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FBI Chief Calls Unbreakable Encryption 'Urgent Public Safety Issue'

The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an "urgent public safety issue," FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency's work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York. The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added. "This is an urgent public safety issue," Wray added, while saying that a solution is "not so clear cut." Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBI's attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspect's cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant. Wray's comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August. The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable. "We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence," Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires "significant innovation," Wray said, "but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible." Wray's remarks echoed those of his predecessor, James Comey, who before being fired by President Donald Trump in May frequently spoke about the dangers of unbreakable encryption. Tech companies and many cyber security experts have said that any measure ensuring that law enforcement authorities are able to access data from encrypted products would weaken cyber security for everyone. U.S. officials have said that default encryption settings on cellphones and other devices hinder their ability to collect evidence needed to pursue criminals. The matter came to a head in 2016 when the Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to force Apple to break into an iPhone used by a gunman during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The Trump administration at times has taken a tougher stance on the issue than former President Barack Obama's administration. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in October chastised technology companies for building strongly encrypted products, suggesting Silicon Valley is more willing to comply with foreign government demands for data than those made by their home country.

Democrats Vow to Force Vote on Net Neutrality, Make It a Campaign Issue

U.S. Senate Democrats said on Tuesday they will force a vote later this year on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's reversal of landmark Obama administration net neutrality rules and will try to make it a key issue in the 2018 congressional elections. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the issue will be a major motivating factor for young voters the party is courting. "We're going to let everyone know where we stand and they stand," Schumer said at a Capitol Hill news conference in Washington. The FCC voted in December along party lines to reverse rules introduced in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes. A group of state attorneys general immediately vowed to sue. A trade group representing major tech companies including Facebook, Alphabet and said last week it will back legal challenges to the reversal. The vote in December marked a victory for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications and hands them power over what content consumers can access over the internet. It marked the biggest win for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations. Senate Democrats on Tuesday called the FCC decision "un-American" and an "all-out assault on consumers." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, backs the FCC repeal. A reversal of the FCC vote would need the approval of the Senate, U.S. House and President Donald Trump. Trump also backed the FCC action, the White House said last month. The FCC order grants internet providers sweeping new powers to block, throttle or discriminate among internet content, but requires public disclosure of those practices. Internet providers have vowed not to change how consumers get online content. Democrats say net neutrality is essential to protect consumers, while Republicans say the rules hindered investment by providers and were not needed. Democratic Senator Ed Markey said on Tuesday he had 39 co-sponsors to force a vote, but it is not clear when the vote will occur since the new rules will not take effect for at least another three months. "There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of history," Markey said. Republicans control the Senate with 51 votes out of the 100-member body. Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, said the issue was resonating with teenagers and college students. "People are mobilizing across the country to save the free and open internet," Schatz said.

Smart Everything at Computer Electronics Show

The new smart electronic gadgets on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas may help drive you into an increasingly connected future.     In the case of Byton, a futuristic smart car that is one of the hits of the CES - a driver steps into a high-tech sensory experience.   From a tablet embedded in the steering wheel and five hand gestures, the motorist controls the vehicle.   Sensors monitor the driver’s heart rate, blood pressure and other vital statistics.   Other features include tiny cameras instead of side view mirrors, and seats that swivel to give the car a lounge-like feeling.   Aiming for the Tesla market, the first Byton electric SUV is expected to go on sale first in China in 2019, selling for $45,000, before becoming available in the United States and Europe in 2020.   US market for smart devices   For the 170,000 attendees at CES - one-third of them from outside the U.S. - there are plenty of other “smart devices.”  This year’s CES demonstrates that entrepreneurs and companies are coming up with new ideas for adding sensors and connectivity to most everyday items.   But will there be a market?   Smart watches and smart speakers dominate the smart device category, and plenty are on display at the CES; however, just about 20 percent of the U.S. market will use some type of wearable device once a month this year, according to eMarketer, a research firm. “Wearable usage will continue to grow, but the growth rate will slow to single digits beginning in 2019,” the firm said.   Mirror that talks back   Phair Tsai is at the CES to show off her firm’s HiMirror, a “smart” beauty mirror.   By taking a photo, HiMirror keeps track of and analyzes the health of the user’s skin. It also displays news feeds and offers makeup tutorials via YouTube.   If you like what you see, HiMirror can let you share your good looks by sending video messages.   Connected shoe   If the shoe fits, wear it - with a smart device. Digitsole sells an insole with a sensor connected to a smartphone that can fit into any shoe. That can help detect whether a worker is tired or in pain, said Karim Oumnia, president of the firm.   If a soldier falls or is injured, “the shoe will immediately send a message for his team to rescue him,” he said. And it is possible to set the shoe’s temperature via the sensors.     “Smart footware is not just for fun,” he said. “It makes your life easier.”   Smart cars, smart mirrors, smart shoes - more indications that we are living in an ever connected world.  

