Amazon Says Trump’s ‘Improper Pressure’ Doomed Pentagon Bid

Amazon says President Donald Trump’s “improper pressure” and behind-the-scenes attacks harmed its chances of winning a $10 billion Pentagon contract.The Pentagon awarded the cloud computing contract to Microsoft in October. Amazon argues in a lawsuit unsealed Monday the decision should be revisited because of “substantial and pervasive errors” and Trump’s interference. 

Uber Reports More Than 3,000 Sexual Assaults in US in 2018

Uber, as part of a long-anticipated safety report, revealed that more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported during its U.S. rides in 2018.That figure includes 235 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides last year. The ride-hailing company noted that drivers and riders were both attacked and that some assaults occurred between riders.The Thursday report, which the company hailed as the first of its kind, provides a rare look into the traffic deaths, homicides and reported sexual assaults that took place during billions of rides arranged in the U.S. using Uber’s service. It is part of the company’s effort to be more transparent after years of criticism over its safety record.In 2017, the company counted 2,936 reported sexual assaults, including 229 rapes, during 1 billion U.S. trips. Uber bases its numbers on reports from riders and drivers, meaning the actual numbers could be much higher. Sexual assaults commonly go unreported.“I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted about the report. “Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right.”Uber, Lyft criticizedUber’s share price dropped more than 1% in after-hours trading.Uber and competitor Lyft have faced harsh criticism for not doing enough to protect the safety of their riders and drivers. Dozens of women are suing Lyft, claiming the company should have done more to protect them from driver assaults.London refused to renew Uber’s license to operate in the city in November in light of a number of company safety issues, including concerns about impostor drivers. Uber said it will appeal the decision.The companies have both formed partnerships with sexual assault prevention networks and other safety groups, and have touted their background check policies for drivers. But many say they haven’t gone far enough to protect passengers and drivers, who are contract workers for the companies.“Keeping this information in the dark doesn’t make anyone safer,” Uber said in a statement announcing the report. It plans to release its safety report every two years going forward.Lyft yet to release reportLyft said last year it would also release a safety report. A company spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that it “remained committed” to releasing a report, but did not say when it would be released.Mike Bomberger, a lawyer representing more than 100 victims of sexual assault in lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, applauded Uber for releasing the numbers.“One of the problems with both of these companies is that they have hidden and have tried to conceal the number of sexual assaults that occur in their vehicles,” he said.The report stated that Uber rides were involved in 97 reported crashes in 2017 and 2018, resulting in 107 deaths. The company said the figure represents about half of the national rate for fatal crashes.The company also said Uber rides were involved in nine homicides during 2018, and 10 during 2017. Uber noted that the vast majority — 99.9% — of its rides had no reported safety issues.

When Did You Last See an African Video Game Hero? 

What’s wrong with being a plucky hero running from demon monkeys or a glamorous model in dress up games? Players too often get sucked into worlds full of violence and unhealthy body images, according to Jay Shapiro, co-founder of Kenya-based Usiku Games.The Canadian entrepreneur hopes to shake up the games market in Kenya — and Africa — by offering not only the “adrenaline rush” of competing to win, but also subtle messaging on relatable themes like conservation, climate change and culture.“When was the last time you saw an African hero in a video game?” Shapiro asked ahead of the Dec. 14 official opening of Usiku Games offices and the Nairobi Game Development Center, a high-tech co-working space also created by Shapiro.“We looked at how can we make games that are unlike what’s out there at the moment. That are made in Africa, for Africa, with African heroes in African environments … so that when somebody plays it, they see themselves reflected in the game.””Turkana,” a video game by Usiku Games, allows players to direct water from Kawalasee River to a farm.10 games so farUsiku Games has so far developed 10 brain-teasing and trivia games for Africa’s mobile phone users aimed at fostering a #GamingForGood culture, with scenarios where the player has to save lions from poachers or solve traffic congestion.The game “Turkana” — named after Kenya’s arid northwestern county — allows players to direct water from the Kawalasee River to a farm while in “Jam Noma” they get to drive a local matatu minibus and navigate congestion to complete the journey.The company, which has 16 staff, also employs youths from Nairobi’s Kibera, a sprawling informal settlement housing more than 200,000 people, to provide the voices and produce the rap music for the games in English, Swahili and local slang, Sheng.”Jam Noma,” a video game from Usiku Games allows players to drive a local matatu minibus and navigate congestion.Positive messagesOther games the company is developing including “Seedballs” a reforestation game where the player has to drop seeds at targets on the ground, and “BeYOUtiful,” which is a dress up game for girls with African characters.“These dress up games for preteen girls are very popular, but everyone in them has a white woman in her 20s with ‘Barbiesque’ curves that are impossible to attain,” said Shapiro.“If I’m a little Kenyan girl playing this game, the game is subliminally telling me that the standard for beauty is this blonde, white, skinny woman. We think that’s wrong.”The games are currently free but Usiku Games plans to charge users about 10 shillings ($0.10) to play a game in future, with the winner earning coins, some of which can be converted to cash in a mobile savings account to pay school or medical fees.“It’s great Usiku Games is focusing on socially responsible bite-sized games,” said Gautam Shah, founder of Internet of Elephants, which makes conservation games, adding that most popular games focus on subject matter that is far from Africa.“I think their success will rely on how relatable these games are to local users.”

