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Updated: 2 hours 22 min ago

Artificial Intelligence Robots Aiding in Battle Against Crippling Nerve Disease

Artificial intelligence robots are turbocharging the race to find new drugs for the crippling nerve disorder ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. The condition attacks and kills nerve cells controlling muscles, leading to weakness, paralysis and, ultimately, respiratory failure. There are only two drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to slow the progression of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), one available since 1995 and the other approved just this year. About 140,000 new cases are diagnosed a year globally, and there is no cure. "Many doctors call it the worst disease in medicine, and the unmet need is huge," said Richard Mead of the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience, who has found artificial intelligence (AI) is already speeding up his work. Such robots — complex software run through powerful computers — work as tireless and unbiased super-researchers. They analyze huge chemical, biological and medical databases, alongside reams of scientific papers, far quicker than humanly possible, throwing up new biological targets and potential drugs. Cell deaths prevented One candidate proposed by AI machines recently produced promising results in preventing the death of motor neurone cells and delaying disease onset in preclinical tests in Sheffield. Mead, who aims to present the work at a medical meeting in December, is now assessing plans for clinical trials. He and his team in northern England are not the only ones waking up to the ability of AI to elucidate the complexities of ALS. In Arizona, the Barrow Neurological Institute last December found five new genes linked to ALS by using IBM's Watson supercomputer. Without the machine, researchers estimate the discovery would have taken years rather than only a few months. Mead believes ALS is ripe for AI and machine-learning because of the rapid expansion in genetic information about the condition and the fact there are good test-tube and animal models with which to evaluate drug candidates. That is good news for ALS patients seeking better treatment options. Famous sufferers include Gehrig, the 1923-39 New York Yankees baseball player; actor and playwright Sam Shepard, who died last month; and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, a rare example of someone living for decades with the condition. If the research goes on to deliver new medicines, it would mark a notable victory for AI in drug discovery, bolstering the prospects of a growing batch of startup companies focused on the technology. Those firms are based on the premise that while AI robots won't replace scientists and clinicians, they should save time and money by finding drug leads several times faster than conventional processes. British 'unicorn' Mead from Sheffield is working with BenevolentAI, one of a handful of British "unicorns" — private companies with a market value above $1 billion, in this case $1.7 billion — which is rapidly expanding operations at its offices in central London. Others in the field include Scotland's Exscientia and U.S.-based firms Berg, Numerate, twoXAR, Atomwise and InSilico Medicine — the last of which recently launched a drug discovery platform geared specifically to ALS. "What we are trying to do is find relationships that will give us new targets in disease," said Jackie Hunter, a former drug hunter at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) who now heads Benevolent's pharma business. "We can do things so much more dynamically and be really responsive to what essentially the information is telling us." Unlike humans, who may have pet theories, AI scans through data and generates hypotheses in an unbiased way. Conventional drug discovery remains a hit-and-miss affair, and Hunter believes the 50 percent failure rates seen for experimental compounds in mid- and late-stage clinical trials due to lack of efficacy is unsustainable, forcing a shift to AI. A key test will come with a study by Benevolent to assess a previously unsuccessful compound from Johnson & Johnson in a new disease area — this time for treating Parkinson's disease patients with excessive daytime sleepiness. Big pharmaceutical companies like GSK, Sanofi and Merck are now exploring the potential of AI through deals with startups. Being careful They are treading cautiously, given the failure of "high throughput screening" in the early 2000s to improve efficiency by using robots to test millions of compounds. Yet AI's ability to learn on the job means things may be different this time. CPR Asset Management fund manager Vafa Ahmadi, for one, believes it is a potential game-changer. "Using artificial intelligence is going to really accelerate the way we produce much better targeted molecules. It could have a dramatic impact on productivity, which in turn could have a major impact on the valuation of pharmaceutical stocks," he said. Drugmakers and startups are not the only ones chasing that value. Technology giants including Microsoft, IBM and Google's parent Alphabet are also setting up life sciences units to explore drug R&D. For Benevolent's Hunter, today's attempts to find new drugs for ALS and other difficult diseases amount to an important test vehicle for the future of AI, which is already being deployed in other high-tech areas such as autonomous cars. "The aim is to show that we can deliver in a very difficult and complex area, " Hunter said. "I believe if you can do it in drug discovery and development, you can show the power of AI anywhere."

