Texas School’s Lunar City Wins Top Honors in International Competition    

The international Future City Competition recently announced its 2021 winners in the first ever all-virtual event. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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New App Helps Disaster Responders Deal with Religious Communities

Religious organizations in the U.S. are a key part of a community’s response to a disaster.  As Mike O’Sullivan reports, a new smartphone app is helping coordinate that response between relief workers and faith groups while making it more effective.

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Expansion Plan by World’s Largest Contract Chipmaker Won’t Ease Global Shortage: Experts

Plans by the world’s largest contract chipmaker for a record $100 billion capacity expansion will just mildly dent a growing worldwide shortage of semiconductors for gear such as high-speed notebook computers, 5G smartphones and newer vehicles, tech experts believe.Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. said in an April 1 legal notice to the Taipei stock exchange that it would use the money over three years on “leading technology” for manufacturing and R&D to “answer demands from the market.” The notice specifically cites demand for chips used in 5G-enabled and high-performance devices.That amount would set a dollar-value record for the company, which is better known as TSMC, said Brady Wang, an analyst in Taipei with the market intelligence firm Counterpoint Research.TSMC’s investment will ease “anxiety” among clients worried about semiconductor supply-chain instability caused in part by Sino-U.S. trade tension, said Kent Chong, managing director of professional services firm PwC Legal in Taipei. Its clients include multiple American hardware developers including Apple.“Overall, it would indeed increase capacity, without any question,” Chong said. American clients hope to source chips in the United States, he added. The company headquartered southwest of Taipei is already planning to open a $12 billion plant in the U.S. state of Arizona. “TSMC is obviously the forefront runner in bringing the whole supply chain to the U.S.,” Chong said.TSMC said in its stock market filing it is “working closely with our customers to address their needs in a sustainable manner.”Years-long shortageAnalysts caution, though, that the ever-growing demand for chips paired with the lag time in building new production plants will extend the shortage for years, despite TSMC’s investment.“You can throw a lot of money at it, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” said Sean Su, an independent political and technology consultant in Taipei.He pointed to popularity of home-use devices during the pandemic and a possible long-term reliance on this technology in “hybrid” online-offline economy after COVID-19 subsides.“Demand is off the ceiling,” Su said. “People want smartphones. People want this and that more than ever. People want tablets all of a sudden. Every single child in the house now needs a computer instead of sharing it.”Remote study and telework, two trends that emerged during the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, particularly raised demand last year for chips that run high-speed notebook PCs. That trend is piggybacking on prepandemic demand for 5G smartphones and new devices that run on artificial intelligence.Automakers joined the mix, too, last year as they placed orders for automated vehicles and electric cars. Because of the current chip shortage, they must wait until at least early 2022 as production capacity is now “fully loaded,” said Wen Liu, industry analyst with the Taipei-based Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute.Feeling an additional pinchWorld demand for chips should increase from $450 billion last year to about $600 billion in 2024, market research firm Gartner says. Industry revenue had already grown 5.4% from 2019 to 2020, according to fellow market research company IDC. TSMC and South Korean technology giant Samsung are the biggest chipmakers today and make the highest-grade chips.Chinese semiconductor clients will feel an additional pinch because of curbs introduced by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, Su said. The Trump administration barred companies, including those based offshore, from working with a list of Chinese firms considered national security risks.“They will be [affected in China] due to trade embargoes as is,” Su said. “Every year, companies fight over limited batches of top-end processors.”China-based chip buyers include developers of three of the world’s five biggest smartphone brands by market share in late 2020.Most of the world’s chipmakers, such as the growing China-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., lag in the equipment and knowhow to make chips that run fast on low power, tech analysts believe. TSMC’s investment will help it stay ahead of any up-and-coming peers, Wang said.“This is actually because [TSMC] saw a new opportunity, which would mainly be in 5G or high-performance PCs or demands for other digitization needs as that’s the demand following COVID-19,” Wang said. TSMC itself probably does not expect the planned $100 billion outlay to ease today’s chip shortage, he said.The company says in its stock exchange notice that “multiyear mega-trends…are expected to fuel strong demand for our semiconductor technologies in the next several years,” while the pandemic “accelerates digitalization in every aspect.”