SpaceX: Rocket Performed OK in Secret Satellite Launch

SpaceX is defending its rocket performance during Sunday night's launch of a secret U.S. satellite, responding to media reports that the satellite codenamed Zuma was lost.   SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says the Falcon 9 rocket "did everything correctly" and suggestions otherwise are "categorically false."   Northrop Grumman — which provided the satellite for an undisclosed U.S. government entity — says it cannot comment on classified missions.   The rocket's first stage completed its job and landed back at Cape Canaveral following liftoff. But no second-stage information was provided because of all the secrecy surrounding the flight.   The Wall Street Journal quotes unidentified congressional officials as saying the satellite apparently did not separate from the rocket's upper second stage, and plunged through the atmosphere and burned up.  

Native Americans, Canada’s First Peoples, Fight to Keep Long Hair

Tiya-Marie Large, a member of the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, couldn’t understand why her 8-year-old son, Mylon McArthur, came home from school every day in tears. “I’d ask him what was wrong. I’d ask him, ‘Is there anything you want to tell me? I promise I won’t get mad,’” she recalled. But Mylon refused to speak. Large arranged for a meeting with his teacher, during which her son broke down sobbing, finally admitting that his classmates had been bullying him because he wore his long hair in braids. The family had recently moved to Alberta, where Mylon was the only indigenous child in his class. “I had to finally make the decision that I’d rather have him cut his hair than have him become suicidal,” Large said, pointing to the recent rise in teen suicides across Indian country. Mylon decided to make a Facebook video explaining his decision and sending a message to bullies and educators: "You do not define me."  The video quickly went viral (See below). A source of power Hair has special spiritual and cultural significance for tribes, though traditions and styles vary from tribe to tribe. Whether worn long, braided or bound in a knot, most North American indigenous peoples see hair as a source of strength and power. “Hairstyles helped to define both individuals, nations, and societies within those nations,” explained L.G. Moses, professor emeritus of history at Oklahoma State University.  As part of 19th century policies of forced assimilation of indigenous peoples, the U.S. and Canadian governments began what Moses calls an “assault on tribal hairstyles.” “Long hair signaled whether people were civilized, or sadly, in the minds of teachers and bureaucrats, remained ‘blanket’ Indians,” he said, using a disparaging term for Native peoples who retained traditional customs. Beginning in the 1870s, federal officials in Canada and the U.S. removed Native children into off-reservation boarding schools, where they were forced to give up their languages, clothing and long hair. Even today, some public school systems, prisons and some workplaces still require Native Americans to cut their hair. Conrad Eagle Feather, a Sicangu Lakota living on South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation, recalls taking a job for an organization in California. “I wanted to grow my hair out, but long hair was a violation of the company’s grooming standards,” he said. “I even had a spiritual leader go explain to them why it was important for me to wear long hair. But they said ‘No.’” After the company altered policy to allow a non-Native man to wear a beard, Eagle Feather enlisted the help of a legal organization and ultimately won the right to grow his hair. Turning to social media Michael Linklater, a Nehiyaw (Cree) from Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, and a 3-on-3 pro basketball world champion, says he was harassed as a child for wearing his hair in braids. “A lot of people who see indigenous men or boys with long hair see strength, and they see power. And it makes them uncomfortable. So, they feel the need to bring those people down,” he said. Two years ago, after his own boys confessed to being bullied, Linklater decided to take action. In early 2016, he created a Facebook page that has since become a social movement — Boys With Braids. “There needed to be a platform to foster pride in these young men, give them a voice and create some awareness on the issue,” he said, expressing hopes that the movement can put an end to bullying. Boys With Braids has since spread across Canada and into the U.S., sprouting chapters in California, Michigan, New Mexico and South Dakota — states with large Native American populations. On South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, for example, the local Boys With Braids chapter invites boys to weekly meetings and events, including horseback riding camps, cooking lessons and even a buffalo hunt, all designed to instill pride not just in hair but all Lakota traditions. Recently, Nikki Lowe of Albuquerque, N.M., whose son has also experienced bullying, teamed up with another mother to host a first-ever Boys with Braids event for Navajo youth — who traditionally wore their hair in a tsiiyee, a knot tied with wool yarn — but more often today wear braids. “We hosted our first event on Dec. 2,” Lowe said. “We invited a drum group, and we had boys make leather key chains in the shape of traditional shields, something they could carry with them to make them feel strong,” she said. In the future, she’s planning on meeting with state educators and expanding into other states. As for Mylon, he has not yet been able to attend a Boys With Braids event but hopes to in the near future. He tells VOA that the bullying has stopped since he cut his hair three months ago. He also announced another decision: “I’ve decided to grow it out again, and I can’t wait!”

