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With $6.6B to Arizona hub, Biden touts big steps in US chipmaking

Washington; Flagstaff, Arizona — President Joe Biden on Monday announced a $6.6 billion grant to Taiwan’s top chip manufacturer to produce semiconductors in the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona, which includes a third facility that will bring the foreign tech giant’s investment in the state to $65 billion.

Biden said the move aims to perk up a decades-old slump in American chip manufacturing. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which is based in the Chinese-claimed island, claims more than half of the global market share in chip manufacturing.

The new facility, Biden said, will put the U.S. on track to produce 20% of the world’s leading-edge semiconductors by 2030.

“I was determined to turn that around, and thanks to my CHIPS and Science Act — a key part of my Investing in America agenda — semiconductor manufacturing and jobs are making a comeback,” Biden said in a statement.

U.S. production of this American-born technology has fallen steeply in recent decades, said Andy Wang, dean of engineering at Northern Arizona University.

“As a nation, we used to produce 40% of microchips for the whole world,” he told VOA. “Now, we produce less than 10%.”

A single semiconductor transistor is smaller than a grain of sand. But billions of them, packed neatly together, can connect the world through a mobile phone, control sophisticated weapons of war and satellites that orbit the Earth, and someday may even drive a car.

The immense value of these tiny chips has fueled fierce competition between the U.S. and China.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has taken several steps to hamper China’s efforts to build its own chip industry. Those include export controls and new rules to prevent “foreign countries of concern” — which it said includes China, Iran, North Korea and Russia — from benefiting from funding from the CHIPS and Science Act.

While analysts are divided over whether Taiwan’s dominance of this critical industry makes it more or less vulnerable to Chinese aggression, they agree it confers the island significant global status.

“It is debatable what, if any, role Taiwan’s semiconductor manufacturing prowess plays in deterrence,” said David Sacks, an analyst who focuses on U.S.-China relations at the Council on Foreign Relations. “What is not debatable is how devastating an attack on Taiwan would be for the global economy.”

Biden did not mention U.S. adversaries in his statement, but he noted the impact of Monday’s announcement, saying it “represent(s) a broader story for semiconductor manufacturing that’s made in America and with the strong support of America’s leading technology firms to build the products we rely on every day.”

VOA met with engineers in the new technological hub state, who said the legislation addresses a key weakness in American chip manufacturing.

“We’ve just gotten in the cycle of the last 15 to 20 years, where innovation has slowed down,” said Todd Achilles, who teaches innovation, strategy and policy analysis at the University of California-Berkeley. “It’s all about financial results, investor payouts and stock buybacks. And we’ve lost that innovation muscle. And the CHIPS Act — pulling that together with the CHIPS Act — is the perfect opportunity to restore that.”

The White House says this new investment could create 25,000 construction and manufacturing jobs. Academics say they’re churning out workers at a rapid pace, but that still, America lacks talent.

“Our engineering college is the largest in the country, with over 33,000 enrolled students, and still we’re hearing from companies across the semiconductor industry that they’re not able to get the talent they need in time,” Zachary Holman, vice dean for research and innovation at Arizona State University, told VOA.

And as the American industry stretches to keep pace, it races a technical trend known as t: that the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles about every two years. As a result, cutting-edge chips get ever smaller as they grow in computing power.

TSMC in 2022 broke ground on a facility that makes the smallest chip currently available, coming in at 3 nanometers — that’s just wider than a strand of DNA.

Reporter Levi Stallings contributed to this report from Flagstaff, Arizona.

With $6.6B to Arizona hub, Biden touts big steps in US chipmaking

President Joe Biden on Monday announced a $6.6 billion grant to Taiwan’s top chip manufacturer for semiconductor manufacturing in Arizona, which includes a third facility that will bring the tech giant’s investment in the state to $65 billion. VOA’s White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington, with reporter Levi Stallings in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Experts fear Cambodian cybercrime law could aid crackdown

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — The Cambodian government is pushing ahead with a cybercrime law experts say could be wielded to further curtail freedom of speech amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent. 

The cybercrime draft is the third controversial internet law authorities have pursued in the past year as the government, led by new Prime Minister Hun Manet, seeks greater oversight of internet activities. 

Obtained by VOA in both English and Khmer language versions, the latest draft of the cybercrime law is marked “confidential” and contains 55 articles. It lays out various offenses punishable by fines and jail time, including defamation, using “insulting, derogatory or rude language,” and sharing “false information” that could harm Cambodia’s public order and “traditional culture.”  

The law would also allow authorities to collect and record internet traffic data, in real time, of people under investigation for crimes, and would criminalize online material that “depicts any act or activity … intended to stimulate sexual desire” as pornography. 

Digital rights and legal experts who reviewed the law told VOA that its vague language, wide-ranging categories of prosecutable speech and lack of protections for citizens fall short of international standards, instead providing the government more tools to jail dissenters, opposition members, women and LGBTQ+ people. 

Although in the works since 2016, earlier drafts of the law, which sparked similar criticism, have not leaked since 2020 and 2021. Authorities hope to enact the law by the end of the year. 

“This cybercrime bill offers the government even more power to go after people expressing dissent,” Kian Vesteinsson, a senior research analyst for technology at the human rights organization Freedom House, told VOA.  

“These vague provisions around defamation, insults and disinformation are ripe for abuse, and we know that Cambodian authorities have deployed similarly vague criminal provisions in other contexts,” Vesteinsson said. 

Cambodian law already considers defamation a criminal offense, but the cybercrime draft would make it punishable by jail time up to six months, plus a fine of up to $5,000. The “false information” clause — defined as sharing information that “intentionally harms national defense, national security, relations with other countries, economy, public order, or causes discrimination, or affects traditional culture” — carries a three- to five-year sentence and fine of up to $25,000. 

Daron Tan, associate international legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, told VOA the defamation and false information articles do not comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party, and that the United Nations Human Rights Committee is “very clear that imprisonment is never the appropriate penalty for defamation.” 

“It’s a step very much in the wrong direction,” Tan said. “We are very worried that this would expand the laws that the government can use against its critics.” 

Chea Pov, the deputy head of Cambodia’s National Police and former director of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Cybercrime Department that is overseeing the drafting process, told VOA the law “doesn’t restrict your rights” and claimed the U.S. companies which reviewed it “didn’t raise concerns.”  

Google, Meta and Amazon, which the government has said were involved in drafting the law, did not respond to requests for comment. 

“If you say something based on evidence, there is no problem,” Pov said. “But if there is no evidence, [you] defame others, which is also stated in the criminal law … we don’t regard this as a restriction.”  

The law also makes it illegal to use technology to display, trade, produce or disseminate pornography, or to advertise a “product or service mixed with pornography” online. Pornography is defined as anything that “describes a genital or depicts any act or activity involving a sexual organ or any part of the human body, animal, or object … or other similar pornography that is intended to stimulate sexual desire or cause sexual excitement.” 

Experts say this broad category is likely to be disproportionately deployed against women and LGBTQ+ people. 

Cambodian authorities have often rebuked or arrested women for dressing “too sexily” on social media, singing sexual songs or using suggestive speech. In 2020, an online clothes and cosmetics seller received a six-month suspended sentence after posting provocative photos; in another incident, a policewoman was forced to publicly apologize for posting photos of herself breastfeeding. 

Naly Pilorge, outreach director at Cambodian human rights organization Licadho, told VOA the draft law “could lead to more rights violations against women in the country.” 

“This vague definition of ‘pornography’ poses a serious threat to any woman whose online activity the government decides may ‘cause sexual excitement,’” Pilorge said. “The draft law does not acknowledge any legitimate artistic or educational purposes to depict or describe sexual organs, posing another threat to freedom of expression.” 

In March, authorities said they hosted civil society organizations to revisit the draft. They plan to complete the drafting process and send the law to Parliament for passage before the end of the year, according to Pov, the deputy head of police. 

Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, told VOA “there was no consultation on each article” at the recent meeting. 

“The NGO representatives were unable to analyze and present their inputs,” said Saroeun, echoing concerns about its contents. “How is it [possible]? We need to debate on this.” 

The cybercrime law has resurfaced as the government works to complete two other draft internet laws, one covering cybersecurity and the other personal data protection. Experts have critiqued the drafts as providing expanded police powers to seize computer systems and making citizens’ data vulnerable to hacking and surveillance. 

Authorities have also sought to create a national internet gateway that would require traffic to run through centralized government servers, though the status of that project has been unclear since early 2022 when the government said it faced delays. 

Biden administration announces $6.6 billion to ensure leading-edge microchips are built in US 

WILMINGTON, Del. — The Biden administration pledged on Monday to provide up to $6.6 billion so that a Taiwanese semiconductor giant can expand the facilities it is already building in Arizona and better ensure that the most-advanced microchips are produced domestically for the first time. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the funding for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. means the company can expand on its existing plans for two facilities in Phoenix and add a third, newly announced production hub. 

“These are the chips that underpin all artificial intelligence, and they are the chips that are the necessary components for the technologies that we need to underpin our economy,” Raimondo said on a call with reporters, adding that they were vital to the “21st century military and national security apparatus.” 

The funding is tied to a sweeping 2022 law that President Joe Biden has celebrated and which is designed to revive U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. Known as the CHIPS and Science Act, the $280 billion package is aimed at sharpening the U.S. edge in military technology and manufacturing while minimizing the kinds of supply disruptions that occurred in 2021, after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when a shortage of chips stalled factory assembly lines and fueled inflation. 

The Biden administration has promised tens of billions of dollars to support construction of U.S. chip foundries and reduce reliance on Asian suppliers, which Washington sees as a security weakness. 

“Semiconductors – those tiny chips smaller than the tip of your finger – power everything from smartphones to cars to satellites and weapons systems,” Biden said in a statement. “TSMC’s renewed commitment to the United States, and its investment in Arizona represent a broader story for semiconductor manufacturing that’s made in America and with the strong support of America’s leading technology firms to build the products we rely on every day.” 

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. produces nearly all of the leading-edge microchips in the world and plans to eventually do so in the U.S. 

It began construction of its first facility in Phoenix in 2021, and started work on a second hub last year, with the company increasing its total investment in both projects to $40 billion. The third facility should be producing microchips by the end of the decade and will see the company’s commitment increase to a total of $65 billion, Raimondo said. 

The investments would put the U.S. on track to produce roughly 20% of the world’s leading-edge chips by 2030, and Raimondo said they should help create 6,000 manufacturing jobs and 20,000 construction jobs, as well as thousands of new positions more indirectly tied to assorted suppliers in chip-related industries tied to Arizona projects. 

The potential incentives announced Monday include $50 million to help train the workforce in Arizona to be better equipped to work in the new facilities. Additionally, approximately $5 billion of proposed loans would be available through the CHIPS and Science Act. 

“TSMC’s commitment to manufacture leading-edge chips in Arizona marks a new chapter for America’s semiconductor industry,” Lael Brainard, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters. 

The announcement came as U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is traveling in China. Senior administration officials were asked on the call with reporters if the Biden administration gave China a head’s up on the coming investment, given the delicate geopolitics surrounding Taiwan. The officials said only that their focus in making Monday’s announcement was solely on advancing U.S. manufacturing. 

“We are thrilled by the progress of our Arizona site to date,” C.C. Wei, CEO of TSMC, said in a statement, “And are committed to its long-term success.” 

US, Europe, Issue Strictest Rules Yet on AI

washington — In recent weeks, the United States, Britain and the European Union have issued the strictest regulations yet on the use and development of artificial intelligence, setting a precedent for other countries.

This month, the United States and the U.K. signed a memorandum of understanding allowing for the two countries to partner in the development of tests for the most advanced artificial intelligence models, following through on commitments made at the AI Safety Summit last November.

These actions come on the heels of the European Parliament’s March vote to adopt its first set of comprehensive rules on AI. The landmark decision sets out a wide-ranging set of laws to regulate this exploding technology.

At the time, Brando Benifei, co-rapporteur on the Artificial Intelligence Act plenary vote, said, “I think today is again an historic day on our long path towards regulation of AI. … The first regulation in the world that is putting a clear path towards a safe and human-centric development of AI.”

The new rules aim to protect citizens from dangerous uses of AI, while exploring its boundless potential.

Beth Noveck, professor of experiential AI at Northeastern University, expressed enthusiasm about the rules.

“It’s really exciting that the EU has passed really the world’s first … binding legal framework addressing AI. It is, however, not the end; it is really just the beginning.”

The new rules will be applied according to risk level: the higher the risk, the stricter the rules.

“It’s not regulating the tech,” she said. “It’s regulating the uses of the tech, trying to prohibit and to restrict and to create controls over the most malicious uses — and transparency around other uses.

“So things like what China is doing around social credit scoring, and surveillance of its citizens, unacceptable.”

Noveck described what she called “high-risk uses” that would be subject to scrutiny. Those include the use of tools in ways that could deprive people of their liberty or within employment.

“Then there are lower risk uses, such as the use of spam filters, which involve the use of AI or translation,” she said. “Your phone is using AI all the time when it gives you the weather; you’re using Siri or Alexa, we’re going to see a lot less scrutiny of those common uses.”

But as AI experts point out, new laws just create a framework for a new model of governance on a rapidly evolving technology.

Dragos Tudorache, co-rapporteur on the AI Act plenary vote, said, “Because AI is going to have an impact that we can’t only measure through this act, we will have to be very mindful of this evolution of the technology in the future and be prepared.”

In late March, the Biden administration issued the first government-wide policy to mitigate the risks of artificial intelligence while harnessing its benefits.

The announcement followed President Joe Biden’s executive order last October, which called on federal agencies to lead the way toward better governance of the technology without stifling innovation.

“This landmark executive order is testament to what we stand for: safety, security, trust, openness,” Biden said at the time,” proving once again that America’s strength is not just the power of its example, but the example of its power.”

Looking ahead, experts say the challenge will be to update rules and regulations as the technology continues to evolve.

Scathing federal report rips Microsoft for response to Chinese hack

BOSTON — In a scathing indictment of Microsoft corporate security and transparency, a Biden administration-appointed review board issued a report Tuesday saying “a cascade of errors” by the tech giant let state-backed Chinese cyber operators break into email accounts of senior U.S. officials including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The Cyber Safety Review Board, created in 2021 by executive order, describes shoddy cybersecurity practices, a lax corporate culture and a lack of sincerity about the company’s knowledge of the targeted breach, which affected multiple U.S. agencies that deal with China.

It concluded that “Microsoft’s security culture was inadequate and requires an overhaul” given the company’s ubiquity and critical role in the global technology ecosystem. Microsoft products “underpin essential services that support national security, the foundations of our economy, and public health and safety.”

The panel said the intrusion, discovered in June by the State Department and dating to May, “was preventable and should never have occurred,” and it blamed its success on “a cascade of avoidable errors.” What’s more, the board said, Microsoft still doesn’t know how the hackers got in.

The panel made sweeping recommendations, including urging Microsoft to put on hold adding features to its cloud computing environment until “substantial security improvements have been made.”

It said Microsoft’s CEO and board should institute “rapid cultural change,” including publicly sharing “a plan with specific timelines to make fundamental, security-focused reforms across the company and its full suite of products.”

In a statement, Microsoft said it appreciated the board’s investigation and would “continue to harden all our systems against attack and implement even more robust sensors and logs to help us detect and repel the cyber-armies of our adversaries.”

In all, the state-backed Chinese hackers broke into the Microsoft Exchange Online email of 22 organizations and more than 500 individuals around the world — including the U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns — accessing some cloud-based email boxes for at least six weeks and downloading some 60,000 emails from the State Department alone, the 34-page report said. Three think tanks and foreign government entities, including a number of British organizations, were among those compromised, it said.