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High Court Sides with Google in Copyright Fight with Oracle

The Supreme Court sided Monday with Google in an $8 billion copyright dispute with Oracle over the internet company’s creation of the Android operating system used on most smartphones worldwide.To create Android, which was released in 2007, Google wrote millions of lines of new computer code. But it also used 11,330 lines of code and an organization that’s part of Oracle’s Java platform.Google had argued that what it did is long-settled, common practice in the industry, a practice that has been good for technical progress. And it said there is no copyright protection for the purely functional, noncreative computer code it used, something that couldn’t be written another way. But Oracle said Google “committed an egregious act of plagiarism,” and it sued.The justices ruled 6-2 for Google Inc., based in Mountain View, California. Two conservative justices dissented.Justice Stephen Breyer wrote  that in reviewing a lower court’s decision, the justices assumed “for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable.””But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law,” he wrote.Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissent joined by Justice Samuel Alito that he believed “Oracle’s code at issue here is copyrightable, and Google’s use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair.”Only eight justices heard the case because it was argued in October, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court.The case has been going on for a decade. Microsoft, IBM and major internet and tech industry lobbying groups had weighed in, in favor of Google. The Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America were among those supporting Oracle.The case is Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc., 18-956.

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Facing Pressure at Home, Chinese Tech Giants Expand in Singapore

Chinese tech giants are expanding in Singapore as they face a crackdown at home and growing pressure in other key markets — but they may struggle to find talent in the city-state. Messaging-and-gaming behemoth Tencent is opening a hub and TikTok owner ByteDance is on a hiring spree after establishing a regional headquarters, while e-commerce giant Alibaba is investing in property and recruiting. The tech firms are shifting their focus to booming Southeast Asian markets as authorities tighten the screws at home amid concerns about the platforms’ growing power. China’s regulators have launched a blitz on the sector, hitting several firms with heavy fines, and threatening to slice up massive companies whose reach now extends deep into the daily lives of ordinary Chinese.  Meanwhile, festering tensions between Washington and Beijing after an assault on Chinese tech titans during Donald Trump’s presidency make the United States an unattractive prospect, and problems abound elsewhere. “Chinese tech companies are facing regulatory pressures and sanctions from governments in other countries, notably the U.S. but also other nations such as India,” Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit, told AFP.   India has banned a swathe of Chinese apps since a border clash last year, while the European Union and other Western powers recently imposed sanctions over China’s treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority, prompting retaliatory sanctions.  But Singapore, a prosperous financial hub, maintains good ties with Beijing and the West, and tech firms have come to view it as a safe bet to expand their operations without upsetting either side.   In the current climate of geopolitical uncertainty “Singapore is considered as a more neutral country,” Chen Guoli, professor of strategy at the Singapore campus of business school INSEAD, told AFP. Hiring spree    In addition, long-running turmoil in traditional rival Hong Kong may have dimmed the territory’s appeal, although observers stress other factors are likely more important.   The influx of Chinese cash will be welcome in Singapore, whose economy has been hammered by the coronavirus and which is seeking to build itself up as a tech center. It is already home to major offices of U.S. tech titans Facebook, Google and Twitter, while ByteDance recently moved into bigger offices in the financial district and has launched a hiring drive. Between September and February, a third of ByteDance’s job postings were in Singapore, more than twice the ads it placed in China, with a focus on hiring specialized engineers, said Ajay Thalluri, an analyst with data and analytics firm GlobalData.   Meanwhile, Alibaba last year bought a 50 percent stake in an office tower, where its e-commerce unit Lazada is the main tenant, while its affiliate, fintech giant Ant Group, won a license to operate a wholesale digital bank in the city-state. Alibaba “is building teams in Singapore with significant key senior and mid-level job postings related to talent acquisition, product management, and legal compliance,” said Thalluri.   The e-commerce firm, co-founded by Jack Ma, has come under fierce pressure in China, with authorities pulling the plug on Ant’s record initial public offering in November.    Talent crunch    ByteDance and Tencent, which announced its Singapore expansion plans in September, say they are primarily focused on growing their businesses in Southeast Asia, a booming region of 650 million, rather than avoiding tensions elsewhere. By building up their Singapore presence, the tech giants are hedging their bets in case frictions with the West hit a new nadir, analysts say.   Chen of INSEAD said Chinese companies needed a “plan B” in case they had to separate their global and Chinese operations, in which case Singapore could become their international hub.  However, a major challenge in expanding in the city, with a population of just 5.7 million, is recruiting workers with the correct skills.  “Technology is developing and accelerating at a speed that far surpasses the supply of talent needed to scale,” said Daljit Sall, senior director for information technology at the Singapore office of global recruitment firm Randstad. Singapore is trying to attract overseas talent, although that may cause unease in a country where there are already concerns about the large foreign population, while schools are offering courses to prepare youngsters for tech jobs. Nevertheless, “there still remains an urgent need to fill these skills gaps now,” Sall said. 

