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Facebook’s Zuckerberg, EU Lawyers Locked in Negotiations

Facebook and European Union officials were locked in high-stakes negotiations Sunday over whether founder Mark Zuckerberg will appear Tuesday before EU lawmakers to discuss the site’s impact on the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Europeans, as well as Facebook’s impact on elections on both sides of the Atlantic and the spreading of fake news. Being debated is whether the meeting would be held after EU Parliament President Antonio Tajanibe agreed to have it live-streamed on the internet and not held behind closed-doors, as previously agreed. The leaders of all eight political blocs in the parliament have insisted the format be changed. Lawmakers say it would be deeply damaging for Zuckerberg, if he pulls out simply because they want him to hold what they say is the equivalent of a “Facebook Live.” Claude Moraes, chairman of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs panel, warned Zuckerberg will have to go into greater detail than he did in his testimony before U.S. Senate and Congressional panels last month on the “issues of algorithmic targeting, and political manipulation” and on Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook shared with the British firm the data of millions of Americans and Europeans, which was subsequently used for election campaigning purposes. Facebook did not return calls from VOA asking about whether Zuckerberg’s meeting with EU lawmakers would still go ahead. “EU governments are absolutely aware that every election now is tainted. We want to get to the heart of this,” said Moraes. EU lawmakers say Zuckerberg’s appearance is all the more important as he has declined to appear before national European parliaments, including Britain’s House of Commons. Terrorist connections Zuckerberg is likely also to be pressed on why Facebook is still being used by extremists to connect with each other and to recruit. Much of the focus in recent weeks on Facebook has been about general issues over its management of users’ data, but analysts are warning the social-media site is enabling a deadly form of social networking and isn’t doing enough to disrupt it. “Facebook’s data management practices have potentially served the networking purposes of terrorists,” said the Counter Extremism Project, nonprofit research group, in a statement. “CEP’s findings regularly debunk Facebook’s claims of content moderation. This week, a video made by the pro-ISIS al-Taqwa media group was found that includes news footage from attacks in the West and calls for further violence, encouraging the viewer to attack civilians and ‘kill them by any means or method," according to CEP CEP researchers say Facebook’s “suggested friends” feature helps extremists connect to each other and is “enabling a deadly form of social networking.” “Worldwide, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there has been a spike of militant activity on social media channels ... Encrypted messaging apps like Facebook-owned WhatsApp are well known mechanisms used by terrorists to communicate, plot and plan attacks, a practice that is tragically continuing,” CEP says. New rules Aside from the EU parliament, Zuckerberg has agreed to be interviewed onstage Thursday at a major tech conference in Paris, and is scheduled to have lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron during the week. His visit comes as the British government is threatening social-media companies with a tax to pay for efforts to counter online crime. According to Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, British ministers have instructed officials to carry out research into a new “social media levy” on internet companies. Culture Minister Matt Hancock indicated Sunday the British government is beginning to move away from allowing the internet companies to regulate themselves and is ready to impose requirements on them, which if approved by parliament will make Britain the “safest place in the world” to be online. A new code of practice aimed at confronting social-media bullying and to clear the internet of intimidating or humiliating online content could be included in the legislation, say officials. Other measures being considered include rules that have to be followed by traditional broadcasters that prevent certain ads being targeted at children. Hancock said work with social-media companies to protect users had made progress, but the performance of the industry overall has been mixed, he added. Hancock said, “Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better."  