The board, convened by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in August, accused Microsoft of making inaccurate public statements about the incident — including issuing a statement saying it believed it had determined the likely root cause of the intrusion “when, in fact, it still has not.” Microsoft did not update that misleading blog post, published in September, until mid-March, after the board repeatedly asked if it planned to issue a correction, it said.

Separately, the board expressed concern about a separate hack disclosed by the Redmond, Washington, company in January, this one of email accounts — including those of an undisclosed number of senior Microsoft executives and an undisclosed number of Microsoft customers — and attributed to state-backed Russian hackers.

The board lamented “a corporate culture that deprioritized both enterprise security investments and rigorous risk management.”

The Chinese hack was initially disclosed in July by Microsoft in a blog post and carried out by a group the company calls Storm-0558. That same group, the panel noted, has been engaged in similar intrusions — compromising cloud providers or stealing authentication keys so it can break into accounts — since at least 2009, targeting companies including Google, Yahoo, Adobe, Dow Chemical and Morgan Stanley.

Microsoft noted in its statement that the hackers involved are “well-resourced nation state threat actors who operate continuously and without meaningful deterrence.”

The company said that it recognized that recent events “have demonstrated a need to adopt a new culture of engineering security in our own networks,” and added that it had “mobilized our engineering teams to identify and mitigate legacy infrastructure, improve processes, and enforce security benchmarks.”

Kia Recalls 427,000 Telluride SUVs; Could Roll Away While Parked

New York — Kia is recalling more than 427,000 of its Telluride SUVs due to a defect that may cause the cars to roll away while they’re parked.

According to documents published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the intermediate shaft and right front driveshaft of certain 2020-2024 Tellurides may not be fully engaged. Over time, this can lead to “unintended vehicle movement” while the cars are in park — increasing potential crash risks.

Kia America decided to recall all 2020-2023 model year and select 2024 model year Tellurides earlier this month, NHTSA documents show. At the time, no injuries or crashes were reported.

Improper assembly is suspected to be the cause of the shaft engagement problem — with the recall covering 2020-2024 Tellurides that were manufactured between Jan. 9, 2019, and Oct. 19, 2023. Kia America estimates that 1% have the defect.

To remedy this issue, recall documents say, dealers will update the affected cars’ electronic parking brake software and replace any damaged intermediate shafts for free. Owners who already incurred repair expenses will also be reimbursed.

In the meantime, drivers of the impacted Tellurides are instructed to manually engage the emergency brake before exiting the vehicle. Drivers can also confirm if their specific vehicle is included in this recall and find more information using the NHTSA site and/or Kia’s recall lookup platform.

Owner notification letters are otherwise set to be mailed out on May 15, with dealer notification beginning a few days prior.

The Associated Press reached out to Irvine, California-based Kia America for further comment Sunday. No comment was received.

Gmail Revolutionized Email 20 Years Ago

San Francisco — Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin loved pulling pranks, so they began rolling out outlandish ideas every April Fool’s Day not long after starting their company more than a quarter century ago. One year, Google posted a job opening for a Copernicus research center on the moon. Another year, the company said it planned to roll out a “scratch and sniff” feature on its search engine.

The jokes were consistently over-the-top, and people learned to laugh them off as another example of Google mischief. That’s why Page and Brin decided to unveil something no one would believe was possible 20 years ago on April Fool’s Day.

It was Gmail, a free service boasting 1 gigabyte of storage per account, an amount that sounds almost pedestrian in an age of 1-terabyte iPhones. But it sounded like a preposterous amount of email capacity back then, enough to store about 13,500 emails before running out of space compared to just 30 to 60 emails in the then-leading webmail services run by Yahoo and Microsoft. That translated into 250 to 500 times more email storage space.

Besides the quantum leap in storage, Gmail also came equipped with Google’s search technology so users could quickly retrieve a tidbit from an old email, photo or other personal information stored on the service. It also automatically threaded together a string of communications about the same topic, so everything flowed together as if it was a single conversation.

“The original pitch we put together was all about the three ‘S’s’ — storage, search and speed,” said former Google executive Marissa Mayer, who helped design Gmail and other company products before later becoming Yahoo’s CEO.

It was such a mind-bending concept that shortly after The Associated Press published a story about Gmail late on the afternoon of April Fool’s 2004, readers began calling and emailing to inform the news agency it had been duped by Google’s pranksters.

“That was part of the charm, making a product that people won’t believe is real. It kind of changed people’s perceptions about the kinds of applications that were possible within a web browser,” former Google engineer Paul Buchheit recalled during a recent AP interview about his efforts to build Gmail.

It took three years to do as part of a project called “Caribou” — a reference to a running gag in the Dilbert comic strip. “There was something sort of absurd about the name Caribou, it just made make me laugh,” said Buchheit, the 23rd employee hired at a company that now employs more than 180,000 people.

The AP knew Google wasn’t joking about Gmail because an AP reporter had been abruptly asked to come down from San Francisco to the company’s Mountain View, California, headquarters to see something that would make the trip worthwhile.

After arriving at a still-developing corporate campus that would soon blossom into what became known as the “Googleplex,” the AP reporter was ushered into a small office where Page was wearing an impish grin while sitting in front of his laptop computer.

Page, then just 31 years old, proceeded to show off Gmail’s sleekly designed inbox and demonstrated how quickly it operated within Microsoft’s now-retired Explorer web browser. And he pointed out there was no delete button featured in the main control window because it wouldn’t be necessary, given Gmail had so much storage and could be so easily searched. “I think people are really going to like this,” Page predicted.

As with so many other things, Page was right. Gmail now has an estimated 1.8 billion active accounts — each one now offering 15 gigabytes of free storage bundled with Google Photos and Google Drive. Even though that’s 15 times more storage than Gmail initially offered, it’s still not enough for many users who rarely see the need to purge their accounts, just as Google hoped.

The digital hoarding of email, photos and other content is why Google, Apple and other companies now make money from selling additional storage capacity in their data centers. (In Google’s case, it charges anywhere from $30 annually for 200 gigabytes of storage to $250 annually for 5 terabytes of storage). Gmail’s existence is also why other free email services and the internal email accounts that employees use on their jobs offer far more storage than was fathomed 20 years ago.

“We were trying to shift the way people had been thinking because people were working in this model of storage scarcity for so long that deleting became a default action,” Buchheit said.

Gmail was a game changer in several other ways while becoming the first building block in the expansion of Google’s internet empire beyond its still-dominant search engine.

After Gmail came Google Maps and Google Docs with word processing and spreadsheet applications. Then came the acquisition of video site YouTube, followed by the introduction of the Chrome browser and the Android operating system that powers most of the world’s smartphones. With Gmail’s explicitly stated intention to scan the content of emails to get a better understanding of users’ interests, Google also left little doubt that digital surveillance in pursuit of selling more ads would be part of its expanding ambitions.

Although it immediately generated a buzz, Gmail started out with a limited scope because Google initially only had enough computing capacity to support a small audience of users.

But that scarcity created an air of exclusivity around Gmail that drove feverish demand for elusive invitations to sign up. At one point, invitations to open a Gmail account were selling for $250 apiece on eBay. “It became a bit like a social currency, where people would go, ‘Hey, I got a Gmail invite, you want one?’” Buchheit said.

Although signing up for Gmail became increasingly easier as more of Google’s network of massive data centers came online, the company didn’t begin accepting all comers to the email service until it opened the floodgates as a Valentine’s Day present to the world in 2007.

Swedish Embassy Exhibit Highlights Uses of Artificial Intelligence

WASHINGTON — Artificial intelligence for good is the subject of a new exhibit at the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, showing how Swedish companies and organizations are using AI for a more open society, a healthier world and a greener planet.

