All posts by MTechnology

Space-Baked Cookies, ‘Mighty’ Mice Back on Earth via SpaceX

The first batch of space-baked cookies is back on Earth, along with muscle-bound “mighty” mice and other space station experiments.SpaceX provided the ride home Tuesday, a month after its Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station. The capsule parachuted into the Pacific, returning 3,800 pounds of gear.Researchers want to inspect the handful of chocolate chip cookies baked by astronauts in a special Zero G oven just in time for Christmas. The oven launched to the space station in November, so astronauts could pop in pre-made cookie dough provided by DoubleTree. A spokesman for the hotel chain said five cookies were baked up there, one at a time. The company plans to share details of this first-of-its-kind experiment in the coming weeks.”We made space cookies and milk for Santa this year,” NASA astronaut Christina Koch tweeted late last month from the space station, posing with one of the individually wrapped cookies.Scientists also are getting back 40 mice that flew up in early December, including eight genetically engineered to have twice the normal muscle mass. Some of the non-mighty mice bulked up in orbit for the muscle study; others will pack it on once they’re back in the lab.”We’re anxious to welcome the mice home! ” Dr. Se-Jin Lee of the Jackson Laboratory in Connecticut said in an email.

Invitation to Ivanka Trump Draws Backlash at Big Tech Show

The nation’s largest consumer electronics show on Tuesday hosts Ivanka Trump as a keynote speaker — a choice that drew scorn from many women in technology.The annual CES tech gathering in Las Vegas has long taken criticism over diversity issues. In recent years, the show’s organizer, the Consumer Technology Association, has invited more women to speak and sought to curb some of the show’s more sexist aspects, such as scantily clad “booth babes” hired to draw attention of the mostly male attendees.FILE – Ivanka Trump, the daughter and senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, is interviewed by the Associated Press in Rabat, Morocco, Nov. 8, 2019.But for critics and activists who have long pushed for broader recognition of the less-heralded women, the inclusion of President Donald Trump’s daughter, who is also a White House adviser, sends exactly the wrong message.”Ivanka is not a woman in tech,” tweeted Brianna Wu, a video game developer who is running for Congress in Massachusetts. “She’s not a CEO. She has no background. It’s a lazy attempt to emulate diversity — but like all emulation it’s not quite the real thing.”Ivanka Trump will appear in a question-and-answer session with CTA President Gary Shapiro. She is expected to discuss company strategies to retrain workers and develop math and science education programs. In the administration, she has worked on skills-training initiatives. Companies including Google have said they will train people for technology jobs as part of a White House initiative.’Focus on jobs’Shapiro told The Associated Press that Ivanka Trump is fighting for workers at a time when robots are filling warehouses and factories and self-driving vehicles are worrying truck drivers.”We’ve had politicians speak before, cabinet secretaries and others who’ve come in,” Shapiro said. “So, I think wait until you hear what she has to say and listen to it because the fact is that there is a focus on jobs.”Ivanka Trump said job training and workforce development are key parts of the administration’s economic agenda. “I’m excited to discuss how the Trump administration is championing these shared goals,” she said in a statement emailed Tuesday.Many people who tweeted the hashtag #BoycottCES on Tuesday in protest of Trump’s appearance also took issue with the administration’s border detention policies and various actions of the president himself.The technology industry has especially important issues pending with the U.S. government, including antitrust investigations into Facebook and Google, the trade war with China, immigration, election security and misinformation on social media.Government officials have long made regular appearances at CES. This year, for instance, the speaker roster includes both Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Energy Dan Bouillette. Other female speakers at the conference include Meg Whitman of video streaming startup Quibi and Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships for NBCUniversal.Vocal criticsIvanka Trump is “taking this slot at this conference where women have been saying for so long, ‘Hey, we are being overlooked,'” said Rachel Sklar, a tech commentator and founder of a professional network for women. “The whole category of women being overlooked are still being overlooked.””Clearly they are not putting much effort into finding women in tech who can speak,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, who is at CES.Last year, CES caused an uproar when it revoked an innovation award presented to a female-led sex device company. CES reversed its decision, and has allowed sex tech into the show for a one-year trial. Conference organizers also brought in an official “equality partner,” The Female Quotient, to help ensure gender diversity.”Was there nobody else available? Seriously?” asked Ti Chang, co-founder of the wearable vibrator company Crave. Chang said Trump’s experience running a clothing brand is a bad fit for CES and its focus on innovation and technology.”I don’t understand,” she said. “I would love to know what their rationale was.”
 

