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Huawei, ZTE Banned by Sweden From Upcoming 5G Networks

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 October 2020

Swedish regulators on Tuesday banned the use of telecom equipment from China’s Huawei and ZTE in its 5G network ahead of the spectrum auction scheduled for next month.

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) said the setting of the licence conditions followed assessments by the Swedish Armed Forces and the Swedish Security Service.

European governments have been reviewing the role of Chinese companies in building their networks following pressure from the United States, which says they pose a security threat because, among other concerns, Chinese companies and citizens must by law aid the state in intelligence gathering.

The United Kingdom in July ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, becoming one of the first European countries to do so.

Huawei and ZTE did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision by Sweden.

PTS said companies taking part in the auction must remove Huawei and ZTE gear from existing central functions by January 1, 2025.

The regulator defined central functions as equipment used to build the radio access network, the transmission network, the core network and the service and maintenance of the network.

PTS said the licence conditions were decided to address the assessments made by the armed forces and security service.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

Science

Google Sister Firm DeepMind’s AI Cracks Protein-Folding Problem, Heralds New Age of Bioengineering, Medicine

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 December 2020

For decades scientists have been trying to figure out how to swiftly predict the twisting, tangled shape of proteins, and from there unravel a greater understanding of the machinery of life itself.

This week an Artificial Intelligence programme created by Google sister firm DeepMind was shown to have virtually cracked the challenge, forecasting the way in which proteins contort into three dimensional structures in the results of a biannual competition that judges hailed as a game changer.

“In some sense the problem is solved,” said John Moult, a computational biologist at the University of Maryland who co-founded the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP) competition in 1994, quoted by the journal Nature.

Janet Thornton of the European Bioinformatics Institute said in a statement from the competition organisers on Monday that the work to solve the problem was a “triumph of human curiosity, endeavour and intelligence”.

“A better understanding of protein structures and the ability to predict them using a computer means a better understanding of life, evolution and, of course, human health and disease,” said Thornton, who is not affiliated with CASP or DeepMind.

The cells of all living beings contain thousands of proteins, workhorses that catalyse most chemical reactions in the body.

They are essential to life, from muscle function to carrying oxygen in the blood, and are also the key to diseases like cancer and even COVID-19.

A protein begins as a strand of amino acids, which then crumples into a unique three-dimensional tangle.

It is this shape that directly relates to its function.

Scientists have puzzled for half a century over how to accurately and quickly predict which formation, out of an unfathomably large number of possibilities, a protein might take by looking at its amino acid chain, a process that may take years in the laboratory.

The CASP contest involved around 100 teams who were given the amino acid sequences for dozens of proteins and tasked with estimating their final shapes, which were known to the organisers.

DeepMind, whose programme AlphaGo stunned the world in 2016 by beating an elite human player in the complex strategy game “Go,” was already at the top of the field in the last contest in 2018.

This time its AlphaFold programme determined the shape of many of the proteins “to a level of accuracy comparable to that achieved with expensive and time-consuming lab experiments”, according to the CASP organisers.

‘This changes medicine’

Andrei Lupas, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology who was part of the assessment team, told Nature that AlphaFold had helped him determine the structure of a protein that his lab had been trying to pin down for a decade.

“This will change medicine. It will change research. It will change bioengineering. It will change everything,” he told Nature.

Derek Lowe, who writes about drug discovery and the pharma industry for Science Translational Medicine, described protein folding as like “watching piles of hinged lumber spontaneously restack themselves into functional boats, wagons and treehouses”.

He said the AlphaFold results did not mean the programme would consistently come up with the right protein structure.

“But getting that level of structural accuracy on that many varied proteins is something that has just never been done before.”

DeepMind said it was looking at how the programme might help increase knowledge of certain diseases, for example to identify whether a protein has malfunctioned.

“These insights could enable more precise work on drug development, complementing existing experimental methods to find promising treatments faster,” it said in a statement.

The firm added that it was working to produce a peer-reviewed paper and was “exploring how best to provide broader access to the system”.

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China’s Chang’e 5 Spacecraft Lands on Moon to Bring Rocks Back to Earth for the First Time Since 1970s

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By Associated Press | Updated: 2 December 2020

A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced.

The China National Space Administration said Chang’e 5 “successfully landed” at its designated site shortly after 11pm (8:30pm Tuesday IST) Tuesday after making a powered descent from its orbiter. It published images of the barren scene at the landing site, including where the lander’s shadow can be seen.

The lander was launched November 24 from the tropical southern island of Hainan. It is the latest venture by a Chinese space programme that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

Plans call for the lander to spend about two days drilling into the lunar surface and collecting 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and debris. The sample will be lifted up into orbit and transferred to a return capsule for the trip to Earth, setting down on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia around the middle of the month.