Ambassador Urban Ahlin said at an embassy reception that Sweden’s broad collaboration across industry, academia and government makes it a leader in applying AI in public-interest areas such as clean tech, social sciences, medical research and greener food supply chains. That includes tracking the mood and health of cows.

Fitbit for cows

It is technology developed by DeLaval, a producer of dairy and farming machinery. The firm’s market solution manager in North America, Joaquin Azocar, said the small wearable device the size of an earring fits in a cow’s ear and tracks the animal’s movements 24/7, much like a Fitbit.

The tags send signals to receivers across the farm. DeLaval’s artificial intelligence system analyzes the data and looks for correlations in patterns, trends and deviations in the animals’ activities to predict if a cow is sick, in heat or not eating well.

A trained veterinarian, Azocar said dairy farmers being alerted sooner to changes in their animals’ behavior means they can provide treatment earlier, translating to less recovery time.

AI helping in childbirth

There are also advances in human health applications. The developing AI Pelvic Floor project identifies high-risk cases of pelvic floor injury and facilitates timely intervention to prevent or limit harm.

It was developed by a team of gynecologists and women’s health care professionals from Sweden’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital to help the nearly 20% of women who experience injury to their pelvic floor during childbirth.

The exhibition “is a great way to showcase the many ways AI is being adapted and used in medicine and in many other areas,” said exhibition attendee Jesica Lindgren, general counsel for international consulting firm BlueStar Strategies. “It’s important to know how AI is evolving and affecting our everyday life.”

Green solutions using AI

The exhibition includes examples of what AI can do about climate change, including rising sea levels and declining biodiversity.

AirForestry is developing technology “for precise forestry that will select and harvest trees fully autonomously.” The firm says that “harvesting the right trees in the right place could significantly improve overall carbon sequestration and resilience.”

AI and the defense industry

Outlining the development of artificial intelligence for the defense industry, the exhibit acknowledges the controversy.

“There are exciting possibilities to use AI to solve problems that cannot be solved using traditional algorithms due to their complexity and limitations in computational power,” the exhibit states. “But it requires thorough consideration of how AI should and shouldn’t be utilized. Proactively engaging in AI research is necessary to understand the technology’s capabilities and limitations and help shape its ethical standards.”

AI and privacy

Exhibition participant Quentin Black is an engineer with Axis Communications, an industry leader in video surveillance. He said the project came out of GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, a European Union policy that provides privacy to people who are out in public whose image could be picked up on video surveillance cameras.

The regulations surrounding privacy are stricter in Europe than they are in the United States, Black said.

“In the U.S., the public doesn’t really have an expectation of privacy; there’s cameras everywhere. In Europe, it’s different.” That regulation inspired Axis Communications to develop AI that provides privacy, he said.

The Axis Live Privacy Shield remotely monitors activities indoors and outdoors while safeguarding privacy in real time. The technology is downloadable and free, he said.

Black explained the four quadrants shown on a display monitor. One window of the monitor displayed privacy with a full-color block-out of all humans, using AI to distinguish the difference between the people and the environment.

Another window showed masking of just the person’s head. A third window showed pixelization of the person’s entire body and the immediate environment surrounding them. And the final window showed blockage of the environment, so “an inverse of the personal privacy,” Black explained.

“So, if it was a top-secret facility, or you want to see the people walking up to your door without a view of your neighbor’s house, this is where this can this be applied,” he said.

Tip of the iceberg

Molly Steenson, president and CEO of the American Swedish Institute, said, “I think that AI is on everybody’s thoughts, and what I appreciate about the House of Sweden’s approach in this exhibition is highlighting a thoughtful, scientific, business-oriented and human-oriented perspective on AI in society today.”

Although AI and machine learning have been around since the 1950s, she said it is only now that we are seeing “the contemporary upswing and acceleration of AI, especially generative AI in things like large language models.”

“So, while large companies and tech companies might want us to speed up and believe that it is only scary or it is only good, I think it’s a lot more nuanced than that,” she said.

Chinese Leader to Dutch PM: Restricting Technology Access Won’t Stop China’s Advance

BEIJING — Chinese leader Xi Jinping told visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday that attempts to restrict China’s access to technology will not stop the country’s advance. 

The Netherlands imposed export licensing requirements in 2023 on the sale of machinery that can make advanced processor chips. The move came after the United States blocked Chinese access to advanced chips and the equipment to make them, citing security concerns, and urged its allies to follow suit. 

An online report from state broadcaster CCTV did not mention the chip machinery, but quoted Xi as saying that the creation of scientific and technological barriers and the fragmentation of the industrial and supply chains will lead to division and confrontation. 

“The Chinese people also have the right to legitimate development, and no force can stop the pace of China’s scientific and technological development and progress,” Xi said, according to CCTV. 

Dutch company ASML is the world’s only producer of machines that use extreme ultraviolet lithography to make advanced semiconductors. In 2023, China became ASML’s second-largest market, accounting for 29% of its revenue as Chinese companies bought up equipment before the licensing requirement took effect. 

 

Rutte, speaking to journalists after his meeting, declined to go into specifics of the talks. 

“What I can tell you is that … when we have to take measures, that they are never aimed at one country specifically, that we always try to make sure that the impact is limited, is not impacting the supply chain, and therefore is not impacting the overall economic relationship,” he said. 

The Dutch leader, who was accompanied by Trade Minister Geoffrey van Leeuwen on the trip, said the top issue for him in their meetings with Xi and Chinese Premier Li Qiang was the war in Ukraine. 

China has taken a neutral position on the war, providing Russia with diplomatic cover and economic support through trade. That stance has angered and frustrated much of Europe, which sees Russia as the aggressor and Ukraine as the victim. 

Rutte said it’s important for China to understand that “this is a direct security threat for us, because if Russia will be successful in Ukraine, it will be a threat to the whole of Europe. It will not end with Ukraine.” 

He added that he had asked China’s leaders “to put their considerable weight — and they can do that as far as I’m concerned in a very discreet way — but as much as possible on Russia to influence the course of events.” 

ASML, the Netherlands’ largest company, recently threatened to leave the country over anti-immigration policies that may impact the company’s ability to hire talent, leaving government officials scrambling to ensure that the firm does not leave. 

Van Leeuwen said this week in an interview with The FD, a Dutch business newspaper, that protecting the interests of ASML is a top priority but acknowledged that national security comes before economic interests. 

Beijing has repeatedly accused the U.S. of trying to hold back China’s economic development by restricting access to technology. In response, Xi has launched a campaign to develop home-grown chips and other high-tech products. 

“China always opposes the U.S. overstretching the concept of national security and making various excuses to coerce other countries into imposing a technological blockade against China,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in January. 

Rutte said that NATO and its growing ties with Asia did not come up at Wednesday’s talks. He is a leading candidate to be the next head of the alliance, which China has criticized for provoking regional tensions and making diplomatic forays into the Asia-Pacific region.

Vietnamese Automaker VinFast to Start Selling EVs in Thailand

Bangkok — Vietnamese automaker VinFast announced Tuesday that it plans to sell its electric vehicles in Thailand and said it had tied up with auto dealers to open showrooms in the country.

VinFast, which only began exporting its EVs last year, faces stiff competition in Thailand from Chinese automakers like BYD. Tesla also recently entered the fray. All were displaying their latest models at the Bangkok International Motor Show.

The Thai EV market is small but growing fast, buoyed by incentives and subsidies from the government. The country of more than 70 million plans to convert 30% of the 2.5 million vehicles it makes annually into EVs by 2030.

VinFast hopes to start selling both its electric scooters and electric SUVs in the country in the next two months, Vu Dang Yen Hang, chief executive officer of VinFast Thailand, told The Associated Press.

Details about pricing and buying the EVs are likely to be announced later this year.

Thailand accounted for 58% of all EV sales in Southeast Asia in 2022, ahead of both Vietnam and Indonesia, according to market research firm Counterpoint Research. But the EV market remains small, accounting for only 0.5% of EV sales worldwide in 2022.

