The director of a Spanish research center says a giant telescope, costing $1.4 billion, is one step nearer to being built on the Canary Islands in the event an international consortium gives up its plans to build it in Hawaii.
Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute Director Rafael Rebolo has told The Associated Press that a building permit for the telescope has been granted by the town of Puntagorda on the island of La Palma.
He said “there are no more building permits needed according to Spanish legislation.”
The international consortium backing the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope wants to build it atop Hawaii’s tallest peak. But some native Hawaiians consider the Mauna Kea summit sacred and their protests have stopped construction from going ahead since mid-July.
DARPA, the main research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, is funding researchers to develop wearable devices that would have military applications such as using the mind to control unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, commonly known as drones. Instead of using brain implants to achieve this, DARPA is looking for non-invasive to minutely invasive ways of interfacing with the machine. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee got a close-up look at one team’s work at Rice University.
Google’s head of philanthropy says the company is having “a lot of conversations” internally amid worries about the tech giant’s bottomless appetite for consumer data and how it uses its algorithms.
Vice President Jacqueline Fuller wouldn’t comment on specific data privacy controversies dogging Google lately, but says she shares other concerns many have about Big Tech. Cyberbullying. Hate speech amplified online. The impact of artificial intelligence on everything, from jobs to warfare.
“As a consumer myself, as part of the general public, as a mother, it’s very important to understand what am I seeing, what are my children seeing,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press in Paris, where she announced new grant winners Tuesday for projects aimed at teaching digital skills to poor, immigrant, rural or elderly users.
The philanthropic arm she runs, Google.org, is like the company’s conscience, spending $100 million a year on non-profit groups that use technology to try to counteract problems the tech world is accused of creating, abetting or exacerbating.
“Across the world we want to make sure we’re a responsible citizen,” she said.
But can Google’s do-good arm make up for everything else? At least it’s trying, she argues.
“The company is having a lot of conversations around things like access to information and access to data and making sure there’s no algorithmic bias,” she said.
Public outrage has grown over Google’s use of consumer data and domination of the online search market, with governments stepping up scrutiny of the company.
Just in the past week, nine groups called for the U.S. government to block Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of fitness-gadget maker Fitbit, citing privacy and antitrust concerns. Then Google came under fire for a partnership with U.S. health care system Ascension that the Wall Street Journal says gives the search giant access to thousands of patient health records without doctors’ knowledge. Both companies say the deal is compliant with health-privacy law.
Fuller wouldn’t comment specifically on either case, but said, “We take our users’ trust very seriously.”
She also insisted that the company has a very
vibrant discussion'' internally about sexual misconduct, human rights and other problems that have tarnished Google's reputation.All of us need to discern what is truthful of what I see online. How do I ask the questions of who is sponsoring this content.”
Its philanthropic arm is focused lately on using artificial intelligence to help society, for example by providing better access to health care and more effective emergency services. It's also working on ways to limit the damage of the breakneck developments of AI, notably after employee departures and public pressure over a Pentagon contract pushed the company to pledge it wouldn't use AI in weapons development.
Among projects Google.org is funding are those that help users create and share digital resumes or map job opportunities, as the company tries to figure out “how can we anticipate some of the impacts of AI in an economy, and understand how can we make sure that everyone has access to jobs that are not only interesting now but jobs that are going to be here in the future,” Fuller said.
Google is also holding a competition this year in Europe for projects on “how we can keep children safe,” she said.
Digital literacy is crucial, she said:
In Paris, Fuller announced the winners of Google.org’s latest “Impact Challenge,” contests it holds around the world for non-profits using technology for good. Ten groups won grants worth a total of 3 million euros for projects helping the millions of people in France who lack the basic digital skills that are increasingly crucial for everything from paying taxes to finding a job.
Despite its philanthropic efforts, Google’s critics remain legion _ even within the tech universe.
Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris argues technology is shortening our attention spans and pushing people toward more extreme views. He couldn’t get Google to tackle these problems when he was there, so he quit and is pushing for change through his Center for Human Technologies.
He says companies like Google won’t change voluntarily but that the tech world has undergone a “sea change” in awareness of problems it’s caused, thanks in part to pressure from a frustrated public.
The United States on Monday granted another 90 days for companies to cease doing business with China’s telecoms giant Huawei, saying this would allow service providers to continue to serve rural areas.President Donald Trump in May effectively barred Huawei from American communications networks after Washington found the company had violated US sanctions on Iran and attempted to block a subsequent investigation.The extension, renewing one issued in August, “will allow carriers to continue to service customers in some of the most remote areas of the United States who would otherwise be left in the dark,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.”The department will continue to rigorously monitor sensitive technology exports to ensure that our innovations are not harnessed by those who would threaten our national security.”American officials also claim Huawei is a tool of Beijing’s electronic espionage, making its equipment a threat to US national security — something the company denies.Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company’s founder and CEO, was arrested in Canada last year and is now fighting extradition to the United States on fraud and conspiracy charges tied to US sanctions.The battle over Huawei has also landed squarely in the middle of Trump’s trade battle with Beijing.US officials initially said the two were unrelated as the Huawei actions were strictly law enforcement and national security matters but Trump has suggested a resolution could involve some common ground concerning Huawei.Following the near-collapse of US-China trade talks in May, Washington added Huawei to a list of companies effectively barred from purchasing US technology without prior approval from the US government.But, since companies have said they need time to begin to comply with the change, Trump has granted a series of limited reprieves, which officials say allow only “specific, limited” transactions involving exports and re-exports.
