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World Hunger Swells as Conflict, Climate Change Grow

The United Nations reports world hunger is rising because conflicts and problems related to climate change are multiplying. The report finds about 815 million people globally did not have enough to eat in 2016 — 38 million more than the previous year. The statistics in this report are particularly grim. They show that global hunger is on the rise again after more than a decade of steady decline. The report, a joint product by five leading U.N. agencies warns that malnutrition is threatening the health of and compromising the future of millions of people world-wide. The report says 155 million children under age five suffer from stunting of their bodies and often their brains, thereby dimming prospects for the rest of their lives. It notes 52 million, or eight percent, of the world’s children suffer from wasting or low weight for their height. Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake, says the lives and futures of countless children are blighted because of food insecurity. And those trapped by conflict are most at risk. “Millions of children across northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere; innocent victims of a deadly combination of protracted, irresponsible conflicts; of drought, poverty and climate change… If unreached, a generation of children, more likely someday as adults, will replicate the hatred and conflicts of today,” Lake said. The report also explores the problems of anemia among women and growing obesity among adults and children as well. This study does not present a favorable outlook for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Authors of the report say governments must set goals and invest in measures to bring down malnutrition and to promote healthy eating for healthy living.

Russia’s Digital Weapons Refined on Virtual Battlefield’ of Ukraine

It was a Friday in June, a short workday before a public holiday weekend in Ukraine, and cybersecurity expert Victor Zhora had left the capital, Kyiv, and was in the western city of Lviv when he got the first in a torrent of phone calls from frantic clients. His clients’ networks were being crippled by ransomware known as Petya, a malicious software that locks up infected computers and data. But this ransomware was a variant of an older one and wasn’t designed to extort money — the goal of the virus’ designers was massive disruption to Ukraine’s economy. “I decided not to switch on my computer and just used my phone and iPad as a precaution,” he said. “I didn’t want my laptop to be contaminated by the virus and to lose my data,” he said. ​Virus spread like wildfire The Petya virus, targeting Microsoft Windows-based systems, spread like wildfire across Europe and, to a lesser extent, America, affecting hundreds of large and small firms in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Britain. While many Europeans saw the June cyberattack as just another wild disruption caused by anonymous hackers, it was identified quickly by experts, like the 37-year-old Zhora, as another targeted assault on Ukraine. Most likely launched by Russia, it was timed to infect the country’s networks on the eve of Ukraine’s Constitution Day. The cyberattack started through a software update for an accounting program that businesses use when working with Ukrainian government agencies, according to the head of Ukraine’s cyberpolice, Sergey Demedyuk. In an interview with VOA in his office in the western suburbs of Kyiv, Demedyuk said, “every year cyberattacks are growing in number.” “Sometimes when targeting a particular government agency or official, they mount complex attacks, first using some disguising action, like a denial-of-service attack, and only then launch their main attack aiming, for example, at capturing data,” he said. Ukraine’s 360-member cyberpolice department was formed in 2015. The department is stretched, having not only to investigate cybercrime by nonstate actors but also, along with a counterpart unit in the state security agency, defend the country from cyberattacks by state actors. Demedyuk admits it is a cat-and-mouse game searching for viruses and Trojan horses that might have been planted months ago. ​Cybersecurity summit On Wednesday, the director of U.S. National Intelligence, Dan Coats, told a cybersecurity summit in Washington that digital threats are mounting against the West, and he singled out Russia as a major culprit, saying Moscow “has clearly assumed an ever more aggressive cyber posture.” “We have not experienced — yet — a catastrophic attack. But I think everyone in this room is aware of the ever-growing threat to our national security,” Coats added. And many of the digital weapons the West may face are being refined and developed by Russian-directed hackers in the cyberwar being waged against Ukraine, said Zhora and other cybersecurity experts. “They are using Ukraine as a testing laboratory,” said Zhora, a director of InfoSafe, a cybersecurity company that advises private sector clients and Ukrainian government agencies. ​Eye of the digital storm Since the 2014 ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has been in the eye of a sustained and systematic digital storm of big and small cyberattacks with practically every sector of the country impacted, including media, finance, transportation, military, politics and energy. Sometimes, the intrusions are highly tailored; other times, more indiscriminate attacks like Petya are launched at Ukraine. Russian officials deny they are waging cyber warfare against Ukraine. Zhora, like many cybersecurity experts, acknowledges it is difficult, if not impossible most times, to trace cyberattacks back to their source. “Attribution is the most difficult thing. When you are dealing with professional hackers it is hard to track and to find real evidence of where it has come from,” he said. “But we know only one country is the likely culprit. We only really have one enemy that wants to destroy Ukrainian democracy and independence,” he added. Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, has been less restrained in pointing the finger of blame. Last December, he said there had been 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets in the previous two months alone. Investigations, he said, point to the “direct or indirect involvement of [the] secret services of Russia, which have unleashed a cyberwar against our country.” Ukraine’s cyberpolice head agrees. Demedyuk says his officers have been able to track attacks, especially denial-of-service intrusions, back to “Russian special services, tracking them to their own facilities and their own IP addresses.” But the original source of more complex intrusions, he said, are much harder to identify, with the hackers disguising themselves by using servers around the world, including in Asia and China. ​Digital weapons refined Digital intrusions have seen data deleted and networks crippled with real life consequences. And digital weapons are being refined often with the knowledge gained from each intrusion. Zhora cites as an example of this evolution the difference between two large cyberattacks on the country’s electricity grid, the first in December 2015 and the second at the end of last year, which cut off energy to hundreds of thousands of people for several hours. With the first attack the hackers used malware to gain access to the networks and then shut the system down manually.  “They sent an email and when someone opened it, the payload was downloaded and later it spread across the network and they used the path created for the hackers to get to the administrator’s work station and then in a live session switched off the subsystems overseeing electricity distribution,” he said. But with the 2016 attack no live session was necessary. “They used a malware which opened the doors automatically by decoding specific protocols and there was no human interaction. I think they got a lot of information in the first attack about the utility companies’ networks and they used the knowledge to write the malware for the second intrusion,” he said. Digital threats to US In his speech midweek in Washington, Coats specifically cited possible digital threats to America’s critical infrastructure, including electrical grids and other utilities, saying it is of rising concern.  “It doesn’t take much effort to imagine the consequences of an attack that knocks out power in Boston in February or power in Phoenix in July,” he said. After the second cyberattack on Ukraine’s electrical grid, a group of American government and private sector energy officials was dispatched to Kyiv, where they spent a month exploring what happened, according to Ukrainian officials. One lesson the visitors drew was that it would be much harder in the U.S. to switch the grid back on after an intrusion. The Ukrainians were able to get the electricity moving again by visiting each substation and turning the system on again manually, an option apparently more challenging in the U.S., where grid systems are even more automated. “Virtual attacks are every bit as dangerous as military ones — we are living on a battlefield,” Zhora said.

