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Meta Toughens Content Curbs for Teens on Instagram, Facebook

Tue, 01/09/2024 - 18:06
Washington — Meta on Tuesday said it was tightening up content restrictions for teens on Instagram and Facebook as it faces increased scrutiny that its platforms are harmful for young people.  The changes come months after dozens of U.S. states accused Meta of damaging the mental health of children and teens, and misleading users about the safety of its platforms.  In a blog post, the company run by Mark Zuckerberg said it will now "restrict teens from seeing certain types of content across Facebook and Instagram even if it's from friends or people they follow."  This type of content would include content that discusses suicide or self-harm, as well as nudity or mentions of restricted goods, the company added.  Restricted goods on Instagram include tobacco products and weapons as well as alcohol, contraception, cosmetic procedures and weight loss programs, according to its website.  In addition, teens will now be defaulted into the most restricted settings on Instagram and Facebook, a policy that was in place for new users and that now will be expanded to existing users.  This will "make it more difficult for people to come across potentially sensitive content or accounts in places like Search and Explore," the company said.  Meta also said that it will expand its policy of hiding results to searches related to suicide and self harm to include more terms. Leaked internal research from Meta, including by the Wall Street Journal and whistle-blower Frances Haugen, has shown that the company was long aware of dangers its platforms have on the mental health for young people. On the platforms, teens are defined as being under eighteen, based on the date of birth they give when signing up. 

First US Lunar Lander In More Than 50 Years Rockets Toward Moon With Commercial Deliveries

Mon, 01/08/2024 - 01:50
Cape Canaveral, Florida — The first U.S. lunar lander in more than 50 years rocketed toward the moon Monday, launching private companies on a space race to make deliveries for NASA and other customers. Astrobotic Technology's lander caught a ride on a brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. The Vulcan streaked through the Florida predawn sky, putting the spacecraft on a roundabout route to the moon that should culminate with an attempted landing on Feb. 23. The Pittsburgh company aims to be the first private business to successfully land on the moon, something only four countries have accomplished. But a Houston company also has a lander ready to fly, and could beat it to the lunar surface, taking a more direct path. “First to launch. First to land is TBD" — to be determined, said Astrobotic chief executive John Thornton. NASA gave the two companies millions to build and fly their own lunar landers. The space agency wants the privately owned landers to scope out the place before astronauts arrive while delivering NASA tech and science experiments as well as odds and ends for other customers. Astrobotic's contract for the Peregrine lander: $108 million. The last time the U.S. launched a moon-landing mission was in December 1972. Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the 11th and 12th men to walk on the moon, closing out an era that has remained NASA’s pinnacle. The space agency’s new Artemis program — named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — looks to return astronauts to the moon’s surface within the next few years. First will be a lunar fly-around with four astronauts, possibly before the end of the year. Highlighting Monday's moonshot was the long-delayed initial test flight of the Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The 61-meter rocket is essentially an upgraded version of ULA’s hugely successful workhorse Atlas V, which is being phased out along with the company’s Delta IV. Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, provided the Vulcan's two main engines. The Soviet Union and the U.S. racked up a string of successful moon landings in the 1960s and 70s, before putting touchdowns on pause. China joined the elite club in 2013 and India in 2023. But last year also saw landers from Russia and a private Japanese company slam into the moon. An Israeli nonprofit crashed in 2019. Next month, SpaceX will provide the lift for a lander from Intuitive Machines. The Nova-C lander's more direct one-week route could see both spacecraft attempting to land within days or even hours of one another. The hourlong descent to the lunar surface — by far the biggest challenge — will be “exciting, nail-biting, terrifying all at once,” said Thornton. Besides flying experiments for NASA, Astrobotic drummed up its own freight business, packing the 1.9-meter-tall Peregrine lander with everything from a chip of rock from Mount Everest and toy-size cars from Mexico that will catapult to the lunar surface and cruise around, to the ashes and DNA of deceased space enthusiasts, including “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The Navajo Nation recently sought to have the launch delayed because of the human remains, saying it would be a “profound desecration” of a celestial body revered by Native Americans. Thornton said the December objections came too late but promised to try to find “a good path forward” with the Navajo for future missions. One of the spaceflight memorial companies that bought room on the lander, Celestis, said in a statement that no single culture or religion owns the moon and should not be able to veto a mission. More remains are on the rocket’s upper stage, which, once free of the lander, will indefinitely circle the sun as far out as Mars. Cargo fares for Peregrine ranged from a few hundred dollars to $1.2 million per kilogram, not nearly enough for Astrobotic to break even. But for this first flight, that's not the point, according to Thornton. “A lot of people’s dreams and hopes are riding on this,” he said.