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LinkedIn Gives Staff Week Off for Well-being

Professional social network LinkedIn is giving nearly all of its 15,900 full-time workers next week off as it seeks to avoid burnout and allow its employees to recharge, the company told AFP Friday.The Microsoft-owned firm said that the “RestUp!” week starting Monday is meant to give employees time for their own well-being.”There is something magical about the entire company taking a break at the same time,” LinkedIn said in reply to an AFP inquiry. “And the best part? Not coming back to an avalanche of unanswered internal emails.”During the week, LinkedIn will provide employees who may feel isolated the option of taking part in daily activities such as volunteering for worthy causes through “random acts of kindness,” according to the company.”A core team of employees will continue to work for the week, but they will be able to schedule time off later,” LinkedIn said.Major technology companies were among the first in the U.S. to adopt working from home last year to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and most have yet to fully reopen their offices. Twitter has extended remote working indefinitely.LinkedIn does not expect employees to begin returning to its offices until September, and it plans to make it standard practice to let them work from home as much as half of the time.Microsoft in mid-2016 bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash, stepping into the world of social networking and adding a new tool for its efforts to boost services for business.

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US Supreme Court Rules in Facebook’s Favor in Case About Unwanted Texting

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday tossed out a lawsuit accusing Facebook Inc. of violating a federal anti-robocall law.The justices, in a 9-0 decision authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, sided with Facebook in its argument that text messages the social media company sent did not violate a 1991 federal law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).The case highlighted the challenge for the justices in applying outdated laws to modern technologies. The ruling sparked calls for Congress to update the law, enacted three decades ago to curb telemarketing abuse by banning most unauthorized robocalls.”By narrowing the scope of the TCPA, the court is allowing companies the ability to assault the public with a nonstop wave of unwanted calls and texts, around the clock,” Democratic Senator Edward Markey and Democratic Representative Anna Eshoo said in a joint statement.The court ruled that Facebook’s actions — sending text messages without consent — did not fit within the technical definition of the type of conduct barred by the law, which was enacted before the rise of modern cellphone technology.The lawsuit was filed in 2015 in California federal court by Montana resident Noah Duguid, who said Facebook sent him many automatic text messages without his consent. The lawsuit accused Menlo Park, California-based Facebook of violating the TCPA’s restriction on using an automatic telephone dialing system.Facebook said the security-related messages, triggered when users try to log in to their accounts from a new device or internet browser, were tied to users’ cellphone numbers.”As the court recognized, the law’s provisions were never intended to prohibit companies from sending targeted security notifications, and the court’s decision will allow companies to continue working to keep the accounts of their users safe,” Facebook said in a statement.’A disappointing ruling’Sergei Lemberg, Duguid’s lawyer, said anyone could avoid liability under the law if they use technology like Facebook’s.”This is a disappointing ruling for anyone who owns a cellphone or values their privacy,” Lemberg added.In this instance, the lawsuit asserted that Facebook’s system that sent automated text messages was akin to a traditional automatic dialing system — known as an autodialer — used to send robocalls.”Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress, which did not define an autodialer as malleably as he would have liked,” Sotomayor wrote in the ruling.The law requires that the equipment used must use a “random or sequential number generator,” but the court concluded that Facebook’s system “does not use such technology,” Sotomayor added.Duguid said that Facebook repeatedly sent him account login notifications by text message to his cellphone, even though he was not a Facebook user and never had been. Despite numerous efforts, Duguid said he was unable to stop Facebook from “robotexting” him.Facebook responded that Duguid had most likely been assigned a phone number that was previously associated with a Facebook user who opted in to receive the notifications.A federal judge threw out the lawsuit, but in 2019, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived it. The 9th Circuit took a broad view of the law, saying it bans devices that automatically dial not only randomly generated numbers but also stored numbers that are not randomly generated.The National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions said the decision “to narrowly interpret autodialers is a win for the credit union industry.””We have long fought for this clarity to ensure credit unions can contact their members with important, time-sensitive financial information without fear of violating the TCPA and facing frivolous lawsuits,” the association said in a statement.  