Intel CEO: Fixes on Way for Serious Chip Security Flaws

Intel has big plans to steer toward new business in self-driving cars, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technologies. But first it has to pull out of a skid caused by a serious security flaw in its processor chips, which undergird many of the world's smartphones and personal computers. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich opened his keynote talk Monday night at the annual CES gadget show in Las Vegas by addressing the hard-to-fix flaws disclosed by security researchers last week. At an event known for its technological optimism, it was an unusually sober and high-profile reminder of the information security and privacy dangers lurking beneath many of the tech industry's gee-whiz wonders.   Some researchers have argued that the flaws reflect a fundamental hardware defect that can't be fixed short of a recall. But Intel has pushed back against that idea, arguing that the problems can be "mitigated'' by software or firmware upgrades. Companies from Microsoft to Apple have announced efforts to patch the vulnerabilities.   And Krzanich promised fixes in the coming week to 90 percent of the processors Intel has made in the past five years, consistent with an earlier statement from the company . He added that updates for the remainder of those recent processors should follow by the end of January. Krzanich did not address the company's plans for older chips.   To date, he said, Intel has seen no sign that anyone has stolen data by exploiting the two vulnerabilities, known as Meltdown and Spectre. The problems were disclosed last week by Google's Project Zero security team and other researchers. Krzanich commended the "remarkable" collaboration among tech companies to address what he called an "industry-wide" problem.   While Meltdown is believed to primarily affect processors built by Intel, Spectre also affects many of the company's rivals. Flaws affecting the processor chips also endanger the PCs, internet browsers, cloud computing services and other technology that rely on them. Both bugs could be exploited through what's known as a side-channel attack that could extract passwords and other sensitive data from the chip's memory.   Krzanich himself has been in the spotlight over the security issue after it was revealed that he had sold about $39 million in his own Intel stocks and options in late November, before the vulnerability was publicly know. Intel says it was notified about the bugs in June.   The company didn't respond to inquiries about the timing of Krzanich's divestments, but a spokeswoman said it was unrelated to the security flaws.   During his presentation Monday, Krzanich also launched into a flashy and wide-ranging celebration of the way Intel and its partners are harnessing data for futuristic innovations, from 3D entertainment partnerships with Paramount Pictures to virtual-reality collaborations with the 2018 Winter Olympics and a new breakthrough in so-called quantum computing.   A self-driving Ford Fusion rolled onto the stage of the casino theater where Krzanich gave his talk. It's the first of a 100-vehicle test fleet run by Mobileeye, the Israel-based software company that Intel bought for $15 billion last year. Mobileeye processes the information cars "see" from cameras and sensors. A flying taxi — the German-built Volocopter — later lifted from the stage. Then came the drones, in a musical performance that Krzanich said would mark a Guinness record for the "world's first 100-drone indoor lightshow without GPS."    