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since a Soviet probe in the 1970s. Those samples are expected to be made available to scientists from other nations, although its unclear how much access NASA will have, given tight US government restrictions on space cooperation with China.

From the rocks and debris, scientists hope to learn more about the moon, including its precise age, as well as increased knowledge about other bodies in our solar system. Collecting samples, including from asteroids, is an increasing focus of many space programmes and China’s mastery of the technology once again places it among the leading nations operating in space.

US astronauts with NASA’s Apollo space programme brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar samples from 1969 to 1972, some of which is still being analysed and experimented on.

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the moon’s little-explored far side. Chinese space program officials have said they envision future crewed missions along with robotic ones, including possibly building some sort of permanent space base for conducting research. No timeline or other details have been announced.

The latest flight includes collaboration with the European Space Agency, which is helping to monitor the mission.

China’s space programme has proceeded more cautiously than the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States. It also launched a crewed space station.

China, along with neighbors Japan and India, also has joined the growing race to explore Mars. The Tianwen 1 probe launched in July is on its way to the red planet carrying a lander and a rover to search for water.

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Internet

Amazon, Blackberry Team Up to Create Cloud-Based Vehicle Software Platform IVY

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 December 2020

BlackBerry and Amazon on Tuesday announced an alliance to create a cloud computing platform that cars could link to for services and insights based on data from vehicles and users..

Word of plans for an Intelligent Vehicle Data Platform called IVY synching cars wirelessly to computing power at Amazon Web Services caused shares in Canada-based company to rev more than 50 percent to nearly nine dollars.

“BlackBerry and AWS share a common vision to provide automakers and developers with better insights so that they can deliver new services to consumers,” BlackBerry chief executive John Chen said in a joint release.

IVY is intended to be a cloud-connected software platform that could be used by any car maker to analyze sensor data in real-time and give drivers useful information.

Modern cars and trucks are built with thousands of parts from an array of suppliers, typically with proprietary hardware and software involved, the companies noted.

The vision is for the platform to quickly make sense of all that data for drivers, while also serving as a platform for additional apps or services from developers.

Car makers have “almost zero software skills,” and IVY promises to be a secure, cost-effective platform for them to tap into cloud computing power, Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said in a note to investors.

The jointly operated software will run on car or truck systems, but will be managed remotely from the cloud, according to Amazon.

Examples of potential capabilities included IVY spotting dangerous road conditions such as ice or heavy traffic and prompt drivers to take safety measures.

Drivers of electric vehicles could share battery information with charging networks to reserve charging slots along routes, and parents could get sensor data regarding their teen-agers’ driving, the companies said,

“AWS and BlackBerry are making it possible for any automaker to continuously reinvent the customer experience and transform vehicles from fixed pieces of technology into systems that can grow and adapt with a user’s needs and preferences,” said AWS chief executive Andy Jassy.

BlackBerry has shifted gears to concentrate on software and services since being dethroned in the mobile phone market more than a decade ago by touchscreen phones powered by Apple or Android software.

The BlackBerry keyboard is to live on in a new 5G smartphone planned for release next year from Texas-based OnwardMobility.

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Internet

Amazon Web Services Taps Own Arm-Based Chips for New Supercomputing Offering

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2020

Amazon’s cloud unit on Tuesday offered a new supercomputing service based on its self-designed processors, a further sign of how chips based on Arm’s technology are encroaching on Intel and Advanced Micro Devices turf.

Amazon Web Services, or AWS, sells its computing services based on the customer’s choice of an underlying central processor chip. Software developers have traditionally chosen between Intel or AMD products, but since 2018 Amazon has also offered its own Graviton chips designed with technology from Arm, which is in the midst of a $40 billion (roughly Rs. 2,93,600 crores) takeover by Nvidia.

Arm-based chips have long powered mobile phones because they can operate on very low power levels, but they are increasingly used in data centers where their power efficiency helps control costs. The world’s fastest computing system, the Fugaku supercomputer in Japan, is based on Arm chips.

Supercomputing helps with tasks such as weather forecasting, medical research and modeling aerodynamics for cars without a wind tunnel. But systems remain expensive and mostly operated by governments and research centers.

AWS is hoping to slash costs, saying the new service will get 40 percent better price-to-performance than its similar offerings from AMD and Intel. AWS’s own technology will quickly pass data through multiple Graviton processors, a key supercomputing process in which many chips act as a hive mind to tackle a large task. AWS will rent the service out so that researchers need not build or manage a system.

