Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Online Abuse Silences Women and Girls, Fuels Violence, Survey Shows

Pervasive online abuse and harassment pressure women and girls into censoring themselves on social media and fuel gender-based discrimination and violence, rights groups said on Monday.

About one in four women in Britain, the United States and six other countries said in a survey they had experienced online abuse or harassment.

More than 40 percent said the online abuse made them fear for their physical safety and more than half reported trouble sleeping, loss of self-esteem and panic attacks after the incidents, according to rights group Amnesty International.

About a third stopped expressing their opinions online or withdrew from public conversations as a result, Amnesty said.

“It’s no secret that misogyny and abuse are thriving on social media platforms, but this poll shows just how damaging the consequences of online abuse are,” said Amnesty researcher Azmina Dhrodia. “This is not something that goes away when you log off.”

Online harassment starts at a young age and may be more common for girls and teenagers than adults, according to U.K.-based child rights group Plan International.

Nearly half of girls aged 11-18 in the U.K. said they had experienced abuse or harassment on social media, Plan found in a survey earlier this year.

Like women, most of the girls said they stopped sharing opinions or otherwise changed their online behavior out of fear, according to Plan.

“Very young girls are learning that they need to take responsibility for harassment and abuse,” Kerry Smith of Plan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “What they are saying is that they are holding themselves back.”

Parents, teachers and police often respond to online abuse by taking away girls’ phones or telling them to go offline, which teaches victims that they are responsible for the problem, Smith said.

Online harassment, including crude comments on pictures or sexual references, teaches boys that it is okay to treat girls as sexual objects and to exercise power over them, which can lead to physical abuse and rape, she added.

Social media attacks are so common for female politicians that they deter women from running for office around the world, advocates and female lawmakers have said.

Companies and governments need to step up to make the internet a safe space for girls and women, campaigners said.

“Social media companies have a responsibility… to ensure that women using their platforms are able to do so freely and without fear,” said Amnesty’s Dhrodia.

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A Gastronomical Virtual Experience: Enjoying the Taste of Food Without the Calories

Through a headset around the head and over the eyes, virtual reality can take us to computer-generated environments very different from the physical environment we’re in. Now, virtual reality technology is offering the food industry a new life. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, virtual reality can change the future of our dining experiences and make food tastier and healthier. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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UN Panel Agrees to Move Ahead With Debate on ‘Killer Robots’

A U.N. panel agreed Friday to move ahead with talks to define and possibly set limits on weapons that can kill without human involvement, as human rights groups said governments are moving too slowly to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence that could put computers in control one day.

Advocacy groups warned about the threats posed by such “killer robots” and aired a chilling video illustrating their possible uses on the sidelines of the first formal U.N. meeting of government experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems this week. More than 80 countries took part.

Ambassador Amandeep Gill of India, who chaired the gathering, said participants plan to meet again in 2018. He said ideas discussed this week included the creation of legally binding instrument, a code of conduct, or a technology review process.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an umbrella group of advocacy groups, says 22 countries support a ban of the weapons and the list is growing. Human Rights Watch, one of its members, called for an agreement to regulate them by the end of 2019 — admittedly a long shot.

The meeting falls under the U.N.’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons — also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention — a 37-year old agreement that has set limits on the use of arms and explosives like mines, blinding laser weapons and booby traps over the years.

The group operates by consensus, so the least ambitious goals are likely to prevail, and countries including Russia and Israel have firmly staked out opposition to any formal ban. The United States has taken a go-slow approach, rights groups say.

U.N. officials say in theory, fully autonomous, computer-controlled weapons don’t exist yet, but defining exactly what killer robots are and how much human interaction is involved was a key focus of the meeting. The United States argued that it was “premature” to establish a definition.

Dramatic depictions

The concept alone stirs the imagination and fears, as dramatized in Hollywood futuristic or science-fiction films that have depicted uncontrolled robots deciding on their own about firing weapons and killing people.