Got Text Neck? Try Pilates

In New York City, Pilates classes are nothing new. But perhaps only one class is taking on the aches and pains specific to our digital culture and texting obsession. VOA Reporter Tina Trinh went to the Gramercy Pilates NYC studio to check out their “Pilates for Text Neck” class.

US Defense Secretary Mattis Begins Tech Outreach with Amazon Visit

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis kicked off his first official visit to the U.S. technology industry on Thursday with a tour of Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, the first stop on a two-day outreach campaign intended to highlight the Pentagon's commitment to tech innovation. Mattis was scheduled to visit Mountain View, California, later in the day to tour the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Experimental Unit, or DIUx, a Silicon Valley outpost set up in 2015 by his predecessor, Ash Carter. He was also expected to visit Alphabet's Google headquarters in Palo Alto on Friday. "A pleasure to host #SecDef James Mattis at Amazon HQ in Seattle today," Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos wrote on Twitter. The visit comes as the Trump administration has sparred with the technology industry on a host of issues, including immigration, privacy and net neutrality.  

Teen Girls Gather in Malawi to Advance Science, Tech Skills

A hundred teenage girls from seven countries are gathered the Malawi University of Science and Technology in the country's Thyolo district for a Women in Science camp. Experts from Intel Corp. and Google are teaching the girls — from Rwanda, Uganda, Liberia, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and the U.S. — to develop mobile phone apps. It's one of several lessons offered at the two-week camp, which runs through August 14. The hope is that these teens will go on to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, also known as STEAM fields. "We want is every girl who participates in this camp to walk away with the knowledge and the confidence that if they want to develop computer applications, they absolutely can," instructor Lisa Mcintye said. "We are giving them building blocks and access to start doing that." The camp was made possible by the U.N.'s Girl Up campaign, U.S.-based Intel and the U.S. Department of State. Time for change "Those fields everywhere — in my country, the United States, here in Malawi and many countries around the world — tend to be dominated by men. It's time for that to change," said Edward J. Monster, public affairs officer of the U.S. Embassy in Malawi. Role models were invited to share their experiences with the campers. The guests included former American astronaut Leland Melvin and Malawi's only two female pilots, Captain Yolanda Kaunda and First Officer Lusekelo Mwenifumbo. "I was undermined as a girl, that probably I could not do the job, or I couldn't do it as good as a man," said Lusekelo Mwenifumbo, a pilot for Malawian Airlines. "But the training is the same for a man and a woman. That's why we are called pilots, not pilotesses." 'Really inspiring' "Those guys are really inspiring people," said Chimwemwe Chiweza, one of the campers from Malawi. "And I learned that all of them are doing very important things, and they are in male-dominated fields, and that, actually, they made it possible." "What I have learned is that since I need to work in a STEAM field, I need to work hard for it and I will achieve it, even if I am a girl," said camper Clarisse Ilibagiza Umulis of Rwanda. Organizers say more is expected from the girls after the camp. "These girls will go home and change their communities," said Bailey Leuschen of the U.N. Girl Up campaign. "They [are going to] bring this knowledge back to their schools. They [are going to] start Girl Up clubs and they [are going to] be the leaders in science, technology, engineering, arts and math." STEAM camps have also been held in Rwanda and Peru since 2015. In all, about 300 teenage girls have participated.

Teen Girls Gather in Malawi to Advance Science, Tech Skills

A hundred teenage girls from seven countries are gathered in Malawi for a ‘Women in Science’ camp. Lameck Masina has the story from the Malawi University of Science and Technology in the Thyolo district of southern Malawi.

