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Pentagon Outlines its First Artificial Intelligence Strategy

The U.S. military wants to expand its use of artificial intelligence in warfare, but says it will take care to deploy the technology in accordance with the nation’s values.

 

The Pentagon outlined its first AI strategy in a report released Tuesday.

 

The plan calls for accelerating the use of AI systems throughout the military, from intelligence-gathering operations to predicting maintenance problems in planes or ships. It urges the U.S. to advance such technology swiftly before other countries chip away at its technological advantage.

 

“Other nations, particularly China and Russia, are making significant investments in AI for military purposes, including in applications that raise questions regarding international norms and human rights,” the report says.

 

The report makes little mention of autonomous weapons but cites an existing 2012 military directive that requires humans to be in control.

 

The U.S. and Russia are among a handful of nations that have blocked efforts at the United Nations for an international ban on “killer robots” — fully autonomous weapons systems that could one day conduct war without human intervention. The U.S. has argued that it’s premature to try to regulate them.

 

The strategy unveiled by the Department of Defense this week is focused on more immediate applications, but even some of those have sparked ethical debates.

The Pentagon hit a roadblock in its AI efforts last year after internal protests at Google led the tech company to drop out of Project Maven, which uses algorithms to interpret aerial video images from conflict zones. Other companies have sought to fill the vacuum, and the Pentagon is working with AI experts from industry and academia to establish ethical guidelines for its AI applications.

“Everything we’ve seen is with a human decision-maker in the loop,” said Todd Probert, a vice president at Raytheon’s intelligence division, which is working with the Pentagon on Maven and other projects. “It’s using technology to help speed up the process but not supplant the command structure that’s in place.”

 

The Pentagon’s report follows President Donald Trump’s Monday executive order prioritizing AI research across the government.

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Russian Lawmakers Back Bill on ‘Sovereign’ Internet

Russian lawmakers backed tighter internet controls on Tuesday to defend against foreign meddling in draft legislation that critics warn could disrupt Russia’s internet and be used to stifle dissent.

The legislation, which some Russian media have likened to an online “iron curtain,” passed its first of three readings in the 450-seat lower chamber of parliament.

The bill seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and proposes building a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue functioning even if the country is cut off from foreign infrastructure.

The legislation was drafted in response to what its authors describe as an aggressive new U.S. national cybersecurity strategy passed last year.

The Agora human rights group said earlier this month that the legislation was one of several new bills drafted in December that “seriously threaten Internet freedom.”

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs has said the bill poses more of a risk to the functioning of the Russian internet segment than the alleged threats from foreign countries that the bill seeks to counter.

The bill also proposes installing network equipment that would be able to identify the source of web traffic and also block banned content.

The legislation, which can still be amended, but which is expected to pass, is part of a drive by officials to increase Russian “sovereignty” over its internet segment.

Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in the last five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.

The bill faces two more votes in the lower chamber, before it is voted on in the upper house of parliament and then signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

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Reddit Value at $3B After $300M in Finance Led by Tencent

Social media service Reddit Inc. says it has raised $300 million in a financing round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman, told CNBC on Monday that values the privately held company at $3 billion.

Half the new money came from Tencent, Asia’s most valuable tech company. Other investors included Sequoia, Fidelity, Andreessen Horowitz, Quiet Capital, VY and Snoop Dogg.

The announcement prompted criticism of Reddit for linking itself with a company from China, where the ruling Communist Party enforces extensive online censorship. Access to Reddit is blocked in China.

Tencent operates online games and popular WeChat social media service. It owns 40 percent of “Fortnite” creator Epic Games and 15 percent of photo service Snap.

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Iowa Democrats Propose ‘Virtual’ Caucuses in 2020

The Iowa Democratic Party on Monday proposed the biggest changes to the state’s famed caucuses in nearly 50 years by recommending Iowans be able to participate virtually.

 

If approved, the measure would allow people to caucus using telephones or smart devices during the days leading up to the Feb. 3 caucus night.

 

It’s a dramatic shift from the current system in which caucus-goers have to physically show up at a site — often a school, church or community center — and show their support for presidential candidates by standing in groups. If the group doesn’t meet an established threshold, the participants have to select another candidate.

 

It’s an often chaotic process that plays out before banks of television cameras on an evening that formally ushers in the presidential primary season. But proponents say it will help address criticism that the caucuses are difficult to attend for single parents, people who work at night and the elderly.