Emotion-sensing Robot Heads to Space Station to Help Astronauts

An intelligent robot equipped with emotion-sensing voice detectors was headed to the International Space Station after launching from Florida on Thursday, becoming the latest artificial intelligence-powered astronaut workmate in orbit.The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion 2, or CIMON 2, is a spherical droid with microphones, cameras and a slew of software to enable emotion recognition.The droid was among 5,700 pounds (2,585 kg) of supplies and experiments aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, whose midday launch had been delayed from Wednesday because of high winds.WATCH: ‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass
‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass video player.
Embed” />Copy LinkCreate a companion“The overall goal is to really create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important,” Matthias Biniok, the lead architect for CIMON 2, told Reuters. “It’s trying to understand if the astronaut is sad, is he angry, joyful and so on.”Based on algorithms built by information technology giant IBM Corp and data from CIMON 1, a nearly identical prototype that launched in 2018, CIMON 2 will be more sociable with crew members. It will test technologies that could prove crucial for future crewed missions in deep space, where long-term isolation and communication lags to Earth pose risks to astronauts’ mental health.While designed to help astronauts conduct scientific experiments, the English-speaking robot is also being trained to help mitigate groupthink — a behavioral phenomenon in which isolated groups of humans can be driven to make irrational decisions.“Group-thinking is really dangerous,” Biniok said. In times of conflict or disagreement among astronauts, one of CIMON’s most important purposes would be to serve as “an objective outsider that you can talk to if you’re alone, or could actually help let the group collaborate again,” he said.Inspired by Professor Simon, HALEngineers have said CIMON’s concept was inspired by a 1940s science fiction comic series set in space, where a sentient, brain-shaped robot named Professor Simon mentors an astronaut named Captain Future. CIMON 2 also parallels HAL, the sentient computer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” film.SpaceX is the first private company to fly to the space station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations. Along with CIMON 2, the cargo aboard its 19th resupply mission to the orbital research lab included 40 live mice that will show scientists how muscles change in the microgravity of space.

Phone-in-Cheek: Spike Seen in Cellphone-Linked Face Injuries

Add facial cuts, bruises and fractures to the risks from cellphones and carelessly using them.
That’s according to a study published Thursday that found a spike in U.S. emergency room treatment for these mostly minor injuries.
The research was led by a facial plastic surgeon whose patients include a woman who broke her nose when she dropped her phone on her face. Dr. Boris Paskhover of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School said his experience treating patients with cellphone injuries prompted him to look into the problem.
Paskhover and others analyzed 20 years of emergency room data and found an increase in cellphone injuries starting after 2006, around the time when the first smartphones were introduced.
Some injuries were caused by phones themselves, including people getting hit by a thrown phone. But Paskhover said many were caused by distracted use including texting while walking, tripping and landing face-down on the sidewalk.
Most patients in the study weren’t hospitalized, but the researchers said the problem should be taken seriously.
The study involved cases in a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission database that collects emergency room visit information from about 100 hospitals. The researchers tallied 2,500 patients with cellphone-related head and neck injuries from 1998 through 2017.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology.
Nationwide, they estimated there were about 76,000 people injured during that time. Annual cases totaled fewer than 2,000 until 2006, but increased steeply after that. About 40% of those injured were ages 13 to 29, and many were hurt while walking, texting or driving.
Cellphone use also has been linked with repetitive strain injuries in the hands and neck, and injuries to other parts of the body caused by distracted use.
“I love my smartphone,” Paskhover said, but he added that it’s easy to get too absorbed and avoiding injury requires common sense.
“People wouldn’t walk around reading a magazine,” he said. “Be careful.”