Developers File Antitrust Complaint Against Apple in China

A Chinese law firm has filed a complaint against Apple on behalf of 28 local developers alleging the firm breached antitrust regulations. The complaint, lodged by Beijing-based Dare & Sure Law Firm, accuses Apple of charging excessive fees and removing apps from its local store without proper explanation, Lin Wei, an attorney at the firm told Reuters on Thursday. "During its localization process Apple has run into several antitrust issues ... after an initial investigation we consulted a number of enterprises and got a very strong response," said Lin. The law firm invited developers to join the complaint in April and on Tuesday filed it to China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees antitrust matters in the country. An Apple spokeswoman told Reuters that guidelines for publishing apps on the App Store were consistent across all countries, and that it was in the process of expanding its local developer relations team. The law firm did not provide details of the developers involved in the complaint. Apple's China App Store is its most profitable store globally, despite being subject to strict censorship controls that have pressured the firm to recently remove dozens of apps.

China Sends ‘Hack Proof’ Code From Satellite to Earth

China has sent an unbreakable code from a satellite to the Earth, marking the first time space-to-ground quantum key distribution technology has been realized, state media said Thursday. China launched the world’s first quantum satellite last August, to help establish “hack proof” communications, a development the Pentagon has called a “notable advance.” The official Xinhua news agency said the latest experiment was published in the journal Nature Thursday, where reviewers called it a “milestone.” Quantum key technology The satellite sent quantum keys to ground stations in China between 645 km (400 miles) and 1,200 km (745 miles) away at a transmission rate up to 20 orders of magnitude more efficient than an optical fiber, Xinhua cited Pan Jianwei, lead scientist on the experiment from the state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying. “That, for instance, can meet the demand of making an absolute safe phone call or transmitting a large amount of bank data,” Pan said. Any attempt to eavesdrop on the quantum channel would introduce detectable disturbances to the system, Pan said. “Once intercepted or measured, the quantum state of the key will change, and the information being intercepted will self-destruct,” Xinhua said. The news agency said there were “enormous prospects” for applying this new generation of communications in defense and finance. China lags in space China still lags behind the United States and Russia in space technology, although President Xi Jinping has prioritized advancing its space program, citing national security and defense. China insists its space program is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted its increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.

Low Tech Startup Transforming Sewage Into Fuel

The planet has a bit of a waste problem. Every year, at least 200 million tons of raw sewage goes untreated. This is an environmental and health crisis. But one enterprising startup in Kenya is turning all that waste into fuel. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

In the Fight to End Modern Slavery, Machines May Hold Key

More than 20 million people are working as modern slaves, and a technology developer is hoping artificial intelligence can help clean up the world’s supply chains and root out worker abuse. Developer Padmini Ranganathan said mobile phones, media reports and surveillance cameras can all be mined for real-time data, which can in turn be fed into machines to create artificial intelligence (AI) that helps companies see more clearly what is happening down the line. “The time to do this now is better than ever before, with so many countries and companies focusing on modern slavery,” she said. “At the start of the decade, the driving force for compliance was fear of being penalized. Now companies are looking at social impact and saying they want to do this.” ​More scrutiny of modern-day slavery Modern-day slavery has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, putting regulatory and consumer pressure on companies to ensure their supply chains are free from forced labor, child workers and other forms of slavery. Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labor, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), with migrant workers and indigenous people particularly vulnerable. But Ranganathan said there are new digital ways to stamp out exploitation, given humans have failed to end modern slavery. “The technology can filter over 1 million articles a day using forced labor specific key words and highlight potential areas of risk in a supply chain,” she said. Ranganathan works for information technology services company SAP Ariba, which helps companies better manage their procurement processes. She said a new program could map weak links in corporate supply chains by culling data from a host of sources, from surveillance cameras to non-profits and other agencies. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning can use these huge volumes of data and extract meaningful information,” she said. Forced labor worth $150 billion Forced labor in the private economy generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year, according to the ILO. Ranganathan hopes her new program will curb that market and help create “supply chains with a conscience.” For instance, she said it could help detect if child labor was used to pollinate cotton, which in turn was used to produce a branded shirt. Or it could help monitor labor conditions on cocoa plantations, giving companies “real-time exposure” so they can purge their supply chains of abuse right away. “The convergence of technology will make things more transparent and real-time exposure can be created,” she said. “In the AI world, techniques are being piloted where we could arm the lowest level supplier with a mobile app, ensure hotlines in factories, use of surveillance cameras and make this all a part of the contract.” Ranganathan conceded that mapping the “last mile” of any supply chain was the hardest part, with many outsourcing work to homeworkers and small units, where data was harder to gather.