“Through this additional process we’re going to be able to give more Iowans a chance to participate in this process,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said. “Whether someone is a shift worker, a single parent, in the military, living overseas or experiencing mobility issues, this process will now give these individuals a voice in selecting the next president of the United States.”

 

And while Price says the proposed changes are the state party’s effort to open the process often described by critics as antiquated, it was also required by the Democratic National Committee. The results are Iowa Democrats’ attempt at threading the needle of complying while maintaining the essence of the caucuses, which are real-time meetings of fellow partisans.

 

Presidential candidates are already beginning to swarm the state — three were here this weekend. They’ll likely try to determine whether a virtual caucus would help them turn out more of their supporters.

 

“I suspect presidential campaigns who we’ve shared this information with are going to be trying to figure out how to get their members to participate in this,” Price added.

Party officials said they didn’t know how many people would take advantage of the new format or how campaigns might seek to capitalize on it.

 

A key element of the proposal, which now goes before Iowa Democrats to comment on for 30 days, is that, no matter how many Iowans participate virtually, their contribution will be factored as a flat 10 percent of the total turnout, apportioned by congressional district. Price said officials reached 10 percent as a starting point, uncertain of how many people might join virtually.

“This is a new system so we don’t have any data to tell if this number is too high or too low,” Price said. “And so we are starting the conversation at the 10 percent threshold, and if it goes gangbusters this year, then we will have conversations in subsequent years about if we need to make adjustments.”

 

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee who narrowly beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa that year, criticized the caucus process for deterring late-shift workers and others less able to steal away for an evening of political wrangling.

 

“Campaigns must decide how to organize for that 10 percent,” said veteran Iowa Democratic caucus operative Jeff Link, who did not work for Clinton in 2016 and is not affiliated with a candidate heading into 2020.

In another noteworthy development, the state party said it would release the raw data of preferences by caucus-goers, information that is typically kept confidential. The caucuses are a series of preference tests in which candidates without a certain level of support are rendered unviable. This data would give a first glimpse of the candidates’ support before caucus-goers abandon their first choices to side with more viable contenders.

 

The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for February 3, 2020. The proposal won’t be finalized until the spring.

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Trump Administration Unveils Order to Prioritize, Promote AI

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order asking federal government agencies to dedicate more resources and investment into research, promotion and training on artificial intelligence, known as AI.

Under the American AI Initiative, the administration is directing agencies to prioritize AI investments in research and development, increase access to federal data and models for that research and prepare workers to adapt to the era of AI.

There was no specific funding announced for the initiative, but the White House wants better reporting and tracking of spending on AI-related research and development.

The White House said investment in AI is “critical to creating the industries of the future, like autonomous cars, industrial robots, algorithms for disease diagnosis, and more.”

The initiative aims to make sure the United States maintains its advantage in AI development and related areas, such as advanced manufacturing and quantum computing.

Trump, in his State of the Union speech last week, said he was willing to work with lawmakers to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future, calling it a “necessity.”

Michael Kratsios, a White House science adviser, said in an essay in Wired magazine on Monday that “with proper leadership, AI can empower American workers by liberating them from mundane tasks.”

“AI is something that touches every aspect of people’s lives,” a senior administration official told reporters on Sunday. “What this initiative attempts to do is to bring all those together under one umbrella and show the promise of this technology for the American people,” the official said.

AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and is set to trigger job displacements across industries, companies and experts say.

A 2018 study from PwC said 30 percent of jobs are at potential risk of automation by the mid-2030s, including 44 percent of workers with low education. At the same time, the study found automation could boost global gross domestic product by $15 trillion by 2030.

The White House held a meeting on AI in May with more than 30 major companies from a variety of industries, including Ford, Boeing, Amazon.com and Microsoft, vowing not to stand in the way of its development.

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AP Explains: The Promise and Hype of 5G Wireless

A much-hyped network upgrade called “5G” means different things to different people.

To industry proponents, it’s the next huge innovation in wireless internet. To the U.S. government, it’s the backbone technology of a future that America will wrestle with China to control. To many average people, it’s simply a mystery.

The technology is one of the issues expected to take center stage at the MWC mobile conference in Barcelona, Spain, this month. The interest goes well beyond engineers: In Washington, there are fears that China could take the lead in developing the technology and sell equipment that could be used to spy on Americans.

What, exactly, is 5G wireless — and will you even notice when it comes online?

What is 5G?

