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China lays out official stance on trade talks with U.S.

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Asia, Beijing, China, fedex, Government, Huawei, Policy, smartphone, Trade war, U.S. China trade war, U.S. government, United States | 0 comments

On Sunday, China released a comprehensive white paper to formalize its positions on trade negotiations with the U.S. The set of statements come as the trade war escalates and Beijing threatens to hit back with a retaliatory blacklist of U.S. firms. Here are some key takeaways from the press conference announcing the white paper:

U.S. ‘responsible’ for stalled trade talks

The “U.S. government bears responsibility” for setbacks in trade talks, chided the paper, adding that the U.S. has imposed additional tariffs on Chinese goods that impede economic cooperation between the two countries and globally.

While it’s “common” for both sides to propose “adjustments to the text and language” in ongoing negotiations, the U.S. administration “kept changing its demands” in the “previous more than ten rounds of negotiations,” the paper alleged.

On the other hand, reports of China backtracking on previous trade deals are mere “mudslinging,” Wang Shouwen, the Chinese vice minister of commerce and deputy China international trade representative, said as he led the Sunday presser.

China ready to fight if forced to

China does not want a trade war with the U.S, but it’s not afraid of one and will fight one if necessary, said the white paper.

Beijing’s position on trade talks has never changed — that cooperation serves the interests of both countries and conflict can only hurt both — according to the paper. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon pointed out that Beijing’s latest stance repeats previous statements made back in September.

Deals must be equal

Difference and frictions remain on the economic and trade fronts between the two countries, but China is willing to work with the U.S. to reach a “mutually beneficial and win-win agreement,” stated the paper. However, cooperation has to be based on principles and must not compromise China’s core interests.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Wang said.

He said one needs not “overinterpret” China’s soon-to-come entity list, adding that it mainly targets foreign companies that run against market rules and violate the spirit of contracts, cut off supplies to Chinese firms for uncommercial reasons, damage the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, or threaten China’s national security and public interests.

China respects IP rights

The paper also touched on issues that are at the center of the prolonged U.S.-China trade dispute, including China’s dealings with intellectual property rights. U.S. allegations of China over IP theft are “an unfounded fabrication,” said the white paper, adding that China has made great efforts in recent years to protect and enforce IP rights.

Wang claimed that China pays the U.S. a significant sum to license IP rights every year. Of the $35.6 billion it shelled out for IP fees in 2018, nearly a quarter went to the U.S.

Investments are mutually beneficial

The white paper claimed that bilateral investments between the two countries are mutually beneficial rather than undermining for U.S. interests when taken account of “trade in goods and services as well as two-way investment.”

The Chinese government also pushed back at claims that it exerts influence on businesses’ overseas investments.

“The government is not involved in companies’ business activities and does not ask them to make specific investments or acquisitions,” said Wang. “Even if we make such requests, companies won’t obey.”

In response to China’s probe into FedEx over Huawei packages that went stray, Wang assured that “foreign businesses are welcome to operate legally in China, but when they break rules, they have to cooperate with regulatory investigations. That’s indisputable.”

The Shenzhen-based smartphone and telecom giant has been hit hard by during the trade negotiations as the Trump administration orders U.S. businesses to sever ties with the Chinese firm.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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U.S. rule changes could mean more startups would need government approval to hire immigrants

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in 3d printing, Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Business, China, Column, Department of Commerce, economy, encryption, engineer, national venture capital association, Startup company, TC, telecommunications, U.S. government, United States | 0 comments

Big changes in DC could mean that more startups will need the government’s permission before foreign nationals do work at the company.  In some cases, the foreign national will need to leave the company if the government is wary of granting that permission. 

This is tied up in the same new law that gave a once obscure government body—CFIUS—enhanced abilities to scrutinize minority, non-controlling investments by foreign entities. 

CFIUS changes have grabbed most of the headlines, but a Commerce Department process to define “emerging technologies” could have a huge effect on startups that employ foreign nationals.

Here’s what you need to know: the U.S. government has long controlled exports of sensitive technology for national security reasons.  This is done through the export controls regime, which impacts things like arms and ammunition, but also telecommunications and encryption software, among other items. 

Today, many venture-backed companies are not impacted by export controls because their technology is not on one of the control lists.  But that stands to change soon. 

Recent legislation requires the Commerce Department to evaluate controls on “emerging technologies.”  To kick off this process, in November the government identified 14 categories of technology it is looking at.  This included tech in the sweet spot of the bat for venture: AI/ML, robotics, 3D printing, and biotechnology to name a few.  It is an open question as to which of these technologies will ultimately be subject to controls and to what degree.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Once something is determined to be emerging technology, the government can establish controls on the export, re-export, or transfer (in-country) of that technology.  Export controls is often thought of as the need to get a license from the government before sending a technology outside the U.S., and that is indeed a major part of what startups will need to contend with. 

