Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Researchers Working for the End of the Internal Combustion Automobile

Hybrid cars are slowly working their way into car markets, and there are waiting lists for Elon Musk’s new all-electric Tesla Model 3. But as popular as these cars are, they have the natural limitations of their batteries. But an answer may be in sight. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Twitter Employee, on Last Day, Deactivates Trump Account

U.S. President Donald Trump’s @realdonaldtrump Twitter account was deactivated by a Twitter Inc employee whose last day at the company was Thursday, and the account was down for 11 minutes before it was restored, the social media company said.

“We have learned that this was done by a Twitter customer-support employee who did this on the employee’s last day. We are conducting a full internal review,” Twitter said in a tweet.

“We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again,” the company said in an earlier tweet.

A Twitter representative declined to comment further.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Trump has made extensive use of messages on Twitter to attack his opponents and promote his policies both during the 2016 presidential campaign and since taking office in January.

He has 41.7 million followers on Twitter.

His first tweet after Thursday’s outage:

In a similar incident last November, Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s account was briefly suspended as a result of what he said was an internal mistake.

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Malaysia Investigating Reported Leak of 46 Million Mobile Users Data

Malaysia is investigating an alleged attempt to sell the data of more than 46 million mobile phone subscribers online after a major data breach, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said on Wednesday.

The massive data breach was first reported last month by Lowyat.net, a local technology news website, which said it had received a tip-off that someone was trying to sell huge databases of personal information on its forums.

Salleh said the country’s internet regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), was looking into the matter with the police.

“We have identified several potential sources of the leak and we should be able to complete the probe soon,” Salleh told reporters at parliament.

The leaked data was being sold for an undisclosed amount of Bitcoin, a digital currency, Lowyat.net said on Monday.

It included lists of mobile phone numbers, identification card numbers, home addresses, and SIM card data of 46.2 million customers from at least 12 Malaysian mobile phone operators.

Malaysia’s population is just around 32 million, but many have several mobile numbers. The lists are also believed to include inactive numbers and temporary ones bought by visiting foreigners, local daily The Star reported.

MCMC’s chief operating officer Mazlan Ismail said on Tuesday the regulator had met with local telecommunications companies to seek their cooperation in the probe, according to state news agency Bernama.

The data also includes private information of more than 80,000 individuals leaked from the records of the Malaysian Medical Council, the Malaysian Medical Association, and the Malaysian Dental Association, Lowyat.net said.

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New Fingerprint Technology Solves Mysteries, Brings Closure to Families of Deceased

Modern forensics have come a long way with the use of DNA evidence and fingerprint databases. But it’s not always easy to match a full set of prints, especially if a corpse is stranded in the desert and scavenging animals have picked it apart. But a new FBI database aims to share as much information despite the few clues available. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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US Social Media Giants Pledge to Combat Foreign Disinformation

Attorneys for Twitter, Facebook and Google on Tuesday told U.S. lawmakers that Russian entities used their platforms to sow discord and disinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, but downplayed the magnitude of those efforts.

“Foreign actors used fake accounts to place ads in Facebook and Instagram that reached millions of Americans over a two-year period,” Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said, testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “Many of these ads and posts are inflammatory. Some are downright offensive.”

Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, said the company studied all tweets posted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016, and found that election-related content posted by automated Russian troll accounts “was comparatively small.” He said the Russian troll accounts made up “around 1/100th of a percent of total Twitter accounts” during the time studied.

“Twitter believes that any activity of that kind — regardless of magnitude — is unacceptable and we agree we must do better to prevent it,” he said.

Twitter has taken action against the suspected Russian trolls, suspending 2,752 accounts and implementing new dedicated teams “to enhance the quality of the information our users see,” Edgett said.

Facebook, meanwhile, said it would hire more people to vet and, when necessary, remove content, and verify and publish the identities of election advertisers.

Watch: Social media companies to fight disinformation

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate requiring some of the very steps technology giants say they are implementing on their own.

“These platforms are being used by people who wish us harm and wish to undercut our way of life,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“It shouldn’t be news to anyone that Russia interfered in the election,” said California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “What is really staggering and hard to fully comprehend is how easily and successfully they turned modern technologies to their advantage.”

The social media attorneys said Russian trolling campaigns consistently sought to rile up Americans, first in a way damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. After the election, they said, Russian efforts appeared aimed at sowing doubts about the legitimacy of Republican Donald Trump’s victory at the polls — a point seized upon by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

“Russia does not have loyalty to a political party in the United States; their goal is to divide us and discredit our democracy,” Grassley said.

Representatives from the same social media companies testify Wednesday before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. 

VOA’s Joshua Fatzick contributed to this report.

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Vietnam Tech Startups Seek Next Phase

There’s a short but not-so-simple question facing Vietnam’s technology startup fans: Now, what?

The communist country was not immune to the startup craze that swept the globe, but much of the early period was spent talking about tech and all the local potential. In what could be called the next phase of the craze, Vietnam now hopes to go beyond just talking. The focus now is on getting entrepreneurs to deliver on their pitches and meet concrete benchmarks, whether that’s to turn a profit, expand overseas, or find “exits” for their businesses, such as through acquisitions.