American Inventors You've Never Heard Of

Edison did it. Eastman did it. And so did Steve Jobs. They invented products that changed our lives. But for every well-known inventor there are many other, less recognizable individuals whose innovative products have greatly impacted our world. Fifteen of those trailblazing men and women -- both past and present -- were recently honored for their unique contributions in a special ceremony at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, which is nestled in a corner of the vast atrium of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office building in Alexandria, Virginia. Augmented reality Stan Honey was honored for inventing a graphics systems that makes it easier for television viewers around the world to see key moments during live sporting events… such as sailing, car racing and American football. “What we do is we superimpose graphic elements like yellow lines into the real world, correctly positioned so that they can reveal something that's important to a game that is otherwise hard to see,” he said. The graphics make those yellow lines look like they’re actually on the field, Honey explained, but "they’re keyed underneath the athletes... so it looks like it's on the grass, but in fact if you were in the stadium of course, it's not actually there!” In sports like football, Honey pointed out, the graphics are used "for the 'first down' line." In baseball, to show "where the balls go through the strike zone or miss the strike zone," and in sailing they're used "to show who's ahead, who's behind, where the laylines are, what the wind direction is."   "Any sport that has something that's really important and hard to see can benefit from graphics that are inserted into the real world,” he added. WATCH: Julie Taboh's video report Lasting beauty “Curiosity and exploration are the essential starting points of innovation,” says inductee Sumita Mitra. She credits her life-long love of learning to her parents and teachers; “They taught me how to learn… and if you know how to learn, you can learn anything.” Mitra put her learning skills to full use when she discovered that using nanoparticles can strengthen dental composites while helping teeth maintain their natural look. She was looking for “beauty that lasts,” she said, and decided “nanoparticle technology would be the right ticket to create something to meet these objectives.” Rini Paiva, who oversees the selection committee at the National Inventors Hall of Fame, noted that more than 600 million restorations take place every year using Mitra’s technology. Gallery of icons The annual selection process is very competitive, say Paiva, "because there are a lot of terrific inventors out there and our job is really to look for the ones who have had the most impact on our world.” Each year, as a select group of inventors are inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, they're presented with hexagonal-shaped plaques inscribed with their name, invention and patent number. Those simple but symbolic awards become part of a permanent collection that now stands at more than 560. Five of the 2018 inductees were recognized for their contributions posthumously, their awards accepted by their respective representatives. Temperature controls Mary Engle Pennington, who died at the age of 80 in 1952, was a pioneer in the safe preservation, handling, storage and transportation of perishable foods, which impacted the health and well-being of generations of Americans. She was recognized for her numerous accomplishments, including her discovery of a way to refrigerate train cars, allowing perishable foods to be safely moved from one place to another. In 1895, Warren Johnson introduced the first multi-zone automatic temperature control system commercially feasible for widespread application. The Johnson System of Temperature Regulation was used in commercial buildings, offices, and schools, and also installed in the U.S. Capitol Building, the Smithsonian, the New York Stock Exchange, West Point Military Academy, and the home of Andrew Carnegie. In 2008, it was designated an ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. Johnson's innovations and the company he co-founded, Johnson Controls, helped launch the multi-billion-dollar building controls industry. The real deal Established in 1973 in partnership with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum provides numerous displays and interactive exhibits on patents and the patent process, and the inductees and their patented inventions.   There’s a model of Thomas Edison’s light bulb, George Eastman's hand-held cameras, and replicas of Ford Mustangs from 1965 and 2015 -- split down the middle to show how the iconic car has changed over 50 years. Visitors can also learn about trademarks, (think NIKE’s Swoosh logo), how to detect the real from the fake, (counterfeit designer handbags and accessories were hard to tell apart from the genuine article), and match characters, colors, and even sounds, to their respective brands. Future inventors Rini Paiva notes that while the museum is dedicated to honoring the greatest innovative minds from the past and present, it is also committed to its educational intiatives through its partnership with 1,300 schools and districts nationwide. “Our museum does share the stories of the inductees in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, but beyond that it really shows people what we can do through our education programs, really in encouraging young people to pursue STEM fields, and also in the power of intellectual property." Education merges with the symbolic presence of some of the world's most innovative minds whose examples of American ingenuity serve to inform and inspire others who may follow in their paths.

