Amazon Offerings Irk India; Americans Split on Encryption

Posted January 26th, 2017 at 11:03 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Motorists ride past an advertising for an Amazon product in Bangalore, India, Jan. 12, 2017.

Motorists ride past an ad for an Amazon product in Bangalore, India, Jan. 12, 2017.

Amazon Has an India Problem

Amazon, looking to expand in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets, has run into trouble with Indian officials on ‘sensitivity’ issues, for lack of a better word. First, it angered a lot of people a couple of weeks ago with a doormat bearing the Indian flag, for which it apologized, then it had esteemed independence icon Mahatma Ghandi featured on flip-flops. After that, the Indian government warned the company that it proceeds at its own peril if it continues its disregard for Indian symbols and icons.

Americans ‘Divided’ on Giving Feds Access to Encrypted Messages

A new report from Pew Research found that 46 percent of Americans would give the government access to their encrypted communications for criminal investigations. But 44 percent prefer unbreakable encryption for apps and messaging. Those in favor of strong encryption were predominantly Democrats and young adults. But the study notes that the numbers have evened out since last year’s Apple-FBI row over unlocking an encrypted iPhone for a terrorism investigation.

The Chinese News App With 600 Million Users That You’ve Never Heard of

It’s called Toutiao, which means headlines, and it has more than 60 million active daily users. The app uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to aggregate news, based on users’ interests. When it’s accessed, the app keeps track of users’ clicks to determine what they like or dislike and tailors its offerings accordingly. U.S. social media networks already use this approach, but Toutiao hopes to compete with giants like Facebook and Twitter in their own backyards as it hopes to go international in the next few years.

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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.

How to Secure an IoT Device; Rise of the Immigrant Robots

Posted January 25th, 2017 at 12:45 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A man changes a bulb in Awox Smart Lights, which features a Bluetooth controllable LED light, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Reuters)

FILE – A man changes a bulb in Awox Smart Lights, which feature a Bluetooth-controllable LED light, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Reuters)

Top 5 Ways to Secure Your IoT

Internet of Things (IoT) devices rely on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies to connect to the internet and other gadgets within range, which renders them vulnerable to hackers. Writer Tom Merritt offers a few tips to help improve IoT security.

Middle-aged Americans Beat Millennials in Social Media Time

If you thought young people wasted their lives away on social media, think again. Middle-aged Americans use social media more than their younger counterparts, according to a study from media information and analysis company Nielsen. Users aged 35-49 spent an average of six hours and 58 minutes on social media per week. But 18-34-year-olds spent 39 fewer minutes per week on social networks, compared to four hours per week for people 50 and older.

Rise of the Immigrant Robo-laborers

Robo-laborers are already a reality. Writer Jamie Condliffe notes that robots are assuming jobs in workplaces in the United States that rely on migrant labor, such as oil rigs and farms. Now, companies are leaning toward using robots to lower wages and tackle labor-intensive tasks, such as digging oil wells and tending crops. Ironically, some of these robots might come from China, which is investing heavily in robotics and artificial intelligence.

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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.

Android Pattern Lock Vulnerable to Attack; the Age of IoT Botnets

Posted January 24th, 2017 at 2:04 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An illustration shows a 3D printed Android logo in front of code. (Reuters)

FILE – An illustration shows a 3D printed Android logo in front of code. (Reuters)

Android Pattern Lock Might Be Vulnerable to (Very Determined) Thieves

The chances of this happening are low, but if you are unlocking your Android smartphone with Pattern Lock in a public place and someone videotapes or watches the motions, then that hacker might be able to replicate the password and gain access to the device. The researchers who tested this scenario found that complicated password patterns were actually easier to hack.

Online Learning Improves When You Feel Like You Belong

A new study from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows psychological intervention can significantly increase completion rates for students taking online courses in the developing world. The brief interventions include reading testimonials from students who completed the courses despite feeling that they did not belong.

