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Social Networks

Some of the Biggest Economies Aren't a Big User Of Social Media (axios.com) 76

From a report: Only 37 percent of Germans use social media, according to a new Pew survey, a surprising figure given the fact that Germany is the world's fourth-largest economy by GDP, according to the World Economic Forum. Similar patterns follow for Japan, France and Italy, ranked 3rd, 6th and 8th in largest economy by GDP.
Japan

The Great Japan Potato-Chip Crisis: Panic Buying, $12 Bags (bloomberg.com) 110

Demand for potato chips has surged in Japan this week, with products on offer for 6 times their retail price online after Japanese snack company Calbee halted the sale of some of its most popular chip brands. From a report: Calbee's pizza-flavored chips were going for about 1,250 yen ($12) on Yahoo Japan Corp.'s auction website Friday. One bag usually sells for less than 200 yen. Photos of near-empty shelves at their local supermarkets were trending on Twitter. The crunch came after Calbee warned on Monday that it will temporarily halt the sale of 15 types of potato chips due to a bad crop in Hokkaido, a key potato-producing region. The northern island was hit by a record number of typhoons last year. Calbee, which has a market value of 507.9 billion yen and is 20 percent-owned by PepsiCo Inc., has a 73 percent market share of potato chips. Potato chips are a big deal in Japan, a country also known for its senbei rice crackers and Pocky sticks. Calbee's potato-snack products were the most and second-most popular snacks in a TV Asahi poll of 10,000 people and 13 confectionery makers last year, and the subject of a primetime show that lasted more than two hours.
Businesses

Apple May Invest Billions of Dollars In Toshiba's Memory Chip Business (bloomberg.com) 27

Toshiba shares recovered after Japan's national broadcaster reported that Apple is considering an investment of several billion dollars in its semiconductor unit, raising the prospect that the struggling electronics conglomerate will get a much-needed cash infusion. From a report: Toshiba has put its memory chips business up for sale to make up for a writedown of 716.6 billion yen ($6.56 billion) in its U.S. nuclear equipment operations. One option being considered is an investment accompanied by Toshiba holding shares, so that a majority of the semiconductor unit will be held by U.S. and Japanese interests, satisfying the respective governments, NHK said.
Robotics

Japan Automakers Look To Robots To Keep Elderly On the Move (reuters.com) 40

Japanese automakers are looking beyond the industry trend to develop self-driving cars and turning their attention to robots to help keep the country's rapidly graying society on the move. From a report: Toyota said it saw the possibility of becoming a mass producer of robots to help the elderly in a country whose population is ageing faster than the rest of the world as the birthrate decreases. The country's changing demographics place its automakers in a unique situation. Along with the issues usually associated with falling populations such as labor shortages and pension squeezes, Japan also faces dwindling domestic demand for cars. Toyota, the world's second largest automaker, made its first foray into commercializing rehabilitation robots on Wednesday, launching a rental service for its walk assist system, which helps patients to learn how to walk again after suffering strokes and other conditions.
Privacy

'Extreme Vetting' Would Require Visitors To US To Share Contacts, Passwords (theguardian.com) 505