Thailand is trying to change this with incentives to promote manufacturing and sales of EVs, such as reducing import duties and paying subsidies to make them more price competitive.

VinFast has set a target of selling its cars in 50 markets worldwide by the end of 2024.

Initially it’ll rely on existing charging developers in Thailand, but the long-term plan was to work alongside V-Green, a company that builds EV charging stations and is owned by VinFast’s parent company, said Hang.

“We will be working alongside [V-Green] to build infrastructure for our customers in Thailand who are using our cars,” she said.

V-Green was launched this month and plans to spend $404 million in the next two years to build charging stations for VinFast cars in different countries. Like VinFast, it is a part of the sprawling conglomerate Vingroup, which began as an instant noodle company in Ukraine in the 1990s. It is founded and run by Vietnam’s richest man, Pham Nhat Vuong.

VinFast’s foray into Thailand is part of a global expansion that has included exports of EVs to the United States. The company is building an EV factory in North Carolina, where production is slated to begin later in the year. Another factory is under construction in India, and it plans another in Indonesia.

VinFast has begun shipping EVs made in Vietnam to neighboring Laos to supply vehicles for Green SM, an EV taxi operator that is mostly owned by VinFast’s founder, Vuong.

Last year, the company listed its shares in August on Nasdaq, where they initially soared, pushing its market value briefly above those of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. But investor enthusiasm has cooled, and the company lost more in than $1.4 billion the first three quarters of 2023.

VinFast has struggled to sell its EVs in the U.S., and its early cars have received bad reviews. But the company maintains that if it can succeed in the crowded and competitive American market, it can succeed anywhere.

US Aims to Tap Domestic Lithium Supply Without Chinese Products

washington — Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a record conditional loan of $2.26 billion to tap the largest known lithium reserves in North America. The loan is an important step in an effort by the U.S. government to reduce reliance on China for the metal used to make batteries.

Analysts, however, say that it may be too late to move away from reliance on China completely when it comes to metal processing and the production of batteries.

The DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) says the funds, if approved after review, will help the Lithium Americas Corp. construct a lithium carbonate processing plant at the Thacker Pass mine project in Humboldt County, Nevada.

The LPO says the project would help “secure reliable, sustainable domestic supply chains for critical materials, which are key to reaching our ambitious clean energy and climate goals and reducing our reliance on economic competitors like China.”

Lithium Americas Corp. on its official website says battery materials could be “completely sourced and manufactured in the U.S., bringing down the overall carbon footprint, transport costs and supply chain risks.”

The LPO says lithium carbonate from Thacker Pass could eventually support the production of batteries “for up to 800,000 electric vehicles (EVs) per year, saving 317 million gallons of gasoline per year.”

Although the U.S. has made pioneering and groundbreaking contributions to the development of the lithium ion battery, industry experts say lithium processing and EV battery production is dominated today by China.

“Parts of our key supply chains, including for clean energy, are currently over concentrated in China,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in prepared remarks March 2 when she visited a U.S. lithium processing facility in Chile, which holds the world’s largest reserves of the metal.

“This makes America more vulnerable to shocks in China, or whatever country dominates production, from natural disasters to macroeconomic forces, to deliberate actions such as economic coercion.”

A report last year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said China increased restrictions on its exports of critical minerals ninefold between 2009 and 2020.

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the output and scale of lithium mines in Australia and Argentina far exceed China’s. In 2022, Australia’s lithium mine output was more than three times China’s.

Refining, processing still issues

But industry experts say while Western countries have poured a lot of investment into developing raw minerals, they have paid little attention to refining and processing, areas in which China dominates.

Ellen R. Wald, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, tells VOA, “Lithium is not useful just as it is. You have to refine it to make what’s used in the batteries. And that’s really where China controls the supply chain because almost all of the refining for lithium that creates it into the substance that can be used to make batteries is done in China.”

According to the Chatham House, Chinese companies accounted for about 72% of global lithium refining capacity in 2022.

China also dominates much of the global market for battery-related equipment, leaving limited options for U.S. companies that want to showcase their domestic production credentials.

American Battery Factory Inc., or ABF, is an emerging battery manufacturer that says it is “the first network of entirely U.S.-owned vertical manufacturing, supply chain and R&D for Lithium Iron Phosphate battery cells in the United States.”

But to secure custom automation equipment and machinery for use in its first large-scale rechargeable battery factory in Tucson, Arizona, it has formed a partnership with Lead Intelligent Equipment, a Chinese company.

Dependent on China

In an article in January, Wald said China is in a good position to restrict access to lithium-ion batteries to certain countries or companies as it wishes, and if the U.S. military suddenly finds itself in need of more specialized batteries, the Pentagon may not be able to obtain them.

In February 2022, China announced sanctions against Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35 fighter jet, and Raytheon Technologies, the world’s largest missile manufacturer. Although China did not specify the details of the sanctions, it is generally considered to be a possible threat to cut off the Western countries’ supply of critical minerals.

Wald told VOA, “The U.S. defense industry is basically dependent on China for these specialized batteries that they need in all of their drones and their surveillance systems and all sorts of things.”

David Whittle, adjunct professor in resource engineering at the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University in Australia, told VOA even if “the world develops a robust, independent supply chain for lithium, up to the point of battery chemical production, at present, China would still be the largest customer for those chemicals, since it is the largest cell manufacturer, the largest battery pack manufacturer, the largest E.V. manufacturer and the largest market for E.V.s.”

The Thacker Pass lithium mine is located at the southern end of the McDermitt Caldera, and is considered to be one of the largest in the world.

The record loan to Lithium Americas Corp. is the largest such loan the U.S. has offered for the development of a lithium mine project since the country stepped up its efforts to build a domestic supply chain for critical minerals in recent years.

The Thacker Pass lithium project is not expected to start production until 2028, and even then, Wald said, that goal may be too ambitious. The mine plans to extract lithium from clay, but Wald says it has never been mined in this way on a commercial scale. In addition, the mine is in a remote and sparsely populated location, requiring the company to build housing for workers and their families and to reassess its environmental impact.

Despite the challenges, Wald said creating a secure supply chain is not impossible for the U.S.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” Wald said. “Will they be able to compete with China globally? Probably not. But can we create non-Chinese sustainable and secure supply chains? Yeah, we can do it.”

Whittle said Western countries being “resilient to challenges from China” can’t mean “isolated from China” anymore, but resilience is still possible.

The DOE’s LPO said while their announcement shows intent to give the loan, the company must first satisfy certain technical, legal, environmental and financial conditions before the funds will be released.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

Critics Slam Apple CEO Tim Cook for Laudatory Remarks in China

 Washington — Tim Cook, CEO of the American technology giant Apple, is facing criticism at home over laudatory remarks he made about China during a recent visit to try to boost sagging iPhone sales in the lucrative market. 

Cook was in Shanghai for the opening of China’s largest Apple retail store on Friday and met with Chinese political and business people. He praised China for being “so vibrant and so dynamic,” in remarks widely quoted by state media and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying. 

 

The new Apple store took seven years and cost over 80 million yuan (roughly $11.1 million) to build. It is said to be the second largest in the world and the largest in Asia, and it is staffed by about 150 people. 

Thursday evening, at least 12 hours before the scheduled opening, a long line had formed in front of the store. Some media said the crowds were “as bustling as New Year’s Eve.” 

In addition to showing their loyalty to the brand by purchasing Apple products, the opening day crowds rushed to take photos with Cook, who was in the store at the event.

Dan Ives, a technology analyst on Wall Street, said on X, formerly Twitter, that Cook’s trip to China shows that Apple will continue to attach importance to the Chinese market.

“Apple is actually increasing its investments and retail footprint in China the past year,” he said, “and to this point Cook has been in China since last week on an important visit to lay the groundwork on Apple’s future in China. Cook reaffirming China strategy.” 