New Flip Flop Qubits Could Bring Quantum Computers to Consumers

Mention quantum computing and people generally think, "what the heck is quantum computing?" Quantum computing uses the "weirdness" of the quantum world to create a new way for computers to do their thinking. It leaves the fastest computers in the dust. Australian researchers may have taken a huge step toward making quantum computers cheap and accessible. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Key Equifax Executives Leave Company Immediately After Huge Data Breach

Equifax announced late Friday that its chief information officer and chief security officer would leave the company immediately, following the enormous breach of 143 million Americans' personal information. It also presented a litany of security efforts it made after noticing suspicious network traffic in July. The credit data company said that Susan Mauldin, who had been the top security officer, and David Webb, the chief technology officer, are retiring from Equifax. Mauldin, a college music major, had come under media scrutiny for her qualifications in security. Equifax did not say in its statement what retirement packages the executives would receive. Mauldin is being replaced by Russ Ayers, an information technology executive inside Equifax. Webb is being replaced by Mark Rohrwasser, who most recently was in charge of Equifax's international technology operations. Equifax has been under intense public pressure since it disclosed last week that hackers accessed or stole the millions of Social Security numbers, birthdates and other information. On Friday it gave its most detailed timeline of the breach yet, saying it noticed suspicious network traffic on July 29 associated with its U.S. online dispute portal web application. Equifax said it believes the access occurred from May 13 through July 30. Equifax had said earlier that it identified a weakness in an open-source software package called Apache Struts as the technological crack that allowed hackers to heist the data from the massive database maintained primarily for lenders. That disclosure, made late Wednesday, cast the company's damaging security lapse in an even harsher light. The software problem was detected in March and a recommended software patch was released shortly afterward. Equifax said its security officials were "aware of this vulnerability at that time, and took efforts to identify and to patch any vulnerable systems in the company's IT infrastructure." The company said it hired Mandiant, a business often brought in to deal with major technology security problems at big companies, to do a forensic review. Equifax has been castigated for how it has handled the breach, which it did not disclose publicly for weeks after discovering it. Consumers calling the number Equifax set up initially complained of jammed phone lines and uninformed representatives, and initial responses from the website gave inconsistent responses. The company says it has addressed many of those problems. Equifax also said Friday it would continue to allow people to place credit freezes on their reports without a fee through November 21. Originally the company offered fee-free credit freezes for 30 days after the incident. Equifax is facing a myriad of investigations and class-action lawsuits for this breach, including Congressional investigations, queries by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as several state attorneys general. The company's CEO Richard Smith is scheduled to testify in front of Congress in early October. Three Equifax executives -- not the ones who are departing -- sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered the breach, according to documents filed with securities regulators. Equifax shares have lost a third of their value since it announced the breach.

