Future Tech

Author: Tan KW   |   Latest post: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 6:08 PM


‘The Big Delete’: Inside Facebook’s crackdown in Germany

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 6:08 PM

Days before Germany’s federal elections, Facebook took what it called an unprecedented step: the removal of a series of accounts that worked together to spread Covid-19 misinformation and encourage violent responses to Covid restrictions.

The crackdown, announced Sept 16, was the first use of Facebook’s new “coordinated social harm” policy aimed at stopping not state-sponsored disinformation campaigns but otherwise typical users who have mounted an increasingly sophisticated effort to sidestep rules on hate speech or misinformation.

In the case of the German network, the nearly 150 accounts, pages and groups were linked to the so-called Querdenken movement, a loose coalition that has protested lockdown measures in Germany and includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists.

Facebook touted the move as an innovative response to potentially harmful content; far-right commenters condemned it as censorship. But a review of the content that was removed - as well as the many more Querdenken posts that are still available - reveals Facebook’s action to be modest at best. At worst, critics say, it could have been a ploy to counter complaints that it doesn’t do enough to stop harmful content.

“This action appears rather to be motivated by Facebook’s desire to demonstrate action to policymakers in the days before an election, not a comprehensive effort to serve the public,” concluded researchers at Reset, a UK-based nonprofit that has criticised social media's role in democratic discourse.

Facebook regularly updates journalists about accounts it removes under policies banning “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, a term it created in 2018 to describe groups or people who work together to mislead others. Since then, it has removed thousands of accounts, mostly what it said were bad actors attempting to interfere in elections and politics in countries around the world.

But there were constraints, since not all harmful behaviour on Facebook is “inauthentic”; there are plenty of perfectly authentic groups using social media to incite violence, spread misinformation and hate. So the company was limited by its policy on what it could take down.

But even with the new rule, a problem remains with the takedowns: they don’t make it clear what harmful material remains up on Facebook, making it difficult to determine just what the social network is accomplishing.

Case in point: the Querdenken network. Reset had already been monitoring the accounts removed by Facebook and issued a report that concluded only a small portion of content relating to Querdenken was taken down while many similar posts were allowed to stay up.

The dangers of Covid-19 extremism were underscored days after Facebook’s announcement when a young German gas station worker was fatally shot by a man who had refused to wear a mask. The suspect followed several far-right users on Twitter and had expressed negative views about immigrants and the government.

Facebook initially declined to provide examples of the Querdenken content it removed, but ultimately released four posts to the Associated Press that weren’t dissimilar to content still available on Facebook. They included a post falsely stating that vaccines create new viral variants and another that wished death on police that broke up violent protests against Covid restrictions.

Reset’s analysis of comments removed by Facebook found that many were actually written by people trying to rebut Querdenken arguments, and did not include misinformation.

Facebook defended its action, saying the account removals were never meant to be a blanket ban of Querdenken, but instead a carefully measured response to users who were working together to violate its rules and spread harmful content.

Facebook plans to refine and expand its use of the new policy going forward, according to David Agranovich, Facebook's director of global threat disruption.

“This is a start,” he told The AP on Monday. “This is us extending our network disruptions model to address new and emerging threats.”

The approach seeks to strike a balance, Agranovich said, between permitting diverse views and preventing harmful content to spread.

The new policy could represent a significant change in the platform’s ability to confront harmful speech, according to Cliff Lampe, a professor of information at the University of Michigan who studies social media.

“In the past they’ve tried to squash cockroaches, but there are always more,” he said. “You can spend all day stomping your feet and you won’t get anywhere. Going after networks is a smart try.”

While the removal of the Querdenken network may have been justified, it should raise questions about Facebook’s role in democratic debates, said Simon Hegelich, a political scientist at the Technical University of Munich.

Hegelich said Facebook appears to be using Germany as a “test case” for the new policy.

“Facebook is really intervening in German politics,” Hegelich said. “The Covid situation is one of the biggest issues in the election. They’re probably right that there’s a lot of misinformation on these sites, but nevertheless it’s a highly political issue, and Facebook is intervening in it.”

Members of the Querdenken movement reacted angrily to Facebook’s decision, but many also expressed a lack of surprise.

“The big delete continues,” one supporter posted in a still-active Querdenken Facebook group, “See you on the street.”

 - AP

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US researchers aim to identify autism earlier using artificial intelligence

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 6:08 PM

MORGANTOWN: Researchers at West Virginia University are turning to artificial intelligence to devise a way to properly diagnosis autism spectrum disorder.

Characterising an autism patient’s behaviour can be challenging, so researchers are using behaviour-tracking technology and phenotyping to better understand and identify autism spectrum disorder.

