Changes from Visa mean Americans will carry fewer credit, debit cards

new york — Your wallet may soon be getting thinner.

Visa on Wednesday announced major changes to how credit and debit cards will operate in the U.S. in the coming months and years.

The new features could mean Americans will be carrying fewer physical cards in their wallets, and will make the 16-digit credit or debit card number printed on every card increasingly irrelevant.

They will be some of the biggest changes to how payments operate in the U.S. since the U.S. rolled out chip-embedded cards several years ago. They also come as Americans have many more options to pay for purchases beyond “credit or debit,” including buy now, pay later companies, peer-to-peer payment options, paying directly with a bank, or digital payment systems such as Apple Pay.

“I think (with these features) we’re getting past the point where consumers may never need to manually enter an account number ever again,” said Mark Nelsen, Visa’s global head of consumer payments.

The biggest change coming for Americans will be the ability for banks to issue one physical payment card that will be connected to multiple bank accounts. That means no more carrying, for example, a Bank of America or Chase debit card as well as their respective credit cards in a physical wallet. Americans will be able to set criteria with their bank — such as having all purchases below $100 or with a certain merchant applied to the debit card, while other purchases go on the credit card.

The feature, already being used in Asia, will be available this summer. Buy now, pay later company Affirm is the first of Visa’s customers to roll out the feature in the U.S.

Fraud prompts changes

Some of Visa’s new features are in response to online-payments fraud, which continues to increase as more countries adopt digital payments. The company based in San Francisco, California, estimates that payment fraud happens roughly seven times more often online than it does in person, and there are now billions of stolen credit and debit card numbers available to criminals.

Other new elements are also in response to features that non-payments companies have rolled out in recent years. The Apple Card, which uses Mastercard as its payment network, does not come with a printed 16-digit account number and Apple Card users can request a fresh credit card number at any time without having to dispose of the physical card.

Visa executives see a future where banks will issue cards where the 16-digit account number, if the new cards come with them, is largely symbolic.

Soon, fingerprints can approve transactions

Among the other updates unveiled by Visa are changes to tap-to-pay features. Americans will be able to tap their credit or debit cards to their smartphones to add the card to mobile wallets, instead of using a smartphone’s camera to scan in a card’s information, or tap the card to their smartphones to approve a transaction online. Visa will also start implementing biometrics to approve transactions, similar to how Apple devices use a fingerprint or face scan to approve transactions.

The features will take time to filter down to the banks, which will decide when or what to implement for their customers. But because the banks and credit card companies are Visa’s customers, and issue cards with the Visa label, these are features that the financial institutions have been asking for.

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Former OpenAI leader: Safety has ‘taken a backseat to shiny products’ at the company

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Scholar called ‘Putin’s brain’ attacked on Chinese internet

Washington — Aleksander Dugin, a Russian nationalist ideologue and strong supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has been bombarded with attacks on Chinese social media, where netizens criticized and mocked his Russian expansionist views that had once included the dismembering of China.

Two years after Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine, pro-Russia sentiment has been prevalent on Chinese internet.

But the backlash against Dugin has revealed a less mentioned side of what has so far appeared to be a cozy alliance between Beijing and Moscow — hostility between Chinese nationalists and their Russian counterparts, the result of centuries of territorial disputes and political confrontations that Beijing has been reticent about displaying publicly in recent decades.

On May 6, Dugin opened an account on two of the most popular Chinese social media apps Weibo, China’s X, formerly known as Twitter, and Bilibili, a YouTube-like video site.

In the first video posted on both Weibo and Bilibili, Dugin greeted the Chinese audience and praised Beijing’s economic and political achievements in recent decades.

In the same video, he also criticized an article published in April in The Economist by Feng Yujun, director of Russian and Central Asian studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. Feng said in the article that Russia will inevitably lose the Ukraine war.

Dugin countered that Feng and some Chinese people underestimated Russia’s “tenacity and perseverance.”

The video was quickly condemned by Chinese citizens, who posted comments such as “Russia must lose,” which received thousands of likes.

“This is an extremist who is extremely unfriendly to China and has made plans to dismember China,” another message posted by a Weibo user named “Zhixingbenyiti” said.

Dugin, 62, was born in Moscow. In the 1980s, he became an anti-communist dissident.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he began to promote Russian expansionism. He believes that Moscow’s territorial expansion in Eurasia will allow it to counter Western forces led by the United States.

In his 1997 book, Foundations of Geopolitics, Dugin wrote that dismembering China was a necessary step for Russia to become strong. People within Putin’s inner circle have reportedly shown interest in Dugin’s writing, which gave rise to his nickname “Putin’s brain.”

However, Dugin’s attitude toward China has changed significantly in recent years. In 2018, he visited China for the first time. In a speech at Fudan University, he praised China’s economy, culture and leadership in the fight against colonialism.

