Arizona Governor: Taiwan Firm’s Semiconductor Plant Back on Schedule

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Earlier this year, Taiwanese semiconductor giant TSMC announced that it was delaying the opening of a computer chip plant in the U.S. state of Arizona because of a shortage of specialized workers. But during a visit to Taiwan this week, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs told officials that the project is back on schedule and should have no further delays. From Phoenix, Arizona, Levi Stallings has our story.

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Report: Increase in Chinese-Language Malware Could ‘Challenge’ Russian Dominance of Cybercrime

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For decades, Russian and eastern European hackers have dominated the cybercrime underworld. These days they may face a challenge from a new contender: China. 

Researchers at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint say they have detected an increase in the spread of Chinese language malware through email campaigns since early 2023, signaling a surge in Chinese cybercrime activity and a new trend in the global threat landscape. 

“We basically went from drought to flood here,” said Selena Larson, senior threat intelligence analyst at Proofpoint and one of the authors of a new Proofpoint report on Chinese malware.  

The increase, Larson said, could be due to several factors. 

“There might be increased availability, there might be an ease of access to some of this malware, (and there might be) just increased activity by Chinese-speaking cybercrime threat actors as a whole,” Larson said in an interview. 

While Russian-speaking actors continue to dominate cybercrime networks, the Proofpoint report says the recent surge in Chinese language malware “may challenge the dominance that the Russian-speaking cybercrime market has on the threat landscape.” 

Malware delivered via email

The hackers behind the Chinese campaigns use a type of malicious software known as a Remote Access Trojan, or RAT.  This malware is delivered via email and allows the cybercriminals to access a computer from a remote location and steal data or perform other malicious actions. 

The Chinese language malware, contained in fake invoices sent to unsuspecting businesses and other targets, is linked to suspected Chinese cybercrime operations, according to Proofpoint.  

The cybercriminals have used several types of malware to carry out hacking operations.  

One of them, called Sainbox, targeted dozens of companies, mostly in the manufacturing and technology sectors, in May. Other recently identified malware, dubbed ValleyRAT, was deployed in at least six hacking campaigns in 2023.  

“Campaigns are generally low-volume and are typically sent to global organizations with operations in China,” the report says.   

The email subjects and content are usually written in Chinese, and are typically related to invoices, payments, and new products, according to the report.  

The targeted users have Chinese names spelled with Chinese characters, or corporate email addresses linked to businesses operating in China, the report says.  

Larson said the proliferation of Chinese-language malware suggests cybercrime remains lucrative and attractive to actors beyond eastern Europe.  

“It may indicate Chinese speakers who conduct cybercrime operations might want to maybe take a larger slice of the financial gain,” Larson said. 

Cybercrime hurts economy 

Cybercrime is a booming industry that poses a grave threat to the global economy.  The FBI estimates cybercriminals inflicted potential losses of more than $10 billion in 2022, a 43% increase from the previous year.

While China is accused of carrying out state-sponsored cyberattacks against the United States, most of the ransomware attacks and other cybercrime in recent years have been chalked up to eastern European groups.   

Proofpoint is not the only cybersecurity firm reporting on Chinese-language malware in recent months. 

In February, digital security firm ESET said it had identified a malware campaign that targeted Chinese speakers in Southeast and East Asia by buying misleading ads that appeared in Google search results.

The campaign used the malware known as Sainbox or FatalRAT, the type that Proofpoint said it had detected in 20 campaigns this year. 

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German Proposal for Huawei Curbs Triggers Telecom Operator Backlash

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Germany’s interior ministry has proposed forcing telecommunications operators to curb their use of equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE, a government official said Wednesday, sparking warnings of likely disruption and possible legal action.

The interior ministry wants to impose the changes to 5G networks after a review highlighted Germany’s reliance on the two Chinese suppliers, as Berlin reassesses its relationship with a country it dubs both a partner and a systemic rival.

Telecom operators swiftly criticized the proposals, while Huawei Germany rejected what it called the “politicization” of cyber security in the country.

“Such an approach will have a negative impact on the digital transformation in Germany, inhibit innovation and significantly increase construction and operating costs for network operators,” it said in a statement.

Germany’s interior ministry has designed a staggered approach to try to limit disruption as operators remove all critical components from Chinese vendors in their 5G core networks by 2026, the government official said.

They should also reduce the share of Chinese components in their RAN and transport networks by October 1, 2026, to a maximum of 25%, said the official, who declined to be named.

The interior ministry and Chinese embassy did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

‘A major U-turn’

Deutsche Telekom called the deadline unrealistic, comparing it to Britain’s attempts to impose restrictions on Huawei, while Telefonica Deutschland said it would consider seeking damages as well as legal action.

“This represents a major U-turn,” said Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at PP Foresight. “Germany has been much slower than other countries in removing and replacing Huawei.”

Pescatore said the phaseout would take significant investment and be challenging given the ambitious timeframe.

“This will be a major headache for telcos. It could hold back 5G rollout and potentially lead to higher prices for users as well as dealing with disruption in any service issues.”

The interior ministry wants to present its approach to cabinet next week but could face resistance. A digital ministry spokesperson said no decision had been made yet.

The Huawei issue reflects a realization in Berlin that it may need tough political measures to force German companies to reduce their strategic dependencies on Asia’s rising superpower.

An analysis by the IW Institute showed German direct investment in China in the first half of this year remained close to its 2022 record high.

Chinese components not forbidden

Germany is considered a laggard in implementing the European Union’s toolbox of security measures for 5G networks, and Huawei accounts for 59% of Germany’s 5G RAN networks, according to a survey by telecoms consultancy Strand Consult.

Last week, the government said in response to a parliamentary inquiry that it had so far not forbidden the use of any new Chinese critical components in 5G networks.

While some countries like the United States have agreed to compensate telecoms operators billions of dollars for phasing out Chinese gear in 5G, Berlin has underscored that current legislation does not require it to provide compensation.

Juergen Gruetzner, managing director of the VATM industry association, told Reuters a transition period of six to eight years would be needed to avoid extra costs and achieve the phaseout.

“Simply upgrading and retrofitting tens of thousands of mobile phone masts is not technically possible. We are already working at full capacity,” he said. “All the capacity we have at the moment is needed to build 5G and fiber networks.”

The interior ministry plan foresees Chinese tech not being used at all in especially sensitive regions such as the capital Berlin, home of the federal government, the official said — a distinction that Strand Consult called “arbitrary.”

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Google Plans to Incorporate Its Bard Chatbot Into Its Apps

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Google announced Tuesday that its Bard chatbot would be integrated into Gmail, YouTube and other applications in a push to broaden Alphabet’s user experience.

Google has spent years refining its generative AI without immediate plans to release a chatbot, until OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT late last year and partnered with Microsoft to popularize the cutting-edge tool. Google scrambled to put together its response: Bard.

Google cleared hurdles earlier this year to release Bard across the globe in dozens of languages, squeaking past European regulators who raised questions about the chatbot’s effect on data security.

The search engine giant is now waging a campaign to win public support.

These new updates — Bard extensions — represent the company’s most ambitious attempt at popularizing generative AI. Going forward, Bard can work as a plug-in with Google Drive, Gmail, YouTube and more.

A user might ask Bard to distill a string of lengthy and confusing emails into a pithy summary or order the chatbot to find the quickest route to an address using Google Maps.

The plug-in can be used by students and professionals who might want Bard to scour dense PDFs and Google Docs and return a list of bullet points.

A common criticism of chatbots is their inaccuracy and apparent ability to falsify information. Computer scientists call this flaw “hallucinations.” The Bard plug-in will include a button to fact-check the chatbot’s answers against search engine results in real time to determine if Bard is “hallucinating.”

Generative AI combs vast databases for linguistic patterns and other information in a process known as data-scraping. Data-scraping is what empowers Bard and ChatGPT to create unique, humanlike answers to queries in an instant. Essentially, chatbots imitate what is already available on the internet.

Activists have long worried that companies might train their chatbots on unsuspecting users’ personal information. Google said that Bard will access private data only with permission.

Google also said that any data-scraping it might perform on what users have stored in their personal Docs, Drive or Gmail accounts would not be used in targeted advertising or training Bard. Nor would private content be accessible to Google employees.

“You’re always in control of your privacy settings when deciding how you want to use these extensions, and you can turn them off at any time,” Google said in a blog post.

The Bard extensions come after Microsoft similarly incorporated ChatGPT into Bing earlier this year but ultimately failed to gain ground in its war on Google’s search engine dominance.

According to market analytics, ChatGPT, Bard’s top competitor, has been suffering marked declines in its user base as mania over generative AI has waned in recent months. Google is hoping to capitalize on ChatGPT’s losses and for Bard to catch up.