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NFTs: A Cryptocurrency Craze Creates Market for Digital Art, Even Tweets

The record-breaking sale of a digital artwork in March is part of a rush to invest in previously unmarketable things like basketball highlights, video game art, and even tweets. Making it possible are NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens. Matt Dibble explains.

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Microsoft Wins $22 Billion Deal Making Headsets for US Army

Microsoft won a nearly $22 billion contract to supply U.S. Army combat troops with its augmented reality headsets.  
 
Microsoft and the Army separately announced the deal Wednesday.
 
The technology is based on Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, which were originally intended for the video game and entertainment industries.
 
Pentagon officials have described the futuristic technology — which the Army calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System — as a way of boosting soldiers’ awareness of their surroundings and their ability to spot targets and dangers.
 
Microsoft’s head-mounted HoloLens displays let people see virtual imagery superimposed over the physical world in front of them — anything from holograms in virtual game worlds to repair instructions floating over a broken gadget. Users can control what they see using hand gestures or voice commands.
 
The Army’s website says soldiers tested the gadgets last year at Fort Pickett in Virginia. It said the system could help troops gain an advantage “on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable.”
 
The Army first began testing Microsoft’s system with a $480 million contract in 2018 and said the headsets could be used for both training and in actual battle. The new contract will enable Microsoft to mass produce units for more than 120,000 soldiers in the Army’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force. Microsoft said the contract will amount to up to $21.88 billion over the next decade, with a five-year base agreement that can be extended for another five years.  
 
Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that the system could integrate thermal night vision and facial recognition to provide soldiers with “real-time analytics” on remote battlefields. He also described how it could help in planning a hostage rescue operation by creating a “digital twin” of the building.
 
A group of Microsoft workers in 2019 petitioned the company to cancel its initial Army deal, arguing it would turn real-world battlefields into a video game.
 
Microsoft is among several tech companies that have sought to wow the gaming world with glitzy new virtual reality goggles over the past decade, though the efforts have largely fizzled. Microsoft pivoted away from consumer applications for its second-generation HoloLens 2, introduced in 2019, which is the basis for the Army’s new gadgets.
 
Although Microsoft recently demonstrated a way to use the goggles to play the hit game Pokemon Go, it mostly pitches the devices as work tools to help surgeons, factory crews and others.  
 
The headset deal is part of Microsoft’s broader work as a defense contractor. The Pentagon in September reaffirmed Microsoft as winner of a cloud computing contract potentially worth $10 billion, although the work has been delayed by a legal battle over rival Amazon’s claim that the bidding process was flawed.
 

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US Lawmakers Press Big Tech for Internal Research on Kids’ Mental Health

Four Republican U.S. lawmakers requested on Tuesday that Facebook Inc., Twitter, and Alphabet Inc.’s Google turn over any studies they have done on how their services affect children’s mental health.The request follows a joint hearing last week of two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees at which the companies’ chief executives discussed their content moderation practices in the wake of the siege on the Capitol in January.Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the committee’s ranking Republican, asked the CEOs at the hearing whether their companies had conducted internal research concerning children’s mental health.Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said he believed the company had, while Twitter’s Jack Dorsey said he did not believe so. Google’s Sundar Pichai said the company consulted with outside experts and invested “a lot of time and effort in these areas.”In letters to the companies on Tuesday, McMorris Rodgers asked for copies of any relevant research or internal communications, as well as information on any contractors and partners involved. They also requested any research the companies had done about how competitors’ products affect mental wellness of people under 18 years old.The requests also cover Google’s YouTube Kids service and Facebook’s Instagram, which is developing a version for people under 13 years old.The other lawmakers who signed the letter were ranking Republicans on various subcommittees, including Robert Latta, Gus Bilirakis and Morgan Griffith.They asked for the companies to respond by April 16. 