Mass Market Hopes for Battery-free Cell Phone Technology

Researchers in the United States have unveiled a prototype of a battery-free mobile phone, using technology they hope will eventually come to be integrated into mass-market products. The phone is the work of a group of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle and works by harvesting tiny amounts of power from radio signals, known as radio frequency or ‘RF’ waves. “Ambient RF waves are all around us so, as an example, your FM station broadcasts radio waves, your AM stations do that, your TV stations, your cellphone towers. They all are transmitting RF waves,” team member Vamsi Talla told Reuters. The phone is a first prototype and its operation is basic — at first glance it looks little more than a circuit board with a few parts attached and the caller must wear headphones and press a button to switch between talking and listening. But researchers said there are plans to develop further prototypes, featuring a low-power screen for texting and even a basic camera. They also plan a version of the battery-free phone that uses a tiny solar cell to provide power. The researchers plan to release a product in eight to nine months time, thought they would not give further details. One team member however, was prepared to give a glimpse of how their work will impact the future of cellphone technology. “In the future every smartphone will come with a battery-free mode where you can at least make a voice call when your battery's dead,” said the researcher. The initiative is not the only one seeking to improve the way that mobile technology is powered. Researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Surrey in Britain, are developing supercapacitors, which they believe will eventually allow devices to charge in a period of a few minutes.

With ‘Watch,’ Facebook Takes Big Step Toward TV

Facebook on Wednesday made its biggest move to date to compete in the television market by expanding its video offerings with programming ranging from professional women’s basketball to a safari show and a parenting program. The redesigned product, called “Watch,” will be available initially to a limited group in the United States on Facebook’s mobile app, website and television apps, the company said. The world’s largest social network added a video tab last year, and it has been dropping hints for months that it wanted to become a source of original and well-produced videos, rather than just shows made by users. Reuters reported in May that Facebook had signed deals with millennial-focused news and entertainment creators Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, Group Nine Media and others to produce shows, both scripted and unscripted. Daniel Danker, Facebook’s product director, said in a statement Wednesday: “We’ve learned that people like the serendipity of discovering videos in News Feed, but they also want a dedicated place they can go to watch videos.” Facebook said the shows would include videos of the Women’s National Basketball Association, a parenting show from Time Inc and a safari show from National Geographic. Facebook is broadcasting some Major League Baseball games and that would continue, the company said. Eventually, the platform would be open to any show creator as a place to distribute video, the company said. The company, based in Menlo Park, California, faces a crowded market with not only traditional television networks but newer producers such as Netflix and Alphabet’s YouTube as well as Twitter and Snap.

