinational internet content providers After Vietnam’s National Assembly approved the Cybersecurity Law in June, 17 U.S. congressional representatives sent a letter to Google and Facebook. They urged both to avoid storing data in Vietnam, to establish “transparent guidelines” on content removal and to publish the number of requests for removal. Facebook, Google and other foreign internet companies said earlier this month via a lobbying group that requirements to localize data would hobble investment and economic growth in Vietnam. The law also requires firms with more than 10,000 local users to set up local representative offices. Facebook said for this report it “remains committed to its community in Vietnam and in helping Vietnamese businesses grow at home and abroad.” Internet providers also worry the cybersecurity law gives “too much power” to Vietnam’s police ministry and lacks “due process,” Nguyen said. Authorities, they fear, could “seize customer data” and expose a provider’s users, partners or employees to arrest, which goes against privacy protection policies, he said. ​Fear among online activists Vietnam is looking to the cybersecurity law as well to control public criticism of government activity, activist bloggers believe. A string of Vietnamese bloggers was arrested in 2016 and 2017. Authorities will be able to collect user names, profiles and data on their friends, media reports and analysts say. “This law threatens and further curbs freedom to information, infringes (on) personal privacy, and will be certainly used as a tool to give more power to police force, which violates rights, even on behalf of the court on judging on the use of internet,” Hanoi-based internet blogger and human rights activist Nguyen Lan Thang said. Vietnamese activists leaned heavily on internet media to spread information about what they considered slow government reaction to a mass fish die-off in 2016. They use it now to decry corruption. “The Cybersecurity Law will have a huge impact on Vietnam’s dissidents and online activists. It will be a tool to silence dissidents, social commentators, and activists in general,” said Vu Quoc Ngu, a writer in Hanoi and director of the non-profit Defend the Defender. Vu Pham, Michelle Quinn of VOA contributed to this report.

Instagram 'Back to Normal' After Bug Triggers Temporary Change to Feed

Fri, 12/28/2018 - 02:01
Facebook Inc’s photo-sharing social network Instagram said on Thursday it has fixed a bug that led to a temporary change in the appearance of its feed for a large number of users. The bug led to a small test being distributed widely, the company said. As part of the test, some users had to tap and swipe their feed horizontally to view new posts, similar to its Stories feature. The momentary change sparked a widespread outrage among users on Twitter, with several comparing it to Snapchat’s unpopular redesign. “The Instagram update is so trash it’s worse than the Snapchat update,” @samfloresxo tweeted. The redesigned Snapchat app has struggled to attract more users since its roll-out last year and newer versions have been criticized for being too confusing. In response to a tweet, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri apologized for the confusion and said, “that was supposed to be a very small test that went broad by accident.” “We quickly fixed the issue and feed is back to normal,” Instagram said in an emailed statement.