CES – Sensors and Connectivity Inside the Most Common Things

At CES, the large consumer electronics show happening this week in Las Vegas, companies are showing off their latest products and services amid a crush of visitors. One theme this year – everything can be made better by adding sensors and internet connectivity. Michelle Quinn reports.

Vietnam Sets Up Command Center for Cyberspace Defense

Vietnam announced on Monday the creation of a cyberspace operations command to protect its sovereignty on the Internet, with prime minister citing risks related to the disputed South China Sea and complex regional and global situations. The new unit would "research and predict online wars," the defense ministry said in report on the government website, which also reported Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc's comments. Vietnam is locked in a long-running territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, which it refers to as the East Sea. While Phuc singled out the South China Sea, he made no mention of China. "To protect the country in the new situation, the Communist Party has set a high priority on protection of the State in cyberspace," the website quoted Phuc as saying at the foundation ceremony for the new unit. In December, Vietnam revealed it had a cyber warfare unit of 10,000 staff, named Force 47, to counter what it said were 'wrong' views on the Internet, local media reported. The government has also called for closer watch over social media networks and sought the removal of content that it deemed offensive, but there has been little sign of it silencing criticism aired on global platforms. In August, Vietnam's president said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling "news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content," amid a crackdown on critics of the one-party state.

China Says It Shut Down 128,000 Websites in 2017

China shut down nearly 128,000 websites that contained obscene and other “harmful” information in 2017, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Monday, citing government data. Xinhua said 30.9 million illegal publications were confiscated in 2017, while 1,900 people were subject to criminal penalties, according to figures from the national office in charge of combating pornography and illegal publications. Under China's President Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has tightened censorship and controls of cyberspace as part of efforts to maintain “social stability.” But while the government says its rules are aimed at ensuring national security and stability, human rights organizations have warned that the country’s tough laws governing the internet amount to repressive measures aimed at quashing dissent. In Washington-based Freedom House’s 2017 report on internet freedom, China was designated the “worst abuser of internet freedom” for the third consecutive year. “New regulations increased pressure on companies to verify users’ identities and restrict banned content and services,” Freedom House said in its report. China has more than 730 million internet users, boasts the largest e-commerce market in the world and has consumers who enthusiastically embrace mobile digital technology. 

Google Faces Lawsuit Accusing It of Discriminating Against Conservative White Men

Two former employees of Google have accused the tech giant of discriminating against conservative white men, in a class action lawsuit filed Monday.   One of the accusers, James Damore, was fired from the company last year after writing a memo defending the gender gap in Silicon Valley tech jobs as possibly a matter of biological differences between men and women.   Damore and David Gudeman, another former engineer at the Google, filed the suit at the Santa Clara Superior Court in California, alleging discrimination and retaliation.   The two argue in their suit that Google uses illegal hiring quotas to fill jobs with women and minority applicants. "Google's management goes to extreme — and illegal — lengths to encourage hiring managers to take protected categories such as race and/or gender into consideration as determinative hiring factors, to the detriment of Caucasian and male employees," the complaint stated.   The suit also accuses the company of not protecting employees with conservative viewpoints, including employees who support U.S. President Donald Trump.   "Damore, Gudeman and other class members were ostracized, belittled, and punished for their heterodox political views, and for the added sin of their birth circumstances of being Caucasians and/or males," the lawsuit said.   Google said it looks forward to defending itself against the allegations in court.   Google fired Damore in August after he wrote an internal memo that was later made public in which he said that “genetic differences” may explain “why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”   Google chief Sundar Pichai said "portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace."   In Friday’s lawsuit, Damore said his memo was intended to remain internal and said he wrote it as a response to a request for feedback about a recent diversity and inclusion summit he attended.

