CNN’S Anna Stewart talks metaverse, crypto, artificial intelligence and more

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Updated 24 February 2023
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CNN’S Anna Stewart talks metaverse, crypto, artificial intelligence and more

  • She said her experiences presenting tech show “Decoded” have turned her from a cynic to a firm believer in the potential of new technologies
  • ‘Sometimes we worry too much about change. People worried the mobile phone would have a similar impact (on real life interaction) and I don’t believe it has,’ she said

DUBAI: Anna Stewart, a CNN reporter at the news channel’s bureau in London, is the host of its shows “Decoded” and “Marketplace Europe.”

In the former, she explores the latest trends in technology, from cryptocurrencies to wearables, so Arab News sat down with her for an exclusive chat about the latest developments in the tech sector.

The metaverse has been a hot topic for the past year or more yet it remains hard to define exactly what it means and encompasses.

“It’s always difficult to define something that is still evolving and people really differ in their opinions on this one,” Stewart said. “At its most broad definition, I would say the metaverse is the internet gone three-dimensional.”

As Stewart has gotten to know the ideas behind the metaverse better, she said she has been most surprised by the fact that there is more than one metaverse, “and they all look and feel very different.”

She told how she has experienced several metaverses, including a virtual nightclub in Somnium Space, a virtual reality experience on the Ethereum blockchain, where she danced with strangers, and buying a pet lion in Second Life and then flying with it, because “why not?”

Some metaverse platforms aim to enhance human connections, such as Meta’s Horizon Workrooms. 




Anna Stewart

“I was skeptical that this would be any better than Skype or Zoom,” said Stewart. “I like to meet people IRL (in real life) but, of course, that’s not always possible and the VR experience brings you ever closer.”

The “Decoded” team often holds production meetings in the metaverse, she explained.

“When I’m wearing my VR headset in London, I am able to interact with the team around a virtual desk and even view the latest episode on the big virtual screen,” she said.

“It makes us feel like we are together and collaborating in a way that a video call just can’t.”

Although some people have voiced concerns that the metaverse might be detrimental to real-life connections and interactions, Stewart is not too concerned about that.

“Sometimes we worry too much about change,” she said. “People worried the advent of the mobile phone would have a similar impact and I don’t believe it has.”

The rise of the mobile phone, the internet and, consequently, social media did, however, have implications for privacy and online safety. Even now, more than a decade after the dawn of social media, regulation remains a challenge.

“I worry deeply that hate speech, cyberbullying, and sexual harassment could be even more invasive if people can hide behind the anonymity of an avatar,” said Stewart.

The question of user privacy is something Philip Rosedale, the founder of virtual world Second Life, has been pondering since its inception. One of his biggest concerns is how future metaverse platforms will make money.

He told Stewart: “It has to be a business model that doesn’t include surveillance, targeting and advertisement.”

If metaverse platforms fail to self-regulate, governments might have to step in and define the rules, which will be no easy task, Stewart said.

Jane Thomason, a futurist and author on the subject of digital ethics, told Stewart: “Typically, regulation has been done on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis, and yet some of these metaverses will be multijurisdictional, and even virtual in that they don’t have any particular geography that is their home.”

Another important area in which regulation is still under development is cryptocurrency. Following the FTX scandal, crypto adoption has slowed globally. Dubai, however, has embraced cryptocurrency, “so it’s little surprise you’ll find well-known crypto influencers living there,” Stewart said.

“You’ll also find you can buy a car or even an apartment using cryptocurrency; two of the region’s largest property developers, Damac and Emaar, appear to be embracing a crypto future,” she added.

More importantly, she said, Dubai is seeking to regulate the sector through its Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority. Additionally, crypto exchanges such as BitOasis and Binance have secured licenses to operate in the UAE.

The future of cryptocurrencies, according to Stewart, will probably be different from what many people think.

“I think a truly decentralized currency, like Bitcoin, could revolutionize financial transactions in some parts of the world and is a useful method of payment for cross-border transactions,” she said.

But she added: “I don’t think buying Bitcoin in the hope its value will go up and make you a Bitcoin billionaire is a good strategy or one that’s likely to work.”

In addition to the metaverse and crypto industries, artificial intelligence is another topic that has sparked controversy and discussions about regulation, especially the emergence of bots and deepfake technology for manipulating digital images.

Stewart was deepfaked, with her consent, for an episode of “Decoded” and the process “was fairly easy, which is hugely worrying,” she said.

Selina Wang, another CNN journalist, recently reported on deepfaked anti-US newscasts spread by pro-China bot accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

“These realistic newscasts feature AI-generated anchors that are difficult to tell apart from the real thing,” said Stewart.

“This technology is spreading rapidly around the world and would have major consequences on trust and reliability.”

Although AI is not without its share of controversy, and concerns about the disruption it might cause to some jobs, its proponents believe it holds great promise in terms of reshaping society and education, and creating new industries. One report predicted that 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet.

Despite fears about AI-powered chatbots such as ChatGPT, which has been used for a wide range of activities, from writing essays to creating recipes, Stewart believes they could in time prove to be an “incredible sounding board for creatives.”

She said she uses them herself to find the right words or metaphors for her scripts, or to generate new ideas for her show.

“Even if what it spits out is no good, it may spark a different idea in my brain,” she explained.

While new technologies often seem threatening and dangerous at first, they could revolutionize the future, Stewart added.