But perhaps far more impactful for the startup ecosystem is what’s called “deemed exports,” or the release of controlled technology to foreign persons situated in the United States, which is “deemed” to be an export to the person’s country or countries of nationality. 

“The ramifications of these changes could be tremendous if the government does not appropriately tailor what it means to be an emerging technology.”

“Release” is defined broadly to include visual inspection and oral or written exchanges regarding the technology; in other words, typical actions an engineer or scientist at a young company does.  One saving grace for some startups will be that the deemed export rule does not apply to green card holders, though does apply to employer-based visas, like the H-1B or O visa.

Let’s think about how this might play out in practice.  Imagine the government decides to control artificial intelligence as an emerging technology and that a U.S.-based AI company employs an engineer on an H-1B visa.  Under these facts, it seems the company would need an export license for the foreign national to work at the company. 

A large company might be able to set up a wall that allows the foreign national to work on non-emerging technologies, but for a startup that only does AI the ability to separate the foreign national from the emerging technology work is severely limited, if not impossible.

Obtaining these licenses would present a tremendous burden for small, high-growth startups that often build teams by attracting the best and brightest from foreign countries.

But that burden could be the least of the company’s problems if the foreign national is from a country like China. The U.S. government could be very reluctant to grant a license for someone from China to work on an emerging technology since the major motivation behind recent foreign investment scrutiny has been China. The result might be the foreign national has to leave the company entirely, exacerbating the severe talent drought in some disciplines.

IvancoVlad via Getty Images

Those working in the startup ecosystem understand the volume of foreign nationals working at high-growth companies, but also how impactful their work is to make the United States the world’s scientific and technological leader. 

In comments to the government, a consortium of life science investors backing companies in oncology, cystic fibrosis, anemia, and other areas sounded the alarm of how deemed exports could make laboratory collaboration between U.S. and foreign nationals difficult or impossible.  Certainly, this is not the result policymakers are shooting for given the public policy imperative of eradicating diseases. The ramifications of these changes could be tremendous if the government does not appropriately tailor what it means to be an emerging technology.

Comments from the National Venture Capital Association, where I work, stressed that many of the technologies the Commerce Department called out in November are not yet well-defined, which of course makes regulating them challenging. 

In addition, because many of the technologies—like AI/ML—will be widely used across many companies and industries, a broad set of controls could sweep in many unintended target companies and technologies. To alleviate these concerns, we recommended a targeted approach to classification of emerging technologies that categorizes only those technologies that have significant defense uses, and not broad commercial applications.

The U.S. government needs to tread carefully. 

The golf professional Sam Snead advised that a golf club needs to be gripped like you’re holding a live bird: firm enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hands but not so tight that you kill it. American innovation is the same in this way. 

Yes, policymakers need to consider the impact of emerging technology on national security and perhaps create some controls. But if policymakers ratchet up pressure too much, then talent, capital, and companies will flock to other countries, which means the United States loses out on the incredible benefits that high-growth startups bring to our country.  The rules of the road on emerging technologies have not been written, and each of us has an opportunity to make our voice heard during the process.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Tor pulls in record donations as it lessens reliance on US government grants

Posted by on Jan 11, 2019 in android, brave, Brendan Eich, carnegie mellon, censorship, censorshit, DuckDuckGo, Edward Snowden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, firefox, Mozilla, TC, tor, U.S. government, United States | 0 comments

Tor, the open-source initiative that provides a more secure way to access the internet, is continuing to diversify its funding away from its long-standing reliance on U.S. government grants.

The Tor Foundation — the organization behind the service which stands for “The Onion Router” — announced this week that it brought in a record $460,000 from individual donors in 2018. In addition, recently released financial information shows it raised a record $4.13 million from all sources in 2017 thanks to a growth in non-U.S. government donors.

The individual donation push represents an increase on the $400,000 it raised in 2017. A large part of that is down to Tor ally Mozilla, which once again pledged to match donations in the closing months of the year, while an anonymous individual matched all new backers who pledged up to $20,000.

Overall, the foundation said that it attracted donations from 115 countries worldwide in 2018, which reflects its importance outside of the U.S.

The record donation haul comes weeks after the Tor Foundation quietly revealed its latest financials — for 2017 — which show it has lessened its dependence on U.S. government sources. That’s been a key goal for some time, particularly after allegations that the FBI paid Carnegie Mellon researchers to help crack Tor, which served as a major motivation for the introduction of fundraising drives in 2015.

Back in 2015, U.S. government sources accounted for 80-90 percent of its financial backing, but that fell to just over 50 percent in 2017. The addition of a Swedish government agency, which provided $600,000, helped on that front, as well as corporate donations from Mozilla ($520,000) and DuckDuckGo ($25,000), more than $400,000 from a range of private foundations, and, of course, those donations from individuals.

