КУПУЙ

Комітет з питань цивільного виміру та безпеки Парламентської асамблеї НАТО одноголосно підтримав резолюцію до доповіді «Протидія гібридним загрозам Росії» разом із внесеною українською делегацією правкою, що стосується Криму, повідомила голова делегації депутат Ірина Фріз.

«У резолюції до доповіді Лорда Джоплінга «Протидія гібридним загрозам Росії» враховано новий параграф, який було внесено нашою делегацією. Його зміст такий: засуджуючи незаконне будівництво керченського мосту Росією, а також політику Росії щодо вибіркової відмови в доступі та безпідставної затримки українських та міжнародних суден в Азовському морі, сильно занепокоєні новими загрозами безпеці, економіці та екології в цьому регіоні», – написала вона у Facebook.

Читайте більше тут: ПА НАТО. Україна наполягла на посиленні присутності НАТО у Чорному морі 

У середині травня цього року, після завершення будівництва автомобільної частини Керченського мосту, Росія перемістила військові кораблі до Азовського моря, заявляючи про необхідність посилення безпеки навколо стратегічного об’єкта. Відтоді Росія затримала понад півтори сотні українських та іноземних торговельних кораблів, допитувала членів екіпажів та інших людей, які перебували на таких суднах.

12 жовтня президент Петро Порошенко ввів в дію рішення Ради національної безпеки і оборони України про захист національних інтересів у Чорному та Азовському морях і в Керченській протоці.

Європейський парламент 25 жовтня ухвалив резолюцію про загострення ситуації в Азові. Європарламентарі засудили порушення Росією українського суверенітету в Азовському морі і розкритикували штучне блокування торговельних суден. У тексті документу також є заклик до введення нових санкцій проти Кремля у випадку подальшої ескалації напруженості.

Більше цікавих новин, які не потрапили на сайт, – у Telegram-каналі Радіо Свобода. Долучайтеся!

The United States and China offered competing views to regional leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Papua New Guinea, trading sharp words over trade, investment, and regional security.  Washington said it can provide a better option for regional allies under is “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy.  as VOA’s State Department correspondent Nike Ching reports, the APEC gathering ended without a formal leaders’ statement.

British-based startup ARC unveiled its first motorcycle model in Milan this week, one being described as fast, advanced and expensive. The so-called Vector costs more than $100,000, but ARC says it’s for good reason. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

 44% українців отримують державну допомогу, повідомив у ефірі Радіо Свобода міністр соціальної політики України Андрій Рева.

«Приблизно 44% людей отримують ті чи інші види державної соціальної допомоги. Але ми повинні розуміти, що, згідно з Конституцією, Україна – держава соціальна», – зазначив міністр.

Зокрема, як зазначив Андрій Рева, нині 5 мільйонів домогосподарств в Україні отримують субсидії.

Читайте також: Міністр Рева про фіктивних і чесних субсидіантів, пенсії та кошти від розмитнених «євроблях»

Загалом, право на отримання допомоги на оплату житлово-комунальних послуг мають близько семи мільйонів домогосподарств, повідомляв прем’єр-міністр України Володимир Гройсман.

Крім того, за інформацією директора Директорату сім’ї та соціальної підтримки Мінсоцполітики Віталія Музиченка, приблизно 300 тисяч сімей одержують допомогу для малозабезпечених та майже 300 тисяч жінок – допомогу самотнім матерям, пише видання «Гордон». 

 

Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate  increases ahead, but raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global  slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the Fed’s rate hike cycle will soon peter out.

The widening chasm between market expectations and the rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question in front of U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create new jobs?

“We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent,” Richard Clarida, the newly appointed vice chair of the Federal Reserve, said in a CNBC interview. “I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed’s projection of where it’s going, that being at neutral would make sense,” he added, defining “neutral” as interest rates somewhere between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

But that range that implies anywhere from two more to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many more increases he would prefer.

He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring higher interest rates. But he also

sounded a mild warning.