DDoSing Evolves in Vacuum Left by IoT’s Absence of Security

Despite continuing to proliferate, Internet of Things (IoT) devices are still a cause for concern, particularly in instances where hijacked devices were used as botnets to launch Distributed Denial of service (DDoS) attacks on websites. Writer John Leyden says IoT botnets have boosted the strength and frequency of (DDoS) attacks, with more than 53 percent of service providers reporting more than 21 attacks per month.

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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.

Developing World’s SafariSeat Helps Disabled Navigate Rough Terrain

Posted January 20th, 2017 at 11:25 am (UTC-4)
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Leu, who was disabled by polio and the inspiration for SafariSeat, shows his son Sabato how to use the wheelchair in Kenya. (Janna Deeble)

Letu (R), who was disabled by polio and the inspiration for SafariSeat, shows his son Sabato how to use the wheelchair in Kenya. (Janna Deeble)

An idea that first saw light in 2015 is about to become reality. Back then, designer Janna Deeble, who grew up in Kenya, found out just how hard it is for people with disabilities to move around in remote regions with no roads, health care, or wheelchairs. His answer was SafariSeat, an all-terrain wheelchair that goes into production this month.

Techtonics connected with Deeble and Bertie Meyer, co-founders of SafariSeat, via email to learn more about the project.

Q. What is SafariSeat?

JD/BM: SafariSeat is a low cost, all-terrain and open-source wheelchair for people in developing countries. It uses a simple, patented mechanism that mimics car suspension, ensuring all four wheels remain on the ground for maximum stability. It can be made in local workshops using bicycle parts, which means it’s easy to repair.

… SafariSeat is the first project from Uji, a social enterprise company determined to make a difference. Their goal is to design tools that help people break free from the poverty cycle. The Uji philosophy is to help people help themselves – to avoid a culture of dependency by operating on open-source principles.

Q. What inspired this project?

JD/BM: SafariSeat designer, Janna Deeble, grew up in Kenya. He was a child when he first met Letu, a Samburu man disabled by polio, living an isolated, traditional lifestyle with his family in the wilderness.

Letu had been disabled since birth, with no access to healthcare, suitable wheelchairs or any of the assistance much of the world takes for granted. To move, Letu had to crawl; he was totally dependent on others.

Janna didn’t understand the reality of Letu’s situation until, as a design student, he had an accident that left him wheelchair-bound for months. As his independence disappeared, he thought of Letu and his daily struggle to fulfill life’s basic needs. Janna returned to Kenya in 2015 to develop SafariSeat.

Q. Which parts of the world will this product target?

JD/BM: SafariSeat is primarily aimed at people in developing countries where average income is low, the terrain is rough, and often disabled individuals are left behind. However, we have plans to expand into both countries suffering from war and eventually into more developed countries such as the UK.

Q. Isn’t there any other product that already meets these needs at the moment?

JD/BM: There are a number of other wheelchairs designed for developing countries [see GRIT and Motivation]. These chairs both have extremely good designs and have done well. However, what makes SafariSeat unique is its stability and open-source aspect.

Other designs have used three-wheeled trike designs which are good for long distance traveling, but lack stability over rough ground. Our open-source approach is designed to allow anyone, anywhere in the world to make SafariSeat for their local community, creating both wheelchairs for disabled people and jobs within the local community.

Q. How complicated – and expensive – is it to put together a SafariSeat?

(James Seers and Janna Deeble)

(James Seers and Janna Deeble)

JD/BM: SafariSeat is designed to be low-cost and affordable to local communities. All of the components are built from bike parts and locally-sourced materials. Once finished, the open-source designs will be entirely pictographic and easy to understand. We hope that by doing this, anyone – regardless of language – with basic metal-work skills will be able to take the designs and build a SafariSeat.

Q. How much will the assembled seat sell for?

JD/BM: All of the SafariSeats donated through the Kickstarter campaign [200] will be given away for free through APDK Bombalulu. After this, SafariSeat will cost approximately £130 [a bit over $158] to build.