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration is considering whether or not to deploy "extreme vetting" practices at airports around the world, which could force tourists from Britain and other countries visiting the U.S. to reveal their mobile phone contacts, social media passwords and financial data. "Travelers who want to enter the U.S. could also face questioning over their ideology, as Washington moves away from a default position of allowing people in to a more skeptical approach to visitors," reports The Guardian. From the report: Trump made the "extreme vetting" of foreign nationals to combat terrorism a major theme of his presidential election campaign. But his executive order imposing a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries has twice been blocked in court. Media reports suggest it has already hurt the tourism industry. The changes might include visitors from the 38 countries -- the UK, France, Australia and Japan among them -- that participate in the visa waiver program, which requires adherence to strict U.S. standards in data sharing, passport control and other factors, one senior official told the Journal. This could require people to hand over their phones so officials can study their stored contacts and possibly other information. The aim is to "figure out who you are communicating with," a senior Department of Homeland Security official was quoted as saying. "What you can get on the average person's phone can be invaluable." A second change would ask applicants for their social media handles and passwords, so that officials could see information posted privately in addition to public posts, the Journal said. The Journal report said the DHS official working on the review said questions under consideration included whether visa applicants believe in so-called honor killings, how they view the treatment of women in society, whether they value the "sanctity of human life" and who they view as a legitimate target in a military operation.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Becomes Legal Payment Option In Japan, Prices Spike (investopedia.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Investopedia: A bill to amend Japan's Banking Act has finally come to fruition, recognizing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as legal tender. The bill has far-reaching repercussions for the digital currency world as well as the way that cryptocurrencies can be traded and exchanged. The Banking Act was modified after a long process of debate and dialog which saw proponents of digital currencies arguing on their behalf. Now, after months of discussion, the bill has come into effect as of the beginning of April. Section 3 of the bill has been modified to including wording on virtual currency and is being called the Virtual Currency Act, according to reporting by Brave New Coin. Digital currencies like Bitcoin have finally received definition and recognition as a means of payment by the Japanese government. The Banking Act's Payment Services Act has also moved to define a digital currency as "property of value," meaning that it is usable for payment in the broader marketplace and that it may be bought or sold. At the same time, the Japanese bill distinguishes between digital currencies like Bitcoin and "electronic money." Digital currency, in this case, is not issued by a specific entity and may be used by any accepting individual, while electronic money can be linked to a specific issuer and can only be used by that issuer or persons specified by the issuer. Along with the recognition of Bitcoin and other digital currencies is the stipulation that profits from trading of those currencies may be considered as "income from business activities or miscellaneous income." This makes Bitcoin subject to various taxes, including capital gains tax.
Businesses

Westinghouse Files For Bankruptcy, In Blow To Nuclear Power (reuters.com) 251

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Westinghouse Electric Co, a unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, hit by billions of dollars of cost overruns at four nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. Southeast. The bankruptcy casts doubt on the future of the first new U.S. nuclear power plants in three decades, which were scheduled to begin producing power as soon as this week, but are now years behind schedule. The four reactors are part of two projects known as V.C. Summer in South Carolina, which is majority owned by SCANA Corp, and Vogtle in Georgia, which is owned by a group of utilities led by Southern Co. Costs for the projects have soared due to increased safety demands by U.S. regulators, and also due to significantly higher-than-anticipated costs for labor, equipment and components. Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse said it hopes to use bankruptcy to isolate and reorganize around its "very profitable" nuclear fuel and power plant servicing businesses from its money-losing construction operation. Westinghouse said in a court filing it has secured $800 million in financing from Apollo Investment Corp, an affiliate of Apollo Global Management, to fund its core businesses during its reorganization. Westinghouse's nuclear services business is expected to continue to perform profitably over the course of the bankruptcy and eventually be sold by Toshiba, people familiar with the matter said. When regulators in Georgia and South Carolina approved the construction of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactors in 2009, it was meant to be the start of renewed push to develop U.S. nuclear power. However, a flood of cheap natural gas from shale, the lack of U.S. legislation to curb carbon emissions and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan dampened enthusiasm for nuclear power. Toshiba had acquired Westinghouse in 2006 for $5.4 billion. It expected to build dozens of its new AP1000 reactors -- which were hailed as safer, quicker to construct and more compact -- creating a pipeline of work for its maintenance division.
Robotics

US Workers Face A Higher Risk Of Being Replaced By Robots (cnn.com) 285

There's a surprising prediction for the next 15 years from the world's second largest professional services firm. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Millions of workers around the world are at risk of losing their jobs to robots -- but Americans should be particularly worried. Thirty-eight percent of jobs in the U.S. are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, according to a new report by PwC. Meanwhile, only 30% of jobs in the U.K. are similarly endangered. The same level of risk applies to only 21% of positions in Japan.
61% of America's financial service jobs "are at a high risk of being replaced by robots," according to the article, vs. just 32% of the finance jobs in the U.K. (Those U.S. finance jobs tend to be "domestic retail operations" like small-town bank tellers, whereas U.K. finance jobs concentrate more in international finance and investment banking.) The firm's chief economist sees a world where new jobs are more likely to go to higher-skilled workers, and he ultimately predicts "a restructuring of the jobs market... The gap between rich and poor could get even wider."
Power

Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency (arstechnica.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it's just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ) -- that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can't exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders -- Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell's components and collect photons more efficiently.
Android

Android Creator Lost Out On a Big Investment, and Apple May Be To Blame (cnbc.com) 74

Earlier this year, we learned that Andy Rubin, creator of the Android operating system, has built a new company called Essential. The company was reportedly working on a "high-end smartphone with a large edge-to-edge screen that lacks a surrounding bezel." It appears things aren't chugging along so smoothly. From a report: Andy Rubin, a co-creator of Android, lost out on a $100 million investment from SoftBank as Apple deepened ties with the Japanese investor, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. Rubin's company, Essential Products, is reportedly planning to release a new high-end smartphone this spring, and SoftBank planned to market the phone in Japan, the Journal said. But Apple subsequently agreed to commit $1 billion to SoftBank's Vision Fund, a move that "complicated" SoftBank's investment in Essential Products, the Journal reported Monday. Apple did not directly block the deal, the Journal said, though Rubin's premium phone would be released ahead of the highly anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone. The deal was "nearly complete," sources told the Journal.
Robotics

America May Miss Out On the Next Industrial Revolution (theverge.com) 297

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Robots are inevitably going to automate millions of jobs in the U.S. and around the world, but there's an even more complex scenario on the horizon, said roboticist Matt Rendall. In a talk Tuesday at SXSW, Rendall painted a picture of the future of robotic job displacement that focused less on automation and more on the realistic ways in which the robotics industry will reshape global manufacturing. The takeaway was that America, which has outsourced much of its manufacturing and lacks serious investment in industrial robotics, may miss out on the world's next radical shift in how goods are produced. That's because the robot makers -- as in, the robots that make the robots -- could play a key role in determining how automation expands across the globe. As the CEO of manufacturing robotics company Otto Motors, Rendall focuses on building fleets of warehouse bots that could eventually replace the many fulfillment workers who are hired by companies like Amazon. "The robots are coming," Rendall said. "After the Great Recession, there was a fundamental change in people's interest in automation. People started feeling the pain of high-cost labor and there's an appetite for automation that we haven't seen before." While Rendall described himself as one of the optimists, who believes automation will, in the long-term, improve society and help humans live better lives, he said there are changes afoot in the global manufacturing scene that could leave American industries in the dust. "China is tracking to be the No. 1 user in robots used in industrial manufacturing," he said, adding that the country is driving "an overwhelming amount" of growth. The difference, he added, is how China is responding to automation, which is by embracing it instead of shying away from it. This is in stark contrast to industrial advances of the previous century, like Ford's assembly line, that helped transform American industries into the most powerful on the planet.
Security

Hundreds of Verified Twitter Accounts Compromised, Post Swastikas, Pro-Erdogan Content (bloomberg.com) 289

From a report on Bloomberg: At least 25 verified international Twitter accounts (Editor's note: other outlets are saying the number is in hundreds) have posted content supporting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his feud with Germany and the Netherlands, with hashtags reading, in Turkish, "NaziGermany" and "NaziHolland." The accounts that were hacked include international news organizations such as the German newspaper Die Welt, Forbes Magazine, BBC North America, and Reuters Japan. It also targeted the Twitter accounts of the European Parliament, French politicians like Alain Juppe, Sprint Corp's CEO and President Marcelo Claure, among others. Gizmodo adds:It was an incredibly bad week for Dutch-Turkish relations. Turkish voters go to the polls next month on April 16th to decide whether President Erdogan should be given more powers. In the lead up to this vote, Turkish diplomats in the Netherlands had been speaking at Dutch rallies to Turkish ex-pats in support of the referendum. But Dutch officials prevented the Turkish ministers from speaking, causing a dust-up between the two countries. [...] Even where some of the tweets have been deleted, the banner image of the Turkish flag sometimes remains, like on the account for Starbucks Argentina.Twitter said in a statement, "We are aware of an issue affecting a number of account holders this morning. Our teams are working at pace and taking direct action on this issue. We quickly located the source which was limited to a third party app. We removed its permissions immediately."
Google