Israeli Company Says it Has Produced Tiniest Cherry Tomato

They say bigger is better, but in the succulent world of cherry tomatoes, one Israeli company is going smaller than ever before. The "drop tomato" is about the size of a blueberry and the Kedma company in the country's southern Arava desert says it is the smallest one ever cultivated in Israel, perhaps even in the world. It's a point of pride in a country known for its agricultural innovation, where fruits and vegetables are taken seriously and where several strands of the cherry tomato were first invented.   "The idea is that it is comfortable," said Ariel Kidron, a Kedma grower. "You can throw it in a salad, you don't need to cut it. It just explodes in your mouth."   The seed, originally developed in Holland, was modified to match the arid growing conditions in southern Israel. Rami Golan, of the Central and Northern Arava Research and Development center, who accompanied the project, said it was definitely the smallest ever to be grown in Israel — where tomatoes are incredibly popular.   The tiny tomato, smaller than a one shekel Israeli coin, is offered in red and yellow varieties and will be presented to the public at a three-day international agricultural fair in Israel later this month. Early indications are it could be a big hit.   Shaul Ben Aderet, a well-known Israeli chef who owns three restaurants, including Tel Aviv's "Blue Rooster," got some early samples and says the new strand is packed with flavor and will spawn an infinite number of new recipes. He offered it sizzled in a pan, baked into focaccia bread and as a straight-up snack.   "It's very simple, it's clean, it's nice, it's sexy," he said. In a blind taste test alongside two sweets, he said, "they would say the tomato is a candy, that's for sure."    

Apple Investors Urge Action to Curb Child Gadget Addiction

Two major Apple investors have urged the iPhone maker to take action to curb growing smartphone addiction among children, highlighting growing concern about the effects of gadgets and social media on youngsters. New York-based Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS, said Monday in open letter to Apple that the company must offer more choices and tools to help children fight addiction to its devices.   "There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility," the letter said. "Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do."   The two investors collectively control $2 billion worth of Apple shares.   Among their proposals to Apple: establish an expert committee including child development specialists; offer Apple's vast information to researchers; and enhance mobile device software so that parents have more options to protect their children's health.   The letter cited various studies and surveys on how the heavy usage of smartphones and social media negatively affects children's mental and physical health. Examples include distractions by digital technologies in the classroom, a decreased ability of students to focus on educational tasks, and higher risks of suicide and depression.   The investors' call reflects growing concerns around the world about what the long-term impact will be of using mobile devices and social media, especially for those who start to use smartphones at an early age.   While tech companies have not acknowledged openly that their gadgets may be addictive, some Silicon Valley insiders have begun to speak to media about how gadgets, mobile applications and social media sites are designed to be addictive and to keep users' attention as long as possible.

Scientists Breeding Climate Change Resistant Coral

Coral reefs support nearly a quarter of all marine species, but because of climate change, half of the world’s reefs have disappeared in the past 50 years. With that problem not going away, scientists are looking for ways to make better coral that can resist the rising temperatures. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Entrepreneurs Flock to Las Vegas for Giant Consumer Electronics Show

