China Tests Unmanned Tanks in Modernization Push

China is testing unmanned tanks that could be equipped with artificial intelligence, a state-run newspaper said Wednesday, as the country continues with its military modernization program.

State television showed images this week of the unmanned tanks undergoing testing, the Global Times newspaper reported.

Footage showed a Type 59 tank being driven by remote control, in what the paper said was the first time a Chinese-made unmanned tank has been shown in a public forum.

The Type 59 tank is based on an old Soviet model first used in China in the 1950s and has been produced in large numbers and has a long service life, it said.

“A large number of due-to-retire Type 59 tanks can be converted into unmanned vehicles if equipped with artificial intelligence,” Liu Qingshan, the chief editor of Tank and Armored Vehicle, told the newspaper.

Unmanned tanks will be able to work on other unmanned equipment, integrate information from satellites, aircraft or submarines, the report added.

China is in the middle of a modernization program for its armed forces, including building stealth fighters and new aircraft carriers, as President Xi Jinping looks to assert the country’s growing power.

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Can Self-Driving Cars Withstand First Fatality?

The deadly collision between an Uber autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian near Phoenix is bringing calls for tougher self-driving regulations, but advocates for a hands-off approach say big changes aren’t needed.

Police in Tempe, Arizona, say the female pedestrian walked in front of the Uber SUV in the dark of night, and neither the automated system nor the human backup driver stopped in time. Local authorities haven’t determined fault, and federal transportation authorities say they won’t release any findings on the crash until their investigation is complete.

Current federal regulations have few requirements specifically for self-driving vehicles, leaving it for states to handle. Many, such as Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, cede key decisions to companies as they compete for investment that will come with the technology.

No matter whether police find Uber or the pedestrian at fault in the Sunday crash, many federal and state officials say their regulations are sufficient to keep people safe while allowing the potentially lifesaving technology to grow. Others, however, argue the regulations don’t go far enough.

“I don’t think we need to jump to conclusions and make changes to our business,” said Michigan state Senator Jim Ananich, the chamber’s minority leader. He and other Democrats joined Republicans to pass a bill last year that doesn’t require human backup drivers and allows companies wide latitude to conduct tests.

Ananich called the death of Elaine Herzberg, 49, a tragedy and said companies need to continue refining their systems. “I want that work to happen here, because we have a 100-year history of making the best cars on the planet,” he said. “It’s not perfect by any means, and we are just going to have to keep working until it is.”

Proponents of light regulations, including the Trump administration’s Transportation Department, say the technology could reduce the 40,000 traffic deaths that happen annually in the U.S. The government says 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error that automated systems can reduce because they don’t get drunk, sleepy or inattentive.

U.S. Representative Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican who chairs a House subcommittee that passed an autonomous vehicle bill, said the measure has sufficient provisions to ensure the cars operate safely. It requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop safety standards and allows the agency to update outdated regulations. It also prohibits states from regulating autonomous driving systems to avoid a patchwork of rules, Latta said.

The bill has passed the House. The Senate is considering a similar measure.

About 6,000 pedestrians were killed last year in crashes that involved cars driven by humans, he said. “What we want to do is see that stop or try to get it preventable,” he said.

But safety advocates and others say companies are moving too quickly, and they fear others will die as road testing finds gaps that automated systems can’t handle.

Jason Levine, executive director for the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said without proper regulations, more crashes will happen. “There’s no guardrails on the technology when it’s being tested without any sense of how safe it is before you put it on the road,” he said.

Others say that the laser and radar sensors on the SUV involved in the Tempe accident should have spotted Herzberg in the darkness and braked or swerved to avoid her. Development should be slowed, with standards set for how far sensors must see and how quickly vehicles should react, they said.

Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst for Navigant Research, expects the Arizona crash to slow research. “Responsible companies will take this opportunity to go back and look at their test procedures,” he said.

Toyota already is taking a step back, pausing its fully autonomous testing with human backups for a few days to let drivers process the Arizona crash and “help them do their jobs with less concern,” the company said. The company says it constantly refines its procedures.

