Spain Disputes Tech Show Canceled for Health Motives

Organizers of the world’s biggest mobile technology fair insisted Thursday that they canceled the annual Mobile World Congress due to health and safety concerns over the virus outbreak in China. But the Spanish government disagreed, hinting that there was another motive for the cancellation.
“This is indeed a very difficult situation and a very difficult decision that we have taken,” Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, told reporters in Barcelona on Thursday, a day after they canceled the event.
“Our priorities have been very clear and very simple: The first is health and safety of everyone involved in the show and the second priority is the reputation of the MWC and this event here in Barcelona,” he said.
The decision to scrap the Feb. 24-27 event in Barcelona was taken after dozens of tech companies and wireless carriers dropped out over the COVID-19 virus, including major companies like Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Amazon, Intel and LG. The companies cited concerns for the safety of staff and visitors.
But the Spanish government said in a statement Thursday it “believes it is not public health reasons in Spain that have motivated the cancellation.”
“There is no public health reason to not hold events of this type in our country,” the government added. It did not say what reasons it thought were behind the decision.
Spain has only two people infected with the virus, neither of whom is in Barcelona.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, sitting alongside Granryd, also said, “neither in Barcelona, Catalonia or Spain does any health concern exist today. There is no local reason” to cancel.
Granryd said the decision had nothing to do with the trade differences between China and the U.S., as suggested by one reporter who noted that some of those that had canceled were at events in Amsterdam.
“Absolutely not. Everyone I have spoken to, this is a health and safety issue concern, concern of travel, concern of having to put business-critical resources in quarantine for 14 days so it has nothing to do with anything else than the force majeure situation of having coronavirus disease spreading on the planet,” Granryd said.
John Hoffman, chief executive of GSMA, emphasized they were dealing with “business-critical people,” including 8,000 CEOs. He said “there was grave concern on disrupting their business not only now but into the future.”
Granryd said GSMA could not discuss the costs of the cancellation, as it was “early days.”
“It’s not about money,” he added.
Hoffman said they had considered a scaled-down event but “all of our buyers have indicated they would not attend.”
He said they looked at the data Wednesday and concluded that the “vast majority of those who planned to attend were not going to be there.”
He said it was not possible to postpone the event because it was impossible to know when the situation would change.
Describing it as “a very dark day,” Hoffman said that the group nevertheless looked forward to hosting the event again in Barcelona in 2021. Barcelona city hall and the national government welcomed this.
The show was originally expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000-6,000 from China.
The decision stands to be a major economic blow to the city, which has been hosting the event for 14 years.
Colau said “the local impact will be very substantial” and that authorities will consult with those sectors affected to see how they can reduce the financial pain.
The show normally represents a huge source of revenue for hotels, restaurants and taxi companies. Authorities have estimated the show would generate 473 million euros ($516 million) and more than 14,000 part-time jobs for the local economy. 
 

your ad here

more

Facebook Removes Accounts in Russia, Iran With Alleged Intelligence Links

Social media giant Facebook on Wednesday removed two unconnected networks of accounts, pages, and groups “engaging in foreign or government interference,” one originating in Russia and the other one in Iran, both of which have alleged ties to intelligence services.Calling the behavior “coordinated” and “inauthentic,” Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said both operations were acting on “behalf of a government or foreign actor.”The Russian network primarily targeted Ukraine and its neighboring countries, while the Iranian operation focused mainly on the United States.The people behind the groups and accounts “coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” the social-media company said.In total, 78 accounts, 11 pages, 29 groups, and four Instagram accounts originating in Russia were removed.Facebook’s investigation “found links to Russian and military intelligence services” within the Russian network.The people behind the network would pose as citizen journalists and tried to contact policymakers, journalists, and other public figures in the region.They would post content in Russian, English, and Ukrainian “about local and political news including public figures in Ukraine, Russian military engagement in Syria, alleged SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) leaks related to ethnic tensions in Crimea and the downing of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine in 2014.”Similarly, six Facebook and five Instagram accounts were removed originating in Iran that engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”Some tried contacting public figures and they shared posts on such topics as the U.S. elections, Christianity, U.S.-Iran relations, U.S. immigration policy, and criticism of U.S. policies in the Middle East.About 60 people had followed one or more of the Iran-based Instagram accounts, the media company said. 

