A Pakistani American Startup Fighting Media Censorship

According to the latest report by the Committee to Protect Journalists in Pakistan, fatal violence against journalists has declined, but fear and self-censorship have grown. In this era, five Pakistani American students at Harvard University have created a startup that challenges censorship using the latest block-chain technology. Their mission is “making journalism truly free.” Saqib Ul Islam visited Harvard’s innovation lab to bring us the story of a new company called “Inkrypt.”

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Google CEO to Testify Before US House on Bias Accusations

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has agreed to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee later this year over Republican concerns that the company is biased against conservatives, a senior Republican said Friday.

Republicans want to question Google, the search engine of Alphabet Inc, about whether its search algorithms are influenced by human bias. They also want to probe it on issues such as privacy, classification of news and opinion, and dealing with countries with human rights violations.

Pichai met with senior Republicans on Friday to discuss their concerns, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

McCarthy told reporters after the meeting that it was “very productive” and “frank.”

“I think we’ve really shown that there is bias, which is human nature, but you have to have transparency and fairness,” McCarthy said. “As big tech’s business grows, we have not had enough transparency and that has led to an erosion of trust and, perhaps worse, harm to consumers.”

Alphabet Inc’s Google unit has repeatedly denied accusations of bias against conservatives. Pichai left the meeting without comment.

Pichai wrote in an internal email last week that suggestions that Google would interfere in search results for political reasons were “absolutely false. We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda.”

The CEO had been scheduled to be in Asia this week but canceled the trip to be in Washington.

The hearing will take place after the midterm congressional elections in November, McCarthy said.

Google came under fire from members of both parties earlier this month for refusing to send a top executive to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that included Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc executives.

Republicans have also raised concerns about Google’s dominance. Earlier this week, the Justice Department met with state attorneys general to focus on the need to protect consumer privacy when big technology companies amass vast troves of data, but came to no immediate conclusions.

Asked if Republicans will push to break up Google, McCarthy said: “I don’t see that.” He said the hearing will look at privacy, bias issues, China and other matters.

Pichai is also meeting with Democratic lawmakers and is due to meet with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Friday, a White House official said Thursday.

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Facebook Tightens Security After Announcing Breach

The security breach Facebook announced Friday that affected 50 million users was a setback for the social media giant, which has been working for months to regain customers’ trust over how it handles their data.

In addition to the 50 million users whose log-on information could have been accessed by hackers, the company required as a precaution another 40 million to log on to be able to get on their accounts. Facebook said it reported the breach of the company’s code, which the firm said it fixed, to law enforcement.

The social media company was not sure Friday whether any personal information had been gathered or misused, but it scrambled to address the issue, which was discovered earlier in the week. Facebook users may find they have to relink their Facebook accounts to their Instagram accounts, and possibly to third-party apps, which users often log on to with their Facebook accounts.

In a call Friday with reporters, Guy Rosen, Facebook vice president of product management, said that the breach appeared to be very broad with no specific country targeted. “We’ll update with what we learn,” he said. 

Focus on elections

The breach came just weeks before the U.S. midterm elections, something the company has been keenly focused on.

More than 300 Facebook workers are scouring the platform, looking for false news, fake accounts and disinformation campaigns by foreign state-sponsored operatives that may be trying to sway voters. Facebook executives have said that they did not do enough to address these issues in the run-up to other elections such as the 2016 U.S. presidential race and that they are working to fix them.

In addition, Facebook’s relationship with its 2 billion users took a hit last spring when it was disclosed that an outside researcher who was given access to Facebook data used the information for political campaigns. As a result, the company contacted users whose information might have been seen or used by the outside firm Cambridge Analytica.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement posted to his Facebook page in March.

‘View As’ tool

The company said hackers exploited the privacy feature known as “View As,” which lets users see how their own profiles would look to other people. Facebook said hackers were then able to use the security flaw to steal log-in keys, called access tokens, that could allow them to access people’s accounts.

“We’re a big fan of ‘View As’ here at EFF,” said Gennie Gebhart, associate director of research at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the digital civil liberties group. “It’s one good way to make sure that your privacy settings are the way you want them to be. I can see what my friends see or friends of friends see.”