Text Message Network Connects Offline Farmers in Kenya

When she woke up one morning in February, Catherine Kagendo realized that one of her cows could not stand. "It was lying on its side, had lost its appetite and was breathing heavily," she told Reuters from her farm in Meru, in eastern Kenya. With her husband, she decided to turn to WeFarm, a text-based network of small-scale farmers, for help. Within an hour, their text — "one of my lactating cows cannot stand" — generated a flurry of suggestions, from "feed your cow with minerals rich in calcium" to "make sure the cow shed is clean and well-drained so the animals don't slip." "I realized our cow had milk fever, so gave it calcium-rich feed and it was standing again within hours," Kagendo explained. She is one of many Kenyan small-scale farmers who lack good information — mostly due to a lack of internet access — on how to manage problems from dry spells to diseases, local farm experts say. As a result, such farmers often lose their harvest or animals, they said. But WeFarm, a farmers' network launched in Kenya in 2014 and more recently expanded to Uganda and Peru, allows people to ask a question by text message and receive advice from their peers. The service, whose Scottish co-founder Kenny Ewan describes it as "the internet for people with no internet," is free to use and only requires a mobile phone. Farmers text questions to a local number, and WeFarm transmits the message to users with similar interests in the area, tapping into their knowledge. "We want farmers to get answers to their problems without needing to access the internet, so the information is available to all," said Mwinyi Bwika, head of marketing at WeFarm. Although the platform also exists online, over 95 percent of users choose to use it offline, he said. Information gap Kagendo said that when her animals were ill or her maize crops too dry, she used to have to hire an extension officer to help solve the problem. "But we had to pay a fee ranging from 500 to 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($5-$20), and most of the time the officer didn't even explain their diagnosis," she said. That cut into her family's income and left them no better able to understand the diseases facing their cattle and their crops. "We cannot even afford a smartphone to go online, so finding credible information was near impossible," she said. According to Bwika, small-scale farmers often lack the information they need because of a lack of cash — most live on less than a dollar a day — as well as poor internet connection and low literacy levels. "Ewan realized that farmers living just a few miles from each other were facing the same challenges, but with no way to communicate about them. So, he created a platform to connect them," Bwika said. Joseph Kinyua, another farmer from Meru who grows vegetables, said he spends at least 30 minutes per day using WeFarm. "It's taught me anything from using pest control traps to ensuring that my sprinklers don't put out too much water," he said. "And I know the methods are proven and tested by other farmers." The knowledge has helped improve the quality of the kale he grows, he said, enough that "I can now sell a kilo at the market at 70 shillings [$0.70] compared to 50 [$0.50] previously." Preventing problems While the platform might receive dozens of replies to a question, it only sends out to the user a selection of answers judged correct, Bwika said. But it uses the questions and advice received to help track disease outbreaks or extreme weather spells, and shares those insights with governments and non-governmental organizations, Bwika said. "In doing so, we hope to prevent disease outbreaks and track problems before they occur," he said. Not everyone shares this optimism, however. Mary Nkatha, a farmer from Meru, said she found it hard to implement some of the recommendations she received from WeFarm without the practical guidance of an expert. "If I am told to inject my cow with something, how do I make sure I do it in the right place? And where do I find the equipment?" she asked. Fredrick Ochido, a Kenya-based consultant on dairy farming, also worries that the platform may be entrenching farmers' poor use of technology, rather than helping them keep up with new trends. The WeFarm platform has over 100,000 current users in Kenya, Uganda and Peru, and its operators hopes to reach one million farmers in the next year. They also aim to expand the effort to other countries, including Tanzania.

Perlan II Sets a New Altitude Record for Gliders

High above the mountains in southern Argentina, two pilots recently set a new altitude world record for gliders. They hope the ability of their plane to reach the edge of outer space will turn it into a research platform and inspire young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. VOA's George Putic spoke to the pilots about their experience.

Musk Now Targets October to Unveil Tesla Semi Truck

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the electric carmaker is tentatively scheduled to unveil its planned semi-truck in late October, about a month later than the billionaire had earlier estimated. “Tesla Semi truck unveil & test ride tentatively scheduled for Oct 26th in Hawthorne,” Musk said in a tweet on Wednesday. The entrepreneur has tantalized the trucking industry with the prospect of a battery-powered heavy-duty vehicle that can compete with conventional diesels, which can travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel. Tesla's plans for new electric vehicles including a commercial truck called the Tesla Semi were announced last year and in April Musk said the release of the semi-truck was set for September. Tesla has been making strides in self-driving technology and implementing it in an electric truck could potentially move it forward in a highly competitive area of commercial transport also being pursued by Uber Technologies and Alphabet's Waymo. Reuters reported in August that Tesla was developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck that could drive itself and move in “platoons” that followed a lead vehicle, according to an email discussion of potential road tests between the car company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. Tesla's electric big-rig truck could have a working range of 200 to 300 miles to compete with more conventional diesels, Reuters reported later in August.