your ad here

more

Asia Catches up on AI but Digital Divide Remains Between Rich and Poor

The earliest fans of the internet wondered if it could be a democratizing technology, giving all people access to information, regardless of their income, social status, or level of freedom under their governments. Today another computer technology — artificial intelligence — raises similar questions, depending on whether it will bring benefits for all, or worsen the inequality already in place.A new report, jointly released by Google, INSEAD business school, and Adecco recruiters, tackles those questions by ranking nations and cities based on how well they attract people to their workforce by investing in technology like AI. Asian nations shot up the Global Talent Competitiveness Index in 2020 compared to 2019, particularly developing nations. That has led observers to a two-pronged conclusion marked by cautious optimism: on the one hand, poorer nations can use this technology to get ahead; on the other hand, if people become complacent, the technological advantage could stay in rich nations.“As talent becomes increasingly fluid and mobile, some early AI adopters could leverage this to become more talent competitive,” Bruno Lanvin, executive director of global indices at INSEAD, said, “however there are also signs that the ubiquity of AI is amplifying current imbalances and inequalities.”Most large nations in Asia improved their rankings this year, including China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The index assigns nations a score for each of dozens of indicators, such as how much technical education and training they provide, the amount of technology transfer they enable, and the level of social mobility.The reason observers have drawn mixed conclusions from the index is that there is opportunity for developing nations to improve, but it is limited. For instance Malaysia got higher marks this year because it does a good job of matching workforce needs with talent. However the report authors say it “would benefit from higher tolerance and greater opportunities for minorities and immigrants.”Residents walk down a street in Kyoto, Japan, a nation whose investment in artificial intelligence helped it climb three spots in the Global Talent Competitiveness Index. (VOA News)What the authors call most “worrying,” though, is the risk of a widening gap between rich and poor in terms of which nations are best preparing to use artificial intelligence. Rich city-state Singapore is the only Asian nation to break the top 10 of the index released last month. In the part of the study focused on cities, high-income Tokyo and Hong Kong are the best performing in the region.Developing nations are able to make some progress because, at a lower level, technology is accessible and cheap. India and the Philippines, for instance, have become global call centers and IT outsourcing hubs, and it is relatively easy for their citizens to pick up basic coding skills regardless of their income.However when technology needs move beyond just coding skills, more investment and resources help. Artificial intelligence, in particular, relies on massive amounts of data to be input and computer power to crunch the data. Nations and companies that amass that data, and the highly-paid professionals who can understand it, have such an advantage that it might become too hard for others to catch up in the future.“AI also will affect people’s jobs and change the nature of work,”Kent Walker, senior vice president of Google, said. “We need to anticipate these changes and take steps to prepare for them.”Google has exactly such an AI advantage. It has been able to collect many photos to input into and improve its image recognition algorithms, for instance, at a level that would be hard for other companies to match.The authors released the global talent index in hopes of highlighting the digital divide, as well as providing recommendations on how to solve it. They say to prevent people from being left behind, developing nations can focus on vocational training and lifelong learning, and not just for lower-skilled tech jobs like coding. People can learn to do work that is complemented — not replaced — by robots; machines may be able to move a syringe into position, but patients will still want human nurses to oversee the injection, for instance.“The human role in the world of work is being augmented by technology rather than substituted by it,” Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group, said.At a government level, nations should agree on the rules and principles that guide AI research and uses, such as the need for data protection, the report said. That would increase the odds that new technologies are advanced in the interest of humans.

your ad here

more

Samsung Unveils its New Foldable Phone, the Galaxy Z Flip

Samsung on Tuesday unveiled a new foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Flip, its second attempt to sell consumers on phones with bendable screens and clamshell designs.The company announced the phone at the start of a product event in San Francisco. The new phone can unfold from a small square upward into a traditional smartphone form, and will go on sale Feb. 14 starting at $1,380.Samsung’s first foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold, finally went on sale last September after delays and reports of screens breaking. The Fold, which carries a price tag of nearly $2,000, folds at a vertical crease rather than horizontally as a flip-phone design would. Motorola has also taken the flip-phone approach with its new $1,500 Razr phone.The foldable phones represent manufacturers’ attempt to energize a market where sales have slowed. Many consumers are holding onto old phones longer, in part because new phone features offer increasingly marginal benefits. But these foldable models come with higher price tags and are likely to appeal for now mostly to tech enthusiasts and others at the forefront of technology.For everyone else, Samsung offers its S series. As the 2020s kick off, the South Korean company showed off the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra at an event in San Francisco, skipping directly to the 20s from its S10 series.The S20 phones are designed to take high-quality pictures in dark settings, Samsung product manager Mark Holloway said. The phones can take both video and photos at the same time, using artificial intelligence to zero in on the best moments to capture the still images.Samsung’s renewed focus on the camera follows Apple, whose iPhone 11 phones last fall offered an additional lens for wider-angle shots and combined multiple shots with software to improve low-light images. Google’s Pixel phones also offer a similar low-light feature.Samsung’s S phones already offer the wider angle and some features for low-lighting – but Samsung says the new phones will focus on high-resolution photos and the ability to zoom in 30 to 100 times, depending on the model.The S20 phones are expected to come out in March. Samsung didn’t immediately announce prices. Last year’s main S10 model went for $900 in the U.S. at launch. For all models, Samsung plans to make versions compatible with next-generation cellular networks, known as 5G, though it’s still an early technology that consumers typically won’t need yet.As people packed into San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts for Samsung’s launch event, they passed a team taking remote temperatures in the security line, likely a precaution to check for the coronavirus. Samsung also offered hand sanitizer stations and face masks inside the event lobby.

