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China accuses Washington of wanting ‘technological hegemony’

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China accuses Washington of wanting 'technological hegemony'

 China’s government accused Washington on Tuesday of pursuing “technology hegemony” following news reports the United States might step up pressure on tech giant Huawei by blocking all access to American suppliers.

The possible move, reported by Bloomberg News, The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, would tighten restrictions imposed in 2019 that limit Huawei’s access to processor chips and other technology. The company, which makes network equipment and smartphones, was allowed to buy some less-advanced components.

Huawei Technologies Ltd., China’s first global tech brand, is at the centre of conflict between Washington and Beijing over technology and security. U.S. officials say Huawei is a security risk and might facilitate Chinese spying, an accusation the company denies.

“China is gravely concerned about the reports,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning. She accused Washington of “over-stretching the concept of national security and abusing state power” to suppress Chinese competitors.

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“Such practices are contrary to the principles of the market economy” and are “blatant technological hegemony,” Mao said.

Mao said Beijing would “defend the legitimate rights” of its companies but gave no indication of how the government might respond. Beijing has made similar declarations after past U.S. actions against its companies but often does nothing.

The ban on sales of advanced U.S. processor chips and music, maps and other services from Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit crippled Huawei’s smartphone business. The company sold its low-end Honor smartphone brand to revive sales by separating it from the sanctions on its corporate parent.

The Commerce Department agreed to grant export licenses to U.S. companies to allow them to sell less-advanced chips and other technology to Huawei that was deemed not to be a security risk. That followed complaints suppliers would lose billions of dollars in annual sales.

The Biden administration is considering no longer granting such licenses, although no decision has been made, the news outlets reported, citing unidentified people familiar with official deliberations.

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Huawei scrambled to remove U.S. components from its network and other products and has launched new business lines serving factories, self-driving cars and other industrial customers. The company hopes those are less vulnerable to U.S. pressure.

Huawei says its business is starting to rebound.

“In 2020, we successfully pulled ourselves out of crisis mode,” Eric Xu, one of three Huawei executives who take turns as chairman, said in a December letter to employees. “U.S. restrictions are now our new normal, and we’re back to business as usual.”

Last year’s revenue was forecast to be little-changed from 2021 at 636.9 billion yuan ($91.6 billion), Xu said.

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World’s first hydrogen-powered commercial ferry to run on San Francisco Bay for free ride

World’s first hydrogen-powered commercial ferry to run on San Francisco Bay for free ride

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World's first hydrogen-powered commercial ferry to run on San Francisco Bay for free ride

The world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial passenger ferry will start operating on San Francisco Bay as part of plans to phase out diesel-powered vessels and reduce planet-warming carbon emissions, California officials said Friday, demonstrating the ship.

The 70-foot (21-meter) catamaran called the MV Sea Change will transport up to 75 passengers along the waterfront between Pier 41 and the downtown San Francisco ferry terminal starting July 19, officials said. The service will be free for six months while it’s being run as part of a pilot program.

“The implications for this are huge because this isn’t its last stop,” said Jim Wunderman, chair of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which runs commuter ferries across the bay.

“If we can operate this successfully, there are going to be more of these vessels in our fleet and in other folks’ fleets in the United States and we think in the world.”

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Sea Change can travel about 300 nautical miles and operate for 16 hours before it needs to refuel. The fuel cells produce electricity by combining oxygen and hydrogen in an electrochemical reaction that emits water as a byproduct. 

The technology could help clean up the shipping industry, which produces nearly 3% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, officials said. That’s less than from cars, trucks, rail or aviation but still a lot — and it’s rising.

Frank Wolak, president and CEO of the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association, said the ferry is meaningful because it’s hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vessels.

“The real value of this is when you multiply out by the number of ferries operating around the world,” he said. “There’s great potential here. This is how you can start chipping away at the carbon intensity of your ports.”

Backers also hope hydrogen fuel cells could eventually power container ships.

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The International Maritime Organization, which regulates commercial shipping, wants to halve its greenhouse gas releases by midcentury.

As fossil fuel emissions continue warming Earth’s atmosphere, the Biden administration is turning to hydrogen as an energy source for vehicles, manufacturing and generating electricity.

It has been offering $8 billion to entice the nation’s industries, engineers and planners to figure out how to produce and deliver clean hydrogen.

Environmental groups say hydrogen presents its own pollution and climate risks. For now, the hydrogen that is produced globally each year, mainly for refineries and fertilizer manufacturing, is made using natural gas.

That process warms the planet rather than saving it. Indeed, a new study by researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities found that most hydrogen production emits carbon dioxide, which means that hydrogen-fueled transportation cannot yet be considered clean energy.

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Yet proponents of hydrogen-powered transportation say that in the long run, hydrogen production is destined to become more environmentally safe.

They envision a growing use of electricity from wind and solar energy, which can separate hydrogen and oxygen in water. As such renewable forms of energy gain broader use, hydrogen production should become a cleaner and less expensive process.

The Sea Change project was financed and managed by the investment firm SWITCH Maritime. The vessel was constructed at Bay Ship and Yacht in Alameda, California, and All-American Marine in Bellingham, Washington.

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Webb Telescope shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

Webb Telescope shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

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Webb Telescope shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

The Webb Space Telescope has captured a pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in the infrared.

The observatory operated by NASA and the European Space Agency photographed the two galaxies 326 million light-years away, surrounded by a blue haze of stars and gas.

A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles. The pictures, released Friday, marks the second anniversary of Webb’s science operations.

