A Global Anti-Hoax Mechanism?

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This was the idea advocated by a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson at this years SPIEF economic forum. She was speaking at the “Hoax vs. Truth: challenges of the modern information world” session.

“We are trying to somehow spur a discussion regarding the creation of a certain global mechanism, an instrument that would counteract the spread of false information,” she said. She gave some details about the projects, saying it would involve the collaboration of journalists and news organizations with outreach in various parts of the world.

She said that Russia also advocated working on some kind of framework for snuffing out fake information when it attended the UN’s information committee 2 months ago, but that the U.S. had opposed it.

However, Russia is not known for reliable information coming from its state-run and state-dominated media, and the chief of Germany’s DPA news agency commented that such a program might lead to further censorship and a new “Ministry of Truth.”

Russia’s Central Bank to Develop National Cryptocurrency

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The popularity and value of dealing in cryptocurrency has been established over the past couple of years, with Bitcoin the most prominent of many new digital moneys.

The Russian Central Bank’s Deputy Chairman Olga Skorobogatova spoke at SPIEF 2017 spoke about Russia’s interest in developing their own.

“Regulators of all countries agree that it’s time to develop national cryptocurrencies, this is the future,” said Skorobogatova. “Every country will decide on specific time frames. After our pilot projects we will understand what system we could use in our case for our national currency,”

She wasn’t the only Russian banking official to speak in favor of it at this year’s economic forum. Part of the interest comes from the current state of cryptocurrencies, including that transactions can’t be traced to any person, and that recently there have been new legislative restrictions imposed by various countries.

Paradigm Shift From Industrial to Knowledge City

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In 2017, the idea has come to the fore that there has been a shift towards a knowledge/creative class, and the new method of production is knowledge. Recently, the subject featured large at the 2017 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Cities that have developed lately into strong knowledge economies are considered to have had seeds decades ago in investment in education.

The new drivers of competitiveness of cities: No power losses, evolution and dynamics of the city’s economy, higher disposable income, personal wealth, and high technologies.

According to Roberto dos Reis Alvarez, Executive Director, Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils, who spoke at SPIEF on these ideas, “First, the Seamless City. Cities should operate in a way that we are not wasting energy-created heat, but just light. A second key idea … was really about evolution. And how could cities be adaptive to … all these transformations… A third conversation was about the Wellcity, this is really about wellness at the personal level. … And finally, this concept of the free city.”

Russia’s place in the future knowledge economy was highlighted by Alexey Kudrin, Chairman of the Board, Center for Strategic Research Foundation: “By 2025, 60% of the world’s GDP will be produced in 600 major cities. … In Russia, only two cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg – can somehow take part in this global competition. The first two cities produce 27% of Russia’s GDP; it is 13% in the US and 9% in Europe.”

The speakers talked about building new cities, but with modern technology, because current infrastructure is lagging behind tech. “When Russia will create … large cities and agglomerations which will become the hubs bringing together technology and intellectual potential, social capital and quality of life, it is only then that it will be competitive on a global scale,” said Kudrin. “Those 15 cities with a population of more than a million people, and another five cities that would be able to gather more than a million people around taking the agglomeration into account, should receive special support and, perhaps, a special status,”

The goal of these new cities is one that would require special civil workers, another speaker noted. “There is a need to have such a mayor who would have his own vision of the future and would be working hard in their position, and for a long time.”

And these would also require new transportation — airports and high-speed railways.

Robots for Fruit-Picking Jobs

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Fruit may join the large number of U.S. crops that are harvested by machines.

Robotics companies like FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics are working on building machines to harvest delicate fruits.

FFRobotics is developing a 4- to 12-armed machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch — at a rate of up to 10,000 apples an hour. The machines would leave about 10 or 15% of the fruit on the trees that humans would have to pick.

Abundant Robotics’ machine uses a vacuum to pull off apples.

The goal is to have these bots working in a couple of years, and analysts think they can do it.

Dubai to Have Flying Driverless Cars This Summer

Dubai to Have Flying Driverless Cars This Summer
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In a few months, the UAE will have flying driverless cars, according to Dubai’s transport authority.