Tor is best known for being used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden but, with governments across the world cracking down on the internet, it is a resource that’s increasingly necessary if we are to guard the world’s right to a free internet.

Tor has certainly been busy making its technology more accessible over the last year.

It launched its first official mobile browser for Android in September, and the same month it released TorBrowser 8.0, its most usable browser yet, which is based on Firefox’s 2017 Quantum structure. It has also worked closely with Mozilla to bring Tor into Firefox itself as it has already done with Brave, a browser firm led by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

Beyond the browser and the Tor network itself, which is designed to minimize the potential for network surveillance, the organization also develops a range of other projects. More than two million people are estimated to use Tor, according to data from the organization.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Lawmakers say Amazon’s facial recognition software may be racially biased and harm free expression

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Amazon, biometrics, facial recognition, facial recognition software, Florida, Government, Publishing, Security, surveillance, U.S. government | 0 comments

Amazon has “failed to provide sufficient answers” about its controversial facial recognition software, Rekognition — and lawmakers won’t take the company’s usual silent treatment for an answer.

The letter, signed by eight lawmakers — including Sen. Edward Markey and Reps. John Lewis and Judy Chu — called on Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos to explain how the company’s technology works — and where it will be used.

It comes after the cloud and retail giant secured several high-profile contracts with the U.S. government and at least one major metropolitan city — including Orlando, Florida — for surveillance.

The lawmakers said that they expressed a “heightened concern given recent reports that Amazon is actively marketing its biometric technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as other reports of pilot programs lacking any hands-on training from Amazon for participating law enforcement officers.”

They also said that the system suffers from accuracy issues — which could lead to racial bias, and could harm citizens’ constitutional rights to free expression.

“However, at this time, we have serious concerns that this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could stifle Americans’ willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights in public,” the letter said.

The lawmakers want Amazon to explain how Amazon tests for accuracy and if those tests have been independently verified — and how the company tests for bias.

It comes after the ACLU found that the software failed to facially recognize 28 members of Congress, with a higher failure rate towards people of color.

The facial recognition software has been controversial from the start. Even after concerns from its own employees, Amazon said it would push ahead and sell the technology regardless.

Amazon has a little over two weeks to respond to the lawmakers. A spokesperson for Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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New U.S. report says that climate change could cost nearly $500 billion per year by 2090

Posted by on Nov 23, 2018 in bEYOND meat, California, climate change, Energy Conservation, energy storage, Federal government, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, TC, U.S. government, United States, Y Combinator | 0 comments

A new report from the U.S. government on the impacts of climate change on society indicates that unless action is taken, climatological events could cost the country nearly half a trillion dollars annually by 2090.

The National Climate Assessment is a congressionally mandated report on the impacts of climate change and was culled from the work of 300 authors in a dozen federal agencies. The 1,000 page report covers the effect of climate change on agriculture, labor, geography, and health in the United States.

It’s the second volume of a report intended to give federal policymakers information on how global warming will impact the United States. 

It also comes at a time when the current administration is doing everything to refute the mounting evidence coming from inside its own agencies and shirk its national and international commitments to mitigating the effects of global climate change.

In the absence of more significant global mitigation efforts, climate change is projected to impose substantial damages on the U.S. economy, human health, and the environment. Under scenarios with high emissions and limited or no adaptation, annual losses in some sectors are estimated to grow to hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. It is very likely that some physical and ecological impacts will be irreversible for thousands of years, while others will be permanent.

There is hope that the world can still change course and reverse the effects associated with climate change. In fact, the study says that near-term mitigation efforts should begin showing results by the middle of the century. It’ll let scientists know what steps they’re taking are working and what aren’t — ideally.

Many climate change impacts and associated economic damages in the United States can be substantially reduced over the course of the 21st century through global-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, though the magnitude and timing of avoided risks vary by sector and region. The effect of near-term emissions mitigation on reducing risks is expected to become apparent by mid-century and grow substantially thereafter.

But for the scientists that collected the data and assembled the report, the evidence of the human impact of climate change is now incontrovertible.

Observations from around the world show the widespread effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations on Earth’s climate. High temperature extremes and heavy precipitation events are increasing. Glaciers and snow cover are shrinking, and sea ice is retreating. Seas are warming, rising, and becoming more acidic, and marine species are moving to new locations toward cooler waters. Flooding is becoming more frequent along the U.S. coastline. Growing seasons are lengthening, and wildfires are increasing.

While the federal government may not be willing to take action to curb the emissions that contribute to global warming, states, led by California, increasingly are developing legislation to mitigate or reduce carbon emissions and to create adaptation strategies for dealing with a warming climate.

Venture capitalists also are beginning to commit significant capital to technologies focused on alternative energy generation, energy storage, emissions reduction, and energy conservation that all fall under the category of sustainable solutions.

