‘Talk About Something Else’: Chinese AI Chatbot Toes Party Line

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Chinese tech giant Baidu rolled out its ChatGPT-like ERNIE Bot to the public Thursday. But the app is highly censored, offering state-approved answers to taboo questions and sometimes refusing to process them altogether when AFP tested the service. Here are some of ERNIE's answers to questions about sensitive topics in China: Taiwan Asked about the status of Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own, ERNIE told AFP that it is "not a country." "Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People's Republic of China. China's sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be violated or divided," it said. "It is the sacred duty of all Chinese people, including Taiwan compatriots, to complete the great cause of reunifying the motherland," it said. "We do not promise to give…
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Study Quantifies Link Between Greenhouse Gases, Polar Bear Survival

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Polar bears have long symbolized the dangers posed by climate change, as rising temperatures melt away the Arctic sea ice which they depend upon for survival.  But quantifying the impact of a single oil well or coal power plant on the tundra predators had eluded scientists, until now.  A new report published in the journal Science on Thursday shows it is possible to calculate how much new greenhouse gas emissions will increase the number of ice-free days in the bears' habitats, and how that in turn will affect the percentage of cubs that reach adulthood.  By achieving this level of granularity, the two authors hope to close a loophole in U.S. law.   Although the apex carnivores have had endangered species protections since 2008, a long-standing legal opinion prevents climate…
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Russian Malware Targeting Ukrainian Mobile Devices

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Ukrainian troops using Android mobile devices are coming under attack from Russian hackers, who are using a new kind of malware to try to steal information critical to the ongoing counteroffensive. Cyber officials from the United States, along with counterparts from Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, issued a warning Thursday about the malware, named Infamous Chisel, which aims to scan files, monitor communications and “periodically steal sensitive information.” The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, describes the new malware as “a collection of components which enable persistent access to an infected Android device … which periodically collates and exfiltrates victim information.”   A CISA report published Thursday shared additional technical details about the Russian campaign, with officials warning the malware could be employed against other targets. Thursday’s…
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Russian Scam Sites Obtain Personal Info of Thousands of Ukrainians

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Russia has been using sham websites to obtain the personal information of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and their family members, U.S. defense officials say, in what they believe is an attempt to detain the family members who are living in occupied Ukraine and deport them to Russia. Two U.S. defense officials say a Russian information warfare unit has created at least two phishing websites, WarTears.org and ForeignCombatants.ru, that are posing as support websites for friends and family members of missing, captured or fallen Ukrainian soldiers. Petro Yatsenko, spokesman for Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, confirmed to VOA that the two websites are scams. He said there are dozens of similar phishing websites that try to collect data from the families. “They exploit the extremely vulnerable…
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Kenya Slated for 100% Bean Consumption Hike to Improve Diets, Food Systems

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A campaign in Africa to make beans the answer to food insecurity in areas affected by climate change will begin next week, with a focus on Kenya. A coalition of proponents will present its roadmap for increased production and consumption of beans and similar foods like lentils and peas at the Africa Food Systems Forum, to be held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  “Beans is How,” the name for a coalition of more than 60 non-profit organizations, companies and research institutes, has set its eyes on Kenya, pushing for a 100% increase in the consumption of beans and other foods classified as pulses.  Jean Claude Rubyogo, head of the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), an organization that pushes for beans as a source of food and income for the continent,…
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Anemia Burdens Western, Central Africa

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A 2023 study found that in 2021, almost 2 billion people worldwide were affected by anemia, a condition in which red blood cell concentration is lower than usual. It also found that anemia was especially prevalent in Western and Central Africa. From Nairobi, Kenya, Mohammed Yusuf reports on the scope of the problem in Africa and the ways it can be reversed. ...
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Bird Flu Kills Scores of Sea Lions in Argentina

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Scores of sea lions have died from bird flu in Argentina, officials said Tuesday, as an unprecedented global outbreak continues to infect mammals, raising fears it could spread more easily among humans.  Animal health authorities have recently reported dead sea lions in several locations along Argentina's extensive Atlantic coast, from just south of the capital Buenos Aires to Santa Cruz near the southern tip of the continent.  Another "50 dead specimens have been counted ... with symptoms compatible with avian influenza," read a statement from a Patagonian environmental authority.   Authorities have asked the population to avoid beaches along Argentina's roughly 5,000-kilometer coastline where cases have been reported.  Sea lions are marine mammals, like seals and walruses. Adult males can weigh about 300 kilograms.  The H5N1 bird flu has typically…
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England Accelerates Vaccine Programs Because of New COVID Variant