Without standards for software coding quality and cybersecurity, there will be more deaths as autonomous vehicles are tested on public roads, said Lee McKnight, associate professor of information studies at Syracuse University.

“We can say eventually they’ll learn not to kill us,” McKnight said. “In the meantime, they will be killing more people.”

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Breaking Up With Facebook Harder Than It Looks

Facebook’s latest privacy scandal, involving Trump campaign consultants who allegedly stole data on tens of millions of users in order to influence elections, has some people reconsidering their relationship status with the social network.

There’s just one problem: There isn’t much of anywhere else to go.

Facebook has weathered many such blow-ups before and is used to apologizing and moving on. But the stakes are bigger this time.

Regulatory authorities are starting to focus on the data misappropriation, triggering a 9 percent decline in Facebook’s normally high-flying stock since Monday. Some of that reflects fear that changes in Facebook’s business will hurt profits or that advertisers and users will sour on the social network.

The furor over Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm accused of stealing Facebook data, followed a bad year in which Facebook acknowledged helping spread fake news and propaganda from Russian agents. It also came less than three months after CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the world that he would devote the year to fixing Facebook. Instead, things seem to be getting worse.

“It’s more serious economically, politically, financially, and will require a more robust response in order to regain users’ trust,” said Steve Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Not so easy

Yet leaving Facebook isn’t simple for some people.

Arvind Rajan, a tech executive from San Francisco who deactivated his account on Monday, suddenly discovered he needs to create new usernames and passwords for a variety of apps and websites. That’s because he had previously logged in with his Facebook ID.

It’s a pain, he said, “but not the end of the world.” And because he is bothered by Facebook’s “ham-handed” response to recent problems, the inconvenience is worth it.

For other users looking to leave, it can feel as if there are no real alternatives. Twitter? Too flighty, too public. Instagram? Whoops, owned by Facebook. Snapchat? Please, unless you’re under 25 — in which case you’re probably not on Facebook to begin with.

Facebook connects 2.2 billion users and a host of communities that have sprung up on its network. No other company can match the breadth or depth of these connections — thanks in part to Facebook’s proclivity for squashing or swallowing up its competition.

What about your photos? 

But it is precisely in Facebook’s interest to make users feel Facebook is the only place to connect with others. Where else will grandmothers see photos of their far-flung grandkids? How will new mothers connect to other parents also up at 4 a.m. with a newborn?

“My only hesitation is that there are hundreds of pictures posted over 13 years of my life that I do not want to lose access to. If there was a way to recover these photos, I would deactivate immediately,” Daniel Schwartz, who lives in Atlanta, said in an email. 

People eager to delete their profiles may find unexpected problems that point to how integral Facebook is to many activities, said Ifeoma Ajunwa, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University.

“It is getting more and more difficult for people to delete Facebook, since it’s not just as a social media platform but also almost like a meeting square,” she said.

Parents could soon realize that their child’s soccer schedule with games and pickup times is only on a Facebook page, for example. Many businesses also schedule meetings via Facebook.

“It’s more and more difficult for people to feel plugged in if you’re not on Facebook,” Ajunwa said.

Exit can take 90 days

Not surprisingly, Facebook doesn’t make it easy to leave. To permanently delete your account, you need to make a request to the company. The process can take several days, and if you log in during this time, your request will be canceled. It can take up to 90 days to delete everything.

There’s a less permanent way to leave — deactivation — which hides your profile from everyone but lets you return if you change your mind.

Lili Orozco, 28, an office manager for her family’s heating and cooling company in Watkinsville, Georgia, deleted her account in December. She was upset that every new app she downloaded would ask for her Facebook contacts.

And while she liked staying in touch with people, she was irritated by the conspiracy stories her high school friends would share.

“Falsehoods spread faster on Facebook than the truth does,” she said. She now gets her news from Twitter and shares pictures with friends through Instagram.

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Zuckerberg Asked to Testify in UK; Data Firm’s CEO Suspended

A British parliamentary committee on Tuesday summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer questions as authorities stepped up efforts to determine if the personal data of social-media users has been used improperly to influence elections.