But by checking what a friend can see, the “View As” tool actually made one’s friend vulnerable to this hack.

A relatively new feature that allowed users to upload “Happy Birthday” videos was part of a combination of three bugs that contributed to the vulnerability, the social media firm said.

“It’s one of those weird things that daisy-chained together,” Gebhart added.

Facebook said it was shutting down “View As” until further notice.

The hackers “used the access tokens to query data, but there are no public reports of abusing the access to post updates to timelines or spread disinformation,” said Travis Smith, principal security researcher at Tripwire, a security firm. “This could be because they were only after data or it could be that their attack was cut off midstream by Facebook before they could reach their ultimate goal.”

Security advice

Affected Facebook users should take some additional steps, said Gary Davis, the chief consumer security evangelist at security firm McAfee, who wrote about the Facebook hack in a blog post.

Among them, users should change their log-in information. “Since this flaw logged users out, it’s vital you change up your log-in information,” he wrote. 

He also stressed users should update their Facebook apps as soon as possible.

“Facebook has already issued a fix to this vulnerability, so make sure you update immediately,” he wrote.

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Uber to Pay $148M for Hiding Data Breach

The ride-hailing service Uber has agreed to pay $148 million to settle claims that it concealed a massive data breach that exposed personal information of drivers and customers. 

In November 2016, Uber learned that hackers had accessed personal data of about 600,000 Uber drivers, including their driver’s license numbers. Hackers also had stolen email addresses and cellphone numbers of 57 million riders worldwide. 

The claims, filed in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia, said rather than inform the drivers involved, Uber hid the breach for more than a year and paid ransom to ensure the data wouldn’t be misused.

“This is one of the most egregious cases we’ve ever seen in terms of notification; a yearlong delay is just inexcusable,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan told The Associated Press. 

Uber’s chief legal officer, Tony West, said the decision to come clean about the hack was made after major management changes at the company. 

“It embodies the principles by which we are running our business today: transparency, integrity and accountability,” West said. 

Each state will receive a part of the settlement based on how many drivers they have. Most states estimate each affected Uber driver will receive about $100. 

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US Lawmakers Urged to Enact Personal Data Protections, But With Care

U.S. communications and social media titans are urging lawmakers to craft strong, uniform protections for Americans’ personal data without squashing innovation.

The Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony Wednesday from Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Twitter, and AT&T executives at a time when data breaches are commonplace, many Americans are mystified or unaware of how their personal data may be used or shared, and jurisdictions from the European Union to the state of California have taken action to safeguard consumers.

“Privacy means much more than having the right to not share your personal information. Privacy is about putting the user in control when it comes to that information. We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, which should be supported by both social norms and the law,” said Apple’s vice president for software technology, Bud Tribble.

“In today’s data-driven world, it is more important than ever to maintain consumers’ trust and give them control over their personal information,” said AT&T’s senior vice president for global public policy, Leonard Cali.

The executives urged lawmakers to implement national standards that would preempt individual states from taking action on their own, as California has done.

“California is a single state, and if other states follow suit, we’ll be facing a patchwork of rules and fragmentation that will be just unworkable for consumers, as well as mobile companies and internet companies,” Cali said.

At the same time, senators were urged to craft legislation with care. Several witnesses described the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, implemented earlier this year, as overly burdensome.

“Meeting its [the GDPR’s] specific requirements for the handling, retention, and deletion of personal data required us to divert significant resources to administrative tasks and away from invention on behalf of customers,” Amazon.com Vice President Andrew DeVore said.

DeVore added, “We encourage Congress to ensure that additional overhead and administrative demands any legislation might require, actually produce commensurate consumer privacy benefits.”

Current proposal

Congress already has legislation to consider. Earlier this year, Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Louisiana Republican John Kennedy introduced a bill that would require companies to write terms of service agreements in plain language and allow consumers to review data collected about them and find out if and how it has been shared. Other proposals are likely to be forthcoming.

“The question is no longer whether we need a federal law to protect consumers’ privacy,” said the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota. “The question is what shape that law should take.”