Phenotyping is the characterisation of a behaviour or trait, and in this study, researchers will be looking at autism patients’ behaviours and traits.

Supported by a US$500,000 award from the National Science Foundation, Xin Li, professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and Shuo Wang, an adjunct assistant professor, will conduct the research using imaging and data science.

“This project is important because it aims at filling an important gap in our existing knowledge about ASD," Li said. “Improved understanding of autism phenotyping is expected to help with not only more accurate diagnosis, but also more personalised intervention for ASD patients."

One of the biggest challenges facing autism research is that there is not one form of autism, but many subtypes. Each person with autism can have unique strengths and challenges, which also make it difficult to identify the specific traits associated with this disorder, genetically or behaviorally, according to Li.

Li said that there is currently no consensus about the standard of behaviour characterisation for humans yet, but animal models have used the three phenotypes of abnormal social interactions, communication deficits and repetitive behaviour to consider the standards of behaviour.

“We expect to identify similar phenotypes for ASD patients as the first step,” Li said.

This project will assess ASD using behaviour-imaging data, such as eye-tracking and audio and video with neuroimaging data.

According to Li, neuroimaging data are a direct measurement of brain activities and behaviour imaging data are the consequence of brain activities.

“Integrating these two multimodal data represents a natural strategy for understanding the relationship between brain activities and behavioral patterns,” Li said.

Artificial Intelligence will identify the traits associated with ASD using both neuroimaging and behavioral imaging, Li said.

According to Li, ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects one out of 54 children in the US, and their study could also help with early detection in young children.

The earlier children with ASD get intensive intervention, the better their developmental outcomes, he said.

“Currently, the average age of a child when she or he receives an ASD diagnosis in the US is four years old,” Li said. “However, about half the parents of children with ASD report that they suspected a problem before their child was one year of age. This has been known as the ‘detection gap’. Many research teams including us are working on reducing this gap.”


 - TNS

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CD Projekt boss says lesson learned from Cyberpunk debacle

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 6:06 PM

CD Projekt SA will boost hiring and revamp operations as chief executive officer Adam Kicinski says Poland’s largest computer game maker has learned from the fiasco around Cyberpunk 2077.

Marketed as a role-playing game that pushes the boundaries of the industry, Cyberpunk was released with so many glitches that Sony Group Corp for months removed the title from its PlayStation Store. The studio’s shares tumbled as the debacle shone an unfavorable light on CD Projekt’s work culture with reports of bad planning, burnouts among staff and high-profile defections.

Kicinski insists those days are now gone. He wants to increase the number of employees by an average of 20% a year, restoring the pace of hiring from before the pandemic. CD Projekt is also switching to the so-called agile workflow model in game development and expects to see the results at the turn of this year.

“The retrospection of the project that didn’t go exactly as planned has triggered a strong motivation for change,” Kicinski told Bloomberg from CD Projekt’s headquarters in Warsaw, which features yoga classes, Indian-food canteen and dog walks.

About 100 out 1,124 staff already use the agile method, which splits game development process into smaller, flexible cycles and involves customers for feedback, he added.

CD Projekt’s hirings slowed to 7% last year when many of its employees were forced to work remotely. The new work-from-home regime was one factor behind Cyberpunk’s bungled release that was eventually delayed three times, according to Kicinski. The company lost 10 developers in the first half of the year, shrinking a workforce that already trailed competitors including Ubisoft Entertainment SA and Rockstar Games.

Kicinski said CD Projekt is facing “challenges” as some people still want to work remotely and new hires are often reluctant to relocate to Poland. Only about a third of its staff decided to return to the office, which isn’t mandatory until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Digital Scapes studio, which the company bought in March as its “first foreign outpost”, could eventually grow to as many as 100 employees from over a dozen, Kicinski said. CD Projekt, which has 1.1bil zloty of free cash, isn’t interested in buying smaller Polish studios just to boost earnings, he added.

Wow effect

Cyberpunk has been a humbling experience for the company, whose big break came with the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt medieval role-playing game five years ago. CD Projekt doesn’t want to over-promise for its next release.

While Kicinski is “cautiously satisfied” with first result of changes in the organisation, he didn’t want to confirm that a Cyberpunk version optimised for next generation consoles slated for later this year will arrive on time - a major focus for investors seeking an inflection point.

“I deeply believe that the game’s perception may significantly improve in the future,” he said, adding he doesn’t expect a “wow effect” but rather a “gradual rebuilding of sales”.