Workshops around the world who intend to use the designs will be able to set their own prices, but the open-source nature will allow prices to remain low.

Q. When will the SafariSeat be available?

JD/BM: We … hope that SafariSeat will be available globally by mid-2017.

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.

The New Face of Social Media; India’s Apple Manufacturing Dilemma

Posted January 19th, 2017 at 1:04 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A screenshot of a tweet posted by the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats shows an example of what the unit claims was an attempt to spread a disinformation in Prague, Czech Republic, Jan. 13, 2017. (AP)

A screenshot of a tweet posted by the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats shows an example of what the unit claims was an attempt to spread disinformation, in Prague, Czech Republic, Jan. 13, 2017. (AP)

How Social Media Is Crippling Democracy

Writer Jason Perlow argues that increased use of technology at home and work disconnects Americans from face-to-face relationships while amplifying their bad habits. Meanwhile, their interpersonal skills decline. In this ecosystem, more people rely on social media for their news, regardless of the legitimacy or truthfulness of the stories they are reading. Perlow urges people to return to old-school news consumption and become critical thinkers to avoid being sucked into alternative social media narratives put out by “corrupt” governments.

World’s Fastest Growing Smartphone Market Unsure How Badly It Wants Apple

India wants Apple to manufacture iPhones locally but can’t decide if it is willing to grant the tech giant’s demands. Some officials in the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market are reluctant to agree to Apple’s “unprecedented” requests. Apple is looking for tax and other exemptions before manufacturing its smartphones in India, possibly including long-term duty waivers.

Museum of Failed Innovation Celebrates Disasters That Drive Success

Most innovators don’t hit the jackpot with their first idea and their final success usually follows a trail of failed experiments. But there are lessons in these failures that Samuel West, CEO and co-founder of Superlab, wants to honor in the Museum of Failed Innovation in Sweden. The museum is set to open in June and will house permanent exhibits featuring notable duds from big names like Sony, Apple and more.

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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.

New Malware Targets Google Services; Pokemon GO Goes to Davos

Posted January 18th, 2017 at 1:18 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters)

FILE – A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters)

Cybercrime Gang Uses Google Services for Malware Command and Control

An organized criminal group known as Carabank is using Google services and office documents to distribute malware to turn their victims’ computers into command and control devices. This in turn enables them to launch further attacks. The notorious group has been in business since 2013 and has targeted financial institutions with Trojan malware, netting an estimated $1 billion.

Pokemon GO Adds 17 Pokestops to World Economic Forum in Davos to Combat Poverty

Niantic, the creator of the popular augmented reality game Pokemon GO said it is joining the fight against poverty in partnership with the Global Goals campaign. The announcement coincides with the meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and aims to keep people focused on sustainable development goals. Each of the 17 Pokestops represents a Global Goal. The venue where the World Economic Forum is taking place will also be turned into a Pokemon Gym.

Android Will Now Store Google Searches Offline and Deliver Them When You Get Signal

Google is introducing a new Android feature that lets users with spotty connectivity search the internet when they are offline. The search giant will save user search results and deliver them once the device gets its signal back. Writing in a blog post, Google’s product manager Shekhar Sharad said the feature works in the background and will not drain the battery.

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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.

Microsoft Takes on AI Risks; Ex-Googler’s New Concept in Health Care

Posted January 17th, 2017 at 12:05 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Microsoft CEO Nadella: ‘Steer AI Away From Replacing People’

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella cautioned tech companies against showcasing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) while undermining workers’ dignity. Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Nadella said the current AI race seeks to replace humans rather than complement their work. Nadella’s warning comes amid a flurry of investment by the world’s leading tech firms into artificial intelligence. But a report released this week by McKinsey Global Institute suggests machines will replace specific human tasks at a much slower pace than feared.