Private Industry Leads America's First Moon Landing Since Apollo

Mon, 01/08/2024 - 01:50
Cape Canaveral, Florida — The first American spacecraft to attempt to land on the Moon in more than half a century is poised to blast off early Monday — but this time, private industry is leading the charge.   A brand-new rocket, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur, should lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 2:18 a.m. (7:18 GMT) for its maiden voyage, carrying Astrobotic's Peregrine Lunar Lander. The weather so far appears favorable. If all goes to plan, Peregrine will touch down on a mid-latitude region of the Moon called Sinus Viscositatis, or Bay of Stickiness, on February 23. "Leading America back to the surface of the Moon for the first time since Apollo is a momentous honor," Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic's CEO John Thornton said ahead of the launch. Until now, a soft landing on Earth's nearest celestial neighbor has only been accomplished by a handful of national space agencies: the Soviet Union was first, in 1966, followed by the United States, which is still the only country to put people on the Moon.   China has successfully landed three times over the past decade, while India was the most recent to achieve the feat on its second attempt, last year. Now, the United States is turning to the commercial sector to stimulate a broader lunar economy and ship its own hardware at a fraction of the cost, under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. A challenging task   The space agency has paid Astrobotic more than $100 million for the task, while another contracted company, Houston-based Intuitive Machines, is looking to launch in February and land near the south pole. "We think that it's going to allow... more cost effective and more rapidly accomplished trips to the lunar surface to prepare for Artemis," said NASA's Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration. Artemis is the NASA-led program to return astronauts to the Moon later this decade, in preparation for future missions to Mars. Controlled touchdown on the Moon is a challenging undertaking, with roughly half of all attempts ending in failure. Absent an atmosphere that would allow the use of parachutes, a spacecraft must navigate through treacherous terrain using only its thrusters to slow descent. Private missions by Israel and Japan, as well as a recent attempt by the Russian space agency have all ended in failure — though the Japanese Space Agency is targeting mid-January for the touchdown of its SLIM lander launched last September. Making matters more fraught is the fact it is the first launch for ULA's Vulcan, although the company boasts it has a 100 percent success rate in its more than 150 prior launches. ULA's new rocket is planned to have reusable first stage booster engines, which the company, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, expects will help it achieve cost savings. Science instruments, human remains On board Peregrine are a suite of scientific instruments that will probe radiation and surface composition, helping to pave the way for the return of astronauts. But it also contains more colorful cargo, including a shoebox-sized rover built by Carnegie Mellon University, a physical Bitcoin, and, somewhat controversially, cremated remains and DNA, including those of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, legendary sci-fi author and scientist Arthur C. Clarke, and a dog. The Navajo Nation, America's largest Indigenous tribe, has said sending these to the Moon desecrates a body that is sacred to their culture and have pleaded for the cargo's removal. Though they were granted a last-ditch meeting with the White House, NASA and other officials, their objections have been ignored.   The Vulcan rocket's upper stage, which will circle the Sun after it deploys the lander, is meanwhile carrying more late cast members of Star Trek, as well as hair samples of presidents George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.  