“There is some evidence of global slowing,” Clarida said. “That’s something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

“It’s my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States,” Kaplan said. .

The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month.

Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed’s policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed’s current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76 percent over six trading days.

At the same time, long-term inflation expectations have been dropping quickly as well. The so-called breakeven inflation rate on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS, has fallen sharply in the last month. The breakeven rate on five-year TIPS hit the lowest since late 2017 earlier this week.

Those market moves together suggest traders are taking the prospect of a slowdown seriously, limiting how far the Fed will end up raising rates.

But not all policymakers seemed that worried. Sitting with his back to a map of the world in a ballroom in Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by “big boys and girls” who

understand the risks.

He told reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25 percent so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7 percent, back up to a more sustainable level.

Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet.

But the next six months, he said, bear close watching.

“There’s not a great headline” about risks to the economy right now, Evans told reporters. “International is a little slower; Brexit — nobody’s asked me about that, thank you; [the slowing] housing market: I think all of those are in the mix for uncertainties that everybody’s facing,” he said.

“But at the moment, it’s not enough to upset or adjust the trajectory that I have in mind.”

Still, Evans added, the risks should not be counted out: “They could take on more life more easily because they are sort of more top of mind, if not in the forecast.”

Investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider are suggesting that Russian intelligence has infiltrated the computer infrastructure of a company that processes British visa applications.

The investigation, published Friday, aims to show how two suspected Russian military intelligence agents, who have been charged with poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury, may have obtained British visas.

The Insider and Bellingcat said they interviewed the former chief technical officer of a company that processes visa applications for several consulates in Moscow, including that of Britain.

The man, who fled Russia last year and applied for asylum in the United States, said he had been coerced to work with agents of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, who revealed to him that they had access to the British visa center’s CCTV cameras and had a diagram of the center’s computer network. The two outlets say they have obtained the man’s deposition to the U.S. authorities but have decided against publishing the man’s name, for his own safety.

The Insider and Bellingcat, however, did not demonstrate a clear link between the alleged efforts of Russian intelligence to penetrate the visa processing system and Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who have been charged with poisoning Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March this year.

The man also said that FSB officers told him in spring 2016 that they were going to send two people to Britain and asked for his assistance with the visa applications. The timing points to the first reported trip to Britain of the two men, who traveled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Anatoly Boshirov. The man, however, said he told the FSB that there was no way he could influence the decision-making on visa applications.

The man said he was coerced to sign an agreement to collaborate with the FSB after one of its officers threatened to jail his mother, and was asked to create a “backdoor” to the computer network. He said he sabotaged those efforts before he fled Russia in early 2017.

In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of the agents of Russian military intelligence GRU accused of the March nerve agent attack on double agent Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents’ real names and the media, including The Associated Press, were able to corroborate their real identities.

The visa application processing company, TLSContact, and the British Home Office were not immediately available for comment.

Now that South Africa’s highest court has relaxed the nation’s laws on marijuana, local entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on the popular herb. Among the latest entries to the market: several highly popular cannabis-laced alcohol products, which deliver the unique taste, though without the signature high. Marijuana activists say this could just be the beginning and that the famous plant could do much more for the national economy. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Land laws mean nothing unless communities can prove their ownership, researchers said Thursday, calling for better tools to map the land and stave off conflict over property.

From South Africa to the Amazon rainforest, battles over land and who owns it are unleashing unprecedented conflict and labyrinthine legal cases as governments and companies seek to exploit ever more of the world’s natural resources, from trees to minerals to rubber.

With an estimated 70 percent of the world unmapped, more than 5 billion people lack proof of ownership, according to the Lima-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy.

Laws no safeguard

Speaking at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual two-day Trust Conference, which focuses on a host of human rights issues, experts said the existence of laws in itself was no safeguard against abuse.

South Africa enshrines security of tenure in its constitution but the government rides roughshod over locals by promoting controversial mining deals, said Aninka Claassens, director of the University of Cape Town’s Land and Accountability Research Center.

