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Elon Musk Restores X Account of Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones

Sun, 12/10/2023 - 15:48
Elon Musk has restored the X account of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, pointing to a poll on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter that came out in favor of the Infowars host who repeatedly called the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting a hoax. It poses new uncertainty for advertisers, who have fled X over concerns about hate speech appearing alongside their ads, and is the latest divisive public personality to get back their banned account.  Musk posted a poll on Saturday asking if Jones should be reinstated, with the results showing 70% of those who responded in favor. Early Sunday, Musk tweeted, "The people have spoken and so it shall be." A few hours later, Jones' posts were visible again and he retweeted a post about his video game. He and his Infowars show had been permanently banned in 2018 for abusive behavior. Musk, who has described himself as a free speech absolutist, said the move was about protecting those rights. In response to a user who posted that "permanent account bans are antithetical to free speech," Musk wrote, "I find it hard to disagree with this point." The billionaire Tesla CEO also tweeted it's likely that Community Notes — X's crowd-sourced fact-checking service — "will respond rapidly to any AJ post that needs correction." It is a major turnaround for Musk, who previously said he wouldn't let Jones back on the platform despite repeated calls to do so. Last year, Musk pointed to the death of his first-born child and tweeted, "I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame." Jones repeatedly has said on his show that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators never happened and was staged in an effort to tighten gun laws. Relatives of many of the victims sued Jones in Connecticut and Texas, winning nearly $1.5 billion in judgments against him. In October, a judge ruled that Jones could not use bankruptcy protection to avoid paying more than $1.1 billon of that debt. Relatives of the school shooting victims testified at the trials about being harassed and threatened by Jones' believers, who sent threats and even confronted the grieving families in person, accusing them of being "crisis actors" whose children never existed. Jones is appealing the judgments, saying he didn't get fair trials and his speech was protected by the First Amendment. Restoring Jones' account comes as Musk has seen a slew of big brands, including Disney and IBM, stop advertising on X after a report by liberal advocacy group Media Matters said ads were appearing alongside pro-Nazi content and white nationalist posts. They also were scared away after Musk himself endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy theory in response to a post on X. The Tesla CEO later apologized and visited Israel, where he toured a kibbutz attacked by Hamas militants and held talks with top Israeli leaders.  But he also has said advertisers are engaging in "blackmail" and, using a profanity, essentially told them to go away. "Don't advertise," Musk said in an on-stage interview late last month at The New York Times DealBook Summit. After buying Twitter last year, Musk said he was granting "amnesty" for suspended accounts and has since reinstated former President Donald Trump; Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, following two suspensions over antisemitic posts last year; and far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was kicked off the platform for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policies. Trump, who was banned for encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, has his own social media site, Truth Social, and has only tweeted once since being allowed back on X.

Understanding Carbon Capture and Its Discussion at COP28

Sat, 12/09/2023 - 16:35
The future of fossil fuels is at the center of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, where many activists, experts and nations are calling for an agreement to phase out the oil, gas and coal responsible for warming the planet. On the other side: energy companies and oil-rich nations with plans to keep drilling well into the future. In the background of those discussions are carbon capture and carbon removal, technologies most, if not all, producers are counting on to meet their pledges to get to net-zero emissions. Skeptics worry the technology is being oversold to allow the industry to maintain the status quo. “The industry needs to commit to genuinely helping the world meet its energy needs and climate goals — which means letting go of the illusion that implausibly large amounts of carbon capture are the solution,” International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol said before the start of talks. What is carbon capture? Many industrial facilities such as coal-fired power plants and ethanol plants produce carbon dioxide. To stop those planet-warming emissions from reaching the atmosphere, businesses can install equipment to separate that gas from all the other gases coming out of the smokestack and transport it to where it can be permanently stored underground. And even for industries trying to reduce emissions, some are likely to always produce some carbon, such as cement manufacturers that use a chemical process that releases CO2. “We call that a mitigation technology, a way to stop the increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere,” said Karl Hausker, an expert on getting to net-zero emissions at World Resources Institute, a climate-focused nonprofit that supports sharp fossil fuel reductions along with a limited role for carbon capture. The captured carbon is concentrated into a form that can be transported in a vehicle or through a pipeline to a place where it can be injected underground for long-term storage. What is carbon removal? Then there's carbon removal. Instead of capturing carbon from a single, concentrated source, the objective is to remove carbon that's already in the atmosphere. This already happens when forests are restored, for example, but there's a push to deploy technology, too. One type directly captures it from the air, using chemicals to pull out carbon dioxide as air passes through. For some, carbon removal is essential during a global transition to clean energy that will take years. For example, despite notable gains for electric vehicles in some countries, gas-fired cars will be operating well into the future. And some industries, like shipping and aviation, are challenging to fully decarbonize. “We have to remove some of what’s in the atmosphere in addition to stopping the emissions,” said Jennifer Pett-Ridge, who leads the federally supported Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s carbon initiative in the United States, the world's second-leading emitter of greenhouse gases.   How is it going? Many experts say the technology to capture carbon and store it works, but it’s expensive, and it’s still in the early days of deployment. There are about 40 large-scale carbon capture projects in operation around the world capturing roughly 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the International Energy Agency, or IEA. That’s a tiny amount — roughly 0.1% — of the 36.8 billion metric tons emitted globally as tallied by the Global Carbon Project. The IEA says the history of carbon capture “has largely been one of unmet expectations.” The group analyzed how the world can achieve net zero emissions, and its guide path relies heavily on lowering emissions by slashing fossil fuel use. Carbon capture is just a sliver of the solution — less than 10% — but despite its comparatively small role, its expansion is still behind schedule. The pace of new projects is picking up, but they face significant obstacles. In the United States, there’s opposition to CO2 pipelines that move carbon to storage sites. Safety is one concern; in 2020, a CO2 pipeline in Mississippi ruptured, releasing carbon dioxide that displaced breathable air near the ground and sent dozens of people to hospitals. The federal government is working on improving safety standards. Who supports carbon capture? The American Petroleum Institute says oil and gas will remain a critical energy source for decades, meaning that for the world to reduce its carbon emissions, rapidly expanding carbon capture technology is “key to cleaner energy use across the economy.” A check of most oil companies' plans to get to net-zero emissions also finds most of them relying on carbon capture in some way. The Biden administration wants more investment in carbon capture and removal, too, building off America's comparatively large spending compared with the rest of the world. But it’s an industry that needs subsidies to attract private financing. The Inflation Reduction Act makes tax benefits much more generous. Investors can get a $180-per-ton credit for removing carbon from the air and storing it underground, for example. And the Department of Energy has billions to support new projects. “What we are talking about now is taking a technology that has been proven and has been tested but applying it much more broadly and also applying it in sectors where there is a higher cost to deploy,” said Jessie Stolark, executive director of the Carbon Capture Coalition, an industry advocacy group. Investment is picking up. The EPA is considering dozens of applications for wells that can store carbon. And in places such as Louisiana and North Dakota, local leaders are fighting to attract projects and investment. Who is against it? Some environmentalists argue that fossil fuel companies are holding up carbon capture to distract from the need to quickly phase out oil, gas and coal. “The fossil fuel industry has proven itself to be dangerous and deceptive,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. There are other problems. Some projects haven’t met their carbon removal targets. A 2021 U.S. government accountability report said that of eight demonstration projects aimed at capturing and storing carbon from coal plants, just one had started operating at the time the report was published despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Opponents also note that carbon capture can serve to prolong the life of a polluting plant that would otherwise shut down sooner. That can especially hurt poorer, minority communities that have long lived near heavily polluting facilities.