India’s First Solar Observatory Reaches Destination 

Sun, 01/07/2024 - 15:54
New Delhi — India has achieved another milestone in space exploration by successfully placing a spacecraft in an orbit from which it will study the sun for five years. India joined a select group of nations already studying the sun four months after it became the first country to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon's southern polar region, cementing its reputation as a nation that is emerging on the frontlines of space exploration. The Indian Space Research Organization said that the space observatory, Aditya L-1, reached the position from which it can monitor the sun’s outer layer and send data back to Earth on Saturday. The spacecraft, which was launched September 2, took four months to reach its destination. "The orbit of Aditya-L1 spacecraft is a periodic Halo orbit which is located roughly 1.5 million km [kilometers] from earth," according to an ISRO statement. Aditya-L1 is named after the Hindu god of the sun, called Aditya in Sanskrit. "L1" refers to Lagrange point 1, the location in space between the sun and Earth, where the satellite has been parked. "This demonstrates India’s capability to travel over a million kilometers away from the Earth’s orbit. It is a capability that very few countries have and India is the first in Asia to do so," according to Chaitanya Giri, associate professor of environmental sciences at Flame University in Pune. "The ability to maintain deep space communication with a spacecraft that has traveled so far and sustain a mission for a long period is also significant." The Indian mission is scheduled to study the sun for five years. The "Lagrange 1" point, where the spacecraft has been positioned provides an uninterrupted view of the sun, even during eclipses. The major focus of the mission is to gain a better understanding of space weather, variations in the environment in space between the Earth and the sun, which is crucial for protecting satellites and other spacecraft, according to space scientists. "It is vital to understand space weather at a time when there are thousands of satellites in space," Ajay Lele, space scientist and former senior fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, said. "Space weather is about disturbances that happen on the sun such as solar winds, solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These three components need to be studied," he said. Aditya-L1 is expected to be able to give warnings about space storms that can have an impact on Earth, occasionally affecting the operation of satellites and radio communications. The spacecraft is equipped with seven scientific instruments to study solar wind particles and magnetic fields. Solar observatory missions have been launched so far by the U.S. space agency NASA, the European space agency, Japan and China. India’s space program, which began in the 1960s, has gained prominence under Prime Minister Narendra Modi — it is seen as part of his efforts to promote India’s global stature. "India creates yet another landmark. It is a testament to the relentless dedication of our scientists in realizing among the most complex and intricate space missions," Modi said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday. Other major missions planned by the Indian space agency include a manned mission to space that is due to be launched this year and an interplanetary mission to Mars. Besides scientific space explorations such as these, India is also looking to enhance its military capabilities in space, according to experts. The first signal that it is giving a military profile to its space program came in 2019 when it conducted an anti-satellite weapon test to demonstrate that it could shoot down satellites in space — a capability that only the United States, China and Russia have. India has plans to develop 50 new satellites based on artificial intelligence technology in the next five years to beef up the country’s border surveillance and enhance its "geo-intelligence" capabilities, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman S. Somanath said last month. Enhancing surveillance capabilities from space from a military perspective is key for India, according to experts. Its concerns center both on its Himalayan borders with China, where disputed borders between the two have sparked military tensions, and on the Indian Ocean region, where China has been increasing its influence.

Police Investigate UK Post Office after IT Problem Leads to Wrongful Theft Accusations

