Google Search Points Out US Election Polls; Twitter Bot Tracks Dictators

Posted October 13th, 2016 at 1:03 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A cyclist rides past a sign directing voters to a primary election voting station early, in Phoenix. Arizona, Aug. 30, 2016. (AP)

FILE – A cyclist rides past a sign directing voters to a primary election voting station early, in Phoenix. Arizona, Aug. 30, 2016. (AP)

Google Now Will Tell You Where You Can Vote in US Election

The clock is ticking ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and Google is offering to point you in the direction of the nearest polling station. Starting Thursday, searching in English or Spanish for “where to vote” will yield the location of a polling station and the identification voters need to display before voting. A search for “who’s on the ballot” will provide information about the candidates and issues that need voter approval.

This Twitter Bot Is Tracking Dictators’ Flights In and Out of Geneva

GVA Dictator Alert (#GVA) tracks all planes registered to authoritarian governments and posts their arrival and departure times to Twitter. The bot was created by a Swiss journalist as part of a crowdsourcing effort to uncover potential shady dealings  Since its launch in April, the bot has kept track of more than 60 arrivals and departures, and is now monitoring 80 different planes registered to authoritarian regimes.

The Newest Tactic Cybercriminals Are Using to Deliver Ransomware

Symantec security researchers warn that cybercriminals have been exploiting Windows Script Files (WSF) to spread ransomeware via email. Files with the .wsf extension are designed to merge scripting languages into one file and are not blocked by email clients. Moreover, they can be launched like any executable file.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

White House Tackles AI Potential, Risks; Britain Unprepared for AI

Posted October 12th, 2016 at 12:39 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Belgian Ian Frejean, 11, walks with "Zora" the robot, a humanoid robot designed to entertain patients and to support care providers, at AZ Damiaan hospital in Ostend, Belgium June 16, 2016. (Reuters)

Belgian Ian Frejean, 11, walks with “Zora” the robot, a humanoid robot designed to entertain patients and to support care providers, at AZ Damiaan hospital in Ostend, Belgium June 16, 2016. (Reuters)

White House: AI Has Potential to Be Major Driver of Economic Growth, Social Progress

A study commissioned by the White House earlier this year to look into the potential impact of artificial intelligence has concluded the technology holds much promise. But the writers also caution that strong vigilance is needed, saying the Obama administration believes “it is critical that industry, civil society and government work together to develop the positive aspects of the technology, manage its risks and challenges and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to help in building an A.I.-enhanced society and to participate in its benefits.” President Obama also talked about AI and robots with MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and Wired’s Scott Dadich.

MPs: British Government Not Prepared for Robot Revolution

A report out of the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee has determined the government has no strategy to develop the skilled workforce needed for automation and artificial intelligence. The report also warns that more should be done to address the social and ethical problems related to the use of robots.

Industry Body: Demand for Service Robots Expected to Accelerate

The International Federation of Robotics expects demand for service robots already working in hospitals, farms and warehouses to rise within the next three years. The personal and domestic robot market is growing the fastest, with demand increasing for robotic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and window cleaners.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

R.I.P Galaxy Note 7; Huawei Gets Serious About AI

Posted October 11th, 2016 at 2:31 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung Electronics Mobile Communications Business, speaks during a launching ceremony for Galaxy Note 7 new smartphones in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 11, 2016. (Reuters)

Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung Electronics Mobile Communications Business, speaks during a launching ceremony for Galaxy Note 7 new smartphones in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 11, 2016. (Reuters)

Samsung Kills Galaxy Note 7 Over Fire Concerns

Samsung on Tuesday killed its flagship Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, weeks after reports started coming in that the phones were exploding or going up in smoke. Even after a global recall of 2.5 million devices, so-called “safe” replacement smartphones also ran into trouble. The Note 7 fiasco could be one of the costliest product safety failures in tech history, leaving a $17 billion hole in Samsung’s account and a huge stain on its reputation and outlook.

NSA Could Put Undetectable ‘Trapdoors’ in Millions of Crypto Keys

Cryptographic keys protect websites, internet servers and virtual private networks from hackers. But researchers have found a way to load the keys with undetectable backdoors. This means hackers can decrypt communications and impersonate key owners who might not notice the difference. But hackers do. And if this were to become a mainstream application, government snoopers would be able to eavesdrop on millions or billions of encrypted communications.