your ad here

more

Here’s Where the Internet Actually Lives

Have you ever stored something in the cloud and wondered where that data goes?  You might be surprised to learn it’s in a quiet residential community about 30 miles outside the capital city of Washington, where people jog or walk their dogs around human-made lakes, children’s teams practice on soccer fields, and teens play pick-up basketball on community courts.  The majority of the world’s internet traffic passes through the town of Ashburn in Loudoun County, Virginia, home to one of the world’s major internet exchanges.  “It’s amazing when you think about the amount of fiber that’s in the ground,” says Buddy Rizer, executive director of economic development for Loudoun County. “Both sides of the road pretty much have fiber troughs in them. And now we’re putting some fiber in the middle of the roads as well. We want to continue to build on that fiber network.”Seventy percent of the world’s internet traffic passes through all of that fiber. That’s why Ashburn is known as Data Center Alley. The Silicon Valley of the east. The cloud capital of the world. Pretty much any email sent or received anywhere around the globe passes through this town. If you’ve got something stored in the cloud, it’s probably in one of the 100-plus data centers located in Loudoun County.”A lot of people, they think about the cloud and their eyes go up. Well, it’s not really up,” Rizer says. “The cloud is based somewhere and, by and large, the cloud has been based here in Loudoun County, Virginia, in the data centers, the 18-million-square-feet of data centers that we have on the ground here.”It all started when America Online moved to Ashburn back in the 1990s. AOL brought fiber and power infrastructure with it. MAE-East, one of the world’s first internet exchanges, moved to Loudoun in the late ’90s after first forming in 1992.”It was a couple guys who got together over some beers and decided that they were going to allow one another to pass traffic back and forth across the different networks that they’d been creating,” says John Day, vice president of sales and leasing for Sabey Data Centers.    Other companies followed, each new addition contributing to the creation of the most dense fiber network anywhere in the world. Tech titans like Amazon and Google now have a presence in Loudoun. Northern Virginia’s appeal includes reasonably priced land, low-cost-but-dependable electricity, access to water to help cool the equipment, and a skilled, educated population.Data centersToday, the internet is basically housed in the data centers located in the Washington-area suburb, which is the biggest data center market in the world.”The internet itself is really comprised of these peering points that are housed inside data centers. So without data centers, you wouldn’t really have the internet,” Day says. “The infrastructure that powers the internet wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for the data centers that it lives in.”Companies want their information technology infrastructure close to those peering points. So they often turn to third parties like Sabey Data Centers to host them. Sabey’s client list is confidential, but it includes one of the five biggest cloud providers in the world.Data centers provide power, cooling and connectivity. Back-up generators ensure the power never runs out. The buildings themselves are hardened and have cooling capabilities that allow for the release of waste heat generated by the IT equipment.The data centers ensure the computer applications used by their clients are up and running around the clock, whether it’s a bank, insurance company, or e-commerce website.”They want to ensure that all of their customers, wherever they are, can get to it through the internet,” Day says.Return on investmentSecurity is tight. There’s a lot of privileged information to protect. With non-descript exteriors, data centers aren’t flashy. But they are quietly raking in the bucks for the Virginia county, which expects to take in $320 million in local tax revenue from data centers this year.”A single family home is not a moneymaker for a community like ours,” Rizer says. “For every dollar they take in services, we don’t get the corresponding amount of money back. Data centers, for every dollar we spend on them, we get about $15 dollars back, which is a great return on our investment.”Rizer expects the data center business to keep booming in his county and elsewhere. Across the United States, IT infrastructure isn’t expected to catch up with demand until sometime late in the 2020s.
 