They’ve already done test runs for the autonomous aerial vehicles (AAV), made by Chinese firm Ehang.

The vehicles are Ehang 184s and can carry one pilot.

Top speed: 160kph
Flight time: 30 minutes
Ascending speed: 8 meters / second
Landing speed: 4 meters / second
Weight:250kg empty / 360kg with passenger
Max cruising height:3000 feet
Charging time:1-2 hours

“The AAV exhibited at the summit is not just a model; it is a real version that we have already experimented the vehicle in a flight in Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017,” said Mattar Al Tayer, the director general and chairman of the RTA.

Video of the Ehang 184 test

The RTA, in collaboration with the Chinese firm Ehang, has carried out the first test run of an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) capable of carrying a human, the Ehang 184, and the authority said it is set to launch operations very soon.

The flying car was exhibited at the World Government Summit in Dubai this week and the chief of the RTA said a summer start date for flights is envisioned.

“The AAV exhibited at the summit is not just a model; it is a real version that we have already experimented the vehicle in a flight in Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017,” said Mattar Al Tayer, the director general and chairman of the RTA.

The Ehang 184 is fitted with a touchscreen to the front of the passenger seat displaying a map of all destinations in the form of dots. It has preset routes and the passenger selects the intended destination. The vehicle will then start automatic operation, take off and cruise to the set destination before descending and landing in a specific spot. A ground-based centre will monitor and control the entire operation.

“The trial run of the first AAV is in implementation of the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to transform Dubai into the smartest city in the world,” said Mr Al Tayer

“It is also part of the RTA’s endeavors to provide self-driving transport through engaging in the technological tests of self-driving vehicles in a Dubai environment.

“It replicates Dubai Self-driving Transport Strategy aimed at transforming 25 per cent of total individual trips in Dubai into self-driving trips using various modes of transport by 2030,” added Mr Al Tayer.

“The step would also enhance the integration between public transport modes and people happiness through the provision of smooth, quick and innovative mobility.

“We have addressed the highest levels of security in the designing and manufacturing of the Ehang184. The vehicle is fitted with eight main propellers,” Mr Al Tayer said.

“In case of any failure in the first propeller, there would be seven other propellers ready to complete the flight and a smooth landing, while mitigating the impact of the fault sustained by the first propeller.”

Importantly, the vehicle has numerous basic systems all running independently, but at the same time, so that if something malfunctions a standby can take over.

“The AAV is designed to operate under all climatic conditions unless there is a thunderstorm. The vehicle is fitted with highly accurate sensors with a very low-error threshold and can resist vibrations and extreme temperatures,” said Mr Al Tayer.

“Dubai Civil Aviation Authority was a partner in our trials defining the safety criteria required, issuing the permits for trial and inspecting the vehicle, RTA appreciates their contribution.

“The 4G data network is used in communication between the AAV and the ground control center. The company had also provided the support needed to ensure the continued communication between the AAV and the control centre through M2M and LTE technologies,” he explained.

3D Printing Against Daesh: “We Will Recreate What ISIS Destroyed”

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3D technology comes to the rescue after the destruction of several world cultural treasures by the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the United Nations, ISIS has destroyed and damaged 200 world heritage sites along with hundreds of statues and artefacts since 2014.

ISIS’ plan is simple. It is about erasing all traces of previous cultures to establish their own and take advantage of the media coverage following massing destructions of historic sites to grab the world’s attention. In addition, this cultural cleaning is a way for Daesh to finance their activities by selling to dealers and private collectors.

Yet those lost treasures that some call “blood artifacts” may not be lost forever.

Through her digital fabrication and 3D printing project “Material Speculation : ISIS”, Iranian artist and activist Morehshin Allahyari chose to focus on the reconstruction of selected artifacts and statues destroyed by ISIS in Iraq in 2015.

In addition, to repair history and memory, each 3D printed object comprises a flash drive and a memory card. The data in these flash drives contain materials: maps, images, videos and pdf files on the destroyed artifacts and sites. They were gathered thanks to a collaboration with different archaeologists and historians, including and museum staff.