5G is a new technical standard for wireless networks — the fifth, naturally — that promises faster speeds; less lag, or “latency,” when connecting to the network; and the ability to connect many devices to the internet without bogging it down. 5G networks will ideally be better able to handle more users, lots of sensors and heavy traffic.

Before we can all use it, wireless companies and phone makers have to upgrade. Phones need new chips and radio antennas. The phone you have today won’t work with a 5G network.

Wireless companies have been getting ready. They’ve been revamping their network equipment, buying up chunks of radio spectrum for carrying 5G signals, and installing new 5G antennas on cellphone towers, utility poles and streetlights. Wireless providers will invest $275 billion in 5G-related networks in the U.S., according to CTIA, an industry trade group.

When will it be available?

A true U.S. mobile rollout will start in 2019. It will take a few years to go national, and even then more rural areas of the country will not be covered in the “millimeter wave” frequencies that promise the highest data speeds and capacities, said Michael Thelander, CEO of wireless consultancy Signals Research Group.

Thelander predicts that China may lag the U.S. by a year in its initial rollout, but will ultimately have the biggest deployment, while European countries will build out more slowly.

Beware of confusion, though. Wireless carriers have a history of rushing to slap the latest-and-greatest label on their networks, and this time is no different. AT&T has already applied the name 5G on a service that’s not really 5G. (Sprint, upset, then sued its larger rival.)

Once the network is ready, you’ll need a 5G-enabled phone to connect to it. The first ones should be available in the first half of 2019, but a 5G iPhone isn’t expected until 2020. 5G phones will most likely be more expensive than current 4G phones. Don’t worry, even when 5G turns on, you can keep using 4G phones, just not at 5G speeds.

Wat can 5G do?

There’s a considerable amount of hype over the promise of 5G. Industry groups say it will promote smart cities by connecting sensor networks that could manage traffic and quickly identify streetlight outages. 5G could connect self-driving cars and fuel new applications in virtual and augmented reality. Its high-speed connections could enable better remote surgery and other telemedicine, help companies automate their factories and offer businesses dedicated high-speed internet lanes.

“5G speeds, and ever-faster home broadband, will mean that existing applications will get richer, and also that new applications will emerge — new Flickrs, YouTubes or Snapchats. We don’t know what yet,” Benedict Evans, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote in a January blog post .

The most immediate impact on consumers will be faster download speeds for movies and other video. Thelander says your phone’s internet will work better in crowded locations such as stadiums.

What are the security concerns?

The 5G network is one front in rising tensions between the U.S. and China. The U.S. government has warned U.S. companies not to use Chinese telecom technology in communications networks due to security concerns, and is pressing other countries to ban Huawei, a Chinese telecom company, from 5G network buildouts.

U.S. officials have suspected for years that the Chinese government could use Huawei network equipment to help it spy. Huawei has rejected such accusations.

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Cheap, Flexible Solar Panels on the Horizon

A new type of solar panel promises a cheap, flexible way to get more power from the sun. They may help the growing renewable energy industry expand even faster. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

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Huawei Global Business Model Relied on Bribes, Corruption

In Algeria, it was banned from bidding for public contracts after one of its executives was convicted of bribery.

 

In Zambia, it was probed over allegations of bribery involving a multi-million-dollar contract to build cell towers in rural areas.

 

In the Solomon Islands, it was accused of offering millions of dollars to the ruling party in exchange for an undersea fiber optic cable contract.

 

In all three cases – and half a dozen others in recent years – the alleged perpetrator was Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecom behemoth facing scrutiny from Western nations over allegations of intellectual property theft and espionage.

 

Saying it poses a national security threat, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand have banned the company from building new, state of the art 5G telecom networks.  Other Western countries are debating over a similar ban.  

 

Security concerns about Huawei and other Chinese telecom equipment providers are mounting after U.S. prosecutors last month charged the company founded by a former People’s Liberation Army officer with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, purloining trade secrets from T-Mobile and encouraging its employees to steal intellectual property.

 

The focus on national security concerns about Huawei has eclipsed a little reported aspect of the company’s operations: Huawei’s involvement in corrupt business dealings.

 

The company has denied the allegations of corruption and said it has strong safeguards against corporate graft.

 

In a statement on its website, Huawei says it has a “zero-tolerance” policy on graft.

“Huawei believes that corruption severely damages fair market competition and is a threat to the development of our society, economy and enterprises,” the statement said.  