More than two decades after the end of apartheid, whites still own most of the land in resource-rich South Africa and ownership remains a highly emotive subject ahead of next year’s national election.

“Our constitution means nothing unless people affected can prove their land rights, that’s why recorded rights are so important,” she said. “Mining is destroying livelihoods and land.”

Who owns what, where

Mapping property rights is crucial to understand “who owns what, where and how,” said Anne Girardin, land surveyor at the Cadasta Foundation, which develops digital tools to document and analyze land and resource rights information.

“That allows you to monitor changes in land resources, but also to better protect them,” she added.

More than 200 activists protecting their land and environment were killed in 2017, according to a survey of 22 countries by Global Witness, marking the deadliest year since the human rights group began collecting data.

Better and more coordinated information is needed to ward off more deadly conflicts, the experts said, citing satellite images and smartphones as tools that could document land.

Technology is plentiful but resources are scattered, Girardin said.

“It would take all the land surveyors we have 200-300 years to map the world’s undocumented land, so we need to be more pragmatic and work together,” she said.

Communities document land

Rampant deforestation means communities should rush to document their own land rather than wait for governments to act, said Nonette Royo, executive director of the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, which helps indigenous people.

“In the world, forest area the size of Belgium disappears every year,” she said.

For Claassens, land rights should be mapped and recorded in accordance with who uses land as well as who actually owns it.

“Who uses the land? Most often, it’s women,” she said, adding that women were often excluded from property records.

Women are key in the fight for land rights from Brazil to Cambodia, often deployed at the frontline to ward off development and protect family plots, fields and villages.

Ethically driven businesses are becoming increasingly popular and profitable but they can face threats for shaking up the existing order, entrepreneurs said on Social Enterprise Day.

When Meghan Markle wore a pair of “slave-free” jeans on a royal tour of Australia last month, she sparked a sales stampede and shone a spotlight on the growing number of companies aiming to meet public demand for ethical products.

“Right now is the perfect time to have this kind of business,” said James Bartle, founder of Australia-based Outland Denim, which made the $200 (150 pound) jeans. “There is awareness and people are prepared to spend on these kinds of products.”

Social Enterprise Day

Social Enterprise Day, which celebrates firms seeking to make profit while doing good, is being marked in 23 countries, including Australia, Nigeria, Romania and the Philippines, led by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), which represents the sector.

Outland Denim is one such company, employing dozens of survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable women in Cambodia to make its jeans, which all contain a written thank-you message from the seamstress on an internal pocket.

Bartle said he wanted to create a sustainable model that gives people power to change their future through employment.

More companies are striving to clean up their supply chains and stamp their goods as environmentally friendly and ethical, with women and millennials, people born between 1982 and 2000, driving the shift to products that seek to improve the world.

“For-profits create the mess, and then the not-for-profits clean it up,” said Andrew O’Brien, director of external affairs at SEUK, which estimates that 2 million British workers are employed by a social enterprise. “We are an existential threat to that system, by coming through the middle and forcing businesses to change the way they do business.”

Risky business 

Britain has the world’s largest social enterprise sector, according to the U.K. government. About 100,000 firms contribute 60 billion pounds ($76 billion) to the world’s fifth largest economy, SEUK says.

Elsewhere in the world, it can be a risky business.

“I get threats,” said Farhad Wajdi who runs Ebtakar Inspiring Entrepreneurs of Afghanistan, which helps women enter the workforce by training and providing seed money for them to operate food carts in the war-torn country. “I can’t go to the provinces.”

His work has met resistance in parts of Afghanistan, a conservative society where women rarely work outside the home.

“A social enterprise can lead to sustainable change in those communities,” Wajdi said on the sidelines of the Trust Conference in London. “It can propagate gender equality and create friction for social change at a grassroots level.”

Niche? Window dressing?

There is, however, a danger that social enterprise will remain a niche form of business or become window-dressing for firms that just want to improve their public image.