The neighboring galaxies, nicknamed Penguin and the Egg, have been tangled up for tens of millions of years, according to NASA. They’ll eventually merge into a single galaxy.

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The same interaction will happen to our own Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years, the space agency said.

Considered the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is the biggest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever launched.

It rocketed away in 2021 and underwent six months of commissioning, before its first official images were released in July 2022. 

It’s positioned 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth. “In just two years, Webb has transformed our view of the universe,” NASA’s Mark Clampin said in a statement.

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US senators call out Big Tech’s new approach to poaching talent, products from smaller AI startups

US senators call out Big Tech’s new approach to poaching talent, products from smaller AI startups

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US senators call out Big Tech's new approach to poaching talent, products from smaller AI startups

In the race to stay ahead in artificial intelligence, the biggest technology companies are swallowing up the talent and products of innovative AI startups without formally acquiring them.

Now three members of the U.S. Senate are calling for an investigation.

San Francisco-based Adept announced a deal late last month that will send its CEO and key employees to Amazon and give the e-commerce giant a license to Adept’s AI systems and datasets.

Some call it a “reverse acqui-hire.” Others call it poaching. Whatever it’s called, it’s alarming to some in Washington who see it as an attempt to bypass U.S. laws that protect against monopolies.

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“I’m very concerned about the massive consolidation that’s going on in AI,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told The Associated Press.

“The technical lingo is ‘up and down the stack’. But, in plain English, a few companies control a major portion of the market, and just concentrate — rather than on innovation — trying to buy out everybody else’s talent.”

So-called “acqui-hires,” in which one company acquires another to absorb talent, have been common in the tech industry for decades, said Michael A. Cusumano, a business professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But what’s happening in the AI industry is a little different. 

“To acquire only some employees or the majority, but not all, license technology, leave the company functioning but not really competing, that’s a new twist,” Cusumano said.

A similar maneuver happened at the AI company Inflection in March when Microsoft hired its co-founder and CEO Mustafa Suleyman to head up Microsoft’s consumer AI business, along with Inflection’s chief scientist and several of its top engineers and researchers.

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That arrangement has already attracted some scrutiny from regulators, particularly in Europe. Wyden also wants U.S. regulators to investigate the Amazon-Adept deal.

He and fellow Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Peter Welch of Vermont sent a letter Friday urging antitrust enforcers at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission that “sustained, pointed action is necessary to fight undue consolidation across the industry.”

“What is going on here is instead of buying startups outright, big tech companies are trying a new play,” Wyden said in an interview before sending the letter. ”They don’t want to formally acquire the companies, avoiding the antitrust scrutiny. I think that’s going to be the playbook until the FTC really starts digging into these deals.”

The DOJ and FTC said they received the senators’ letter but declined further comment.

President Joe Biden’s administration and lawmakers from both parties have championed stronger oversight of the tech industry in recent years, likely scaring off big acquisitions that might have sailed through in earlier eras.

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U.S. antitrust enforcers, for example, plan on investigating the roles Microsoft, Nvidia and OpenAI have played in the artificial intelligence boom, with the Department of Justice looking into chipmaker Nvidia and the Federal Trade Commission scrutinizing close business partners Microsoft and OpenAI.

Tech giants, including Microsoft, Amazon and Google, are trying to be conservative and not make too many acquisitions in the AI space, Cusumano said. “It seems clever. I would think, though, that they’re not fooling anybody,” he said.

For smaller AI startups, the problem is also that building AI systems is expensive, requiring costly computer chips, power-hungry data centers, huge troves of data to train upon and highly skilled computer scientists.

Adept, which aims to make AI software agents that help people with workplace tasks, said it was trying to do two things at once — build the foundational AI technology as well as the products for end users.

But continuing on that path “would’ve required spending significant attention on fundraising for our foundation models, rather than bringing to life our agent vision,” it said in a statement explaining the Amazon deal.

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“They may have made a decision that they have no real future and just don’t have deep enough pockets to compete in this space, so they probably prefer to be acquired outright,” Cusumano said. “But if Amazon is not willing or not able to do that, then this is kind of a second-best approach for them.”

Wyden has long taken an interest in technology, helping to write the 1996 law that helped set the ground rules for free speech on the internet. He said he generally favors a straightforward approach that encourages innovation, with guardrails as needed.

But in the AI industry, he said, “companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google, either own major parts of the AI ecosystem or they have a leg up thanks to their massive resources.”

The letter asks enforcers to examine how tech giants are entrenching their AI dominance “through partnerships, equity deals, acquisitions, cloud computing credits, and other arrangements.”

John F. Coyle, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said he believes that Amazon hiring Adept employees without buying the company is clearly a move to avoid antitrust problems. But that type of hiring isn’t a “reverse acqui-hire,” he said.

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Acqui-hires are typically face-saving moves that can be spun into success stories, Coyle said, and provide an alternative to liquidating a business. A smaller company can say it was sold to Amazon or Facebook parent Meta Platforms and spin it as a positive, for example, even if wasn’t the founders’ original plan.

“This isn’t an acqui-hire. This is a straight up poach,” Coyle said of Amazon and Adept.

This doesn’t just happen in the tech world, he said, calling the move “a version of a very old story.” In his class, Coyle said, he teaches students about a case from the 1950s involving an advertising agency in New York City. Some employees left to start a new business and poached roughly 100 others to come to work for them.

“There are innumerable instances where one company went and raided another to take all their employees,” Coyle said. “That existed before the acqui-hire, that is going to happen after the acqui-hire.”

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