Sun, 01/07/2024 - 06:26
LONDON — U.K. police have opened a fraud investigation into Britain's Post Office over a miscarriage of justice that saw hundreds of postmasters wrongfully accused of stealing money when a faulty computer system was to blame. The Metropolitan Police force said late Friday that it is investigating "potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions," relating to money the Post Office received "as a result of prosecutions or civil actions" against accused postal workers. Police also are investigating potential offenses of perjury and perverting the course of justice over investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office. Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 post office branch managers were accused of theft or fraud because computers wrongly showed that money was missing. Many were financially ruined after being forced to pay large sums to the company, and some were convicted and sent to prison. Several killed themselves. The real culprit was a defective computer accounting system called Horizon, supplied by the Japanese technology firm Fujitsu, that was installed in local Post Office branches in 1999. The Post Office maintained for years that data from Horizon was reliable and accused branch managers of dishonesty when the system showed money was missing. After years of campaigning by victims and their lawyers, the Court of Appeal quashed 39 of the convictions in 2021. A judge said the Post Office "knew there were serious issues about the reliability" of Horizon and had committed "egregious" failures of investigation and disclosure. A total of 93 of the postal workers have now had their convictions overturned, according to the Post Office. But many others have yet to be exonerated, and only 30 have agreed to "full and final" compensation payments. A public inquiry into the scandal has been underway since 2022. So far, no one from the publicly owned Post Office or other companies involved has been arrested or faced criminal charges. Lee Castleton, a former branch manager who went bankrupt after being pursued by the Post Office for missing funds, said his family was ostracized in their hometown of Bridlington in northern England. He said his daughter was bullied because people thought "her father was a thief, and he'd take money from old people." He said victims wanted those responsible to be named. "It's about accountability," Castleton told Times Radio on Saturday. "Let's see who made those decisions and made this happen." The long-simmering scandal stirred new outrage with the broadcast this week of a TV docudrama, Mr. Bates vs the Post Office. It charted a two-decade battle by branch manager Alan Bates, played by Toby Jones, to expose the truth and clear the wronged postal workers. Post Office Chief Executive Nick Read, appointed after the scandal, welcomed the TV series and said he hoped it would "raise further awareness and encourage anyone affected who has not yet come forward to seek the redress and compensation they deserve." A lawyer for some of the postal workers said 50 new potential victims had approached lawyers since the show aired on the ITV network. "The drama has elevated public awareness to a whole new level," attorney Neil Hudgell said. "The British public and their overwhelming sympathy for the plight of these poor people has given some the strength to finally come forward. Those numbers increase by the day, but there are so many more out there."

CES 2024: Consumer Electronics Show Highlighting Tech, Artificial Intelligence

Fri, 01/05/2024 - 14:51
The Consumer Electronics Show, better known as CES, is back in Las Vegas [January 9 – 12] with more than 3,500 companies from around the globe showcasing the latest developments in artificial intelligence, health care, transportation and much more. VOA’s Julie Taboh gives us a preview. Video edit: Adam Greenbaum. Tina Trinh contributed to this report

Alzheimer's Drugs Might Get Into the Brain Faster With New Ultrasound Tool

Thu, 01/04/2024 - 00:36
washington — Scientists have found a way to help Alzheimer's drugs seep inside the brain faster — by temporarily breaching its protective shield. The novel experiment was a first attempt in just three patients. But in spots in the brain where the new technology took aim, it enhanced removal of Alzheimer's trademark brain-clogging plaque, researchers reported Wednesday. "Our goal is to give patients a head start," by boosting some new Alzheimer's treatments that take a long time to work, said Dr. Ali Rezai of West Virginia University's Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, who led the study. At issue is what's called the blood-brain barrier, a protective lining in blood vessels that prevents germs and other damaging substances from leaching into the brain from the bloodstream. But it also can block drugs for Alzheimer's, tumors and other neurologic diseases, requiring higher doses for longer periods for enough to reach their target inside the brain. Now scientists are using a technology called focused ultrasound to jiggle temporary openings in that shield. They inject microscopic bubbles into the bloodstream. Next, they beam sound waves through a helmetlike device to a precise brain area. The pulses of energy vibrate the microbubbles, which loosen gaps in the barrier enough for medications to slip in. Prior small studies have found the technology can safely poke tiny holes that seal up in 48 hours. Now Rezai's team has gone a step further — administering an Alzheimer's drug at the same time. Some new Alzheimer's drugs, on the market or in the pipeline, promise to modestly slow worsening of the mind-robbing disease. They're designed to clear away a sticky protein called beta-amyloid that builds up in certain brain regions. But they require IV infusions every few weeks for at least 18 months. "Why not try to clear the plaques within a few months?" Rezai said, his rationale for the proof-of-concept study. 3 patients, 1 drug, 6 months His team gave three patients with mild Alzheimer's monthly doses of one such drug, Aduhelm, for six months. Right after each IV, researchers aimed the focused ultrasound on a specific amyloid-clogged part of each patient's brain, opening the blood brain-barrier so more of that day's dose might enter that spot. PET scans show patients' amyloid levels before and after the six months of medication. There was about 32% greater plaque reduction in spots where the blood-brain barrier was breached compared to the same region on the brain's opposite side, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. This pilot study is elegant but too tiny to draw any conclusions, cautioned Dr. Eliezer Masliah of the National Institute on Aging. Still, "it's very exciting, compelling data," added Masliah, who wasn't involved with the research. "It opens the door for more extensive, larger studies, definitely." More testing on horizon Rezai is about to begin another small test of a similar but better proven drug named Leqembi. Eventually, large studies would be needed to tell if combining focused ultrasound with Alzheimer's drugs makes a real difference for patients. Masliah said it's also important to closely check whether speedier plaque reduction might increase the risk of a rare but worrisome side effect of these new drugs — bleeding and swelling in the brain. Alzheimer's isn't the only target. Other researchers are testing if breaching the blood-brain barrier could allow more chemotherapy to reach brain tumors, and ways to target other diseases.