US Orders Federal Agencies to Remove Kaspersky Products

U.S. security officials on Wednesday ordered government agencies to get rid of products and services from Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based cybersecurity firm. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke issued the directive, giving agencies 90 days to comply. "This action is based on the information security risks presented by the use of Kaspersky products on federal information systems," according to a DHS statement. The department said the key concerns were ties "between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies." 'Unacceptable risk' "This is a risk-based decision we need to make," said White House cybersecurity coordinator Robert Joyce, speaking at the Billington CyberSecurity Summit in Washington. "The company must collaborate with the FSB [Russian intelligence], and so, for us in the government, that was an unacceptable risk," Joyce said. The U.S. said it would give Kaspersky an opportunity to address its concerns in writing. Kaspersky has repeatedly denied it helps Russia with espionage efforts. On Tuesday, company founder Eugene Kaspersky took to Twitter to try to calm fears. "Despite geopolitical turbulence we remain committed to American customers," he said. The DHS directive came hours after the top U.S. intelligence official warned that Russia has been ramping up the pace of its operations against the United States. "Russia has clearly assumed an ever more aggressive cyberposture by increasing cyberespionage operations, leaking data stolen from those operations," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said at the cybersecurity summit. 'Echo chamber' Coats did not elaborate on the scope or target of Russia's cyberoperations, but warned that a range of enemies were increasingly seeking to weaponize public opinion. "Adversaries use the internet as an echo chamber in which information, ideas or beliefs get amplified or reinforced through repetition," Coats said. "Their efforts seek to undermine our faith in our institutions or advance violence in the name of identity." The top U.S. intelligence official also said hackers were increasingly targeting the U.S. defense industry. "Such intrusions, even if intended for theft and espionage, could inadvertently cause serious if not catastrophic damage, where an adversary looking for small-scale destructive cyberaction against the United Sates could miscalculate," Coats said. In an unclassified report released in January, top U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin waged an unprecedented "influence campaign" in an effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of then-candidate Donald Trump. As president, Trump has repeatedly questioned those assessments, suggesting at times it was unclear whether Russia was responsible. Just last week, however, an internal Facebook investigation found 470 Russian-linked accounts paid for thousands of political ads to appear during last year's presidential campaign. Facebook said further investigation revealed another 2,200 ads "might have originated in Russia,'' including ads purchased by accounts with IP addresses in the United States but set to Russian in the language preferences. Other manipulation Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a security conference last week that the revelations might just be "the tip of the iceberg," and that Russia also most likely had manipulated messages via other social media platforms, such as Twitter. Despite the doubts raised by Trump and some of his supporters, former officials have remained steadfast that Russia was responsible for hacking into  Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to discredit Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. "We personally reviewed every single piece of intelligence that went into that ICA [intelligence community assessment] and spent hours and hours talking to the analysts," said former National Security Agency Deputy Director Richard Ledgett. "I am as certain of this as I'm as certain as gravity: that the Russian government directed this activity with the intent to influence the election," he said.

iPhone X Shipping Delay May Dampen Apple's Holiday Quarter

Apple Inc's highly anticipated iPhone X features a slew of innovations but delayed availability could hurt holiday-quarter sales. The much-hyped event on Tuesday unveiled three new phones, an advanced watch that can take calls and a new Apple TV, but die-hard fans will not be able to get their hands on the iPhone X until Nov. 3 - much later than iPhone 8's shipping date of Sept. 22. The delay in shipping of the iPhone X could hurt Apple's seasonally-strong fiscal first quarter as orders get pushed to the following quarter. The phone will start at $999 for the 64 GB version. Apple's shares were down 1 percent at $159.35 in early trading on Wednesday. Although decked out with facial recognition technology, front and back glass, a 5.8-inch edge to edge display, wireless charging and animated emojis, some analysts said the delay tempers near-term sales and a few adjusted their estimates. "Given one month less sales for the iPhone X during the December quarter, we have reduced our December quarter iPhone sales estimates from 84 million to 79 million units," Canaccord Genuity analysts wrote in a client note. The company's iPhone 8 and 8 Plus did not veer far away from previous models, sporting modest new features such as a glass body, wireless charging, better camera and a faster processor. This could lead consumers to wait for the iPhone X. "None of the features in the version 8 product will likely accelerate demand," Mizuho analysts wrote in a note. Apple typically launches new iPhones in September and a big jump in sales usually follows in the holiday quarter, as users tend to upgrade devices when new phones sport significant design changes. Apple last saw a significant uptick in sales with the introduction of iPhone 6 in 2015. While the delay of the iPhone X could hurt near-term sales, analysts still think Apple's loyal and hungry fans would lap up the new phone, boosting sales for fiscal 2018. Brokerage UBS said it continues to estimate 246 million phones in fiscal 2018 will be up 15 percent. Apple, which is trying to energize sales in China, could hit a wall selling the pricey new phones there. The 8 and 8 plus start at $699 and the iPhone X is Apple's most expensive phone. The high price of the iPhone X may not affect sales in the United States, where telecom carriers subsidize phone ownership, but it might dent sales in China and India. But even with the lack of major surprises, Apple's phones are still expected to sell well. "It will still sell in enormous volumes because Apple has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to persuade consumers to shift their overall spending to place a greater share of their disposable income towards a smartphone purchase," IHS Markit analyst wrote in a note.  