Privacy questions

Several senators readily acknowledged that they did not grow up in the digital age.

“This thing sometimes mystifies me,” Montana Democrat Jon Tester said, holding up his smartphone.  Tester added that he was perplexed to see that, after searching for new tires for his truck, online advertisements for tires appeared on Web pages he subsequently visited.

“How the hell did they get that information?” he asked.

Google Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright responded the search engine allows Web pages to earn revenue “by placing advertisements that may be targeted to a user’s interests.” But, he stressed, “No personal information is passing from Google to that third party — we neither sell it nor share it.”

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Senate Panel Opens Hearing on Crafting US Privacy Law

The Trump administration is hoping Congress can come up with a new set of national rules governing how companies can use consumers’ data that finds a balance between “privacy and prosperity.”

But it will be tricky to reconcile the concerns of privacy advocates who want people to have more control over the usage of their personal data — where they’ve been, what they view, who their friends are —and the powerful companies that mine it for profit.

Senior executives from AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter and Charter Communications are scheduled to testify at the hearing, amid increasing anxiety over safeguarding consumers’ data online and recent scandals that have stoked outrage among users and politicians.

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who heads the Senate Commerce Committee, opened Wednesday’s hearing by saying there’s a strong desire by both Republicans and Democrats for a new data privacy law.

But the approach being pondered by policymakers and pushed by the internet industry leans toward a relatively light government touch. That’s in contrast to stricter EU rules that took effect in May.

An early move in President Donald Trump’s tenure set the tone on data privacy. He signed a bill into law in April 2017 that allows internet providers to sell information about their customers’ browsing habits. The legislation scrapped Obama-era online privacy rules aimed at giving consumers more control over how broadband companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon share that information.

Allie Bohm, policy counsel at the consumer group Public Knowledge, says examples abound of companies not only using the data to market products but also to profile consumers and restrict who sees their offerings: African Americans not getting access to ads for housing, minorities and older people excluded from seeing job postings.

The companies “aren’t going to tell that story” to the Senate panel, she said. “These companies make their money off consumer data.”

What is needed, privacy advocates maintain, is legislation to govern the entire “life cycle” of consumers’ data: how it’s collected, used, kept, shared and sold.

Meanwhile, regulators elsewhere have started to act.

The 28-nation European Union put in strict new rules this spring that require companies to justify why they’re collecting and using personal data gleaned from phones, apps and visited websites. Companies also must give EU users the ability to access and delete data, and to object to data use under one of the claimed reasons.

A similar law in California will compel companies to tell customers upon request what personal data they’ve collected, why it was collected and what types of third parties have received it. Companies will be able to offer discounts to customers who allow their data to be sold and to charge those who opt out a reasonable amount, based on how much the company makes selling the information.

Andrew DeVore, Amazon’s vice president and associate general counsel, told the Senate panel Wednesday that it should consider the “possible unintended consequences” of California’s approach. For instance, he says the state law defines personal information too broadly such that it could include all data.

The California law doesn’t take effect until 2020 and applies only to California consumers, but it could have fallout effects on other states. And it’s strong enough to have rattled Big Tech, which is seeking a federal data-privacy law that would be more lenient toward the industry.

“A national privacy framework should be consistent throughout all states, pre-empting state consumer-privacy and data security laws,” the Internet Association said in a recent statement . The group represents about 40 big internet and tech companies, spanning Airbnb and Amazon to Zillow. “A strong national baseline creates clear rules for companies.”

The Trump White House said this summer that the administration is working on it, meeting with companies and other interested parties. Thune’s pronouncement and one from a White House official stress that a balance should be struck in any new legislation — between government supervision and technological advancement.

The goal is a policy “that is the appropriate balance between privacy and prosperity,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said. “We look forward to working with Congress on a legislative solution.”


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Shape-Changing Materials to Enter Everyday Life

Many materials change shape when exposed to heat, electricity or some other kind of energy. That change is usually random, but scientists are now learning how to direct that energy to turn the material into a predetermined shape. VOA’s George Putic visited a lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that experiments with morphing materials.