Canada's Trudeau Talks Tech at MIT Gathering

Canadian computer scientists helped pioneer the field of artificial intelligence before it was a buzzword, and now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hoping to capitalize on their intellectual lead. Trudeau has become a kind of marketer-in-chief for Canada's tech economy ambitions, accurately explaining the basics of machine learning as he promotes a national plan he says will "secure Canada's foothold in AI research and training." "Tech giants have taken notice, and are setting up offices in Canada, hiring Canadian experts, and investing time and money into applications that could be as transformative as the internet itself," Trudeau wrote in a guest editorial published this week in the Boston Globe. Trudeau has been taking that message on the road and is likely to emphasize it again Friday when he addresses a gathering of tech entrepreneurs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His visit to the MIT campus headlines an annual meeting of the school's Solve initiative, which connects innovators with corporate, government and academic resources to help them tackle world problems. Trudeau isn't the only head of state talking up AI — France's Emmanuel Macron and China's Xi Jinping are among the others — but his deep-in-the-weeds approach has caught U.S. tech companies' attention in contrast to President Donald Trump, whose administration "got off to a little bit of a slow start" in expressing interest, said Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT professor who directs the school's Initiative on the Digital Economy. "AI is the most important technology for the next decade or two," said Brynjolfsson, who attended the Trump White House's first AI summit last week. "It's going to completely transform the economy and our society in lots of ways. It's a huge mistake for countries' leaders not to take it seriously." Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Uber and Samsung have all opened AI research hubs centered in Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton, drawn in large part by decades of academic research into "deep learning" algorithms that helped pave the way for today's digital voice assistants, self-driving technology and photo-tagging services that can recognize a friend's face. Canada's reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants is also helping, as is Trudeau's enthusiasm about the AI economy, Brynjolfsson said. "When a national leader says AI is a priority, I think you get more creative, smart young people who will be taking it seriously," he said. AI is an "easy and recognizable shorthand" for the digital economy Trudeau hopes to foster, said Luke Stark, a Dartmouth College sociologist from Canada who studies the history and philosophy of technology. A former schoolteacher, Trudeau is "smart enough to know when to learn something so he can talk about it intelligently in a way that helps educate people," Stark said. Stark said that also allows Trudeau to "push into the background some of the less high-tech, less fashionable elements of the Canadian economy," such as the extraction of oil and gas. The visit comes amid talks between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico over whether to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement. Negotiators have now gone past an informal Thursday deadline set by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, increasing the likelihood that talks could drag into 2019.

Inventors Honored in Hall of Fame Special Ceremony

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Apple founder Steve Jobs are some of America's best known inventors. But there are other, less recognizable individuals whose innovative products have greatly impacted our world. More than a dozen of them were recently honored for their unique contributions in a special ceremony at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. VOA's Julie Taboh has more.

In the Name of Safety: NYC Tradition - Blessing of the Bikes

For almost 20 years, cyclists have gathered in New York's Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for what might seem like an unusual ceremony the blessing of the bikes. Held the day before the city's Five Boro Bike Tour, the ceremony is meant to bring luck and safety to those who travel around the Big Apple on a bike. Evgeny Maslov has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