your ad here

more

German Decision on Huawei 5G ‘Imminent,’ Says Ambassador

Germany’s closely watched impending decision on whether and to what extent to allow Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, to enter its next generation telecommunications infrastructure may yield a result as early as Tuesday, sources tell VOA.The decision “is imminent,” says Emily Haber, German ambassador to the United States, in answer to a question raised by VOA Monday afternoon concerning the German government’s stance with regard to Huawei.“Any decision we take will factor in the relevance of the trustworthiness of the provider,” Haber added.VOA has since learned from diplomatic sources that “imminent” could mean as early as Tuesday February 11th when German lawmakers convene in Berlin.Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, thinks Germany could end up following Britain’s precedence and reach a compromise solution “between Merkel’s permissive ‘few limits suggestion and the more restrictive line called for by many backbench MPs, led by Norbert Roettgen,” Kirkegaard told VOA.Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen as wanting to work with Beijing in order to secure German business interests in China, while Roettgen, also a member of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, has made  no secret of his mistrust of Huawei.Roettgen pinned his tweet from November 23rd following a CDU vote in which he declared the unanimous vote a huge victory and an unambiguous declaration of where CDU stands on this issue.Unser #Initiativantrag zu #5G wurde beim #cdupt19 einstimmig beschlossen – ein Riesenerfolg! Die Debatte kommt in den #Bundestag. Klare Position der @CDU gegen Einfluss ausländischer Staaten in deutsche kritische Infrastruktur & für eine europäische Lösung! pic.twitter.com/W3uvLAxWJU— Norbert Röttgen (@n_roettgen) November 23, 2019CDU position “against foreign influence in critical German infrastructure” as well as its determination to find a European solution are “clear,” he tweeted, “next comes the parliamentary debate” which could take place Tuesday in Berlin, sources tell VOA.In Kirkegaard’s opinion, Germany could also impose a ceiling on Huawei’s market share and attempt to prevent the company from supplying “core network” components, a measure Britain has recently announced, in spite of Washington’s strong objection.He nonetheless points out that given the 5G technology’s largely “cloud”-based feature, it remains “technically unclear” how core and peripheral distinction could be meaningfully established.Should the German parliament vote Huawei out of Germany’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure, it would be a huge surprise to many, including Kirkegaard. Should it happen, it would constitute a “huge defeat for Merkel,” he says, even as Merkel’s party is thrown into turmoil as her designated successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her decision to step down as chairman of the CDU on Monday.It remains to be seen whether the latest development within the CDU could affect the German parliament’s debate on Huawei.Speaking along with the German ambassador at an event hosted by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies Monday afternoon, Piotr Wilczek, Poland’s ambassador to the United States, said “there’s been a big effort” on the part of all EU countries “to provide Brussels with our positions” on the issue of Huawei.“Now we’re in the process of discussing this in more detail,” Wilczek said, in answer to VOA’s question on his country’s position with regard to Huawei. “Poland and I believe Romania are the only countries that have signed a declaration with the United States, stating just that we’ll be very careful in choosing providers and providers should be very reliable,” he added, without naming any company by name.“This is a very complicated issue … a difficult decision,” he says, “because it’s about the quality of services, of various providers; we know some of them are very much advanced, and some of them are not so much advanced but perhaps more reliable.”Earlier, Norbert Roettgen, the German lawmaker who has openly expressed his concerns about Huawei, stated that when it comes to which providers to be let in, “You don’t just need technical certainty, you need the suppliers to be politically trustworthy, too.” A bill that Roettgen helped draft requires that any company designated as “untrustworthy” be excluded “from both the core and peripheral networks.”Roettgen tweeted on February 8 that the United States and the EU “could team up to counter China’s 5G dominance.”  “We share the same security concerns and should cooperate to expand alternatives.”  He added that “but to do so, we must know that tariffs against Brussels are off the table.  Partners don’t threaten one another,” in a reference to tariffs U.S. President Donald Trump has said he would impose on a number of European imports, including on German automobiles.The #USA & EU could team up to counter #China’s #5G dominance. We share the same security concerns & should cooperate to expand 🇪🇺 alternatives. But to do so we must know that tariffs against Brussels are off the table. Partners don’t threaten one another. https://t.co/ZPvZFKWNYq— Norbert Röttgen (@n_roettgen) February 8, 2020Huawei has repeatedly denied that it is beholden to the Chinese government and its political demands. China’s top envoy to Berlin has made it clear that Beijing “will not stand idly by” should Germany’s decision on Huawei turns out to be unfavorable to Beijing. “If Germany were to make a decision that led to Huawei’s exclusion from the German market, there will be consequences,” Wu Ken is quoted as saying. Whichever way Germany decides, its decision likely will have significant impact on the other European Union countries. Political influence aside, the fact that Germany takes up about 30% of the EU’s 5G market is “enough for pan-EU operators to follow its lead,” according to the Peterson Institute’s Kirkegaard.

your ad here

more