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Into the Fold? What’s Next for Instagram as Founders Leave

When Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger sold Instagram to Facebook in 2012, the photo-sharing startup’s fiercely loyal fans worried about what would happen to their beloved app under the social media giant’s wings. 

None of their worst fears materialized. But now that its founders have announced they are leaving in a swirl of well wishes and vague explanations, some of the same worries are bubbling up again — and then some. Will Instagram disappear? Get cluttered with ads and status updates? Suck up personal data for advertising the way its parent does? Lose its cool? 

Worst of all: Will it just become another Facebook?

“It”s probably a bigger challenge (for Facebook) than most people realize,” said Omar Akhtar, an analyst at the technology research firm Altimeter. “Instagram is the only platform that is growing. And a lot of people didn’t necessarily make the connection between Instagram and Facebook.”

Instagram had just 31 million users when Facebook snapped it up for $1 billion; now it has a billion. It had no ads back then; it now features both display and video ads, although they’re still restrained compared to Facebook. But that could quickly change. Facebook’s growth has started to slow, and Wall Street has been pushing the company to find new ways to increase revenue.

Instagram has been a primary focus of those efforts.

Facebook has been elevating Instagram’s profile in its financial discussions. In July, it unveiled a new metric for analysts, touting that 2.5 billion people use at least one of its apps — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger — each month. While not particularly revealing, the measurement underscores the growing importance Facebook places on those secondary apps. 

Facebook doesn’t disclose how much money Instagram pulls in, though Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter estimates it’ll be around $6 billion this year, or just over 10 percent of Facebook’s expected overall revenue of about $55.7 billion. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long seen Instagram’s promise. At the time, it was by far Facebook’s largest acquisition (although it was dwarfed by the $19 billion Zuckerberg paid for WhatsApp two years later). And it was the first startup allowed to operate mostly independently. 

That has paid off big time. Not only did Instagram reach 1 billion users faster than its parent company, it also succeeded in cloning a popular Snapchat feature, dealing a serious blow to that social network upstart and succeeding where Facebook’s own attempts had repeatedly failed. Instagram also pioneered a long-form video feature to challenge YouTube, another big Facebook rival.

Recently, Instagram has been on a roll. In June, Systrom traveled to New York to mark the opening of its new office there, complete with a gelato bar and plans to hire hundreds of engineers. Only a month earlier, Instagram had moved into sparkly new offices in San Francisco. In a July earnings call, Zuckerberg touted Instagram’s success as a function of its integration with Facebook, claiming that it used parent-company infrastructure to grow “more than twice as quickly as it would have on its own.”

But Instagram has also been a case study in how to run a subsidiary independently — especially when its parent is mired in user-privacy problems and concerns about election interference, fake news and misinformation. And especially when its parent has long stopped being cool, what with everyone and their grandma now on it.

Instagram’s simple design — just a collection of photos and videos of sunsets, faraway vacations, intimate breakfasts and baby close-ups — has allowed it to remain a favorite long after it became part of Facebook. If people go to Twitter to bicker over current events and to Facebook to see what old classmates are up to, Instagram is where they go to relax, scroll and feast their eyes.

So, will that change?

“I don’t think Zuckerberg is dumb,” Akhtar said. “He knows that a large part of Instagram’s popularity is that it’s separate from Facebook.”

As such, he thinks Facebook would be wise to reassure users that what they love about Instagram isn’t going to change — that they are not going to be forced to integrate with Facebook. “That’ll go a long way,” he said. 

Internally, the challenge is a bit more complicated. While Systrom and Krieger didn’t say why they’re leaving, their decision echoes the recent departure of WhatsApp’s co-founder and CEO Jan Koum, who resigned in April. Koum had signaled years earlier that he would take a stand if Facebook’s push to increase profits risked compromising core elements of the WhatsApp messaging service, such as its dedication to user privacy. When Facebook started pushing harder for more revenue and more integration with WhatsApp, Koum pulled the ripcord.