“I don’t want social enterprise to become the next (corporate social responsibility), another (public relations) move,” said Melissa Kim, the founder of Costa Rican-based Uplift Worldwide, which supports social enterprises.

“To me this is just good business, and good sustainable business is not just about the environment and human rights … if you care about your relationships internally and externally you will stay in business.”

As world leaders land in Papua New Guinea for a Pacific Rim summit, the welcome mat is especially big for China’s president.

A huge sign in the capital, Port Moresby, welcomes Xi Jinping, picturing him gazing beneficently at Papua New Guinea’s leader, and his hotel is decked out with red Chinese lanterns. China’s footprint is everywhere, from a showpiece boulevard and international convention center built with Chinese help to bus stop shelters that announce their origins with “China Aid” plaques. 

On the eve of Xi’s arrival for a state visit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, newspapers in the country ran a full-page statement from the Chinese leader. It exhorted Pacific island nations to “set sail on a new voyage” of relations with China, which in the space of a generation has transformed from the world’s most populous backwater into a major economic power. 

With both actions and words, Xi has a compelling message for the South Pacific’s fragile island states, long both propped up and pushed around by U.S. ally Australia: they now have a choice of benefactors. With the exception of Papua New Guinea, those island nations are not part of APEC, but the leaders of many of them have traveled to Port Moresby and will meet with Xi.

The APEC meeting, meanwhile, is Xi’s to dominate. Headline-hogging leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are not attending. Trump’s stand-in, Vice President Mike Pence, is staying in Cairns in Australia’s north and flying into Papua New Guinea each day. Australia’s new prime minister, Scott Morrison, the country’s fifth leader in five years, is barely known abroad.

“President Xi Jinping is a good friend of Papua New Guinea,” its prime minister, Peter O’Neill, told reporters. “He has had a lot of engagement with Papua New Guinea and I’ve visited China 12 times in the last seven years.”

Pacific island nations, mostly tiny, remote and poor, rarely figure prominently on the world stage but have for several years been diligently courted by Beijing as part of its global effort to finance infrastructure that advances its economic and diplomatic interests. Papua New Guinea with about 8 million people is by far the most populous, and with its extensive tropical forests and oil and gas reserves is an obvious target for economic exploitation.

Six of the 16 Pacific island states still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a sizeable bloc within the rapidly dwindling number of nations that recognize the island regarded as a renegade province by Beijing. Chinese aid and loans could flip those six into its camp. A military foothold in the region would be an important geostrategic boost for China, though its purported desire for a base has so far been thwarted. 

Beijing’s assistance comes without the oversight and conditions that Western nations and organizations such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund impose. It is promising $4 billion of finance to build the first national road network in Papua New Guinea, which could be transformative for the mountainous nation. But experts warn there could also be big costs later on: unsustainable debt, white elephant showpieces and social tensions from a growing Chinese diaspora.

“China’s engagement in infrastructure in PNG shouldn’t be discounted. It should be encouraged but it needs to be closely monitored by the PNG government to make sure it’s effective over the long term,” said Jonathan Pryke, a Papua New Guinea expert at the Lowy Institute, a think tank in Sydney.

“The benefits of these projects, because a lot of them are financed by loans, only come from enhanced economic output over a long time to be able to justify paying back these loans,” he said.

“The history of infrastructure investment in PNG shows that too often there is not enough maintenance going on,” Pryke said. “There’s a build, neglect, rebuild paradigm in PNG as opposed to build and maintain which is far more efficient.”

Some high-profile Chinese projects in Papua New Guinea have already run into problems. A promised fish cannery hasn’t materialized after several years and expansion of a port in Lae, the major commercial center, was botched and required significant rectification work. Two of the Chinese state companies working in the country, including the company responsible for the port expansion, were until recently blacklisted from World Bank-financed projects because of fraud or corruption.

Xi’s newspaper column asserted China is the biggest foreign investor in Papua New Guinea, a statement more aspirational than actual. Its involvement is currently dwarfed by the investment of a single company—ExxonMobil’s $19 billion natural gas extraction and processing facility.