Silicon Valley Startup Peddles 3-D-printed Bike

After a career that included helping Alphabet's Google build out data centers and speeding packages for Amazon.com to customers, Jim Miller is doing what many Silicon Valley executives do after stints at big companies: finding more time to ride his bike. But this bike is a little different. Arevo, a startup with backing from the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency and where Miller recently took the helm, has produced what it says is the world's first carbon fiber bicycle with 3-D-printed frame. Arevo is using the bike to demonstrate its design software and printing technology, which it hopes to use to produce parts for bicycles, aircraft, space vehicles and other applications where designers prize the strength and lightness of so-called "composite" carbon fiber parts but are put off by the high-cost and labor-intensive process of making them. Arevo on Thursday raised $12.5 million in venture funding from a unit of Japan's Asahi Glass, Sumitomo's Sumitomo Corp. of the Americas and Leslie Ventures. Previously, the company raised $7 million from Khosla Ventures, which also took part in Thursday's funding, and an undisclosed sum from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital fund backed by the CIA. Traditional carbon fiber bikes are expensive because workers lay individual layers of carbon fiber impregnated with resin around a mold of the frame by hand. The frame then gets baked in an oven to melt the resin and bind the carbon fiber sheets together. Arevo's technology uses a "deposition head" mounted on a robotic arm to print out the three-dimensional shape of the bicycle frame. The head lays down strands of carbon fiber and melts a thermoplastic material to bind the strands, all in one step. The process involves almost no human labor, allowing Arevo to build bicycle frames for $300 in costs, even in pricey Silicon Valley. "We're right in line with what it costs to build a bicycle frame in Asia," Miller said. "Because the labor costs are so much lower, we can re-shore the manufacturing of composites." While Miller said Arevo is in talks with several bike manufacturers, the company eventually hopes to supply aerospace parts. Arevo's printing head could run along rails to print larger parts and would avoid the need to build huge ovens to bake them in. "We can print as big as you want - the fuselage of an aircraft, the wing of an aircraft," Miller said.

Cryptocurrency May Fast-Track Solar Power in Moldova

Moldova, a small, landlocked country in eastern Europe, imports three-quarters of its energy and has seen its energy costs rise by more than half in the past five years. But that could soon change, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which this year will launch an innovative effort to power a Moldovan university with cryptocurrency-funded solar energy. The initiative with Sun Exchange, a South African solar power marketplace, will allow people to buy solar cells using SolarCoin, a cryptocurrency launched by blockchain start-up ElectriCChain, and then lease them to the Technical University of Moldova, one of the country’s largest universities. Crowd-fund project The idea is to find new sources of finance to “help buildings go green overnight,” in this instance with rooftop solar panels, said Dumitru Vasilescu, a program manager with UNDP in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries. “One of the biggest obstacles to countries investing in renewable energy is a lack of finance, as you often have to wait 10 to 15 years before you get a return on your investment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. But the university will get a full 1 megawatt of energy installed in the summer, he said, as a result of the crowd-funding effort. Owners of the solar cells, in turn, will receive SolarCoins as soon as the university produces energy, earning interest of about 4 percent on their investment, Vasilescu added. Moldova currently has more than 10,000 square meters of unused rooftop space on public buildings that could be potentially used for such efforts, he said. Key technology Blockchain, which first emerged as the system underpinning the virtual currency bitcoin, is a digital shared record of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet, without the need of a centralized authority. It has become a key technology in both the public and private sectors, given its ability to record and keep track of assets or transactions without the need for middlemen. Research firm IDC estimates global investment in blockchain will more than double in 2018 to $2.1 billion from $945 million last year, most of it for banking. IDC expects “strong, double-digit growth” in the energy space between 2016 and 2021. Kevin Treco, an associate director at the Carbon Trust, an environmental consultancy, said blockchain-based technologies could significantly change energy use in countries striving to decentralize power and boost renewable sources. Renewable energy fast In Moldova, for example, cryptocurrency-funded renewable energy could reduce the country’s dependence on energy imports such as oil and gas from Russia, Vasilescu said. Darius Nassiry, a senior research associate at the Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank, predicted that most of the growth in cryptocurrency-funded energy would occur in the developing world. “They have faster-growing energy needs — and a more accommodating legal and regulatory environment towards such innovations,” he said by email. But a lack of understanding on how blockchain applications such as cryptocurrencies work could slow their growth in the energy sector, he added. For Abraham Cambridge, the founder and CEO of Sun Exchange, the solar currency exchange system “has all the right incentives in place.” “It reduces the costs of going solar dramatically for the end user and makes it easy for anyone in the world to own a solar cell anywhere in the world and, from it, make a steady source of sunlight-powered income,” he said in a statement. Blockchain is also being used in the energy sector to facilitate carbon trading, with U.S. computing giant IBM announcing this week that it will partner with Veridium Labs, an environmental tech startup, to turn carbon credits into digital tokens. If the Moldovan solar currency pilot is successful, UNDP plans to replicate it in neighboring countries, said Vasilescu, adding that it could “revolutionize the renewable energy market for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”