Google AMP Is Rolling Out For 1 Billion People In Asia-Pacific Region (meshrepublic.com) 48

meshrepublic shares a report: As per the latest announcement, Google AMP is rolling out for 1 billion people in Asia Pacific. Baidu and Sogou, which account for around 90% of the search market in China, made the announcement on the opening day of the first AMP developer conference which is taking place in New York. Also, Yahoo Japan will connect to AMP pages from their Search results. This will bring all the benefits of AMP to their 58m daily users in Japan. With the addition of these search giant's, means, a billion more people will be using Google Accelerated Mobile Pages. Per Google research, 70 percent of conventional mobile pages take seven to 10 seconds for visual page content to load. By comparison, AMP pages' load in less than one second, on average.
Businesses

Sprint 'Betting Big On Trump,' Could Merge With T-Mobile Or Comcast (arstechnica.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Speculation that Sprint will merge with T-Mobile USA or another competitor has ramped up since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. That continued Friday when a report from The New York Times suggested that Sprint could be combined with either T-Mobile or Comcast, the nation's largest cable company. Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of Sprint owner SoftBank, "and his financial advisers are weighing several major possible deals for Sprint," the Times wrote. "Be it a tie-up with T-Mobile U.S., Sprint's closest competitor, or a more ambitious marriage with the cable colossus Comcast, a transaction would allow Mr. Son to fulfill a long-held ambition to invest aggressively in wireless networks in the United States and enable next-generation mobile technology." Titled "The World's Top Tech Investor Is Betting Big on Trump," the Times report says that "the Trump administration's push for lighter regulation and lower taxes has been a powerful lure for cash-rich investors the world over." SoftBank, which is based in Japan, had several of its executives "spen[d] a day in Washington talking to senior members of Mr. Trump's economic team" last month, according to bankers who were briefed on the meetings, the Times report said. U.S. regulators opposed wireless consolidation during the Obama administration, preventing potential mergers between AT&T and T-Mobile and later between Sprint and T-Mobile. With four major nationwide carriers, U.S. wireless competition recently led to an expansion of unlimited data plans.
The Military

The US Waged A Secret Cyber War Against North Korean Missiles (tampabay.com) 233

Early Monday morning North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea of Japan, lending a new urgency to Saturday's revelation from the New York Times of America's "secret cyberwar" with North Korea. Slashdot reader Frosty Piss summarizes its suspected effects succinctly: "Soon after ex-President Obama ordered the secret program three years ago, North Korean missiles began exploding, veering off course, or crashing into the sea."

The Times reports the program was started when Obama "concluded that the $300 billion spent since the Eisenhower era on traditional anti-missile systems...had failed the core purpose of protecting the continental United States," with tests of missile interceptors showing an overall failure rate of at least 56%. But after interviewing government officials, the Times concludes that the U.S. "still does not have the ability to effectively counter the North Korean nuclear and missile programs." Options include escalating the cyber and electronic warfare, trying to negotiate a freeze, asking the Chinese to cut off trade and support, or preparing for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, "which Obama also considered, but there is little chance of hitting every target." The New York Times article concludes: The White House is looking at military options against North Korea, a senior Trump administration official said. Putting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons back in South Korea -- they were withdrawn a quarter-century ago -- is also under consideration, even if that step could accelerate an arms race with the North.
Iphone