Australia, the former colonial power in Papua New Guinea, remains its largest donor of conventional foreign aid. Its assistance, spread across the country and aimed at improving bare bones public services and the capacity of government, is less visible. 

But its approach is shifting in response to China’s moves. 

In September, the Australian government announced it would pay for what is typically a commercial venture — a high-speed undersea cable linking Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands that promises to make the internet and telecommunications in the two island countries faster, more reliable and less expensive.

Earlier this month, Australia announced more than $2 billion of funding for infrastructure and trade finance aimed at Pacific island nations and also agreed to joint development of a naval base in Papua New Guinea, heading off feared Chinese involvement. It is also boosting its diplomatic presence, opening more embassies to be represented in every Pacific island state.

“The APEC meeting is shaping up to be a faceoff between China and Australia for influence in the Pacific,” said Elaine Pearson, the Australia director of Human Rights Watch.

That might seem a positive development for the region, but Pearson cautioned that competition for Papua New Guinea’s vast natural resources has in the past had little positive impact on the lives of its people.

“Sadly exploitation of resources in PNG has fueled violent conflict, abuse and environmental devastation,” she said.

 

 

Companies could help refugees rebuild their lives by paying them to boost artificial intelligence (AI) using their phones and giving them digital skills, a tech nonprofit said Thursday.

REFUNITE has developed an app, LevelApp, which is being piloted in Uganda to allow people who have been uprooted by conflict to earn instant money by “training” algorithms for AI.

Wars, persecution and other violence have uprooted a record 68.5 million people, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

People forced to flee their homes lose their livelihoods and struggle to create a source of income, REFUNITE co-chief executive Chris Mikkelsen told the Trust Conference in London.

“This provides refugees with a foothold in the global gig economy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s two-day event, which focuses on a host of human rights issues.

$20 a day for AI work

A refugee in Uganda currently earning $1.25 a day doing basic tasks or menial jobs could make up to $20 a day doing simple AI labeling work on their phones, Mikkelsen said.

REFUNITE says the app could be particularly beneficial for women as the work can be done from the home and is more lucrative than traditional sources of income such as crafts.

The cash could enable refugees to buy livestock, educate children and access health care, leaving them less dependant on aid and helping them recover faster, according to Mikkelsen.

The work would also allow them to build digital skills they could take with them when they returned home, REFUNITE says.

“This would give them the ability to rebuild a life … and the dignity of no longer having to rely solely on charity,” Mikkelsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Teaching the machines

AI is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

It is being used in a vast array of products from driverless cars to agricultural robots that can identify and eradicate weeds and computers able to identify cancers.

In order to “teach” machines to mimic human intelligence, people must repeatedly label images and other data until the algorithm can detect patterns without human intervention.

REFUNITE, based in California, is testing the app in Uganda where it has launched a pilot project involving 5,000 refugees, mainly form South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It hopes to scale up to 25,000 refugees within two years.

Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.

Another tech company, DeepBrain Chain, has committed to paying 200 refugees for a test period of six months, he said.

Facebook says it is getting better at proactively removing hate speech and changing the incentives that result in the most sensational and provocative content becoming the most popular on the site.

The company has done so, it says, by ramping up its operations so that computers can review and make quick decisions on large amounts of content with thousands of reviewers making more nuanced decisions.

In the future, if a person disagrees with Facebook’s decision, he or she will be able to appeal to an independent review board.

Facebook “shouldn’t be making so many important decisions about free expression and safety on our own,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters Thursday.

But as Zuckerberg detailed what the company has accomplished in recent months to crack down on spam, hate speech and violent content, he also acknowledged that Facebook has far to go.

“There are issues you never fix,” he said. “There’s going to be ongoing content issues.”

Company’s actions

In the call, Zuckerberg addressed a recent story in The New York Times that detailed how the company fought back during some of its biggest controversies over the past two years, such as the revelation of how the network was used by Russian operatives in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

The Times story suggested that company executives first dismissed early concerns about foreign operatives, then tried to deflect public attention away from Facebook once the news came out.