US Chief Justice Urges 'Caution' as AI Reshapes Legal Field

Mon, 01/01/2024 - 00:57
Washington — Artificial intelligence represents a mixed blessing for the legal field, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a year-end report published Sunday, urging "caution and humility" as the evolving technology transforms how judges and lawyers go about their work. Roberts struck an ambivalent tone in his 13-page report. He said AI had potential to increase access to justice for indigent litigants, revolutionize legal research and assist courts in resolving cases more quickly and cheaply while also pointing to privacy concerns and the current technology's inability to replicate human discretion. "I predict that human judges will be around for a while," Roberts wrote. "But with equal confidence I predict that judicial work - particularly at the trial level - will be significantly affected by AI." The chief justice's commentary is his most significant discussion to date of the influence of AI on the law — and coincides with several lower courts contending with how best to adapt to a new technology capable of passing the bar exam but also prone to generating fictitious content, known as "hallucinations." Roberts emphasized that "any use of AI requires caution and humility." He mentioned an instance where AI hallucinations had led lawyers to cite nonexistent cases in court papers, which the chief justice said is "always a bad idea." Roberts did not elaborate beyond saying the phenomenon "made headlines this year."   For instance, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former fixer and lawyer, said in court papers unsealed last week that he mistakenly gave his attorney fake case citations generated by an AI program that made their way into an official court filing. Other instances of lawyers including AI-hallucinated cases in legal briefs have also been documented.   A federal appeals court in New Orleans last month drew headlines by unveiling what appeared to be the first proposed rule by any of the 13 U.S. appeals courts aimed at regulating the use of generative AI tools like OpenAI's ChatGPT by lawyers appearing before it. The proposed rule by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would require lawyers to certify that they either did not rely on artificial intelligence programs to draft briefs or that humans reviewed the accuracy of any text generated by AI in their court filings.

Google Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Over 'Incognito' Mode

Sat, 12/30/2023 - 03:52
san francisco, california — Google has agreed to settle a consumer privacy lawsuit seeking at least $5 billion in damages over allegations it tracked the data of users who thought they were browsing the internet privately.  The object of the lawsuit was the "incognito mode" on Google's Chrome browser that the plaintiffs said gave users a false sense that what they were surfing online was not being tracked by the Silicon Valley tech firm.  But internal Google emails brought forward in the lawsuit demonstrated that users using incognito mode were being followed by the search and advertising behemoth for measuring web traffic and selling ads.  In a court filing, the judge confirmed that lawyers for Google reached a preliminary agreement to settle the class action lawsuit, originally filed in 2020, which claimed that "millions of individuals" had likely been affected.   Lawyers for the plaintiffs were seeking at least $5,000 for each user it said had been tracked by the firm's Google Analytics or Ad Manager services even when in the private browsing mode and not logged into their Google account.  This would have amounted to at least $5 billion, though the settlement amount will likely not reach that figure, and no amount was given for the preliminary settlement between the parties.   Google and lawyers for the consumers did not respond to an AFP request for comment.  The settlement came just weeks after Google was denied a request that the case be decided by a judge. A jury trial was set to begin next year.  The lawsuit, filed in a California court, claimed Google's practices had infringed on users' privacy by intentionally deceiving them with the incognito option.   The original complaint alleged that Google and its employees had been given the "power to learn intimate details about individuals' lives, interests, and internet usage."  "Google has made itself an unaccountable trove of information so detailed and expansive that George Orwell could never have dreamed it," it added.   A formal settlement is expected for court approval by February 24, 2024.  Class action lawsuits have become the main venue to challenge big tech companies on data privacy matters in the United States, which lacks a comprehensive law on the handling of personal data.  In August, Google paid $23 million to settle a long-running case over giving third-parties access to user search data.  In 2022, Facebook parent company Meta settled a similar case, agreeing to pay $725 million over the handling of user data. 