Shares in Warsaw-traded CD Projekt lost as much as 62% of their value as a result of Cyberpunk troubles, triggering lawsuits from US holders of it depository receipts. Kicinski called the lawsuits “strange” as the company didn’t approve or benefit from the sale of securities offered by US investment banks. He vowed to fight them.

“We do games and may seem like a jazz-and-rock bunch,” Kicinski said. “But we do take formal issues very seriously.”

 - Bloomberg

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Billionaire behind Europe’s top builder wants to disrupt housing

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 6:06 PM

Russian billionaire Sergey Gordeev, whose PIK Group PJSC surged nearly 140% this year to become Europe’s most valuable homebuilder, thinks his industry is due for a disruption or risks going the way of gas-guzzling cars and brick-and-mortar stores.

Gordeev has ambitions to transform his company, now worth about US$13bil , into a global leader in modular housing that can build towering apartment blocks in weeks and establish a platform that makes buying and renting apartments more like shopping for groceries online.

“There’s going to be the same disruptive revolution in construction” that changed e-commerce, electric cars and banking, Gordeev said in an interview. “Within three years I think our other companies will pass our development business as the main revenue drivers.”

The pivot comes after Russian housing prices boomed during the coronavirus epidemic, swept up in a global trend for improved living spaces when the pandemic kept people stuck at home.

Gordeev, PIK’s controlling shareholder and chief executive officer, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the tight market. His net worth more than doubled this year to US$8.6bil as shares climbed, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

PIK may offer shares in a secondary public offering this week, Kommersant reported Monday, citing people it didn’t identify. The money may be used to finance its modular construction unit, the paper said. A spokesperson for PIK didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

PIK’s new division, Units, uses modules assembled in a factory to reduce time and labour costs. Its first modular project, a nine-story, 136-apartment building in Moscow, is scheduled for assembly over two weeks in October using about 30 workers, according to PIK.

“In 10 to 15 years, the industry will look completely different,” Gordeev said. “It will all be modules.”

Structural Integrity

Gordeev says modular skyscrapers will be high-quality and attractive, unlike the cramped panel housing used during the Soviet era. The experimental building technology - which is growing in popularity worldwide to meet high demand for affordable housing - will still have to prove that it offers structural integrity and stability.

Units currently operates one factory, designed after an auto assembly line, that can produce 40,000 square meters of living space a year, or enough for about 800 average apartments in Moscow. A second facility with four times the capacity is scheduled to open in May. And others, including one in the Philippine capital of Manila, are slated for 2023.

Even as valuations soar for developers, they pale in comparison to the multiples at technology companies - spurring many companies including PIK to develop digital ambitions.

PIK moved its new home sales online during the pandemic and is also expanding its virtual residential real estate marketplace to include rentals, the secondary market and new offers from other developers. Gordeev said PIK will invest hundreds of billions of rubles into its tech initiatives.

Added irritants

The Kvarta platform, which is similar to Opendoor Technologies Inc, allows users to buy, sell or rent online without having to deal with counterparties or even visit the property. Kvarta buys and sells the properties itself, reducing the transaction time to a minimum.

“Brokers, agents and home owners just create added irritants,” Gordeev said. “Our system moves it all online and makes it completely rational.”

Gordeev estimates Russia’s secondary housing market is worth over US$165bil a year. He forecasts US$330mil in revenue at Kvarta this year with about a 10% margin.

Both the modular construction and online real estate marketplace projects have the potential to be spun off for initial public offerings, according to Gordeev.

“These tech initiatives are good, and if they work could be spun off at higher valuations,” BCS analyst Elena Tsareva said. “But PIK is still a developer whose value will be linked to its ability to control costs, interest rates and its physical presence.”

 - Bloomberg

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Drones and jets: China shows off new air power