A few Pakistani women friends, working for big tech companies in the U.S., decided they wanted to create the mentoring and professional network they wished they’d had when coming up in the business. The result is the Seattle based Pakistani Women in Computing or PWIC. VOA’s Nadeem Yaqub recently visited the Seattle chapter of PWIC and filed this report.
It’s looking like an anti-robocall bill will be sent to President Donald Trump this year, helping tackle an infuriating problem in the U.S.House and Senate leaders said Friday they’ve reached an agreement in principle on merging their two bills against robocalls.The House bill had gone further than the Senate one. Details about what’s in the final bill are still to come, but legislators say it will require phone companies to verify that phone numbers are real, and to block calls for free. It will also give government agencies more ability to go after scammers.It’s the latest effort in a crackdown, building on steps by state attorneys general and the Federal Communications Commission as well as the phone companies.Phone companies have been rolling out verification tools after prompting from regulators. These reassure customers that the number showing up on their phone is actually the number that called, and not a fraudster “spoofing,” or faking, the number to try to get people to pick it up. Numbers can be faked to look like they’re coming from the IRS, for example, or from a number with the same area code as you. But to combat this successfully, all carriers need to put the anti-spoofing system in place.Telecom companies are also offering call-blocking apps for smartphones and many home phones, although not always for free. The FCC in June gave them permission to turn on call-blocking by default. While tools had been available before, customers might not have known to ask about them.Robocalls have become almost inescapable as the cost of sending them dropped and going after callers is difficult. Tech vendor YouMail said there were 5.7 billion calls from scammers, telemarketers, debt collectors and others in October. Not all those calls are unwanted, though — you might want to get the call from your pharmacy saying your prescription is ready.
Twitter’s new ban on political ads will cover appeals for votes, solicitations for campaign contributions and any political content. But the company quickly acknowledged Friday that it expects to make mistakes as individuals and groups look for loopholes. Twitter is defining political content to include any ad that references a candidate, political party, government official, ballot measure, or legislative or judicial outcome. The ban also applies to all ads — even non-political ones — from candidates, political parties, and elected or appointed government officials. However, Twitter is allowing ads related to social causes such as climate change, gun control and abortion. People and groups running such ads won’t be able to target those ads down to a user’s ZIP code or use political categories such as
conservative'' orliberal.” Rather, targeting must be kept broad, based on a user’s state or province, for instance. News organizations will be exempt so they can promote stories that cover political issues. While Twitter has issued guidelines for what counts as a news organization — single-issue advocacy outlets don’t qualify, for instance — it’s unclear if this will be enough prevent partisan websites from promoting political content. FILE – Attendees walk past a Facebook logo during Facebook Inc.’s F8 developers conference in San Jose, Calif.Twitter announced its worldwide ban on political ads October 30, but didn’t release details until Friday. The policy, which goes into effect next Friday, is in stark contrast to Facebook’s approach of allowing political ads, even if they contain false information. Facebook has said it wants to provide politicians with a
level playing field for communication and not intervene when they speak, regardless of what they’re saying. Response to Twitter’s ban has been strong and mixed, with critics questioning the company’s ability to enforce the new policy given its poor history in banning hate speech and abuse from its service. The company acknowledges it will make mistakes but says it’s better to start addressing the issue now rather than wait until all the kinks are worked out. Aside from concerns about foreign interference in elections, the political advertising issue rose to the forefront in recent months as Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, refused to remove a misleading video ad from President Donald Trump’s campaign that targeted Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. In response, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, another presidential hopeful, ran her own ad on Facebook taking aim at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The ad claimed — admittedly falsely to make its point — that Zuckerberg had endorsed Trump for re-election. Over the past several weeks, Facebook has been pressed to change its policy. But it was Twitter instead that jumped in with its bombshell ban. Drew Margolin, a Cornell University communications professor who studies social networks, said Twitter’s broad ban is a reflection that
vetting is not realistic and is potentially unfair.'' He said a TV network might be in a position to vet all political ads, but Twitter and Facebook cannot easily do so. While their reliance on automated systems makes online ads easier and cheaper to run, Margolin said, it also makes them anattractive target” for spreading misinformation. Political advertising makes up a small sliver of Twitter’s overall revenue. The company does not break out specific figures each quarter but said political ad spending for the 2018 midterm election was less than $3 million. It reported $824 million in third-quarter revenue. Because of this, the ban is unlikely to have a big effect on overall political advertising, where television still accounts for most of the money spent. In digital ads, Google and Facebook dominate. FILE – A woman walks past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Nov. 5, 2018.Unlike Facebook, which has weathered most of the criticism, Google has been relatively quiet on its political ads policy. It has taken a stance similar to that of Facebook and does not review whether political ads tell the truth. Twitter, Facebook and Google already take steps to prevent political manipulation by verifying the identities of some political advertisers — measures prompted by the furor over Moscow’s interference. But the verifying systems, which rely on both humans and automated systems, have not been perfect.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday he was certain that the awarding of a $10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon was done fairly.