Indeed, the public offering for the vegetarian consumer food company, Beyond Meat, shows that there’s a growing market for investments in companies that promote a more sustainable lifestyle.

And early stage accelerator programs like Y Combinator are also getting into the game, calling for startups that are developing technologies to reduce the emissions that are contributing to global warming.

The new report from the government paints a dire picture for the future if nothing is done, but, as the investment and technology community once again mobilizes to develop potential solutions, there’s a chance that things may not be completely hopeless yet.

The critical step will be if the U.S. government will heed the advice of its own scientists, and take steps to encourage greater action to what is increasingly looking like the biggest threat to human welfare.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Keeping artificial intelligence accountable to humans

Posted by on Aug 20, 2018 in algorithmic bias, Artificial Intelligence, Brad Smith, Column, cybernetics, European Union, facial recognition software, General Data Protection Regulation, IBM, Jeopardy, machine learning, Microsoft, Nigeria, search engines, TC, U.S. government | 0 comments

As a teenager in Nigeria, I tried to build an artificial intelligence system. I was inspired by the same dream that motivated the pioneers in the field: That we could create an intelligence of pure logic and objectivity that would free humanity from human error and human foibles.

I was working with weak computer systems and intermittent electricity, and needless to say my AI project failed. Eighteen years later — as an engineer researching artificial intelligence, privacy and machine-learning algorithms — I’m seeing that so far, the premise that AI can free us from subjectivity or bias is also disappointing. We are creating intelligence in our own image. And that’s not a compliment.

Researchers have known for awhile that purportedly neutral algorithms can mirror or even accentuate racial, gender and other biases lurking in the data they are fed. Internet searches on names that are more often identified as belonging to black people were found to prompt search engines to generate ads for bail bondsmen. Algorithms used for job-searching were more likely to suggest higher-paying jobs to male searchers than female. Algorithms used in criminal justice also displayed bias.

Five years later, expunging algorithmic bias is turning out to be a tough problem. It takes careful work to comb through millions of sub-decisions to figure out why the algorithm reached the conclusion it did. And even when that is possible, it is not always clear which sub-decisions are the culprits.

Yet applications of these powerful technologies are advancing faster than the flaws can be addressed.

Recent research underscores this machine bias, showing that commercial facial-recognition systems excel at identifying light-skinned males, with an error rate of less than 1 percent. But if you’re a dark-skinned female, the chance you’ll be misidentified rises to almost 35 percent.

AI systems are often only as intelligent — and as fair — as the data used to train them. They use the patterns in the data they have been fed and apply them consistently to make future decisions. Consider an AI tasked with sorting the best nurses for a hospital to hire. If the AI has been fed historical data — profiles of excellent nurses who have mostly been female — it will tend to judge female candidates to be better fits. Algorithms need to be carefully designed to account for historical biases.

Occasionally, AI systems get food poisoning. The most famous case was Watson, the AI that first defeated humans in 2011 on the television game show Jeopardy. Watson’s masters at IBM needed to teach it language, including American slang, so they fed it the contents of the online Urban Dictionary. But after ingesting that colorful linguistic meal, Watson developed a swearing habit. It began to punctuate its responses with four-letter words.

We have to be careful what we feed our algorithms. Belatedly, companies now understand that they can’t train facial-recognition technology by mainly using photos of white men. But better training data alone won’t solve the underlying problem of making algorithms achieve fairness.

Algorithms can already tell you what you might want to read, who you might want to date and where you might find work. When they are able to advise on who gets hired, who receives a loan or the length of a prison sentence, AI will have to be made more transparent — and more accountable and respectful of society’s values and norms.

Accountability begins with human oversight when AI is making sensitive decisions. In an unusual move, Microsoft president Brad Smith recently called for the U.S. government to consider requiring human oversight of facial-recognition technologies.

The next step is to disclose when humans are subject to decisions made by AI. Top-down government regulation may not be a feasible or desirable fix for algorithmic bias. But processes can be created that would allow people to appeal machine-made decisions — by appealing to humans. The EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation establishes the right for individuals to know and challenge automated decisions.

Today people who have been misidentified — whether in an airport or an employment data base — have no recourse. They might have been knowingly photographed for a driver’s license, or covertly filmed by a surveillance camera (which has a higher error rate). They cannot know where their image is stored, whether it has been sold or who can access it. They have no way of knowing whether they have been harmed by erroneous data or unfair decisions.

Minorities are already disadvantaged by such immature technologies, and the burden they bear for the improved security of society at large is both inequitable and uncompensated. Engineers alone will not be able to address this. An AI system is like a very smart child just beginning to understand the complexities of discrimination.

To realize the dream I had as a teenager, of an AI that can free humans from bias instead of reinforcing bias, will require a range of experts and regulators to think more deeply not only about what AI can do, but what it should do — and then teach it how. 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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