Ohio Capital Launches Unique 'Smart City' Operating System

Ohio's capital city unveiled an operating system Thursday that will gather data for its pioneering smart city transportation project. Columbus beat out six other mid-sized cities in 2016 to win the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge, a contest aimed at encouraging innovative ideas for moving people and goods more quickly, cheaply and efficiently. The effort is supported by a $40 million federal grant and $10 million from billionaire investor Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. It has the potential to reduce collisions, speed first responder response times, curb freeway delays and get products to consumers faster. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said launching the Smart Columbus Operating System is a major milestone on Columbus' smart city journey, allowing officials to better analyze, interpret and share data that will help solve critical challenges and inspire innovation. But the Democrat said the ultimate goal is to make life better. "Fundamental to 'becoming smart' as a city is discovering how to use data to improve city services and quality of life for residents," he said. "When we apply data to the challenges we experience as a city, we can transform outcomes in education, employment, health care and even access to healthy food." The city's Smart Columbus team will manage and distribute 1,100 data feeds through the new operating platform to government offices and private companies. The information that's collected will help Columbus integrate self-driving cars, connected vehicles, smart sensors and other developing transportation technologies into the life of the city. The city won its spot as the testing ground over San Francisco; Pittsburgh; Denver; Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Kansas City, Missouri. Thursday's operating system launch comes amid efforts by Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich to advance smart transportation technology statewide. Kasich signed an executive order last week authorizing autonomous vehicle research to take place on all public roads across the state. The order laid out safety parameters for such projects and creates a voluntary pilot program linking local governments to participating companies. The order extended Kasich's efforts to make Ohio a hub of smart vehicle research and development.

YouTube to Launch Music Streaming Service Next Week

Google's YouTube will launch a music streaming service next week, it said on Thursday, looking to use its popular internet video brand to tap the growing market for paid music streaming. YouTube Music, which will offer both ad-supported and $9.99-per-month versions, will compete directly with services from Spotify Technology, Pandora Media, Apple and Amazon.com. YouTube Music will launch on May 22, and include features such as personalized playlists based on a user's YouTube history. The service is expected to eventually replace Google Play Music, the Alphabet Inc unit's existing music streaming brand. The news sent stocks of music streaming companies Spotify and Pandora lower by about 2 percent on Thursday morning. "Google has an advantage given YouTube's more than a billion users and viewers. So, it has opportunities to convert some into YouTube Music listeners or premium subscribers," said Ali Mogharabi, analyst at Morningstar Research. The growing adoption of paid music streaming has helped wean a generation of music listeners away from free or pirated music, and has led to services such as Spotify and Apple Music becoming the recording industry's single biggest revenue source. Revenue from music streaming services overtook sales of CDs and digital downloads for the first time in 2017, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. YouTube Music will launch in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South Korea on May 22. It will roll out to more countries in the following weeks. Separately on Thursday, YouTube also said it would revamp YouTube Red, the paid version of YouTube that comes with original programming, to include YouTube Music at an additional price of $2. YouTube Premium, which will replace YouTube Red, will cost $11.99.