Gill played down such concerns.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: The robots are not taking over the world. So that is good news, humans are still in charge. … We have to be careful in not emotionalizing or dramatizing this issue,” he told reporters Friday.

The United States, in comments presented, said autonomous weapons could help improve guidance of missiles and bombs against military targets, thereby “reducing the likelihood of inadvertently striking civilians.” Autonomous defensive systems could help intercept enemy projectiles, one U.S. text said.

Some top academics like Stephen Hawking, technology experts such as Tesla founder Elon Musk and human rights groups have warned about the threats posed by artificial intelligence, amid concerns that it might one day control such systems — and perhaps sooner rather than later.

“The bottom line is that governments are not moving fast enough,” said Steven Goose, executive director of arms at Human Rights Watch. He said a treaty by the end of 2019 is “the kind of timeline we think this issue demands.”

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Tesla Adds Big Trucks to Its Electrifying Ambitions

After more than a decade of making cars and SUVs — and, more recently, solar panels — Tesla Inc. wants to electrify a new type of vehicle: big trucks.

The company unveiled its new electric semitractor-trailer Thursday night near its design center in Hawthorne, California.

CEO Elon Musk said the semi is capable of traveling 500 miles on an electric charge and will cost less than a diesel semi considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semi now and production will begin in 2019.

“We’re confident that this is a product that’s better in every way from a feature standpoint,” Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling.

​One-fourth of transit emissions

The move fits with Musk’s stated goal for the company of accelerating the shift to sustainable transportation. Trucks account for nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to government statistics.

Musk said Tesla plans a worldwide network of solar-powered “megachargers” that could get the trucks back up to 400 miles of range after 30 minutes.

Tesla, Musk stretched

But the semi also piles on the chaos at Palo Alto, California-based company. Tesla is way behind on production of the Model 3, a new lower-cost sedan. It’s also ramping up production of solar panels after buying Solar City Corp. last year. Musk has said Tesla is also working on a pickup and a lower-cost SUV and negotiating a new factory in China. Meanwhile, the company posted a record quarterly loss of $619 million in its most recent quarter.

Musk, too, is being pulled in many different directions. He leads rocket maker SpaceX and is dabbling in other projects, including high-speed transit, artificial intelligence research and a new company that’s digging tunnels beneath Los Angeles to alleviate traffic congestion.

“He’s got so much on his plate right now. This could present another distraction from really just making sure that the Model 3 is moved along effectively,” said Bruce Clark, a senior vice president and automotive analyst at Moody’s.

Uncertain market

Tesla is venturing into an uncertain market. Demand for electric trucks is expected to grow over the next decade as the U.S., Europe and China all tighten their emissions regulations. Electric truck sales totaled 4,100 in 2016, but are expected to grow to more than 70,000 in 2026, says Navigant Research.

But most of that growth is expected to be for smaller, medium-duty haulers like garbage trucks or delivery vans. Those trucks can have a more limited range of 100 miles or less, which requires fewer expensive batteries. They can also be charged overnight.

Long-haul semi trucks, on the other hand, would be expected to go greater distances, and that would be challenging. Right now, there’s little charging infrastructure on global highways. Without Tesla’s promised fast-charging, even a midsized truck would likely require a two-hour stop, cutting into companies’ efficiency and profits, says Brian Irwin, managing director of the North American industrial group for the consulting firm Accenture.

Irwin says truck companies will have to watch the market carefully, because tougher regulations on diesels or an improvement in charging infrastructure could make electric trucks more viable very quickly. Falling battery costs also will help make electric trucks more appealing compared to diesels.

But even lower costs won’t make trucking a sure bet for Tesla. It faces stiff competition from long-trusted brands like Daimler AG, which unveiled its own semi prototype last month. 

Fleet operators want reliable trucks, and Tesla will have to prove it can make them, said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with the car shopping site Autotrader.