Huawei, UC Berkeley Join Forces to Develop AI

China’s Huawei has partnered with the University of California, Berkeley to develop artificial intelligence applications for everyday use. Researchers from Huawei and UC Berkeley’s Artificial intelligence Research lab will work on natural language processing, computer vision and reinforcement learning. If successful, the results could find their way into Huawei’s smartphones and tablets.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Crowdsourced ‘Rate My Media’ Challenges Racial Bias

Posted October 7th, 2016 at 11:00 am (UTC-4)
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(Courtesy Rate My Media)

(Courtesy Rate My Media)

A new crowdsourcing website that challenges media representations of minorities in the U.S. and other countries hopes to encourage companies to police themselves and rethink how racial stereotypes are created.

It started late in 2015 with a video lamenting a misrepresentation of African slaves as “workers” in a school textbook in Texas. The video, posted by a Houston mother, went viral. The factual error was later corrected.

“I was inspired,” said Brendesha Tynes, Associate Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Southern California. Chatting with some of her Facebook friends, she decided to do something to call out media bias.

The result was “Rate My Media” – a crowdsourced website that establishes a rating community to challenge distorted media representations of minorities and focus instead on racial equity and inclusion.

“We don’t see the media really keeping in step and representing people of color accurately” even as more of them come of age in the U.S., said Tynes, the website’s creator.

“We still see this bias for white folks being the standard of beauty,” she added in an interview. “We see them represented in their full humanity, but we see this one-dimensional sort of representations of black folks, Latinos, Asians, Middle Eastern people, Muslims. And so we are just trying to ensure that these underrepresented groups – that we see the range of their humanity in the same way that we do with white folks.”

Visitors to the site can rate all forms of media, from print stories to television and video games. They can run a search for the material they believe to be biased. If it is not there, they can add it to the database.

A screenshot of a review on the Rate My Media website. (Rate My Media)

A screenshot of a review on the Rate My Media website. (Rate My Media)

Media entries can be rated to varying degrees of equity and inclusion, or lack of. “And you have a learning category that you can rate that’s mostly for educational apps and online courses,” said Tynes.

But bias is subjective. Some reviews offer books to help people understand race in America, for example, or videos that debunk the “myths” of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, an international campaign against violence and racism toward black people.

“Many people will probably have their own interpretation of what they think a one is versus what we say a one is,” she said. “So we provide the guidelines and hopefully, people will follow them. But we can’t make them, of course.”

Tynes hopes companies will take notice, keep an eye on the ratings, and eventually police themselves “and rethink who they have at the table creating the media and how it gets created.”

“Eventually,” she said, “we want to start to provide reports to companies, possibly quarterly reports on what’s being said about them. And hopefully the reports will help them to improve their practice.”

Tynes, who has traveled widely, hopes to expand the site in the future into a global platform. “We have these issues all around the world,” she said. “… I’ve been to Australia. I’ve been to different countries in Africa. I’ve been all over Europe. I’ve been to South America and the problem is really everywhere in the media.”

While calling out bias, Tynes hopes to focus on the positive. She said the important thing is to find and point out material that provides equitable racial representation, such as shows that share minority perspectives, for example, or people who are “getting it right.”

“If you want to search for a textbook that represents people in their full humanity, you go to Rate My Media and … you would hopefully find [it] when we get enough users,” she said. ” … But we’re more interested in what people are doing right out there and maybe that’s what we want to use the site more for.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Samsung’s Exploding Nightmare; Android Ransomware Spreading

Posted October 6th, 2016 at 12:36 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A Samsung Note 7 handset is pictured next to its charred battery after catching fire during a test at the Applied Energy Hub battery laboratory in Singapore Oct. 5, 2016. (Reuters)

A Samsung Note 7 handset is pictured next to its charred battery after catching fire during a test at the Applied Energy Hub battery laboratory in Singapore Oct. 5, 2016. (Reuters)

Samsung’s Exploding-smartphone Nightmare Is Getting Even Worse

Samsung is in the middle of a global recall of its new Galaxy Note 7 after its Lithium-ion batteries started catching fire and exploding, and has been replacing them with “safe” smartphones. But the “safe” replacement started smoking on a U.S. flight Wednesday, prompting an evacuation of the plane. The global recall, says writer Rob Price, is costing Samsung its reputation and billions of dollars. But a second recall of the “safe” smartphones could inflict irreparable damage on the Samsung brand.

