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In Era of Journalism Cutbacks, a Chinese ‘Robot Reporter’ 

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More Chinese newsrooms are starting to use so-called “robot reporters,” but developers say their capabilities remain limited.

Te-Ping Chen reports: China has found itself in the midst of a full-blown robot obsession in recent years, with everything from robot monks to robot waiters grabbing headlines.

Now, the robots are writing the actual headlines, too — in certain newsrooms, anyway.

Last week, the Southern Metropolis Daily published its first-ever report written by what the newspaper describes as a “robot reporter.” The story, clocking in at just over 300 words, summarizes what train tickets are most in demand bn-rt602_robot_cv_20170124041448over the Lunar New Year holiday, during which millions of Chinese workers travel home to see their families. It discusses which routes are selling out fast and advises travelers to buy tickets soon, cautioning that for certain routes, all seats are sold out.

“You’ll have to stand the whole way, the route will be more exhausting,” it advises. The Southern Metropolis Daily story is bylined “Xiao Nan Robot,” or ‘Little South’ robot and accompanied with a picture of a white, rotund robot riding atop a thick black pen.

So far, though, the scope of robot reporters is limited, says Wan Xiaojun, a computer-science professor at Peking University who worked to develop the newspaper’s program.

Mr. Wan explains that Xiao Nan is currently programmed only to analyze train-ticket sales, which accounts for the somewhat monotonous nature of its reporting. “There Are Still High-Speed Rail Tickets From Guangzhou to Numerous Destinations for Lunar New Year’s Eve,” ran one robot-produced headline today. “Hard-Seat Tickets on the 26th From Guangzhou to Zhengzhou Are Still Available,” ran another yesterday.

[Read the full story here, at China Real Time Report – WSJ]

Sports are another fertile area for robot coverage: another robot-reporter program Mr. Wan worked on was used by news publisher Toutiao during the Rio Olympics last year, producing more than 400 news briefs, he said. Those briefs were built off published game statistics or summarized the transcribed narration of sports broadcasters, seeking out keywords such as “goal,” “red card” and more. Read the rest of this entry »

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In an Effort to Appear Relevant, Obama Administration Finally Sort of Developing Sanctions Against China Over Cyberthefts

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A decision on whether to act could come soon, close to a major state visit by President Xi Jinping.

The Obama administration is developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals who have benefited from their government’s cybertheft of valuable U.S. trade secrets.

The U.S. government has not yet decided whether to issue these sanctions, but a final call is expected soon — perhaps even within the next two weeks, according to several administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

“The indictments were a strong move. This is going to be an even stronger move. It’s really going to put China in the position of having to choose whether they want to be this pariah nation — this kleptocracy — or whether they want to be one of the leading nations in the world.”

— Rob Knake, a former White House cyber official and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Issuing sanctions would represent a significant expansion in the administration’s public response to the rising wave of ­cyber-economic espionage initiated by Chinese hackers, who officials say have stolen everything from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code to confidential negotiating positions of energy companies.

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Any action would also come at a particularly sensitive moment between the world’s two biggest economies. President Xi Jinping of China is due to arrive next month in Washington for his first state visit — complete with a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn of the White House and an elaborate State Dinner. There is already tension over a host of other issues, including maritime skirmishes in the South China Sea and China’s efforts to devalue its currency in the face of its recent stock market plunge. At the same time, the two countries have deep trade ties and the administration has sometimes been wary of seeming too tough on China.

But the possibility of sanctions so close to Xi’s visit indicates how frustrated U.S. officials have become over the persistent cyber plundering.

[Read the full text here, at The Washington Post]

The sanctions would mark the first use of an order signed by President Obama in April establishing the authority to freeze financial and property assets of, and bar commercial transactions with, individuals and entities overseas who engage in destructive attacks or commercial espionage in cyberspace.

President Barack Obama sits across the table from Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands as they meet for talks Friday, June 7, 2013, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Seeking a fresh start to a complex relationship, the two leaders are retreating to the sprawling desert estate for two days of talks on high-stakes issues, including cybersecurity and North Korea's nuclear threats. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“China is not the only country that hacks computer networks for trade secrets to aid its economy, but it is by far the most active, officials say. Just last month, the FBI said that economic espionage cases surged 53 percent in the past year, and that China accounted for most of that.”

The White House declined to comment on specific sanctions, but a senior administration official, speaking generally, said: “As the president said when signing the executive order enabling the use of economic sanctions against malicious cyber actors, the administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront such actors. Read the rest of this entry »


U.S. Sending Disaster Response Team, $1 Million in Aid to Nepal

Kathmandu Struck By Powerful Earthquake

(WASHINGTON)—The United States is sending a disaster response team and $1 million in aid to Nepal following a devastating earthquake that shook three countries.

The White House and Secretary of State John Kerry are offering condolences along with pledging the support.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake outside the capital Kathmandu killed more than 1,000 people in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. It also toppled buildings and triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest.

Kerry says in a statement that the United States stands with the people of Nepal and sends heartfelt sympathies.

He says USAID is preparing to deploy the disaster assistance response team and is activating an urban search and rescue team.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan says the U.S. stands ready to provide further assistance in the region.

[TIME]


Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ found by Nazis is from space

A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin.

Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-centimetre-high sculpture may represent the god Vaiśravaṇa and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner, of the University of Stuttgart in Germany, and his colleagues.

In a paper published in Metoritics and Planetary Science, the team reports their analysis of the iron, nickel, cobalt and trace elements of a sample from the statue, as well as its structure. They found that the geochemistry of the artefact is a match for values known from fragments of the Chinga meteorite. The piece turned into the ‘iron man’ would be the third largest known from that fall.

via >>  Nature News Blog