“Like time capsules, each object is sealed and kept for future civilizations.”
Morehshin Allahyari

Just like Murehshin Allahyari artifacts, Palmyra has suffered numerous act of vandalism. The Syrian desert city known as the Venice of the Sands lost the triumphal arch from 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.

Devastated, many archaeologists talked restoration and reconstruction such as American lawyer/archaeologist Roger Michel. Indeed, as the founder of Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology, Michel has built a 3D facsimile arch from Palmyra’s destroyed Temple of Bel.

Temple of Bel

Thanks to 3D technology, Palmyra’s rose again in London’s Trafalgar Square last April to coincide with world heritage week. It should then travel on to Times Square in New York City.

This 3D replica of the 15-meters arch that formed the temple’s entrance is a gesture of defiance against ISIS’ desire to erase cultural and historical evidence.

“My intention is to show Islamic State that anything they can blow up we can rebuild exactly as it was before, and rebuild it again and again. We will use technology to disempower ISIS.” Roger Michel

Moving for some or uncanny for others, this incredible public display of 3D reconstruction is the proof that new technology can restore entire parts of 20th-century historical sites. Although out of their original context and site, 3D monuments or artifacts might still conserve their precious sense of place and craftsmanship, thus preserving everybody’s heritage.

By Pauline Schnoebelen

Featured image (‘Temple of Bel’): ICONEM is a young Paris based start-up focused on 3D reconstruction and analysis of endangered archaeological sites, which the group considers to be part of our common heritage. To prevent destruction caused by conflict, looting or natural disasters, they send teams on the ground to train people and help them document this heritage.

Al Jazeera: News Site Steals Code?

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A scrolling storytelling platform, Scrollytelling, is now filing DMCA against news organization Al Jazeera for allegedly stealing their code.

The fellows at Scrollytelling state that they ” exhaustively tried to resolve the situation amicably, but our friendly requests over multiple channels were ignored. The DMCA request was our last resort.”

On their website, they presented their own code and the one Al Jazeera purportedly stole (in our image, the A-J one is the one that overlays the original Scrollytelling one in Dutch newspaper Volkskrant.

Click image to expand:


Facebook Explains How It Picks What to “Trend”

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Facebook this week published a blog post in its newsroom in response to recent accusations that the social network promotes liberal news while downplaying conservative, explaining how it picks posts for its “Trending Topics” section, a decision-making process which depends on people and machines at different stages.

Facebook’s VP of Global Operations Justin Osofsky wrote the blog post Thursday in which he explained that in Facebook’s ambition to connect people around major news events and let them together discuss ideas freely, the Trending Topics team reviews themes identified as potentially trending by the website’s algorithms, which measure Facebook user engagement. They confirm the topic is current news, find corroborating news stories, apply a label to the topic, and check if the story is getting attention from a lot of news outlets nationally and/or globally.

Osofsky further explained that because Facebook’s programs deliver posts based on what a user has demonstrated interest in, users will see different Trending Topics.

Once a user clicks to see more about a Trending Topic, however, they are seeing an organization of posts within that topic which are arranged algorithmically — the ones at the top are those that have seem to have the most social engagement because the most people have liked, shared or commented on them.

Justin Osofsky
Justin Osofsky

As far as measures Facebook takes to prevent the type of political bias that was part of the recent accusations, Osofsky wrote that it “does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period,” and that, of course, the algorithm that “surfaces” potentially trending topics has no such bias.

Facebook’s review guidelines include not permitting “the suppression of political perspectives” or “the prioritization of one ideological viewpoint over another,” and that the company regularly reviews the work of the review team members.

In a specific response to the recent allegations, Osofsky wrote, “We take these reports very seriously, and will continue to investigate the allegations. We have found no evidence to date that Trending Topics was successfully manipulated, but will continue the review of all our practices.”

BattleBots Returns to TV

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ABC’s reality robot battle show BattleBots, which first hit the air in 2000, will be returning to “BattleBox” it out again.

The seventh season premiere will be aired by ABC in a 8/7 Central Time slot, starting June 23.

