Japan’s moon lander still going after 3 lunar nights

TOKYO — Japan’s first moon lander has survived a third freezing lunar night, Japan’s space agency said Wednesday after receiving an image from the device three months after it landed on the moon. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the lunar probe responded to a signal from the earth Tuesday night, confirming it has survived another weekslong lunar night. Temperatures can fall to minus 170 degrees Celsius during a lunar night and rise to around 100 Celsius during a lunar day.  The probe, Smart Lander for Investing Moon, or SLIM, reached the lunar surface on Jan. 20, making Japan the fifth country to successfully place a probe on the moon.  SLIM landed the wrong way up with its solar panels initially unable to see the sun, and had to be turned off within hours, but powered on when the sun rose eight days later. SLIM, which was tasked with testing Japan’s pinpoint landing technology and collecting geological data and images, was not designed to survive lunar nights. JAXA said on the social media platform X that SLIM’s key functions are still working despite repeated harsh cycles of temperature changes. The agency said it plans to closely monitor the lander’s deterioration.  Scientists are hoping to find clues about the origin of the moon by comparing the mineral compositions of moon rocks and those of Earth. The message from SLIM came days after NASA restored contact with Voyager 1, the farthest space probe from Earth, which had been sending garbled data back for …

EU may suspend TikTok’s new rewards app over risks to kids

LONDON — The European Union on Monday demanded TikTok provide more information about a new app that pays users to watch videos and warned that it could order the video sharing platform to suspend addictive features that pose a risk to kids.  The 27-nation EU’s executive commission said it was opening formal proceedings to determine whether TikTok Lite breached the bloc’s new digital rules when the app was rolled out in France and Spain.  Brussels was ratcheting up the pressure on TikTok after the company failed to respond to a request last week for information on whether the new app complies with the Digital Services Act, a sweeping law that took effect last year intending to clean up social media platforms.  TikTok Lite is a slimmed-down version of the main TikTok app that lets users earn rewards. Points earned by watching videos, liking content and following content creators can then be exchanged for rewards including Amazon vouchers and gift cards on PayPal.  The commission wants to see the risk assessment that TikTok should have carried out before deploying the app in the European Union. It’s worried TikTok launched the app without assessing how to mitigate “potential systemic risks” such as addictive design features that could pose harm to children.  TikTok didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment. The company said last week it would respond to the commission’s request and noted that rewards are restricted to users 18 years and older, who have to verify their age.  “With an endless …

Connected Africa Summit addressing continent’s challenges, opportunities and bridging digital divides

Nairobi, Kenya — Government representatives from Africa, along with ICT (information and communication technology) officials, and international organizations have gathered in Nairobi for a Connected Africa Summit. They are discussing the future of technology, unlocking the continent’s growth beyond connectivity, and addressing the challenges and opportunities in the continent’s information and technology sector. Speaking at the Connected Africa Summit opening in Nairobi Monday, Kenyan President William Ruto said bridging the technology gap is important for Africa’s economic growth and innovation.   “Closing the digital divide is a priority in terms of enhancing connectivity, expanding the contribution of the ICT sector to Africa’s GDP and driving overall GDP growth across all sectors. Africa’s digital economy has immense potential…,” Ruto said. “Our youth population, the youngest globally, is motivated and prepared to drive the digital economy, foster innovation and entrench new technologies.”     Experts say digital transformation in Africa can improve its industrialization, reduce poverty, create jobs, and improve its citizens’ lives. According to the World Bank, 36 percent of Africa’s 1.3 billion population have access to the internet, and in some of the areas that have connections, the quality of the service is poor compared to other regions. The international financial institution figures show that Africa saw a 115 percent increase in internet users between 2016 and 2021 and that 160 million gained broadband internet access between 2019 and 2022.   Africa’s digital growth has been hampered by the lack of an accessible, secure, and reliable internet, which is critical in closing …