Self-Driving Boats: The Next Tech Transportation Race

Self-driving cars may not hit the road in earnest for many years - but autonomous boats could be just around the pier. Spurred in part by the car industry’s race to build driverless vehicles, marine innovators are building automated ferry boats for Amsterdam canals, cargo ships that can steer themselves through Norwegian fjords and remote-controlled ships to carry containers across the Atlantic and Pacific. The first such autonomous ships could be in operation within three years. One experimental workboat spent this summer dodging tall ships and tankers in Boston Harbor, outfitted with sensors and self-navigating software and emblazoned with the words “UNMANNED VESSEL” across its aluminum hull. “We’re in full autonomy now,” said Jeff Gawrys, a marine technician for Boston startup Sea Machines Robotics, sitting at the helm as the boat floated through a harbor channel. “Roger that,” said computer scientist Mohamed Saad Ibn Seddik, as he helped to guide the ship from his laptop on a nearby dock. The boat still needs human oversight. But some of the world’s biggest maritime firms have committed to designing ships that won’t need any captains or crews — at least not on board. Distracted seafaring The ocean is “a wide open space,” said Sea Machines CEO Michael Johnson. Based out of an East Boston shipyard once used to build powerful wooden clippers, the cutting-edge sailing vessels of the 19th century, his company is hoping to spark a new era of commercial marine innovation that could surpass the development of self-driving cars and trucks. The startup has signed a deal with an undisclosed company to install the “world’s first autonomy system on a commercial containership,” Johnson said this week. It will be remotely-controlled from land as it travels the North Atlantic. He also plans to sell the technology to companies doing oil spill cleanups and other difficult work on the water, aiming to assist maritime crews, not replace them. Johnson, a marine engineer whose previous job took him to the Italian coast to help salvage the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia, said that deadly 2012 capsizing and other marine disasters have convinced him that “we’re relying too much on old-world technology.” “Humans get distracted, humans get tired,” he said. Global race Militaries have been working on unmanned vessels for decades. But a lot of commercial experimentation is happening in the centuries-old seaports of Scandinavia, where Rolls-Royce demonstrated a remote-controlled tugboat in Copenhagen this year. Government-sanctioned testing areas have been established in Norway’s Trondheim Fjord and along Finland’s western coast. In Norway, fertilizer company Yara International is working with engineering firm Kongsberg Maritime on a project to replace big-rig trucks with an electric-powered ship connecting three nearby ports. The pilot ship is scheduled to launch next year, shift to remote control in 2019 and go fully autonomous by 2020. “It would remove a lot of trucks from the roads in these small communities,” said Kongsberg CEO Geir Haoy. Japanese shipping firm Nippon Yusen K.K. — operator of the cargo ship that slammed into a U.S. Navy destroyer in a deadly June collision — plans to test its first remote-controlled vessel in 2019, part of a wider Japanese effort to deploy hundreds of autonomous container ships by 2025. A Chinese alliance has set a goal of launching its first self-navigating cargo ship in 2021. Cars vs. Boats The key principles of self-driving cars and boats are similar. Both scan their surroundings using a variety of sensors, feed the information into an artificial intelligence system and output driving instructions to the vehicle. But boat navigation could be much easier than car navigation, said Carlo Ratti, an MIT professor working with Dutch universities to launch self-navigating vessels in Amsterdam next year. The city’s canals, for instance, have no pedestrians or bikers cluttering the way, and are subject to strict speed limits. Ratti’s project is also looking at ways small vessels could coordinate with each other in “swarms.” They could, for instance, start as a fleet of passenger or delivery boats, then transform into an on-demand floating bridge to accommodate a surge of pedestrians. Since many boats already have electronic controls, “it would be easy to make them self-navigating by simply adding a small suite of sensors and AI,” Ratti said. Armchair captains Researchers have already begun to design merchant ships that will be made more efficient because they don’t need room for seamen to sleep and eat. But in the near future, most of these ships will be only partly autonomous. Armchair captains in a remote operation center could be monitoring several ships at a time, sitting in a room with 360-degree virtual reality views. When the vessels are on the open seas, they might not need humans to make decisions. It’s just the latest step in what has been a gradual automation of maritime tasks. “If you go back 150 years, you had more than 200 people on a cargo vessel. Now you have between 10 and 20,” said Oskar Levander, vice president of innovation for Rolls-Royce’s marine business. Changing rules of the sea There are still some major challenges ahead. Uncrewed vessels might be more vulnerable to piracy or even outright theft via remote hacking of a ship’s control systems. Some autonomous vessels might win public trust faster than others; unmanned container ships filled with bananas might not raise the same concerns as oil tankers plying the waters near big cities or protected wilderness. A decades-old international maritime safety treaty also requires that “all ships shall be sufficiently and efficiently manned.” But The International Maritime Organization, which regulates shipping, has begun a 2-year review of the safety, security and environmental implications of autonomous ships.    