Apple Buys First-ever Carbon-free Aluminum From Alcoa-Rio Tinto Venture

Apple Inc on Thursday said it has bought the first-ever commercial batch of carbon-free aluminum from a joint venture between two of the world’s biggest aluminum suppliers.The metal is being made by Elysis, a Montreal-based joint venture of Alcoa Corp and Rio Tinto announced last year with $144 million in funding from the two companies, Apple and the governments of Canada and Quebec.The aluminum will be shipped this month from an Alcoa research facility in Pittsburgh and used in Apple products, although the technology company did not say which ones.Aluminum is carbon-intensive to produce. The smelting process involves passing electrical current through a large block of carbon called an anode, which burns off during the process and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.The carbon-free move is a response to consumer, activist and investor demand that miners and manufacturers show they are working to lessen their impact on climate change.“For more than 130 years, aluminum – a material common to so many products consumers use daily – has been produced the same way. That’s about to change,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said in a statement.Apple uses aluminum housings for many of its electronics, including iPhones, Apple Watches and Mac computers. Apple last year introduced Mac models that use recycled aluminum.The Alcoa-Rio joint venture wants to commercialize a technology by 2024 that uses a ceramic anode to make aluminum and emits only oxygen, eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process.Alcoa has already produced test metal with the process and joined with Rio Tinto to bring it up to commercial scale. Elysis plans to license the technology and says that existing smelting facilities can be retrofitted to use it.The first batch was made in Pittsburgh, but Elysis also plans to manufacture it at a $50 million CAD research facility being built in Saguenay, Quebec, and that is expected to come online in the second half of 2020.Apple and Elysis would not disclose the size or cost of the first purchase. They described it as a “commercial batch,” and Elysis said the process is expected to have lower operating costs than traditional aluminum smelting.

US, UK Officials Announce Charges Against 2 Russian Hackers

U.S. and British law enforcement officials announced charges against two notorious Russian hackers, accusing them of engaging in a decade-long crime spree that resulted in tens of millions of dollars in losses to victims around the world.Maksim Yakubets, 32, and Igor Turashev, 37, were key figures in a Russian hacking group known as “Evil Corp,” using malicious software to steal more than $100 million from hundreds of banks and financial institutions in more than 40 countries, officials said.Yakubets and Turashev were indicted in the Western District of Pennsylvania on ten counts of conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud and bank fraud in connection with distributing the “Bugat” malware to steal banking credentials and other personal information from infected computers.  Yakubets, who went by the online moniker “aqua,” was also charged in London with a long-running conspiracy to carry out widespread computer intrusions using the “Zeus” malware and stealing millions of dollars from banks in the United States and elsewhere.”These two cases demonstrate our commitment to unmasking the perpetrators behind the world’s most egregious cyberattacks,” assistant attorney general Brian A. Benczkowski, said at a press conference at the Justice Department.The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the hacking group.
“This coordinated action is intended to disrupt the massive phishing campaigns orchestrated by this Russian-based hacker group,” said Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury.Bugat, also known as Cridex and Dridex, was designed to “defeat” antivirus software and other protective measures deployed by victim computers, according to a 10-count grand jury indictment returned in the Western District of Pennsylvania.  The indictment alleges that Yakubets and Turashev used stolen banking credentials to make unauthorized money transfers from victim accounts using “money mules” to move the funds overseas.  Their victims included two banks, a school district and four companies, including a petroleum business and a firearm manufacturer. Yakubets is identified in the indictment as the leader of the Bugat conspiracy.Both men remain at large.The U.S. State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Yakubets.”Combating cybercrime remains a top national security priority for the United States,” said James Walsh, a senior State Department official.  Rob Jones, a senior official with Britain’s National Crime Agency, said at the press conference that law enforcement had been on the trails of Yakubets and Turashev for years.”I’m pleased to see the real world identity of Yakubets and his associate Turashev revealed,” Jones said.He said the two men have been responsible for “losses and attempted losses” of hundreds of millions of dollars.”This is not a victimless crime, those losses were once people’s life savings, now emptied from their bank accounts,” Jones said.   

China’s Huawei Sues to Allow Rural Carriers to Buy its Equipment

Chinese telecom giant Huawei has filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court to throw out a Trump administration rule that bans phone carriers in rural areas from using money from an $8.5 billion government fund to purchase Huawei’s equipment.The lawsuit says the Federal Communications Commission acted improperly when it imposed the ban last month on Huawei and its domestic rival ZTE, citing national security concerns.At a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen Thursday, Song Liuping, Huawei’s chief legal counsel, said the FCC made its decision without any evidence that Huawei posed a national security threat.This is the second lawsuit filed by Huawei to combat U.S. government claims that it presents a threat to U.S. national security. The company first filed suit in March challenging the legality of a law passed by the U.S. Congress last year that bars government agencies and contractors from doing business with the tech giant.Huawei is also involved in a separate legal fight involving Meng Wanzhou, its chief financial officer and the daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei. Meng was arrested in Canada last December on a U.S. warrant seeking her extradition to face charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.The United States and others worry that technology companies located in countries with governments like China’s could be subject to state influence, making the networks insecure. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May that bars American companies from using telecommunications equipment that is made by companies that pose a national security risk.But the administration has since granted a series of limited reprieves so Huawei can continue to provide equipment to carriers that provide wireless networks in rural areas.