Meet Forward, an Ex-Googler’s Plan to Reinvent Health Care

Forward is a new concept in health care. The startup, based in San Francisco, looks more like an Apple store. Doctors and nurses have access to digital medical records before patients reach the examination room and can share them as needed to determine diagnosis and treatment. Once patients leave, they are provided with wearable devices that keep track of their vitals and transmit the data in real time to caregivers. The startup does not take insurance, but charges a membership fee that covers a slew of services.

Indian Privacy Case Against WhatsApp Gains Momentum

India’s top court is asking Facebook, WhatsApp and the country’s government to provide details relating to a lawsuit against WhatsApp’s data-sharing policies. Last year, the messaging app reneged on its 2010 privacy commitments and changed its privacy policy to share customer data with Facebook. Indians filing against WhatsApp argue that the company maintained after Facebook acquired it that its privacy policy would not change.

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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.

Nonprofit Helps Teachers Bring Computer Science Into the Classroom

Posted January 13th, 2017 at 11:30 am (UTC-4)
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FILE - Fairwood Elementary School students take part in an Hour of Code in Renton, Washington. The picture was taken by our taken by our staff photographer Bow Jones. (Code.org)

FILE – Fairwood Elementary School students take part in an Hour of Code in Renton, Washington. The picture was taken by our taken by our staff photographer Bow Jones. (Code.org)

You’d think in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence, computer science would be required material for high school students. More often, it is either optional or not offered at all. But nonprofit Code.org is determined to expand access to computer science in schools around the world.

In the U.S., some schools offer computer science, often as an elective. In some parts of the world, computer science isn’t even on the curriculum.

The sad part is that … most students go to a school where even if they want to learn it, their parents want them to learn it, often the teachers won’t be able to teach it – it’s just not offered at that school – Alicia Steinglass, Chief Product Officer at Code.org

Teachers who went to schools 20, 30 or even 10 years ago, “did not learn computer science themselves,” Steinglass told Techtonics. “Most … education schools that prepare teachers to teach computer science … don’t teach computer science.”

Code.org is trying to change all that. The group recently held its fourth annual Hour of Code campaign in December, aimed at introducing teachers and students to computer science. Now, the nonprofit wants to help these teachers bring the subject into the classroom.

“The biggest new time for teachers to teach computer science, to begin to teach it in their classroom, is in January,” said Steinglass. “It’s after they tried computer science and they realized that they can teach it, they can do it, and they begin offering it in their classrooms for their students.”

Hour of Code is a global movement that reaches tens of millions of students in over 180 countries and gives students and teachers the opportunity to try computer science for the first time.

A map that shows regions that participated in Code.org's December 2016 Hour of Code campaign. (Code.org)

A map that shows some of the regions that participated in Code.org’s December 2016 Hour of Code campaign. (Code.org)

This will be the [very] first time such an event will take place in my country and we plan on inviting our local ministry of education inspectors to be a part of this event – Tassah Academy (Yaounde, Cameroon)

An hour of code will not turn participants into computer science experts, cautioned Steinglass. It will give them a hands-on experience and a feel for the subject, often misjudged and approached with trepidation, particularly among women.

“What we’re trying to do,” she said, “is break stereotypes and help women, help underrepresented minorities, help students who wouldn’t see themselves as computer science students and …  teachers who wouldn’t see themselves as computer science teachers try it out so that they can see what it’s about.”

After the December campaign, more than 150,000 teachers registered to have their class learn computer science. “Students loved it,” said Steinglass. “Teachers loved it.”

“And yet,” she continued, “it’s still true that most schools don’t teach computer science despite the fact that nine out of 10 parents want their students to learn it. …  When you ask students what subjects [they like] the most, computer science is at the top, just behind art and dance.”

The classes are free, as is the curriculum and all other tools. And while Code.org doesn’t hold workshops in other countries, it provides professional development courses for teachers in the United States to help them teach computer science.