Some information for this story came from Agence France-Presse.

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Britain Invites China to Its Global AI Summit

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Britain has invited China to its global artificial intelligence summit in November, with foreign minister James Cleverly saying the risks of the technology could not be contained if one of its leading players was absent.

“We cannot keep the UK public safe from the risks of AI if we exclude one of the leading nations in AI tech,” Cleverly said in a statement on Tuesday.  

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants Britain to become a global leader in AI regulation and the summit on Nov. 1-2 will bring together governments, tech companies and academics to discuss the risks posed by the powerful new technology.

Britain said the event would touch on topics such as how AI could undermine biosecurity as well as how the technology could be used for public good, for example in safer transport.  

Cleverly, who last month became the most senior minister to visit China in five years, has argued for deeper engagement with Beijing, saying it would be a mistake to try to isolate the world’s second largest economy and Chinese help was needed in areas such as climate change and economic instability.

“The UK’s approach to China is to protect our institutions and infrastructure, align with partners and engage where it is in the UK’s national interest,” Cleverly said on Tuesday.  

London is trying to improve ties with Beijing but there has been growing anxiety about Chinese activity in Britain in recent weeks after it was revealed that a parliamentary researcher was arrested in March on suspicion of spying for China.

The Chinese embassy in London was not immediately able to say if China would attend the AI summit.

Britain has appointed tech expert Matt Clifford and former senior diplomat Jonathan Black to lead preparations for the summit.  

The Financial Times reported that government officials want a less “draconian” approach to regulating the technology, compared with the European Union’s wide-sweeping AI Act.  

Under the incoming EU legislation, organizations using AI systems deemed “high risk” will be expected to complete rigorous risk assessments, log their activities, and make sensitive internal data available to authorities upon request.  

Clifford told Reuters last month that he hoped the UK summit would set the tone for future international debates on AI regulation.

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FBI Echoes Warning on Danger of Artificial Intelligence

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Just as many in the United States are starting to explore how to use artificial intelligence to make their lives easier, U.S. adversaries and criminal gangs are moving forward with plans to exploit the technology at Americans’ expense.

FBI Director Christopher Wray issued the warning Monday, telling a cybersecurity conference in Washington that artificial intelligence, or AI, “is ripe for potential abuses.”

“Criminals and hostile foreign governments are already exploiting that technology,” Wray said, without sharing specifics.

“While generative AI can certainly save law-abiding citizens time by automating tasks, it can also make it easier for bad guys to do things like generate deepfakes and malicious code and can provide a tool for threat actors to develop increasingly powerful, sophisticated, customizable and scalable capabilities,” he said.

Wray said the FBI is working to identify and track those using AI to harm U.S. citizens but added that the bureau is being cautious about employing AI itself.

“To stay ahead of the threat at the FBI, we’re determining how we can ethically and legally leverage AI to do our jobs,” he said.

When contacted by VOA, the FBI declined to elaborate on its concerns about employing AI. Nor did the bureau say when or if it has used AI, even on a limited basis.

Other U.S. national security agencies, however, are currently making use of AI.

The Department of Homeland Security is using AI to combat fentanyl trafficking, counter child sexual exploitation and protect critical infrastructure, according to department officials, even as they roll out guidelines governing its use.

“Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement last Thursday. “Our department must continue to keep pace with this rapidly evolving technology, and do so in a way that is transparent and respectful of the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of everyone we serve.”

DHS has also issued directives aimed at preventing its use of AI from being skewed by biased learning models and databases, and to give U.S. citizens a choice of opting out of systems using facial recognition technology.

But across multiple U.S. departments and agencies, the fear of the potential damage AI could cause is growing.

FBI officials, for example, warned in July that violent extremists and terrorists have been experimenting with AI to more easily build explosives.

And they said a growing number of criminals appear to be gravitating to the technology to carry out everything from petty crimes to financial heists.

It is China, though, that is driving the bulk of the concern.

National Security Agency officials have warned that Beijing started using AI to disseminate propaganda via what they described as a fake news channel last year.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” David Frederick, the NSA’s assistant deputy director for China, told a cybersecurity summit earlier this month.

“[Artificial intelligence] will enable more effective malign influence operations,” he added.

Such concerns have been bolstered by private cybersecurity companies.

Microsoft, for example, warned earlier this month that Chinese-linked cyber actors have started using AI to produce “eye-catching content” for disinformation efforts that has been gaining traction with U.S. voters.

“We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale,” Microsoft said.

For its part, China has repeatedly denied allegations it is using AI improperly.

“In recent years, some western media and think tanks have accused China of using artificial intelligence to create fake social media accounts to spread so-called ‘pro-China’ information,” Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email, following the publication of the Microsoft report.

“Such remarks are full of prejudice and malicious speculation against China, which China firmly opposes,” Liu added.

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Water-Starved Saudi Confronts Desalination’s Heavy Toll

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Solar panels soak up blinding noontime rays that help power a water desalination facility in eastern Saudi Arabia, a step towards making the notoriously emissions-heavy process less environmentally taxing.

The Jazlah plant in Jubail city applies the latest technological advances in a country that first turned to desalination more than a century ago, when Ottoman-era administrators enlisted filtration machines for hajj pilgrims menaced by drought and cholera.

Lacking lakes, rivers and regular rainfall, Saudi Arabia today relies instead on dozens of facilities that transform water from the Gulf and Red Sea into something potable, supplying cities and towns that otherwise would not survive.

But the kingdom’s growing desalination needs — fueled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s dreams of presiding over a global business and tourism hub — risk clashing with its sustainability goals, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.

Projects like Jazlah, the first plant to integrate desalination with solar power on a large scale, are meant to ease that conflict: officials say the panels will help save around 60,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.

It is the type of innovation that must be scaled up fast, with Prince Mohammed targeting a population of 100 million people by 2040, up from 32.2 million today.

“Typically, the population grows, and then the quality of life of the population grows,” necessitating more and more water, said CEO Marco Arcelli of ACWA Power, which runs Jazlah.

Using desalination to keep pace is a “do or die” challenge, said historian Michael Christopher Low at the University of Utah, who has studied the kingdom’s struggle with water scarcity.

“This is existential for the Gulf states. So when anyone is sort of critical about what they’re doing in terms of ecological consequences, I shake my head a bit,” he said.

At the same time, he added, “there are limits” as to how green desalination can be.

Drinking the sea

The search for potable water bedeviled Saudi Arabia in the first decades after its founding in 1932, spurring geological surveys that contributed to the mapping of its massive oil reserves.

Prince Mohammed al-Faisal, a son of King Faisal whom Low has dubbed the “Water Prince,” at one point even explored the possibility of towing icebergs from Antarctica to quench the kingdom’s growing thirst, drawing widespread ridicule.

But Prince Mohammed also oversaw the birth of the kingdom’s modern desalination infrastructure beginning in 1970.

The national Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) now reports production capacity of 11.5 million cubic meters per day at 30 facilities.

That growth has come at a cost, especially at thermal plants running on fossil fuels.

By 2010, Saudi desalination facilities were consuming 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, more than 15 percent of today’s production.

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on current energy consumption at desalination plants.

Going forward, there is little doubt Saudi Arabia will be able to build the infrastructure required to produce the water it needs.

“They have already done it in some of the most challenging settings, like massively desalinating on the Red Sea and providing desalinated water up to the highlands of the holy cities in Mecca and Medina,” said Laurent Lambert of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

Going green?

The question is how much the environmental toll will continue to climb.

The SWCC says it wants to cut 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2025.

This will be achieved largely by transitioning away from thermal plants to plants like Jazlah that use electricity-powered reverse osmosis.

Solar power, meanwhile, will expand to 770 megawatts from 120 megawatts today, according to the SWCC’s latest sustainability report, although the timeline is unclear.

“It’s still going to be energy-intensive, unfortunately, but energy-intensive compared to what?” Lambert said.

“Compared to countries which have naturally flowing water from major rivers or falling from the sky for free? Yeah, sure, it’s always going to be more.”

At desalination plants across the kingdom, Saudi employees understand just how crucial their work is to the population’s survival.

The Ras al-Khair plant produces 1.1 million cubic meters of water per day — 740,000 from thermal technology, the rest from reverse osmosis — and struggles to keep reserve tanks full because of high demand.

Much of the water goes to Riyadh, which requires 1.6 million cubic meters per day and could require as much as six million by the end of the decade, said an employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Looking out over pipes that draw seawater from the Gulf into the plant, he described the work as high-stakes, with clear national security implications.