Europe Reaches Deal on World's First Comprehensive AI Rules

Sat, 12/09/2023 - 02:36
European Union negotiators clinched a deal Friday on the world's first comprehensive artificial intelligence rules, paving the way for legal oversight of technology used in popular generative AI services such as ChatGPT that have promised to transform everyday life and spurred warnings of existential dangers to humanity.  Negotiators from the European Parliament and the bloc's 27 member countries overcame big differences on controversial points, including generative AI and police use of facial recognition surveillance, to sign a tentative political agreement for the Artificial Intelligence Act.  "Deal!" tweeted European Commissioner Thierry Breton, just before midnight. "The EU becomes the very first continent to set clear rules for the use of AI."  The result came after marathon closed-door talks this week, with the initial session lasting 22 hours before a second round kicked off Friday morning.  Officials were under the gun to secure a political victory for the flagship legislation but were expected to leave the door open to further talks to work out the fine print, likely to bring more backroom lobbying.  Out front The EU took an early lead in the global race to draw up AI guardrails when it unveiled the first draft of its rulebook in 2021. The recent boom in generative AI, however, sent European officials scrambling to update a proposal poised to serve as a blueprint for the world.  The European Parliament will still need to vote on it early next year, but with the deal done, that's a formality, Brando Benifei, an Italian lawmaker co-leading the body's negotiating efforts, told The Associated Press late Friday.  "It's very, very good," he said by text message after being asked if it included everything he wanted. "Obviously we had to accept some compromises but overall very good."   The eventual law wouldn't fully take effect until 2025 at the earliest and threatens stiff financial penalties for violations of up to $38 million (35 million euros) or 7% of a company's global turnover.  Generative AI systems like OpenAI's ChatGPT have exploded into the world's consciousness, dazzling users with the ability to produce humanlike text, photos and songs but raising fears about the risks the rapidly developing technology poses to jobs, privacy and copyright protection, and even human life itself.  Now, the U.S., U.K., China and global coalitions like the Group of Seven major democracies have jumped in with their own proposals to regulate AI, though they're still catching up to Europe.  'A powerful example' Strong and comprehensive regulation from the EU "can set a powerful example for many governments considering regulation," said Anu Bradford, a Columbia Law School professor who's an expert on EU and digital regulation. Other countries "may not copy every provision but will likely emulate many aspects of it."  AI companies that will have to obey the EU's rules will also likely extend some of those obligations to markets outside the continent, she said. "After all, it is not efficient to retrain separate models for different markets," she said.  Others are worried that the agreement was rushed through.  "Today's political deal marks the beginning of important and necessary technical work on crucial details of the AI Act, which are still missing," said Daniel Friedlaender, head of the European office of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech industry lobby group.  The AI Act was originally designed to mitigate the dangers from specific AI functions based on their level of risk, from low to unacceptable. But lawmakers pushed to expand it to foundation models, the advanced systems that underpin general purpose AI services like ChatGPT and Google's Bard chatbot.  Foundation models looked set to be one of the biggest sticking points for Europe. However, negotiators reached a tentative compromise early in the talks, despite opposition led by France, which called instead for self-regulation to help homegrown European generative AI companies competing with big U.S. rivals, including OpenAI's backer Microsoft.  Also known as large language models, these systems are trained on vast troves of written works and images scraped off the internet. They give generative AI systems the ability to create something new, unlike traditional AI, which processes data and completes tasks using predetermined rules.  Under the deal, the most advanced foundation models that pose the biggest "systemic risks" will get extra scrutiny, including requirements to disclose more information, such as how much computing power was used to train the systems.  Elevation of threats Researchers have warned that these powerful foundation models, built by a handful of big tech companies, could be used to supercharge online disinformation and manipulation, cyberattacks or creation of bioweapons.  Rights groups also caution that the lack of transparency about data used to train the models poses risks to daily life because they act as basic structures for software developers building AI-powered services.  What became the thorniest topic was AI-powered facial recognition surveillance systems, and negotiators found a compromise after intensive bargaining.  European lawmakers wanted a full ban on public use of facial scanning and other "remote biometric identification" systems because of privacy concerns, while governments of member countries wanted exemptions so law enforcement could use them to tackle serious crimes like child sexual exploitation or terrorist attacks.  Civil society groups were more skeptical.  "Whatever the victories may have been in these final negotiations, the fact remains that huge flaws will remain in this final text," said Daniel Leufer, a senior policy analyst at the digital rights group Access Now. Along with the law enforcement exemptions, he also cited a lack of protection for AI systems used in migration and border control, and "big gaps in the bans on the most dangerous AI systems." 

Australian Laser Technology to Help Future NASA Missions to Mars

Thu, 12/07/2023 - 10:22
A new optical ground station has been built by the Australian National University to help the U.S. space agency, NASA, and others explore space and safely reach Mars. The Australian team has developed a new type of space communication using lasers. Researchers say the system will allow them to connect with satellites and NASA-crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The project is supported by the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars initiative. The Australian National University Quantum Optical Ground Station is based at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, near Canberra. It is a powerful telescope that will support high-speed advanced communications with satellites orbiting at distances from low-Earth orbit to the moon. Kate Ferguson, associate director for strategic projects at the Australian National University Institute for Space, told VOA current communication systems relying on radio frequencies can be slow and cumbersome. “I am sure some of us remember the grainy pictures that we got of the moon landing that came from the Apollo era," Ferguson said. "So, again the current radio frequency systems, they have these much slower data rates and especially over really long distances.  For space exploration those become very slow but with optical communications we will be able to increase the rate of that communication.” She said the new system, based on powerful lasers that are invisible to the naked eye, will transform communications in space. “What we are aiming to do is to be able to receive high-definition video from future crewed missions. Not only will that be great for us here on Earth, seeing what is happening with the astronauts on these types of missions, but it will improve the connectivity between those missions," she said. "And what we are doing here is optical communication, which uses laser beams to communicate and these offer much higher speeds and increased security over the current systems and this is really important for us to be getting that data down and being able to use it here on Earth.” Scientists say the Australian-developed systems will be compatible with NASA missions. They say the laser-based technology will improve astronauts’ ability to connect with Earth from the moon and also allow high-definition video to be sent from the moon and Mars. NASA has said previously that astronauts could be sent on a mission to the red planet by the mid-to-late 2030s.  