The robot makers have already entered their bots in a pre-season competition to decide which bots would make it into the BattleBots season 2 series.

From the early matches, many of the old robot weapons will be seen again this summer, such as rotating saws, swinging hammers, and flame throwers. However, the new robot weapons have also been described as “explosive” by commenters present at the event.

An important consideration is that the robot targets of these weapons are metal and electronics based — other robots — rather than the targets of many other weapons being developed — people.

The robot battles are not just matters of which robot has the best weapons, according to robot builders. Tactics and strategy are also important in winning a match. The battles are round-robins, so robots must be able to continue battling in future rounds to win the prize.

For the upcoming season, BattleBot matches will again be 2-minutes long, followed by a review of the match with commentary by the judges, who determine the winner.

Facebook Open Sources Its AI Server

Facebook's AI
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Facebook’s AI hardware is now, like its software, open source, joining a broad movement towards outsourcing the world’s artificial intelligence intelligence. Facebook also stated it hoped independent AI technicians would develop deep learning tech superior to what the company currently uses, and that it would buy this technology.

The tech giant has developed deep learning technology, which it uses for Facebook-related functions like identifying faces in pictures and curating news feeds, but can also apply to a wide range of computing tasks.

Through the Open Compute Project, Facebook’s custom hardware designs — a GPU-based server called “Big Sur” — will join Google’s and others’ open source deep learning designs. The hope is that more workers will devote themselves to these projects and become familiar with using the technology.

Deep learning technology involves building computers that function similar to the neural networks of animal brains. The computers store masses of data, form neural networks between the data, and draw inferences from the data based on need.

Yann LeCun, head of the Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research lab, commented on the move to make the company’s AI open source, “This is a way of saying, ‘Look, here is what we use, here is what we need. If you make hardware better than this, we’ll probably buy it from you.'”

By Andy Stern

Tokyo Launches Drone Squad

drone squad
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The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department announced a new policing initiative this week to combat illegal drone operation in metropolitan areas.

The police drones will monitor no-fly zones, enforcing Japan’s drone legislation. Upon finding illegal activity, the drone squad will seek for the drone operator and order the drones to be grounded.

If the squad is not able to remove the drone from the air using this method, 10-foot long drone enforcers will be dispatched to collect the offending drones with large nets.

Japan also recently amended its Civil Aeronautics Law to limit the airspace of drones to 500 feet from the ground. Also, now in densely populated areas, all drones over 300 grams are banned.

The police force also has drone terrorism in mind in pursuing the program. The metropolitan police bureau recently told national media that such attacks were a possibility, and that the force hoped to defend Japan against any such scenario.

The potential for a serious attack in Japan was highlighted earlier this year, when an activist flew a drone carrying radioactive sand to the top of the office building of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The act was a protest against nuclear power, the man said, and no one was injured by the symbolic action.

The new drone squad will consist of dozens of trained officers and will begin operations later this month, according to police officials.

By Andy Stern

Google Exec Considering Internet ‘Hate-Checker’

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Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt is considering using technology to filter out internet content it checks for “hate and harassment”

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc (formerly called Google), published an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he expressed his thoughts on “the raw reality of the internet,” writing that Google “should build tools to de-escalate tensions on social media — sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment.”

Schmidt was writing in the context of comparing authoritarian governments with those of freer nations. “It’s our responsibility to demonstrate that stability and free expression go hand in hand,” Schmidt wrote.

He specified that the first to be targeted for hate-and-harassment-speech censorship should be social accounts for Islamic State and similar terrorist organizations.

He also said the technology he envisioned would “help those countering terrorist messages to find their voice.”

He cited “empowerment of the wrong people, and the wrong voices” in addition to “further degradation of poorly built societies” as important focus points for using the suggested tools.

Schmidt continued that “drowning out hate” was “within our reach.

“It’s up to us to make sure that when the young girl reading this in Indonesia on her tablet moves on from this page,” concluded Schmidt, “the Web that awaits her is a safe and vibrant place, free from coercion and conformity.”

By James Haleavy