If the plant did not exist, he said, “Riyadh would die.”

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Somalia’s Digital ID Revolution: A Journey From Standstill to Progress

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For more than three decades, Somalia’s digital identity system remained stagnant, untouched by the major technological changes sweeping the globe. That standstill is now coming to an end, says Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre.

In a historic move, Barre convened a two-day conference in Mogadishu on Saturday, marking the official return of civil registration and the issuance of national ID cards.

“Today marks a great day for Somalia as we finally lay the foundations of a reliable and all-inclusive national identification system that is recognized worldwide,” Barre said.

After the official inauguration of the system Saturday by the prime minister in Mogadishu, the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was in the city of Dhusamareb commanding the fight against al-Shabab militants in central Somalia, received his national identification card.

“The ID card issuance was started by the president and the PM and it is part of a rollout in the country, which every Somali citizen is eligible to acquire,” a government statement said.

“It is a significant milestone in Somalia’s state-building journey. The national ID rollout is set to enhance security and address crucial national issues,” Mohamud said as he received his card. 

Digital identity systems, often referred to as eID, are the bedrock of Somalia’s new digital services. The government says they empower citizens to exercise their liberties and businesses to operate efficiently.

“Through this system, the government reaffirms its endeavor to ensure that Somali citizens enjoy equal rights with regard to the participation of all national commitments,” Barre said.   

Barre cited the need to combat security threats, terrorism and identity fraud as compelling reasons to introduce a national ID.

“This system will boost our businesses and economy, our banks, communication and Hawala money transfer systems. It will strictly deal with terror networks and the fight against extremism,” Barre said.

In a video message to the conference from the front line in central Somalia, Somalia’s minister of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation, Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, reiterated the importance of a reliable national ID for the government’s fight against al-Shabab militants.

“A national identification system is a powerful tool in our fight against extremism, providing a sense of belonging and identity to our citizens,” Fiqi said. “National ID is not only a piece of plastic, but it represents access to essential services like health care, education, elections and economic opportunities to the Somali people.”

In March, Somalia’s upper house passed the National Identification and Registration Authority Bill, which enables every Somali citizen to legally register their identity and gain access to the government and private services to which they are entitled.

Somali government officials, businessmen, members of civil society and international partners were among participants in the conference in Mogadishu.

Speakers at the conference included United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia Catriona Laing and the World Bank country manager, Kristina Svensson.

Those who spoke at the conference expressed optimism that the national ID will help in the fight against the al-Shabab terror group.

The story of Somalia’s digital identity resurgence finds its roots in the turbulent year 1991, when the national citizen registry collapsed. National unrest, instability, disorder and economic turmoil led to the downfall of government leadership and the disintegration of the registration system.

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Hackers Say They Stole 6 Terabytes of Data From MGM, Caesars Casinos

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The Scattered Spider hacking group said on Thursday it took six terabytes of data from the systems of multibillion-dollar casino operators MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment as both companies probed the breaches.

Speaking to Reuters via the messaging platform Telegram, a representative for the group said it did not plan to make the data public and declined to comment on whether it had asked the companies for ransom.

The group’s contact was provided to Reuters by a cybersecurity expert who runs an online repository of malware samples called “vx-underground,” and declined to be named. Caesars and MGM did not respond to requests for comment on the amount of data that was breached.

Caesars reported to regulators on Thursday it had found that on Sept. 7 hackers took data on a significant number of its loyalty program members, including “driver’s license numbers and/or Social Security numbers.” Earlier, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal reported that Caesars had paid ransom, but Caesars declined a Reuters request for comment on the matter.

Earlier, MGM said it was working with law enforcement on resolving a “cybersecurity issue.”

Scattered Spider, also known as UNC3944, is one of the most disruptive hacking outfits in the United States, according to Google’s Mandiant Intelligence.

Several security analysts have drawn attention to the group over the past year for its effective social engineering tactics. It is known to reach out to a target an organization’s information security teams by phone, pretending to be an employee needing their password reset.

“They tend to have most of the information they need before that call to the helpdesk – that is the last step,” said Marc Bleicher, a security analyst who has conducted forensic investigations into such hacks before.

Mandiant has linked Scattered Spider to over 100 intrusions in the last two years at companies ranging from gaming and technology firms to retailers, telecom and insurance firms, Charles Carmakal, chief technology officer at Mandiant told Reuters.

The group’s members appeared to be scattered across several Western countries, he added.

Caesars said the breach resulted from a “social engineering attack” on an IT vendor the company used. It didn’t quantify the financial impact.

Operations at MGM, one of the world’s largest casino and hotel operators, were still disrupted four days after news of the hack emerged. Social media posts had visuals of slot machines showing error messages at its Las Vegas casinos.

Some analysts believe Scattered Spider is a subgroup of the ALPHV, a ransomware hacking outfit that emerged in Nov. 2021, according to Mandiant.

The FBI said it was investigating the incidents at MGM and Caesars and declined further comment.

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TikTok Popular in Kenya, but Facing Backlash and Call for Ban

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One of the world’s most popular apps, TikTok, is under growing scrutiny in Kenya over what critics see as explicit and offensive content, and hate speech. An activist has petitioned parliament to ban the Chinese app, even as millions of young Kenyans use it for entertainment, social connections, or even to make money. Francis Ontomwa reports from Nairobi. Camera: Amos Wangwa.

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French Agency: iPhone 12 Emits Too Much Radiation, Must Be Taken Taken off Market

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A government watchdog agency in France has ordered Apple to withdraw the iPhone 12 from the French market, saying it emits levels of electromagnetic radiation that are too high.

The National Frequency Agency, which oversees radio-electric frequencies as well as public exposure to electromagnetic radiation, called on Apple in a statement Tuesday to “implement all available means to rapidly fix this malfunction” for phones already being used.

Corrective updates to the iPhone 12 will be monitored by the agency, and if they don’t work, “Apple will have to recall” phones that have already been sold, according to the French regulator’s statement.

Apple disputed the findings and said the device complies with all regulations governing radiation.

The agency, which is known by the French acronym ANFR, said it recently checked 141 cellphones, including the iPhone 12, for electromagnetic waves capable of being absorbed by the body.

It said it found a level of electromagnetic energy absorption of 5.74 watts per kilogram during tests of a phone in a hand or a pocket, higher than the European Union standard of 4 watts per kilogram.

The agency said the iPhone 12 met the threshold when radiation levels were assessed for a phone kept in a jacket or in a bag.

Apple said the iPhone 12, which was released in late 2020, has been certified by multiple international bodies and complies with all applicable regulations and standards for radiation around the world.

The U.S. tech company said it has provided the French agency with multiple lab results carried out both by the company and third-party labs proving the phone’s compliance.

Jean-Noël Barrot, France’s minister in charge of digital issues, told France Info radio that the National Frequency Agency “is in charge of controlling our phones which, as there are software updates, may emit a little more or a little less electromagnetic waves.”

He said that the iPhone 12 radiation levels are “slightly higher” than the standards but “significantly lower than levels where scientific studies consider there may be consequences for users. But the rule is the rule.”

Cellphones have been labeled as “possible” carcinogens by the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, putting them in the same category as coffee, diesel fumes and the pesticide DDT. The radiation produced by cellphones cannot directly damage DNA and is different from stronger types of radiation like X-rays or ultraviolet light.

In 2018, two U.S. government studies that bombarded mice and rats with cellphone radiation found a weak link to some heart tumors, but federal regulators and scientists said it was still safe to use the devices. Scientists said those findings didn’t reflect how most people use their cellphones and that the animal findings didn’t translate into a similar concern for humans.

Among the largest studies on potential dangers of cellphone use, a 2010 analysis in 13 countries found little or no risk of brain tumors.

People’s mobile phone habits also have changed substantially since the first studies began and it’s unclear if the results of previous research would still apply today.

Since many tumors take years to develop, experts say it’s difficult to conclude that cellphones have no long-term health risks. Experts have recommended that people concerned about their cellphone radiation exposure use earphones or switch to texting.

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India’s Transition to Electric Vehicles Powered by Three and Two Wheels

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In Indian cities, most electric vehicles seen on the roads are not cars, but three- and two-wheel vehicles that deliver goods and ferry passengers in cities. Anjana Pasricha reports on how the exponential growth in these electric vehicles in New Delhi and surrounding towns could contribute to cleaning up the air in one of the world’s most polluted cities. Video: Darshan Singh

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India’s Transition to Electric Vehicles Powered by Three and Two Wheels 

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At bus stops and metro stations in the Indian capital and towns around it, passengers are accustomed to the familiar call by three-wheel electric rickshaw drivers to take an eight-cent, shared ride to their offices, homes or markets.

