Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Palestinian Girls Will Pitch Their App to Silicon Valley 

Four Palestinian high school friends are heading to California this week to pitch their mobile app about fire prevention to Silicon Valley’s tech leaders, after winning a slot in the finals of a worldwide competition among more than 19,000 teenage girls.

For the 11th graders from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the ticket of admission to the World Pitch Summit signals a particularly dramatic leap.

They come from middle class families that value education, but opportunities have been limited because of the omnipresent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prevailing norms of patriarchy in their traditional society and typically underequipped schools with outdated teaching methods.

“We are excited to travel in a plane for the first time in our lives, meet new people and see a new world,” said team member Wasan al-Sayed, 17. “We are excited to be in the most prestigious IT community in the world, Silicon Valley, where we can meet interesting people and see how the new world works.”

​Twelve finalists

Twelve teams made it to the finals of the “Technovation Challenge” in San Jose, California, presenting apps that tackle problems in their communities. The Palestinian teens compete in the senior division against teams from Egypt, the United States, Mexico, India and Spain, for scholarships of up to $15,000.

It’s a life-changing experience for al-Sayed and her teammates, Zubaida al-Sadder, Masa Halawa and Tamara Awaisa.

They are now determined to pursue careers in technology.

“Before this program, we had a vague idea about the future,” said al-Sayed, speaking at a computer lab at An Najah University in her native Nablus, the West Bank’s second largest city. “Now we have a clear idea. It helped us pick our path in life.”

The teens first heard about the competition a few months ago from an IT teacher at their school in a middle-class neighborhood in Nablus, where IT classes are a modest affair, held twice a week, with two students to a computer.

The girls, friends since 10th grade, each had a laptop at home, and worked with Yamama Shakaa, a local mentor provided by the competition organizers. The teens “did everything by themselves, with very few resources,” Shakaa said.

The team produced a virtual reality game, “Be a firefighter,” to teach fire prevention skills.

​Blackouts and fires

The subject is particularly relevant in some parts of the Palestinian territories, such as the Gaza Strip, where a border blockade by Israel and Egypt, imposed after the takeover of the Islamic militant group Hamas in 2007, has led to hours-long daily power cuts and the widespread use of candles and other potential fire hazards.

The teens now hope to expand their app to include wildfire prevention. They will also present a business and marketing plan at the California pitching session.

After the competition, they will give the app to the Palestinian Education Ministry for use in schools.

“This prize has changed our lives,” al-Sayed said.

About the competition

The competition, now in its ninth year, is run by Iridescent, a global nonprofit offering opportunities to young people, especially girls, through technology. The group said 60 percent of the U.S. participants enroll in additional computer science courses after the competition, with 30 percent majoring in that field in college, well above the national rate among female U.S. college students. Two-thirds of international participants show an interest in technology-related courses, the group said.

Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam counts on technology, along with a new emphasis on vocational training, to overhaul Palestinian schools, where many students still learn by rote in crowded classrooms.

Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a central problem across the Arab world, in part because of a demographic “youth bulge.” Last year, unemployment among Palestinian college graduates younger than 30 reached 56 percent, including 41 percent in the West Bank and 73 percent in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Unemployment is particularly high among female university graduates, in part because young women are expected to marry and raise children, while young men are considered the main breadwinners. However, employers also complain that graduates studying outdated or irrelevant courses often lack the needed skills for employment.

Saidam said Palestinian schools have received 15,000 computers in the last couple of years. His ministry has also established 54 bookless “smart schools” for grades one to six where students use laptops and learn by doing, including educational trips and involvement with their society.

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Election Crackdown Runs Into Speed-tweeting Human ‘Bots’

Nina Tomasieski logs on to Twitter before the sun rises. Seated at her dining room table with a nearby TV constantly tuned to Fox News, the 70-year-old grandmother spends up to 14 hours a day tweeting the praises of President Trump and his political allies, particularly those on the ballot this fall, and deriding their opponents.

She’s part of a dedicated band of Trump supporters who tweet and retweet Keep America Great messages thousands of times a day.