Spray Can Stunt Prompts Twitter to Act on Hateful Tweets

An artist tired of seeing hateful tweets ignored by Twitter has managed to get the social network to remove or hide some of them — by spray-painting the offending posts in front of the company's German headquarters. Shahak Shapira said he reported some 300 tweets containing possible illegal content to Twitter over a period of about six months but the social networking site ignored him. This occurred at a time when Twitter was arguing against tough new legislation in Germany, insisting it was already taking sufficient measures against hate speech. Shapira said he painted almost 30 of the offending tweets on the street in front of Twitter's Hamburg offices Friday because "flagging things clearly wasn't enough.'' "I had to spray it on the ground,'' he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. The Israeli-born artist said he never got any kind of direct response from Twitter, either before or after the stunt. But a video of it received over 100,000 views in 48 hours and clearly got the company's attention. By Wednesday, Twitter had deleted three tweets, suspended four accounts and withheld another seven accounts in Germany. Fifteen other tweets, including some containing anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-black comments, were still online. Shapira said he doesn't advocate mass censorship, but wants Twitter to take the issue of online abuse seriously. A study commissioned by the German government found that Twitter lagged behind other social networks such as Facebook and YouTube in responding to complaints about hate speech. "It would be nice if Twitter had reacted,'' said Shapira, whose previous work includes questioning the way young people confront the Holocaust. "What I want is that these flagged posts are reviewed the way Facebook does. What Facebook does isn't perfect, but at least they are making an effort.'' Under pressure after Germany passed a law last month that could see social networks fined up to 50 million euros ($58.6 million) if they fail to swiftly remove illegal content, Facebook announced plans this week for a second office in Germany to review posts for illegal content. Free speech advocates have criticized the law, saying social networks may err on the side of censorship to avoid hefty fines. Twitter refused to publicly comment on the stunt after first being contacted by the AP about it on Monday. Instead, the company cited its guidelines which include a ban on promoting "violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity.'' Among the spray-painted tweets that remain online is one directed at Shapira from a user who references the artist's Jewish identity and expresses hope that he should bump into a group of criminals on a dark evening.

Author of Google Diversity Memo Files Labor Complaint After Firing

A former Google software engineer, who wrote an internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity policies, has filed a labor complaint, saying he was wrongfully fired. In a statement emailed to news agencies, James Damore said he filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board prior to his termination and that, “It’s illegal to retaliate against the NLRB charge.” Damore said he was subjected to “coercive statements” while working at Google. According to the Associated Press, a Google spokesperson said the company could not have retaliated against Damore because it was not aware of the complaint until hearing about it in the news media after he was dismissed. Damore caused an uproar after the website Gizmodo published a leaked copy of the memo he wrote, encouraging Google to "treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group," and questioning the effectiveness of diversity programs at the company. Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive officer, criticized Damore's memo in an email for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." In the 10-page internal memo, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," Damore asserted that fewer women are employed in the technology field because they "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas," while men are more inclined to become computer programmers — a fact he said was due to "biological causes." Danielle Brown, Google's new vice president for diversity, integrity and governance, said the memo “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender” and promotes a viewpoint not encouraged by the company. “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions,” she said. “But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.” The controversy comes as Silicon Valley faces accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation over allegations women there are paid less than men.