Meta Sued for Allegedly Failing to Shield Children From Predators

Thu, 12/07/2023 - 02:19
Facebook and Instagram fail to protect underage users from exposure to child sexual abuse material and let adults solicit pornographic imagery from them, New Mexico's attorney general alleges in a lawsuit that follows an undercover online investigation. "Our investigation into Meta's social media platforms demonstrates that they are not safe spaces for children but rather prime locations for predators to trade child pornography and solicit minors for sex," Attorney General Raul Torrez said in a statement Wednesday. The civil lawsuit filed late Tuesday against Meta Platforms Inc. in state court also names its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as a defendant. In addition, the suit claims Meta "harms children and teenagers through the addictive design of its platform, degrading users' mental health, their sense of self-worth and their physical safety," Torrez's office said in a statement. Those claims echo others in a lawsuit filed in late October by the attorneys general of 33 states, including California and New York, against Meta that alleges Instagram and Facebook include features deliberately designed to hook children, contributing to the youth mental health crisis and leading to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. New Mexico was not a party to that lawsuit. Investigators in New Mexico created decoy accounts of children 14 years and younger that Torrez's office said were served sexually explicit images even when the child expressed no interest in them. State prosecutors claim that Meta let dozens of adults find, contact and encourage children to provide sexually explicit and pornographic images. The accounts also received recommendations to join unmoderated Facebook groups devoted to facilitating commercial sex, investigators said, adding that Meta also let its users find, share and sell "an enormous volume of child pornography." "Mr. Zuckerberg and other Meta executives are aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users, and yet they have failed to make sufficient changes to their platforms that would prevent the sexual exploitation of children," Torrez said, accusing Meta's executives of prioritizing "engagement and ad revenue over the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society." Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly respond to the New Mexico lawsuit's allegations, but said it works hard to protect young users with a serious commitment of resources. "We use sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies and law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to help root out predators," the company said. "In one month alone, we disabled more than half a million accounts for violating our child safety policies." Company spokesman Andy Stone pointed to a company report detailing the millions of tips Facebook and Instagram sent to the National Center in the third quarter of 2023 — including 48,000 involving inappropriate interactions that could include an adult soliciting child sexual abuse material directly from a minor or attempting to meet with one in person. Critics, including former employees, have long complained that Meta's largely automated content moderation systems are ill-equipped to identify and adequately eliminate abusive behavior on its platforms.

Spotify to Lay Off 1,500 Employees

Mon, 12/04/2023 - 20:41
Spotify says it is planning to lay off 17% of its global workforce, amounting to around 1,500 employees, following layoffs earlier this year of 600 people in January and an additional 200 in June. The music streaming giant is continuing its effort to cut costs and work toward becoming profitable, said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in a prepared statement. “By most metrics, we were more productive but less efficient,” he said. “We need to be both.” The layoffs come following a rare quarterly net profit of about $70.3 million in October. The company has never seen a full year net profit. “I realize that for many, a reduction of this size will feel surprisingly large given the recent positive earnings report and our performance,” Ek said. “We debated making smaller reductions throughout 2024 and 2025. Yet, considering the gap between our financial goal ... and our current operational costs, I decided that a substantial action to right size our costs was the best option to accomplish our objectives.” With the new layoffs, the company now expects to see a fourth quarter loss between $100 million to $117 million after previously anticipating a $40 million profit. A majority of the charges will go toward severance for laid off employees, who will get about five months’ pay, vacation pay and health care coverage for the severance period. Spotify did not clearly state when the layoffs would become financially beneficial but said that they would "generate meaningful operating efficiencies going forward.” Spotify is following many companies in the tech industry trying to cut costs after growth in the industry slowed following a surge during the COVID pandemic. Tech giants including Meta, Microsoft, Amazon and Google parent company, Alphabet, all have plans to cut 10,000 or more people this year. Spotify began informing affected employees on Monday. Some information in this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

Solar Grid Brings Light, Progress to Rural Nigerian Community

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 22:47
In early November, Nigeria launched its first interconnected solar hybrid mini grid in Nasarawa State to make electricity more reliable, renewable and accessible. Gibson Emeka has this story from Abuja, Nigeria, Grace Oyenubi narrates.

Breaches by Iran-Affiliated Hackers Span US States, Federal Agencies Say

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 02:05
A small western Pennsylvania water authority was just one of many organizations breached in the United States by Iran-affiliated hackers who targeted a specific industrial control device because it is Israeli-made, U.S. and Israeli authorities say. "The victims span multiple U.S. states," the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, as well as Israel's National Cyber Directorate said in an advisory emailed to The Associated Press late Friday. They did not say how many organizations were hacked or otherwise describe them. Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said Thursday that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium. Cybersecurity experts say that while there is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Oct. 7 attack into Israel by Hamas that triggered the war in Gaza, they expected state-backed Iranian hackers and pro-Palestinian hacktivists to step up cyberattacks on Israeli and its allies in its aftermath. And that has happened. The multiagency advisory explained what CISA had not when it confirmed the Pennsylvania hack Wednesday — that other industries outside water and water-treatment facilities use the same equipment — Vision Series programmable logic controllers made by Unitronics — and were also potentially vulnerable. Those industries include "energy, food and beverage manufacturing and healthcare," the advisory says. The devices regulate processes including pressure, temperature and fluid flow. The Aliquippa hack promoted workers to temporarily halt pumping in a remote station that regulates water pressure for two nearby towns, leading crews to switch to manual operation. The hackers left a digital calling card on the compromised device saying all Israeli-made equipment is "a legal target." The multiagency advisory said it was not known if the hackers had tried to penetrate deeper into breached networks. The advisory says the hackers, who call themselves "Cyber Av3ngers," are affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the U.S. designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019. The group targeted the Unitronics devices at least since Nov. 22, it said. An online search Saturday with the Shodan service identified more than 200 such internet-connected devices in the U.S. and more than 1,700 globally. The advisory notes that Unitronics devices ship with a default password, a practice experts discourage as it makes them more vulnerable to hacking. Best practices call for devices to require a unique password to be created out of the box. It says the hackers likely accessed affected devices by "exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses, including poor password security and exposure to the internet." In response to the Aliquippa hack, three Pennsylvania congressmen asked the U.S. Justice Department in a letter to investigate. Americans must know their drinking water and other basic infrastructure is safe from "nation-state adversaries and terrorist organizations," U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio said. Cyber Av3ngers claimed in an Oct. 30 social media post to have hacked 10 water treatment stations in Israel, though it is not clear if they shut down any equipment. Unitronics has not responded to the AP queries about the hacks. The attack came less than a month after a federal appeals court decision prompted the EPA to rescind a rule that would have obliged U.S public water systems to include cybersecurity testing in their regular federally mandated audits. The rollback was triggered by a federal appeals court decision in a case brought by Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa, and joined by a water utility trade group. The Biden administration has been trying to shore up cybersecurity of critical infrastructure — more than 80% of which is privately owned — and has imposed regulations on sectors including electric utilities, gas pipelines and nuclear facilities. But many experts complain that too many vital industries are permitted to self-regulate.