Facebook Bans Deepfakes in Fight Against Online Manipulation

Facebook says it is banning “deepfake” videos, the false but realistic clips created with artificial intelligence and sophisticated tools, as it steps up efforts to fight online manipulation.The social network said late Monday that it’s beefing up its policies to remove videos edited or synthesized in ways that aren’t apparent to the average person, and which could dupe someone into thinking the video’s subject said something he or she didn’t actually say.Created by artificial intelligence or machine learning, deepfakes combine or replace content to create images that can be almost impossible to tell are not authentic.“While these videos are still rare on the internet, they present a significant challenge for our industry and society as their use increases,” Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, Monika Bickert, said in a blog post.However, she said the new rules won’t include parody or satire, or clips edited just to change the order of words. The exceptions underscore the balancing act Facebook and other social media services face in their struggle to stop the spread of online misinformation and “fake news” while also respecting free speech and fending off allegations of censorship.The U.S. tech company has been grappling with how to handle the rise of deepfakes after facing criticism last year for refusing to remove a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slurring her words, which was viewed more than 3 million times. Experts said the crudely edited clip was more of a “cheap fake” than a deepfake.Then, a pair of artists posted fake footage of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showing him gloating over his one-man domination of the world. Facebook also left that clip online. The company said at the time that neither video violated its policies.The problem of altered videos is taking on increasing urgency as experts and lawmakers try to figure out how to prevent deepfakes from being used to interfere with U.S. presidential elections in November.Facebook said any videos that don’t meet existing standards for removal can still be reviewed by independent third-party fact-checkers. Those deemed false will be flagged as such to anyone trying to share or view them, which Bickert said was a better approach than just taking them down.“If we simply removed all manipulated videos flagged by fact-checkers as false, the videos would still be available elsewhere on the internet or social media ecosystem,” Bickert said. “By leaving them up and labeling them as false, we’re providing people with important information and context.” 

Sex Tech From Female-Led Startups at CES Gadget Show

Sex tech will grace the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week after organizers endured scorn for revoking an innovation award to a sex device company led by a female founder.
                   
CES will allow space for sex tech companies as a one-year trial. The companies will be grouped in the health and wellness section of the Sands Expo, an official, but secondary CES location, one geared toward startups.
                   
Lora DiCarlo, a startup that pushed for changes after organizers revoked its award, will showcase its Ose robotic “personal massager.” It’s one of a dozen companies at the show focused on vibrators, lube dispensers and other sex tech products. Founders of these startups say their products are about empowerment and wellness for women, something they say has often been overlooked in tech.
                   
The historically male-dominated tech trade show has received criticism in past years for having an all-male lineup of speakers and for previously allowing scantily clad “booth babes,” fostering a “boys’ club” reputation.
                   
Besides allowing sex tech, CES organizers brought in an official “equality partner,” The Female Quotient, to help ensure gender diversity. The Female Quotient, which trains companies in equality practices, will hold a conference for women during the show, which formally opens Tuesday and runs through Friday.
                   
“It’s been a process,” said Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES.
                   
It’s been a longer process for many sex tech companies to convince investors that they are part of a growing trend that has enough customers. Much of the push has come from the startups’ female founders and from younger consumers who talk more openly about sexuality.
                   
Sex tech has existed in some form for decades. But the gates really began to open in 2016, said Andrea Barrica, founder of sex education site O.school. That year, several other “fem tech” companies made progress in areas such as menstruation and menopause. Those paved the way for sex tech to grow and get investors interested.
                   
“Larger institutions are starting to take note, all the way from VC firms to large Fortune 100 companies,” said Barrica, who recently published the book “Sextech Revolution: The Future of Sexual Wellness” Large institutions like CES had no choice but to look at sex tech, she said.
                   
The journey hasn’t been easy. Sex tech founders, many of them women, recount being turned down by dozens of investors. They faced decency arguments and entrenched corporate standards that equated them with porn.
                   
But investors are becoming more receptive, said Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive turned sex tech entrepreneur and founder of the website MakeLoveNotPorn.
                   
“It’s entirely because of our refusal to allow the business world to put us down,” she said.
                   
Founders insist that their devices _ ranging from vibrators to lube dispensers to accessories _ have effects outside the bedroom.
                   
“Sexual health and wellness is health and wellness,” said Lora DiCarlo, CEO and founder of the company of the same name. “It does way more than just pleasure. It’s immediately connected to stress relief, to better sleep to empowerment and confidence.”
                   
DiCarlo’s Ose $290 device has gotten $3 million worth of advance sales, bolstered in part by the attention it received after CES organizers overturned a decision by an independent panel of judges to give the vibrator a prestigious Innovation Honoree Award in the robotics and drone category. The organizers, CTA, told the company it reserved the right to rescind awards for devices deemed “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.”
                   
DiCarlo and other female founders pushed back for banning them but allowing humanoid sex robots meant to serve men the previous year.
                   