“Internationally, there are other organizations that provide some of that and there are also some online resources that they can use for the teachers to get started,” she said.

Course material, available online, has been translated into several languages, thanks to volunteers and interested groups in various countries.

“We have 20-some languages at this point where the K-5 curriculum has been translated into that language,” said Steinglass. “The Hour of Code has been translated into 50 languages. … And the languages it’s translated into – every single one of these was done by a volunteer partner around the world where somebody cares and wants to bring this to their country and has worked to get it into that.”

Still, computer science is only offered in less than half of the schools in the United States and not at all in some parts of the world. But Steinglass is hopeful.

“This isn’t going to change unless we all work on trying to bring it to schools and [help] make it happen,” she said.

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.

Grocery Shopping, According to Amazon; Beware This New Email Scam

Posted January 12th, 2017 at 11:58 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - Kitchen staff are seen inside Amazon Go's brick-and-mortar grocery store without lines or checkout counters, in Seattle Washington, Dec. 5, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – Kitchen staff are seen inside Amazon Go’s brick-and-mortar grocery store without lines or checkout counters, in Seattle, Washington, Dec. 5, 2016. (Reuters)

Why Amazon Go Presages New Era of Smart Supermarkets

Technology is changing everything we do, and that could soon include the way you shop at the grocery store next door, if Amazon has its way. The company is testing Amazon Go, cashier-free stores that use apps and cameras to keep track of what people buy in Seattle, Washington. Customers pick up what they need and Amazon charges their accounts and sends them a receipt as they leave the store. Still in its beta version, the store serves as an early indication of where grocery shopping is going in the days ahead.

Fake Security Email Tries to Make Your PC Part of a Botnet

Researchers at cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes warn that criminals pretending to belong to Microsoft’s ‘Security Office’ are sending out fake emails loaded with the Neutrino bot malware. The scam tells recipients that a virus infected their bank accounts, leading to suspicious activity. Users who fall for this end up with the malware stealing their data and using their computer as a command center to launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, among other nasty business.

Google Classroom Hopes New Year Will Be Best One Yet for Teachers, Students

Google Classroom is adding updates and new features to maximize classroom experience for both teachers and students. Beginning this week, teachers will be able to assign work to their students based on their individual needs. The ‘differentiated learning’ approach helps teachers pay more attention to individuals who need it and discretely assign them more practice time for challenging material.

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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.

AI-enabled Smartphones Coming This Year; Using AI to Fight Hackers

Posted January 11th, 2017 at 1:14 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Steve Rabuchin, Amazon president of Amazon Alexa (R) shakes hands with Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group during the Huawei keynote address at CES in Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2017.

Steve Rabuchin, Amazon president of Amazon Alexa (R) shakes hands with Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group during the Huawei keynote address at CES in Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2017.

Deloitte: 300 Million Smartphones Will Have Machine Learning Ability

A new report from Deloitte, a UK-based professional services firm, expects up to 300 million smartphones or a fifth of sold units to be equipped with on-board neural networks and machine learning features this year. China’s Huawei recently announced an Android smartphone with built-in machine learning and Amazon’s artificial intelligence assistant, Alexa on board.

World Economic Forum: Weaponized AI, IoT Hacking Among Tech Threats

Global Risks Report 2017, the latest report from the World Economic Forum, warns that the rise of new technologies is driving new types of cyber attacks that businesses are not prepared to face. While some of the new technologies are beneficial, the report says increased connectivity and Internet of Things devices open up new gateways for hackers to exploit.

4 Ways Man and Machine Are Teaming Up to Fight Cyberthreats

Cyber security and ransomware attacks are projected to continue to rise, particularly as new connected technology opens up new avenues for hackers to compromise. But the same new technology – big data and machine learning – can also help fight cyber criminals. Already, companies are teaming up to use artificial intelligence engines like IBM’s Watson and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab to help analyze data and fight evolving threats.

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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.