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FCC Upgrade: Better Picture, Less Privacy — And You’ll Need a New TV

U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the use of new technology that will improve picture quality on mobile phones, tablets and television, but also raises significant privacy concerns by giving advertisers dramatically more data about viewing habits.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to allow broadcasters to voluntarily use the new technology, dubbed ATSC 3.0, which would allow for more precise geolocating of television signals, ultra-high definition picture quality and more interactive programming, like new educational content for children and multiple angles of live sporting events.

The system uses precision broadcasting and targets emergency or weather alerts on a street-by-street basis. The system could allow broadcasters to wake up a receiver to broadcast emergency alerts. The alerts could include maps, storm tracks and evacuation routes.

The new standard would also let broadcasters activate a TV set that is turned off to send emergency alerts.

Advertisers excited

Current televisions cannot carry the new signal, and the FCC on Thursday said it was only requiring broadcasting both signals for five years after deploying the next-generation technology.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. last month called the new standard “the Holy Grail” for the advertiser because it tells them who is watching and where.

But Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan said the new technology “contemplates targeted advertisements that would be ‘relevant to you and what you actually might want to see.’ This raises questions about how advertisers and broadcasters will gather the demographic information from consumers which are necessary to do targeted advertisements.”

New TV, higher costs

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the new technology would force consumers to buy new televisions.

“The FCC calls this approach market driven. That’s right — because we will all be forced into the market for new television sets or devices.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended the proposal, calling concerns about buying new devices “hypothetical.” He added five years is “a long time. We’ll have to see how the standard develops.”

One issue is whether broadcasters will be able to pass on the costs of advanced broadcast signals through higher retransmissions fees and demand providers carry the signals.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents Tegna Inc, Comcast Corp., CBS Corp., Walt Disney Co., Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and others, petitioned the FCC in April 2016 to approve the new standard.

“This is game-changing technology for broadcasting and our viewers,” the group said Thursday.

Many companies have raised concerns about costs, including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. Cable, satellite and other pay TV providers “would incur significant costs to receive, transmit, and deliver ATSC 3.0 signals to subscribers, including for network and subscriber equipment,” Verizon said.

Many nations are considering the new standard. South Korea adopted the ATSC 3.0 standard in 2016.

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Experts Question Role of Data Mining Firms in Kenya’s Annulled Election

Kenya’s annulled 2017 presidential election was among Africa’s most expensive.  President Uhuru Kenyatta and main challenger Raila Odinga spent tens of millions of dollars on their campaigns, including sizeable investments in global PR firms that mined data and crafted targeted advertisements.

As experts sort through the historic election’s aftermath, the involvement of data analysis companies has come to the forefront, raising questions about privacy, voter manipulation and the role of foreign firms in local elections.

Mercenary outfits

Data mining and PR companies conduct surveys to gauge public sentiment and sift through reams of data across social media.  They stitch that information together to build detailed profiles and deliver targeted, customized messages aimed at changing behaviors.

Some see it as smart campaigning.  But others point to the ethical concerns of manipulating voters with false information.

“You have a lot of these organizations, these PR firms, lobby firms, out there, and they’re essentially just mercenary outfits that do work for the highest bidder, regardless of their bloodstained track record,” Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, an organization that advocates for good governance on the continent, told VOA.

“It’s all legal.  It’s a business, and these businesses exist to make a profit … It’s the ethical and moral side where I tend to question.”

Democratic practices falling behind

According to media reports, Kenyatta’s campaign paid $6 million to Cambridge Analytica, the analytics and PR firm tied to the Brexit referendum, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and, as recently reported by The Wall Street Journal, WikiLeaks.

Owned in part by the influential Mercer family, U.S.-based billionaires and political donors, Cambridge Analytica compiles demographic information to build vast databases of voter profiles.  It then delivers personalized advertisements to key voters in an attempt to sway them.

Kenyatta wasn’t the only candidate to enlist the services of a high-tech PR firm.  According to new reporting by The Star, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers, Odinga’s campaign employed Aristotle International, a U.S.-based company focused on campaign data mining.