The ride-hailing trade is flourishing according to the hundreds of rickshaw drivers crowding the streets.

“It is much better than a petrol vehicle. It does not create pollution and it is cheaper to run. After charging, my battery lasts for 80 to 120 kilometers,” said Abdul Alam, as he stood outside a metro station in Gurugram, a business hub, to which thousands of commuters travel daily from New Delhi.

In India, most electric vehicles are not cars, but three wheelers that ferry passengers and deliver goods or two wheelers used for personal mobility. Accounting for 90% of the country’s nearly three million electric vehicles, they are at the forefront of India’s transition to clean transportation.

That is not surprising — in developing countries like India, these vehicles provide an affordable means of transport.

In the case of electric rickshaws, they help decarbonize small trips.

“The market is basically pushing it and it’s taking care of last mile mobility,” according to Moushumi Mohanty, head of Electric Vehicle Technology at the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

Their popularity has grown as subsidies by the federal and state government for manufacturers, along with tax incentives, drive down costs. Spiraling petrol costs in recent years have made them more attractive.

Adhir Bhiya, who worked as an office help, left his job three years ago and took out a loan to buy his own rickshaw for $1,500. “I spend about $25 in a month to charge the batteries. It gives a good income to provide for my family,” said Bhiya.

As e-commerce booms, three-wheel electric vehicles are also playing a key role in making deliveries to customers. Road trips for deliveries are adding to carbon emissions according to experts, as people increasingly opt for the convenience of ordering everything from groceries to clothes online.

Zyngo EV Mobility, a start-up launched three years ago, uses an all-electric fleet of vehicles to make about 20,000 deliveries a day in and around Delhi.

“We wanted to adopt something which is more futuristic,” says Prateek Rao, founder of Zyngo. “Sustainability is something which is very close to our heart. We are all new-age people, we are a very young and aggressive team, we think that somewhere we are contributing to the eco-system back then why not? So we adopted EV’s as the core technology, so that we help reduce carbon emissions.”

Rao took a cue from the COVID-19 pandemic when Delhi residents glimpsed clear blue skies instead of the customary grey that shrouds the city as vehicles disappeared from roads during lockdowns and work-from-home norms.

The switch from petrol or diesel to electric vehicles is important for a city where the millions of vehicles clogging its toads contribute to almost half the emissions that dirty the air— Delhi is one of the world’s most polluted cities. Commercial vehicles are among the biggest contributors to toxic fumes.


“This will help a whole lot because look at the numbers that we are trying to transition,” points out Mohanty. “If you are converting say ten, twenty or 30% of these vehicles into electric, it basically means there is zero emissions from there.”

The government is pushing for a rapid expansion in the coming years — Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, called on automakers Tuesday to accelerate the transition to electricity and bio-fuels to curb vehicular pollution.

But there are challenges to be tackled before electric mobility can take off on a larger scale.

“Charging infrastructure is a pain point,” said Rao, “It is being ramped up, especially in Delhi but if we need faster adoption of EV’s across India, we need to improve the pace.”

Experts also say that India needs to step up domestic manufacturing of batteries and improve battery technology. While batteries are assembled in India, components are mostly imported.

“We need to reduce the dependence on imports of critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, etc. from China,” according to N.C. Thirumalai at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy in Bengaluru. “We have to de-risk the supply chain and look at other countries also.”

India also needs to develop batteries that are adapted to local conditions. “It is hot and humid here and we have roads which don’t always give you a smooth ride. So clearly you need batteries that have high temperature tolerance and can withstand high vibrations,” said Mohanty.

The long-term challenge is an even bigger one. In a country where coal is still king for power generation, the electricity source that charges batteries will also have to be cleaned up.

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Apple’s New iPhones Get Faster Chips, Better Cameras and New Charging Ports

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Apple unveiled its next generation of iPhones Tuesday — a lineup that will boast better cameras, faster processors, a new charging system and a price hike for the fanciest model.

The showcase at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, comes as the company tries to reverse a mild slump that has seen its sales drop from last year in three consecutive quarters. The malaise is a key reason Apple’s stock price has dipped by about 10% since mid-July, dropping the company’s market value below the $3 trillion threshold it reached for the first time earlier this summer.

Investors apparently weren’t impressed with what Apple rolled out. The company’s shares fell nearly 2% Tuesday, a steeper decline than the major market indexes.

As has been case with Apple and other smartphone makers, the four types of iPhone 15 models aren’t making any major leaps in technology. But Apple added enough new bells and whistles to the top-of-the line model — the iPhone 15 Pro Max — to boost its starting price by $100, or 9%, from last year’s version to $1,200. As part of the higher base price, the cheapest iPhone 15 Pro Max will provide 256 megabytes of storage, up from 128 megabytes for the least expensive version of the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Apple is holding the line on prices for rest of the lineup, with the basic iPhone 15 selling for $800, the iPhone 15 Plus for $900 and the iPhone 15 Pro for $1,000.

Although maintaining those prices are bound to squeeze Apple’s profit margins and put further pressure on the company’s stock price, analyst Thomas Monteiro believes it’s a prudent move with still-high inflation and spiking interest rates pinching household budgets. “The reality was that Apple found itself in a challenging position leading up to this event,” Monteiro said.

And the price hike for the iPhone 15 Pro Max could help Apple boost sales if consumers continue to gravitate toward the company’s premium models. Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives expects the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max to account for about 75% of the device’s total sales in the upcoming year.

All the new models will be available in stores Sept. 22, with preorders beginning this Friday.

One of the biggest changes that Apple announced is a new way to charge the iPhone 15 models and future generations. The company is switching to the USB-C standard that is already widely used on many devices, including its Mac computers and many of its iPads.

Apple is being forced to phase out the Lightning port cables it rolled out in 2012 because of a mandate that European regulators plan to impose in 2024.

Although consumers often don’t like change, the transition to USB-C ports may not be that inconvenient. That’s because the standard is already widely used on a range of computers, smartphones and other devices people already own. The shift to USB-C may even be a popular move since that standard typically charges devices more quickly and also offers faster data transfer speeds.

The basic iPhone 15 models have been redesigned to include a shape-shifting cutout on the display screen that Apple calls its “Dynamic Island” for app notifications — a look that was introduced with last year’s Pro and Pro Max devices. The basic models are also getting a faster chip used in last year’s Pro and Pro Max models, while the next generation of the premium iPhone 15s will run on an even more advanced processor that will enable the devices to accommodate the same kind of video games that typically require a console.

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max also will be equipped with what Apple maintains is the equivalent of seven camera lenses. They will include periscope-style telephoto lens that will improve the quality of photos taken from far distances. The telephoto lens boasts a 5x optical zoom, which lags the 10x optical zoom on Samsung’s premium Galaxy S22 Ultra, but represents an upgrade from the 3x optical zoom on the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max.

In anticipation of next year’s release of Apple’s mixed reality headset, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will also have a spatial video option designed for viewing on that headset.

Apple is encasing the premium models in titanium that the company says is the same alloy used on some space ships.

Besides its new iPhones, Apple also announced its next generation of smartwatches — a product that made its debut nearly a decade ago. The Series 9 Apple Watch, available in stores Sept. 22, will include a new gesture control that will enable users to control alarms and answer phone calls by double snapping their thumbs with a finger.

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Swiss Students Break World Record for Electric Car Acceleration

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From zero to 100 kph in less than a second: A racing car built by students has broken the world record for electric vehicle acceleration, a Swiss university said Tuesday. 

Students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) and the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences designed and built the “Mythen” vehicle that achieved the feat, ETHZ said in a statement. 

“Now, Guinness World Records has confirmed that Mythen broke the previous world acceleration record for electric vehicles,” it said. 

Covering a distance of 12.3 meters (40.4 feet) at the Switzerland Innovation Park in Dübendorf, opposite the students’ workshop, the car was powered from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (zero to 62.15 miles per hour) in 0.956 seconds. 

“This beats the previous world record of 1.461 seconds, set in September 2022 by a team from the University of Stuttgart by more than a third,” ETHZ said. 

According to the statement, around 30 student members of the Academic Motorsports Club Zurich (AMZ) had spent the better part of a year on the project. 

All the components, “from the printed circuit boards (PCBs) to chassis and the battery, were developed by the students themselves and optimized for their function,” it said. 

The vehicle weighs just 140 kilograms (309 pounds) and boasts 240 kilowatts of power, or around 326 horsepower.  

The vehicle’s driver was named as Kate Maggetti, a friend of students involved in the project, who was selected “due to her light body weight” and “willingness to take on the challenge,” Yann Bernard, head of motor at AMZ, told AFP. 

