Chatbots and Telemedicine Join Vietnam’s COVID-19 Fight

An idea is percolating in Vietnam as it fights COVID-19: “send in the robots.”  The pandemic has brought artificial intelligence (AI) more of a spotlight as nations around the world look for uses, from combing data for clues to predict an outbreak, to robot waiters that reduce human contact. In Vietnam, which has reported remarkably low infection and death figures, the possible uses are still being tested. They include chatbots to dispense information, face recognition technology, predictive mapping, and software to combat rumors about the disease.  For instance, FPT Corp., the nation’s biggest telecommunications and software company, introduced a web application that uses automation to assess COVID-19 risk. How it works: Vietnamese go to the Corona Check website and enter data on where they have been recently. The app then cross references that with data on the location, timing, and quantity of cases nationwide to calculate the odds someone has come into contact with the coronavirus.  “Our AI system is continuously updating data to improve itself,” Tran Hoang Giang, the FPT Software vice president, said. “Currently it could predict the probability of coronavirus infection with 90% accuracy. But it’ll get even better as more people submit self-assessments on the web.” The process is helped in part by the fact that Vietnam, which has had 841 COVID-19 cases this year, publishes uniquely detailed, anonymized data on patients’ movements so that others can check if they went somewhere at the same time as an infected person. For instance, one record showed the times that a patient had gone to a mall, a cafe, and a market. Warning system The work on machine learning sends a good message, according to FPT chairman Truong Gia Binh.   “Not only tech enthusiasts in developed countries but also young, talented Vietnamese have the opportunity to exchange knowledge and research about AI,” he said. Vietnam has also joined in on a popular AI strategy globally to map out many data points that might predict where the next cluster of COVID-19 cases will occur. The data points can number in the dozens and may not seem directly related, such as weather, density in a shopping center, or popular Google searches. However, taken together, the right data can correlate with disease outbreaks and serve as a warning system that detects risks before humans do.  In addition to models that assess the threat of a disease, Vietnam has a COVID-19 map that is paired with news articles, which are updated through automation software to dispel misinformation. The Southeast Asian nation has taken a hard line against pandemic rumors, which could prove deadly and in other nations have encouraged unscientific home remedies. Telemedicine  Beyond machine learning, COVID-19 is also spurring more interest in another emerging technology called telemedicine. For instance, the company Doctor Anywhere now has physicians assessing Vietnamese patients for signs of the disease via video consultations, which are also conducted in Thailand and Singapore.  All of this is part of Industry 4.0, a term for the latest advancements that are supposed to help economies move to the next stage of development. Vietnam expects these advances to help it recover from the pandemic, too. “AI is considered a core technology for Industry 4.0 that has implications for post COVID-19 healing,” Chu Ngoc Anh, the Minister of Science and Technology in Vietnam, said. His government is working with Australia, which said last week it donated 650,000 Australian dollars “to find new ways to use AI as Vietnam recovers from COVID-19.” The money will fund things like a contest in which programmers submit competing ideas to put machine learning to use. “In the face of the global pandemic, it [innovation] has become more important than ever,” Robyn Mudie, the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, said.  She added: “This AI initiative is a great example of how new technology can be adapted quickly to respond to Vietnam’s emerging needs.” 

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Twitter Expressed Interest in Buying TikTok’s US Operations, Sources Say

Twitter Inc has approached TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to express interest in acquiring the U.S. operations of the video-sharing app, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters, as experts raised doubts over Twitter’s ability to put together financing for a potential deal.It is far from certain that Twitter would be able to outbid Microsoft Corp and complete such a transformative deal in the 45 days that U.S. President Donald Trump has given ByteDance to agree to a sale, the sources said on Saturday.The news of Twitter and TikTok being in preliminary talks and Microsoft still being seen as the front-runner in bidding for the app’s U.S. operations was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.Twitter has a market capitalization of close to $30 billion, almost as much as the valuation of TikTok’s assets to be divested, and would need to raise additional capital to fund the deal, according to the sources.”Twitter will have a hard time putting together enough financing to acquire even the U.S. operations of TikTok. It doesn’t have enough borrowing capacity,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan.”If it (Twitter) tries to put together an investor group, the terms will be tough. Twitter’s own shareholders might prefer that management focus on its existing business,” he added.One of Twitter’s shareholders, private equity firm Silver Lake, is interested in helping fund a potential deal, one of the sources added.Twitter has also privately made a case that its bid would face less regulatory scrutiny than Microsoft’s, and will not face any pressure from China given that it is not active in that country, the sources said.TikTok, ByteDance and Twitter declined to comment.TikTok has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers over national security concerns surrounding data collection.Earlier this week, Trump unveiled bans on U.S. transactions with the China-based owners of messaging app WeChat and TikTok, escalating tensions between the two countries.Trump said this week he would support Microsoft’s efforts to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the proceeds. He nevertheless said he will ban the popular app on September 15.Microsoft said on Sunday it was aiming to conclude negotiations for a deal by mid-September.  