He also changed his previous support for containing China and said in a speech that China and Russia could work together to “form a very important and non-negligible containment/pull effect” on Western powers.

Dugin is now a senior fellow at Fudan University’s China Institute and one of the columnists for China’s nationalist news organization, Guancha.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Dugin said in a column that the alliance between China and Russia would “mean the irreversible end of Western hegemony.”

Philipp Ivanov, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told VOA that “Dugin is an opportunist. As the Ukraine war dramatically accelerated the alignment between China and Russia, his position started to change, resulting in his current attempt to engage with China’s intellectual and broader community.”

Ivanov also thinks Dugin’s influence on the Kremlin has been exaggerated.

Since joining Chinese social media, Dugin has gained more than 100,000 followers on Weibo and 25,000 followers on BiliBili. He has published fewer than five posts on Weibo, but nearly every one of them has more than 1,000 comments, most of which criticized him.

Under a post in which Dugin supported Putin on his fifth presidential term, people responded with comments such as “Russia is about to lose the war” and “The gates of hell are waiting for you.”

Wang Xiaodong, China’s most influential nationalist scholar, shared a Weibo post he made two years ago criticizing Dugin and Chinese pro-Russian groups.

“Introducing Dugin’s ideas is not because I worry that the Kremlin will implement his ideas; He has the intention but not the strength! I just want to tell the Chinese people how some Russians, including elites in the powerful departments, view China. Do we Chinese need to risk our lives for them?” the post read.

Ivanov was not surprised by the attacks on Dugin on the Chinese internet.

“While Chinese netizens may support Putin’s anti-Western/anti-US agenda, they are skeptical or outright negative about Russia’s assault on an independent country’s sovereignty and Russian expansionism, nationalism and chauvinism (which Dugin represents),” he told VOA in an email.

He said the history of China-Russia relations is predominantly about confrontation, competition and mistrust.

Among the attacks on Dugin, many netizens also brought up former Chinese territories that Russia occupied in the past 200 years.

“For the sake of ever-lasting friendship between China and Russia, please return Sakhalin and Vladivostok,” one Weibo comment posted by “lovejxcecil” read.

Although China has not been involved in the war, the Russia-Ukraine war has been a hot topic on the Chinese internet.

According to Eric Liu, a former Weibo censor, Dugin’s joining the platform undoubtedly brought more traffic to Weibo. However, it also means that Weibo needs to invest more resources in censorship to prevent him from making remarks that Beijing considers sensitive.

“He is a foreigner. He has no idea about China’s ‘political correctness’ or where the boundaries are,” Liu said. “This risk will have to be taken care of by Weibo, which brought him in.”

On Thursday, Dugin posted on Weibo that China and Russia could achieve “anything” together. His comment section has been turned off. 

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US arrests American and Ukrainian in North Korea-linked IT infiltration scheme

WASHINGTON — U.S. prosecutors on Thursday announced the arrests of an American woman and a Ukrainian man they say helped North Korea-linked IT workers posing as Americans to obtain remote-work jobs at hundreds of U.S. companies.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) said the elaborate scheme, aimed at generating revenue for North Korea in contravention of international sanctions, involved the infiltration of more than 300 U.S. firms, including Fortune 500 companies and banks, and the theft of the identities of more than 60 Americans.

A DoJ statement said the overseas IT workers also attempted to gain employment and access to information at two U.S. government agencies, although these efforts were “generally unsuccessful.”

An earlier State Department statement said the scheme had generated at least $6.8 million for North Korea. It said the North Koreans involved were linked to North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department, which oversees development of the country’s ballistic missiles, weapons production, and research and development programs.

An indictment filed in federal court in Washington last week and unsealed on Thursday said charges had been filed against Christina Marie Chapman, 49, of Litchfield Park, Arizona; Ukrainian Oleksandr Didenko, 27, of Kyiv; and three other foreign nationals.

A Justice Department statement said Chapman was arrested on Wednesday, while Didenko was arrested on May 7 by Polish authorities at the request of the United States, which is seeking his extradition.

The State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for information related to Chapman’s alleged co-conspirators, who used the aliases Jiho Han, Haoran Xu and Chunji Jin, and another unindicted individual using the aliases Zhonghua and Venechor S.

Court records did not list lawyers for those arrested and it was not immediately clear whether they had legal representation.

The head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Nicole Argentieri, said the alleged crimes “benefited the North Korean government, giving it a revenue stream and, in some instances, proprietary information stolen by the co-conspirators.”

The charges “should be a wakeup call for American companies and government agencies that employ remote IT workers,” she said in the statement.

It said the scheme “defrauded U.S. companies across myriad industries, including multiple well-known Fortune 500 companies, U.S. banks, and other financial service providers.”