 

Chinese media reported on Monday that Apple will cooperate with Chinese technology company Baidu to provide artificial intelligence capabilities to the iPhones sold in China this year. Baidu has not verified the report. 

However, not all Chinese love Apple. A viral video clip on Chinese social media shows a middle-aged Chinese woman in yellow clothes, a baseball cap and a mask yelling at the people who queued up at the new Apple store the night before its opening, “You worship and favor foreign things.”  

 

She also said Apple’s business expansion in China is “because of scum like you who are willing to pay for it.” 

A person in the line said, “Do you know how many jobs Apple brings to China every year?”  

The woman replied, “No need, we have our own Huawei!” 

The drama reflects the challenges Apple is facing in China. IPhone shipments in China fell about 33% in February from a year earlier, according to official data, marking a second consecutive month of lower shipments. 

In January, the company shipped a total of roughly 5.5 million units, or about 39% fewer handsets than in the prior year, according to China Academy of Information and Communications Technology figures. 

Frank Lee, a senior partner of Blue Ocean Capital in Beijing, said that most Chinese iPhone users have a good experience with Apple products, so they remain loyal to the brand. However, there is a clear trend of declining sales of Apple products due to competition with Chinese domestic brands. 

Lee told VOA, “I think Apple’s opening of a store in Shanghai will play a certain role in [boosting] its sales in China, but it cannot fundamentally reverse the overall slow decline trend of iPhones in China.” 

However, Cook expressed his confidence in the Chinese market. He told the Chinese media, “I love the people and the culture [of China]. Every time I come here, I’m reminded that anything is possible here.” 

Cook’s remarks have been criticized as glorifying the Chinese government’s arrogant treatment of private enterprises. 

Jonathan Eyal, associate director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in the U.K., wrote on X, “‘Everything is possible’ in China, says Apple’s Tim Cook. Including being arrested and expropriated. And losing the market at a stroke of a bureaucratic pen.” 

 

Theresa Fallon, director at the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies, wrote, “Apple chief Tim Cook’s obsequious praise for China … unlikely to reverse the tide and CCP mandates that government officials can’t use Apple phones.”  

 

Bloomberg reported last year that a growing number of Chinese government agencies and state-owned enterprises were ordering employees not to bring iPhones and other foreign-brand phones to the workplace. China’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm the report. 

Some observers believe Cook’s remarks were not sincere. In recent years, Apple has expanded its production in India. Last year, iPhones made in India appeared for the first time in the first batch of iPhone 15 models released globally. 

However, others say China is irreplaceable to the global supply chain. They noted that Apple has faced challenges in efficiency since its supplier Foxconn moved production lines to India in the past couple of years. 

Noah Smith, an American current affairs columnist, wrote, “LOLLLLLLL meanwhile he’s shifting production out of China as fast as he can.” 

 

Some critics of Cook are more serious. Sophie Richardson, former China director at Human Rights Watch, said, “.@tim_cook, about those “vibrant” and “dynamic” #crimesagainsthumanity committed by your #China govt hosts…?”  

 

Eli Friedman, associate professor of global labor and work at Cornell University, said the past mutually beneficial relationship between Beijing and American companies is no longer playing a diplomatic role. 

He wrote, “Throwing Apple some treats will not help stabilize the U.S.-China relationship, I promise.” 

Adrianna Zhang and Joyce Huang contributed to this report.  

Florida’s Governor Signs One of Country’s Most Restrictive Social Media Bans for Minors

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida will have one of the country’s most restrictive social media bans for minors — if it withstands expected legal challenges — under a bill signed by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday. 

The bill will ban social media accounts for children under 14 and require parental permission for 15- and 16-year-olds. It was slightly watered down from a proposal DeSantis vetoed earlier this month, a week before the annual legislative session ended.

The new law was Republican Speaker Paul Renner’s top legislative priority. It takes effect January 1. 

“A child in their brain development doesn’t have the ability to know that they’re being sucked into these addictive technologies and to see the harm and step away from it, and because of that we have to step in for them,” Renner said at the bill-signing ceremony held at a Jacksonville school. 

The bill DeSantis vetoed would have banned minors under 16 from popular social media platforms regardless of parental consent. But before the veto, he worked out compromise language with Renner to alleviate the governor’s concerns and the Legislature sent DeSantis a second bill. 

Several states have considered similar legislation. In Arkansas, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a law in August that required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts. 

Supporters in Florida hope the bill will withstand legal challenges because it would ban social media formats based on addictive features such as notification alerts and auto-play videos, rather than on their content. 

Renner said he expects social media companies to “sue the second after this is signed. But you know what? We’re going to beat them. We’re going to beat them and we’re never, ever going to stop.” 

DeSantis also acknowledged the law will be challenged on First Amendment issues and bemoaned the fact the “Stop Woke Act” he signed into law two years ago was recently struck down by an appeals court with a majority of Republican-appointed judges. They ruled it violated free speech rights by banning private business from including discussions about racial inequality in employee training. 

“Any time I see a bill, if I don’t think it’s constitutional, I veto it,” said DeSantis, a lawyer, expressing confidence that the social media ban will be upheld. “We not only satisfied me, but we also satisfied, I think, a fair application of the law and Constitution.” 

The bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers, with some Democrats joining a majority of Republicans who supported the measure. Opponents argued it was unconstitutional and that the government shouldn’t interfere with decisions parents make with their children. 

“This bill goes too far in taking away parents’ rights,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a news release. “Instead of banning social media access, it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools, improved access to data to stop bad actors, alongside major investments in Florida’s mental health systems and programs.”

TikTok Bill Faces Uncertain Fate in Senate

WASHINGTON — The young voices in the messages left for North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis were laughing, but the words were ominous.

“OK, listen, if you ban TikTok I will find you and shoot you,” one said, giggling and talking over other young voices in the background. “I’ll shoot you and find you and cut you into pieces.” Another threatened to kill Tillis, and then take their own life.

Tillis’s office says it has received around 1,000 calls about TikTok since the House passed legislation this month that would ban the popular app if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake. TikTok has been urging its users — many of whom are young — to call their representatives, even providing an easy link to the phone numbers. “The government will take away the community that you and millions of other Americans love,” read one pop-up message from the company when users opened the app.

Tillis, who supports the House bill, reported the call to the police. “What I hated about that was it demonstrates the enormous influence social media platforms have on young people,” he said in an interview.

While more aggressive than most, TikTok’s extensive lobbying campaign is the latest attempt by the tech industry to head off any new legislation — and it’s a fight the industry usually wins. For years Congress has failed to act on bills that would protect users’ privacy, protect children from online threats, make companies more liable for their content and put loose guardrails around artificial intelligence, among other things.

“I mean, it’s almost embarrassing,” says Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., a former tech executive who is also supporting the TikTok bill and has long tried to push his colleagues to regulate the industry. “I would hate for us to maintain our perfect zero batting average on tech legislation.”

Some see the TikTok bill as the best chance for now to regulate the tech industry and set a precedent, if a narrow one focused on just one company. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the House bill, which overwhelmingly passed 362-65 this month after a rare 50-0 committee vote moving it to the floor.

But it’s already running into roadblocks in the Senate, where there is little unanimity on the best approach to ensure that China doesn’t access private data from the app’s 170 million U.S. users or influence them through its algorithms.

Other factors are holding the Senate back. The tech industry is broad and falls under the jurisdiction of several different committees. Plus, the issues at play don’t fall cleanly on partisan lines, making it harder for lawmakers to agree on priorities and how legislation should be written. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has so far been reluctant to embrace the TikTok bill, for example, calling for hearings first and suggesting that the Senate may want to rewrite it.

“We’re going through a process,” Cantwell said. “It’s important to get it right.”

Warner, on the other hand, says the House bill is the best chance to get something done after years of inaction. And he says that the threatening calls from young people are a good example of why the legislation is needed: “It makes the point, do we really want that kind of messaging being able to be manipulated by the Communist Party of China?”