The Pentagon awarded the contract to Microsoft in late October, and Amazon said there was “unmistakable bias” on the government’s part and it intended to challenge the decision in court.
Esper recused himself from the contract decision because his son had worked for one of the other unsuccessful bidders.
“I am confident that it was conducted freely and fairly without any type of outside influence,” Esper said at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea.
Amazon’s competitive bid for the “war cloud” project drew criticism from President Donald Trump and its business rivals. The project, formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, pitted leading tech titans Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and IBM against one another.
In a statement Thursday, Amazon said “numerous aspects” of the bidding process involved “clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias.” It did not elaborate on those allegations but said “it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.”
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment. A Defense Department spokeswoman would only say that the Pentagon won’t speculate on potential litigation.
JEDI will store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the U.S. military to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities.
Amazon was long thought to be the front-runner for the contract. Its Amazon Web Services division is far ahead of second-place Microsoft in cloud computing, and Amazon has experience handling highly classified government data.
It survived earlier legal challenges after the Defense Department eliminated Oracle and IBM and whittled the competition to the two Seattle-area tech giants before choosing Microsoft in late October.
The Pentagon was preparing to make its final decision when Trump publicly waded into the fray in July, saying he had heard complaints about the process and that the administration would “take a very long look.” He said other companies told him that the contract “wasn’t competitively bid.” Oracle, in particular, had unsuccessfully argued Pentagon officials unfairly favored Amazon for the winner-take-all contract.
Experts had generally expected Amazon to appeal the award, saying it had little to lose. Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University, said Trump’s comments were “inappropriate and improvident,” but said it would be a challenge for Amazon to prove the White House applied undue pressure in a way that made a difference.
Amazon said it filed its protest in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which deals with financial claims against the federal government.
It’s not uncommon for losing bidders to file a protest, either with the U.S. Government Accountability Office or in court. Unlike a review by the GAO, Amazon’s court filing will enable it to seek documents from the government as evidence for its case.
Facebook Inc signed a lease for over 1.5 million square feet of office space across 30 floors and three buildings in New York City’s Hudson Yards, according to a statement by the luxury and commercial real estate development on Thursday.Hudson Yards is a $25 billion complex of commercial and residential skyscrapers built on Manhattan’s far west side above the rail yards.The deal includes about 1.2 million square feet in 50 Hudson Yards, about 265,000 square feet in 30 Hudson Yards and about 57,000 square feet in 55 Hudson Yards, the statement added.”We’re excited to expand our offices there starting in 2020″, said John Tenanes, vice president of Facebook’s global facilities and real estate.Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
China invited observers to a successful test Thursday of its Mars lander as the country pushes for inclusion in more global space projects.The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the Red Planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail.A lander is lifted during a test of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities at a facility in Huailai in China’s Hebei province, Nov. 14, 2019.Growing space programChina’s burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone earlier this year by landing a probe on the mysterious far side of the moon.It has developed rapidly, especially since it conducted its first crewed mission in 2003 and has sought cooperation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere.The U.S., however, has banned most space cooperation with China out of national security concerns, keeping China from participating in the International Space Station.Despite that, China’s ambitions continue to grow as it seeks to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space and cement its position as a regional and global power. It is gradually constructing its own larger, more permanent space station in which it has invited foreign participation.The lander on Thursday successfully avoided ground obstacles during a simulated low-gravity descent, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the Chinese space program’s main contractor.The refrigerator-sized craft was lowered gently on 36 cables through the air for about a minute and used onboard jets spraying rust-colored fumes to alter its downward course.“After the probe is launched, it will take about seven months to reach Mars, and the final procedure of landing will only last about seven minutes, which is the most difficult and the most risky part of the whole mission,” said the Mars mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao, standing before the 140-meter-(460-foot-) tall testing facility.Recent rover crashes on the moon by Israel and India highlight the difficulties of safe landings from space.The remote Comprehensive Testing Ground for Landing on Extraterrestrial Bodies run by CASC lies an hour north of the Great Wall from Beijing.Guests at Thursday’s event came from 19 countries and included the ambassadors of Brazil, France and Italy.“This event is the first public appearance of China’s Mars exploration mission, also an important measure for China to pragmatically carry out space international exchanges and cooperation,” the China National Space Administration said in a news release.