Bill Gates: Strides in Global Health at Risk if Rich Nations Pull Back

The world is making enormous strides in areas such as child mortality, HIV and extreme poverty, but if the U.S. and other countries pull back funding, that progress could slow, said Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft.   When it comes to HIV, for example, “if we had a 10 percent cut in the funding, we'd have 5 million more deaths by 2030,” said Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “What happens matters here.” On Wednesday, the Gates Foundation issued its first annual report card on 18 indicators of global health and well being. The report looks out to 2030 and projects what will happen on these key markers depending on factors such as global funding. Great progress The report, “Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data,” which the Gates Foundation produced in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, shows great progress being made in key areas: · Six million fewer children under five die annually than did in 1990, thanks mostly to increased use of vaccines and better newborn care. · AIDS- related deaths have fallen by almost half since the peak in 2005. · Nine percent of the population is at the international poverty line compared to 35 percent in 1990, a trend mostly credited to gains made by people in China and India. During a telephone press conference, Gates attributed some of the success to world governments coming together to address problems, as well as medical innovations. Country success stories Gates called out several countries for their great strides on health issues: · Ethiopia - Maternal deaths have been cut more than half since 1990, due to efforts to encourage women to give birth in health facilities rather than at home. · Senegal - 15 percent of women use modern contraceptives compared to three percent in 1990. · Peru - Stunting (or low height) in children dropped to 18 percent, down from 39 percent in 1990. The 0.7 percent commitment In 1970, the U.N. created a target — governments would spend 0.7 percent of their annual gross domestic income in international aid. While the U.S. is the largest international aid contributor, it hasn’t reached the 0.7 mark. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are among countries that have met or exceeded the 0.7 target. Gates said he is concerned that some wealthy nations appear to be reconsidering their commitment to global humanitarian funding. “Are people looking out internationally?” he said. “And willing to continue to back these improvements?” Retrenchment on global aid? Gates specifically addressed the Trump administration’s proposed budget, which has “fairly substantial cuts, including to things like polio, HIV and malaria.” Congress doesn’t appear to be willing to accept those cuts, he noted, and would likely “maintain pretty close to the same level in most areas." The world's commitment to tackling health and poverty issues is as important as ever, Gates said, because there’s a shift in more children being born in poor countries. A child born in Angola has a 75 percent higher chance of dying before age five than one born in Finland, he said. “We’re saying that progress is not inevitable,” he said. “The counter trends are that if countries do not think about these global problems, and you get cuts, or if you have setbacks, in terms of pandemics and things like that, you can have reversals.”

Children Learn to Program Toy Robots

In this computerized age, some kids have the opportunity to play with robots. The Scottish company Robotical has developed an inexpensive toy robot that children can program to walk, dance and even play football (soccer).  But besides having fun, the idea is that children will use the toys to learn about robotics and computer programming in school.  VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more about it.

Apple's New iPhone X Not For Everyone

After months of anticipation – Apple unveiled its newest products Tuesday at its new Cupertino California Headquarters. Despite significant upgrades to its line of consumer products, the most hotly anticipated was the launch of Apples’ newest smartphone. But is it for you? Mil Arcega has more.

US Updates Self-driving Car Guidelines

The Trump administration is updating safety guidelines for self-driving cars in an attempt to clear barriers for automakers and tech companies who want to get test vehicles on the road. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new voluntary guidelines Tuesday during a visit to an autonomous vehicle testing facility at the University of Michigan. The new guidelines update policies issued last fall by the Obama administration, which were also largely voluntary. Under Obama, automakers were asked to follow a 15-point safety assessment before putting test vehicles on the road. The new guidelines reduce that to a 12-point voluntary assessment and no longer require automakers to consider ethical or privacy issues. The guidelines also make clear that the federal government, not states, determines whether autonomous vehicles are safe. That is the same guidance the Obama administration gave. Chao emphasized that the guidelines aren't meant to force automakers to use certain technology or meet stringent requirements; instead, they're designed to clarify what autonomous vehicle developers should be considering before they put test cars on the road. "This is a guidance document," Chao said. "We want to make sure those who are involved understand how important safety is. We also want to ensure that the innovation and the creativity of our country remain." Not a 'vision for safety' But critics say the voluntary nature of the guidelines gives the government no authority to prevent dangerous experimental vehicles. "This isn't a vision for safety," said John M. Simpson, head of privacy for a nonprofit progressive group called Consumer Watchdog. "It's a road map that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety." Regulators and lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology. They are wary of burdening automakers and tech companies with regulations that would slow innovation, but they need to ensure that the vehicles are safely deployed. There are no fully self-driving vehicles for sale, but autonomous cars with backup drivers are being tested in numerous states, including California, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Autonomous vehicle developers, including automakers and tech companies like Google and Uber, say autonomous vehicles could dramatically reduce crashes but complain that the patchwork of state laws passed in recent years could hamper their deployment. Early estimates indicate there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. last year; the government says 94 percent of crashes involve human error. But safety advocates say that experimental cars could get on public roads too soon, and accidents could undermine public acceptance of the technology. Broad safety goals The new guidelines encourage companies to have processes in place for broad safety goals, such as making sure drivers are paying attention while using advanced assist systems. The systems are expected to detect and respond to people and objects both in and out of its travel path, "including pedestrians, bicyclists, animals and objects that could affect safe operation of the vehicle," the guidelines say. Chao said the guidelines will be updated again next year. "The technology in this field is accelerating at a much faster pace than I think many people expected," she said. "We want to make sure stakeholders who are developing this have the best information." Chao's appearance came at a time of increased government focus on highly automated cars.   Earlier Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board was debating whether Tesla Inc.'s partially self-driving Autopilot system shared the blame for the 2016 death of a driver in Florida. The board ultimately said the driver's inattention and a truck driver who made a left-hand turn in front of the Tesla were at fault for the crash, but it said automakers should incorporate safeguards that limit the use of automated vehicle control systems so drivers don't rely on them too much. Last week, the U.S. House voted to give the federal government the authority to exempt automakers from safety standards that don't apply to the technology. If a company can prove it can make a safe vehicle with no steering wheel, for example, the federal government could approve that. The bill permits the deployment of up to 25,000 vehicles in its first year and 100,000 annually after that. The Senate is now considering a similar bill.