The DoJ said Didenko was accused of creating fake accounts at U.S. IT job search platforms, selling them to overseas IT workers, some of whom he believed were North Korean. It said overseas IT workers using Didenko’s services were also working with Chapman.

Didenko’s online domain, upworksell.com, was seized Thursday by the Justice Department, the statement said.

The DOJ statement said the FBI executed search warrants for U.S.-based “laptop farms” – residences that hosted multiple laptops for overseas IT workers.

It said that through these farms, including one Chapman hosted from her home, U.S.-based facilitators logged onto U.S. company computer networks and allowed the overseas IT workers to remotely access the laptops, using U.S. IP addresses to make it appear they were in the United States.

The statement said search warrants for four U.S. residences associated with laptop farms controlled by Didenko were issued in the Southern District of California, the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Eastern District of Virginia, and executed between May 8 and May 10.

North Korea is under U.N. sanctions aimed at cutting funding for its missile and nuclear weapons programs and experts say it has sought to generate income illicitly, including through IT workers.

Confidential research by a now-disbanded U.N. sanctions monitoring panel seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed they had been investigating 97 suspected North Korean cyberattacks on cryptocurrency companies between 2017 and 2024, valued at some $3.6 billion.

The U.N. sanctions monitors were disbanded at the end of April after Russia vetoed renewal of their mandate.

A research report from a Washington think tank in April said North Korean animators may have helped create popular television cartoons for big Western firms despite international sanctions. 

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Protesters disrupt Google conference over Israel AI contract

Protesters disrupted Google’s annual conference this week over the tech giant’s deal providing artificial intelligence and other services to the Israeli government. Matt Dibble reports from Mountain View, California. Camera: Matt Dibble.

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Kenya conference showcases technology to help people with disabilities

In Africa, about 15% of the population faces disability challenges despite advancements in technology. Limited infrastructure and high cost of assistive tech create barriers to digital access, leading to exclusion. A conference in Nairobi this week aims to help change that. Mohammed Yusuf reports.

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TSMC says no damage to its Arizona facilities after incident

TAIPAI, TAIWAN — Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC said Thursday there was no damage to its facilities after an incident at its Arizona factory construction site where

a waste disposal truck driver was transported to a hospital.

Firefighters responded to a reported explosion Wednesday afternoon at the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company plant in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic reported, citing the local fire department.

TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker whose clients include Apple and Nvidia, said in a statement none of its employees or onsite construction workers had reported any related injuries.

“This is an active investigation with no additional details that can be shared at this time,” it added.

TSMC’s Taipei-listed shares pared earlier gains after the news and were last up around 0.8% on Thursday morning. TSMC last month agreed to expand its planned investment by $25 billion to $65 billion and to add a third Arizona plant by 2030.

The company will produce the world’s most advanced 2 nanometer technology at its second Arizona facility expected to begin production in 2028.

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YouTube agrees to remove videos of banned Hong Kong protest song

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New Zealand researchers say artificial intelligence could enhance surgery

SYDNEY — Researchers in New Zealand say that artificial intelligence, or AI, can help solve problems for patients and doctors.  

A new study from the University of Auckland says that an emerging area is the use of AI during operations using so-called “computer vision.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, says that artificial intelligence has the potential to identify abnormalities during operations and to unburden overloaded hospitals by enhancing the monitoring of patients to help them recover after surgery at home.

The New Zealand research details how AI “tools are rapidly maturing for medical applications.”  It asserts that “medicine is entering an exciting phase of digital innovation.”

The New Zealand team is investigating computer vision, which describes a machine’s understanding of videos and images. 

 

Dr. Chris Varghese, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Surgery at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, led the AI research team.

He told VOA the technology has great potential.

“The use of AI in surgery is a really emerging field. We are seeing a lot of exciting research looking at what we call computer vision, where AI is trying to learn what surgeons see, what the surgical instruments look like, what the different organs look like, and the potential there is to identify abnormal anatomy or what the safest approach to an operation might be using virtual reality and augmented reality to plan ahead of surgeries, which could be really useful in cutting out cancers and things like that.”

Varghese said doctors in New Zealand are already using AI to help sort through patient backlogs.

 

“We are using automated algorithms to triage really long waiting lists,” he said. “So, getting people prioritized and into clinics ahead of time, based on need, so the right patients are seen at the right time.”

The researchers said there are limitations to the use of artificial intelligence because of concerns about data privacy and ethics.

The report concludes that “numerous apprehensions remain with regard to the integration of AI into surgical practice, with many clinicians perceiving limited scope in a field dominated by experiential” technology.

The study also says that “autonomous robotic surgeons…. is the most distant of the realizable goals of surgical AI systems.”