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TikTok Threatens to Sue after US Moves to Ban App  

TikTok reacted to President Donald Trump’s executive order barring U.S. companies and individuals from doing business with its parent company, ByteDance, by threatening to take legal action and urging its U.S. users to lobby on its behalf.  Trump ordered sweeping bans late Thursday prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.  “We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process,” ByteDance said in a statement released Friday.  The company suggested that the executive order was illegal and that it might be challenged in court. “We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly — if not by the Administration, then by the U.S. courts,” the company said.  In the meantime, Tencent responded by saying it was evaluating the situation. “The company is reviewing the potential consequences of the administrative order in order to fully understand its impact,” Tencent said in a brief statement issued through Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  In addition to its hugely popular messaging feature, WeChat also links to finance and other services. It claims that the app has more than 1 billion users.  The Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed concerns that the Chinese social media services could provide American users’ personal information to the Chinese government. Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.  The twin executive orders Thursday added new contention to growing U.S.-Chinese conflict over technology and security. The Chinese foreign ministry accused Washington of “political suppression” and said the moves would hurt American companies and consumers.  “The United States is using national security as an excuse, frequently abuses national power and unreasonably suppresses companies of other countries,” Wang Wenbin, a ministry spokesman, said.  Wang, who did not mention TikTok or Tencent by name, said China strongly opposed the move but gave no indication of how Beijing might retaliate.  The Trump administration has previously threatened to shut TikTok down if it remains under the ownership of Beijing-based ByteDance.  According to a memo sent Monday by Chief Executive Officer Zhang Yiming, ByteDance is exploring all possibilities to ensure that its subsidiary can continue operating in the United States. Without naming Microsoft directly, the company said Friday, “We even stated that we could sell our U.S. business to a U.S. company.”  The statement ended by calling on its 100 million U.S. users to put pressure on the Trump administration.  “As TikTok users, creators, partners and family members, you have the right to express your opinions to all levels of lawmakers, including the White House government,” the statement said.   

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Citing Security Concerns, Trump Orders Bans on TikTok, WeChat

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday ordered sweeping bans on two Chinese consumer apps.He ordered the bans prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.Whether Trump has the legal authority for such actions is not immediately clear, analysts said.The move comes amid data collection and privacy concerns the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed about the apps. However, no evidence has been cited to support the claims.Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month. ”But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok.”Analysts said they expect China to retaliate.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. would not allow U.S. stores to sell Chinese apps because of security concerns.Millions of people around the world use the two apps.

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Trump Orders Bans on 2 Chinese Apps, Citing Security Concerns

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday ordered sweeping bans on two Chinese consumer apps.He ordered the bans prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.Whether Trump has the legal authority for such actions is not immediately clear, analysts said.The move comes amid data collection and privacy concerns the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed about the apps. However, no evidence has been cited to support the claims.Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month. ”But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok.”Analysts said they expect China to retaliate.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. would not allow U.S. stores to sell Chinese apps because of security concerns.Millions of people around the world use the two apps.

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Trump Orders US Ban on WeChat, TikTok in 45 Days

U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders on Thursday banning any U.S. transactions with ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, owner of the WeChat app, starting in 45 days.The orders come as the Trump administration said this week it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and called the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok and messenger app WeChat “significant threats.”The TikTok app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”The order would effectively ban WeChat in the United States in 45 days by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”Trump said this week he would support the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price but warned he will ban the service in the United States on September 15.Tencent and ByteDance declined to comment.    

