Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Facebook Opens New London Office, to Create 800 UK Jobs

Facebook opens its new London office on Monday and said it would add 800 more jobs in the capital next year, underlining its commitment to Britain as the country prepares for Brexit.

The social network said more than half of the people working at the site in central London will focus on engineering, making it Facebook’s biggest engineering hub outside the United States.

It will also house Facebook’s first in-house start-up incubator, called LDN_LAB, designed to help kick start fledgling British digital businesses.

EMEA vice president Nicola Mendelsohn said Facebook was more committed than ever to the U.K. and supporting the growth of the country’s innovative start-ups.

“The U.K.’s flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem and international reputation for engineering excellence makes it one of the best places in the world to build a tech company,” she said.

“And we’ve built our company here – this country has been a huge part of Facebook’s story over the past decade, and I look forward to continuing our work to achieve our mission of bringing the world closer together.”

The new jobs, which come 10 years after the company set up its first London office, will take Facebook’s total British workforce to more than 2,300 by the end of 2018, it said.

Facebook, along with other U.S. digital giants including Google and Amazon, has not been deterred from expanding in London by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

It announced the new headquarters last year, shortly after Google said it was building a new hub in the city that will be able to accommodate more than 7,000 employees in total.

Facebook’s new office in the capital’s West End, designed by architect Frank Gehry, will house engineers, developers, marketing and sales teams working on products like Workplace, its business product which was built in London, it said.

Geologists Say Fracking Won’t Solve England’s Energy Problems

Fracking, at least in the U.S., has changed the country’s energy outlook. It has cut the cost of fossil fuels and turned the U.S. into a net exporter of fuel. But fracking hasn’t had the same effect in Britain, and geologists say the island nation’s unique geology means fracking will never solve their energy problems. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Toyota Unveils a New Robot That Mimics its Operator’s Movements

Toyota Motor Corporation recently unveiled a high-tech personal assistant at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo. It mimics the moves of the user, which Toyota says may turn this machine into a caregiver for the elderly. Arash Arabasadi reports.

UK Warns Government Agencies not to use Kaspersky Software

Britain’s cybersecurity agency has told government departments not to use antivirus software from Moscow-based firm Kaspersky Lab amid concerns about Russian snooping.

Ciaran Martin, head of the National Cyber Security Centre, said “Russia is acting against the U.K.’s national interest in cyberspace.”

In a letter dated Friday to civil service chiefs, he said Russia seeks “to target U.K. central government and the U.K.’s critical national infrastructure.” He advised that “a Russia-based provider should never be used” for systems that deal with issues related to national security.

The agency said it’s not advising the public at large against using Kaspersky’s popular antivirus products.

Martin says British authorities are holding talks with Kaspersky about developing checks to prevent the “transfer of U.K. data to the Russian state.”

Kaspersky has denied wrongdoing and says it doesn’t assist Russian cyberespionage efforts.

In September, the U.S. government barred federal agencies from using Kaspersky products because of concerns about the company’s ties to the Kremlin and Russian spy operations.

News reports have since linked Kaspersky software to an alleged theft of cybersecurity information from the U.S. National Security Agency.

Britain has issued increasingly strong warnings about Russia’s online activity. Martin said last month that Russian hackers had targeted the U.K.’s media, telecommunications and energy sectors in the past year.

U.S. authorities are investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and some British lawmakers have called for a similar probe into the U.K.’s European Union membership referendum.

Prime Minister Theresa May said last month that Russia was “weaponizing information” and meddling in elections to undermine the international order.

World’s Largest Lithium Ion Battery Switched on in South Australia

The world’s largest lithium ion battery has begun providing electricity into the power grid in South Australia.  The project is a collaboration between the state government, American firm Tesla, and Neoen, a French energy company. 

Tesla boss Elon Musk, who was not in attendance at the switch-on, had boldly promised to build the battery in South Australia within 100 days – a pledge that has been fulfilled.  The 100-megawatt battery was officially activated Friday.  Musk has said it was three times more powerful than the world’s next biggest battery, and promised to deliver it for free had it not been built on schedule.

The South Australian state government hopes the project can prevent power outages because it can rapidly deploy electricity when it is most needed and reduce prices.

Last September, South Australia suffered a state-wide power outage when storms damaged the electricity network.

State premier Jay Weatherill believes the new battery will guarantee energy supplies.

“People were making fun of South Australia for its leadership in renewable energy and blaming it for the black-out,” said Weatherill. “That, of course, has now been debunked as a myth.  We now know that our leadership in renewable energy is not only leading the nation but leading the world, and we are more than happy to supply our beautiful renewable energy stored in a battery to help out the national electricity market.”

Located near Jamestown, about 200 kilometers north of Adelaide, the Tesla-built 100 megawatt lithium ion battery is connected to a wind farm run by French energy company Neoen.

The farm has 99 wind turbines and generates electricity that can be stored in the battery to serve 30,000 people for about an hour.  In a statement, the California-based firm said the project in South Australia showed “that a sustainable, effective energy solution is possible”.

Critics of the battery have said the technology’s potential has been exaggerated.

The bulk of Australia’s electricity is still generated by coal, and the nation is one of the world’s worst per capita emitters of greenhouses gases.



Los Angeles Set to Embark on a Smart City Experiment

From cellphones and cars, to televisions and refrigerators, more devices are being connected to the Internet.

This network of connected devices is call the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, is planning to use the prevalence of these IoT devices as a testing ground for becoming a city of the future.

