Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thailand bans 'rude' opinions ahead of crucial referendum

Thailand bans 'rude' opinions ahead of crucial referendum

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Andrew R.C. Marshall May 3, 2016

BANGKOK (Reuters) - From the question of Britain's place in Europe to the choice of New Zealand's flag, referendums worldwide are usually preceded by unbridled debate. Not so under Thailand's junta.

Many Thais are chafing under strict new regulations governing discussion ahead of an Aug. 7 referendum on a military-backed constitution.

The junta that seized power in a May 2014 coup has already threatened to jail anyone campaigning for or against the constitution, which critics say entrenches the military's political influence.

The 14 rules, which were issued by the Election Commission and formally became law on Monday, make even well-meaning discussion risky, say academics and experts.

Under the regulations, Thais must express their opinions with "polite words ... without distorting the facts".

"Rude, aggressive, or intimidating" interviews with the media are banned. So is organizing a panel discussion "with intent to incite political unrest".

Also forbidden are "T-shirts, pins and ribbons" that encourage others to campaign.

Violators can be jailed for up to 10 years. Dissenters in military-run Thailand often receive lengthy prison sentences under draconian laws on computer crime and royal defamation.

The referendum will be a test of the junta's popularity and a potential flashpoint in a turbulent political scene, say analysts. The military government has promised an election by mid-2017, even if the constitution is rejected.

Groups of all political stripes have denounced the draft constitution as undemocratic, with one major political party urging supporters to vote "no".

"To express opinions using reason. Is that so hard to understand?" Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha snapped at a reporter who asked about the new rules on Tuesday.

Prayuth has ruled largely unchallenged but anti-junta activists have recently staged small but frequent protests.

Nine activists were jailed last week on charges of sedition and computer crimes. Two face additional charges of insulting the monarchy.

Phubed Pisanaka, a recent law graduate who comments on the government on his Facebook account, said the rules would make him more careful.

"I have to think twice about what I post and share now," he said.

Others remain defiant.

"I'll keep expressing my opinion even though I could be criminalized," said Kornkritch Somjittranukit, a contributor to Thailand's online publication Prachatai.

"If thinking differently is a crime, living inside or outside of jail is practically the same," he said.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Robert Birsel)


A Chinese company can use the name 'iPhone' for non-Apple products, court rules

A Chinese company can use the name 'iPhone' for non-Apple products, court rules
Apple lost a trademark dispute
By Ananya Bhattacharya  on May 3, 2016 01:13 pm 

A long-drawn-out battle has been ensuing between tech giant Apple and a Chinese company you probably haven't heard of — and it's not looking good for Silicon Valley's star child. Apple recently lost a trademark suit against Beijing's Xintong Tiandi Technology, which has been selling leather goods like handbags, cell phone cases, and more with the brand name "IPHONE," Quartz reported.

The trademark dispute between Apple and the local Chinese company began in 2012 as Apple fought to gain exclusive rights over the iPhone brand. The trademark authority in China as well as a lower Beijing court dismissed Apple’s claims. Apple appealed but on March 31st, The Beijing Municipal High People's Court rejected the appeal, allowing Xintong Tiandi to keep selling its IPHONE products, local media Legal Daily reported.

ONE NAME, TWO TRADEMARKS

Apple applied to trademark "IPHONE" in 2002, but the trademark wasn't approved until 2013 under Class 9: Electrical and Scientific Apparatus. Five years after Apple's application, in 2007 — around the time Apple was launching its first iPhone in the US — Xintong Tiandi applied for the same trademark. In 2010, their trademark was approved under Class 18: Leather goods.

Chinese authorities refused to revoke Xintong Tiandi's trademark and argued that Apple's iPhone was not prominent in the region when Xintong Tiandi submitted its application. Apple's iPhone only arrived in the Chinese mainland market in 2009, so the Silicon Valley company could not prove that the "IPHONE" brand had high visibility before Xintong Tiandi entered the market space.

On its website, Xintong Tiandi seemed pleased with the decision and expressed a desire to work with Apple to further the iPhone brand. "We will also make full achievement of the 'iphone' trademark, and work together [with Apple] to benefit more iphone consumers," Quartz translated from the Chinese website. Apple did not comment.