US Senate Votes to Restore Net Neutrality

The U.S. Senate voted 52-47 to overturn the FCC's 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of the measure. The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would undo the Federal Communications Commission's vote to deregulate the broadband industry. If the CRA is approved by the House and signed by President Donald Trump, internet service providers would have to continue following rules that prohibit blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. The Republican-controlled FCC voted in December to repeal the rules, which require internet service providers to give equal footing to all web traffic. Democrats argued that scrapping the rules would give ISPs free rein to suppress certain content or promote sites that pay them. Republicans insist they, too, believe in net neutrality, but want to safeguard it by crafting forward-looking legislation rather than reimposing an outdated regulatory structure. ​'Political points' "Democrats have decided to take the issue of net neutrality and make it partisan," Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota said. "Instead of working with Republicans to develop permanent net neutrality legislation, they've decided to try to score political points with a partisan resolution that would do nothing to permanently secure net neutrality." Before the vote, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, urged fellow senators to disregard the "armies of lobbyists marching the halls of Congress on behalf of big internet service providers." Lobbyists tried to convince senators that net neutrality rules aren't needed "because ISPs will self-regulate," and that blocking, throttling and paid prioritization are just hypothetical harms, Markey said. Lobby groups representing all the major cable companies, telecoms and mobile carriers urged senators to reject the attempt to restore net neutrality rules. The resolution still faces tough odds in the House. It requires 218 votes to force a vote there, and only 160 House Democrats back the measure for now. The legislation would also require the signature of Trump, who has criticized the net neutrality rules. While Democrats recognize they are unlikely to reverse the FCC's rule, they see the issue as a key policy desire that energizes their base voters, a top priority ahead of the midterm elections.

Facebook's Zuckerberg, EU Lawmakers to Discuss Data Privacy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is slated to meet privately in Brussels as soon as next week with key European lawmakers about the data protection controversy that has affected his company. EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani confirmed the meeting Wednesday. It will be Zuckerberg's first visit with EU representatives since a whistle-blower alleged that British political consulting company Cambridge Analytica improperly collected information from millions of Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election in the United States. The collection affected about 87 million users and prompted apologies from Zuckerberg. Facebook was largely unscathed by Zuckerberg's 10 hours of testimony before U.S. legislators in April. The social media giant's share price increased after his testimony, and some lawmakers apparently failed to grasp the technical details of the company's operation and data privacy policies.  Zuckerberg's pending appearance in Brussels comes as new European data protection laws are set to take effect May 25. Some critics say Zuckerberg's meeting with the lawmakers should be public. Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a liberal-centrist political group of the European Parliament, said he would not attend the meeting if it were held behind closed doors. "It must be a public hearing," he said. "Why not a Facebook Live?" he asked on Twitter.

FL Students Develop Anti-Skimming Detector to Stop ATM Hackers

While hackers steal credit card numbers online, other crooks do it directly from the card, at the point where a consumer exchanges the data with a cash or banking machine. The U.S. Secret Service says those crooks, called skimmers, steal more than a billion dollars annually. A group of students at the University of Florida is developing a device that may put a stop to this type of crime. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Former Refugees Overcome Challenges to Succeed in Male Dominated Tech World

The United States is a land of opportunity for many immigrants. But some who come to the US often face big hurdles. The challenges can be especially great for immigrant women trying to succeed in male dominated careers in STEM fields: for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. VOA spoke with three Afghan women, all of whom prove that where there is a will, there’s usually a way. Zheela Noori went to Silicon Valley to find out what drives them. Freshta Azizi narrates.

NY Times: US Investigating Cambridge Analytica

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry. Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014. Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump's 2016 U.S. election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe. The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company's financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said. Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper. The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters. Former officials with Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available to comment. Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported. Bannon left the White House on August 2017.