Pluto Explorer Ushering in New Year at More Distant World

Fri, 12/28/2018 - 01:02
The spacecraft team that brought us close-ups of Pluto will ring in the new year by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world.   NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will zip past the scrawny, icy object nicknamed Ultima Thule soon after the stroke of midnight.   One billion miles beyond Pluto and an astounding 4 billion miles from Earth (1.6 billion kilometers and 6.4 billion kilometers), Ultima Thule will be the farthest world ever explored by humankind. That's what makes this deep-freeze target so enticing; it's a preserved relic dating all the way back to our solar system's origin 4.5 billion years ago. No spacecraft has visited anything so primitive.   "What could be more exciting than that?" said project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, part of the New Horizons team.   Lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, expects the New Year's encounter to be riskier and more difficult than the rendezvous with Pluto: The spacecraft is older, the target is smaller, the flyby is closer and the distance from us is greater.   New horizons  NASA launched the spacecraft in 2006; it's about the size of a baby grand piano. It flew past Pluto in 2015, providing the first close-up views of the dwarf planet. With the wildly successful flyby behind them, mission planners won an extension from NASA and set their sights on a destination deep inside the Kuiper Belt. As distant as it is, Pluto is barely in the Kuiper Belt, the so-called Twilight Zone stretching beyond Neptune. Ultima Thule is in the Twilight Zone's heart.   Ultima Thule   This Kuiper Belt object was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Officially known as 2014 MU69, it got the nickname Ultima Thule in an online vote. In classic and medieval literature, Thule was the most distant, northernmost place beyond the known world. When New Horizons first glimpsed the rocky iceball in August it was just a dot. Good close-up pictures should be available the day after the flyby. Are we there yet ?   New Horizons will make its closest approach in the wee hours of Jan. 1 — 12:33 a.m. EST. The spacecraft will zoom within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule, its seven science instruments going full blast. The coast should be clear: Scientists have yet to find any rings or moons around it that could batter the spacecraft. New Horizons hurtles through space at 31,500 mph (50,700 kph), and even something as minuscule as a grain of rice could demolish it. "There's some danger and some suspense," Stern said at a fall meeting of astronomers. It will take about 10 hours to get confirmation that the spacecraft completed — and survived — the encounter.   Possibly twins   Scientists speculate Ultima Thule could be two objects closely orbiting one another. If a solo act, it's likely 20 miles (32 kilometers) long at most. Envision a baked potato. "Cucumber, whatever. Pick your favorite vegetable," said astronomer Carey Lisse of Johns Hopkins. It could even be two bodies connected by a neck. If twins, each could be 9 miles to 12 miles (15 kilometers to 20 kilometers) in diameter.   Mapping mission   Scientists will map Ultima Thule every possible way. They anticipate impact craters, possibly also pits and sinkholes, but its surface also could prove to be smooth. As for color, Ultima Thule should be darker than coal, burned by eons of cosmic rays, with a reddish hue. Nothing is certain, though, including its orbit, so big that it takes almost 300 of our Earth years to circle the sun. Scientists say they know just enough about the orbit to intercept it.   Comparing flybys   New Horizons will get considerably closer to Ultima Thule than it did to Pluto: 2,220 miles versus 7,770 miles (3,500 kilometers vs. 12,500 kilometers). At the same time, Ultima Thule is 100 times smaller than Pluto and therefore harder to track, making everything more challenging. It took 4 { hours, each way, for flight controllers at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, to get a message to or from New Horizons at Pluto. Compare that with more than six hours at Ultima Thule.   What's next  It will take almost two years for New Horizons to beam back all its data on Ultima Thule. A flyby of an even more distant world could be in the offing in the 2020s, if NASA approves another mission extension and the spacecraft remains healthy. At the very least, the nuclear-powered New Horizons will continue to observe objects from afar, as it pushes deeper into the Kuiper Belt. There are countless objects out there, waiting to be explored.    

Source: Foxconn to Begin Assembling Top-End Apple iPhones in India in 2019

Thu, 12/27/2018 - 22:02
Apple Inc will begin assembling its top-end iPhones in India through the local unit of Foxconn as early as 2019, the first time the Taiwanese contract manufacturer will have made the product in the country, according to a source familiar with the matter. Importantly, Foxconn will be assembling the most expensive models, such as devices in the flagship iPhone X family, the source said, potentially taking Apple's business in India to a new level. The work will take place at Foxconn's plant in Sriperumbudur town in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, said the source, who is not authorized to speak to the media and so declined to be named. Foxconn, which already makes phones for Xiaomi Corp in India, will invest 25 billion Indian rupees ($356 million) to expand the plant, including investment in iPhone production, Tamil Nadu's Industries Minister M C Sampath told Reuters. The investment may create as many as 25,000 jobs, he added. Another source also said Foxconn planned to assemble iPhones in India, in a move that could help both it and Apple to limit the impact of a trade war between the United States and China. The Hindu newspaper first reported on Dec. 24 that the Foxconn plant would begin manufacturing various models of the iPhone. Reuters is first to report the size of the investment and the kind of phones to be assembled. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment. Foxconn said it did not comment on matters related to current or potential customers, or any of their products. Lower-end phones Until now, Cupertino, California-based Apple has only assembled the lower-cost SE and 6S models in India through Wistron Corp's local unit in the Bengaluru technology hub. Its sales in India have also been focused on lower-end phones - more than half of its sales volume is driven by models older than the iPhone 8, launched last year, according to technology research firm Counterpoint. Apple launched the pricey iPhone X last year but has cut production of that phone, according to industry analysts, since it began selling the newer versions, iPhone XS and XR, globally this year. Still, it could potentially get Foxconn to make the older iPhone X version in India where it sells cheaper models in a bid to get a bigger share of the world's fastest growing major mobile phone market. Full details of Apple's deal with Foxconn are not yet clear and could change. It is not known if any of the iPhone assembly is being moved from existing Foxconn factories in China and elsewhere. It is also unclear whether the production will be confined to assembly or include any component production in India. Looking beyond China For Apple, widening assembly beyond China is critical to mitigate the risks of the Sino-U.S. trade war. Foxconn, the world's biggest electronics contract manufacturer, is considering setting up a factory in Vietnam, Vietnamese state media reported this month. If that goes ahead, it will be one of the biggest recent steps by a major company to secure an additional production base outside of China. Foxconn has previously admitted the China-U.S. trade spat was its biggest challenge and that its senior executives were making plans to counter the impact. "Widening iPhone manufacturing in India through Foxconn will allow Apple to hedge the risk of any new U.S. trade policies," said Navkendar Singh, an associate research director at International Data Corporation. Indian taxes on import of devices and components have also heightened Apple's headache in a market where it has only a 1 percent share by smartphone shipments. Making more phones locally will help Apple save costly duties and boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship drive to make India a manufacturing hub, Singh said. Apple shocked investors last month with a lower-than-expected sales forecast for the Christmas quarter that jolted parts suppliers across the world. Foxconn has previously expressed concern over demand for Apple's flagship devices.