Some lawmakers are worried that blocking TikTok could anger millions of young people who use the app, a crucial segment of voters in November’s election. But Warner says “the debate has shifted” from talk of an outright ban a year ago to the House bill which would force TikTok, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd., to sell its stake for the app to continue operating.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in a television interview that aired Sunday, acknowledged the popularity of the app and that it has become an income stream for many people. She said the administration does not intend to ban TikTok but instead deal with its ownership. “We understand its purpose and its utility and the enjoyment that it gives a lot of folks,” Harris told ABC’s ”This Week.”

Republicans are divided. While most of them support the TikTok legislation, others are wary of overregulation and the government targeting one specific entity.

“The passage of the House TikTok ban is not just a misguided overreach; it’s a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Hoping to persuade their colleagues to support the bill, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee have called for intelligence agencies to declassify information about TikTok and China’s ownership that has been provided to senators in classified briefings.

“It is critically important that the American people, especially TikTok users, understand the national security issues at stake,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Blumenthal and Blackburn have separate legislation they have been working on for several years aimed at protecting children’s online safety, but the Senate has yet to vote on it. Efforts to regulate online privacy have also stalled, as has legislation to make technology companies more liable for the content they publish.

And an effort by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to quickly move legislation that would regulate the burgeoning artificial intelligence industry has yet to show any results.

Schumer has said very little about the TikTok bill or whether he might put it on the Senate floor.

“The Senate will review the legislation when it comes over from the House,” was all he would say after the House passed the bill.

South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican who has worked with Schumer on the artificial intelligence effort, says he thinks the Senate can eventually pass a TikTok bill, even if it’s a different version. He says the classified briefings “convinced the vast majority of members” that they have to address the collection of data from the app and TikTok’s ability to push out misinformation to users.

“I think it’s a clear danger to our country if we don’t act,” he said. “It does not have to be done in two weeks, but it does have to be done.”

Rounds says he and Schumer are still holding regular meetings on artificial intelligence, as well, and will soon release some of their ideas publicly. He says he’s optimistic that the Senate will eventually act to regulate the tech industry.

“There will be some areas that we will not try to get into, but there are some areas that we have very broad consensus on,” Rounds says.

Tillis says senators may have to continue laying the groundwork for a while and educating colleagues on why some regulation is needed, with an eye toward passing legislation in the next Congress.

“It can’t be the wild, wild west,” Tillis said.

At UN, Nations Cooperate Toward Safe, Trustworthy AI Systems

United Nations — The U.N. General Assembly adopted by consensus Thursday a first-of-its-kind resolution addressing the potential of artificial intelligence to accelerate progress toward sustainable development, while emphasizing the need for safe, secure and trustworthy AI systems.

The initiative, led by the United States, seeks to manage AI’s risks while utilizing its benefits.

“Today as the U.N. and AI finally intersect, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to choose as one united global community to govern this technology rather than to let it govern us,” said U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “So let us reaffirm that AI will be created and deployed through the lens of humanity and dignity, safety and security, human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The Biden administration said it took more than three months to negotiate what it characterized as a “baseline set of principles” around AI, engaging with 120 countries and incorporating feedback from many of them, including China, which was one of the 123 co-sponsors of the text.

While General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, they reflect the political consensus of the international community.

The resolution recognizes the disparities in technological development between developed and developing countries and stresses the need to bridge the digital divide so everyone can equitably access the benefits of AI.

It also outlines measures for responsible AI governance, including the development of regulatory frameworks, capacity building initiatives and support for research and innovation. The resolution encourages international collaboration to address the evolving challenges and opportunities AI technologies pose, with a focus on advancing sustainable development goals.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris welcomed adoption of the resolution, saying all nations must be guided by a common set of understandings on the use of AI systems.

“Too often, in past technological revolutions, the benefits have not been shared equitably, and the harms have been felt by a disproportionate few,” she said in a statement. “This resolution establishes a path forward on AI where every country can both seize the promise and manage the risks of AI.”

At the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, in January, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the risk of unintended consequences with “every new iteration of generative AI.” He said it has “enormous potential” for sustainable development but also the potential to worsen inequality.

“And some powerful tech companies are already pursuing profits with a clear disregard for human rights, personal privacy and social impact,” he said at the time.

The U.N. chief created an AI advisory body last year, and it will publish its final report ahead of the U.N.’s Summit of the Future in September.

Reddit, the Self-Anointed ‘Front Page of the Internet,’ Jumps 55% in Wall Street Debut

NEW YORK — Reddit soared in its Wall Street debut as investors pushed the valued of the company close to $9 billion seconds after it began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reddit, which priced its IPO at $34 a share, debuted Thursday afternoon at $47 a share. The going price has climbed even higher since, with shares for the self-anointed “front page of the internet” soaring more than 55% as of around 1:20 p.m. ET.

The IPO will test the quirky company’s ability to overcome a nearly 20-year history colored by uninterrupted losses, management turmoil and occasional user backlashes to build a sustainable business.

“The supply is pretty limited and there’s strong demand, so my sense is that this is going to be a hot IPO,” Reena Aggarwal, director of Georgetown University’s Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy, said ahead of Reddit’s trading Thursday. “The good news for Reddit is it’s a hot market.”

Still, she also anticipates Reddit’s IPO to be volatile. Even with a sizeable “pop,” it’s possible that some might sell their shares to reap their gains soon after, potentially causing prices to drift.

The interest surrounding Reddit stems largely from a large audience that religiously visits the service to discuss a potpourri of subjects that range from silly memes to existential worries, as well as get recommendations from like-minded people.

About 76 million users checked into one of Reddit’s roughly 100,000 communities in December, according to the regulatory disclosures required before the San Francisco company goes public. Reddit set aside up to 1.76 million of 15.3 million shares being offered in the IPO for users of its service.

Per the usual IPO custom, the remaining shares are expected to be bought primarily by mutual funds and other institutional investors betting Reddit is ready for prime time in finance.

Reddit’s moneymaking potential also has attracted some prominent supporters, including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who accumulated a stake as an early investor that has made him one of the company’s biggest shareholders. Altman owns 12.2 million shares of Reddit stock, according to the company’s IPO disclosures.

Other early investors in Reddit have included PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto and rapper Snoop Dogg. None of them are listed among Reddit’s largest shareholders heading into the IPO.

By the tech industry’s standards, Reddit remains extraordinarily small for a company that has been around as long as it has.

Reddit has never profited from its broad reach while piling up cumulative losses of $717 million. That number has swollen from cumulative losses of $467 million in December 2021 when the company first filed papers to go public before aborting that attempt.

In the recent documents filed for its revived IPO, Reddit attributed the losses to a fairly recent focus on finding new ways to boost revenue.

Not long after it was born, Reddit was sold to magazine publisher Conde Nast for $10 million in deal that meant the company didn’t need to run as a standalone business. Even after Conde Nast parent Advance Magazine Publishers spun off Reddit in 2011, the company said in its IPO filing that it didn’t begin to focus on generating revenue until 2018.

Those efforts, mostly centered around selling ads, have helped the social platform increase its annual revenue from $229 million in 2020 to $804 million last year. But the San Francisco-based company also posted combined losses of $436 million from 2020 through 2023.

Reddit outlined a strategy in its filing calling for even more ad sales on a service that it believes companies will be a powerful marketing magnet because so many people search for product recommendations there.

The company also is hoping to bring in more money by licensing access to its content in deals similar to the $60 million that Google recently struck to help train its artificial intelligence models. That ambition, though, faced an almost immediate challenge when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission opened an inquiry into the arrangement.

Since Thursday just marks Reddit’s first day on the public market, Aggarwal stresses that the first key measure of success will boil down to the company’s next earnings call.

“As a public company now they have to report a lot more … in the next earnings release,” she said. “I’m sure the market will watch that carefully.”