Following criticism, CES organizers ultimately  reinstated the award and apologized. A few months later, the show announced policy changes such as a dress code to prevent skimpy outfits and new “Innovation for All” sessions with senior diversity officials.
                   
Ose began shipping to customers this month. DiCarlo said the company is planning to new devices, including less expensive options.
                   
Sex tech companies still face major barriers to growth.
                   
Polly Rodriguez, CEO of sexual wellness company Unbound, said the company is profitable and customers are more open about buying products than they once were. But she said she still faces roadblocks advertising on social media, and many traditional investors snub the company.
                   
“Things are better, but there’s just still this genuine fear of female sexuality more broadly within the institutional side of technology,” she said.
                   
And while Gallop offered to speak at CES, conference organizers declined, saying sex tech was not a part of its conference programming.

Co-creator Defends Suspected UAE Spying App Called ToTok

The co-creator of a video and voice calling app suspected of being a spying tool of the United Arab Emirates defended his work in an  interview with The Associated Press  and denied knowing that people and companies linked to the project had ties to the country’s intelligence apparatus.Millions downloaded the ToTok app during the several months it was offered in the Apple and Google stores. Co-founder Giacomo Ziani described the popularity as a sign of users’ trust despite a longtime ban in the UAE on such apps.He denied that the company collected conversation data, saying the software demanded the same access to devices as other common communication apps. Emirati authorities insisted that they “prohibit any kind of data breach and unlawful interception.”But this federation of seven sheikhdoms ruled by hereditary leaders already conducts mass surveillance and has been  internationally criticized for targeting activists, journalists and others. Ziani repeatedly said he knew nothing about that, nor had any knowledge that a firm invested in ToTok included staff with ties to an Emirati security firm scrutinized abroad for hiring former CIA and National Security Agency staffers. He also said he did not know about ties a computer researcher says link companies involved with ToTok to Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirates’ national security adviser.“I was not aware, and I’m even not aware now of who was who, who was doing what in the past,” Ziani said. “These are not questions you should be (asking) me. You should be eventually asking” them.IIn this Dec. 31, 2019 photo, the Abu Dhabi Global Market, an economic free zone, is seen in Abu Dhabi, UAE.ToTok surged to popularity by allowing users to make internet calls long banned in the UAE, a U.S.-allied nation on the Arabian Peninsula that is home to Dubai. The ban means Apple iPhones and computers sold in the UAE do not carry Apple’s FaceTime calling app. Calls on Skype, WhatsApp and other similar programs do not work.Ziani said ToTok won rapid approval from the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, something long sought by the established competitors that remain banned. The 32-year-old native of Venice, Italy, attributed that to the monopoly on the telecommunications market held by two companies, Du and Etisalat, that are majority-owned by the government. ToTok’s small market share would not cut as deeply into their business as major firms if allowed access, he said.“They will see their business like totally crashed from a day to another,” Ziani said. With ToTok, “they felt like they were not risking to fall into this situation.”By installing the app, users agreed to allow access to their mobile device’s microphone, pictures, location information and other data invaluable to intelligence agencies. Most internet firms are based in the U.S., but privacy is viewed far differently in the Emirates, where ToTok’s headquarters are in the capital, Abu Dhabi.“By using this app, you’re allowing your life to be opened up to the whims of national security as seen by the UAE government,” said Bill Marczak, a computer science researcher at the University of California, Berkley, who has studied ToTok and other suspected Emirati spying operations. “In this case, you’re essentially having people install the spyware themselves as opposed to hacking into the phone.”In this nation of 9.4 million people where all but a sliver of the population comes from another country, the app represented what appeared to be the first government-blessed app that would allow them to connect freely to loved ones back home. That drew everyone from laborers to diplomatic staffers to download it amid a publicity campaign by state-linked and government-supporting media in the Emirates.An American diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, said local embassy and consular staff received orders to remove the app from all U.S. government devices. That was only after The New York Times, citing anonymous U.S. officials, described the app as a “spying tool” of the Emirati government.Ziani alleged, without providing evidence, that criticism of ToTok came more from professional jealousy and trade tensions between the U.S. and China than security concerns. ToTok partly used code from a previously developed Chinese app called Yeecall, where his co-founder, Long Ruan, once worked in a senior position, he said. Ziani said he met Long through G42, which he described as a business “incubator.”But ToTok described itself on Apple as coming from developer Breej Holding Ltd. and on Google as being from ToTok Pte., a Singapore-based firm.Both ToTok and Breej Holding Ltd. had been registered in a publicly accessible online database of companies operating out of the Abu Dhabi Global Market, an economic free zone set up in the Emirati capital. After suspicions emerged about ToTok, records of the two firms no longer appeared online.Following an inquiry about the firms from an AP journalist, their information reappeared Tuesday night in the database. Market spokeswoman Joan Lew blamed a “data migration” problem for their disappearance.In this Feb. 6, 2019 photo, released by Emirates News Agency, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, walks to a meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE.Information from that database shows ToTok’s sole registered shareholder as Group 42, a new Abu Dhabi firm that describes itself as an artificial intelligence and cloud-computing company. The company, also known as G42, in an email to the AP also described itself as “the registered shareholder in ToTok Technology Ltd.,” though Ziani said ToTok has another substantial investor he declined to identify.G42’s CEO is Peng Xiao, who for years ran Pegasus, a subsidiary of DarkMatter, the Emirati security firm under scrutiny for hiring former CIA and NSA staffers, as well as others from Israel. G42’s website also lists PAX AI as a subsidiary, the new name Pegasus operates under, according to job postings for PAX AI that mention Pegasus. Ziani similarly interchangeably referred to Pegasus as PAX AI while speaking to the AP.“G42 has no connection to DarkMatter, whatsoever,” the company told AP in a statement. It did not respond to further queries, though other former DarkMatter and Pegasus employees now work at G42, according to publicly accessible profiles on the social media website LinkedIn.G42’s sole director listed in Abu Dhabi Global Market filings is Hamad Khalfan al-Shamsi, whom Marczak identified as the public relations manager of the office of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Tahnoun is a brother to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi who has run the country from day-to-day since its president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, suffered a stroke in January 2014.Sheikh Tahnoun, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner always photographed in sunglasses, has served as the UAE’s national security adviser since 2016. The sheikh’s adopted son, the mixed martial artist Hassan al-Rumaithi, is the sole director of Breej Holding Ltd., Marczak said, citing market filings. Similarly, an executive at Sheikh Tahnoun’s company Royal Group, Osama al-Ahdali, is the sole director of ToTok Technology Ltd., Marczak said.Royal Group did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Emirati officials, Apple and Google.ToTok on its website meanwhile still lists itself as Totok Pte. Ltd., the Singapore-based company initially listed on the Google app store. Singaporean business records obtained by the AP show a single shareholder, Manoj Paul, with a listed address at one of Abu Dhabi’s upscale Etihad Towers. Paul, who describes himself on LinkedIn as G42’s general counsel and head of group operations, declined to speak with an AP journalist.For now, Ziani said his focus remains on getting ToTok listed again in the Apple and Google app stores. He mentioned plans to have ToTok become like China’s all-encompassing app WeChat, handling payments, social media posts and other high-frequency activities. G42 appears to already have filed paperwork for a possible payment company in Abu Dhabi.That could create an Emirati version of WeChat, a service used by more than 1 billion people use in which Chinese government officials routinely censor posts. Dissidents suspect it of allowing surveillance.Ziani insisted a former NSA hacker named Patrick Wardle, who analyzed ToTok, said the app “simply does what it claims to do.”However, Ziani ignored the next sentence in Wardle’s analysis, which described “the genius of the whole mass surveillance operation” the app could represent by offering “in-depth insight in a large percentage of the country’s population.”