Packed inside an SUV and heading to Las Vegas, employees of CaptureProof, a San Francisco startup, are part of a time-honored technology industry tradition — attending the giant consumer electronics show that takes over the Las Vegas strip every January. Starting Monday, more than 180,000 people are expected to attend CES — the show once know as the Consumer Electronics Show — with about one-third of them international visitors. There will be 4,000 exhibitors in every conceivable tech category — gaming, self-driving cars, digital health, digital sports, drones, robots. Outside official CES, many companies set up their own events in hotels throughout Las Vegas. The result is a crush of people and cars, a cacophony of sounds and logos, as everyone tries to get each others' attention.   And that is true for CaptureProof, as well. This is its fourth year at CES, the only consumer-focused show that it attends. The small company, which offers an app to help doctors and patients to visually track symptoms, is a regular at medical and investor shows. But it has to go to CES, says the firm's CEO. There's potential partners and clients to meet — and the possibility that a conversation begins on the convention floor that leads to other business in a new direction. Getting noticed "Every innovation lead of every company walks through CES and spends at least 24 hours there," said Meghan Conroy, CaptureProof's CEO.   Costing $4,500, the 10-foot by 10-foot booth in the Sands Expo will include a make-believe doctor's waiting room, with old magazines and uncomfortable chairs. With a message that no one loves doctor's waiting rooms, the company pitches itself as a more efficient way for doctors and patients to connect outside an in-person visit. At its booth, a giant smartphone (really a 43-inch TV screen) will show the CaptureProof app as the more appealing alternative to waiting around. "Getting the right patient to the right doctor is what we are talking about at CES," Conroy said.   Packing away food, water Once at CES, the CaptureProof staff has to be self-sustaining, much like going camping, said Conroy. She has put thought into the details — the thickness of the booth's floor padding, tables that need to double as storage space, the amount of snacks and water to stow away. The total cost to the company, including the booth, the carpet pads, the staff, hotel and travel is $12,000. Rising above the fray From prior years, the company has learned it has to put its logos and company name at least four feet off the ground — to be seen above the masses of people. Part of the marketing strategy is giving away things affixed with the firm's logo — bags, pens, stickers — so that people walk around advertising the firm. Like many who have been to CES, Conroy acknowledges, "It's awful." But she adds: "Everyone is there. You never know who you will meet."