Reddit also experienced tumultuous bouts of instability in leadership that may scare off prospective investors. Company co-founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian — also the husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams — both left Reddit in 2009 while Conde Nast was still in control, only to return years later.

Huffman, 40, is now CEO, but how he got the job serves as a reminder of how messy things can get at Reddit. The change in command occurred in 2015 after Ellen Pao resigned as CEO amid a nasty user backlash to the banning of several communities and the firing of Reddit’s talent director. Even though Ohanian said he was primarily responsible for the firing and the bans, Pao was hit with most of the vitriol.

Although his founder’s letter leading up to this IPO didn’t mention it, Huffman touched upon the company’s past turmoil in another missive included in a December 2021 filing attempt that was subsequently canceled.

“We lived these challenges publicly and have the scars, learnings, and policy updates to prove it,” Huffman wrote in 2021. “Our history influences our future. There will undoubtedly be more challenges to come.”

US Senate Considers Bill That Could Ban TikTok in United States

The White House is urging senators to quickly begin considering a bill that would address national security concerns related to the social media app TikTok. The House approved the measure earlier this week. VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports. Camera: Saqib Ul Islam.

World’s Largest Drone Maker Expands in US Amid Rights Abuse Allegations  

washington — Chinese drone maker DJI is expanding in the U.S. with its first flagship store in New York City amid allegations of links to human rights abuses and ties to China’s military.

DJI’s “first concept” North American store on New York’s Fifth Avenue welcomes customers into a futuristic, minimalist space to shop. The company describes itself on its website as “the world’s leader in civil drones and creative camera technology.”

“We continue to see growing consumer demand throughout North America as we expand our consumer product portfolio,” said Christina Zhang, senior director of corporate strategy at DJI.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, the company was founded in 2006. DJI, also known as Da Jiang Innovations, has become the world’s largest drone maker, having achieved global dominance in less than 20 years. The company now supplies 70% of the world’s consumer drones and nearly 80% of U.S. consumer drones.

Abuse allegations

On March 5, the day of DJI’s official store opening in New York, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a Washington research and advocacy group, released a report titled Surveillance Tech Series: DJI’s Links to Human Rights Abuses in East Turkistan.

The report accuses DJI of being involved in mass surveillance and rights violations against Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and other Muslim communities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which the group calls East Turkistan.

“DJI is directly involved in mass surveillance schemes in East Turkistan and has supplied public security agencies with tools to surveil and target Uyghurs, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz people,” the UHRP report said. “Xinjiang public security departments entered into seven procurement orders with DJI that were worth nearly US$300,000 between 2019 and 2022.”

The report stated that DJI sells drones to Xinjiang’s paramilitary organization, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which the U.S. government sanctioned because of its “connection with serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities” in Xinjiang.

“Other documents show tenders worth US$47,000 for DJI drones for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps,” the UHRP report stated.

The report also said that a DJI drone captured footage of dozens of individuals, seemingly Uyghur prisoners, blindfolded and shackled at a train station in southern Xinjiang. The video, first released on YouTube in 2019, garnered widespread media attention.

“It’s unethical to support a company that knowingly engages in egregious rights violations,” Nuzigum Setiwaldi, the report’s author, told Voice of America.

The U.S. and several Western parliaments have accused China of genocide in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim populations. The U.N. human rights office released a report saying the human rights violations in Xinjiang may amount to crimes against humanity. China criticized Western nations for spreading “lies” about human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.

A spokesperson from DJI told VOA the company has not engaged in any activities, including sales distribution and product development, that violate or abuse human rights.

“Like other manufacturers, we do not have control over how our products are used as they are available off the shelf,” wrote a DJI spokesperson in an email response. “However, we have demonstrated – through years of investments in product safety and security initiatives – that our products are developed for peaceful and civilian use only.”

Chinese military company or not?

In 2022, The Washington Post reported that DJI obscured ties to Chinese government funding.

In the same year, the U.S. Department of Defense classified DJI as a “Chinese military company.” As of January, DJI remains on the list of such companies operating in the United States. The department said it maintains companies on the list to counter China’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization of the Chinese army.

Reuters reported that former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who ran the U.S. Justice Department from 2015 to 2017 and is now with the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm, wrote a letter to the Defense Department last July on behalf of DJI, urging the removal of her client from the Pentagon’s Chinese military companies list.

In her letter, Lynch cited the importance and urgency of such a move because of the wide use of and dependence on DJI products by a variety of U.S. stakeholders.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned in January that Chinese-made drones posed “significant risk” to U.S. national security and critical infrastructure.

“[T]he PRC’s 2017 National Intelligence Law compels Chinese companies to cooperate with state intelligence services, including providing access to data collected within China and around the world,” CISA said in its cybersecurity guidance on Chinese manufactured drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

However, DJI’s spokesperson told VOA that DJI “is not a Chinese military company.”

According to DJI, the company remains one of the few drone companies that clearly “denounce and actively discourage” the use of drones in combat.

“We do not pursue business opportunities for combat use or operations. Our distributors, resellers and other business partners globally have also committed to following this policy when they sell and use our products,” DJI spokesperson said.

Spacex Hoping to Launch Starship Farther in 3rd Test Flight

BOCA CHICA, Texas — SpaceX’s Starship, a futuristic vehicle designed to eventually carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, was poised for a third uncrewed test launch Thursday that Elon Musk’s company hopes will carry it farther than before, even if it ends up exploding once again in flight.

The spacecraft, mounted atop its towering Super Heavy rocket booster, was due for liftoff as early as 8 a.m. EDT from SpaceX’s Starbase launch site on the Gulf of Mexico near Boca Chica, Texas.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration just granted a license for the test flight on Wednesday afternoon.

Unlike the first two test flights last year, aimed mainly at demonstrating that the spacecraft’s two stages can separate after launch, the third test flight will involve an attempt to open Starship’s payload door and reignite one of its engines in space.

Each of the previous flights were routed toward a planned crash landing near the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific, while the latest flight is targeting a splashdown zone in the Indian Ocean.

Even if it achieves more of its test objectives than before, SpaceX acknowledges a high probability that Starship’s latest flight will end up like the first two, with the vehicle blowing itself to bits before its intended trajectory is complete.

Regardless of how well it performs on Thursday, all indications are that Starship remains a considerable distance from becoming fully operational.

Musk, SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO, has said the rocket should fly hundreds of uncrewed missions before carrying its first humans. And several other ambitious milestones overseen by NASA are needed before the craft can execute a moon landing with American astronauts.

Still, Musk is counting on Starship to fulfill his goal of producing a large, multipurpose next-generation spacecraft capable of sending people and cargo to the moon later this decade, and ultimately flying to Mars.

Closer to home, Musk also sees Starship as eventually replacing the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as the workhorse in company’s commercial launch business that already lofts most of the world’s satellites and other payloads to low-Earth orbit.

For Thursday, SpaceX is aiming to at least exceed Starship’s performance with its Super Heavy booster during their inaugural test launch together last April, when the spacecraft exploded over the Gulf less than four minutes into a planned 90-minute flight.

That flight went awry from the start. Some of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines malfunctioned on ascent, and the lower-stage rocket failed to separate as designed from the upper-stage Starship, leading to termination of the flight.

The second test flight in November made it farther than the first, and managed to properly achieve stage separation, but the spacecraft exploded about eight minutes after launch.

SpaceX’s engineering culture, considered more risk-tolerant than many of the aerospace industry’s more established players, is built on a flight-testing strategy that pushes spacecraft to the point of failure, then fine-tunes improvements through frequent repetition.

NASA, SpaceX’s biggest customer, has a lot riding in the success of Starship, which the U.S. space agency is giving a central role in its Artemis program, successor to the Apollo missions that put astronauts on the moon for the first time more than 50 years ago.

While NASA Administrator chief Bill Nelson has embraced Musk’s frequent flight-testing approach, agency officials in recent months have made clear their desire to see greater progress with Starship’s development as the U.S. races with China to the lunar surface.