Chile Granny Finds Solace, Celebrity in Online Gaming

Fri, 12/29/2023 - 06:37
Llay-Llay, Chile — Few players of the online video game Free Fire would know that one of their most ferocious opponents -- a lithe, gun-wielding warrior in a short kimono and fang mask -- is in reality an 81-year-old grandmother from rural Chile. From her professional gaming chair at home in a small village, the soft-spoken Maria Elena Arevalo becomes a merciless hunter, mowing down rivals in a game in which tens of millions of players shoot it out to survive on an imaginary remote island. Wearing an apron over a frilly skirt, Arevalo bears little resemblance to her online alter-ego "Mami Nena" -- the nickname she got from her only grandson, Hector Carrasco, 20. It was Carrasco who introduced Arevalo to the digital world of gaming that has given her a new lease on life after falling into deep loneliness following the death of her husband of 56 years in 2020. "I didn't even know what a mouse was," she told AFP at her home in the town of Llay-Llay in central Chile. "Afterwards, I got excited. We started to play whenever he [Carrasco] could. I felt better because I didn't think so much about my late husband anymore." At first "I didn't want to hurt anyone," she added, but with time, she developed a taste for virtual blood. Today, Arevalo plays at the "Heroic" level -- just one short of the topmost "Grandmaster" level that only 300 players compete in. She has 4 million followers on TikTok and 650,000 on YouTube, where she shares tips with fellow players. Last year, she visited Mexico City on an all-expenses-paid trip as a Free Fire ambassador for the game's anniversary celebrations -- her first-ever journey abroad. "All the kids asked me for autographs. ... It was beautiful. The day I die, I'll take that with me," she reminisced. Earlier this month, Arevalo was named one of Chile's 100 most important elderly people by the El Mercurio newspaper and the Catholic University for helping break down age stereotypes. Carrasco is in awe of his famous grandmother. "It's totally cool, and I don't know, I feel like she's like my best friend and all that," he said. 'I'll keep going' Three years after starting her Free Fire journey, Arevalo says she no longer feels lonely. In a nod to her dead husband, a bird named "Benito" in his honor accompanies "Mami Nena" on her campaigns of conquest. Almost half of people over 80 in Chile declare feeling lonely, according to a recent study, a major mental health risk. Ever more older people are finding solace in gaming: a Ukrainian team known as "Young Guard" are prolific Counter Strike competitors, while 93-year-old Japanese Hamako Mori -- also known by her alias Gamer Grandma -- is thought to be the oldest gamer in the world. For Arevalo, the online campaigns are becoming harder due to worsening scleroderma, a disease that causes a hardening and tightening of the skin. But she is not planning on slowing down. "I love doing this. I'll keep going as far as I can," she insisted.