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LogOn: Robots play bigger roles in marine workforce

Seafaring robots are increasingly used for tasks ranging from ocean exploration to rescue missions. Matt Dibble has the latest in this week’s episode of LogOn.

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Biden sharply hikes US tariffs on billions in Chinese chips, cars

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled a bundle of steep tariff increases on an array of Chinese imports including electric vehicles, computer chips and medical products, risking an election-year standoff with Beijing in a bid to woo voters who give his economic policies low marks.

Biden will keep tariffs put in place by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump while ratcheting up others, including a quadrupling of EV duties to over 100%, the White House said in a statement. It cited “unacceptable risks” to U.S. economic security posed by what it considers unfair Chinese practices that are flooding global markets with cheap goods.

The new measures impact $18 billion in Chinese imported goods including steel and aluminum, semiconductors, batteries, critical minerals, solar cells and cranes, the White House said. The announcement confirmed earlier Reuters reporting.

The United States imported $427 billion in goods from China in 2023 and exported $148 billion to the world’s No. 2 economy, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a trade gap that has persisted for decades and become an ever more sensitive subject in Washington.

“China’s using the same playbook it has before to power its own growth at the expense of others by continuing to invest, despite excess Chinese capacity and flooding global markets with exports that are underpriced due to unfair practices,” White House National Economic Adviser Lael Brainard told reporters on a conference call.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the revised tariffs were justified because China was continuing to steal U.S. intellectual property and in some cases had become “more aggressive” in cyber intrusions targeting American technology.

She said prior “Section 301” tariffs had minimal impact on U.S. economy-wide prices and employment, but had been effective in reducing U.S. imports of Chinese goods, while increasing imports from other countries.

But Tai recommended tariff exclusions for dozens of industrial machinery import categories from China, including 19 for solar product manufacturing equipment.

Even as Biden’s steps fell in line with Trump’s premise that tougher trade measures are warranted, the Democrat took aim at his opponent in November’s election.

The White House said Trump’s 2020 trade deal with China did not increase American exports or boost American manufacturing jobs, and it said the 10% across-the-board tariffs on goods from all points of origin that Trump has proposed would frustrate U.S. allies and raise prices. Trump has floated tariffs of 60% or higher on all Chinese goods.

Administration officials said their measures are “carefully targeted,” combined with domestic investment, plotted with close allies and unlikely to worsen a bout of inflation that has already angered U.S. voters and imperiled Biden’s re-election bid. They also downplayed the risk of retaliation from Beijing.

Biden has struggled to convince voters of the efficacy of his economic policies despite a backdrop of low unemployment and above-trend economic growth. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed Trump had a 7 percentage-point edge over Biden on the economy.

Analysts have warned that a trade tiff could raise costs for EVs overall, hurting Biden’s climate goals and his aim to create manufacturing jobs.

Biden has said he wants to win this era of competition with China but not to launch a trade war that could hurt the mutually dependent economies. He has worked in recent months to ease tensions in one-on-one talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Both 2024 U.S. presidential candidates have sharply departed from the free-trade consensus that once reigned in Washington, a period capped by China’s joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.

China has said the tariffs are counterproductive and risk inflaming tensions. Trump’s broader imposition of tariffs during his 2017-2021 presidency kicked off a tariff war with China.

As part of the long-awaited tariff update, Biden will increase tariffs this year under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 from 25% to 100% on EVs, bringing total duties to 102.5%, from 7.5% to 25% on lithium-ion EV batteries and other battery parts and from 25% to 50% on photovoltaic cells used to make solar panels. “Certain” critical minerals will have their tariffs raised from nothing to 25%.

The tariffs on ship-to-shore cranes will rise to 25% from zero, those on syringes and needles will rise to 50% from nothing now and some personal protective equipment (PPE) used in medical facilities will rise to 25% from as little as 0% now. Shortages in PPE made largely in China hampered the United States’ COVID-19 response.

More tariffs will follow in 2025 and 2026 on semiconductors, whose tariff rate will double to 50%, as well as lithium-ion batteries that are not used in elective vehicles, graphite and permanent magnets as well as rubber medical and surgical gloves.

A step Biden previously announced to raise tariffs on some steel and aluminum products will take effect this year, the White House said.  

A number of lawmakers have called for massive hikes on Chinese vehicle tariffs. There are relatively few Chinese-made light-duty vehicles being imported now. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown wants the Biden administration to ban Chinese EVs outright, over concerns they pose risks to Americans’ personal data.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who warned China in April that its excess production of EVs and solar products was unacceptable, said that such concerns were widely shared by U.S. allies and the actions were “motivated not by anti-China policy but by a desire to prevent damaging economic dislocation from unfair economic practices.” 