INTERNATIONAL BRANDS STRUGGLE TO AVOID PLAGIARISM IN CHINA

This isn't the first time US brands have struggled for their rights in China and faced resistance. In 2015, Michael Jordan lost the fight against an alleged trademark violation by a company that used the Chinese translation of his last name, his jersey number, as well as Nike Air's iconic "jumpman" logo on its products. More recently, Under Armour has threatened to sue Uncle Martian, a new Chinese sports company that plagiarized its logo.

Last year, Chinese Segway copycat company Ninebot actually ended up buying Segway and being sponsored by Xiaomi. However, sneaking their way into partnering for official Apple merchandise may not be a foolproof plan for Xintong Tiandi, considering Apple only works with a select few genuine partners.

TIM COOK REMAINS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT CHINA

Over the years, China has proven to be a rough sea for the tech giant. Back in 2012, Apple had to pay a Shenzhen tech company $60 million over the iPad name. Last year, it went as far as blocking its news app in the country to avoid displeasing the Chinese authorities.

China, however, remains a valuable market for Apple. Even though sales in mainland China fell 11 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, Tim Cook is optimistic. In the last fiscal year, Apple earned $58 billion from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan — more than all other foreign companies.


Scientists build world’s tiniest engine

Scientists build world’s tiniest engine
Clive Cookson, Science Editor May 2, 2016 8:08 pm

Scientists have developed a microscopic engine, the smallest in the world, that they say is the first one capable of driving nanobots, including medical robots that could travel through the body.

The prototype device, known as an actuating nano-transducer or Ant, combines microscopic gold balls with a special polymer gel. It generates a propulsive force on a microscopic scale that is a hundred times greater per unit weight than any known motor or muscle.

“People have been talking about making nanobots for many years but they do not exist yet,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg, leader of the project at Cambridge university. “Why not? Because so far there has been no way of making them move through liquids — which is like swimming through treacle on the nanoscale because the molecular forces are so strong.”

He says Ant engines, described for the first time in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, would provide sufficient power. “Like real ants they provide large forces for their weight,” he said. “The challenge we now face is how to control the force for nano-machinery applications.”

The Ant is powered by physical rather than chemical reactions. It contains gold nanoparticles, each about 0.06 microns, or a thousandth of the width of a human hair, in diameter in water with a gel-like polymer called pNIPAM.

When the temperature is above the critical temperature of 32C, the gold particles are bound tightly together with the polymer through intermolecular attraction. When it falls below 32C, the polymer suddenly absorbs water and expands — and the gold particles are pushed rapidly apart like a spring.

“It’s like an explosion,” said Tao Ding, another member of the team. “We have hundreds of gold balls flying apart in a millionth of a second when water molecules inflate the polymers around them.”

The reaction is completely and rapidly reversible, experiments show. When the temperature rises again, the Ant stores a large amount of elastic energy in a fraction of a second as the polymer coating expels water from the gel and contracts around the gold particles. “The whole process is like a nano-spring,” said Prof Baumberg.

The prototype Ant uses laser light to control the system’s temperature but other mechanisms could be used instead. The transition point could also be adjusted, for example to set the energy release point close to 37C — the human body’s normal temperature.

The Ant might drive a nanobot through a series of piston strokes, rather like a car engine but on a scale many billions of times smaller.

“The concept can underpin a plethora of future designs,” Prof Baumberg said. The team is working with Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm, to develop practical applications for the technology.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016.


China Said to Explore Taking Stakes in Some News Websites

China Said to Explore Taking Stakes in Some News Websites
By Bloomberg News
May 2, 2016 — 11:30 PM PDT Updated on May 3, 2016 — 12:25 AM PDT

Stakes would be in exchange for providing `news' licenses
Government would hold board seats, could block content

China is considering taking board seats and stakes of at least 1 percent in operators of some Internet portals and mobile apps in exchange for granting news licenses, according to people familiar with the plan.

The government would issue the licenses in exchange for stock and a board seat, according to the people, who asked to not be identified because the details haven’t been made public. Government representatives could monitor and block content distributed by Internet providers, although they wouldn’t be involved in other day-to-day business decisions, according to the people.

The proposal would give authorities the ability to block news from reaching the Web and coincides with a broad government clampdown on information distributed online. The move could affect operators of major Internet portals such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and NetEase Inc. along with mobile apps that provide current affairs and news on a daily basis.