Fired Google Memo Writer Draws Scorn, Cheers and a Job Offer

The male Google engineer fired for circulating a memo decrying the company's diversity hiring program became the center of a heated debate on sexism, drawing scorn, cheers and even a job offer on Tuesday from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. James Damore, 28, confirmed his dismissal from Alphabet Inc's Google on Monday, after he wrote a 10-page memo that the company was hostile to conservative viewpoints shaped by a flawed left-wing ideology. The manifesto was quickly embraced by some, particularly on the political right, branding him a brave truth-teller. Others found his views, which argued that men in general may be biologically more suited to coding jobs than women, offensive. Assange, who is praised in some circles for exposing government secrets and castigated by others as an underminer of some nations' security, offered Damore a job. "Censorship is for losers," Assange wrote on Twitter. "Women & men deserve respect. That includes not firing them for politely expressing ideas but rather arguing back." Legal and employment experts noted, however, that companies have broad latitude to restrict the speech of employees. Some argued that Damore's views left Google little to no choice but to terminate his employment, since he had effectively created a hostile work environment for women. Damore said in an email on Monday that he was exploring a possible legal challenge to his dismissal. His title at Google was software engineer and he had worked at the company since December 2013, according to a profile on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn page also says Damore received a Ph.D. in systems biology from Harvard University in 2013. Harvard said on Tuesday he completed a master's degree in the subject, not a Ph.D. He could not immediately be reached on Tuesday. Gender equality in Silicon Valley The world's tech capital, Silicon Valley has long been criticized for not doing enough to encourage gender equality. Most headlines have centered on powerful female executives hitting the glass ceiling or on sexual harassment lawsuits. Many women in the industry say that less visible day-to-day bias often impedes their careers. Industry experts note that in the early days of tech, it was mostly women who held the then-unglamorous jobs of coding. But as the value of top-notch programming became clear, it became a mostly male domain and the vast majority of programmers in the tech industry are now men. Google's response controversial Some argued that although they may not agree with Damore, the company had gone too far in firing him. "Dear @Google, Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR. Thx in advance, A dad," Eric Weinstein, managing director at California investment firm Thiel Capital, wrote on Twitter. Bernice Ledbetter, who teaches leadership to business students at Pepperdine University, praised Google for taking decisive action. She said it would be a different matter if Damore were writing on a personal blog rather than in a memo. "He's walking dangerously between who he is personally and who he is professionally," Ledbetter said in an interview. Others raised concerns that Damore would discriminate against his female colleagues in peer review. Damore wrote in an email to Reuters on Monday that he was fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes." His memo had said that he sought the opposite. "I'm also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles," Damore wrote in his memo. "I'm advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism)." His arguments were praised by those who view so-called "political correctness" as a left-wing device to suppress conservative speech. John Hawkins, the owner of the Right Wing News website, summed up his take in a Twitter post: "James Damore: Writes memo respectfully saying Google suppresses conservative views. Google: You're fired for having conservative views." Damore and Kaepernick Others compared Damore with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who last year chose not to stand for the U.S. national anthem before games, in protest over police violence. None of the NFL's 32 teams were willing to sign Kaepernick during the recent off-season. "Kaepernick and Damore should've been aware that expressing controversial opinions at work has consequences," Twitter user Greg Lekich wrote from his account, @Xeynon. Damore said he would fight the dismissal, noting that he had filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board before the firing. Google, owner of the world's most used search engine, is based in Mountain View, California. The company said it could not talk about individual employee cases.

Artist Targets Twitter With Offline Hate Tweets

A German-Israeli artist who accuses Twitter of failing to delete hate speech tweets has taken matters into his own hands - by stenciling the offending messages on the road in front of the company's Hamburg headquarters. A post on video-sharing site YouTube showed Shahak Shapira and fellow activists stencilling tweets saying "Germany needs a final solution to Islam" and "Let's gas the Jews" - clear references to the Nazi regime's World War II genocide of Europe's Jews.   Shapira said he had reported some 300 incidents of hate speech on Twitter but had received just nine responses from the company. "If Twitter forces me to see these things, then they should have to see it as well," he said in the video, posted on Monday, describing the comments as violations of the social network's community guidelines. Hate speech is especially sensitive in Germany, whose history has been shaped by the struggle to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. A spokesman for Twitter told Reuters the company would not comment on the specifics of individual accounts for reasons of privacy, but said it strictly enforced its rules and had stepped up its policing of abuse on its network. Twitter is now taking action on 10 times as many abusive accounts now compared to the same time last year, he added. Shapira said Facebook had been more vigorous than Twitter in replying to his requests, removing 80 percent of some 150 hate speech comments he had reported. On the handful of occasions when Twitter removed offensive tweets, Shapira said he never received a report of their having done so. "I selected some of the tweets they didn't delete, and then came to Hamburg to put them in front of Twitter's office," he said. "Tomorrow they will have to see the Tweets they were so happy to ignore."