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AI developments are already impacting the job market

As generative AI technologies like ChatGPT rapidly gain popularity, they are beginning to change the future of the job market. Some fear mass unemployment, but others see a bright future for human-AI cooperation. Maxim Adams has the story.

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US vows to stay ahead of China, using AI for fighter jets, navigation

Washington — Two Air Force fighter jets recently squared off in a dogfight in California. One was flown by a pilot. The other wasn’t.

That second jet was piloted by artificial intelligence, with the Air Force’s highest-ranking civilian riding along in the front seat. It was the ultimate display of how far the Air Force has come in developing a technology with its roots in the 1950s. But it’s only a hint of the technology yet to come.

The United States is competing to stay ahead of China on AI and its use in weapon systems. The focus on AI has generated public concern that future wars will be fought by machines that select and strike targets without direct human intervention. Officials say this will never happen, at least not on the U.S. side. But there are questions about what a potential adversary would allow, and the military sees no alternative but to get U.S. capabilities fielded fast.

“Whether you want to call it a race or not, it certainly is,” said Adm. Christopher Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Both of us have recognized that this will be a very critical element of the future battlefield. China’s working on it as hard as we are.”

A look at the history of military development of AI, what technologies are on the horizon and how they will be kept under control:

From machine learning to autonomy

AI’s military roots are a hybrid of machine learning and autonomy. Machine learning occurs when a computer analyzes data and rule sets to reach conclusions. Autonomy occurs when those conclusions are applied to act without further human input.

This took an early form in the 1960s and 1970s with the development of the Navy’s Aegis missile defense system. Aegis was trained through a series of human-programmed if/then rule sets to be able to detect and intercept incoming missiles autonomously, and more rapidly than a human could. But the Aegis system was not designed to learn from its decisions and its reactions were limited to the rule set it had.

“If a system uses ‘if/then’ it is probably not machine learning, which is a field of AI that involves creating systems that learn from data,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Berardi, who is assigned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to assist with the Air Force’s AI development.

AI took a major step forward in 2012 when the combination of big data and advanced computing power enabled computers to begin analyzing the information and writing the rule sets themselves. It is what AI experts have called AI’s “big bang.”

The new data created by a computer writing the rules is artificial intelligence. Systems can be programmed to act autonomously from the conclusions reached from machine-written rules, which is a form of AI-enabled autonomy.

Testing an AI alternative to GPS navigation

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall got a taste of that advanced warfighting this month when he flew on Vista, the first F-16 fighter jet to be controlled by AI, in a dogfighting exercise over California’s Edwards Air Force Base.

While that jet is the most visible sign of the AI work underway, there are hundreds of ongoing AI projects across the Pentagon.

At MIT, service members worked to clear thousands of hours of recorded pilot conversations to create a data set from the flood of messages exchanged between crews and air operations centers during flights, so the AI could learn the difference between critical messages like a runway being closed and mundane cockpit chatter. The goal was to have the AI learn which messages are critical to elevate to ensure controllers see them faster.

In another significant project, the military is working on an AI alternative to GPS satellite-dependent navigation.

In a future war high-value GPS satellites would likely be hit or interfered with. The loss of GPS could blind U.S. communication, navigation and banking systems and make the U.S. military’s fleet of aircraft and warships less able to coordinate a response.

So last year the Air Force flew an AI program — loaded onto a laptop that was strapped to the floor of a C-17 military cargo plane — to work on an alternative solution using the Earth’s magnetic fields.

It has been known that aircraft could navigate by following the Earth’s magnetic fields, but so far that hasn’t been practical because each aircraft generates so much of its own electromagnetic noise that there has been no good way to filter for just the Earth’s emissions.

“Magnetometers are very sensitive,” said Col. Garry Floyd, director for the Department of Air Force-MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator program. “If you turn on the strobe lights on a C-17 we would see it.”

The AI learned through the flights and reams of data which signals to ignore and which to follow and the results “were very, very impressive,” Floyd said. “We’re talking tactical airdrop quality.”

“We think we may have added an arrow to the quiver in the things we can do, should we end up operating in a GPS-denied environment. Which we will,” Floyd said.

The AI so far has been tested only on the C-17. Other aircraft will also be tested, and if it works it could give the military another way to operate if GPS goes down.

Safety rails and pilot speak

 

Vista, the AI-controlled F-16, has considerable safety rails as the Air Force trains it. There are mechanical limits that keep the still-learning AI from executing maneuvers that would put the plane in danger. There is a safety pilot, too, who can take over control from the AI with the push of a button.

The algorithm cannot learn during a flight, so each time up it has only the data and rule sets it has created from previous flights. When a new flight is over, the algorithm is transferred back onto a simulator where it is fed new data gathered in-flight to learn from, create new rule sets and improve its performance.