“By putting computers in parking meters, you already have computers in your car, and you have computers in the street lights. The ability to connect them to the Internet of Things allows a better way for your car to know where parking spots are available, allows better for it to communicate when street lights should turn green to maximize traffic flow,” said Ted Ross, chief information officer for the city of Los Angeles.

WATCH: Los Angeles About to Embark on a Smart City Experiment

What is I3? 

Los Angeles is a part of a consortium called “I3” that includes the University of Southern California (USC) and tech companies. This partnership is developing and will soon test an Internet of Things system. It aims to connect sensors placed around the city with other connected devices to make L.A. a smart city.

It is an endeavor that will also rely on residents’ participation, said Raman Abrol of Tech Mahindra. It is one of the I3 tech companies and will provide a platform for an online marketplace called Community Action Platform for Engagement or CAPE.

“Communities can collaborate with businesses and cities and share data in a manner where privacy’s enforced,” Abrol said.

In the online marketplace, neighborhoods could be shopping for a cheaper source of renewable energy or water filtration system. Companies can then compete for their business.

CAPE is just one of the many elements in the I3 system that will make up the Internet of Things network in Los Angeles.

“The I3 is an Internet of Things integrator. Through I3, we’re (Los Angeles) working with the University of Southern California and vendor partners to aggregate the data and give us a better ability to make decisions, decisions to maximize traffic flow, decisions to help reduce crime, decisions to help improve business prosperity,” Ross said.

Privacy, security concerns

As connected devices become more ubiquitous and the flow of personal data increases, privacy and security concerns will be more scrutinized.

“I think that this is one piece of a huge emerging problem, of figuring out how we protect privacy and limit government power in an era of rapidly expanding information availability and rapidly expanding data processing abilities. So it’s not just that there are more and more data points that are available for the government to look at. It is also that we are rapidly expanding our ability to analyze data,” said Stanford University Law School professor, David Alan Sklansky.

Sklansky has been closely following a U.S. Supreme Court case, Carpenter v. the United States, which examines whether police need a warrant to obtain cellphone location information. Sklansky said the decision from the case will impact other applications of technology and data in the modern age.

“The more powerful the technology, the more powerful the unintended consequences,” said Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“How do you make sure to possibly regulate this because there has to be regulation so that they have legal and ethical issues taken into consideration as well,” Yortsos added.

Choose to connect

In Los Angeles, people will largely choose whether they want to provide data to the city.

“For someone who’s going to be able to let’s say, connect through their smart phone or through their vehicle, it’s extremely important that they agree and they consent to such matters,” Ross said.

While there was an initial forecast of a big demand in the Internet of Things, over time, the demand dropped, said Jerry Power, executive director of the USC Institute for Communication Technology Management.

“So we started looking at it and trying to understand why and what the problems were,” he said. “We looked at it from a perspective of privacy from the users’ standpoint. We realized privacy was an important issue. We realized that trust was an important issue, and we realized that incentives (was) an issue in the process as well.” 

Power continued, “what incentive has to go back to the users to get them to opt-in? The level of incentive depends on how much the user of the data, who wants the data, how much they disclose about what they’re going to do with the information and how well-trusted that person is.” 

“The exchange of data.” Power added, “if you think about it, it almost becomes like a form of currency, and it’s part of a transaction.”

The smart city experiment will begin at the University of Southern California and expand to the city of Los Angeles.

Some of what works from the program will be be made available for other cities to use.

Virtual Reality Allows Patients to Preview Their Own Surgery

Most of us would be shocked and afraid if a doctor told us we needed brain surgery. But imagine how much calmer you’d be if you could get inside your skull to navigate the path the surgeon will take? Technology can now make that happen. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes us to the Stanford Medical Center in Silicon Valley to see how virtual reality can get patients into their own heads.

Facebook Suspends Ability to Target Ads by Excluding Racial Groups

Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday it was temporarily disabling the ability of advertisers on its social network to exclude racial groups from the intended audience of ads while it studies how the feature could be used to discriminate.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, told African-American U.S. lawmakers in a letter that the company was determined to do better after a news report said Facebook had failed to block discriminatory ads.

The U.S.-based news organization ProPublica reported last week that, as part of an investigation, it had purchased discriminatory housing ads on Facebook and slipped them past the company’s review process, despite claims by Facebook months earlier that it was able to detect and block such ads.

“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” Sandberg wrote in the letter to the Congressional Black Caucus, according to a copy posted online by ProPublica.

It is unlawful under U.S. law to publish certain types of ads if they indicate a preference based on race, religion, sex or certain classifications.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 2.1 billion users and $36 billion in annual revenue, has been on the defensive for its advertising practices.

In September, it disclosed the existence of Russia-linked ads that ran during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. The same month it turned off a tool, also reported by ProPublica, that had inadvertently let advertisers target based on people’s self-reported jobs, even if the job was “Jew hater.”

Sandberg said in the letter that advertisers who use Facebook’s targeting options to include certain races for ads about housing, employment or credit will have to certify to Facebook that they are complying with Facebook’s anti-discrimination policy and with applicable law.

Sandberg defended race- and culture-based marketing in general, saying it was a common and legitimate practice in the ad industry to try to reach specific communities.

U.S. Representative Robin Kelly of Illinois, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Facebook’s action was appropriate.

“When I first raised this issue with Facebook, I was disappointed,” Kelly, a Democrat, said in a statement. “When it became necessary to raise the issue again, I was irritated. Thankfully, we’ve been able to establish a constructive pipeline of communication that’s resulted in a positive step forward.”