Rules Would Bar EV Tax Credits if Batteries, Minerals Linked to China

Fri, 12/01/2023 - 21:59
The U.S. proposed new guidelines Friday spelling out which electric vehicles will be eligible for tax credits, ruling out those that contain batteries or minerals sourced from China and other nations that have fallen out of favor with the U.S. The restrictions dictate which clean energy vehicles will qualify for a subsidy of up to $7,500 under President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a federal law promoting sustainable, domestic energy production. Only about 20 out of the more than 100 electric vehicles on the U.S. market qualify for a tax credit as it is. That number may be further reduced when this regulation goes into effect. If a clean energy battery went through an assembly line owned by any “foreign entity of concern,” the car it will go into would be immediately disqualified from earning its owner any tax breaks from the U.S. government, starting in 2024. The new rules target firms incorporated or headquartered in China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, among others, as well as companies where 25% or more of the equity interest or board seats are controlled by those countries. From 2025 onward, electric vehicles made with critical minerals, such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, mined or processed by any “foreign entity of concern” will also be ineligible for subsidies. The rules will be open to public feedback from automotive leaders for several weeks and are subject to change depending on industry recommendations. Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse. 

Virtual Reality Holograms Could Transform Learning, Arts

Fri, 12/01/2023 - 15:21
Developers at the University of Maryland are using a holographic camera to capture people’s movements in three dimensions for what could be high-impact training, education and entertainment. It is technology with the power to transform how we learn and entertain ourselves. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. VOA footage by Adam Greenbaum.

US Lawmakers Say Chinese Disinformation Operations a Growing Threat

Fri, 12/01/2023 - 07:37
US lawmakers warned Thursday that the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to spread disinformation will only increase ahead of the 2024 elections in the United States. As VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, social media giant TikTok is lawmakers’ top concern. Camera: Saqib Ui Islam

US, South Korea Sign Pact to Counter Disinformation

Fri, 12/01/2023 - 03:30
The United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate with South Korea in the fight against false propaganda and disinformation. It is the first such agreement that Washington signs with its Asian ally, and it comes as U.S. officials and lawmakers accuse the People’s Republic of China of conducting "deceptive online campaigns" targeting the United States and other countries. Chinese officials have rejected the accusation. Liz Allen, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is traveling to Asia this week. Allen met with her South Korean counterpart Friday and sealed the agreement with South Korea on countering disinformation. The State Department said Allen, while in Tokyo, will hold bilateral discussions with Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that include a focus on countering malign foreign influence.   South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Friday that both countries shared concerns over "dissemination of false information and overseas information manipulation" that pose a transnational threat, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed to strengthen the cooperation in these areas. “The signing of this MOU is an unmistakable expression of our shared recognition that foreign information manipulation is a national security threat,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA on Friday. U.S. President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have agreed to find ways to coordinate joint efforts to counter disinformation after the three leaders held talks during the first trilateral summit at Camp David in August. "President Yoon mentioned the threat from false propaganda and disinformation in his address to the Joint Session of U.S. Congress in April. In this regard, we are now discussing the possible follow-up measures with the U.S.," an official from the South Korean Embassy told Voice of America on Thursday. In a statement on Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul condemned the "increasingly deceptive online campaigns targeting the U.S. and other countries" by the Chinese Communist Party. "The CCP has made clear it will use every tactic to spread its malign intent," the Republican congressman said. The South Korean government has identified 38 suspected fake Korean-language news websites that it believes are operated by Chinese companies. For example, in November, South Korea's National Intelligence Service said two Chinese public relations companies, Haimai and Haixun, were allegedly creating such websites, according to Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency. In a report issued in September, the State Department's Global Engagement Center accused the Chinese government of using a combination of tactics in a bid to create a world in which Beijing, either explicitly or implicitly, controls the flow of critical information. The U.S. has warned that China is pouring billions of dollars into efforts to reshape the global information environment and, eventually, bend the will of multiple nations to Beijing's advantage. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pushed back, calling the Global Engagement Center the command center of "perception warfare." James Rubin, special envoy for the State Department's Global Engagement Center, has said that Washington is working with allies to detect and counter misinformation and disinformation around the world. In May, the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding with North Macedonia, and in September, another with Bulgaria, both aimed at enhancing cooperation in countering foreign information manipulation. This story has been updated to correct the names of the countries signing the Memorandum of Understanding on fighting disinformation.

VOA Exclusive: US, S Korea, Japan to Sign Pact to Counter Disinformation  

Fri, 12/01/2023 - 03:30
The United States plans to sign a memorandum of understanding to cooperate with South Korea and Japan in the fight against false propaganda and disinformation. It will be the first such agreement that Washington signs with its Asian allies, and it comes as U.S. officials and lawmakers accuse the People's Republic of China of conducting "deceptive online campaigns" targeting the United States and other countries. Chinese officials have rejected the accusation. Liz Allen, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is traveling to Asia this week. Allen will be sealing the agreement with South Korea and Japan on countering disinformation, according to U.S. and diplomatic sources. U.S. President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have agreed to find ways to coordinate efforts to counter disinformation, after the three leaders held talks during their first trilateral summit at Camp David in August. "President Yoon mentioned the threat from false propaganda and disinformation in his address to the joint session of U.S. Congress in April. In this regard, we are now discussing the possible follow-up measures with the U.S.," an official from the South Korean Embassy told Voice of America on Thursday. In a statement on Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul condemned the "increasingly deceptive online campaigns targeting the U.S. and other countries" by the Chinese Communist Party. "The CCP has made clear it will use every tactic to spread its malign intent," the Republican congressman said. The South Korean government has identified 38 suspected fake Korean-language news websites that it believes are operated by Chinese companies. For example, in November, South Korea's National Intelligence Service said two Chinese public relations companies, Haimai and Haixun, were allegedly creating such websites, according to Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency. The State Department said Allen, while in Tokyo, will hold bilateral discussions with Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that include a focus on countering malign foreign influence. In a report issued in September, the State Department's Global Engagement Center accused the Chinese government of using a combination of tactics in a bid to create a world in which Beijing, either explicitly or implicitly, controls the flow of critical information. The U.S. has warned that China is pouring billions of dollars into efforts to reshape the global information environment and, eventually, bend the will of multiple nations to Beijing's advantage. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pushed back, saying the report by U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center "misrepresents facts and truth." A spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry called GEC the command center of "perception warfare." James Rubin, special envoy for the State Department's Global Engagement Center, has said that Washington is working with allies to detect and counter misinformation and disinformation around the world. In May, the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding with North Macedonia, and in September, another with Bulgaria, both aimed at enhancing cooperation in countering foreign information manipulation.