The exact impact of these firms on the outcome of the August election is impossible to gauge, but their prominence in Kenya points to the role high-tech campaigning will play in future elections across the continent.

That’s raising questions about whether these companies undermine the democratic process by giving their clients an unfair advantage and manipulating the public.

“We have reached a point where our technological advances now exceed the ability of democratic practices to catch up,” said Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

“That has created a window where people can exploit platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google to amplify certain messages that play on ethnic stereotypes for purposes of creating fear and winning elections,” Juma told VOA.

Previous involvement

This isn’t Cambridge Analytica’s first foray into Kenyan politics.  Although it won’t acknowledge working on the recent campaign, the company boasts of its role in the 2013 elections, when Kenyatta contracted with the firm.

According to its website, Cambridge Analytica “designed and implemented the largest political research project ever conducted in East Africa” by sampling and interviewing 47,000 respondents to provide key political issues and identify voting behaviors, from which it drafted an “effective campaign strategy based on the electorate’s real needs (jobs) and fears (tribal violence).”

New frontier

Cambridge Analytica and other data-driven PR firms have worked throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.  The African market, with a projected population of 2.5 billion people in 2050, represents an enticing new frontier, with Kenya emerging as an especially appealing place to do business.

A unique mix of high mobile phone penetration, fast mobile internet, pervasive social media use and a young electorate — people under 35 comprise more than half of Kenya’s 19 million registered voters — makes the country ripe with opportunities for data mining and digital PR companies to invest in, or exploit.

For Smith, the lack of transparency inherent in how companies like Cambridge Analytica operate undermines the democratic process.

“What they do is essentially help propagate false news stories,” Smith said.  “Me and my organization, Vanguard Africa … were portrayed as somehow financing and supporting the Kenyan opposition, which was fundamentally not true,” he said.

“That didn’t make those stories go away, of course.  The truth becomes the victim in all of this.”

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Africa’s Renewable Energy Set to Soar by 2022

Strong demand is set to give a huge boost to renewable energy growth in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years, driving cumulative capacity up more than 70 percent, a senior international energy official said Wednesday.

From Ethiopia to South Africa, millions of people are getting access to electricity for the first time as the continent turns to solar, wind and hydropower projects to boost generation capacity.

“A big chunk of this [growth] is hydro because of Ethiopia, but then you have solar … in South Africa, Nigeria and Namibia and wind in South Africa and Ethiopia as well,” said Paolo Frankl, head of the renewable division at the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

He forecast installed capacity of renewable energy in the Sub-Saharan region almost doubling — from around 35 gigawatts now to above 60 gigawatts, given the right conditions.

Ethiopia has an array of hydropower projects under construction, including the $4.1 billion Grand Renaissance Dam along the Nile River that will churn out 6,000 megawatts upon completion.

That is enough for a good-sized city for a year.

“Africa has one of the best potential resources of renewables anywhere in the world, but it depends very much on the enabling framework, on the governance and the right rules,” Frankl told Reuters on the sidelines of a wind energy conference.

Coal industry opposition

The transition to a low-carbon trajectory to reduce harmful greenhouse gases is creating opposition from the coal industry and fueling uncertainty in countries where job creation was linked to coal mining.

In Africa, this tension and its impact on new investment has been best illustrated by South Africa’s state-owned Eskom and its reluctance to sign new deals with independent power producers, according to analysts.

In May, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) said the energy regulator agreed to investigate Eskom’s refusal to sign agreements that delayed 2,942 megawatts in new solar and wind projects.

“Our government does not appear to appreciate the forces of nature,” SAWEA Chairman Mark Pickering said Wednesday.

The inability of Eskom to sign the new power purchase agreements for two years has delayed investment of 58 billion rand ($4.03 billion), and hit investor confidence with at least one shutdown of a wind turbine manufacturing plant, said SAWEA.

“The continent has a lot of potential, but the problem is financial and political issues, so all of our projects are being delayed for quite a long time, like with Eskom,” said Mason Qin, business development manager for southern and eastern Africa at China’s Goldwind.

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