Thoreau's 'Walden' Adapted for Video Game

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth — er, game. Henry David Thoreau wrote those words — most of them — in his seminal book, Walden. They make up the objective of a video game that seeks to translate his exploits in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts, into a playable digital reality. Walden, a Game is adapted from the book and launched Tuesday on PlayStation 4. It has been available on computers for almost a year. "Obviously it's an odd or unique idea for a game,'' said Tracy Fullerton, who conceived the idea and led the team that created it at the University of Southern California's Game Innovation Lab. Fullerton told The Associated Press that Walden was one of her favorite books, and that she thought its meaning — a tale of escaping technology to appreciate nature — was topical today. "It seemed to be a kind of game that he was playing,'' Fullerton said. So she created one to mimic it. Players drop in with a half-built cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. From there, they can essentially decide everything they do over eight seasons (Thoreau thought a year was better divided into eight parts than four), which takes six hours of real time.  They can finish building the house and toil in the fields, or they can venture out into 70 acres of virtual nature. Survival vs. fulfillment The objective is to find the right balance between survival — players can't die, but they can faint — and fulfillment. As players seek more inspiration from nature, interacting with animals and trees, the actual game world becomes more colorful and more physically beautiful, Fullerton said.  The team at USC spent more than a decade creating the game, she said. Team members consulted literature and history experts to ensure the accuracy of its portrayals, and the game's sound designer recorded all of its audible elements in the real Walden woods. It's available for free for teachers, and a curriculum is available online, but Fullerton said the game's primary purpose is entertainment. Joseph Simpson, a software developer from Ohio, said he reads Walden every year and discovered the game while reading about Fullerton. "I immediately, without hesitation, bought it and started playing it,'' he said. Simpson said the essence of the book has been implemented into the game in a way that doesn't corrupt it with too many objectives or missions. "I may not have to read Walden this year because I can play the game,'' he said. Experts on the textual version of Walden also were intrigued. Robert Hudspeth, a former president of the Thoreau Society and an English professor at the Claremont Graduate University in California, said he had heard of the game but hadn't played it. "I will say, however, that anything that might spark an interest in Thoreau's writing is welcome,'' Hudspeth said. "If playing a game stimulates the players to go to the books, then I'm all for it!''

US Senate Preps for Net Neutrality Vote

Senate Democrats are mounting a last-ditch campaign to preserve so-called "net neutrality" that has prevented certain content or users from being slowed on the internet in the United States — an effort most Republicans say is misguided and counterproductive. On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's December decision to repeal Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from favoring certain users or material. All 49 Democrats and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, back the resolution in the 100-member chamber. "All [net neutrality] does is protect the openness of the internet to competitors across the country," said Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats. "I believe this resolution will restore us to a place where small businesses will be able to compete and blossom and prosper." Added Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts: "Net neutrality is our 21st century right, and we will fight to protect it. Eighty-three percent of Americans, in polling, say they want to protect net neutrality." Republicans insist they, too, believe in net neutrality, but want to safeguard it by crafting forward-looking legislation rather than re-imposing an outdated regulatory structure. "Democrats have decided to take the issue of net neutrality and make it partisan," Senator John Thune of South Dakota said. "Instead of working with Republicans to develop permanent net neutrality legislation, they've decided to try to score political points with a partisan resolution that would do nothing to permanently secure net neutrality." FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, defended the commission's decision at a recent telecommunications conference in Washington, saying antiquated and heavy-handed federal internet regulation slows innovation and discourages investment in cyberinfrastructure. "If you want something to operate like a slow-moving utility [company], there is no better way to ensure that than by regulating it as such," Pai said. "[The American people] want more access, they want competition. They want the internet to be better and faster and cheaper." The FCC chairman added that federal regulators retain the ability to crack down on any unfair practices regarding internet access, and that service providers are required to disclose whether they slow any content or offer paid so-called "fast lanes." Such assurances have not satisfied more than 20 U.S. states that sued to prevent the FCC's decision from going into effect June 11. In Washington, Democrats say small-business owners are worried they will be at a disadvantage in reaching new customers if net neutrality disappears. "It's all about having equal access to the internet," King said, pointing to Certify, a small Web-based company in Portland, Maine, as an example of what is at stake. "One hundred fifty employees. It has two million users around the globe — that's because of the power of the internet. We don't want that business to be choked off by a large competitor who can pay preferential rates [for internet access]." America's largest internet service providers have said they will not engage in "throttling" — dramatically slowing down certain content — once the new FCC rules go into effect next month. The net neutrality resolution could pass in the Senate 50-49, given the absence of Arizona Republican John McCain. From there, it faces significant hurdles. Passage is seen as less likely in the Republican-led House of Representatives, and President Donald Trump is unlikely to sign a bill overriding a decision backed by the FCC chairman he selected. Even so, Democrats see an opportunity to highlight an issue of concern to many Americans ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. "This vote will allow senators to show once and for all where everyone stands on #NetNeutrality," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted.