Vietnam's Rare Earth Sector on the Rise

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 09:58
Vietnam, with the world’s second-largest reserves of the rare earths used in such modern devices as electric vehicle batteries and smart phone screens, is intensifying mining of the critical minerals. The industry, though, faces high processing costs, environmental concerns, and the takedown of industry leaders for illegal mining and mineral sales. Vietnam's rare earth resources are second only to those of China, which has held a tight monopoly since the 1980s. With Chinese relations with the West becoming more volatile, many countries are looking for other sources for the elements. "China produces about 60% of the world's rare earths but what they process is over 90%," Louis O'Connor, CEO of Strategic Metals Invest, an Irish investment firm, told VOA. "It was not a good idea to allow one country to dominate critical raw materials that are critical to all nations' economic prosperity and increasingly military capability," he said. O'Connor added that while China has the world's majority of raw materials, its dominance over technical expertise in the complex and costly process of rare earth refining is even greater. China has 39 metallurgy universities and approximately 200 metallurgists graduate weekly in the country, he said. "The ability to go from having the potential to end product -- that's the most challenging, complicated, and expensive part," O'Connor said. "For Vietnam, even if they have the deposits, what they don't have is the human capital, or the engineering expertise." Vietnam increased rare earth mining tenfold with its output hitting 4,300 tons last year, compared to 400 tons in 2021.  according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Vietnam said in July it plans to process 2 million tons of rare earth ores by 2030 and produce 60,000 tons of rare earth oxides annually starting in 2030. This year, China's mining quota is set at 240,000 tons to meet the demand for the electric vehicle industry, according to Chinese government data. The United States and other countries are interested in Vietnam increasing its production of rare earths. "The U.S. wants Vietnam to become a more important supplier and perhaps replace China, if possible, because of the risk that the U.S. may face in relying on rare earth supplies from China," Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore told VOA. "Not only the U.S., but also other partners like Korea, Japan, and Australia also are working with Vietnam to develop the rare earth industry," he said. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol signed a memorandum of understanding in Vietnam in June to establish a joint supply chain center for rare earth minerals. "We reached an agreement that there is more potential to develop rare earths together, as they are abundant in Vietnam," Yoon said in a June 23 statement with Vietnam's president Vo Van Thuong. The United States signed such a memorandum on cooperation in the rare earths sector during President Joe Biden's visit to Hanoi on September 9. "We see Vietnam as a potential critical nexus in global supply chains when it comes to critical minerals and rare earth elements," Marc Knapper, U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, said on September 13 during a digital press briefing. "We certainly want to work together to ensure that Vietnam is able to take advantage of its rich resources in a way that’s also sustainable." Scandal However, a handful of Vietnam's key rare earth enterprises have become entangled in scandal. On October 20, police arrested six individuals for mining and tax violations. Police arrested Doan Van Huan, chairman of the Hanoi-based Thai Duong Group that operates a mine in Yen Bai province, and its chief accountant, Nguyen Van Chinh, for violating regulations on the exploration and exploitation of natural resources and accounting violations, the Public Security Ministry said. The two were accused of making $25.5 million from the illegal sale of rare earth ore and iron ore. Police raided 21 excavation and trading sites in Yen Bai province and three other locations. Authorities seized an estimated 13,700 tons of rare earth and more than 1,400 tons of iron ores, according to local publication VnExpress. Although government statements did not state what made Thai Duong's rare earth sales illegal, a source told Reuters raw Yen Bai mine ore had been exported to China to avoid high domestic refining costs, in violation of Vietnamese rules. The chairman, Luu Anh Tuan, and accountant, Nguyen Thi Hien, of the country's primary rare earth refining company, Vietnam Rare Earth JSC, were also arrested for violating accounting regulations in trading rare earth with Thai Duong Group. Dang Tran Chi, director of Hop Thanh Phat, and his accountant Pham Thi Ha were arrested on the same charge. Looking at corruption in Vietnam's rare earth industry will be "top of the list" for future investors, O’Connor said. "Corruption levels would have to be looked at," he said. "If you're buying a metal that's going to need to perform in a jet engine, for example or a rocket … they have to be sure of the purity levels. The chain of custody of these, it's more important really than gold." Vietnam committed to industry Hanoi is committed to developing the rare earths industry even though economic gains are limited by environmental and production costs, Hiep told VOA. "Vietnam is now interested in promoting this industry mainly because of the strategic significance," Hiep told VOA. "If you can grow this industry and become a reliable supplier of rare earth products for the U.S. and its allies, Vietnam's strategic position will be enhanced greatly." "Whether that will be successful, we have to wait and see," he added. There are also environmental concerns for the growing industry, particularly as a crackdown on Vietnam's environmental organizations and civil society leaves little room for public speech. "The biggest challenge is going to be how do you handle the waste process from the mining," said Courtney Weatherby, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at Washington’s Stimson Center told VOA. "Ensuring that development happens in a sustainable way takes a lot of different actors," she said. But Duy Hoang, executive director of unsanctioned political party Viet Tan, said the room for outside actors to express concern over environmental and labor practices is narrowing. "What we're seeing is sort of a shrinking space for civil society to speak out and a number of the leading environmental activists are now in jail. We don't have their voices which are very needed and I think there may be self-censorship going on by other activists," he said. "There has to be accountability."

White House Hopes to Lead Global Charge in ‘Promise, Peril’ of Emerging Tech Like AI