“Working on the project in addition to my studies was very intense,” Bernard added in the statement.  

“But even so, it was a lot of fun working with other students to continually produce new solutions and put into practice what we learned in class,” he said. 

“And, of course, it is an absolutely unique experience to be involved in a world record.” 

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US Cyber Teams Are on the Hunt in Lithuania 

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For at least the second time this year, U.S. cyber forces have come to the aid of a Baltic ally, as concerns linger about potential cyberattacks from Russia and other Western adversaries.

U.S. Cyber Command Tuesday announced the completion of a two-month-long, so-called “defensive hunt” operation in Lithuania, alongside Lithuanian cyber teams.

The focus of the operation, according to a spokesperson with the U.S. Cyber National Mission Force, was to look for malicious cyber activity on networks belonging to Lithuania’s Interior Ministry.

Neither U.S. nor Lithuanian officials were willing to specify the exact nature of the threat, but just last year Vilnius was hit with a series of distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS), claimed by the Russian hacking group known as Killnet.

“We need to develop competences and be more resilient to cyberattacks,” Lithuanian Vice Minister of the Interior Arnoldas Abramavičius, said in the joint statement.

“The war in Ukraine has shown that cyberattacks are a powerful tool of modern warfare, so it is extremely important to be prepared and to ensure the security of our networks,” said Abramavičius. “I believe that the results of this mission [with the United States] will be mutually beneficial.”

The U.S. Cyber National Mission Force spokesperson, speaking to VOA on the condition of anonymity to discuss limited details of the operation, said the effort involved about 20 U.S. cyber troops, hunting for malicious activity and potential vulnerabilities under guidelines set by Vilnius.

This is at least the second time U.S. cyber forces have deployed to Lithuania. U.S. Cyber Command said its forces conducted similar operations in the country last May.

And both Vilnius and Washington have also been working on a continuous basis through Lithuania’s Regional Cyber Defense Center, set up in 2021, to further coordinate efforts with Ukraine, Georgia and Poland.

Word of the completion of the latest U.S-Latvian cyber operation comes just days after a top U.S. intelligence official warned the cyber threat from Moscow has not waned as Russia’s war against Ukraine drags on.

“The Russians are increasing their capability and their efforts in the cyber domain,” CIA Deputy Director David Cohen told a cybersecurity summit in Washington on Thursday.

“There are no laurels to be rested on here,” he said. “There is this is a pitched battle every day.”

Concerns about possible Russian cyber activity also prompted what U.S. officials described as a “hunt forward” operation in Latvia earlier this year that also involved Latvian and Canadian cyber forces.

Since 2018, U.S. cyber teams have deployed 50 times, conducting operations on more than 75 networks in more than 23 countries, according to information provided by the U.S. Cyber National Mission Force.

Some information from Reuters was used in this report.

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US Federal Antitrust Trial Against Google Begins

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On Tuesday, federal prosecutors will argue that Google has violated antitrust law by allegedly bribing big-name web browsers and essentially forcing software developers to make the search engine users’ default option. 

The Justice Department brought its lawsuit against Google almost three years ago, when former President Donald Trump was still in office. Now, the case has gone to trial and will play out over the next two-and-a-half months, with Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Apple executive, Eddie Cue, both expected to testify. 

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is not expected to issue a verdict until early 2024. 

Google pays billions each year to be the main search engine on Safari, Firefox and other popular web browsers. Device manufacturers that want complete access to the Google Play app store on their smartphones are contractually obligated to make Google their default search engine, too. 

Regulators describe these business practices as underhanded, enabling Google to build its sprawling big tech empire, which controls about 90% of the search engine market. 

“This case is about the future of the internet and whether Google will ever face meaningful competition in search,” said Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer. 

Google maintains that its dealings are above board. Its search engine results, they say, are more responsive than competitors like Bing and Yahoo. A likely argument for the defense is that consumers are free to uninstall Google and download other apps. 

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is worth $1.7 trillion, with most of its ad revenue coming from its search engine. Google gets more queries per day than there are people on the planet. 

If Google is found to be in violation of antitrust law, it may have to make costly concessions that could slash its alleged monopoly and shift the corporate hierarchy of big tech.

Some information in this article comes Agence-France Presse and the Associated Press.  

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‘Cybersecurity Issue’ Prompts Computer Shutdowns at MGM Resorts Across US

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A “cybersecurity issue” led to the shutdown of some casino and hotel computer systems at MGM Resorts International properties across the U.S., a company official reported Monday. 

The incident began Sunday and the extent of its effect on reservation systems and casino floors in Las Vegas and states including Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Ohio was not immediately known, company spokesman Brian Ahern said. 

“MGM Resorts recently identified a cybersecurity issue affecting some of the company’s systems,” the company said in a statement that pointed to an investigation involving external cybersecurity experts and notifications to law enforcement agencies. 

The nature of the issue was not described, but the statement said efforts to protect data included “shutting down certain systems.” It said the investigation was continuing. 

A post on the company website said the site was down. It listed telephone numbers to reach the reservation system and properties. 

A post on the company’s BetMGM website in Nevada acknowledged that some customers were unable to log on. 

The company has tens of thousands of hotel rooms in Las Vegas at properties including the MGM Grand, Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, Aria, New York-New York, Park MGM, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay and Delano. 

It also operates properties in China and Macau. 

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Google’s Rivals Get Day in Court As Momentous US Antitrust Trial Begins

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DuckDuckGo, which has long complained that Google’s tactics have made it too tough to get people to use their search engine on a mobile phone, will be one of many rivals to the online search giant eyeing a once-in-a-generation antitrust trial set to begin Tuesday.

The United States will argue Google didn’t play by the rules in its efforts to dominate online search in a trial seen as a battle for the soul of the Internet.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to detail how Google paid billions of dollars annually to device makers like Apple Inc. AAPL.O, wireless companies like AT&T T.N and browser makers like Mozilla to keep Google’s search engine atop the leader board.

DuckDuckGo has also complained, for example, that removing Google as the default search engine on a device and replacing it with DuckDuckGo takes too many steps, helping keep them to a measly 2.3% market share.  

DuckDuckGo, MicrosoftMSFT.O and Yahoo are among a long list of Google competitors who will be watching the trial closely.

“Google makes it unduly difficult to use DuckDuckGo by default. We’re glad this issue is finally going to have its day in court,” said DuckDuckGo spokesman Kamyl Bazbaz who said that Google had a “stranglehold on major distribution points for more than a decade.” 

Google has denied wrongdoing and is prepared to vigorously defend itself.

The legal fight has huge implications for Big Tech, which has been accused of buying or strangling small competitors but has insulated itself against many accusations of breaking antitrust law because the services the companies provide to users are free, as in the case of Alphabet’s Google GOOGL.O and Facebook META.O, or low price, as in the case of AMZN.O.

“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this case, particularly for monopolies and companies with significant market share,” antitrust lawyer Luke Hasskamp told Reuters.

“This will be a major case, particularly for the major tech companies of the world (Google, Apple, Twitter, and others), which have grown to have an outsized role in nearly all our lives,” he added.

Previous antitrust trials of similar importance include Microsoft, filed in 1998, and AT&T, filed in 1974. The AT&T breakup in 1982 is credited with paving the way for the modern cell phone industry while the fight with Microsoft is credited with opening space for Google and others on the internet.

Congress tried to rein in Big Tech last year but largely missed. It considered bills to check the market power of the companies, like legislation to prevent them from preferencing their own products, but failed to pass the most aggressive of them.

Big Tech’s rivals now pin their hope on Judge Amit Mehta, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit that goes to trial was brought by former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department. In a rare show of bipartisan agreement, President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has pressed on with the lawsuit and filed a second one against Google in January focused on advertising technology.

Judge Mehta will decide if Google has broken antitrust law in this first trial, and, if so, what should be done. The government has asked the judge to order Google to stop any illegal activity but also urged “structural relief as needed,” raising the possibility that the tech giant could be ordered broken up.

The government’s strongest arguments are those against Google’s revenue sharing agreements with Android makers, which requires Google to be the only search on the smartphone in exchange for a percentage of search advertising revenue, said Daniel McCuaig, a partner at Cohen Milstein who was formerly with the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

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Sweden Brings More Books, Handwriting Practice Back to Its Tech-Heavy Schools

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As young children went back to school across Sweden last month, many of their teachers were putting a new emphasis on printed books, quiet reading time and handwriting practice and devoting less time to tablets, independent online research and keyboarding skills.

The return to more traditional ways of learning is a response to politicians and experts questioning whether the country’s hyper-digitalized approach to education, including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools, had led to a decline in basic skills.