An 81-Year-Old Woman Just Created Her Own iPhone App (cnn.com) 60

After 43 years working in one of Japan's leading banks, 81-year-old Masako Wakamiya has launched an iPhone app called "Hinadan" that shows users how to stage traditional dolls for the Hinamatsuri festival. From a report on CNN Money: She says she felt compelled to do something after noticing a shortage of fun apps aimed at people her age. "We easily lose games when playing against young people, since our finger movements can't match their speed," Wakamiya told CNN. The retired banker asked a bunch of people to create games for seniors, but no one was interested. So she took matters into her own hands and achieved something many people half her age haven't done. "I wanted to create a fun app to get elderly people interested in smartphones," she said. "It took about half a year to develop." Wakamiya started using computers at age 60 when she was caring for her elderly mother and finding it difficult to get out and socialize with friends.
Businesses

Panasonic Wants Employees To Relax, Limits Work Days To 11 hours (cnet.com) 153

Japan is notorious for its long working hours, which have been blamed for a national health crisis known as "karoshi" -- death from overwork. From a report on CNET: Panasonic hopes to curb this, instructing its 100,000-ish employees to work no later than 8 p.m. each day, reports Asahi Shimbun. This hour reduction still enables a 55-hour working week, but the directive from Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga also limited overtime to 80 hours a month.
AI

Japan Unveils Next-Generation, Pascal-Based AI Supercomputer (nextplatform.com) 121

The Tokyo Institute of Technology has announced plans to launch Japan's "fastest AI supercomputer" this summer. The supercomputer is called Tsubame 3.0 and will use Nvidia's latest Pascal-based Tesla P100 GPU accelerators to double its performance over its predecessor, the Tsubame 2.5. Slashdot reader kipperstem77 shares an excerpt from a report via The Next Platform: With all of those CPUs and GPUs, Tsubame 3.0 will have 12.15 petaflops of peak double precision performance, and is rated at 24.3 petaflops single precision and, importantly, is rated at 47.2 petaflops at the half precision that is important for neural networks employed in deep learning applications. When added to the existing Tsubame 2.5 machine and the experimental immersion-cooled Tsubame-KFC system, TiTech will have a total of 6,720 GPUs to bring to bear on workloads, adding up to a total of 64.3 aggregate petaflops at half precision. (This is interesting to us because that means Nvidia has worked with TiTech to get half precision working on Kepler GPUs, which did not formally support half precision.)
Patents

Patent Office Rules CRISPR Patents, Potentially Worth Billions, Belong To Broad Institute (theverge.com) 70

According to a ruling by judges at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the disputed patents on the gene-editing tool CRISPR belong to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "The ruling comes a little over two months after a high-profile court hearing, during which MIT and University of California, Berkeley heatedly argued about who should own CRISPR," The Verge reports. From their report: STAT News reported that the decision was one sentence long. The three judges decided that the Broad patents are different enough from the ones the University of California applied for that the Broad patents stand. The patent ruling suggests that the work done by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California and her colleagues on CRISPR wasn't so groundbreaking as to make any other advance obvious. But that legal opinion isn't how the science world views her work, STAT points out: "Doudna and her chief collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in the life sciences in 2015, the $500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize in 2015, and the $450,000 Japan Prize in 2017," the outlet notes.
Businesses

Delays, Confusion as Toshiba Reports $6 Billion Nuclear Hit and Slides To Loss (reuters.com) 88

Makiko Yamazaki, reporting for Reuters: After a day of delays and confusion, Japan's Toshiba said on Tuesday it expected to book a $6.3 billion hit to its U.S. nuclear unit, a writedown that wipes out its shareholder equity and will drag the group to a full-year loss. Hours earlier on Tuesday, the battered conglomerate rattled investors by failing to release its earnings on schedule, saying initially it was 'not ready' and then announcing later it needed more time to probe its Westinghouse nuclear business after internal reports uncovered potential problems. The figures eventually released were numbers that have yet to be approved by its auditor and Toshiba cautioned investors that a major revision was possible. Fully audited numbers are now not due till March 14 after the firm was granted a reprieve for its formal filing by Japanese regulators. "Finally now people are starting to recognize that internal control problems, the accounting issues and governance issues are very real and no longer abstract," said Zuhair Khan, an analyst at Jefferies in Tokyo. "They impact the viability of the company."

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