But the AI is learning fast. Because of the supercomputing speed AI uses to analyze data, and then flying those new rule sets in the simulator, its pace in finding the most efficient way to fly and maneuver has already led it to beat some human pilots in dogfighting exercises.

But safety is still a critical concern, and officials said the most important way to take safety into account is to control what data is reinserted into the simulator for the AI to learn from.

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California to use generative AI to improve services, cut traffic jams 

sacramento, california — California could soon deploy generative artificial intelligence tools to help reduce traffic jams, make roads safer and provide tax guidance, among other things, under new agreements announced Thursday as part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s efforts to harness the power of new technologies for public services. 

The state is partnering with five companies to create generative AI tools using technologies developed by tech giants such as Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Google- and Amazon-backed Anthropic that would ultimately help the state provide better services to the public, administration officials said. 

“It is a very good sign that a lot of these companies are putting their focus on using GenAI for governmental service delivery,” said Amy Tong, secretary of government operations for California. 

The companies will start a six-month internal trial in which state workers test and evaluate the tools. The companies will be paid $1 for their proposals. The state, which faces a significant budget deficit, can then reassess whether any tools could be fully implemented under new contracts. All the tools are considered low risk, meaning they don’t interact with confidential data or personal information, an administration spokesperson said. 

Newsom, a Democrat, touts California as a global hub for AI technology, noting 35 of the world’s top 50 AI companies are located in the state. He signed an executive order last year requiring the state to start exploring responsible ways to incorporate generative AI by this summer, with a goal of positioning California as an AI leader.

In January, the state started asking technology companies to come up with generative AI tools for public services. Last month, California was one of the first states to roll out guidelines on when and how state agencies could buy such tools. 

Generative AI, a branch of AI that can create new content such as text, audio and photos, has significant potential to help government agencies become more efficient, but there’s also an urgent need for safeguards to limit risks, state officials and experts said. In New York City, an AI-powered chatbot created by the city to help small businesses was found to dole out false guidance and advise companies to violate the law. The rapidly growing technology has also raised concerns about job losses, misinformation, privacy and automation bias. 

While state governments are struggling to regulate AI in the private sector, many are exploring how public agencies can leverage the powerful technology for public good. California’s approach, which also requires companies to disclose what large language models they use to develop AI tools, is meant to build public trust, officials said. 

The state’s testing of the tools and collecting of feedback from state workers are some of the best practices to limit potential risks, said Meredith Lee, chief technical adviser for the University of California-Berkeley’s College of Computing, Data Science and Society. The challenge is determining how to assure continued testing and learning about the tools’ potential risks after deployment. 

“This is not something where you just work on testing for some small amount of time and that’s it,” Lee said. “Putting in the structures for people to be able to revisit and better understand the deployments further down the line is really crucial.” 

The California Department of Transportation is looking for tools that would analyze traffic data and come up with solutions to reduce highway traffic and make roads safer. The state’s Department of Tax and Fee Administration, which administers more than 40 programs, wants an AI tool to help its call center cut wait times and call length. The state is also seeking technologies to provide non-English speakers information about health and social services benefits in their languages and to streamline the inspection process for health care facilities. 

The tools are to be designed to assist state workers, not replace them, said Nick Maduros, director of the Department of Tax and Fee Administration. 

Call center workers there took more than 660,000 calls last year. The state envisions the AI technology listening along to those calls and pulling up specific tax code information associated with the problems callers describe. Workers  could decide whether to use the information.

Currently, call center workers have to simultaneously listen to the call and manually look up the code, Maduros said. 

“If it turns out it doesn’t serve the public better, then we’re out $1,” Maduros said. “And I think that’s a pretty good deal for the citizens of California.” 

Tong wouldn’t say when a successfully vetted tool would be deployed, but added that the state was moving as fast as it can. 

“The whole essence of using GenAI is it doesn’t take years,” Tong said. “GenAI doesn’t wait for you.”

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Technology crushing human creativity? Apple’s new iPad ad has strikes nerve online

NEW YORK — A newly released ad promoting Apple’s new iPad Pro has struck quite a nerve online.

The ad, which was released by the tech giant Tuesday, shows a hydraulic press crushing just about every creative instrument artists and consumers have used over the years — from a piano and record player, to piles of paint, books, cameras and relics of arcade games. Resulting from the destruction? A pristine new iPad Pro.

“The most powerful iPad ever is also the thinnest,” a narrator says at the end of the commercial.

Apple’s intention seems straightforward: Look at all the things this new product can do. But critics have called it tone-deaf — with several marketing experts noting the campaign’s execution didn’t land.

“I had a really disturbing reaction to the ad,” said Americus Reed II, professor of marketing at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “I understood conceptually what they were trying to do, but … I think the way it came across is, here is technology crushing the life of that nostalgic sort of joy (from former times).”