Swedish Minister for Schools Lotta Edholm, who took office 11 months ago as part of a new center-right coalition government, was one of the biggest critics of the all-out embrace of technology.

“Sweden’s students need more textbooks,” Edholm said in March. “Physical books are important for student learning.”

The minister announced last month in a statement that the government wants to reverse the decision by the National Agency for Education to make digital devices mandatory in preschools. It plans to go further and to completely end digital learning for children under age 6, the ministry also told The Associated Press.

Although the country’s students score above the European average for reading ability, an international assessment of fourth-grade reading levels, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, highlighted a decline among Sweden’s children between 2016 and 2021.

In 2021, Swedish fourth-graders averaged 544 points, a drop from the 555 average in 2016. However, their performance still placed the country in a tie with Taiwan for the seventh-highest overall test score.

In comparison, Singapore — which topped the rankings — improved its PIRLS reading scores from 576 to 587 during the same period, and England’s average reading achievement score fell only slightly, from 559 in 2016 to 558 in 2021.

Some learning deficits may have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic or reflect a growing number of immigrant students who don’t speak Swedish as their first language, but an overuse of screens during school lessons may cause youngsters to fall behind in core subjects, education experts say.

“There’s clear scientific evidence that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning,” Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement last month on the country’s national digitalization strategy in education.

“We believe the focus should return to acquiring knowledge through printed textbooks and teacher expertise, rather than acquiring knowledge primarily from freely available digital sources that have not been vetted for accuracy,” said the institute, a highly respected medical school focused on research.

The rapid adoption of digital learning tools also has drawn concern from the United Nations’ education and culture agency.

In a report published last month, UNESCO issued an “urgent call for appropriate use of technology in education.” The report urges countries to speed up internet connections at schools, but at the same time warns that technology in education should be implemented in a way so that it never replaces in-person, teacher-led instruction and supports the shared objective of quality education for all.

In the Swedish capital, Stockholm, 9-year-old Liveon Palmer, a third-grader at Djurgardsskolan elementary school, expressed his approval of spending more school hours offline.

“I like writing more in school, like on paper, because it just feels better, you know,” he told the AP during a recent visit.

His teacher, Catarina Branelius, said she was selective about asking students to use tablets during her lessons even before the national-level scrutiny.

“I use tablets in math and we are doing some apps, but I don’t use tablets for writing text,” Branelius said. Students under age 10 “need time and practice and exercise in handwriting … before you introduce them to write on a tablet.”

Online instruction is a hotly debated subject across Europe and other parts of the West. Poland, for instance, just launched a program to give a government-funded laptop to each student starting in fourth grade in hopes of making the country more technologically competitive.

In the United States, the coronavirus pandemic pushed public schools to provide millions of laptops purchased with federal pandemic relief money to primary and secondary students. But there is still a digital divide, which is part of the reason why American schools tend to use both print and digital textbooks, said Sean Ryan, president of the U.S. school division at textbook publisher McGraw Hill.

“In places where there is not connectivity at home, educators are loath to lean into digital because they’re thinking about their most vulnerable (students) and making sure they have the same access to education as everyone else,” Ryan said.

Germany, which is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, has been famously slow in moving government programs and information of all kinds online, including education. The state of digitalization in schools also varies among the country’s 16 states, which are in charge of their own curricula.

Many students can complete their schooling without any kind of required digital instruction, such as coding. Some parents worry their children may not be able to compete in the job market with technologically better-trained young people from other countries.

Sascha Lobo, a German writer and consultant who focuses on the internet, thinks a national effort is needed to bring German students up to speed or the country will risk falling behind in the future.

“If we don’t manage to make education digital, to learn how digitalization works, then we will no longer be a prosperous country 20 years from now,” he said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF late last year.

To counter Sweden’s decline in fourth-grade reading performance, the Swedish government announced an investment worth $64.7 million in book purchases for the country’s schools this year. Another 500 million kronor will be spent annually in 2024 and 2025 to speed up the return of textbooks to schools.

Not all experts are convinced Sweden’s back-to-basics push is exclusively about what’s best for students.

Criticizing the effects of technology is “a popular move with conservative politicians,” Neil Selwyn, a professor of education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said. “It’s a neat way of saying or signaling a commitment to traditional values.”

“The Swedish government does have a valid point when saying that there is no evidence for technology improving learning, but I think that’s because there is no straightforward evidence of what works with technology,” Selwyn added. “Technology is just one part of a really complex network of factors in education.”

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AI Technology Behind ChatGPT Built in Iowa Using Lots of Water

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The cost of building an artificial intelligence product like ChatGPT can be hard to measure.

But one thing Microsoft-backed OpenAI needed for its technology was plenty of water, pulled from the watershed of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in central Iowa to cool a powerful supercomputer as it helped teach its AI systems how to mimic human writing.

As they race to capitalize on a craze for generative AI, leading tech developers, including Microsoft, OpenAI and Google, have acknowledged that growing demand for their AI tools carries hefty costs, from expensive semiconductors to an increase in water consumption.

But they’re often secretive about the specifics. Few people in Iowa knew about its status as a birthplace of OpenAI’s most advanced large language model, GPT-4, before a top Microsoft executive said in a speech it “was literally made next to cornfields west of Des Moines.”

Building a large language model requires analyzing patterns across a huge trove of human-written text. All that computing takes a lot of electricity and generates a lot of heat. To keep it cool on hot days, data centers need to pump in water — often to a cooling tower outside its warehouse-sized buildings.

In its latest environmental report, Microsoft disclosed that its global water consumption spiked 34% from 2021 to 2022 (to nearly 1.7 billion gallons, or more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools), a sharp increase compared to previous years that outside researchers tie to its AI research.

“It’s fair to say the majority of the growth is due to AI,” including “its heavy investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI,” said Shaolei Ren, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, who has been trying to calculate the environmental impact of generative AI products such as ChatGPT.

In a paper due to be published later this year, Ren’s team estimates ChatGPT gulps up 500 milliliters of water (close to what’s in a 16-ounce water bottle) every time you ask it a series of between 5 to 50 prompts or questions. The range varies depending on where its servers are located and the season. The estimate includes indirect water usage that the companies don’t measure — such as to cool power plants that supply the data centers with electricity.

“Most people are not aware of the resource usage underlying ChatGPT,” Ren said. “If you’re not aware of the resource usage, then there’s no way that we can help conserve the resources.”

Google reported a 20% growth in water use in the same period, which Ren also largely attributes to its AI work. Google’s spike wasn’t uniform — it was steady in Oregon, where its water use has attracted public attention, while doubling outside Las Vegas. It was also thirsty in Iowa, drawing more potable water to its Council Bluffs data centers than anywhere else.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, Microsoft said in a statement this week that it is investing in research to measure AI’s energy and carbon footprint “while working on ways to make large systems more efficient, in both training and application.”

“We will continue to monitor our emissions, accelerate progress while increasing our use of clean energy to power data centers, purchasing renewable energy, and other efforts to meet our sustainability goals of being carbon negative, water positive and zero waste by 2030,” the company’s statement said.

OpenAI echoed those comments in its own statement Friday, saying it’s giving “considerable thought” to the best use of computing power.

“We recognize training large models can be energy and water-intensive” and work to improve efficiencies, it said.

Microsoft made its first $1 billion investment in San Francisco-based OpenAI in 2019, more than two years before the startup introduced ChatGPT and sparked worldwide fascination with AI advancements. As part of the deal, the software giant would supply computing power needed to train the AI models.

To do at least some of that work, the two companies looked to West Des Moines, Iowa, a city of 68,000 people where Microsoft has been amassing data centers to power its cloud computing services for more than a decade. Its fourth and fifth data centers are due to open there later this year.

“They’re building them as fast as they can,” said Steve Gaer, who was the city’s mayor when Microsoft came to town. Gaer said the company was attracted to the city’s commitment to building public infrastructure and contributed a “staggering” sum of money through tax payments that support that investment.

“But, you know, they were pretty secretive on what they’re doing out there,” he said.

Microsoft first said it was developing one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers for OpenAI in 2020, declining to reveal its location to the AP at the time but describing it as a “single system” with more than 285,000 cores of conventional semiconductors and 10,000 graphics processors — a kind of chip that’s become crucial to AI workloads.

Experts have said it can make sense to “pretrain” an AI model at a single location because of the large amounts of data that need to be transferred between computing cores.

It wasn’t until late May that Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, disclosed that it had built its “advanced AI supercomputing data center” in Iowa, exclusively to enable OpenAI to train what has become its fourth-generation model, GPT-4. The model now powers premium versions of ChatGPT and some of Microsoft’s own products and has accelerated a debate about containing AI’s societal risks.