Zuckerberg said the firm made mistakes and was slow to understand the enormity of the issues it faced. “But to suggest that we didn’t want to know is simply untrue,” he said.

Zuckerberg also said he didn’t know the firm had hired Definers Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that spread negative information about Facebook competitors as the social networking firm was in the midst of one scandal after another. Facebook severed its relationship with the firm.

“It may be normal in Washington, but it’s not the kind of thing I want Facebook associated with, which is why we won’t be doing it,” Zuckerberg said.

The firm posted a rebuttal to the Times story.

Content removed

Facebook said it is getting better at proactively finding and removing content such as spam, violent posts and hate speech. The company said it removed or took other action on 15.4 million pieces of violent content between June and September of this year, about double what it removed in the prior three months.

But Zuckerberg and other executives said Facebook still has more work to do in places such as Myanmar. In the third quarter, the firm said it proactively identified 63 percent of the hate speech it removed, up from 13 percent in the last quarter of 2017. At least 100 Burmese language experts are reviewing content, the firm said.

One issue that continues to dog Facebook is that some of the most popular content is also the most sensational and provocative. Facebook said it now penalizes what it calls “borderline content” so it gets less distribution and engagement.

“By fixing this incentive problem in our services, we believe it’ll create a virtuous cycle: by reducing sensationalism of all forms, we’ll create a healthier, less-polarized discourse where more people feel safe participating,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post. 

Critics of the company, however, said Zuckerberg hasn’t gone far enough to address the inherent problems of Facebook, which has 2 billion users.

“We have a man-made, for-profit, simultaneous communication space, marketplace and battle space and that it is, as a result, designed not to reward veracity or morality but virality,” said Peter W. Singer, strategist and senior fellow at New America, a nonpartisan think tank, at an event Thursday in Washington, D.C.

VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

Super-realistic face masks made by a tiny company in rural Japan are in demand from the domestic tech and entertainment industries and from countries as far away as Saudi Arabia.

The 300,000-yen ($2,650) masks, made of resin and plastic by five employees at REAL-f Co., attempt to accurately duplicate an individual’s face down to fine wrinkles and skin texture.

Company founder Osamu Kitagawa came up with the idea while working at a printing machine manufacturer.

But it took him two years of experimentation before he found a way to use three-dimensional facial data from high-quality photographs to make the masks, and started selling them in 2011.

The company, based in the western prefecture of Shiga, receives about 100 orders every year from entertainment, automobile, technology and security companies, mainly in Japan.

For example, a Japanese car company ordered a mask of a sleeping face to improve its facial recognition technology to detect if a driver had dozed off, Kitagawa said.

“I am proud that my product is helping further development of facial recognition technology,” he added. “I hope that the developers would enhance face identification accuracy using these realistic masks.”

Kitagawa, 60, said he had also received orders from organizations linked to the Saudi government to create masks for the king and princes.

“I was told the masks were for portraits to be displayed in public areas,” he said.

Kitagawa said he works with clients carefully to ensure his products will not be used for illicit purposes and cause security risks, but added he could not rule out such threats.

He said his goal was to create 100 percent realistic masks, and he hoped to use softer materials, such as silicon, in the future.

“I would like these masks to be used for medical purposes, which is possible once they can be made using soft materials,” he said. “And as humanoid robots are being developed, I hope this will help developers to create [more realistic robots] at a low cost.”

Office workers often complain that the building is either too hot or too cold. Now, engineers and architects are working on creating “sentient buildings” that can cater to the personal needs and well being of each employee in the hopes of increasing productivity. VOA’S Elizabeth Lee has this report from Los Angeles.

China’s state-run Xinhua News has debuted what it called the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor. But the novelty has generated more dislikes than likes online among Chinese netizens, with many calling the new virtual host “a news-reading device without a soul.”