The request comes amid allegations that a data-mining firm based in the U.K. used information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. The company, Cambridge Analytica, has denied wrongdoing.

However, the firm’s board of directions announced Tuesday evening that it had suspended CEO Alexander Nix pending an independent investigation of his actions. Nix made comments to an undercover reporter for Britain’s Channel 4 News about various unsavory services Cambridge Analytica provided its clients.

“In the view of the board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the board said in a statement.

Facebook also drew continued criticism for its alleged inaction to protect users’ privacy. Earlier Tuesday, the chairman of the U.K. parliamentary media committee, Damian Collins, said his group has repeatedly asked Facebook how it uses data and that Facebook officials “have been misleading to the committee.”

“It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process,” Collins wrote in a note addressed directly to Zuckerberg. “Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you.”

Facebook sidestepped questions on whether Zuckerberg would appear, saying instead that it’s currently focused on conducting its own reviews.

​Personal data

The request to appear comes as Britain’s information commissioner said she was using all her legal powers to investigate the social-media giant and Cambridge Analytica.

Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers. She has also asked Facebook to cease its own audit of Cambridge Analytica’s data use.

“Our advice to Facebook is to back away and let us go in and do our work,” she said.

Cambridge Analytica said it is committed to helping the U.K. investigation. However, Denham’s office said the firm failed to meet a deadline to produce the information requested.

Denham said the prime allegation against Cambridge Analytica is that it acquired personal data in an unauthorized way, adding that the data provisions act requires services like Facebook to have strong safeguards against misuse of data.

Chris Wylie, who once worked for Cambridge Analytica, was quoted as saying the company used the data to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories.

Undercover investigation

The firm found itself in further allegations of wrongdoing. Britain’s Channel 4 used an undercover investigation to record Nix saying that the company could use unorthodox methods to wage successful political campaigns for clients.

He said the company could “send some girls” around to a rival candidate’s house, suggesting that girls from Ukraine are beautiful and effective in this role.

He also said the company could “offer a large amount of money” to a rival candidate and have the whole exchange recorded so it could be posted on the internet to show that the candidate was corrupt.

Nix says in a statement that he deeply regrets his role in the meeting and has apologized to staff.

“I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case,” he said. “I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps,’ and nor does it use untrue material for any purposes.”

Nix told the BBC the Channel 4 sting was “intended to embarrass us.”

“We see this as a coordinated attack by the media that’s been going on for very, very many months in order to damage the company that had some involvement with the election of Donald Trump,” he said.

The data harvesting used by Cambridge Analytica has also triggered calls for further investigation from the European Union, as well as federal and state officials in the United States.

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Google Launches News Initiative to Combat Fake News

Alphabet’s Google is launching the Google News Initiative to weed out fake news online and during breaking news situations, it said in a blog post Tuesday.

Google said it plans to spend $300 million over the next three years to improve the accuracy and quality of news appearing on its platforms. 

The changes come as Google, Facebook and Twitter face a backlash over their role during the U.S. presidential election by allowing the spread of false and often malicious information that might have swayed voters toward Republican candidate Donald Trump.

In a separate blog post, Google said it was launching a tool to help subscribe to news publications.

Subscribe with Google will let users buy a subscription on participating news sites using their Google account and manage all their subscriptions in one place.

Google said it would launch the news subscription with the Financial Times, The New York Times, Le Figaro and The Telegraph among others. The search engine said it plans to add more news publishers soon.

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Crash Marks 1st Death Involving Fully Autonomous Vehicle

A fatal pedestrian crash involving a self-driving Uber SUV in a Phoenix suburb could have far-reaching consequences for the new technology as automakers and other companies race to be the first with cars that operate on their own.

The crash Sunday night in Tempe was the first death involving a full autonomous test vehicle. The Volvo was in self-driving mode with a human backup driver at the wheel when it struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking a bicycle outside the lines of a crosswalk in Tempe, police said.