One sign that additional integration may be in Instagram’s future: Zuckerberg in May sent longtime Facebook executive Adam Mosseri to run Instagram’s product operation. Mosseri replaced longtime Instagrammer Kevin Weil, who was shuffled back to the Facebook mothership. 

That likely didn’t sit well with Instagram’s founders, Akhtar and other analysts said. Now that they’re gone as well, Mosseri is the most obvious candidate to head Instagram. 

“Kevin Systrom loyalists are probably going to leave,” Akhtar said. 

Which means Facebook may soon have a new challenge on its hands: Figuring out how to keep Instagram growing if it loses the coolness factor that has bolstered it for so long.

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A Swipe is Not Enough: Tinder Tests Extra Control for Women

The Indian edition of dating app Tinder is testing a new feature which gives women an additional level of scrutiny before they allow men to start messaging conversations, with a view to rolling the function out globally.

The “My Move” feature allows women to choose in their settings that only they can start a conversation with a male match after both have approved each other with Tinder’s swiping function.

Normally, the app gives both parties to a successful match – where both have swiped yes on the other’s photograph – the right to text each other immediately.

Tinder has been testing the function for several months and plans to spread it worldwide if the Indian rollout proves successful. Rival dating-app Bumble already only allows the female party to a heterosexual match to start conversations.

Dating is still frowned upon in many circles in India’s religiously- and ethnically-divided society, where arranged marriages are still the norm.

Taru Kapoor, general manager for Tinder owner Match Group in India, told Reuters the function had been pioneered in India because of Tinder’s need to attract more women to the app by making them feel more comfortable and secure.

“We’re a platform based on mutual respect, consent, and choice,” she said. “We are focused on making the experience of women safer.”

Thousands of reports of sexual violence and rape in India each year have raised concerns around the safety of women in many parts of the country.

Yet an emerging class of young, well-to-do Indians in cosmopolitan cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai have made the country Tinder’s largest market in Asia. The company also says India is its “chattiest” market globally, with users using the in-app messaging feature more than any other country.

Tinder has generally had few ad campaigns and its few glossy productions in India have tended to focus on the female experience on the app – a reflection of the predominance of men on the Indian version.

The app, which has an average 3.8 million users globally had the highest number of monthly active users on Android phones in India last month in the Lifestyle category, according to market data and analytics firm, App Annie.

The app is also the third highest earner by revenue across all categories when Google Play & iOS revenues are combined.

“I know the kind of creeps out there on Tinder and other dating apps,” said one of a dozen male users Reuters talked to on Tuesday.

“One extra layer of security doesn’t do much harm to men apart from slimming their chances of striking up a conversation.”

Several female users interviewed by Reuters remained skeptical about the usefulness of the feature and said the change in settings would not do much to change their experience.

“Even after carefully picking someone, if they turn out to be nothing like you imagined, there is always an unmatch option,” said one 25-year-old Bengaluru resident who met her boyfriend through Tinder.

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Justice Dept to Discuss Consumer Protection at Social Media Meeting

The U.S. Justice Department said on Monday it will hold a “listening session” with officials from more than a dozen states on Tuesday to discuss consumer protection and the technology industry, an agency official said.

The meeting, first announced on Sept. 5, was called by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss whether social media companies have intentionally stifled “the free exchange of ideas.” It followed criticisms by President Donald Trump of social media outlets, alleging unfair treatment of conservatives.

Sessions will meet with attorneys general or representatives from California, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas, among others, said the official, who declined to be named.

Discussions are expected to focus on companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google owner Alphabet, which have been accused by some conservatives of seeking to exclude their ideas.

The companies have denied any bias.

As of Monday, two people familiar with the planning said that they had not yet seen an agenda for the meeting. Last Friday, a person familiar with the discussions said the Justice Department was considering delaying the meeting.

The Justice Department had previously said it had invited a bipartisan group of 24 state attorneys general to attend the Sept. 25 meeting.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said that he worries about suppression of conservative ideas on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Xavier Becerra from California, home to much of the tech industry, said that he looked forward to a “thoughtful” meeting.

Representative Greg Walden, chair of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a hearing this month that Twitter had made “mistakes” that, he said, minimized Republicans’ presence on its site, a practice conservatives have labeled “shadow banning.”