“Time to walk away Dems and vote RED in the primaries,” she declared in one of her voluminous tweets, adding, “Say NO to socialism & hate.”

While her goal is simply to advance the agenda of a president she adores, she and her friends have been swept up in an expanded effort by Twitter and other social media companies to crack down on nefarious tactics used to meddle in the 2016 election.

And without meaning to, the tweeters have demonstrated the difficulty such crackdowns face — particularly when it comes to telling a political die-hard from a surreptitious computer robot.

Last week, Facebook said it had removed 32 fake accounts apparently created to manipulate U.S. politics — efforts that may be linked to Russia.

Twitter and other sites also have targeted automated or robot-like accounts known as bots, which authorities say were used to cloak efforts by foreign governments and political bad actors in the 2016 elections.

But the screening has repeatedly and erroneously flagged Tomasieski and users like her.

Their accounts have been suspended or frozen for “suspicious” behavior — apparently because of the frequency and relentlessness of their messages. When they started tweeting support for a conservative lawmaker in the GOP primary for Illinois governor this spring, news stories warned that right-wing “propaganda bots” were trying to influence the election.

“Almost all of us are considered a bot,” says Tomasieski, who lives in Tennessee but is tweeting for GOP candidates across the U.S.

Cynthia Smith has been locked out of her account and “shadow banned,” meaning tweets aren’t as visible to others, because of suspected “automated behavior.”

“I’m a gal in Southern California,” Smith said. “I am no bot.”

The actions have drawn criticism from conservatives, who have accused Twitter, Facebook and other companies of having a liberal bias and censorship. It also raises a question: Can the companies outsmart the ever-evolving tactics of U.S. adversaries if they can’t be sure who’s a robot and who’s Nina?

“It’s going to take a really long time, I think years, before Twitter and Facebook and other platforms are able to deal with a lot of these issues,” said Timothy Carone, who teaches technology at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

The core problem is that people are coming up with new ways to use the platforms faster than the companies can manage them, he said.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. But the company has said it identified and challenged close to 10 million suspected bot or spam accounts in May, up from 3.2 million last September. It’s also trying to weed out “trolls,” or accounts that harass other users, pick fights or tweet material that’s considered inflammatory.

Twitter acknowledges that there will be some “false positives.”

“Our goal is to learn fast and make our processes and tools smarter,” Twitter executives said in a blog post earlier this year.

Tomasieski and her conservative friends use so-called Twitter “rooms” — which operate using the group messaging function — to amplify their voices.

She participates in about 10 rooms, each with 50 members who are invited in once they hit a certain number of followers. That number varies, but “newbies” might have around 3,000, Tomasieski says. Some have far more.

Everyone in the room tweets their own material and also retweets everyone else’s. So a tweet that Tomasieski sends may be seen by her roughly 51,000 followers, but then be retweeted by dozens more people, each of whom may have 50,000 or more followers.

She says she’s learned some tricks to avoid trouble with Twitter. She’s careful not to exceed limits of roughly 100 tweets or retweets an hour. She doesn’t use profanity and she tries to mix up her subjects to appear more human and less bot-like.

During a recent afternoon, Tomasieski retweeted messages criticizing immigrants in the U.S. illegally, Democratic socialists and the media. One noted an Associated Press story about an increase in the number of Muslims running for public office — news the user described as “alarming.”

Tomasieski says she loves to write. But most important is helping “my guy.”

“There is as much enthusiasm today as there was when Trump was elected. It’s very quiet, but it’s there. My job is to get them to the polls,” she said. “That’s rewarding. I go to bed feeling like I have accomplished something.”