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Tensions Mount over China’s Industrial Espionage in US

Tensions between the U.S. and China are escalating at a dizzying pace, with July 24 marking the lowest point of bilateral relations in decades. On that day, the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, was closed and taken over by U.S. officials.FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, July 15, 2020.“We announced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft,” said Secretary of State FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington.The FBI created a special economic espionage unit in 2010, and currently has over 2,000 active cases related to Chinese counterintelligence operations in the U.S. FBI director Christopher Wray recently said the bureau is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 minutes.Economic espionage is certainly nothing new. When the U.S. passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the focus was on Israel and France, and China wasn’t really in the picture.Hvistendahl said the shift of focus started in the mid-2000s, when the business community decided to join the intelligence community to address the issue. These U.S. companies had previously hoped that if they kept their mouths shut, they could eventually break into the Chinese market and begin to see significant market growth.“By the mid-2000s, it became clear to many companies that it was just not going to happen, they were going to get shut out of the market eventually,” Hvistendahl told VOA. “So many CEOs started to be more vocal about some of the problems that they have received with China.”The impact on the U.S. economy through loss of intellectual property (IP) is one of the main concerns among U.S. policy makers. According to a 2017 report by the Intellectual Property Commission, the cost of IP theft for the United States is somewhere between $225 billion and $600 billion. And China is responsible for 71% to 87% of that figure. (The percentage varies annually.) Apart from economic loss, there is also loss of domestic production capabilities, loss of industries, and loss of jobs along the way.Eric Zhang, former chief representative of the Oklahoma Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Office in China, told VOA that America is also realizing the potential security threat posed by these China-related industrial espionage activities.“Espionage activities in other countries are mainly for economic gain, but China is different. Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has started to deem the United States as a competitor, especially in terms of military,” said Zhang. “In this sense, the purpose of Chinese industrial espionage is different from that of other countries. This is why the U.S. is very concerned now.”Full-scale effortUnder the Trump administration, federal authorities have launched full-scale efforts to ferret out economic espionage.In some high-profile cases, the FBI has recently arrested four Chinese research scientists in the U.S. who concealed their relations with Chinese military during their visa applications. Apart from the FBI, the Justice Department has also launched the China Initiative in 2018, with the goal of identifying and prosecuting those engaged in economic espionage, trade secret theft, hacking and other related crimes. Yet Zhang said that although there has been ample pushback, China has not slowed down its pace of stealing innovative technologies and trade secrets from developed countries.“Innovative technology is key to China’s economic growth, which is the top reason to legitimize CCP (Chinese Communist Party) rule. So if they can’t get anything from the U.S., I think Beijing will strengthen its economic espionage efforts in other developed countries,” Zhang said.Hvistendahl warns that when addressing the issue of industrial espionage and IP theft, the U.S. needs to be careful and avoid discrimination.“You have to keep in mind that much of the research force in the U.S. is ethnic Chinese. So you have to deal with the issue in a way that it’s fair, that doesn’t give way to allegations of racial profiling, ethnic bias,” she said.She added that it’s to America’s own benefit to keep the U.S. as an innovative place to which researchers from all over the world would want to come and study. 

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Twitter Announces Labels for State-Controlled Media

Twitter announced its decision Thursday to label the accounts of state-controlled media outlets.  
 
The new label will apply exclusively to “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution,” according to a Twitter blog post.  
 
So far, the labels are confirmed to apply to accounts for China Daily, Russia Today, and Sputnik, as well as several other media outlets. According to the company’s post, they “are starting with a limited and clearly-defined group of countries before expanding to a wider range of countries in the future.”  
 
Twitter also has plans to label the accounts of some government leaders, including ambassadors and foreign ministers.  
 
These decisions arrive partially as a response to public criticism for the way social media outlets have dealt with foreign interference and disinformation. Much of this criticism stems from the Russian disinformation campaign prior to the 2016 U.S. election, much of which took place on Twitter.  
 
These announcements could face potential backlash, possibly from U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweets daily on the site.  
 
The company has had issues with the Trump campaign in the past. Twitter locked the president’s campaign account Wednesday for breaking its COVID-19 disinformation rules after the account tweeted a video of the president saying children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.  
 
Some Republicans also have maintained that Twitter and other social media outlets specifically censor conservative views in an effort to suppress their positions on various issues. 
 