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 01:26
American leadership is essential in establishing norms and laws to “determine how we both glean the promise and manage the peril” of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and digital economic and social platforms used to connect billions of people around the world, a White House adviser told VOA. The Biden administration has rolled out a number of initiatives on the topic — most recently, an executive order that aims to set new AI safety and security standards. That order relies on cooperation from private developers and other countries, “because the attackers are in one set of countries, the infrastructure is in another and the victims are global,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology at the National Security Council. Neuberger sat down with VOA White House Correspondent Anita Powell to explain these complex, compelling technologies and how she thinks they have exposed the worst but also the best in humanity. The following has been edited for length and clarity. VOA: Thank you so much for sitting down with VOA today. Can you walk us through the concrete outcomes of the recent meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the areas you cover — cybersecurity, AI and the digital economy? Anne Neuberger, White House deputy national security adviser: Of course, strategic technologies are very important to both of our countries’ growth and national security — and we’re global players on a global stage. The most important part of the discussion was two leaders coming together to say: While we are in competition, we're committed to working together on areas where we can collaborate - areas like climate change, like discussions of what are the rules for artificial intelligence. VOA: Would you assess that the meeting made any progress, especially on AI regulation? Neuberger: Certainly very good discussions related to an agreement for the countries to sit down and establish a working group on AI [about] appropriate guardrails and guidelines in this area. VOA: I'm going to stick with AI and the administration's recent moves, like the AI Bill of Rights and also the attempt to set some norms at the recent London summit on AI. Why does the administration think U.S. leadership matters so much here? Neuberger: For two reasons. First, the United States is a committed democracy and AI is a major technology that brings both promise and peril. It is up to us to determine how we both glean the promise and manage the peril. President Biden has made that clear in his game-changing executive order that, as a country, we must manage the perils in order to glean the promise. VOA: Speaking of the perils of AI, what is the administration doing to prevent the malicious use of generative AI in both conflicts and contests? I'm talking about conflicts like Israel and Ukraine, but also contests like the upcoming elections in Congo, in Taiwan and here in the United States. Neuberger: We've seen new AI models that generate very realistic videos, very realistic images. In terms of generative AI related to elections, I want to lift up one of the voluntary commitments that the president negotiated, which was around watermarking: having a visible and potentially invisible mark on an AI-generated image or video that notes that this is AI-generated, to alert a viewer. An invisible mark could be used so that, even if there are attempts to remove this mark, the platforms themselves can still be able to portray that message and help educate individuals. This is still an area of evolving technology. It's getting better and better. But companies made commitments to start marking content that they generate. And I know a number of social media platforms are also making commitments to ensure that they display messages to help consumers who see such content know that it is generated by artificial intelligence. VOA: Moving on to cybersecurity and malign actors like North Korea and Russia, what is the administration doing to curb their work in this area? Neuberger: We see North Korea really using cyberattacks as a way to get money because they're such a heavily sanctioned regime. So North Korea moved from targeting banks to targeting ... cryptocurrency infrastructure around the world. And the White House has had a focused effort to bring together all elements we have to fight that with Treasury Department designations. There'll be further designations coming up for the cryptocurrency mixers that launder funds stolen from those cryptocurrency infrastructures. We also have been working with the industry to press them to improve the cybersecurity of their systems as well as law enforcement. U.S. law enforcement has been cooperating with partners around the world to take down that server infrastructure and to arrest the individuals who are responsible for some of this activity. VOA: Tell us a little bit about the counter-ransomware initiative you’re working on. Neuberger: Absolutely. Essentially, criminal groups, many of which are based in Russia with infrastructure operating from around the world, are locking systems ... in order to request that the system owners pay ransom. In the United States alone in the last two years, $2.3 billion was paid in ransom. It's a fundamentally transnational fight. ... What we've done is assemble 48 countries, Interpol [and] the European Union to take this on together, because we know that the attackers are in one set of countries, the infrastructure is in another, and the victims are global. As the White House built this initiative, we ensure that the leadership is diverse. So, for example, the leaders of the effort to build capacity around the world are Nigeria and Germany — intentionally, a country from Africa and a country from Europe, because their needs are different. And we wanted to ensure that as we're helping countries build the capacity to fight this, we're sensitive to the different needs of a country like Nigeria, like Rwanda, like South Africa, like Indonesia. Similarly, there's an effort focused on exercising information, sharing information together. You asked about the key deliverables from this most recent meeting. I'll note three big ones. First, we launched a website and a system where countries can collaborate when they're fighting a ransomware attack, where they can ask for help [or] learn from others who fought a similar attack. Second, we made the first ever joint policy statement — a big deal — 48 countries committing that countries themselves will not pay ransoms, because we know this is a financially driven problem. And third, the United States committed that we would be sharing bad wallets [that] criminals are using to move money around the world so other countries can help stop that money as it moves as well. So that's an example of three of the many commitments that came out of the recent meeting. VOA: Let’s talk about the Global South, which has pioneered development of really interesting digital economic technologies like Kenya’s M-PESA, which was rolled out in, like, 2007. Now the U.S. has Venmo, which is modeled on that. How is the U.S. learning from the developing world in the development of these projects and also the perils of these products? Neuberger: M-PESA is a fantastic example of the promise of digital tech. Essentially, Kenya took the fact that they had a telecom infrastructure, and built their banking infrastructure riding on that, so they leapt ahead to enable people across the country to do transactions online. When you look at Ukraine in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine quickly moved their government online, really building on lessons learned from Estonia, to enable Ukrainians — many who are in Poland and Hungary — to continue to engage with their government in a digital way. The U.S. Agency for International Development is tremendously proud of that Ukrainian project and is using it as a model as we look to other countries around the world. So we're learning a lot from the creativity and innovation; what we want to bring to that is American development, skill and aid, and also plugging in American tech companies who can accelerate the rollout of these projects in countries around the world, because we still believe in the promise of digital. But you mentioned the peril, and that's where cybersecurity comes in. VOA: This lines us up perfectly for my final question, about the promise and the peril. In the digital world, people can hide behind anonymity and say and do awful things using tools that were meant to improve the world. How do you keep your faith in humanity? Neuberger: It's a tremendously important question. It's one that's personally important to me. My great-grandparents lost their lives in Nazi death camps. And those members of my family who survived — some survived through the horrors of the camp, some managed to hide out under false identities. And I often think that the promise of digital has also made our identities very evident. Sometimes when I'm just browsing Amazon online, and it recommends a set of books, I think to myself: I wonder how I'd hide if what happened to my grandparents came for me. So as a result, I think that even as we engage with these technologies, we have to ensure that vulnerable populations are protected. So, the president's working with AI companies to say companies have an obligation to protect vulnerable populations online, to ensure that we're using AI to detect where there's bullying online, where there's hate speech that goes against common practices that needs to be addressed; where there are AI-generated images related to children or women or other vulnerable populations, that we use AI to find them and remove them; and certainly use law enforcement and the power of law enforcement partnerships around the world to deter that as well. Freedom of speech is a part of free societies. Freedom from harm needs to be a fight we take on together. VOA: Thank you so much for speaking to our audience. Neuberger: Thank you.

White House Hopes to Lead Global Charge in ‘Promise, Peril’ of Emerging Tech Like AI