Apple to Release Re-designed iPhone X on 10 Year Anniversary

Apple on Tuesday will unveil the new model of its popular iPhone, 10 years after then-CEO Steve Jobs showed the world the iPhone for the first time. Leaks of the iPhone’s design suggest it will feature a higher resolution display, wireless charging and facial recognition technology, among other improvements. The event Tuesday will take place at Apple’s “spaceship” office in California, though few actual details about the iPhone release are publicly available. Predictions for the new high-end model, likely to be called the iPhone X, put the price around the $900 point, with some estimates reaching above $1,000. The previous iPhone 7 Plus sold for a top base price of $769. Brian Blau, an Apple analyst at Gartner, told Reuters the steep price is driven by the need for more advanced parts, like 3D sensors and memory capacity. "Some of these components are just darned expensive,” he said. “There is just no doubt about that." Apple has sold more than 1.2 billion iPhones since it first released the phone a decade ago, but the company took a huge hit to its revenue last year as many customers did not buy an iPhone 7 because they saw it as too similar to the iPhone 6. With the release of its new phone, Apple hopes to recapture some of the early excitement surrounding its phones and convince critics the company is still on the cutting edge of tech innovation. Apple is also expected to introduce a big upgrade to its Apple Watch and a higher-definition model of its Apple TV system, which allows users to stream online content.

Survivors, Relatives, Volunteers Connect Online for Irma Aid

Worried relatives, generous volunteers, frantic neighbors, even medical providers are turning to social media now that Hurricane Irma wiped out electricity and cell service to communities across Florida, cutting off most contact with remote islands in the Keys. "We all sort of scattered around the country when we evacuated, so we're trying to stay in touch, by phone, by Facebook, however we can," said Suzanne Trottier, who left her Key West, Florida home for Virginia almost a week ago as the hurricane approached. "Unfortunately we've been really, really looking on Facebook a lot because I have people down there I haven't heard from," she said.   One of those posts Monday morning brought a bit of good cheer: a photo of a friend who had stayed behind, smiling, healthy and dry.   "Such great news" posted Trottier's husband Neil Renouf, adding a thumbs up.   But many questions remain about the situation on the Florida Keys. Irma's eye slammed into the island chain with potentially catastrophic 130 p.m. early Sunday morning, and more than 24 hours later, friends and family still couldn't contact people who were riding out the storm. Search and rescue teams were going door-to-door.   Facebook groups were still forming Monday to help from afar. Evacuees Of The Keys members shared school closure notices, videos of destruction, and many posts from friends and relatives searching for loved ones. Leah McNally of Fort Lauderdale, whose mother stayed behind at her home in Tavernier, on Key Largo, was relaying information onto Facebook that she heard through a walkie talkie app, Zello, which has been widely used during both Harvey and Irma.   "Everything is like a black hole right now but there are people in the keys who are relaying information," she said.   Zello was relaying calls for help, and a team of unofficial dispatchers ran rescue operations to hundreds of locations, warning boaters to stay out of the water due to alligators and snakes.   Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for people to let friends and family know they're safe. Facebook spokesman Eric Porterfield said that by Monday morning, there were already more than 600 posts asking for help, mostly fuel, shelter or a ride, although one woman with broken ribs sought medical advice.   There were also more than 2,000 postings offering help, including free housing, clothes and people with chainsaws volunteering for cleanup. Facebook community fundraisers had already been launched; a woman in France had already collected $12,000 for recovery supplies in St. Barts.   Social media has been a game-changer for Americans coping with natural disasters, Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson said.   "In the past, when power went out, the best anyone could do when a hurricane hit was turn on the battery-operated transistor radio," he said. This helped, but didn't provide detailed information about loved ones that pops up on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.   "As long as the phones are charged, you can find out almost instantly that people in the danger zone are doing OK," he said.   Thus phone charging has become an act of near desperation in some shelters as evacuees tried to plug in to generator power.   Some of the online contacts have been truly critical. DaVita Kidney Care, whose patients receive life-saving dialysis three times a week, for four hours per day, was using Twitter and Facebook, along with a blog to inform patients about open centers and hospitals.   "We hope that through our social media outreach patients know they can go to any dialysis center to get care," said spokeswoman Kate Stabrawa for the Denver-based company.   People engaging with Irma from well beyond the danger zone use social media "like huddling together during bad times," said public relations expert Richard Laermer, author of "Trendspotting."   "Social media makes people feel like they are doing something, as opposed to nothing," he said.

In Persian Gulf, Computer Hacking Now a Cross-Border Fear

State-sponsored hacks have become an increasing worry among countries across the Persian Gulf. They include suspected Iranian cyberattacks on Saudi Arabia to leaked emails causing consternation among nominally allied Arab nations. Defending against such attacks have become a major industry in Dubai, as the city-state home to the world's tallest building and the long-haul airline Emirates increasingly bills itself as an interconnected "smart city" where robots now deliver wedding certificates.   They fear a massive attack on the scale of what Saudi Arabia suffered through in 2012 with Shamoon, a computer virus that destroyed systems of the kingdom's state-run oil company.   This was the topic of an event Tuesday in Dubai organized by FireEye Inc., a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Milpitas, California. Emirati officials and businessmen attended the meeting.