Ransomware Becomes Main Threat on Android in Several Countries

According to security organization BitDefender, ransomware attacks targeting Android smartphones are on the rise. The Android SLocker ransomware strain accounted for nearly half of all reported mobile malware in Denmark in the first half of 2016. The percentage was 16.48 percent in Britain, 25 percent in Germany, and 21.54 percent in Australia.

Lack of Diversity Threatens Future of London’s Tech Industry

A new report from Tech London Advocates that polled more than 3,600 tech experts reveals that about 46 percent of London’s technology companies do not believe diversity improves their growth. In fact, some believe “social background, gender and disability” are a hindrance to talent. According to the report, about 1,000 companies out of 40,000 London-based firms have an all-male workforce.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Yahoo Disputes Scanning Report; Messenger Encrypted – With Strings

Posted October 5th, 2016 at 1:58 pm (UTC-4)
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FILE - A man walks past a Yahoo logo in Barcelona, Spain. (Reuters)

FILE – A man walks past a Yahoo logo in Barcelona, Spain. (Reuters)

Today’s Tech Sightings:

Yahoo Calls Report of Secret Email Scanning ‘Misleading’

Yahoo is disputing a Reuters’ story that said the company used custom software to scan users’ emails in real time for specific information to comply with a classified order from the U.S. government. Yahoo denied such a program exists and called the report misleading.

Facebook Missed a Big Opportunity With End-to-end Encryption in Messenger

Facebook now offers end-to-end encryption for Messenger users, should they choose to protect secret conversations. But writer Stan Shroeder takes issue with the approach, saying Facebook missed an opportunity to do end-to-end encryption right, first for neglecting to advertise it widely, if at all, and then for presenting it with limitations that will probably turn off some users.

Jack Dorsey Is Losing Control of Twitter

Speculation around a potential sale of Twitter has been in the news for some time, more recently focusing on Disney and Salesforce as possible bidders. It is still unclear if Twitter will remain an independent company. But writer Sarah Frier argues that CEO Jack Dorsey, a year after taking over, has “at least lost some control” as his “passive, contemplative style” has left a void for others to fill.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Google Kicks Off Hardware Launch; Touring Your Bloodstream With VR

Posted October 4th, 2016 at 12:36 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, California, U.S. Oct. 4, 2016. (Reuters)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, California, U.S. Oct. 4, 2016. (Reuters)

#MadebyGoogle Event Launches in San Francisco With New Hardware, Smartphones

Android fans can look forward to a bunch of new products from Google. Those include home devices to compete with Amazon’s voice-activated gadgets and high-end smartphones to compete with Apple. The most anticipated are a pair of Pixel smartphones that replace the Nexus line

Virtual Reality Tour Takes You Inside the Human Body

Virtual reality is offering endless possibilities for use in travel, entertainment and education. On the last count, a new body simulation puts the Oculus headgear wearer inside the blood stream to offer a free educational tour of how things work. The tour comes with commentary and lets the user interact with various components of the human body.

Microsoft on Windows 10 Anniversary Install Fail: ‘We’re Finalizing a Fix’

Windows 10 users have had their share of woes, more recently with Microsoft’s Anniversary update that triggers an endless reboot loop for some. The update was released despite early reports of problems during testing. Now, Microsoft is promising a fix.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Nonprofit Gives Youth, Women in Developing World a Helping Hand

Posted September 30th, 2016 at 11:00 am (UTC-4)
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Nigerian students learn about 3-D printing in a class offered by the Youth for Technology Foundation. (Youth for Technology Foundation)

Nigerian students learn about 3-D printing in a class offered by the Youth for Technology Foundation. (Youth for Technology Foundation)

An international nonprofit will start training 6,000 Nigerian girls in digital skills in early 2017. The initiative is part of an ongoing effort to use technology to empower underprivileged youth and women in the developing world.

The Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) has been transforming the lives of young people and women in developing countries for the past 16 years. The group works in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and, more recently, in Colombia, Latin America.

“Our mission is really to create a rich learning community where the appropriate use of technology affords opportunities for youth and women living in developing economies,” said YTF President and CEO Njideka Harry in an interview.