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey responded at the hearing that some platform’s algorithms had been changed to fix the issue.

Some of the state officials attending the meeting or sending representatives have also expressed concern about how Google uses consumer data.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood filed a lawsuit against Google in January 2017, accusing the company of misusing data collected from public school students who use the company’s software. That lawsuit is pending.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, meanwhile, opened an investigation in November 2017 into whether Google’s data collection practices violate consumer protection laws. Hawley is also probing whether Google violated antitrust law by manipulating search results to favor its own products.

Google said at the time of the probe being opened that it had “strong privacy protections in place for our users and continue to operate in a highly competitive and dynamic environment.”

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Instagram Co-founders Resign from Social Media Company

The co-founders of Instagram are resigning their positions with the social media company.


Chief Executive Kevin Systrom said in a statement late Monday that he and Mike Krieger plan to leave the company in the next few weeks.


Krieger is chief technical officer. They founded the photo-sharing app in 2010 and sold it to Facebook in 2012 for about $1 billion.


There was no immediate word on why they chose to leave the company but Systrom says they plan to take time off to explore their creativity again.

Representatives for Instagram and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to after-hours messages from The Associated Press.


Instagram has seen explosive growth since its founding, with an estimated 1 billion monthly users and 2 million advertisers.

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AP Explains: The US Push to Boost ‘Quantum Computing’

A race by U.S. tech companies to build a new generation of powerful “quantum computers” could get a $1.3 billion boost from Congress, fueled in part by lawmakers’ fear of growing competition from China.

Legislation passed earlier in September by the U.S. House of Representatives would create a 10-year federal program to accelerate research and development of the esoteric technology. As the bill moves to the Senate, where it also has bipartisan support, the White House showed its enthusiasm for the effort by holding a quantum summit Monday.

Scientists hope government backing will help attract a broader group of engineers and entrepreneurs to their nascent field. The goal is to be less like the cloistered Manhattan Project physicists who developed the first atomic bombs and more like the wave of tinkerers and programmers who built thriving industries around the personal computer, the internet and smartphone apps.

​What’s a quantum computer?

Describing the inner workings of a quantum computer isn’t easy, even for top scholars. That’s because the machines process information at the scale of elementary particles such as electrons and photons, where different laws of physics apply.

“It’s never going to be intuitive,” said Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “At this microscopic level, things are weird. An electron can be here and there at the same time, at two places at once.”

Conventional computers process information as a stream of bits, each of which can be either a zero or a one in the binary language of computing. But quantum bits, known as qubits, can register zero and one simultaneously.

What can it do?

In theory, the special properties of qubits would allow a quantum computer to perform calculations at far higher speeds than current supercomputers. That makes them good tools for understanding what’s happening in the realms of chemistry, material science or particle physics.

That speed could aid in discovering new drugs, optimizing financial portfolios, and finding better transportation routes or supply chains. It could also advance another fast-growing field, artificial intelligence, by accelerating a computer’s ability to find patterns in large troves of images and other data.

What worries intelligence agencies most about the technology’s potential — and one reason for the heightened U.S. interest — is that a quantum computer could in several decades be powerful enough to break the codes of today’s best cryptography.

Today’s early quantum computers, however, fall well short on that front.

Where can you find one?

While quantum computers don’t really exist yet in a useful form, you can find some loudly chugging prototypes in a windowless lab about 40 miles north of New York City.

Qubits made from superconducting materials sit in colder-than-outer-space refrigerators at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Take off the cylindrical casing from one of the machines and the inside looks like a chandelier of hanging gold cables — all of it designed to keep 20 fragile qubits in an isolated quantum state.

“You need to keep it very cold to make sure the quantum bits only entangle with each other the way you program it, and not with the rest of the universe,” said Scott Crowder, IBM’s vice president of quantum computing.

IBM is competing with Google and startups like Berkeley, California-based Rigetti Computing to get ever-more qubits onto their chips. Microsoft, Intel and a growing number of venture-backed startups are also making big investments. So are Chinese firms Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, which have close ties to the Chinese government.