At a basic level, Vietnam has what’s needed to be a place prime for startups. Citizens have high literacy rates and math proficiency, which eases the path to creating an army of programmers for the economy. The country also has a balance that combines, on the one hand, a large consumer market on par with those of Thailand and the Philippines, and on the other hand, a lower level of development with high growth rates on par with those of Laos and Cambodia. And the low cost of things like wages and Internet plans allows people to establish companies at minimal expense.

But these are only ingredients, not, so far, action toward a modern culture of enterprise.

“Vietnam usually does copy-paste,” said Lam Tran, CEO of the startup WisePass, adding that locals should move past the model of copying a business idea from a foreign country and pasting it into the domestic market. “We don’t know how to internationalize.”

WisePass, an app that connects monthly subscribers to bar and restaurant deals, launched in Ho Chi Minh City with plans to cover seven countries in the near future.

Taking advantage of cross-border ties is one effective, increasingly popular strategy, startup aficionados say. For one thing, Vietnam has a huge postwar diaspora, known as Viet Kieu, who help connect the Southeast Asian country to investors, advisers, and developers abroad. For another, the tech scene inside the border is more cosmopolitan than ever.

To give one example, the Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (VIISA) has invested in 11 companies for the second batch of what it calls “graduates.” All have domestic links, but have partners operating in locales as disparate as Ukraine, South Korea and France.

Sangyeop Kang, investment officer at VIISA partner Hanwha Investment, said he’s “delighted about the diversity” of this sophomore batch.

“The foreign teams were able to expand their business in Vietnam, while helping Vietnamese companies with global insights,” Kang said. “This is a step forward for the ecosystem.”

In a sign of official interest, the government has a carve-out for startups in its Law on Supporting Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, which will take effect Jan. 1. The law offers young companies support with co-working spaces, technical equipment, intellectual property training, and low interest rates, among other things.

To do more than copy and paste, new businesses are contemplating how to outfit themselves for Vietnam. The startup But Chi Mau, for instance, makes games that tap into the unquenchable thirst for education, while MarketOi deploys motorbike drivers to let customers customize their food deliveries.

“The question is how to differentiate ourselves,” MarketOi founder Germain Blanchet said, before proceeding to answer that question: “This is with flexibility.”

 

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DNA Lab in Netherlands to Help Find Missing People Worldwide

An organization that has been helping find people missing from the 1990s Balkan conflict has now expanded to tackle the cases of millions of missing people around the world. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), based in the Netherlands, will use the latest DNA technology to identify bodies and provide closure to family members of the missing people. The laboratory findings also will be used to serve justice and support demands for reparations. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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Robotic Eel Seeks Water Pollution, Aids Researchers

Trash and tires floating in a river are easy to see. But there’s a lot of harmful water pollution that isn’t visible to the naked eye. Researchers in Switzerland are testing a robotic version of a sea monster that’s helping them get a better look at what’s floating in the water. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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U. of Michigan Expert Puts Bird-like Robot Through Its Paces

A rare bird has landed at the University of Michigan: a two-legged robot named “Cassie” that researchers hope could be the forerunner of a machine that one day will aid search-and-rescue efforts.

 

Cassie — whose name is derived from the cassowary, a flightless bird similar to an ostrich — stands upright on legs with backward-facing knees. The biped that weighs about 66 pounds (29.94 kilograms) may not have feathers or a head, but she is attached to a short torso that holds motors, computers and batteries and is able to walk unassisted on rough and uneven terrain.

 

Cassie, which stands a bit over 3.25 feet (1 meter) at full leg extension, was built by Albany, Oregon-based Agility Robotics and purchased by Michigan researchers using grant money from the National Science Foundation and Toyota Research Institute. Although other institutions have acquired similar models, Michigan’s team is excited to use its version to put Michigan Robotics’ cutting-edge programming to the test, said Jessy Grizzle, director of Michigan Robotics.

“This stuff makes our old math look like child’s play,” Grizzle said.

 

Although there is considerable excitement about Cassie and the potential she represents, certain real-world applications are still a bit out of reach.

 

Search-and-rescue “is a hard problem and serves as a template for ‘unsolved problems in robotics,’ which is one of the reasons you see it pop up so much when robotics companies talk about applications,” said Agility Robotics CEO Damion Shelton, who added that it is “difficult to even speculate” when a robot could be used for such a purpose.

 

Other applications will be launched sooner, according to Shelton, who said a robot capable of walking around the perimeter of an industrial site taking 3-D scans is no more than two years away from becoming reality.

 

For now, Grizzle and some of his students are putting Cassie through her paces on and around Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. During a recent a stroll on a pedestrian walkway, Cassie ambled on a grassy, sloped surface, then took a serious tumble and did a face-plant on the concrete.

 

“Well, I think that’s the end” of the test, Grizzle said, as Cassie lay in a heap on the ground, slightly nicked and scratched but no worse for wear.

 

The programs Grizzle and his students tested “are version 1.0,” he said.

 

“They are simple algorithms to make sure that we understand the robot. We will now focus on implementing our super-cool latest stuff,” Grizzle said.

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