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England will bring forward the start of its autumn flu and COVID-19 vaccination programs as a precautionary step after the identification of highly mutated COVID variant BA.2.86, which has been found in Britain.  Scientists have said BA.2.86, an offshoot of the omicron variant, was unlikely to cause a devastating wave of severe disease and death, given immune defenses built up worldwide from vaccination and prior infection.  However, Britain's health ministry said annual vaccination programs for older and at-risk groups would start a few weeks earlier than planned in light of the variant.  "As our world-leading scientists gather more information on the BA.2.86 variant, it makes sense to bring forward the vaccination program," junior health minister Maria Caulfield said in a statement.  The variant was first detected in Britain on August…
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Last ‘Super Blue Moon’ Until 2037 Rises Tonight

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Astronomy enthusiasts are in for a treat Wednesday night: a rare "super blue moon" that won't be seen again for more than a decade.  Supermoons occur when the moon passes through its perigee — the point in its elliptical orbit that takes it closest to Earth. This makes it look about 14% bigger, compared with when it is at its furthest point, and a touch brighter.   Full moons are defined by the exact moment they are opposite the sun, which will occur at 9:36 p.m. Eastern Time on August 30 (0136 GMT Thursday), according to NASA.   The Virtual Telescope Project, hosted by Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, will host a YouTube livestream beginning at 0336 GMT as it sets below the skyline of Rome.  Despite the description, it won't…
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Less Plastic Pollution Flowing Into Ocean Than Previously Thought

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There is a lot less plastic pollution floating on the surface of the oceans, according to a recent study published in the scientific journal, Nature Geoscience. And while that sounds like good news, it means there must be much more plastic deep within the oceans, the study added. The report also indicated the amount of plastic that reaches the sea is 10 times less than some scientists previously thought.  Still, using 3D computer modeling of beaches, sea surfaces and ocean depths to determine the flow of the plastics, the researchers estimated that about a half million metric tons of plastic makes its way into the oceans each year. “We’re accumulating more and more plastics in the environment,” said Mikael Kaandorp, the lead author and a research scientist at Forschungszentrum Jülich,…
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FBI-Led Operation Dismantles Notorious Qakbot Malware

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A global operation led by the FBI has dismantled one of the most notorious cybercrime tools used to launch ransomware attacks and steal sensitive data. U.S. law enforcement officials announced on Tuesday that the FBI and its international partners had disrupted the Qakbot infrastructure and seized nearly $9 million in cryptocurrency in illicit profits. Qakbot, also known as Qbot, was a sophisticated botnet and malware that infected hundreds of thousands of computers around the world, allowing cybercriminals to access and control them remotely. “The Qakbot malicious code is being deleted from victim computers, preventing it from doing any more harm,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement. Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, and Don Alway, the FBI…
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Meta Fights Sprawling Chinese ‘Spamouflage’ Operation

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Meta on Tuesday said it purged thousands of Facebook accounts that were part of a widespread online Chinese spam operation trying to covertly boost China and criticize the West. The campaign, which became known as "Spamouflage," was active across more than 50 platforms and forums including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and X, formerly known as Twitter, according to a Meta threat report. "We assess that it's the largest, though unsuccessful, and most prolific covert influence operation that we know of in the world today," said Meta Global Threat Intelligence Lead Ben Nimmo. "And we've been able to link Spamouflage to individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement." More than 7,700 Facebook accounts along with 15 Instagram accounts were jettisoned in what Meta described as the biggest ever single takedown action at…
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Cameroon Reports Polio after Central African State’s Largest Inoculation Since 2020

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Cameroon officials say a fifth case of polio was reported in the capital, Yaounde, this week, despite the launching of a new polio vaccination campaign in the central African country and its neighbors. Health officials are increasing surveillance and encouraging parents, many of whom still resist vaccination programs, to have their children inoculated.  Cameroon's health ministry says that five cases of type-2 poliovirus variants were discovered in the central African state’s capital, Yaounde, this week.   The Cameroon government says sequencing results indicate the virus belongs to the NIE-ZAS-1 group that circulates in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria. The five cases constitute a national public health emergency given the high risk of the virus spreading very fast in the ongoing rainy season, according to the government. Alma Mpiki is a…
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Biden Targets 10 Drugs for Medicare Price Negotiations

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The blood thinner Eliquis and popular diabetes treatments including Jardiance are among the first drugs that will be targeted for price negotiations in an effort to cut Medicare costs. President Joe Biden's administration on Tuesday released a list of 10 drugs for which the federal government will take an unprecedented step: negotiating drug prices directly with the manufacturer. The move is expected to cut costs for some patients but faces litigation from the drugmakers and heavy criticism from Republican lawmakers. It's also a centerpiece of the Democratic president's reelection pitch as he seeks a second term in office by touting his work to lower costs for Americans at a time when the country has struggled with inflation. The diabetes treatments Jardiance from Eli Lilly and Co. and Merck's Januvia made…
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Glitch Halts Toyota Factories in Japan