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SpaceX’s SN11 Rocket Prototype Explodes Upon Landing

Elon Musk’s SpaceX suffered another setback Tuesday when one of its experimental rockets malfunctioned during a test flight at the company’s Texas facility.
 
The incident occurred as the Starship SN11 prototype was attempting to land after what the company called a normal ascent to roughly 12 kilometers in altitude.
 
Heavy fog obscured observers from seeing exactly what happened, but an explosion seems most likely, as there were reports of fire and debris.
 
“At least the crater is in the right place!” Musk tweeted.
 
This is the third time the experimental rocket has crash-landed or exploded.
 
John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer, said all was going well when data feeds and the on-board cameras stopped working as the vehicle entered a thick layer of fog while trying to land.  
 
The company said it will provide more information as it gets it but added it does not expect to be able to recover video footage.
 
Starship SN11 is the vehicle Musk hopes will carry the first humans to Mars.  
 
The company wants to send it into orbit by the end of the year. NASA has also awarded SpaceX a $135 million contract to potentially use the Starship SN11 to take astronauts to the moon.

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Japan Car Makers Scramble to Assess Impact of Renesas Auto Chip-plant Fire

Toyota, Nissan, Honda and other Japanese automakers scrambled on Monday to assess the production impact of a fire at a Renesas Electronics automotive chip plant that could aggravate a global semiconductor shortage. “We are gathering information and trying to see if this will affect us or not,” a Honda spokesperson said. Other car makers including Toyota and Nissan said they too were assessing the situation. The effect on car makers could spread beyond Japan to other auto companies in Europe and the United States because Renesas has around a 30% global share of micro control unit chips used in cars. Renesas said it will take at least a month to restart production on a 300 mm (millimeter) wafer line at its Naka plant in northeast Japan after an electrical fault caused machinery to catch fire on Friday and poured smoke into the sensitive clean room. Two-thirds of production at the affected line is automotive chips. The company also has a 200 mm (millimeter) wafer line at the Naka plant, which has not been affected. Concerns on the impact of the fire on production sent auto shares sliding in Tokyo on Monday, with the big three, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, down more than 2% by the midday break. Renesas shares tumbled as much as 5.5% and were down 3.9% midday. The benchmark Topix index shed 1.1%. “It will probably take more than a month to return to normal supply. Given that, even Toyota will face very unstable production in April and May,” said Seiji Sugiura, senior analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute. “I think Honda, Nissan and other makers will also be facing a difficult situation.” Semiconductors such as those made by Renesas are used extensively in cars, including to monitor engine performance, manage steering or automatic windows, and in sensors used in parking and entertainment systems.An employee wearing protective equipment pushes a cart at a semiconductor production facility for Renesas Electronics during a government organized tour for journalists in Beijing, May 14, 2020.Nissan and Honda had already been forced to scale back production plans because of the chip shortage resulting from burgeoning demand from consumer electronic makers and an unexpected rebound in car sales from a slump during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Toyota, which ensured parts suppliers had enough stocks of chips, has fared better so far. “It could take three months or even half a year for a full recovery,” said Akira Minamikawa, analyst at technology research company Omdia. “This has happened when chip stockpiles are low, so the impact is going to be significant,” he added. Government promises help  Renesas said it customers, which are mostly automotive parts makers rather than the car companies, will begin to see chip shipments fall in around a month. The company declined to say which machine caught fire because of the electrical fault or which company made it. The Japanese government promised help for the auto industry. “We will firmly try to help the Naka factory achieve swift restoration by helping it quickly acquire alternative manufacturing equipment,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular news conference on Monday. The latest incident at the Naka facility comes after an earthquake last month shut down production for three days and forced Renesas to further deplete chip stocks to keep up with orders. The plant was closed for three months in 2011 following the deadly earthquake that devastated Japan’s northeast coast. 

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