News portals in China have been working in a regulatory gray area. They’re not authorized to provide original content and aren’t allowed to hire reporters or editors, however, some outlets have recently distributed investigative stories related to official corruption.

The government has been consulting with online news providers for the project since late last year, the people said, as part of a broader plan to amend the country’s online information law. The amended draft of the regulation is currently seeking public opinions on the official Website of the Cyberspace Administration of China. The draft didn’t mention anything about the share exchange project.

There was no immediate reply to faxes seeking comment from the Cyberspace Administration as well as the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The Wall Street Journal first reported on discussions about possible government stakes in Internet companies. Representatives of Tencent and Netease didn’t immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

Licenses would be required for providers of “current affairs news”, which means all news and commentary related to politics, economics, military, foreign affairs and other social issues, according to the draft of the regulation. A license would also be required to reprint news stories or commentary via portals or mobile applications, it said.

The government may tap some state-owned enterprises that have experience with the cultural industry to hold the shares, or it may establish a new asset management firm to control the shares, the people said.

Under the pilot program, the government representative and shareholders will not receive dividend returns or any other form of bonus and will not interfere in the companies’ business decisions outside of control over content distribution, according to the people.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Next big thing for virtual reality: lasers tracking your eyes

Next big thing for virtual reality: lasers in your eyes

By Marco della Cava, USA TODAY 2:38 p.m. EDT May 2, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – The next big leap for virtual and augmented reality headsets is likely to be eye-tracking, where headset-mounted laser beams aimed at eyeballs turn your peepers into a mouse.

A number of startups are working on this tech, with an aim to convince VR gear manufacturers such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to incorporate the feature in a next generation device. They include SMI, Percept, Eyematic, Fove and Eyefluence, which recently allowed USA TODAY to demo its eye-tracking tech.

“Eye-tracking is almost guaranteed to be in second-generation VR headsets,” says Will Mason, cofounder of virtual reality media company UploadVR. “It’s an incredibly important piece of the VR puzzle.”

At present, making selections in VR or AR environments typically involve moving the head so that your gaze lands on a clickable icon, and then either pressing a handheld remote or, in the case of Microsoft’s HoloLens or Meta 2, reaching out with your hand to make a selection by interacting with a hologram.

As shown in Eyefluence’s demonstration, all of that is accomplished by simply casting your eyes on a given icon and then activating it with another glance.

“The idea here is that anything you do with your finger on a smartphone you can do with your eyes in VR or AR,” says Eyefluence CEO Jim Marggraff, who cofounded the Milpitas, Calif-based company in 2013 with another entrepreneur, David Stiehr.

“Computers made a big leap when they went from punchcards to a keyboard, and then another from a keyboard to a mouse,” says Marggraff, who invented the kid-focused LeapFrog LeapPad device. “We want to again change the way we interface with data.”

EYE TECH NOT DUE FOR YEARS

As exciting as this may sound, the mainstreaming of eye-tracking technology is still a ways off. Eyefluence execs say that although they are in discussions with a variety of headset makers, their tech isn’t likely to debut until 2017. Other companies remain largely in R&D mode, and Fove has a waitlist for its headset's Kickstarter campaign.

The challenges for eye-tracking are both technological and financial. Creating hardware that consistently locks onto an infinite variety of eyeballs presents one hurdle, while doing so with gear that is light and consumes little power is another.

And while a number of companies in the space have managed to land funding – Eyefluence has raised $21.6 million in two rounds led by Intel Capital and Motorola Solutions – some tech-centric VCs are sitting on the sidelines while they wait for the technology to mature and for headset makers to make their moves.

“What eye-tracking will do will be powerful, but I’m not sure how valuable it will be from an investment standpoint,” says Kobie Fuller of Accel Partners. “Is there a multi-billion-dollar eye-tracking company out there? I don’t know.”

Among the unknowns: whether the tech will be disseminated through a licensed model or if existing headset companies will develop it on their own.

Still, once deployed eye-tracking has the potential to revolutionize the VR and AR experience, Fuller expects.

Specifically, eye-tracking will “greatly enhance interpersonal connections” in VR, he says, by applying realistic eye movements to avatars.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who presciently bought Oculus for $2 billion, is banking on VR taking social interactions to a new level.

“The most exciting thing about eye-tracking is getting rid of that 'uncanny valley' (where disbelief sets in) when it comes to interacting through avatars,” says Fuller.