Doctors display ‘PillBot’ that can explore inner human body

vancouver, british columbia — A new, digestible mini-robotic camera, about the size of a multivitamin pill, was demonstrated at the annual TED Conference in Vancouver. The remote-controlled device can eliminate invasive medical procedures. With current technology, exploration of the digestive tract involves going through the highly invasive procedure of an endoscopy, in which a camera at the end of a cord is inserted down the throat and into a medicated patient’s stomach. But the robotic pill, developed by Endiatx in Hayward, California, is designed to be the first motorized replacement of the procedure. A patient fasts for a day, then swallows the PillBot with lots of water. The PillBot, acting like a miniature submarine, is piloted in the body by a wireless remote control. After the exam, it then flushes out of the human body naturally. For Dr. Vivek Kumbhari, co-founder of the company and professor of medicine and chairman of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Mayo Clinic, it is the latest step toward his goal of democratizing previously complex medicine. If procedure-based diagnostics can be moved from a hospital to a home, “then I think we have achieved that goal,” he said. The new setting would require fewer medical staff personnel and no anesthesia, producing “a safer, more comfortable approach.” Kumbhari said this technology also makes medicine more efficient, allowing people to get care earlier in the course of an illness. For co-founder Alex Luebke, the micro-robotic pill can be transformative for rural areas around the world where there is …

Apple pulls WhatsApp and Threads from App Store on Beijing’s orders

HONG KONG — Apple said it had removed Meta’s WhatsApp messaging app and its Threads social media app from the App Store in China to comply with orders from Chinese authorities. The apps were removed from the store Friday after Chinese officials cited unspecified national security concerns. Their removal comes amid elevated tensions between the U.S. and China over trade, technology and national security. The U.S. has threatened to ban TikTok over national security concerns. But while TikTok, owned by Chinese technology firm ByteDance, is used by millions in the U.S., apps like WhatsApp and Threads are not commonly used in China. Instead, the messaging app WeChat, owned by Chinese company Tencent, reigns supreme. Other Meta apps, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger remained available for download, although use of such foreign apps is blocked in China due to its “Great Firewall” network of filters that restrict use of foreign websites such as Google and Facebook. “The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” Apple said in a statement. “We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” Apple said. A spokesperson for Meta referred to “Apple for comment.” Apple, previously the world’s top smartphone maker, recently lost the top spot to Korean rival Samsung Electronics. The U.S. firm has run into headwinds in China, one of its top three markets, with sales slumping after Chinese government agencies and employees of …

EU politicians embrace TikTok despite data security concerns

Sundsvall,  Sweden — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s short videos of his three-day trip to China this week proved popular in posts on Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, which the European Union, Canada, Taiwan and the United States banned on official devices more than a year ago, citing security concerns. By Friday, one video showing highlights of Scholz’s trip had garnered 1.5 million views while another of him speaking about it on the plane home had 1.4 million views.  Scholz opened his TikTok account April 8 to attract youth, promising he wouldn’t post videos of himself dancing.  His most popular post so far, about his 40-year-old briefcase, was watched 3.6 million times.  Many commented, “This briefcase is older than me.” Scholtz is one of several Western leaders to use TikTok, despite concerns that its parent company, ByteDance, could provide private user data to the Chinese government and could also be used to push a pro-Beijing agenda.   Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has 258,000 followers on TikTok, and Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris has 99,000 followers.  U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign team opened a TikTok account in February, despite Biden himself vowing to sign legislation expected to be voted on as early as Saturday to force ByteDance to divest in the U.S. or face a ban.  Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who unsuccessfully tried to ban TikTok in 2020, in March reversed his position and now appears to oppose a ban.  ByteDance denies it would provide user data to the Chinese …

Meta’s new AI agents confuse Facebook users 

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Facebook parent Meta Platforms has unveiled a new set of artificial intelligence systems that are powering what CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls “the most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use.”  But as Zuckerberg’s crew of amped-up Meta AI agents started venturing into social media in recent days to engage with real people, their bizarre exchanges exposed the ongoing limitations of even the best generative AI technology.  One joined a Facebook moms group to talk about its gifted child. Another tried to give away nonexistent items to confused members of a Buy Nothing forum.  Meta, along with leading AI developers Google and OpenAI, and startups such as Anthropic, Cohere and France’s Mistral, have been churning out new AI language models and hoping to convince customers they’ve got the smartest, handiest or most efficient chatbots.  While Meta is saving the most powerful of its AI models, called Llama 3, for later, on Thursday it publicly released two smaller versions of the same Llama 3 system and said it’s now baked into the Meta AI assistant feature in Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.  AI language models are trained on vast pools of data that help them predict the most plausible next word in a sentence, with newer versions typically smarter and more capable than their predecessors. Meta’s newest models were built with 8 billion and 70 billion parameters — a measurement of how much data the system is trained on. A bigger, roughly 400 billion-parameter model is still in training.  “The …