The ad also arrives during a time many feel uncertain or fearful about seeing their work or everyday routines “replaced” by technological advances — particularly amid the rapid commercialization of generative artificial intelligence. And watching beloved items get smashed into oblivion doesn’t help curb those fears, Reed and others note.

Several celebrities were also among the voices critical of Apple’s “Crush!” commercial on social media this week.

“The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley,” actor Hugh Grant wrote on the social media platform X, in a repost of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s sharing of the ad.

Some found the ad to be a telling metaphor of the industry today — particularly concerns about big tech negatively impacting creatives. Filmmaker Justine Bateman wrote on X that the commercial “crushes the arts.”

Experts added that the commercial marked a notable difference to marketing seen from Apple in the past — which has often taken more positive or uplifting approaches.

“My initial thought was that Apple has become exactly what it never wanted to be,” Vann Graves, executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter, said.

Graves pointed to Apple’s famous 1984 ad introducing the Macintosh computer, which he said focused more on uplifting creativity and thinking outside of the box as a unique individual. In contrast, Graves added, “this (new iPad) commercial says, ‘No, we’re going to take all the creativity in the world and use a hydraulic press to push it down into one device that everyone uses.'”

In a statement shared with Ad Age on Thursday, Apple apologized for the ad. The outlet also reported that Apple no longer plans to run the spot on TV.

“Creativity is in our DNA at Apple, and it’s incredibly important to us to design products that empower creatives all over the world,” Tor Myhren, the company’s vice president of marketing communications, told Ad Age. “Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad. We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

Cupertino, California-based Apple unveiled its latest generation of iPad Pros and Airs earlier this week in a showcase that lauded new features for both lines. The Pro sports a new thinner design, a new M4 processor for added processing power, slightly upgraded storage and incorporates dual OLED panels for a brighter, crisper display.

Apple is trying to juice demand for iPads after its sales of the tablets plunged 17% from last year during the January-March period. After its 2010 debut helped redefine the tablet market, the iPad has become a minor contributor to Apple’s success. It currently accounts for just 6% of the company’s sales.

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Online abuse silences women in Ethiopia, study finds

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Research into online abuse and hate speech reveals most women in Ethiopia face gender-targeted attacks across Facebook, Telegram and X.

The abuse and hate speech are prompting many Ethiopian women to withdraw from public life, online and off, according to the recent research.

The Center for Information Resilience, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization, spearheaded the study. The CIR report, released Wednesday, says that women in Ethiopia are on the receiving end of abuse and hate speech across all three social media platforms, with Facebook cited as the worst.

Over 2,000 inflammatory keywords were found in the research, which looked at three Ethiopian languages — Amharic, Afan Oromo and Tigrigna — as well as English. The list is the most comprehensive inflammatory word lexicon in Ethiopia, according to the researchers.

Over 78% of the women interviewed reported feelings of fear or anxiety after experiencing online abuse.

It is highly likely similar problems exist in areas of society that have not been analyzed yet, said Felicity Mulford, editor and researcher at CIR.

“This data can be used by human rights advocates, women’s rights advocates, in their advocacy,” she said. “We believe that it’s incredibly impactful, because even though we’ve only got four languages, it shows some of the [trends] that exist across Ethiopia.”

Online abuse is so widespread in Ethiopia that it has been “normalized to the point of invisibility,” the report’s authors said.

Betelehem Akalework, co-founder of Setaset Power, an Afro-feminist movement in Ethiopia, said her work has opened doors to more-serious, targeted attacks.

“We [were] mentally prepared for it to some extent,” she said. “We [weren’t] surprised that the backlash was that heavy, but then we did not anticipate the gravity of that backlash. So, we took media training, and we took digital security trainings.”

The Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center, established three years ago, offers protection for human rights defenders and social media activists in the country.

The center’s program coordinator, Kalkidan Tesfaye, said there must be more initiative from the government in education and policymaking to help women protect themselves from online abuse.

“In our recommendation earlier, we were talking about how the Ministry of Education can incorporate digital safety training … a very essential element to learning about computers or acquiring digital skills,” Tesfaye said.

The researchers also investigated other protected characteristics under Ethiopian law, including ethnicity, religion and race. The findings showed that women face compounded attacks, as they are also often targeted for their ethnicity and religion.

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Biden set to impose tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, sources say

WASHINGTON AND SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. President Joe Biden is set to announce new tariffs on China as soon as next week, targeting strategic sectors, including electric vehicles, according to two people familiar with the matter. 

The full announcement, which could take place as soon as Tuesday, is expected to largely maintain existing levies, according to one of the people. An announcement could also be pushed back, the person said. 

The tariffs were also set to include semiconductors and solar equipment, according to one of the people. 