App Tackles Illiteracy in Mali, Boosts Local Business

The surge in Africa innovation is expected in 2020 with all sorts of solutions to the continent’s problems. One example is an innovation created by a Malian in 2019. It’s a voice-controlled app that entrepreneurs are using to market their goods and services to customers who can’t read. VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo reports 

Smart Robots Are Being Built to Mine the Moon

A California startup called OFFWORLD has ambitious plans that are out of this world. They are working on developing autonomous robots that would be able to mine the Moon and Mars. Alexey Gorbachev has the story narrated by Anna Rice.

India Targets New Moon Mission in 2020

India plans to make a fresh attempt to land an unmanned mission on the moon in 2020 after a failed bid last year, the head of the country’s space program said Wednesday.Work is going “smoothly” on the Chandrayaan-3 mission to put a rover probe on the moon’s surface, Indian Space Research Organization chairman K. Sivan told a press conference.”We are targeting the launch for this year but it may spillover to next year,” Sivan said. Indian sources said authorities had set November as a provisional target for launch.India seeking to become only the fourth nation after Russia, the United States and China to put a mission on the moon’s surface and boost its credentials as a low-cost space power.The country’s Chandrayaan-2 module crash-landed on the moon’s surface in September.Sivan said the new propulsion module, lander and surface rover would cost about $35 million, with a significantly higher outlay for the launch itself.He added that India had chosen four candidate astronauts to take part in the country’s first manned mission into orbit, pledged to take place by mid-2022.The four are to start training in Russia later this month. Up to three astronauts are to take part in the mission, which will be one of the landmark projects scheduled for the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from British rule.