Developers: Enhanced AI could outthink humans in 2 to 5 years

vancouver, british columbia — Just as the world is getting used to the rapidly expanding use of AI, or artificial intelligence, AGI is looming on the horizon. Experts say when artificial general intelligence becomes reality, it could perform tasks better than human beings, with the possibility of higher cognitive abilities, emotions, and ability to self-teach and develop. Ramin Hasani is a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the CEO of Liquid AI, which builds specific AI systems for different organizations. He is also a TED Fellow, a program that helps develop what the nonprofit TED conference considers to be “game changers.” Hasani says that the first signs of AGI are realistically two to five years away from being reality. He says it will have a direct impact on our everyday lives. What’s coming, he says, will be “an AI system that can have the collective knowledge of humans. And that can beat us in tasks that we do in our daily life, something you want to do … your finances, you’re solving, you’re helping your daughter to solve their homework. And at the same time, you want to also read a book and do a summary. So an AGI would be able to do all that.” Hasani says that advancing artificial intelligence will allow for things to move faster and can even be made to have emotions. He says proper regulation can be achieved by better understanding how different AI systems are developed. This thought is shared by …

Google fires 28 workers protesting contract with Israel

New York — Google fired 28 employees following a disruptive sit-down protest over the tech giant’s contract with the Israeli government, a Google spokesperson said Thursday. The Tuesday demonstration was organized by the group “No Tech for Apartheid,” which has long opposed “Project Nimbus,” Google’s joint $1.2 billion contract with Amazon to provide cloud services to the government of Israel. Video of the demonstration showed police arresting Google workers in Sunnyvale, California, in the office of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s, according to a post by the advocacy group on X, formerly Twitter. Kurian’s office was occupied for 10 hours, the advocacy group said. Workers held signs including “Googlers against Genocide,” a reference to accusations surrounding Israel’s attacks on Gaza. “No Tech for Apartheid,” which also held protests in New York and Seattle, pointed to an April 12 Time magazine article reporting a draft contract of Google billing the Israeli Ministry of Defense more than $1 million for consulting services. A “small number” of employees “disrupted” a few Google locations, but the protests are “part of a longstanding campaign by a group of organizations and people who largely don’t work at Google,” a Google spokesperson said. “After refusing multiple requests to leave the premises, law enforcement was engaged to remove them to ensure office safety,” the Google spokesperson said. “We have so far concluded individual investigations that resulted in the termination of employment for 28 employees, and will continue to investigate and take action as needed.” Israel is one of “numerous” …

AI-generated fashion models could bring more diversity to industry — or leave it with less

Chicago, Illinois — London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect: Her counterpart is made of pixels instead of flesh and blood. The virtual twin was generated by artificial intelligence and has already appeared as a stand-in for the real-life Alexsandrah in a photo shoot. Alexsandrah, who goes by her first name professionally, in turn receives credit and compensation whenever the AI version of herself gets used — just like a human model. Alexsandrah says she and her alter-ego mirror each other “even down to the baby hairs.” And it is yet another example of how AI is transforming creative industries — and the way humans may or may not be compensated. Proponents say the growing use of AI in fashion modeling showcases diversity in all shapes and sizes, allowing consumers to make more tailored purchase decisions that in turn reduces fashion waste from product returns. And digital modeling saves money for companies and creates opportunities for people who want to work with the technology. But critics raise concerns that digital models may push human models — and other professionals like makeup artists and photographers — out of a job. Unsuspecting consumers could also be fooled into thinking AI models are real, and companies could claim credit for fulfilling diversity commitments without employing actual humans. “Fashion is exclusive, with limited opportunities for people of color to break in,” said Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit aiming to advance …