The experiences she has had talking with guests on “Decoded” and trying some of the innovations for herself have converted her “from a cynic to a firm believer that this technology has an important role to play in the future.”


Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Updated 57 sec ago
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.


Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Updated 12 April 2024
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.


Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

Updated 12 April 2024
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Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

  • The latest iPhone software updates automatically suggest the Palestinian flag when users type "Jerusalem" in Messages
  • Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital

LONDON: The inclusion of a Palestinian flag emoji when users type “Jerusalem” has sparked controversy for Apple, with accusations of antisemitism leveled against the American tech giant.

The issue emerged after a recent software update automatically suggested the Palestinian flag emoji, drawing criticism from British TV presenter Rachel Riley, an outspoken supporter of Israel.

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Riley took to social media to highlight the anomaly, noting that other capital cities typically do not trigger flag suggestions.

She wrote on X: “Dear @‌Apple @applesupport @tim_cook I’ve just upgraded my software to version iOS 17.4.1, and now, when I type the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, I’m offered the Palestinian flag emoji.

“This didn’t occur on my phone immediately before this update.

“Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of capital cities that do not offer their nation’s flags, let alone the wrong one.”

Riley accused the Cupertino company of “double standards,” which she views as a “form of antisemitism” when referring to Israel.

One social media expert suggested that the issue could have resulted from “human intervention.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong with associating Jerusalem with Palestinian belief, but Apple's choice of default settings warrants justification, especially considering the potential discriminatory implications of this decision,” said Tom Divon, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview with The Telegraph.

The iPhone maker said the change made to the keyboard was unintentional and followed a recent software update.

A spokesperson for Apple explained that the Palestinian flag was the result of a “bug” within predictive emoji, adding that it would be fixed in the new iOS software update.

Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP/File)

The city is divided, with Israel controlling the western part and the eastern part viewed as Palestinian territory by the UN, although Israel has repeatedly been accused of exerting extensive power and using violence over the area in an attempt to gain control.

Former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 further fueled tensions, drawing condemnation from the international community and Palestinian leaders, who described the move as “deplorable and unacceptable measures (that) deliberately undermine all peace efforts.”

 


Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

Updated 11 April 2024
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Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

  • Eurovision organizers European Broadcasting Union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision over Gaza war
  • EBU said Eurovision is not a contest between governments and that Israeli broadcaster KAN met all competition rules

MALMO: Protesters waving Palestinian flags and banners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Israel at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmo that will host the event next month.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes Eurovision, bills the song contest as a non-political event.
But the global political backdrop often weighs on the contest, which this year takes place amid protests and boycotts over the devastating Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, affecting cultural events across Europe.
“I think there is no way that Israel should be able to participate in Eurovision and it’s complete double standards that they let them participate when they kicked Russia out,” said Malmo resident Mats Rehle, 43, who works in a bookshop.
Protesters outside Malmo city held a banner calling for the boycott of Israel above the Eurovision logo, while another banner featured red stains to look like blood and a pair of scissors cutting the chord to a microphone displaying an Israeli flag.
The EBU in 2022 banned Russia from Eurovision after several European public broadcasters called for the country to be expelled following its invasion of Ukraine.
The union has said it suspended the Russian broadcasters over “persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values.”
The organizers’ decision to include Israeli broadcaster KAN has sparked protests from artists and ministers, but the EBU said in January that Eurovision was not a contest between governments and that KAN met all competition rules.
The union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision, and on Wednesday urged people to refrain from online abuse directed at some participating artists.
“We have all been affected by the images, stories, and the unquestionable pain suffered by those in Israel and in Gaza,” the EBU said in a statement.
“However... we wish to address the concerns and discussions surrounding this situation, especially the targeted social media campaigns against some of our participating artists,” it added.

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Meta to blur Instagram messages containing nudity in latest move for teen safety

Updated 11 April 2024
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Meta to blur Instagram messages containing nudity in latest move for teen safety

  • The feature will use on-device machine learning to analyze image sent as direct message on Instagram
  • The company also mentioned that they are currently developing new tools to identify accounts engaged in sextortion

LONDON: Instagram will test features that blur messages containing nudity to safeguard teens and prevent potential scammers from reaching them, its parent Meta said on Thursday as it tries to allay concerns over harmful content on its apps.
The tech giant is under mounting pressure in the United States and Europe over allegations that its apps were addictive and have fueled mental health issues among young people.
Meta said the protection feature for Instagram’s direct messages would use on-device machine learning to analyze whether an image sent through the service contains nudity.
The feature will be turned on by default for users under 18 and Meta will notify adults to encourage them to turn it on.
“Because the images are analyzed on the device itself, nudity protection will also work in end-to-end encrypted chats, where Meta won’t have access to these images – unless someone chooses to report them to us,” the company said.
Unlike Meta’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps, direct messages on Instagram are not encrypted but the company has said it plans to roll out encryption for the service.
Meta also said that it was developing technology to help identify accounts that might be potentially engaging in sextortion scams and that it was testing new pop-up messages for users who might have interacted with such accounts.
In January, the social media giant had said it would hide more content from teens on Facebook and Instagram, adding this would make it more difficult for them to come across sensitive content such as suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.
Attorneys general of 33 US states, including California and New York, sued the company in October, saying it repeatedly misled the public about the dangers of its platforms.
In Europe, the European Commission has sought information on how Meta protects children from illegal and harmful content. (Reporting by Granth Vanaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni and Alan Barona)