Supercomputing “is no longer this thing that only governments do,” Dave Brown, vice president of Elastic Compute Cloud at AWS, said in an interview. “You can decrease the cost – you don’t need a supercomputer any more. You can spin them up in the cloud and then spin them down.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Oversight Board Begins Daunting Task on Content Disputes

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 December 2020

Facebook’s “supreme court” tasked with deciding on allowing or removing sensitive and harmful content has begun operations, with a backlog of some 20,000 cases already piling up for the expert panel.

The independent panel, formally known as the Facebook Oversight Board, is considering cases involving Nazi propaganda, hate speech, nudity, pandemic misinformation, and dangerous individuals or organisations.

The board, created at the urging of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with the authority to overrule him and other top executives, said it is prioritising cases that have “potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies.”

Facebook has agreed to be bound by decisions on appeals, but rulings will only apply to cases at issue and will not set precedents.

But Julie Owono, a board member and the executive director of Paris-based digital rights group Internet Sans Frontieres, said she hopes the board can help establish “jurisprudence” which could set broader standards on content decisions.

Emotion trumps truth?
The board has steered clear of complaints directly related to misleading or disproven claims posted by US President Donald Trump or other high-profile figures commenting on the election.

It is, however, considering an appeal of a decision to remove a post crediting Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels with opining on the need to appeal to emotions and instincts instead of intellect and interest in the truth.

“The user indicated in their appeal to the Oversight Board that the quote is important as the user considers the current US presidency to be following a fascist model,” a summary of the appeal said.

Another appeal being considered regards removal of a screenshot of tweets by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that contended “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.”

The person making the appeal contends it was meant to raise awareness about his “horrible words,” according to the board.

Breast cancer awareness
Six of the more than 20,000 appeals submitted to the board in October were selected for consideration, with one of the petitions made by the leading social network and the remaining five by users, according to a blog post.

An appeal out of Brazil challenged a decision to remove Instagram pictures of breasts showing cancer symptoms because they also revealed more nudity than is allowed by Facebook rules.

The Instagram photos were shared as part of a “Pink October” campaign for the prevention of breast cancer, according to the appeal.

The panel has also agreed to review a post in a group claiming the unproven combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin is a cure for COVID-19.

Each appeal case has been assigned to a five-member panel that includes at least one member from the region implicated in the content, according to the board.

Decisions and action by Facebook in response to them were expected within 90 days.

The board is taking public comment on cases in an effort to tap into expertise of individuals or organizations on related topics.

The idea for the panel was first proposed by Zuckerberg in 2018, as an independent body which could overrule decisions made by the company regarding what posts stay up and which come down.

Members come from various countries and include jurists, human rights activists, journalists, a Nobel peace laureate and a former Danish prime minister.

Facebook, which has set up an independent foundation to operate the board, said it has been working on software that allows members to review cases from anywhere in the world.

Critics of the social network have expressed skepticism regarding about the oversight board and whether Facebook will comply with content decisions that could curb use and, by extension, advertisement revenue.

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Internet

Facebook-Backed Digital Coin Libra Renamed Diem to Gain Regulatory Approval

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2020 09:57 IST

Facebook-backed cryptocurrency Libra has been rebranded “Diem” in a renewed effort to gain regulatory approval by stressing the project’s independence.

Plans for Libra, first floated by Facebook last year, were slimmed-down in April after regulators and central banks raised concerns it could upend financial stability, erode control over monetary policy and threaten privacy.

Tuesday’s name switch is part of a move to emphasise a simpler, revamped structure, Stuart Levey, CEO of the Geneva-based Diem Association behind the planned digital coin, said.

“The original name was tied to an early iteration of the project that received a difficult reception from regulators. We have dramatically changed that proposition,” Levey told Reuters.

Diem, which means “day” in Latin, now aims to initially launch a single dollar-backed digital coin, he added.

He declined to comment on timing for the launch, which the Financial Times reported last week could be as early as January, saying only that it would only go ahead after approval by the Swiss markets watchdog.

Facebook, which changed the name of its payments unit Calibra to Novi Financial in May, remains one of 27 members of the Diem Association, formerly the Libra Association. Novi’s head, David Marcus, is one of Diem’s five board members.

“They are a critically-important member of the association,” said Levey of Facebook’s continuing involvement.

“We are not trying to cut all ties, by any stretch. It (the name change) is to signify that the association is operating autonomously and independently,” he added.

Diem aims to set itself apart from others by its focus on aspects of concern to regulators and western governments, including sanction controls and financial crime, Levey said.

The project has said it would develop policies on anti-money laundering, terrorist financing and sanctions compliance and has ditched earlier plans to allow anyone to join its network.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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