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Toyota said Tuesday it has been hit by a technical glitch forcing it to suspend production at all 14 factories in Japan. The world's biggest automaker gave no further details on the stoppage, which began Tuesday morning, but said it did not appear to be caused by a cyberattack. The company said the glitch prevented its system from processing orders for parts, resulting in a suspension of a dozen factories or 25 production lines on Tuesday morning. The company later decided to halt the afternoon shift of the two other operational factories, suspending all of Toyota's domestic plants, or 28 production lines. "We do not believe the problem was caused by a cyberattack," the company said in a statement to AFP. "We will continue to investigate the cause and to…
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Living Worm Discovered in Australian Patient’s Brain

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An 8-centimeter worm has been found alive in the brain of a woman in Australia, and researchers say it is the first time the parasite has ever been discovered in humans. The worm was extracted from the patient’s brain during surgery in the Australian capital, Canberra, in June 2022. The extraordinary case has been documented in the latest edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The red 8-centimeter-long worm was alive and wriggling when it was pulled from the patient’s brain.  Scientists believe it could’ve been there for up to two months before it was extracted.   Sanjaya Senanayake, an associate professor of medicine at the Australian National University and an infectious disease physician at Canberra Hospital was one of the researchers involved in the case. He described to VOA the…
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ChatGPT Turns to Business as Popularity Wanes

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OpenAI on Monday said it was launching a business version of ChatGPT as its artificial intelligence sensation grapples with declining usership nine months after its historic debut. ChatGPT Enterprise will offer business customers a premium version of the bot, with "enterprise grade" security and privacy enhancements from previous versions, OpenAI said in a blog post. The question of data security has become an important one for OpenAI, with major companies, including Apple, Amazon and Samsung, blocking employees from using ChatGPT out of fear that sensitive information will be divulged. "Today marks another step towards an AI assistant for work that helps with any task, is customized for your organization, and that protects your company data," OpenAI said. The ChatGPT business version resembles Bing Chat Enterprise, an offering by Microsoft, which…
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Cybercrime Set to Threaten Canada’s Security, Prosperity, Says Spy Agency

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Organized cybercrime is set to pose a threat to Canada's national security and economic prosperity over the next two years, a national intelligence agency said on Monday. In a report released Monday, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) identified Russia and Iran as cybercrime safe havens where criminals can operate against Western targets. Ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure such as hospitals and pipelines can be particularly profitable, the report said. Cyber criminals continue to show resilience and an ability to innovate their business model, it said. "Organized cybercrime will very likely pose a threat to Canada's national security and economic prosperity over the next two years," said CSE, which is the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. "Ransomware is almost certainly the most disruptive form of cybercrime facing Canada…
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New Study: Don’t Ask Alexa or Siri if You Need Info on Lifesaving CPR

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Ask Alexa or Siri about the weather. But if you want to save someone’s life? Call 911 for that. Voice assistants often fall flat when asked how to perform CPR, according to a study published Monday. Researchers asked voice assistants eight questions that a bystander might pose in a cardiac arrest emergency. In response, the voice assistants said: “Hmm, I don’t know that one.” “Sorry, I don’t understand.” “Words fail me.” “Here’s an answer … that I translated: The Indian Penal Code.” Only nine of 32 responses suggested calling emergency services for help — an important step recommended by the American Heart Association. Some voice assistants sent users to web pages that explained CPR, but only 12% of the 32 responses included verbal instructions. Verbal instructions are important because immediate…
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Poland Asks EU’s Top Court to Cancel Three Climate Policies

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Poland has filed legal challenges attempting to annul three of the European Union's main climate change policies, which the Polish government argues would worsen social inequality, document published on Monday showed. The legal actions, brought by Warsaw to the EU Court of Justice in July, target policies including a law agreed this year which will ban the sale of new CO2-emitting cars in the EU from 2035. "The contested regulation imposes excessive burdens connected with the transition towards zero-emission mobility on European citizens, especially those who are less well off, as well as on the European automotive companies sector," Poland said in its challenge, which the European Commission published on Monday. A second EU policy setting national emissions-cutting targets "threatens Poland's energy security", while a third law to reform the…
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UN Committee: Kids Entitled to Clean, Healthy Environment