New Tech Gadgets Are Following the Sound of Your Voice

What's the hottest thing in the world of technology these days? Your voice. Some of the most popular gadgets over the holiday season were smart speakers with digital assistants from Amazon and Google . Apple is coming out with its own speaker this year; Microsoft and Samsung have partnered on another. As the annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers are expected to unveil even more voice-controlled devices - speakers and beyond - as Amazon and Google make their digital assistants available on a wider array of products. If these prove popular, you'll soon be able to order around much more of your house, including kitchen appliances, washing machines and other devices. CES is expected to draw more than 170,000 people, as some 4,000 exhibitors showcase their wares over the equivalent of nearly 50 football fields, or more than 11 New York city blocks. The show formally opens Tuesday, with media previews starting Sunday. While major tech companies such as Apple and Google typically don't make big announcements at CES, their technologies will be powering products and services from startups and other small companies. Expect more gadgets using Google's Android operating software and Google's digital assistant, for instance, and products that work with Apple's HomeKit, a smart-home system getting a boost with the coming launch of Apple's HomePod smart speaker. Here's what else to expect at CES: Artificial Intelligence Computers that learn your preferences and anticipate your needs are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Consumers are seeing practical applications in voice-assisted speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These systems will get more useful as manufacturers design new ways to control their products with voice commands. You might also see hints of where AI is heading. Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at CES organizer Consumer Technology Association, says that as more people use these AI systems, companies have more data to better train the machines. Auto makers will also demonstrate self-driving vehicles propelled by AI. CES is increasing the space for self-driving technologies by more than a third this year. Startups are expected to unveil earphones that promise real-time translations of conversations in different languages, much as Google's Pixel Buds now do, but only for Google's Pixel phones. There are also conference sessions devoted to high-tech retailing, including the importance of collecting and analyzing data on customers. Smart Everything Cars, lights, washing machines and other everyday items are getting internet connections. That could mean checking what's left in your fridge from the grocery store, for instance. Expect more appliances and tasks for them to do online. As more devices get connected, there's greater concern for security. We'll likely see more products and services designed to protect these smart-home devices from hacking. Beyond that, companies will showcase the potential of smartening up entire cities so that maintenance crews can remotely detect roads needing repairs, and motorists can view and reserve parking spaces ahead of time. Better yet, how about traffic lights that aren't set with timers, but reflect actual traffic and pedestrian flows? For the first time, CES has an area devoted to smart cities, with more than 40 companies set to exhibit. The smart-cities concept has been making the rounds at several tech shows, but what remains unanswered is when it will actually begin happening - and who will pay for it. Consumer Gadgets CES is typically when Samsung, LG and other manufacturers announce their TV lineups for the year. In a bid to get consumers to upgrade sooner, higher-end models will come with fancy technologies going by such names as "4K," ''HDR" and "OLED." Many sets will come with voice controls. They will sit alongside basic sets that work just fine for regular viewing. Don't expect new iPhones or flagship Galaxy models. Apple and Samsung typically announce those at their own events. But CES is the place for less-known and lower-cost Android phones, along with tablets, laptops and other personal computers, not to mention storage drives and other accessories. There will also be virtual-reality and augmented-reality technologies, some aimed at sports fans who want to feel they're more part of the game. And while a few companies like Apple and Fitbit are currently dominant in wearable devices, many startups are eager to challenge them with new approaches for tracking fitness and medical issues. There should also be no shortage of flying drones overhead and scurrying robots underfoot. There will even be a robot that folds your laundry - though at a snail's pace of one shirt every two minutes. Behind the Scenes Although CES is about consumer electronics, consumers will never see many of the technologies on display. Network-equipment makers, for instance, might use the show to display technologies for next-generation 5G wireless networks, which promise to be much faster than the existing 4G LTE. Phones that can take advantage of 5G won't be around for a few more years. Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Technology Association, said that given the changing nature of technology, about a third of CES is now about back-end business deals rather than direct-to-consumer products. "Twenty years ago, people bought products sold at retail stores in very defined categories," he said. "Now every company and business defines itself as a tech company."  

Chemical Sniffer Machine Detects Bombs and Illegal Drugs

Dogs are often used in airports to sniff out explosives or illegal drugs. But a high-tech machine has been developed that can "sniff" the air, so baggage handlers and bomb experts can check luggage and containers without touching them. VOA's Deborah Block has more.

Social Media's Impact on Children

Researchers in Europe and the U.S. say the use of social media among preteens and teenagers is on the rise, while internet companies, authorities and parents are slow to recognize its potentially harmful impact. VOA's George Putic reports.

Tech Companies Gear up for CES, the Massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Nearly 4,000 companies and 170,000 people will descend on Las Vegas next week for CES, the massive consumer electronics show. For many small technology companies, the event is a big opportunity to raise their profile. VOA's Michelle Quinn visits one San Francisco company to learn how they prepare for "the Super Bowl of conferences."

Twitter Says Accounts of World Leaders Have Special Status

Social media giant Twitter has reiterated its stance that accounts belonging to world leaders have special status, pushing back against calls from some users for the company to ban U.S. President Donald Trump.  In a blog post Friday, Twitter said it would not block the accounts of world leaders even if their statements were “controversial” because of a need to promote discussions about public policy.  ​“Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said. It said such a move would also not silence a world leader, but it “would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” “Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation. Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society,” the post said.  The company has previously said that it considers whether a post is newsworthy and of public interest before deciding whether to remove it.  Twitter did not specifically mention Trump in its statement. The debate over Trump's tweets grew on Wednesday, when he tweeted that he had a “much bigger” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Critics said the tweet violated Twitter's ban against threats of violence.  Last month, Twitter began enforcing new rules to remove “hateful” content on the network, including posts that promote violence.  The company said Friday that it reviews all tweets, including those of world leaders. “We review tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly,” the statement said. A White House spokeswoman said she did not expect there to be any White House comment on the Twitter statement.  Pete Heinlein at the White House contributed to this report.