LESS COMPUTING POWER

There are a few other ways in which successful eye-tracking tech could revolutionize AR and VR beyond just making such worlds easy to navigate without joysticks, remotes or hand gestures.

First, by tracking the eyes, such tech can telegraph to the VR device’s graphics processing unit, or GPU, that it needs to render only the images where the eyes are looking at that moment.

That means less computing power would be needed. Currently, a $700 Oculus headset requires a powerful computer to render its images. Oculus’s developer kit with a suitable computer costs $2,000. “If you can save on rendering power, that could significantly lower the barrier to entry into this market for consumers,” says UploadVR’s Mason.

And second, by not just tracking the eyeball but also potentially analyzing a person’s mood and logging in details about their gaze, AR/VR headsets are in a position to deliver targeted content as well as give third-party observers insights into the wearer’s state of mind and situational awareness.

POLICE USE

The former use case would appeal to in-VR advertisers, while the latter would come in handy for first responders.

“Police and paramedics are looking for an eyes-up, hands-free paradigm, and eye-tracking can bring that,” says Paul Steinberg, chief technology officer at Motorola Soluations, an investor in Eyefluence.

Steinberg sketches out a scene from what could be the near future.

A police officer on patrol has suddenly unholstered his gun. Via his augmented reality glasses with eye-tracking, colleagues at headquarters are instantly fed information about his stress level through pupil dilation information.

They can then both advise the officer through a radio as well as activate body cameras and other tech that he might have neglected to turn on in his stressed state. What’s more, another officer on the scene can instantly scan through a variety of command center video and data feeds through an AR headset, flipping through the options by simply looking at each one.

“We would have to work with our (first responder) customers to train them how to use this sort of tech of course, but the potential is there,” says Steinberg. “But we’re not months away, we’re more than that.”

DEMO SHOWS OFF EASE OF USE

An Eyefluence indicates that eye-tracking technology isn't a half-baked dream.

Navigating between a dozen tiles inside a first-generation Oculus headset proves as easy as shifting your gaze between them. Making selections – the equivalent of clicking on a mouse – is also equally intuitive. At no time does the head need to move, and hands remain at your side.

After about 10 minutes in the demo, it feels antiquated to pop on a VR headset and grab a remote to click through choices selected with head movements.

Marggraff says Eyefluence's technical challenges included making technology that could respond in low and bright light, accounting for different size pupils and ensuring that power consumption is minimal.

But, he adds, his team remains convinced of the inevitability of its product: “Just like when we started tapping and swiping on our phones, we’re going to eventually need a better interface for AR and VR.”


New York Times Co. Reports Loss as Its Digital Subscriber Base Grows

New York Times Co. Reports Loss as Its Digital Subscriber Base Grows
By SYDNEY EMBER MAY 3, 2016

The New York Times Company reported a $14 million net loss for the first quarter of 2016 as it continued to grapple with how to offset falling revenue in print advertising. Digital subscriptions remained a bright spot for the company, showing robust growth.

In its earnings release on Tuesday, the company said it added 67,000 net digital-only subscriptions in the quarter, the most in a quarter since the end of 2012. The Times now has roughly 1.2 million digital-only subscriptions for its news products. Including its crossword product subscriptions, the company counts close to 1.4 million digital-only subscriptions.

“The rate at which we are adding digital subscriptions continues to accelerate,” Mark Thompson, the company’s chief executive, said in the statement. “We have continued to prioritize deepening the level of engagement of our readers with Times content, and this effort, along with the application of new consumer marketing tactics, has led to an increase in new subscribers and improved retention of existing ones.”

The net loss for the quarter was roughly the same as in the first quarter of 2015. Total revenue fell about 1 percent, to $380 million, from $384 million in the first quarter of 2015.

Circulation revenue increased roughly 2 percent, to $218 million, as growth in digital subscription revenue and an increase in home-delivery prices offset a decline in print copies sold. Revenue from digital-only subscriptions increased about 14 percent, to $54 million, from $47 million in the first quarter of 2015.

Advertising revenue remained a trouble spot, falling about 7 percent, to $140 million. Print advertising revenue dropped 9 percent, and digital advertising revenue fell about 1 percent, to $42 million, a figure that represents about a third of the company’s total ad revenue.