Uber immediately suspended all road-testing of such autos in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. The ride-sharing company has been testing self-driving vehicles for months as it competes with other technology companies and automakers like Ford and General Motors.


Though many in the industries had been dreading a fatal crash they knew it was inevitable.


Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said local authorities haven’t determined fault but urged people to use crosswalks. He told reporters at a news conference Monday the Uber vehicle was traveling around 40 mph when it hit Helzberg immediately as she stepped on to the street.


Neither she nor the backup driver showed signs of impairment, he said.


“The pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk, so it was midblock,” Elcock said. “And as soon as she walked into the lane of traffic, she was struck by the vehicle.”


The National Transportation Safety Board, which makes recommendations for preventing crashes, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which can enact regulations, sent investigators.


Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed condolences on his Twitter account and said the company is cooperating with investigators.


The public’s image of the vehicles will be defined by stories like the crash in Tempe, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies self-driving vehicles. It may turn out that there was nothing either the vehicle or its human backup could have done to avoid the crash, he said.


Either way, the fatality could hurt the technology’s image and lead to a push for more regulations at the state and federal levels, Smith said.

Autonomous vehicles with laser, radar and camera sensors and sophisticated computers have been billed as the way to reduce the more than 40,000 traffic deaths a year in the U.S. alone. Ninety-four percent of crashes are caused by human error, the government says.


Self-driving vehicles don’t drive drunk, don’t get sleepy and aren’t easily distracted. But they do have faults.


“We should be concerned about automated driving,” Smith said. “We should be terrified about human driving.”


In 2016, the latest year available, more than 6,000 U.S. pedestrians were killed by vehicles.


The federal government has voluntary guidelines for companies that want to test autonomous vehicles, leaving much of the regulation up to states.


Many states, including Michigan and Arizona, have taken a largely hands-off approach, hoping to gain jobs from the new technology, while California and others have taken a harder line.


California is among states that require manufacturers to report any incidents during the testing phase. As of early March, the state’s motor vehicle agency had received 59 such reports.


Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey used light regulations to entice Uber to the state after the company had a shaky rollout of test cars in San Francisco. Arizona has no reporting requirements. Hundreds of vehicles with automated driving systems have been on Arizona’s roads.


Ducey’s office expressed sympathy for Herzberg’s family and said safety is the top priority.


The crash in Arizona isn’t the first involving an Uber autonomous test vehicle. In March 2017, an Uber SUV flipped onto its side, also in Tempe. No serious injuries were reported, and the driver of the other car was cited for a violation.


Herzberg’s death is the first involving an autonomous test vehicle but not the first in a car with some self-driving features. The driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in 2016 when his car, operating on its Autopilot system, crashed into a tractor-trailer in Florida.


The NTSB said that driver inattention was to blame but that design limitations with the system played a major role in the crash.


The U.S. Transportation Department is considering further voluntary guidelines that it says would help foster innovation. Proposals also are pending in Congress, including one that would stop states from regulating autonomous vehicles, Smith said.


Peter Kurdock, director of regulatory affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in Washington, said the group sent a letter Monday to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao saying it is concerned about a lack of action and oversight by the department as autonomous vehicles are developed. That letter was planned before the crash.


Kurdock said the deadly accident should serve as a “startling reminder” to members of Congress that they need to “think through all the issues to put together the best bill they can to hopefully prevent more of these tragedies from occurring.”

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Uganda Experiments with Using Insects for Livestock Feed

The rising production of livestock feed, such as soy, gobbles up more and more valuable agricultural land that could be used to feed people. So farmers in Uganda are being encouraged to use insects as livestock feed, and some are turning the practice into a business. Faith Lapidus reports.

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Self-Driving Car Hits and Kills Pedestrian Outside of Phoenix

A self-driving car has hit and killed a woman in the southwestern United States in what is believed to be the first fatal pedestrian crash involving the new technology.

Police said Monday a self-driving sport utility vehicle owned by the ride sharing company Uber struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was walking outside of a crosswalk in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. She later died in a hospital from her injuries.