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All children are entitled to a clean and healthy environment, a UN committee said for the first time on Monday, bolstering young people's arguments for suing authorities over the ravages of climate change. Issuing a fresh interpretation of an important international rights treaty, the United Nations watchdog determined that it guarantees children the right to a healthy environment. And this, it said, means countries are obliged to combat things like pollution and climate change. "States must ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil children's rights," the Committee on the Rights of the Child said. "Environmental degradation, including the consequences of the climate crisis, adversely affects the enjoyment of these rights." Tasked with monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,…
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Tesla Braces for Its First Trial Involving Autopilot Fatality

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Tesla Inc TSLA.O is set to defend itself for the first time at trial against allegations that failure of its Autopilot driver assistant feature led to death, in what will likely be a major test of Chief Executive Elon Musk's assertions about the technology. Self-driving capability is central to Tesla’s financial future, according to Musk, whose own reputation as an engineering leader is being challenged with allegations by plaintiffs in one of two lawsuits that he personally leads the group behind technology that failed. Wins by Tesla could raise confidence and sales for the software, which costs up to $15,000 per vehicle. Tesla faces two trials in quick succession, with more to follow. The first, scheduled for mid-September in a California state court, is a civil lawsuit containing allegations that…
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Ancient Priest’s Remains Are First-of-a-Kind Find for Peru

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A group of Japanese and Peruvian archaeologists have discovered the 3,000-year-old tomb of a priest alongside ceramic offerings in northern Peru.  "We have recently discovered the tomb of a 3,000-year-old figure at the Pacopampa archaeological site," in the Cajamarca region, 900 kilometers (560 miles) north of Lima, archaeologist Juan Pablo Villanueva told AFP Saturday.   "He is one of the first priests in the Andes to have a series of offerings," the researcher said, adding that "the funerary context is intact."  The body, its lower extremities partially flexed, was oriented from south to north. On the western side of the tomb were small spherical ceramic bowls, a carved bone spatula and other offerings.   Two seals were also found, one with designs of an anthropomorphic face and the other with that of…
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US Workers Exposed to Extreme Heat Found to Have No Consistent Protection

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Santos Brizuela spent more than two decades laboring outdoors, persisting despite a bout of heatstroke while cutting sugarcane in Mexico and chronic laryngitis from repeated exposure to the hot sun while on various other jobs. But last summer, while on a construction crew in Las Vegas, he reached his breaking point. Exposure to the sun made his head ache immediately. He lost much of his appetite. Now at a maintenance job, Brizuela, 47, is able to take breaks. There are flyers on the walls with best practices for staying healthy — protections he had not been afforded before. “Sometimes as a worker you ask your employer for protection or for health and safety related needs, and they don’t listen or follow,” he said in Spanish through an interpreter. A historic…
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US Transgender Adults Worried About Finding Welcoming Spaces to Live in Later Years

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Rajee Narinesingh faced struggles throughout her life as a transgender woman, from workplace discrimination to the lasting effects of black market injections that scarred her face and caused chronic infections. In spite of the roadblocks, the 56-year-old Florida actress and activist has seen growing acceptance since she first came out decades ago. "If you see older transgender people, it shows the younger community that it's possible I can have a life. I can live to an older age," she said. "So I think that's a very important thing." Now, as a wave of state laws enacted this year limit transgender people's rights, Narinesingh has new uncertainty about her own future as she ages. "Every now and then I have this thought, like, oh my God, if I end up in…
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Fukushima Residents Cautious After Nuclear Plant Begins Wastewater Releases

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Fish auction prices at a port south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were mixed amid uncertainty over how seafood consumers will respond to the release of treated and diluted radioactive wastewater into the ocean. The plant, which was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, began sending the treated water into the Pacific on Thursday despite protests at home and in nearby countries that are adding political and diplomatic pressures to the economic worries. Hideaki Igari, a middleman at the Numanouchi fishing port, said the price of larger flounder, Fukushima's signature fish known as Joban-mono, was more than 10% lower at the Friday morning auction, the first since the water release began. Prices of some average-size flounder rose, but presumably because of a limited catch, Igari said. It…
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With Drones, Webcams, Volunteers in New Hunt for Mythical Loch Ness Monster

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Mystery hunters converged on a Scottish lake on Saturday to look for signs of the mythical Loch Ness Monster. The Loch Ness Center said researchers would seek evidence of Nessie using thermal-imaging drones, infrared cameras and a hydrophone to detect underwater sounds in the lake's murky waters. The two-day event is being billed as the biggest survey of the lake in 50 years and includes volunteers scanning the water from boats and the lakeshore, with others around the world joining in with webcams. Alan McKenna of the Loch Ness Center said the aim was "to inspire a new generation of Loch Ness enthusiasts." McKenna told BBC radio the searchers were "looking for breaks in the surface and asking volunteers to record all manner of natural behavior on the loch." "Not…
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