 

But experts who have studied Huawei’s business practices say the company’s statements are contradicted by its conduct.

 

“The unfortunate reality of Huawei’s activities on the (African) continent is that they have a proven track record of engaging in corruption and other dodgy business dealings,” said Joshua Meservey, an Africa expert at the Heritage Foundation and author of a recent report on Chinese corporate corruption.  

 

With business operations in more than 170 countries and annual revenues of $108 billion, Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment.  Last year, the multinational company beat Apple to become the No. 2 manufacturer of smartphones and tablets in the world.

 

In December, Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested by Canadian authorities and she is being held for possible extradition to the U.S. for violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Huawei has rejected the charges.  In a recent letter to the UK Parliament made public  last week, Huawei refuted allegations of espionage, saying if the company engaged “in malicious behavior, it would not go unnoticed – and it would certainly destroy our business.”

 

In developing countries in Asia and Africa, the company’s corrupt business practices are a matter of great concern among industry officials and civil society activists.

 

In the last 12 years, Huawei and its smaller Chinese rival ZTE have been “investigated or found guilty of corruption” in as many as 21 countries, according to Andy Keiser, a former House Intelligence Committee professional staffer.

 

These include a dozen African countries such as Algeria and Ghana as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, the Solomon Islands and China itself, according to Keiser.  

 

“ZTE and Huawei have developed dubious reputations around the world,” Keiser testified before Congress last June.  

 

The transaction cost of Huawei’s corrupt business deals runs in the billions.  RWR Advisory Group, a consulting firm that tracks Chinese investments around the world, estimates that Huawei has entered into more than $5 billion worth of business deals involving allegations of bribery and corruption.

            

The charges against Huawei range from outright bribery to making illegal donations to political parties in exchange for contracts and other business advantages.

The Algerian case involved an elaborate scheme in which Huawei and ZTE executives allegedly paid $10 million in bribes to a former state telecom operator executive and a businessman in exchange for winning contracts.

 

In 2012, an Algerian court convicted the former executive and another businessman of receiving bribes. The two Algerians were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

 

Three executives of the Chinese firms also were tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison for their role in the scheme.

 

The government fined Huawei and ZTE and banned them from bidding on public contracts for two years.

 

In Ghana, Huawei has confronted accusations of illegally funding the ruling party, a charge Huawei and other Chinese companies have faced in other countries.

 

In 2012, an opposition group disclosed what it claimed was evidence that Huawei had made illegal campaign contributions to the ruling National Democratic Congress in exchange for a $43 million tax exemption.

 

Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG) produced invoices and other documents showing the Chinese telecom company had paid for millions of dollars worth of campaign paraphernalia for the ruling party’s 2012 election campaign.

 

In return, the group alleged, the government awarded “one of the juiciest contracts to be doled out by the government” – a $150 million contract to build an e-government platform.

 

Huawei and the government denied the charges.

In the Solomon Islands, Huawei has faced similar accusations.  In 2017, a Parliamentary committee accused the government of awarding Huawei a contract to build a submarine fiber optic link to Australia after Huawei offered a $5.25 million campaign donation to the ruling party.

 

“The committee is of the view that this is the main reason for the government to bypass procurement requirements in favor of the company Huawei,” a parliamentary report said.

Huawei dismissed the allegations.

 

“As a global business entity, Huawei does not involve itself in politics. Huawei forbids all of its global subsidiaries from making any form of political donation, including in places where this practice is legal,” the company said in a statement.  

 

Bribery allegations have also plagued Huawei projects in South Africa, Nigeria, and Pakistan.    But the company appears to have weathered the allegations, positioning itself as a major player in building 5G networks around the world.  

 

As of last February, Huawei had signed 25 memorandums of understanding with telecom operators around the world to trial 5G equipment, according to a Reuters survey of public announcements.

 

In recent years, Huawei has also found itself at the receiving end of a Chinese government crackdown on domestic corruption.   In 2017, the head of Huawei’s consumer business group for China was detained on suspicion of taking bribes.

 

To root out corruption among its employees, Huawei says it has implemented policies including requiring executives to take a loyalty oath.  But the safeguards are “of limited value if the material incentives for employees don’t reflect those priorities,” said Alexandra Wrage, president of anti-bribery business organization TRACE International.

 

“This danger can be compounded when an enterprise maintains financial and political backing from the government, which is often seen as fostering a greater tolerance for risk in pursuit of growth,” Wrage said.

 

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