Google Engineer Fired Over Memo Casting Doubt on Need for Gender Diversity

U.S. technology giant Google has fired a male engineer who wrote a memo questioning the need for gender diversity programs in the industry. In a 3,000 page internal memo titled “Google's Ideological Echo Chamber,” James Damore asserted that so few women were employed in the technology field because they “prefer jobs in social and artistic areas,” while men are more inclined to become computer programmers — a fact he said was due to “biological causes.” The memo created a firestorm after it was leaked on social media, reviving the debate over the lack of racial and gender diversity in the tech world.  Google is under investigation by the U.S. Labor Department over whether it pays women less than men, while claims of sexual harassment at the ride-sharing firm Uber Technologies has triggered a change in management.   Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive officer, blasted Damore's memo in an email for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”   Damore revealed he had been dismissed in an email sent to various news outlets.  He says he has filed a complaint with the federal National Labor Relations Board accusing Google of trying to shame him into silence.  

Pentagon: Military Can Destroy Drones Over Domestic US Bases

The Pentagon has given more than 130 U.S. military bases across the United States the green light to shoot down private and commercial drones that could endanger aviation safety or pose other threats. The number of uncrewed aircraft in U.S. skies has zoomed in recent years and continues to increase rapidly - along with concern among U.S. and private-sector officials that dangerous or even hostile drones could get too close to places like military bases, airports and sports stadiums. While the specific actions that the U.S. military can take against drones are classified, they include destroying or seizing private and commercial drones that pose a threat, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters on Monday. The classified guidelines were distributed early last month. The Pentagon sent out unclassified guidance on how to communicate the policy to communities on Friday. "The increase of commercial and private drones in the United States has raised our concerns with regards to the safety and security of our installations, aviation safety and the safety of people," Davis said. In April, flights of nearly all drones over 133 U.S. military facilities were banned due to security concerns. Drones have become popular as toys and with hobbyists, and have commercial uses such as aerial photography. Amazon.com and Alphabet's Google unit have been exploring the use of drones to deliver goods ordered online. The FAA estimated the commercial drone fleet would grow from 42,000 at the end of 2016 to about 442,000 aircraft by 2021. The FAA said there could be as many as 1.6 million commercial drones in use by 2021.

Google Exec Denounces Employee's Views on Female Workers

Silicon Valley's efforts to promote workforce diversity haven't yielded many results — unless you count a backlash at Google, where a male engineer blamed biological differences for the paucity of female programmers. His widely shared memo, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," also criticizes Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for "alienating conservatives." Google's just-hired head of diversity, Danielle Brown, responded with her own memo, saying Google is "unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success." She said change is hard and "often uncomfortable." The dueling memos come as Silicon Valley grapples with accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is also in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation into whether it pays women less than men, while Uber's CEO recently lost his job amid accusations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination. Leading tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Uber, have said they are trying to improve hiring and working conditions for women. But diversity numbers are barely changing . The Google employee memo, which gained attention online over the weekend, begins by saying that only honest discussion will address a lack of equity. But it also asserts that women "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas" while more men "may like coding because it requires systemizing." The memo, which was shared on the tech blog Gizmodo, attributes biological differences between men and women to the reason why "we don't have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership." The employee, whose identity hasn't been released, was described in news reports as a software engineer. While his views were broadly and publicly criticized online, they echo the 2005 statements by then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who said the reason there are fewer female scientists at top universities is in part due to "innate" gender differences. Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services for Catalyst, a nonprofit advocacy group for women in the workplace, said the engineer's viewpoints show "how ingrained, entrenched and harmful gender-based stereotypes truly are." "It's much easier for some to point to `innate biological differences' than to confront the unconscious biases and obstacles that get in the way of a level playing field," Stellings wrote in an email. Google, like other tech companies, has far fewer women than men in technology and leadership positions. Fifty-six percent of its workers are white and 35 percent are Asian, while Hispanic and Black employees make up 4 percent and 2 percent of its workforce, respectively, according to the company's latest diversity report . Tech companies say they are trying, by reaching out to and interviewing a broader range of job candidates, by offering coding classes, internships and mentorship programs and by holding mandatory "unconscious bias" training sessions for existing employees. But, as the employee memo shows, not everyone at Google is happy with this.