The latest digital training initiative targets out-of-school Nigerian girls who have survived human trafficking or are at risk of falling prey to traffickers.

Aided by professional mentors and partnerships with local businesses, YTF’s Nigeria hubs will teach literacy, numeracy, business and financial inclusion, in addition to 3-D printing and other skills. When training is done, the girls will receive certification that will help them find apprenticeships or jobs, or start their own businesses.

YTF typically targets people between the ages of 8 to 25. These young people have “long productivity cycles,” said Harry, and are the “co-creators of powerful information and communication technologies.”

“Youth,” she said, “are at the center of the development, specifically in Africa, where there is this issue of the youth bulge. … If those young people are not nurtured, if they are not given the right opportunities, you know, “it could be a disaster, in essence, as a cultural dividend.”

With the explosive growth of mobile technology in parts of the world like Africa, Harry said it is important that young people learn not just to become consumers, but also to create mobile apps that would be useful to their communities.

But it takes a village to raise a child, as the Nigerian proverb goes. And so YTF also invests in helping the mothers of its young students – women who form the economic backbone of their communities and often give back “as much as 90 percent of their household income.”

Students participate in a class at the Youth for Technology Foundation academy in Nairobi, Kenya. (Youth for Technology Foundation)

Students participate in a class at the Youth for Technology Foundation academy in Nairobi, Kenya. (Youth for Technology Foundation)

“When we started out working in 2000,” Harry added, “we were working in communities with large groups of young people. And the young people a few years into this work told us ‘our mothers can actually use this training. Our mothers are the entrepreneurs in the community, they are the backbone. It is as a result of their efforts that our school fees are paid and our health is taken care of and the wellness of our communities continues to grow.'”

Women spend about 70 percent of discretionary consumer spending in the global economy, so “they are a huge piece of the global economy itself,” she said. “Investing in women is not just an afterthought, it’s really an economic imperative.”

So YTF partnered with civil society organizations, governments and the private sector to create programs to help women learn more about managing their affairs, using applicable technologies such as internet access, mobile phones and mobile banking.

And more recently, YTF added 3-D printing to its Africa curriculum. Harry believes the technology is specifically applicable to Africa and “has the opportunity to inspire science, technology, engineering and math in the education sector,” particularly for girls.

I have been printing jewelry like rings and bracelets and selling them to my classmates. The world needs more female innovators to tackle the toughest challenges we have today” – Treasure, 15-year-old secondary school student in Nigeria

“It also has the opportunity to [foster] an entrepreneurship mindset in the minds of young people,” she said. “And so we introduce 3-D printing technology to teach them how to create, invent, and design the world that they envision.”

Sixteen years later, the organization has trained 1.6 million women and youths and helped start and expand 12,000 businesses.

Add to that another 6,000 eager Nigerian girls.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Pakistan Gets Offline Viewing for YouTube; China’s Wild Web of Hackers

Posted September 28th, 2016 at 12:03 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A Pakistani Internet user surfs the YouTube Web site at a local Internet cafe in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)

FILE – A Pakistani Internet user surfs the YouTube Web site at a local Internet cafe in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)

YouTube Rolls Out Offline Video Saving Feature in Pakistan

The time that Pakistanis spend watching YouTube videos has more than doubled in the past eight months, according to Google, particularly since January, when the government lifted a ban on the service. Now, Google is adding a new feature that will allow Pakistani users to save the videos they want to watch for offline consumption within 48 hours. The option is already available in other countries where connectivity is unreliable.

Hackers Are Having a Field Day on China’s Wild Web

While the Chinese government often gets accused of quietly sponsoring hackers, a new survey from PWC, a company that provides corporate services, reports a year-to-year increase of 417 percent in detected security incidents in China and Hong Kong. Regional experts say the rapid move to mobile and the government’s restrictions on security technologies are providing hundreds of thousands of criminal hackers fertile ground for their exploits.

BlackBerry, Once a Phone Innovator, to Stop Making Its Own

Once a global household name in phones, Blackberry will no longer manufacture its own smartphones. The company will outsource Blackberry-branded phones to its partners and focus instead on software and security services. Blackberry is still trying to recover after losing much of its business to Apple, Samsung and other smartphone players.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.