Details on the precise value or categories of tariffs that would be imposed were sketchy, but the administration was said to have zeroed in on areas of interest within strategic competitive and national security areas, one of the people said. 

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office made its recommendations to the White House weeks ago, but a final announcement was delayed as the package was debated internally, according to one of the sources and an additional person familiar with the matter. 

Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, is looking to contrast his approach with that of Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has proposed across-the-board tariffs that White House officials see as too blunt and prone to spark inflation. 

The White House and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment. Bloomberg News first reported the story. 

The measures could invite retaliation from China at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. Trump’s broader imposition of tariffs during his presidency prompted China to retaliate with its own levies. 

Biden has said he does not want a trade war with China even as he has said the countries have entered a new paradigm of competition. 

Both 2024 presidential candidates have sharply departed from the free-trade consensus that once reigned in Washington, a period capped by China’s joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. 

In 2022, Biden launched a review of the Trump-era policy under Section 301 of the U.S. trade law. Last month, he called for sharply higher U.S. tariffs on Chinese metal products, but the targeted products were narrow in range, estimated at more than $1 billion of steel and aluminum products, a U.S. official said. 

Biden also announced launching an investigation into Chinese trade practices across the shipbuilding, maritime and logistics sectors, a process that could lead to more tariffs. 

The Biden administration has also been pressuring neighboring Mexico to prohibit China from selling its metal products to the United States indirectly from there. 

China has said the tariff measures are counterproductive and inflict harm on the U.S. and global economy. 

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Australian study says China uses global apps, games for propaganda

SYDNEY — An Australian study claims that China’s monitoring of global internet users’ online habits — a practice that has made TikTok controversial in the United States — extends far beyond the popular social media app to numerous other platforms and even online games.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a research organization that receives funding from the Australian government and others overseas, said in a May 2 report that Beijing’s propaganda chiefs are forging ties with Chinese tech companies to gather personal data from a wide range of social media apps or platforms and popular online games.

They include ride-sharing app DiDi, the action game Genshin Impact, and Temu, the popular online marketplace.

The Australian study claims that China’s ambition is to harvest “strategically valuable” data from media, gaming, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

It states that China is “working to extend its influence abroad to reshape the global information ecosystem … to strengthen its grip on power, legitimize its activities and bolster China’s cultural, technological, economic and military influence.”

There has been no response, so far, from Chinese authorities. Beijing has previously accused the Australian government of “anti-China hysteria” over various geopolitical and trade disputes.

Samantha Hoffman, the lead author of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this week that data obtained from apps, platforms and games could be valuable to China.

“That could be data on the way that users make decisions. [With] Temu, it could be preferences that indicate the likes and dislikes of particular demographics,” she said. “If China is trying to shape the way that the world perceives and understands truth and reality, then this data will help to make those efforts more successful over time.”

The report urged policymakers to “develop robust defenses and countermeasures to safeguard against future information campaigns orchestrated by Beijing.”

It also asserts that much attention has been given to the Chinese-owned platform TikTok because of concerns that the user data it collects could be shared with Chinese authorities. It cautions, however, the problem “runs much deeper than just TikTok.”

TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, has said it will mount a court challenge in the United States to what it called an “unconstitutional” law making its way through Congress that could require the platform to be sold or banned in that country.

ByteDance has denied collusion with the Chinese government.

Marina Zhang, an associate professor at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, told VOA she thinks the Strategic Policy Institute report is exaggerated.

“[The] Chinese propaganda machine is huge, but to link all social media apps [to] this propaganda machine is a bit of overstretching,” she said.

Zhang said she believes technological collaboration, and not confrontation, is in China’s best interests.

“If segregation is going to happen and if reports like this [are] going to happen, China will be isolated from the rest of the world,” Zhang said. “So, we do not want to see a total technological decoupling between China and the West in terms of not just applications but also eventually in technological infrastructure. That is not going to be good for anybody.”

Last year, Australia said it would ban TikTok on government devices, including cell phones, because of security and surveillance fears.

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TikTok to start labeling AI-generated content as technology becomes more universal

New York — TikTok will begin labeling content created using artificial intelligence when it’s uploaded from certain platforms.

TikTok says its efforts are an attempt to combat misinformation from being spread on its social media platform.

The announcement came on ABCs “Good Morning America” on Thursday.

“Our users and our creators are so excited about AI and what it can do for their creativity and their ability to connect with audiences.” Adam Presser, TikTok’s Head of Operations & Trust and Safety told ABC News. “And at the same time, we want to make sure that people have that ability to understand what fact is and what is fiction.”

TikTok’s policy in the past has been to encourage users to label content that has been generated or significantly edited by AI. It also requires users to label all AI-generated content where it contains realistic images, audio, and video.

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FTX will return money to most customers less than 2 years after catastrophic crypto collapse

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