“It was made by these extraordinary engineers in California, but it was really made in Iowa,” Smith said.

In some ways, West Des Moines is a relatively efficient place to train a powerful AI system, especially compared to Microsoft’s data centers in Arizona, which consume far more water for the same computing demand.

“So if you are developing AI models within Microsoft, then you should schedule your training in Iowa instead of in Arizona,” Ren said. “In terms of training, there’s no difference. In terms of water consumption or energy consumption, there’s a big difference.”

For much of the year, Iowa’s weather is cool enough for Microsoft to use outside air to keep the supercomputer running properly and vent heat out of the building. Only when the temperature exceeds 29.3 degrees Celsius (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) does it withdraw water, the company has said in a public disclosure.

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World Public Broadcasters Say Switch From Analog to Digital Radio, TV Remains Slow

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Members of the International Radio and Television Union from about 50 countries, meeting this week in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, say a lack of infrastructure and human and financial resources remains a major obstacle to the switch from analog to digital broadcasting in public media, especially in Africa.

They are asking governments and funding agencies to assist with digitalization, which they say is necessary in the changing media landscape. More than half of Africa’s media is yet to fully digitalize.

Increasing reports of cross-interference between broadcasting and telecom services is a direct consequence of switchover delays, they said.

Professor Amin Alhassan, director general of Ghana Broadcasting Corp., says most African broadcasters are not serving their audiences and staying as relevant as they should because of the slow pace of digital transformation.

“Public media stations across the world are very old,” Alhassan said. “They have heavy investments in analog media and also analog media expertise. Our staff are used to analog systems, and to translate it into digital ecosystems is a challenge.

“Our challenge is how do you transform our existing staff to have a mindset change to understand the operations of digital media,” he said.

The International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, says digital broadcasting allows stations to offer higher definition video and better sound quality than analog. Digital broadcasting also offers multiple channels of programming on the same frequency.

In 2006, the ITU set June 2015 as the deadline for all broadcast stations in the world transmitting on the UHF band used for television broadcasting to switch from analog to digital. A five-year extension, to June 2020, was given for VHF band stations, mostly used in FM broadcasting, to switch over.

But the International Radio and Television Union says most of Africa missed the deadline, did not turn off analog television signals and is missing the advantages of digital broadcasting.

Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are among the first African countries to complete the switch.

South Africa said in 2022 it would switch to digital TV on March 31, 2023. Jacqueline Hlongwane, programming manager of SABC, South Africa’s public broadcaster who attended the Yaounde meeting, said the switchover process is still ongoing after the deadline.

“Towards the end of last year, just before the soccer World Cup, we were able to launch our own OTT platform,” she said, referring to “over the top” technology that delivers streamed content over the internet.

“We are really, really excited about this because it’s been something that we’ve been working on for a very, very long time,” she said. “South African audiences for now can get access to content, which means that as a public broadcaster, we are also moving towards digitization of content.”

Public broadcasters say governments and funding agencies should help them with infrastructure and human and financial resources to increase digital penetration on the continent, which is estimated at between 30% and 43%, below the global average of about 70%.

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Huawei Phone Kicks off Debate About US Chip Restrictions

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It started with an image of U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on her China trip last month, reportedly taken on what the Chinese tech giant Huawei is touting as a breakthrough 5G mobile phone. Within days, fake ad campaigns on Chinese social media were depicting Raimondo as a Huawei brand ambassador promoting the phone.

The tongue-in-cheek doctored photos made such a splash that they appeared on the social media accounts of state media CCTV, giving them a degree of official approval.

VOA contacted the U.S. Department of Commerce for a reaction but didn’t receive a response by the time of publication.

Chinese nationalists spare no effort to tout the Huawei Mate 60 Pro — equipped with domestically made chips — as a breakthrough showing China’s 5G technological independence despite U.S. sanctions on exports of key components and technology. However, experts say the phone’s capability may be exaggerated.

A social media video posted by Chinese phone users shows that after the Huawei Mate 60 Pro is turned on and connected to the wireless network, it does not display the 4G or 5G signal indicator icon. But these reviewers say the download speed is on par with that of mainstream 5G phones.

A test done by Bloomberg also shows the phone’s bandwidth is similar to other 5G phones.

Richard Windsor, the founder and owner of the British research company Radio Free Mobile, told VOA a simple speed test is not good evidence that the phone is 5G capable.

“It is quite possible through a technique called carrier aggregation to get the kind of speed that was demonstrated,” Windsor said. “You can do that with 4G. … You will see the story on 5G is not [about] speed or throughput but latency efficiency and producing good reception at high frequencies. That’s what the 5G story is all about.”

Throughput and latency are ways to measure network performance. Latency refers to how quickly information moves across a network; throughput refers to the amount of information that moves in a certain time.

Huawei’s official website makes no mention of 5G technology, which also raised skepticism.

“If the new Huawei mobile phone was a 5G phone with an advanced Chinese chipset, Huawei and China would have told the whole world. Huawei and China are not humble people. They love to tell stories,” John Strand, CEO of Strand Consult, told VOA.

The research firm TechInsights took the Huawei phone apart and discovered a Kirin 9000 chip produced by Chinese chipmaker SMIC. The Kirin 9000-series chipsets support 5G connectivity.

While sanctions prevent SMIC from having access to the most cutting-edge extreme ultraviolet lithography tools used by other leading chipmakers — such as TSMC, Samsung and Intel — it could use some older equipment to make advanced chips.

However, experts suspect SMIC won’t be able to mass produce the Kirin 9000 chips on a profitable scale without more advanced tools.

“Being able to make a chip that works,” Windsor said, “and being able to make millions of chips at good yields that don’t bankrupt you in terms of costs are two very, very different things.”

VOA asked Huawei and SMIC for comment but didn’t receive a response by the time of publication.

Dan Hutcheson, vice chair of TechInsights, said in a press release that China’s production of the Kirin 9000 “shows the resilience of the country’s chip technological ability” while demonstrating the challenge faced by countries that seek to restrict China’s access to critical manufacturing technologies. “The result may likely be even greater restrictions than what exist today.”

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a White House press briefing Tuesday that the U.S. needs “more information about precisely its character and composition” to determine if parties bypassed American restrictions on semiconductor exports to create the new chip.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from the U.S. state of Texas, was quoted Wednesday saying he was concerned about the possibility of China trying to “get a monopoly” on the manufacture of less-advanced computer chips.

“We talk a lot about advanced semiconductor chips, but we also need to look at legacy,” he told Reuters, referring to older computer chip technology that does not fall under current export controls.

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Ukraine, US Intelligence Suggest Russia Cyber Efforts Evolving, Growing

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Russia’s cyber operations may not have managed to land the big blow that many Western officials feared following Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but Ukrainian cyber officials caution Moscow has not stopped trying.

Instead, Ukraine’s top counterintelligence agency warns that Russia continues to refine its tactics as it works to further ingrain cyber operations as part of their warfighting doctrine.

“Our resilience has risen a lot,” Illia Vitiuk, head of cybersecurity for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said Thursday at a cyber summit in Washington. “But the problem is that our counterpart, Russia, our enemy, is constantly also evolving and searching for new ways [to attack].”

Vitiuk warned that Moscow continues to launch between 10 and 15 serious cyberattacks per day, many of which show signs of being launched in coordination with missile strikes and other traditional military maneuvers.

“These are not some genius youngsters in search for easy money,” Vitiuk said. “These are people who are working on day-to-day basis and have orders from their military command to destroy Ukraine.”

Vitiuk said Russia has launched 3,000 cyberattacks against Ukraine so far this year, after carrying out 4,500 such attacks following its invasion in 2022.

In addition, he said Russian officials are targeting Ukraine with about 1,000 disinformation campaigns per month.

Last month, for example, the SBU uncovered and blocked a Russian malware plot that sought to infiltrate critical Ukrainian systems by using Android mobile devices captured from Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.

Russian officials routinely deny any involvement in cyberattacks, especially those aimed at civilian infrastructure.

But Russian denials have been met with skepticism in the West, and in the United States, in particular.

“The Russians are increasing their capability and their efforts in the cyber domain,” said CIA Deputy Director David Cohen, who spoke at the same conference in Washington.

“This is a pitched battle every day,” Cohen added, noting that the fight in cyberspace is far from one-sided.

“The Russians have been on the receiving end of a fair amount of cyberattacks being directed at them from a sort of a range of private sector actors,” he said. “There have been attacks on Russian government, some hack and leak attacks. There have been information space attacks on the TV and radio broadcasts.”