China OKs 105 Online Games Days After Hitting Industry with Draft Rules

Thu, 12/28/2023 - 11:14
TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Chinese authorities approved 105 new online games this week, bolstering support for the industry just days after proposing regulatory restrictions that sent stocks tumbling. The National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) announced approval of the 105 games Monday via WeChat, describing the move as a show of support for "the prosperity and healthy development of the online game industry. "It was only Friday that those same regulators announced a wide range of proposed guidelines to ban online game companies from offering incentives for daily logins or purchases. Other proposed rules include limiting how much users can recharge and issuing warnings for "irrational consumption behavior." The draft rules, which were published as part of efforts to seek public comment on the proposals, caused an immediate, massive blow to the world's biggest games market, leading to as much as $80 billion in market value being erased from China's two biggest companies, industry leader Tencent Holdings and NetEase. After the approval was announced Monday, video game stocks in companies such as NetEase began recovering from Friday’s tumble. China’s state-run CCTV said the approval "strongly demonstrates the clear attitude of the competent authorities to actively support the development of online games," adding that most game companies are deeply encouraged. Chinese netizens, however, aren’t optimistic. "Isn't it the daily work of the NPPA to [approve games] on a regular basis? Don't make it look like [you’re doing the industry a favor]" said a commenter named "OldTimeBlues" on YYSTV, a Chinese media platform for online gaming. Another commenter, named Mizu, described the back-to-back announcements as a proverbial carrot and stick tactic. "You noticed your kid is [has] a concussion after [you’ve hit] him with a stick," they said of Friday’s announcement of new guidelines. "Now you are giving him a [treat] to make him feel better." Syu Jhen, founder of the policy think tank Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute, said that the draft rules would affect not only the stock prices of Tencent and NetEase but the entire online gaming industry, even if China's economy relies on domestic consumption. Syu said that Beijing's "one-size-fits-all" regulation of online gaming shows that China's economic decision-makers do not respect market rules and often resort to moral kidnapping, allowing the social value that officials want to encourage to override principles of economic development and business operations. A comment on YYSTV said, "Thinking issuing an approval would boost market confidence? It's completely scratching the surface." Chen Chung-hsing, director of the New Economy Policy Research Center at National Dong Hwa University, said that at a time when China's economy is weak and sluggish, exports and investment can no longer boost China's economy. China can only rely heavily on domestic consumption. He said if China continues to suppress the domestic online gaming industry, it may have economic consequences and cause public resentment. "China's current unemployment rate is so high that some people may need video games to kill time," he told VOA in a phone interview. In this case, [the rules] are also [a kind of] deprivation. Then, after these people stop playing video games, what will happen? Don't they think about other ways to express their dissatisfaction? So basically, [playing video games] is also a possible source of power for [social] stability." Tseng Wei-feng, an assistant researcher at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University, said the reason why the Chinese government wants to restrict online games is that the games often have a "group-fighting" model, which has become a virtual platform for young people to gather. He said the government worries that players can be united and mobilized in the virtual world. "A group of people may attack a city in a certain game, then evolve into a so-called organized force," he said. "If one day they are dissatisfied with China's policies, will they all go to the government gate to protest? I think this is an aspect that the Chinese Communist Party has been strictly controlling." Some information is from The Associated Press. 

NY Times Sues OpenAI, Microsoft for Allegedly Infringing Copyrighted Work

Wed, 12/27/2023 - 15:47
NEW YORK — The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft on Wednesday, accusing them of using millions of the newspaper's articles without permission to help train artificial intelligence technologies.  The Times said it is the first major U.S. media organization to sue OpenAI and Microsoft, which created ChatGPT and other AI platforms, over copyright issues.  "Defendants seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment," according to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.  The Times is not seeking a specific amount of damages but said it believes OpenAI and Microsoft have caused "billions of dollars" in damages for illegally copying and using its works.  OpenAI and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Israel Grants Intel $3.2B for New $25B Chip Plant, Biggest Company Investment in Country