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New Era in Space: NASA Astronauts Fly Commercial Spacecraft

A new era in American spaceflight was unveiled Friday, with NASA presenting the flight crews that will carry out the first test flights and operational missions aboard commercial spacecraft to be launched from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The test flights of the modules, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, are expected next year. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

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New Era in Space: NASA Astronauts Fly Commercial Spacecraft

A new era in American spaceflight was unveiled Friday, with NASA presenting the flight crews that will carry out the first test flights and operational missions aboard commercial spacecraft to be launched from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The test flights of the modules, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, are expected next year. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

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From Cancers to Obesity, Small Implant May Replace Life-Saving Drugs

Remembering to take medications can be challenging for some people. But one day an implant may replace medications that need to be taken orally in certain cases. One lab in Houston is developing refillable implants placed under the skin to potentially deliver life-saving medicine at a low cost for various diseases. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

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From Cancers to Obesity, Small Implant May Replace Life-Saving Drugs

Remembering to take medications can be challenging for some people. But one day an implant may replace medications that need to be taken orally in certain cases. One lab in Houston is developing refillable implants placed under the skin to potentially deliver life-saving medicine at a low cost for various diseases. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

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US Objects to China’s Internet Restrictions

The U.S. “remains deeply concerned with China’s long-standing restrictions on freedom of expression online,” a State Department official said Thursday, reacting to Google’s reported plan to relaunch its search engine in China.

“We strongly object to all efforts by China to force U.S. companies to block or censor online content as a condition for market access,” the official said.

Google shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, citing government attempts to “limit free speech on the web.” But a company whistle-blower who spoke to the online publication The Intercept said Google was in the advanced stages of launching a custom Android search app in China that will comply with the Communist Party’s censorship policies on human rights, democracy, free speech and religion. 

The Intercept cited internal Google documents and people familiar with the rollout. The publication said the project, code-named Dragonfly, has been in development since 2017. It said the project began to progress more quickly following a December meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a senior Chinese government official.

According to the documents obtained by The Intercept, Google said it would automatically filter websites blocked by China’s so-called Great Firewall. Banned websites will be removed from the first page of search results with the disclaimer: “Some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.”

Empty searches

The documents also say that Google’s app will “blacklist sensitive queries” by returning no results when people search for certain words or phrases.

“We provide a number of mobile apps in China … [to] help Chinese developers and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans,” a Google spokesman told VOA in a statement in response to the alleged plans.

China has 772 million internet users — more than any other country — and hundreds of millions of potential users who are not yet connected to the internet.

China’s top internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, has not commented on the plans.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and former presidential candidate, posted on Twitter that Google’s reported plans to set up “a censored search engine” in China were “very disturbing” and could help China “suppress the truth.”

VOA’s Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.

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Apple is 1st Public US Company to be Valued at $1 Trillion

Apple made history Thursday when it became the first publicly listed U.S. company to be valued at $1 trillion.

The tech giant’s share price climbed well over 2 percent in mid-session trading, boosting it about 9 percent higher since Tuesday, when it announced better-than-expected second-quarter earnings and a buyback of $20 billion worth of its own shares.

The Silicon Valley company’s stock has skyrocketed more than 50,000 percent since it went public in 1980, greatly exceeding the S&P 500’s impressive 2,000 percent gain during the same period.

Apple’s success was fueled in large part by its iPhone, which transformed it from a niche player in the burgeoning personal computer sector into a global technological powerhouse.

The company was co-founded by the late Steve Jobs, a product innovator who helped prevent the company’s collapse in the late 1990s.

As the company’s market value climbed over the decades, it revolutionized how consumers communicate with each other and how companies conduct business on a daily basis.

 

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Apple is 1st Public US Company to be Valued at $1 Trillion

Apple made history Thursday when it became the first publicly listed U.S. company to be valued at $1 trillion.

The tech giant’s share price climbed well over 2 percent in mid-session trading, boosting it about 9 percent higher since Tuesday, when it announced better-than-expected second-quarter earnings and a buyback of $20 billion worth of its own shares.

The Silicon Valley company’s stock has skyrocketed more than 50,000 percent since it went public in 1980, greatly exceeding the S&P 500’s impressive 2,000 percent gain during the same period.

Apple’s success was fueled in large part by its iPhone, which transformed it from a niche player in the burgeoning personal computer sector into a global technological powerhouse.

The company was co-founded by the late Steve Jobs, a product innovator who helped prevent the company’s collapse in the late 1990s.

As the company’s market value climbed over the decades, it revolutionized how consumers communicate with each other and how companies conduct business on a daily basis.

 

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