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 01:26
American leadership is essential in establishing norms and laws to “determine how we both glean the promise and manage the peril” of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and digital economic and social platforms used to connect billions of people around the world, a White House adviser told VOA. The Biden administration has rolled out a number of initiatives on the topic — most recently, an executive order that aims to set new AI safety and security standards. That order relies on cooperation from private developers and other countries, “because the attackers are in one set of countries, the infrastructure is in another and the victims are global,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology at the National Security Council. Neuberger sat down with VOA White House Correspondent Anita Powell to explain these complex, compelling technologies and how she thinks they have exposed the worst but also the best in humanity. The following has been edited for length and clarity. VOA: Thank you so much for sitting down with VOA today. Can you walk us through the concrete outcomes of the recent meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the areas you cover — cybersecurity, AI and the digital economy? Anne Neuberger, White House deputy national security adviser: Of course, strategic technologies are very important to both of our countries’ growth and national security — and we’re global players on a global stage. The most important part of the discussion was two leaders coming together to say: While we are in competition, we're committed to working together on areas where we can collaborate - areas like climate change, like discussions of what are the rules for artificial intelligence. VOA: Would you assess that the meeting made any progress, especially on AI regulation? Neuberger: Certainly very good discussions related to an agreement for the countries to sit down and establish a working group on AI [about] appropriate guardrails and guidelines in this area. VOA: I'm going to stick with AI and the administration's recent moves, like the AI Bill of Rights and also the attempt to set some norms at the recent London summit on AI. Why does the administration think U.S. leadership matters so much here? Neuberger: For two reasons. First, the United States is a committed democracy and AI is a major technology that brings both promise and peril. It is up to us to determine how we both glean the promise and manage the peril. President Biden has made that clear in his game-changing executive order that, as a country, we must manage the perils in order to glean the promise. VOA: Speaking of the perils of AI, what is the administration doing to prevent the malicious use of generative AI in both conflicts and contests? I'm talking about conflicts like Israel and Ukraine, but also contests like the upcoming elections in Congo, in Taiwan and here in the United States. Neuberger: We've seen new AI models that generate very realistic videos, very realistic images. In terms of generative AI related to elections, I want to lift up one of the voluntary commitments that the president negotiated, which was around watermarking: having a visible and potentially invisible mark on an AI-generated image or video that notes that this is AI-generated, to alert a viewer. An invisible mark could be used so that, even if there are attempts to remove this mark, the platforms themselves can still be able to portray that message and help educate individuals. This is still an area of evolving technology. It's getting better and better. But companies made commitments to start marking content that they generate. And I know a number of social media platforms are also making commitments to ensure that they display messages to help consumers who see such content know that it is generated by artificial intelligence. VOA: Moving on to cybersecurity and malign actors like North Korea and Russia, what is the administration doing to curb their work in this area? Neuberger: We see North Korea really using cyberattacks as a way to get money because they're such a heavily sanctioned regime. So North Korea moved from targeting banks to targeting ... cryptocurrency infrastructure around the world. And the White House has had a focused effort to bring together all elements we have to fight that with Treasury Department designations. There'll be further designations coming up for the cryptocurrency mixers that launder funds stolen from those cryptocurrency infrastructures. We also have been working with the industry to press them to improve the cybersecurity of their systems as well as law enforcement. U.S. law enforcement has been cooperating with partners around the world to take down that server infrastructure and to arrest the individuals who are responsible for some of this activity. VOA: Tell us a little bit about the counter-ransomware initiative you’re working on. Neuberger: Absolutely. Essentially, criminal groups, many of which are based in Russia with infrastructure operating from around the world, are locking systems ... in order to request that the system owners pay ransom. In the United States alone in the last two years, $2.3 billion was paid in ransom. It's a fundamentally transnational fight. ... What we've done is assemble 48 countries, Interpol [and] the European Union to take this on together, because we know that the attackers are in one set of countries, the infrastructure is in another, and the victims are global. As the White House built this initiative, we ensure that the leadership is diverse. So, for example, the leaders of the effort to build capacity around the world are Nigeria and Germany — intentionally, a country from Africa and a country from Europe, because their needs are different. And we wanted to ensure that as we're helping countries build the capacity to fight this, we're sensitive to the different needs of a country like Nigeria, like Rwanda, like South Africa, like Indonesia. Similarly, there's an effort focused on exercising information, sharing information together. You asked about the key deliverables from this most recent meeting. I'll note three big ones. First, we launched a website and a system where countries can collaborate when they're fighting a ransomware attack, where they can ask for help [or] learn from others who fought a similar attack. Second, we made the first ever joint policy statement — a big deal — 48 countries committing that countries themselves will not pay ransoms, because we know this is a financially driven problem. And third, the United States committed that we would be sharing bad wallets [that] criminals are using to move money around the world so other countries can help stop that money as it moves as well. So that's an example of three of the many commitments that came out of the recent meeting. VOA: Let’s talk about the Global South, which has pioneered development of really interesting digital economic technologies like Kenya’s M-PESA, which was rolled out in, like, 2007. Now the U.S. has Venmo, which is modeled on that. How is the U.S. learning from the developing world in the development of these projects and also the perils of these products? Neuberger: M-PESA is a fantastic example of the promise of digital tech. Essentially, Kenya took the fact that they had a telecom infrastructure, and built their banking infrastructure riding on that, so they leapt ahead to enable people across the country to do transactions online. When you look at Ukraine in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine quickly moved their government online, really building on lessons learned from Estonia, to enable Ukrainians — many who are in Poland and Hungary — to continue to engage with their government in a digital way. The U.S. Agency for International Development is tremendously proud of that Ukrainian project and is using it as a model as we look to other countries around the world. So we're learning a lot from the creativity and innovation; what we want to bring to that is American development, skill and aid, and also plugging in American tech companies who can accelerate the rollout of these projects in countries around the world, because we still believe in the promise of digital. But you mentioned the peril, and that's where cybersecurity comes in. VOA: This lines us up perfectly for my final question, about the promise and the peril. In the digital world, people can hide behind anonymity and say and do awful things using tools that were meant to improve the world. How do you keep your faith in humanity? Neuberger: It's a tremendously important question. It's one that's personally important to me. My great-grandparents lost their lives in Nazi death camps. And those members of my family who survived — some survived through the horrors of the camp, some managed to hide out under false identities. And I often think that the promise of digital has also made our identities very evident. Sometimes when I'm just browsing Amazon online, and it recommends a set of books, I think to myself: I wonder how I'd hide if what happened to my grandparents came for me. So as a result, I think that even as we engage with these technologies, we have to ensure that vulnerable populations are protected. So, the president's working with AI companies to say companies have an obligation to protect vulnerable populations online, to ensure that we're using AI to detect where there's bullying online, where there's hate speech that goes against common practices that needs to be addressed; where there are AI-generated images related to children or women or other vulnerable populations, that we use AI to find them and remove them; and certainly use law enforcement and the power of law enforcement partnerships around the world to deter that as well. Freedom of speech is a part of free societies. Freedom from harm needs to be a fight we take on together. VOA: Thank you so much for speaking to our audience. Neuberger: Thank you.

Ukraine Businesses Pivot to New Military Technology Production

Wed, 11/29/2023 - 21:25
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, drone production in the country has surged. Ukrainian businesses have shifted from manufacturing products for peacetime to producing equipment for wartime. From Kyiv, Myroslava Gongadze explains how Ukrainian ingenuity is altering the course of the war. Camera: Eugene Shynkar.

US Imposes Sanctions on Cryptocurrency Mixer Sinbad Over Alleged North Korea Links

Wed, 11/29/2023 - 17:24
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on a virtual currency mixer the Treasury Department said has processed millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency from major heists carried out by North Korea-linked hackers. The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said virtual currency mixer Sinbad, hit with sanctions on Wednesday, processed millions of dollars worth of virtual currency from heists carried out by the North Korea-linked Lazarus Group, including the Axie Infinity and Horizon Bride heists of hundreds of millions of dollars. Lazarus, which has been sanctioned by the U.S., has been accused of carrying out some of the largest virtual currency heists to date. In March 2022, for example, they allegedly stole about $620 million in virtual currency from a blockchain project linked to the online game Axie Infinity. "Mixing services that enable criminal actors, such as the Lazarus Group, to launder stolen assets will face serious consequences,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the statement on Wednesday. "The Treasury Department and its U.S. government partners stand ready to deploy all tools at their disposal to prevent virtual currency mixers, like Sinbad, from facilitating illicit activities." A virtual currency mixer is a software tool that pools and scrambles cryptocurrencies from thousands of addresses. Sinbad is believed by some experts in the industry to be a successor to the Blender mixer, which the U.S. hit with sanctions last year over accusations it was being used by North Korea. The Treasury said Sinbad is also used by cybercriminals to obscure transactions linked to activities such as sanctions evasion, drug trafficking and the purchase of child sexual abuse materials, among other malign activities.  Wednesday's action freezes any U.S. assets of Sinbad and generally bars Americans from dealing with it. Those that engage in certain transactions with the mixer also risk being hit with sanctions. 