Wed, 12/27/2023 - 01:40
Jerusalem — Israel's government agreed to give Intel a $3.2 billion grant for a new $25 billion chip plant it plans to build in southern Israel, both sides said on Tuesday, in what is the largest investment ever by a company in Israel.  The news comes as Israel remains locked in a war with Palestinian militant group Hamas in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. It also is a big show of support by a major U.S. company and a substantial offer by Israel's government at a time when Washington has increased pressure on Israel to take further steps to minimize civilian harm in Gaza.  Shares of Intel, which has a bit less than 10% of its global workforce in Israel, opened up 2.73% at $49.28 on the Nasdaq stock exchange.   The expansion plan for its Kiryat Gat site, where it has an existing chip plant 42 kilometers (26 miles) from Hamas-controlled Gaza, is an "important part of Intel’s efforts to foster a more resilient global supply chain, alongside the company’s ongoing and planned manufacturing investments in Europe and the United States," Intel said in a statement.  Under CEO Pat Gelsinger, Intel has invested billions in building factories across three continents to restore its dominance in chip-making and better compete with rivals AMD, Nvidia and Samsung. The new Israeli plant is the latest investment by the U.S. chipmaker in recent years.  "Support from the Israel government will ... ensure that Israel remains a global center of semiconductor technology and talent," Intel vice president Daniel Benatar said.  Intel had previously received around $2 billion over the past 50 years in Israeli grants in other facilities there.  Ofir Yosefi, deputy director general of Israel's Investments Authority, said Intel chose a higher grant and tax rate over an offer for a lower grant and lower tax rate.  He told Reuters the process took months since a grant of such magnitude needed a review and independent analysis that it was economically viable. It was determined Israel would reap much higher fiscal and economic benefits, he added.  "This investment, at a time when Israel wages war against utter wickedness, a war in which good must defeat evil, is an investment in the right and righteous values that spell progress for humanity," Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said.  Intel, whose investment will be over five years, will pay a corporate tax rate of 7.5% instead of 5% previously. The normal tax rate is 23%, but under Israel's law to encourage investment in development areas, companies receive large benefits.  In Germany, Intel plans to spend more than $33 billion to develop two chip-making plants in Magdeburg, as part of a multibillion-dollar investment drive across Europe to build chip capacity. Berlin has pledged big subsidies to attract Germany's biggest-ever foreign investment.   In 2022, Intel said it would invest up to $100 billion to build potentially the world's largest chip-making complex in the U.S. state of Ohio, and rivals Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC, also have announced big investment plans in the U.S.  In addition to the grant that amounts to 12.8% of the total investment, the chipmaker also committed to buy $16.6 billion worth of goods and services from Israeli suppliers over the next decade, while the new facility is expected to create several thousand jobs.  Intel, one of around 500 multinationals in Israel, established a presence there in 1974 and now operates four development and production sites, including its manufacturing plant in Kiryat Gat called Fab 28 that produces Intel 7 technology, or 10 nanometer chips, and employs nearly 12,000 people in the country while indirectly employing 42,000 more.  At some $9 billion, Intel's exports account for 5.5% of total high-tech exports. The Centrino chip, which enables the use of WiFi, and its Core processors were developed in Israel.  Intel, which bought Israeli self-driving auto technologies firm Mobileye for $15.3 billion in 2017, declined to say what technology will be produced at the new Fab 38 plant. Intel says construction has already begun.   In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Intel would build a new $25 billion chip plant in Israel, but Intel until now had declined to confirm the investment.  The Fab 38 plant is due to open in 2028 and operate through 2035. 

Apple Watch Import Ban Goes Into Effect in US Patent Clash

Tue, 12/26/2023 - 16:06
Washington — A U.S. import ban on certain Apple smartwatch models came into effect Tuesday, after the Biden administration opted not to veto a ruling on patent infringements. The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) decided in October to ban Apple Watch models over a patented technology for detecting blood-oxygen levels. Apple contends that the ITC finding was in error and should be reversed, but last week paused its US sales of Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2. The order stemmed from a complaint made to the commission in mid-2021 accusing Apple of infringing on medical device maker company Masimo Corp's "light-based oximetry functionality." "After careful consultations, Ambassador (Katherine) Tai decided not to reverse the... determination and the ITC's decision became final on December 26, 2023," the president's executive office said in a statement on Tuesday. Apple has been steadily ramping up fitness and health features with each generation of its Apple Watch, which dominates the smartwatch category. In September, Apple released its Apple Watch Series 9, touting increased performance along with features such as the ability to access and log health data. "Our teams work tirelessly to create products and services that empower users with industry-leading health, wellness and safety features," Apple said when the ITC ban was issued. "Masimo has wrongly attempted to use the ITC to keep a potentially lifesaving product from millions of US consumers while making way for their own watch that copies Apple." In May, a trial of Masimo's allegations ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict. Late last year, Apple filed two patent infringement lawsuits accusing Masimo of copying Apple Watch technology.

LogOn: Satellites, Lasers Help Estimate Snowpack in Drought-Stricken Regions

Tue, 12/26/2023 - 15:41
For water managers in drought-stricken regions, accurate forecasts of water availability are critically important. Matt Dibble shows how remote sensing technology is helping in the Rocky Mountains in this edition of LogOn.

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