'Tech Addicts' Seek Solace in 12 Steps and Rehab

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 23:04
We like to say we're addicted to our phones or an app or some new show on a streaming video service. But for some people, tech gets in the way of daily functioning and self-care. We're talking flunk-your-classes, can't-find-a-job, live-in-a-dark-hole kinds of problems, with depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal thoughts part of the mix. Suburban Seattle, a major tech center, has become a hub for help for so-called "tech addicts," with residential rehab, psychologists who specialize in such treatment and 12-step meetings. "The drugs of old are now repackaged. We have a new foe," Cosette Rae says of the barrage of tech. A former developer in the tech world, she heads a Seattle area rehab center called reSTART Life, one of the few residential programs in the nation specializing in tech addiction. Use of that word — addiction — when it comes to devices, online content and the like is still debated in the mental health world. But many practitioners agree that tech use is increasingly intertwined with the problems of those seeking help. An American Academy of Pediatrics review of worldwide research found that excessive use of video games alone is a serious problem for as many as 9 percent of young people. This summer, the World Health Organization also added "gaming disorder" to its list of afflictions. A similar diagnosis is being considered in the United States. It can be a taboo subject in an industry that frequently faces criticism for using "persuasive design," intentionally harnessing psychological concepts to make tech all the more enticing. ​One addict's story One 27-year-old man, found through a 12-step program for tech addicts, works in the very industry that peddles the games, videos and other online content that has long been his vice. He does cloud maintenance for a suburban Seattle tech company and constantly finds himself fending off temptation. "I'm like an alcoholic working at a bar," he laments. He spoke on the condition that he not be identified, fearing he might harm his career in an industry he's long loved. As a toddler, he sat on his dad's lap in their Seattle area home as they played simple video games on a Mac Classic II computer. By early elementary school, he got his first Super Nintendo system and spent hours playing Yoshi's Story, a game where the main character searched for "lucky fruit." As he grew, so did one of the world's major tech hubs. Led by Microsoft, it rose from the nondescript suburban landscape and farm fields here, just a short drive from the home he still shares with his mom, who split from her husband when their only child was 11. As a teen, he took an interest in music and acting but recalls how playing games increasingly became a way to escape life. "I go online instead of dealing with my feelings," he says. He'd been seeing a therapist for depression and severe social anxiety. But attending college out of state allowed more freedom and less structure, so he spent even more time online. His grades plummeted, forcing him to change majors, from engineering to business. After graduating in 2016 and moving home, he'd go to a nearby restaurant or the library to use the Wi-Fi, claiming he was looking for a job but having no luck. Instead, he was spending hours on Reddit, an online forum where people share news and comments, or viewing YouTube videos. Sometimes, he watched online porn. ​'Detox' Others who attend a 12-step meeting of the Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous know the struggle. "I had to be convinced that this was a 'thing,"' says Walker, a 19-year-old from Washington whose parents insisted he get help after video gaming trashed his first semester of college. He agreed to speak only if identified by first name, as required by the 12-step tenets. Help is found at facilities like reSTART. Clients "detox" from tech at a secluded ranch and move on to a group home. They commit to eating well and regular sleep and exercise. They find jobs, and many eventually return to college. They also make "bottom line" promises to give up video games or any other problem content, as well as drugs and alcohol, if those are issues. They use monitored smartphones with limited function — calls, texts and emails and access to maps. The young tech worker didn't go to reSTART. But he, too, has apps on his phone that send reports about what he's viewing to his 12-step sponsor, a fellow tech addict named Charlie, a 30-year-old reSTART graduate. At home, the young man also persuaded his mom to get rid of Wi-Fi to lessen the temptation. He still relapses every couple months, often when he's tired or upset or very bored. He tells himself that his problem isn't as bad as other tech addicts. "Then," the young man says, "I discover very quickly that I am actually an addict, and I do need to do this." Having Charlie to lean on helps. "He's a role model," he says. "He has a place of his own. He has a dog. He has friends." That's what he wants for himself.