Twitter Changes Strategy in Battle Against Internet 'Trolls'

Twitter Inc on Tuesday revised its strategy for fighting abusive internet trolls," saying it would use behavioral signals to identify harassers on the social network and then limit the visibility of their tweets. San Francisco-based Twitter, known for freewheeling discussions since it was founded in 2006, has been trying to rid itself of harassment out of concern that personal attacks were driving people away. Twitter's rules already prohibit abuse, and it can suspend or block offenders once someone reports them. Users can also mute people they find offensive. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said Twitter now would try to find problematic accounts by examining behavior such as how frequently people tweet about accounts that do not follow them or whether they have confirmed their email address. Tweets from those accounts will appear lower in certain areas of the service, such as search results or replies to tweets, even if the tweets themselves have not been found to violate any rules. "We want to take the burden of the work off the people receiving the abuse or the harassment," Dorsey said in a briefing with reporters. Past efforts to fight abuse "felt like Whac-A-Mole," he added. Tweets will not be removed entirely based on behavioral signals, Dorsey said. In tests the new approach resulted in a 4 percent decrease in abuse reports originating from search results and an 8 percent decrease in abuse reports from the conversations that take place as replies to tweets, according to the company. Most abuse comes from a small number of accounts that have an outsized impact, said Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president for trust and safety. Social media firms including Twitter and Facebook are under pressure to remove bullies, many of whom target women and minorities. Many women cannot express themselves freely on Twitter without fear of violence, Amnesty International said in a report in March. Reducing abuse could also help Twitter's business. If more people sign up and spend time on the service, marketers may buy more ads on it. Dorsey said that Twitter's 336 million monthly active users should expect a series of other changes over the next several months as the company explores ways to encourage tweets that are more civil. In March, Twitter sought proposals from academics and others to help gauge the "health of public conversations." Dorsey said the company is reviewing 230 submissions it received.

Dutch Government Dropping Kaspersky Software Over Spying Fears

The Dutch government is phasing out the use of anti-virus software made by Russian firm Kaspersky Lab amid fears of possible spying, despite vehement denials by the Moscow-based cybersecurity company. The Dutch Justice and Security ministry said in a statement late Monday the decision had been taken as a "precautionary measure" in order "to guarantee national security." But Kaspersky Lab, whose anti-virus software is installed on some 400 million computers worldwide, said Tuesday it was "very disappointed" by the move. The firm, which is suspected by US authorities of helping the Kremlin's espionage efforts, also announced Tuesday that it was moving its core infrastructure and operations to Switzerland. "Our new center in Switzerland will strengthen the proven integrity of Kaspersky Lab's products, [and] significantly improve the resilience of our IT infrastructure to any trust risk — even theoretical ones," the Russian company said in a statement. Last year, the US federal government removed Kaspersky from its list of approved vendors, weeks after senior US intelligence agency and law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the safety of its software. The Netherlands fears Kaspersky's anti-virus software is "deep in systems" and any abuse could "pose a major security risk." Dutch officials also voiced concern that under Russian law companies such as Kaspersky are "required to cooperate with the Russian government." But the company hit back saying "Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber espionage or offensive cyber efforts" and adding it was "being treated as guilty merely due to geopolitical issues." It said it would try to arrange a meeting soon with the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism to discuss the situation. Dutch intelligence officials have increasingly warned however that they fear the Kremlin is trying to hack into Dutch companies and manipulate elections here. "Russia has an active offensive cyber program focusing on the Netherlands and vital Dutch interests," the ministry warned, adding it had therefore concluded there was a risk of "digital espionage and sabotage."

Kenya Steps Into Space with First Satellite Launch

Kenya took its first step into space with the launch Friday of a nano-satellite made at the University of Nairobi. Engineers involved in creating the cube-shaped space capsule described it as Kenya’s joining the space club, although much remains to be done to get the Kenya space program off the ground. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Nairobi.

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