Businesses Delay Patch, Fear Fix Will Be Worse Than Chip Flaw

Chances that a fix to a major microchip security flaw may slow down or crash some computer systems are leading some businesses to hold off installing software patches, fearing the cure may be worse than the original problem. Researchers this week revealed security problems with chips from Intel Corp and many of its rivals, sending businesses, governments and consumers scrambling to understand the extent of the threat and the cost of fixes. Rather than rushing to put on patches, a costly and time-intensive endeavor for major systems, some businesses are testing the fix, leaving their machines vulnerable. "If you start applying patches across your whole fleet without doing proper testing, you could cause systems to crash, essentially putting all of your employees out of work," said Ben Johnson, co-founder of cyber-security startup Obsidian. Flaws not 'critical' Banks and other financial institutions spent much of the week studying the vulnerabilities, said Greg Temm, chief information risk officer with the Financial Services Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry group that shares data on emerging cyber threats. The flaws affect virtually all computers and mobile devices, but are not considered "critical" because there is no evidence that hackers have figured out how to exploit them, said Temm, whose group works with many of the world's largest banks. "It's like getting a diagnosis of high blood pressure, but not having a cardiac arrest," Temm said. "We're taking it seriously, but it's not something that is killing us." Testing the patches Banks are testing the patches to see if they slow operations and, if so, what changes need to be made, Temm said. For instance, computers could be added to networks to make up for the lack of processor speed in individual machines, he added. Some popular antivirus software programs are incompatible with the software updates, causing desktop and laptop computers to freeze up and show a "blue screen of death," researcher Johnson said. Antivirus software makers responded by rolling out fixes to make their products compatible with the updated operating systems, he said. In a blog posting Friday, Microsoft Corp said it would only offer security patches to Windows customers whose antivirus software suppliers had confirmed with Microsoft that the patch would not crash the customer's machine. "If you have not been offered the security update, you may be running incompatible antivirus software, and you should consult the software vendor," Microsoft advised in the blog post. Government agencies also are watching. The Ohio Attorney General's office is monitoring the situation, a spokesman said by email. "Intel continues to believe that the performance impact of these updates is highly workload-dependent and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time," the world's No. 1 chipmaker said on Thursday in a release. ​No significant patch impact It cited Inc, Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc's and Microsoft as saying that most users had seen no significant impact on performance after installing the patches. The cloud vendors are among a group of firms that quickly patched their technology to mitigate against the threat from one of those vulnerabilities, dubbed Meltdown, which only affects machines running Intel chips. Major software makers have not issued patches to protect against the second vulnerability, dubbed Spectre, which affects nearly all computer chips made in the last decade, including those from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices Inc, and ARM-architecture manufacturers, including Qualcomm Inc.  However, Google, Firefox and Microsoft have implemented measures in most web browsers to stop hackers from launching remote attacks using Spectre. Governments and security experts say they have seen no cyber attacks seeking to exploit either vulnerability, though they expect attempts by hackers as they digest technical data about the security flaws. One key risk is that hackers will develop code that can infect the personal computers of people visiting malicious websites, said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of cyber security firm Veracode. He advised PC owners to install the patches to protect against such potential attacks. Computer servers at large enterprises are less at risk, he said, because those systems are not used to surf the web and can only be infected in a Meltdown attack if a hacker has breached that network. Operating system protection Microsoft has issued a patch for its Windows operating system, and Apple desktop users with the most recent operating system are protected. Google has said most of its Chromebook laptops are already protected and that the rest would be soon. Apple said it planned to release a patch to its Safari web browser within coming days to protect Mac and iOS users from Spectre. While third-party browsers from Google and others can protect Mac users from Spectre, all major web browsers for Apple's iOS devices depend on receiving a patch from Apple. Until then, hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users will be exposed to potential Spectre attacks while browsing the web.