Futuristic Fun House Transforms Traditional Games into High Tech Wonders

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 18:40
Imagine being on the bridge of a ship navigating through space with your crew's survival at risk, then stepping onto a river raft to battle aliens in a swamp, and finally flying through the air, all in one night.  All this and more are possible at a futuristic micro amusement park called Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles.  “I think it takes a whole arcade game venue to the next level, and there’s a couple of games I played tonight where I was out of breath and actually sweating,” said visitor Kelly Bentall, who had just finished playing a game where she had to roll a plastic ball and watch a cartoon version of it on a screen, while trying to knock an opponent off a virtual arena. Many of the games at Two Bit Circus can be described as traditional carnival games on steroids where sensors, cameras or virtual reality goggles add to the experience. There is even a robot bartender that mixes drinks for customers.  "I have not had a robot make my drink before. That was actually pretty cool. He even managed to shake it,” said customer John Duncan. Just like a movie theater is a venue for the latest films, the Two Bit Circus is a platform for innovative games. Many of these experiences are created in an in-house workshop.  “We can build stuff here in the morning and test it out there (Two Bit Circus) in the evening,” said co-founder and chief technology officer Eric Gradman, a roboticist who used to build prototypes for the military. “We have a really incredible team of creative people who are always experimenting with new forms of entertainment, and we have the most important ingredient of all — people to test this stuff on.” Two Bit Circus’s other co-founder and chief executive officer is Brent Bushnell, an engineer, entrepreneur and son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.  “My dad wants to move in here. He freaking loves this place," Bushnell said. "He comes back. He’s always got ideas — what things we should change, what we should do differently — but he’s obsessed.” The two founders of the high-tech amusement park also happen to be trained circus clowns. “I was touring around the country, doing crazy stuff on stage in front of thousands of people, and this place is a great way to combine those two loves, making stuff and performing,” said Gradman. It is no coincidence that Two Bit Circus is about the size of a department store. As online shopping increases, brick-and-mortar stores are shutting down, leaving large empty spaces that are perfect entertainment venues for innovative games that can be tested and improved.  “We have built it (Two Bit Circus) to be able to just slot right in. And so for me, that brings real scale, right? That format exists in a hundred cities across the country so we can then iterate and test-optimize this version here and then replicate it across the country,” said Bushnell.

Futuristic Fun House Transforms Traditional Games into High Tech Wonders

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 18:30
Technology is very quickly changing entertainment as we know it. While some worry that people are spending too much time on video games and not enough time with other people, there is a place in Los Angeles where visitors can interact with both. It’s called the Two Bit Circus – a funhouse that incorporates technology and games with group play for people of all ages. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

Interactive TV Lets Viewers Choose Plot and Story Lines

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 12:16
Movie and TV show endings can be a major let down, but what if you could control the storyline as it develops? Eko is an entertainment company that's putting viewers in the director's chair with interactive TV shows and videos. Tina Trinh reports.

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