Analysts say the latest creation has showcased China’s short-term progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, but challenges remain ahead for its long-term ambition of becoming an AI superpower by 2030.

Nonhuman anchors

Collaborating with Chinese search engine Sogou, Xinhua introduced two AI anchors, one for English broadcasts and the other for Chinese, both of which are based on images of the agency’s real newscasters, Zhang Zhao and Qiu Hao respectively.

In its inaugural broadcast last week, the English-speaking anchor was more tech cheerleader than newshound, rattling off lines few anchors would be caught dead reading, such as: “the development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies.”

It also promised “to work tirelessly to keep you [audience] informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted” 24/7 across multiple platforms simultaneously if necessary, according to the news agency.

No soul

Local audiences appear to be unimpressed, critiquing the news bots’ not so human touch and synthesized voices.

On Weibo, China’s Twitterlike microblogging platform, more than one user wrote that such anchors have “no soul,” in response to Xinhua’s announcement. And one user joked: “what if we have an AI [country] leader?” while another questioned what it stands for in terms of journalistic values by saying “What a nutcase. Fake news is on every day.”

Others pondered the implication AI news bots might have on employment and workers.

“It all comes down to production costs, which will determine if [we] lose jobs,” one Weibo user wrote. Some argued that only low-end labor-intensive jobs will be easily replaced by intelligent robots while others gloated about the possibility of employers utilizing an army of low-cost robots to make a fortune.

A simple use case

Industry experts said the digital anchor system is based on images of real people and possibly animated parts of their mouths and faces, with machine-learning technology recreating humanlike speech patterns and facial movements. It then uses a synthesized voice for the delivery of the news broadcast.

The creation showcases China’s progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, all of which is covered by natural language processing, according to Liu Chien-chih, secretary-general of Asia IoT Alliance (AIOTA).

But that’s just one of many aspects of AI technologies, he wrote in an email to VOA.

Given the pace of experimental AI adoption by Chinese businesses, more user scenarios or designs of user interface can be anticipated in China, Liu added.

Chris Dong, director of China research at the market intelligence firm IDC, agreed the digital anchor is as simple as what he calls a “use case” for AI-powered services to attract commercials and audiences.

He said, in an email to VOA, that China has fast-tracked its big data advantage around consumers or internet of things (IoT) infrastructure to add commercial value.

Artificial Intelligence has also allowed China to accelerate its digital transformation across various industries or value chains, which are made smarter and more efficient, Dong added.

Far from a threat to the US

But both said China is far from a threat to challenge U.S. leadership on AI given its lack of an open market and respect for intellectual property rights (IPRs) as well as its lagging innovative competency on core AI technologies.

Earlier, Lee Kai-fu, a well-known venture capitalist who led Google before it pulled out of China, was quoted by news website Tech Crunch as saying that the United States may have created Artificial Intelligence, but China is taking the ball and running with it when it comes to one of the world’s most pivotal technology innovations.

Lee summed up four major drivers behind his observation that China is beating the United States in AI: abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, growing AI expertise and massive government support and funding.

Beijing has set a goal to become an AI superpower by 2030, and to turn the sector into a $150 billion industry.

Yet, IDC’s Dong cast doubts on AI’s adoption rate and effectiveness in China’s traditional sectors. Some, such as the manufacturing sector, is worsening, he said.

He said China’s “state capitalism may have its short-term efficiency and gain, but over the longer-term, it is the open market that is fundamental to building an effective innovation ecosystem.”

The analyst urges China to open up and include multinational software and services to contribute to its digital economic transformation.

“China’s ‘Made-in-China 2025’ should go back to the original flavor … no longer Made and Controlled by Chinese, but more [of] an Open Platform of Made-in-China that both local and foreign players have a level-playing field,” he said.

In addition to a significant gap in core technologies, China’s failure to uphold IPRs will go against its future development of AI software, “which is often sold many-fold in the U.S. than in China as the Chinese tend to think intangible assets are free,” AIOTA’s Liu said.

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