US to Unveil Streamlined Autonomous Vehicle Guidelines

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil on Tuesday streamlined safety guidelines for automakers that want to deploy self-driving vehicles, a person briefed on the matter said Monday, as members of Congress push their own proposals to remove regulatory barriers to the technology. The new Transportation Department policy is expected to offer the lighter regulatory touch that automakers have pushed for. For example, the Transportation Department is expected to state that automakers do not have to seek approval from regulators before putting self-driving vehicles on the road. Separately, the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday is expected to release findings that Tesla Inc.'s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode was a contributing factor in the May 2016 death of a motorist. That case has highlighted concerns about the design of systems that automate some, but not all, driving tasks. The new document is titled "A Vision for Safety" and will be less than half the length of the Obama administration guidelines released in September 2016 and will be less "burdensome," the person briefed on the announcement said. Chao is expected to make the announcement in Ann Arbor at a self-driving testing facility. The Transportation Department is releasing its voluntary safety standards at the same time a bipartisan coalition in Congress is moving forward on legislation also designed to speed commercialization of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking their deployment. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on a measure to clear legal obstacles that could discourage automakers and technology companies from putting self-driving cars into broader use. The House measure would allow automakers to field up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year. Over three years, the cap would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually. Automakers would be required to provide regulators with safety assessments of their systems, but would not have to get federal approval to put autonomous cars on the road. A group of senators introduced a similar draft bill on Friday. In September 2016, the Obama administration proposed that automakers voluntarily submit details of self-driving vehicle systems in a 15-point "safety assessment"and urged states to defer to the federal government on most vehicle regulations. An auto trade group representing General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and others, objected to the Obama administration proposal.

Apple May Test Bounds of iPhone Love with $1,000 Model

Apple is expected to sell its fanciest iPhone yet for $1,000, crossing into a new financial frontier that will test how much consumers are willing to pay for a device that's become an indispensable part of modern life.   The unveiling of a dramatically redesigned iPhone will likely be the marquee moment Tuesday when Apple hosts its first product event at its new spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino, California. True to its secretive ways, Apple won't confirm that it will be introducing a new iPhone, though a financial forecast issued last month telegraphed something significant is in the pipeline.   In addition to several new features, a souped-up "anniversary" iPhone - coming a decade after Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the first version - could also debut at an attention-getting $999 price tag, twice what the original iPhone cost. It would set a new price threshold for any smartphone intended to appeal to a mass market.   What $1,000 bucks will buy   Various leaks have indicated the new phone will feature a sharper display, a so-called OLED screen that will extend from edge to edge of the device, thus eliminating the exterior gap, or "bezel," that currently surrounds most phone screens.   It may also boast facial recognition technology for unlocking the phone and wireless charging. A better camera is a safe bet, too.   All those features have been available on other smartphones that sold for less than $1,000, but Apple's sense of design and marketing flair has a way of making them seem irresistible - and worth the extra expense.   "Apple always seems to take what others have done and do it even better," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.   Why phones cost more, not less   Apple isn't the only company driving up smartphone prices. Market leader Samsung Electronics just rolled out its Galaxy Note 8 with a starting price of $930.   The trend reflects the increasing sophistication of smartphones, which have been evolving into status symbols akin to automobiles. In both cases, many consumers appear willing to pay a premium price for luxury models that take them where they want to go in style.   "Calling it a smartphone doesn't come close to how people use it, view it and embrace it in their lives," said Debby Ruth, senior vice president of the consumer research firm Magid. "It's an extension of themselves, it's their entry into the world, it's their connection to their friends."   From that perspective, it's easy to understand why some smartphones now cost more than many kinds of laptop computers, said technology analyst Patrick Moorhead.   "People now value their phones more than any other device and, in some cases, even more than food and sex," Moorhead said.   The luxury-good challenge   Longtime Apple expert Gene Munster, now managing partner at research and venture capital firm Loup Ventures, predicts 20 percent of the iPhones sold during the next year will be the new $1,000 model.   Wireless carriers eager to connect with Apple's generally affluent clientele are likely to either sell the iPhone at a discount or offer appealing subsidies that spread the cost of the device over two to three years to minimize the sticker shock, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.   Even Munster's sales forecast holds true, it still shows most people either can't afford or aren't interested in paying that much for a smartphone.   That's one reason Apple also is expected to announce minor upgrades to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. That will make it easier for Apple to create several different pricing tiers, with the oldest model possibly becoming available for free with a wireless contract.   But the deluxe model virtually assures that the average price of the iPhone - now at $606 versus $561 three years ago - will keep climbing. That runs counter to the usual tech trajectory in which the price of electronics, whether televisions or computers, falls over time.   "The iPhone has always had a way of defying the law of physics," Munster said, "and I think it will do it in spades with this higher priced one." WATCH: Related video report by tech reporter George Putic

Apple to Unveil New iPhone

It’s been only 10 years since Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone. Since then, the competition with other companies has evolved into a giant battle of smartphones, each trying to outsmart and outperform the others. Samsung and LG already released their new phones for this year, so expectations for the iPhone 8 are high. VOA’s George Putic looks at what features the new version may bring.