Is AI About to Steal Your Job?

Tue, 11/28/2023 - 13:12
Almost all U.S. jobs, from truck driver to childcare provider to software developer, include skills that can be done, or at least supplemented, by generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), according to a recent report. GenAI is artificial intelligence that can generate high-quality content based on the input data used to train it. "AI is likely to touch every part of every job to some degree," says Cory Stahle, an economist with Indeed.com, which released the report. The report finds that almost one in five jobs (19.7%) — like IT operations, mathematics and information design — faces the highest risk of being affected by AI because at least 80% of the job skills those positions require can be done reasonably well by GenAI. But that doesn't mean that those jobs will eventually be lost to robots. "It's important to recognize that, in general, these technologies don't affect entire occupations. It actually is very rare that a robot will show up, sit in somebody's seat to do everything that someone does at their job," says Michael Chui of the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), who researches the impact of technology and innovation on business, the economy and society. Indeed.com researchers analyzed more than 55 million job postings and found that GenAI can perform 50% to almost 80% of the skills required in 45.7% of those job listings. In 34.6% of jobs listed, GenAI can handle less than 50% of the skills. Jobs that require manual skills or a personal touch, such as nursing and veterinary care, are the least likely to be hard hit by AI, the report says. In the past, technological advances have mostly affected manual labor. However, GenAI is expected to have the most effect on so-called knowledge workers, generally defined as people who create knowledge or think for a living. But, for now, AI does not appear poised to steal anyone's job. "There are very few jobs that AI can do completely. Even in jobs where AI can do many of the skills, there are still aspects of those jobs that AI cannot do," Stahle says. Rather than replace workers, researchers expect GenAI to enhance the work people already do, making them more efficient. "This is something that, in many ways, we believe is going to unlock human potential and productivity for many workers across many different sectors of the economy," Stahle says. "There are a number of things that can happen," Chui adds. "One is, we simply do more of something we were already doing, and so imagine if you're a university professor or a teacher, and the grading can be done by machine rather than you. You can take those hours and, instead of grading, you can actually start tutoring your students, spending more time with your students, improving their performance, helping them learn." American workers need to begin using the new technology if they hope to remain competitive, according to Chui. "Workers who are best able to use these technologies will be the most competitive workers in the workforce," he says. "It was true before, but it's more true than ever, that we're all going to have to be lifetime learners." A survey developed by Chui finds that almost 80% of workers have experimented with AI tools. "One of the great powers of these generative AI tools, so far, is they've been designed in such a way to make it easy for really anybody to use these types of tools," Stahle says. "I really believe that people should be looking to embrace these tools and find ways to incorporate them into the work that they're already interested in doing." Ultimately, could one of the unexpected benefits of AI be more efficient employees who work less? "In general, Americans work a lot," Chui says. "Maybe we don't have to work so long. Maybe we have a four-day work week … and so you could give that time back to the worker."

US Envoy Focuses on Cyberscams During Cambodia Visit 

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:24
Cindy Dyer, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for monitoring and combating trafficking, is planning to push Cambodia’s new government to ramp up its efforts to crack down on cyberscam operations that trap many trafficking victims in slavelike conditions. A recently completed visit to Phnom Penh by Dyer “will serve as an opportunity for information sharing and coordination on anti-trafficking efforts,” the State Department said last week in a release. Dyer met with a range of officials “with the objective of building a relationship with the new government for future coordination and advocating for progress in the most critical areas, including increased investigations and prosecutions of cyberscam operations,” said the November 15 release. Cambodia’s role as host of cybercriminals has been in an international spotlight. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) released a report this summer estimating that the industry has victimized 100,000 people in Cambodia. Lured by promise of jobs Operators of these scamming networks recruit unwitting workers from across Asia, often with the promise of well-paying tech jobs, and then force them to attempt to scam victims online while living in slavelike conditions, according to the report. Countries including Indonesia, Taiwan and China have urged countries like Cambodia and Laos to crack down on the industry, while warning their own citizens of the dangers in traveling to these countries, according to the UNHCHR report. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on global human trafficking, released in June, placed Cambodia in Tier 3, meaning the government has made insufficient efforts to address human trafficking and does not meet the minimum standards. During her two-day visit to Cambodia that began November 15, Dyer met with officials from the ministries of justice, labor and social affairs, as well as representatives of the National Police and the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) within the Ministry of Interior, according to an email from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. Dyer also held discussions with civil society groups working on combating human trafficking. The discussions focused “on Cambodia’s efforts to protect trafficking victims, including providing protection assistance services for victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants, capacity building for service providers and government officials to improve victim identification and referral, and addressing emerging trends in forced criminality,” the State Department release said. More training urged Am Sam Ath, operations director at the Cambodian rights group Licadho, told VOA Khmer that Dyer’s visit highlighted the need for Cambodia to tackle human trafficking and online scams. “We see that the United States … ranks Cambodia third in the blacklist of human trafficking. It also has a lot of impact on our country, and if Cambodia does not make an effort further in the prevention of human trafficking or online scams, the ranking cannot be improved,” he said by telephone from the group’s Phnom Penh office. He called on the Cambodian government to strengthen the capacity of officials and authorities to crack down on online crime. "This crime problem is technologically modern, so the authorities involved in it have to get more training to keep up with the situation, as well as the timing of the crime,” Am Sam Ath added. National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun and Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin declined to comment on Dyer’s visit, referring questions to Chou Bun Eng, permanent deputy chairman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking. VOA Khmer called Chou Bun Eng, but she did not respond to a request for comment. U.S. Embassy spokesperson Katherine Diop told VOA Khmer that Dyer’s visit to Cambodia was part of a U.S. effort across the world to encourage governments to take responsibility for preventing human trafficking and protecting victims. “The United States stands with the Cambodian people to identify, support and seek justice for human trafficking victims,” she wrote in an email. The UNHCHR report released in late August said the online scams were occurring in five countries in Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. “People who have been trafficked into online forced criminality face threats to their right to life, liberty and security of the person,” said the U.N. report. “They are subject to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, forced labor and other forms of labor exploitation as well as a range of other human rights violations and abuses.” Cambodia first acknowledged the issue last year when Interior Minister Sar Kheng said in August that officials were being deployed across the country to check hotels, casinos and other establishments for potential trafficking victims. The government has since announced sporadic operations to free victims and arrest traffickers. However, experts recently told VOA Khmer that these efforts have not noticeably curbed the illegal operations or caught ringleaders of the trafficking networks.

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