Both Washington and Kyiv agree Ukraine’s cyber defenses are holding, at least for now.

Vitiuk, though, expressed caution.

“This war is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he said. “Our enemy is evolving, and [there are] a lot of things we still need to do, and a lot of things we still need to adopt in order to make this victory come faster.”

Vitiuk also warned that Russia’s determination should not be taken lightly, pointing to Ukrainian intelligence showing that Moscow is looking for ways to expand the reach of its cyber operations against Kyiv.

“We clearly see that there is a national cyber offensive program,” Vitiuk said. “Now they implement offensive [cyber] disciplines in their higher education establishments under control of special services.”

“They start to teach students how to attack state systems, and it is extremely, extremely dangerous,” he said.

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Report: China Using AI to Mess With US Voters

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China is turning to artificial intelligence to rile up U.S. voters and stoke divisions ahead of the country’s 2024 presidential elections, according to a new report.

Threat analysts at Microsoft warned in a blog post Thursday that Beijing has developed a new artificial intelligence capability that can produce “eye-catching content” more likely to go viral compared to previous Chinese influence operations.

According to Microsoft, the six-month-long effort appears to use AI-generators, which are able to both produce visually stunning imagery and also to improve it over time.

“We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols,” Microsoft said.

“We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale,” it added.

China on Thursday dismissed Microsoft’s findings.

“In recent years, some western media and think tanks have accused China of using artificial intelligence to create fake social media accounts to spread so-called ‘pro-China’ information,” Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email. “Such remarks are full of prejudice and malicious speculation against China, which China firmly opposes.”

According to Microsoft, Chinese government-linked actors appear to be disseminating the AI-generated images on social media while posing as U.S. voters from across the political spectrum. The focus has been on issues related to race, economic issues and ideology.

In one case, the Microsoft researchers pointed to an image of the Statue of Liberty altered to show Lady Liberty holding both her traditional torch and also what appears to be a machine gun.

The image is titled, “The Goddess of Violence,” with another line of text warning that democracy and freedom is “being thrown away.”

But the researchers say there are clear signs the image was produced using AI, including the presence of more than five fingers on one of the statue’s hands. 

In any case, the early evidence is that the efforts are working.

“This relatively high-quality visual content has already drawn higher levels of engagement from authentic social media users,” according to a Microsoft report issued along with the blog post.

“Users have more frequently reposted these visuals, despite common indicators of AI-generation,” the report added.

Additionally, the Microsoft report says China is having Chinese state media employees masquerade as “as independent social media influencers.”

These influencers, who appear across most Western social media sites, tend to push out both lifestyle content and also propaganda aimed at localized audiences.

Microsoft reports the influencers have so far built a following of at least 103 million people in 40 languages.

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Japan Launches Rocket Carrying Lunar Lander, X-Ray Telescope

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Japan launched a rocket Thursday carrying an X-ray telescope that will explore the origins of the universe as well as a small lunar lander.

The launch of the HII-A rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan was shown on live video by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA.

“We have a liftoff,” the narrator at JAXA said as the rocket flew up in a burst of smoke and then flew over the Pacific.

Thirteen minutes after the launch, the rocket put into orbit around Earth a satellite called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, or XRISM, which will measure the speed and makeup of what lies between galaxies.

That information helps in studying how celestial objects were formed, and hopefully can lead to solving the mystery of how the universe was created, JAXA said.

In cooperation with NASA, JAXA will look at the strength of light at different wavelengths, the temperature of things in space and their shapes and brightness.

David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University, believes the mission is significant for delivering insight into the properties of hot plasma, or the superheated matter that makes up much of the universe.

Plasmas have the potential to be used in various ways, including healing wounds, making computer chips and cleaning the environment.

“Understanding the distribution of this hot plasma in space and time, as well as its dynamical motion, will shed light on diverse phenomena such as black holes, the evolution of chemical elements in the universe and the formation of galactic clusters,” Alexander said.

Also aboard the latest Japanese rocket is the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, a lightweight lunar lander. The Smart Lander won’t make lunar orbit for three or four months and would likely attempt a landing early next year, according to the space agency.

The lander successfully separated from the rocket about 45 minutes after the launch and proceeded on its proper track to eventually land on the moon. JAXA workers applauded and bowed with each other from their observation facility.

JAXA is developing “pinpoint landing technology” to prepare for future lunar probes and landing on other planets. While landings now tend to be off by about 10 kilometers (6 miles) or more, the Smart Lander is designed to be more precise, within about 100 meters (330 feet) of the intended target, JAXA official Shinichiro Sakai told reporters ahead of the launch.

That allows the box-shaped gadgetry to find a safer place to land.

The move comes at a time when the world is again turning to the challenge of going to the moon. Only four nations have successfully landed on the moon, the U.S., Russia, China and India.

Last month, India landed a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole. That came just days after Russia failed in its attempt to return to the moon for the first time in nearly a half century. A Japanese private company, called ispace, crashed a lander in trying to land on the moon in April.

Japan’s space program has been marred by recent failures. In February, the H3 rocket launch was aborted for a glitch. Liftoff a month later succeeded, but the rocket had to be destroyed after its second stage failed to ignite properly.

Japan has started recruiting astronaut candidates for the first time in 13 years, making clear its ambitions to send a Japanese to the moon.

Going to the moon has fascinated humankind for decades. Under the U.S. Apollo program, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969.

The last NASA human mission to the moon was in 1972, and the focus on sending humans to the moon appeared to wane, with missions being relegated to robots.

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What Is Green Hydrogen and Why Is It Touted as a Clean Fuel?

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Green hydrogen is being touted around the world as a clean energy solution to take the carbon out of high-emitting sectors like transport and industrial manufacturing.

The India-led International Solar Alliance launched the Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre earlier this year, and India itself approved $2.3 billion for the production, use and export of green hydrogen. Global cooperation on green hydrogen manufacturing and supply is expected to be discussed by G20 leaders at this week’s summit in New Delhi.

What is green hydrogen?

Hydrogen is produced by separating that element from others in molecules where hydrogen occurs. For example, water — well known by its chemical symbol of H20, or two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom — can be split into those component atoms through electrolysis.

Hydrogen has been produced and used at scale for over a century, primarily to make fertilizers and plastics and to refine oil. It has mostly been produced using fossil fuels, especially natural gas.

But when the production is powered by renewable energy, the resulting hydrogen is green hydrogen.

The global market for green hydrogen is expected to reach $410 billion by 2030, according to analysts, which would more than double its current market size.

However, critics say the fuel is not always viable at scale and its “green” credentials are determined by the source of energy used to produce it.

What can green hydrogen be used for?

Green hydrogen can have a variety of uses in industries such as steelmaking, concrete production and manufacturing chemicals and fertilizers. It can also be used to generate electricity, as a fuel for transport and to heat homes and offices. Today, hydrogen is primarily used in refining petrol and manufacturing fertilizers. While petrol would have no use in a fossil fuel-free world, emissions from making fertilizer — essential to grow crops that feed the world — can be reduced by using green hydrogen.

Francisco Boshell, an energy analyst at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is optimistic about green hydrogen’s role in the transition to clean energy, especially in cases where energy from renewables like solar and wind can’t practically be stored and used via battery — like aviation, shipping and some industrial processes.

He said hydrogen’s volatility — it is highly flammable and requires special pipelines for safe transport — means most green hydrogen will likely be used close to where it is made.

Are there doubts about green hydrogen?

That flammability plus transport issues limit hydrogen’s use in “dispersed applications” such as residential heating, according to a report by the Energy Transitions Commission, a coalition of energy leaders committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. It also is less efficient than direct electrification as some energy is lost when renewables are converted to hydrogen and then the hydrogen is converted again to power, the report said.

That report noted strong potential for hydrogen as an alternative to batteries for energy storage at large scale and for long periods.

Other studies have questioned the high cost of production, investment risks, greater need for water than other clean power and the lack of international standards that hinders a global market.

Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who also sits on New York’s Climate Action Council, said green hydrogen is being oversold in part due to lobbying by the oil and gas industry.

Boshell, of the International Renewable Energy Agency, disagreed. His organization has projected hydrogen demand will grow to 550 million tons by 2050, up from the current 100 million tons.

The International Renewable Energy Agency says production of hydrogen is responsible for around 830 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Boshell said just replacing this so-called gray hydrogen — hydrogen produced from fossil fuels — would ensure a long-term market for green hydrogen.

“The first thing we have to do is start replacing the existing demand for gray hydrogen,” he said. “And then we can add additional demand and applications of green hydrogen as a fuel for industries, shipping and aviation.”

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