Uber said it had suspended its autonomous vehicle program across the United States and Canada following the accident.


Police say the vehicle was in autonomous mode, but had an operator behind the wheel, when the accident took place.


Testing of self-driving cars by various companies has been going on for months in the Phoenix area, as well as Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto as automakers and technology companies compete to be the first to introduce the new technology.

The vehicle involved in the crash was a Volvo XC90, which Uber had been using to test its autonomous technology. However, Volvo said it did not make the self-driving technology.


The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board said they are sending a team to gather information about the crash.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed condolences on Twitter and said the company is working with local law enforcement on the investigation.

The fatal crash will most likely raise questions about regulations for self-driving cars. Arizona has offered little regulations for the new technology, which has led to many technology companies flocking to the state to test their autonomous vehicles.

Proponents of the new technology argue that self-driving cars will prove to be safer than human drivers, because the cars will not get distracted and will obey all traffic laws.

Critics have expressed concern about the technology’s safety, including the ability of the autonomous technology to deal with unpredictable events.


Consumer Watch, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group, called Monday for a nationwide moratorium on testing self-driving cars on public roads while investigators figure out what went wrong in the latest accident.


“Arizona has been the Wild West of robot car testing, with virtually no regulations in place,” the group said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who is a member of the Senate transportation committee, said there must be more oversight of the technology. He said he is working on a “comprehensive” autonomous vehicle legislative package.


“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” he said.

Concerns over the safety of autonomous vehicles increased in July 2016 after a fatality involving a partially autonomous Tesla automobile. In that accident, the driver put the car in “autopilot” mode, and the car failed to detect a tractor-trailer that was crossing the road. The driver of the Tesla died in the crash. Safety regulators later determined Tesla was not at fault.

However, critics have expressed concerns about the safety of the technology, including the ability of the autonomous technology to deal with unpredictable events.

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German Band Works in Concert With ‘Robotic’ Instruments to Create Music Mix

German band Joasihno strikes a chord in a unique way as it takes its show on the road.

Currently touring in Canada, the two-man band works in concert with a “robotic” element that can play several instruments at the same time.

“Actually we call it psychedelic robot orchestra,” said Cico Beck, one of the creators of the band. “It’s a combination of acoustic instruments but also very trashy robot instruments,” he added.

Once hooked up to wires and set up, instruments that include a xylophone, drum and cymbal play on their own. Another contraption, a horizontal, self-revolving wooden stick, stands atop a microphone stand. The stick contains long strings tied on each end with a wooden ping pong-sized-ball attached. As the stick rotates, the balls hit a block on the floor, creating a hollow knocking sound. 

Beck said a computer is at the heart of the self-playing instruments.

“Most of this stuff is controlled by the computer. The computer can translate voltage signals, so the robots are controlled by the voltage, that is controlled by the computer,” Beck said. 

Playing in an experimental band with a robot orchestra is not the same as playing in a traditional one, said Nico Siereg, the other Joasihno member.

WATCH: Robotic orchestra

​”It’s a little bit different because you also have in mind that there are machines playing with you, so there’s no reaction from them.” 

Siereg said in some ways, once the robots are programmed, he is free to focus on what he is playing and even improvise. The musician said he can envision future scenarios in which technology plays a greater role in creating different types of music; but, he voiced hope that “real music won’t die.”

Even if the robots are not taking over the music world, Beck said it is undeniable that in the 21st century, music and technology are intertwined.

“Technology is like a very important tool that even, very often, it’s also a very important part of inspiration,” he added.

Joasihno performed several shows at the now-concluded music festival and tech conference known as South by Southwest, held in Austin, Texas. The experimental band is hoping its high-tech use of instrumentals will be music to one’s ears.

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Robot Orchestra Creates Otherworldly, Psychedelic Music at SXSW

The annual music festival and tech conference, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas just ended. The event brings together tech startups and musicians from around the globe to network and showcase their work. The types of music played at the festival are as diverse as the musicians there. One band from Germany called Joasihno performed at the festival. The group  includes two guys and robots as band members. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

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