Tackling Social Injustice With Video Games

At the recent Games for Change festival in New York City, the video games on display were a far cry from Mario Brothers and Call of Duty. Instead, game developers showed off titles that tackled civic and social issues. VOA reporter Tina Trinh explores.   ((mandatory CG: GamBridzy))

New Video Games Tackle Social Injustice Issues

You’re in Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has just struck your village and you must rescue the survivors.   This is “After Days,” a video game based on the real-life Nepal earthquake that killed almost 9,000 people in 2015. Minseok Do was showing the game at the recent Games for Change festival in New York City. The games on display were a far cry from "Mario Brothers" and "Call of Duty." These developers featured titles that tackled civic and social issues. Public consciousness about civic and social issues has long been raised by the news and entertainment industries in the United States and other parts of the world, and now video game creators are making their own statements and hoping to reach the younger digital generation in the process. In “After Days,” players take on the role of Ahsha, a young Nepalese woman who attempts to rescue her neighbors in the aftermath of the massive earthquake. “Other media, such as novels and movies, require consumers to use their imagination to understand characters’ emotions,” said Do, CEO of GamBridzy. “Games have players be in characters’ shoes by letting them command and control. It is in my opinion the most powerful platform.” In the game, players carry out various missions like transporting injured victims in stretchers and coordinating with rescue teams to restore critical infrastructure. The first episode is set in Sindhupalchok, one of the hardest-hit districts of the earthquake in Nepal. “Some say it will take about 10 years to complete all the restoration, but international attention is not focused on this, and it is important that we show our interest and support,” said Do. Twenty percent of proceeds from game sales will go toward rebuilding efforts. Elin Festøy, a producer from Norway, also was in New York to promote her game. “We really wanted to create attention and awareness around children born of war ... children being born of the most hated soldiers in the world,” said Festøy. She and her team created “My Child Lebensborn,” a mobile game in which players are the caretakers of World War Two-era children from the Lebensborn project, an attempt by the Nazi regime to create an Aryan “master race.” Lebensborn involved child kidnappings as well as anonymous births by unwed mothers in and outside of Germany, with their offspring adopted by German families.  After the war, many Lebensborn children faced prejudice and discrimination, even from their own mothers. “It’s about being able to see children as children and not as symbols of [the] enemy,” said Festøy. “My Child Lebensborn” is targeted at players aged 13 and up. Recognizing that 13-year-olds might not exactly run to play the game, one of the team’s goals includes creating a bundle for schools that includes both the game and an accompanying film on the Lebensborn project.   Video games at the Games for Change festival didn’t shy away from difficult or touchy topics. Indeed, they were a vehicle for discussion and dialogue. “The problem in a lot of developing countries is that people do not talk about issues. People do not want to share their problems out of embarrassment,” said Dr. Ilmana Fasih, a director at ZMQ. The New Delhi-based consulting company developed “YourStoryTeller,” a mobile app that is less video game than a digital narrative. User-contributed stories are transformed into comic strips. Each week, a new story addresses women’s issues in India, a country where patriarchal attitudes are common. In one example, a young woman’s studies are disrupted for an arranged marriage that takes her from India to Canada, where she is physically abused by her new husband. Fasih acknowledged the stories are definitely not of the Disney fairytale variety, and they definitely have a point of view.   “Kids grow up watching those stories. We want kids to grow up watching these stories where there are struggles,” said Fasih. “A young boy is able to understand what are the struggles that his mom, his sisters go through. That is probably one of the best ways to defeat patriarchy.”    

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