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Facebook, Citing Virus Misinformation, Deletes Trump Post

Facebook has deleted a post by President Donald Trump for violating its policy against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
The post in question featured a link to a Fox News video in which Trump says children are “virtually immune” to the virus.
Facebook said Wednesday that the “video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.”
A few hours later, Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump campaign from tweeting from its account, until it removed a post with the same video. Trump’s account retweeted the video. The company said in a statement late Wednesday that the tweet violated its rules against COVID misinformation. When a tweet breaks its rules, Twitter asks users to remove the tweet in question and bans them from posting anything else until they do.
Twitter has generally been quicker than Facebook in recent months to label posts from the president that violate its policies against misinformation and abuse.
This is not the first time that Facebook has removed a post from Trump, Facebook said, but it’s the first time it has done so because it was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. The company has also labeled his posts.
Several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children  are less likely to become infected  than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms. But this is not the same as being “virtually immune” to the virus.
A CDC study involving 2,500 children published in April found that about 1 in 5 infected children were hospitalized versus 1 in 3 adults; three children died. The study lacks complete data on all the cases, but it also suggests that many infected children have no symptoms, which could allow them to spread the virus to others.

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Drones with Infrared Cameras Help Track Elusive Koalas

Conservationists in Australia are hoping infrared drones might help save the remaining koala population in New South Wales, one of the regions most affected by recent Australian bushfires. The infrared camera makes it easier to spot the iconic marsupials — not bears — which scientists say could be extinct by 2050. VOA’s Mariama Diallo has this report.

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US Justice Department Asks Court to Block California Net Neutrality Law

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday asked a federal judge to block California’s net neutrality law, arguing that federal law preempts the state statute.In October, a U.S. appeals court largely upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeal of landmark U.S. net neutrality rules. In 2018, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until a final court decision on the FCC repeal.The Trump FCC in 2017 voted 3-2 to toss out Obama-era rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes. The California law would reinstate those prohibitions in the state.The U.S. government is seeking a preliminary injunction to block California from being able to enforce its law.The California attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the Justice Department’s filing “and look forward to defending California’s state net neutrality protections.”The 2017 FCC 3-2 vote was applauded by internet service providers (ISPs), as it gave them sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes. The new rules took effect in June 2018, but service providers have yet to change how users access the internet.The California law was applauded by large tech companies and consumer groups that had championed the level playing field of net neutrality.The appeals court, in its October decision, also ruled the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it expressly declared states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws.The Justice Department said despite that ruling that it still believes California’s net neutrality law is preempted by federal law. A decision on the Justice Department action is not expected before mid-October, according to a court schedule. 

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Instagram Launches Reels to Rival TikTok

Facebook launched a short-film product similar to the popular TikTok app in the United States and dozens of other countries Wednesday.The new product, called Reels, is embedded in the Instagram app and permits users to create 15-second videos set to music from a predetermined music library.The feature has been in production for at least two years, having undergone trials in Brazil in 2018. The addition comes two days after President Donald Trump gave Microsoft 45 days to acquire the U.S. division of the Chinese-owned TikTok over security concerns.FILE – The logo of the TikTok application seen on a mobile phone, Feb. 21, 2019.After the Brazil trials, Facebook tested the product in France, Germany and India, trying to grapple with some of TikTok’s biggest user concentrations. A stand-alone app, Lasso, made it to market but was not successful.TikTok Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mayer called Reels a “copycat product” that would unfairly employ Instagram’s existing user base of more than 1 billion after “their other copycat Lasso failed quickly.”Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product, acknowledged the similarities in a video conference call Tuesday with reporters and said, “Inspiration for products comes from everywhere,” including Facebook’s teams and “the ecosystem more broadly.”Instagram’s current Stories feature allows users to share a photo or video that disappears after 24 hours, like the popular social media app Snapchat.Reels differs from TikTok in that it employs Instagram’s preexisting augmented reality effects, which let users overlay images and filters onto their videos.Reels’s algorithm reportedly is similar to TikTok’s, maintaining the platform’s draw for unknown creatives to go viral through being featured on the Explore page or sharing content with friends through reposts or personal messages. Content creators will be able to appear on the Explore page if their profiles are set to public.According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is pursuing TikTok’s creators by offering them financial incentives to move over to Reels. In response to the report, a Facebook spokesperson said in certain cases, it may help cover production costs for influencers’ “creative ideas.”Instagram said it does not have plans to monetize Reels content in the near future.“We’re experimenting with different monetization options (for creators),” Shah said. 
 

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