Instagram blurring nudity in messages to protect teens, fight sexual extortion

LONDON — Instagram says it’s deploying new tools to protect young people and combat sexual extortion, including a feature that will automatically blur nudity in direct messages. The social media platform said in a blog post Thursday that it’s testing out the features as part of its campaign to fight sexual scams and other forms of “image abuse,” and to make it tougher for criminals to contact teens. Sexual extortion, or sextortion, involves persuading a person to send explicit photos online and then threatening to make the images public unless the victim pays money or engages in sexual favors. Recent high-profile cases include two Nigerian brothers who pleaded guilty to sexually extorting teen boys and young men in Michigan, including one who took his own life, and a Virginia sheriff’s deputy who sexually extorted and kidnapped a 15-year-old girl. Instagram and other social media companies have faced growing criticism for not doing enough to protect young people. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Instagram’s owner Meta Platforms, apologized to the parents of victims of such abuse during a Senate hearing earlier this year. Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, California, also owns Facebook and WhatsApp but the nudity blur feature won’t be added to messages sent on those platforms. Instagram said scammers often use direct messages to ask for “intimate images.” To counter this, it will soon start testing out a nudity-protection feature for direct messages that blurs any images with nudity “and encourages people to think twice before sending nude …

Indiana aspires to become next great tech center

indianapolis, indiana — Semiconductors, or microchips, are critical to almost everything electronic used in the modern world. In 1990, the United States produced about 40% of the world’s semiconductors. As manufacturing migrated to Asia, U.S. production fell to about 12%.   “During COVID, we got a wake-up call. It was like [a] Sputnik moment,” explained Mark Lundstrom, an engineer who has worked with microchips much of his life.  The 2020 global coronavirus pandemic slowed production in Asia, creating a ripple through the global supply chain and leading to shortages of everything from phones to vehicles. Lundstrom said increasing U.S. reliance on foreign chip manufacturers exposed a major weakness.  “We know that AI is going to transform society in the next several years, it requires extremely powerful chips. The most powerful leading-edge chips.”  Today, Lundstrom is the acting dean of engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, a leader in cutting-edge semiconductor development, which has new importance amid the emerging field of artificial intelligence.  “If we fall behind in AI, the consequences are enormous for the defense of our country, for our economic future,” Lundstrom told VOA.  Amid the buzz of activity in a laboratory on Purdue’s campus, visitors can get a vision of what the future might look like in microchip technology.  “The key metrics of the performance of the chips actually are the size of the transistors, the devices, which is the building block of the computer chips,” said Zhihong Chen, director of Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center, where engineers work …

With $6.6B to Arizona hub, Biden touts big steps in US chipmaking

Washington; Flagstaff, Arizona — President Joe Biden on Monday announced a $6.6 billion grant to Taiwan’s top chip manufacturer to produce semiconductors in the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona, which includes a third facility that will bring the foreign tech giant’s investment in the state to $65 billion. Biden said the move aims to perk up a decades-old slump in American chip manufacturing. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which is based in the Chinese-claimed island, claims more than half of the global market share in chip manufacturing. The new facility, Biden said, will put the U.S. on track to produce 20% of the world’s leading-edge semiconductors by 2030. “I was determined to turn that around, and thanks to my CHIPS and Science Act — a key part of my Investing in America agenda — semiconductor manufacturing and jobs are making a comeback,” Biden said in a statement. U.S. production of this American-born technology has fallen steeply in recent decades, said Andy Wang, dean of engineering at Northern Arizona University. “As a nation, we used to produce 40% of microchips for the whole world,” he told VOA. “Now, we produce less than 10%.” A single semiconductor transistor is smaller than a grain of sand. But billions of them, packed neatly together, can connect the world through a mobile phone, control sophisticated weapons of war and satellites that orbit the Earth, and someday may even drive a car. The immense value of these tiny chips has fueled fierce competition between the U.S. and …

With $6.6B to Arizona hub, Biden touts big steps in US chipmaking

President Joe Biden on Monday announced a $6.6 billion grant to Taiwan’s top chip manufacturer for semiconductor manufacturing in Arizona, which includes a third facility that will bring the tech giant’s investment in the state to $65 billion. VOA’s White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington, with reporter Levi Stallings in Flagstaff, Arizona. …