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 3:26 PM

ZHUHAI, China: China on Tuesday showed off its increasingly sophisticated air power including surveillance drones and jets able to jam hostile electronic equipment, with an eye on disputed territories from Taiwan to the South China Sea and rivalry with the United States.
The country's biggest airshow, in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai, comes as Beijing pushes to meet a 2035 deadline to retool its military for modern warfare.
China still lags the United States in terms of tech and investment in its war machine, but experts say it is narrowing the gap.
A US intelligence report this year flagged China's growing influence as one of America's biggest threats.
On Tuesday, a prototype of a new surveillance drone able to carry out attacks – the CH-6 – was among domestic tech unveiled in Zhuhai.
With a wingspan of 20.5 metres (67 feet) and 15.8 metres long, the drone can carry missiles and is designed for surveillance and strike operations, according to open source intelligence agency Janes.
Other debutants include the WZ-7 high-altitude drone for border reconnaissance and maritime patrol, as well as the J-16D fighter jet which can jam electronic equipment.
Both have already entered service with the air force, state media reported.
"They will play a major role in both the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea," military commentator Song Zhongping told AFP.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea – disputed with several other nations – while Beijing says the self-ruled island of Taiwan is an inviolable part of its territory.
China is also "clearly positioning itself to be an alternative supplier" of advanced drones, with relative affordability, said Janes analyst Kelvin Wong.
The United States and European countries have been hesitant to supply such equipment outside a select group of partners, he added.
Already, Chinese drones have seen combat action in the Middle East, with sales to other regions as well.
Similarly, the J-16D shows "overall improvement" in the combat capabilities of the People's Liberation Army, said James Char, a Chinese military expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
"This is indeed a significant development since it gives the Chinese military an advantage in terms of conducting aerial electronic warfare over targets that possess significant air defence capabilities," he said.
Under president Donald Trump, Washington authorised around $18 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan, including advanced missile platforms – sales that have angered Beijing.
The J-16D has wingtip pods to disrupt enemy electronic equipment and has drawn comparisons with the US Navy's EA-18G Growler.
The airshow, which is usually held every two years, was postponed from last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is being held before a largely domestic audience due to quarantine and travel restrictions.
 - AFP
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Swedish electric carmaker Polestar to go public

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Tue, 28 Sep 2021, 3:24 PM

STOCKHOLM: Electric car maker Polestar, controlled by Sweden's Volvo Cars and its Chinese owner Geely, said on Monday it plans to go public in a stock market debut that could value it at around $20 billion (17 billion euros).
Polestar, a European competitor to Tesla, said in a statement it would be used to "help fund significant investment in the expansion of its products, operations and markets to create a leading company in the rapidly growing global premium electric vehicle market."
While Polestar – whose shareholders include US film star Leonardo DiCaprio – has only produced two models since being set up in 2017, its market capitalisation would place it just behind giant Nissan, and ahead of carmakers Renault and Subaru.
Tesla is the highest-valued carmaker in the world, with a market capitalisation of more than $750 billion – more than three times that of Toyota or Volkswagen, which both sell many more cars. 
The listing will be carried out by combining Polestar with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Gores Guggenheim, set up by US investment firms The Gores Group and Guggenheim Capital and is expected in the first half of 2022.
The newly formed company will be named Polestar Automotive Holding UK Limited.
Founded by Volvo and Geely four years ago, Polestar sold only 10,000 vehicles in 2020, but is targeting annual unit sales of around 290,000 by 2025.
Its current model is the Polestar 2, with plans to launch the Polestar 3 next year.
The $20-billion market capitalisation is equivalent to three times the targeted revenue in 2023 and 1.5 times expected sales in 2024, the company said.
That compares with a market capitalisation of $40 billion for US start-up Lucid Motors and around $30 billion for China's Xpeng.
Together with battery maker Northvolt, the company is the Swedish flagship in the electric car sector.
While a clutch of new faces have emerged in the electric vehicle market recently, some have had a bumpy ride.
The Californian pickup manufacturer Rivian, backed by Ford and Amazon, should soon join them with a strong capitalisation.
"The transition to electric vehicles is generating a lot of market enthusiasm," said analyst Alexandre Marian of AlixPartners.
"In some cases, very high valuations suggested that the growth trajectory would be faster than Tesla. But the risk is high ... it's extremely complicated to grow as a car manufacturer."
China's Li Auto raised $1.1 billion from its Nasdaq debut last year, but then saw its share price tumble in Hong Kong last month amid tech regulatory crackdowns from Beijing.
US electric pick-up constructor Lordstown Motors, for its part, announced in June it did not have the funds to produce a vehicle on a commercial scale.
Its general director stepped down days afterwards on the production woes but also amid allegations he and other executives had given inaccurate information about pre-orders.
"It's really more difficult for a small firm to succeed" in the auto industry as "fixed costs are very high", explains Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.
They require not only a large factory, but also a reliable supply chain for parts.
Polestar brings with it the "dynamism of a young enterprise", and also benefits from "the industrial heritage and expertise of Volvo," chief executive Thomas Ingenlath told investors.
Polestar, initially a hybrid sports car for Volvo Cars, became a separate brand in 2017.
In order to achieve its ambitious expansion goals, the marque intends to launch a model each year over the next three years – a luxury sports SUV is expected to follow Polestar 2 next year with Polestar 4 a luxury saloon.
It also plans to push an online presence and open a number of concessions in large urban centres, while making use of Volvo's after-sales network.
 - AFP
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