“We remain confident in our ability to grow our digital advertising revenue in the long term, and we are continuing to invest in ad product innovation,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that the company intended to “keep a sharp focus on our cost base.”

The Times announced last week that it was planning to close its editing and prepress print production operations in Paris, which would result in the elimination or relocation of up to 70 jobs. It also said last month that it would invest more than $50 million over the next three years in an ambitious international digital expansion plan.

Adjusted operating profit, the company’s preferred method for assessing performance, decreased to $52 million in the first quarter, from $59 million in the year-ago period.

The company took a $41 million loss related to the announced closing of a paper mill in Maine.


Move over, wearables. Swallowable computing has arrived...

First, there were wearables. Now, there are swallowables
Suddenly, a computer on your wrist doesn't seem so amazing.

Zack Guzman 5 Hours Ago CNBC.com

In the evolution of computing, from the desktop computer to the smartphone to the watch, it seemed like just a matter of time before the technology would come to be swallowable — and now it is.

The innovation at the heart of it is an FDA-approved ingestible sensor housed in pills, designed to help patients adhere to the medications their doctors prescribe. Except the sensor isn't powered by a battery, it's powered by the gut of the patient swallowing it, using technology discovered two centuries ago.

"We have a small, food-particle-sized piece of silicon, an integrated circuit, and on one side of that circuit is a film of copper, on the other side a very thin film of magnesium," explained Proteus Digital Health co-founder Dr. George Savage. "When you swallow, these minerals get wet and two dissimilar metals in aqueous contact define a battery, so you become a battery." From there, the powered pill sensor sends a signal to a patch worn on the body, which sends data via Bluetooth to a phone or tablet and on to the cloud for a doctor or caregiver.

The patient-as-a-battery idea sounds simple enough, and the company likens the process to a child's science-fair experiment, but this one garnered more than 350 patents and received more than $400 million in funding from some of the biggest names in health care, including Novartis, Medtronic, Kaiser Permanente at a unicorn valuation.

"What's the most common thing that somebody who is sick is supposed to do every day? Swallow their medicine," Proteus CEO Andrew Thompson told CNBC.

The only problem is, they don't.

According to the World Health Organization, about half of all patients with chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, fail to take their medications as prescribed. By some estimates, such nonadherence in the U.S. can add up to 10 percent of hospitalizations in older adults, costing the health-care system $100 billion to $300 billion.

"If you give people, for example, five medications to take a day and you say take this in the morning, take this at lunch time, take this in the evening, that's very complicated," Thompson said. "So what we're showing is the beginning of a solution … to one of the single biggest problems in all of health care, which is to help you take your medicines appropriately."

In the latest of Proteus' 67 clinical trials, preliminary results demonstrated that patients suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure who were prescribed the digital pill had "dramatically lower blood pressure … with about 85 percent of patients at four weeks in the Proteus groups achieving their goal, versus about 33 percent in the usual care group," Savage said.

Noting the differences between tech and health care, Thompson said the company isn't looking to expand its services too quickly, only starting its first use outside of a clinical setting this January with hundreds of patients and their doctors at South Lake Tahoe, California–based health system Barton Health, before looking into licensing the technology to big pharma companies.

While the implications have many in the medical field excited at possibilities, questions surrounding the technology have shifted from "will this work?" to "how will this be used?"

"If I'm taking pills to control my hypertension, that's one thing, but if I'm taking pills to control my drug addiction, who gets to see that and who knows about it is a very different thing," New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan told CNBC. "I think there are vulnerable groups out there for whom this technology might not be seen as the world's biggest gift."

Thompson said the company had initially explored alternative use cases such as monitoring antibiotic adherence in tuberculosis patients to prevent the rise of antibiotic resistance, or parents working to help children with mental-health issues, but wanted to make clear Proteus' mission is "the empowerment and the enablement of our patients to get well."

The FDA recently rejected Proteus' first attempt to place its digital sensor directly into its first medication, Abilify, a drug commonly prescribed for schizophrenics. The agency requested more data and testing to evaluate use-related risks.

Yet as cutting edge as the idea of swallowing a computer seems, at the heart of the issue is a problem as old as the Hippocratic Oath. As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates notes in On Decorum, "Keep a watch … on the faults of the patients, which often make them lie about the taking of things prescribed. For through not taking disagreeable drinks, purgative or other, they sometimes die."