But qubits are temperamental, and early commercial claims mask the ongoing struggle to control them, either by bombarding them with microwave signals — as IBM and Google do — or with lasers.

“It only works as long as you isolate it and don’t look at it,” said Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist. “It’s a grand engineering challenge.”

​Why does quantum computing need federal support?

Monroe is among quantum leaders from academia and industry who gathered in Washington on Monday with officials from the White House science office. Some federal agencies, including the departments of defense and energy, already have longstanding quantum research efforts, but advocates are pushing for more coordination among those agencies and greater collaboration with the private sector.

“The technology that underlies this area comes from some pretty weird stuff that we professors are used to at the university,” said Monroe, who is also the founder of quantum startup IonQ, which floats individual atoms in a vacuum chamber and points lasers to control them. But he said corporate investment can be risky because of the technical challenges and the long wait for a commercial payoff.

“The infrastructure required, the hardware, the personnel, is way too expensive for anyone to go in it alone,” said Prineha Narang, a Harvard University assistant professor of computational materials science.

By investing more in basic discovery and training — as the House-passed National Quantum Initiative Act would do — Narang said the U.S. could expand the ranks of scientists and engineers who build quantum computers and then find commercial applications for them.

What are the international implications?

The potential economic benefits have won bipartisan support for the initiative, which is estimated to cost about $1.3 billion in its first five years. Also pushing action on Capitol Hill is a belief that if the U.S. doesn’t adopt a unified strategy, it could one day be overtaken by other countries.

“China has publicly stated a national goal of surpassing the U.S. during the next decade,” said Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House science, space and technology committee, as he urged his colleagues on the House floor to support the bill to “preserve America’s dominance in the scientific world.”

Smith said he expects the Senate will pass a companion bill before the end of the year.

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Facebook Hires New India Head in Midst of Fake News Controversy

Facebook has hired Ajit Mohan of the Indian streaming service Hotstar to run its India division, in the midst of accusations from the Indian government that the company’s WhatsApp messaging service has helped trigger mob violence.

Mohan has been CEO of Hotstar since 2016, according to his LinkedIn.

Mohan’s appointment comes during a period of intense criticism from the Indian government towards the social media giant. False messages about child kidnappers circulated anonymously on WhatsApp have triggered violent mobs that beat and killed bystanders suspected of being involved in crimes several times during the past year.

The Indian government has warned Facebook it will treat the company as a legal abettor to violence if it does not develop tools to better combat the spread of false information.

Facebook has expanded into streaming sports in India, and Mohan oversaw the wildly popular streaming of Indian Premier League cricket on Hotstar. Facebook has the rights to stream matches from the Spanish La Liga soccer division in the country for the next three seasons.


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Talking Gloves and Tactile Windows Provide Help for the Disabled

New technologies are helping people who are disabled with physical, cognitive, vision and hearing problems. Some promising new tools include a digital glove that translates sign language, and tactile windows for people who are blind. More from VOA’s Deborah Block.

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International Organizations Join Tech Powerhouses to Fight Famine

The United Nations, the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross are partnering with technology powerhouses to launch a global initiative aimed at preventing famines.

“The fact that millions of people — many of them children — still suffer from severe malnutrition and famine  in the 21st century is a global tragedy,” World Bank President Jim Young Kim said announcing the initiative.

The global organization will work with Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services to develop the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM), a system capable of identifying food crisis area that are most likely to turn into a full-blown famine.

“If we can better predict when and where future famines will occur, we can save lives by responding earlier and more effectively,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement.

The tech giants will help develop a set of analytical models that will use the latest technoligies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to not only provide early warnings but also trigger pre-arranged financing for crisis management.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning hold huge promise for forecasting and detecting early signs of food shortages, like crop failures, droughts, natural disasters and conflicts,” Smith said.

According to the U.N. and World Bank, there are 124 million people experiencing crisis-level food insecurity in the world today.

FAM will be at first rolled out in five countries that “exhibit some of the most critical and ongoing food security needs,” according to the World Bank, which didn’t identify the nations. It will ultimately be expanded to cover the world.

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