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

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Updated 24 February 2023

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.”

Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock

Updated 13 April 2024

Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock

  • Artificial intelligence tool’s ‘deep understanding’ of country equips it to address issues effectively, AnNahar newspaper says
  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than two years

LONDON: A Lebanese newspaper has launched what it claims is the world’s first artificial intelligence tool designed to assume presidential duties for a nation, in an attempt to break the long-standing deadlock over who should assume the country’s presidency.

Arabic-language daily AnNahar said the program, which it has called “AI President,” has been trained on an archive of 90 years of “impartial journalism” from its pages. The program analyzes historical data and current events to provide answers to political, legal, and governmental questions.

With its “deep understanding” of Lebanon’s history, “AI President” aims to provide an “unbiased perspective” on the country’s current challenges.

The launch was announced in a live broadcast by Nayla Tueni, AnNahar’s editor-in-chief, who conducted an interview with the software regarding Lebanon’s current issues and potential solutions to them.

Lebanon is facing a number of long-running socio-economic crises, with over 80 percent of the population now reported to be living in poverty.

The country has been without a president for more than two years, despite 13 unsuccessful attempts by the Lebanese parliament to elect one.

Tueni hopes “AI President” will help break the political stalemate and restore confidence in the system.

“We refuse to sit back and allow things to go on as they have. To not have a president for this long is unacceptable and has impacted the country negatively,” Tueni said. “If the parliament will not do its job to elect a president, then the people will bring Lebanon a president.” 

“AI President” will be accessible through the website to answer questions on Lebanese politics.

Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

Updated 13 April 2024

Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

  • A special license issued by the Trump administration has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020
  • In August, Huawei unveiled a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC

WASHINGTON: Republican US lawmakers on Friday criticized the Biden administration after sanctioned Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei unveiled a laptop this week powered by an Intel AI chip.

The United States placed Huawei on a trade restriction list in 2019 for violating Iran sanctions, part of a broader effort to hobble Beijing’s technological advances. Placement on the list means the company’s suppliers have to seek a special, difficult-to-obtain license before shipping to it.
One such license, issued by the Trump administration, has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020. China hard-liners had urged the Biden administration to revoke that license, but many grudgingly accepted that it would expire later this year and not be renewed.
Huawei’s unveiling Thursday of its first AI-enabled laptop, the MateBook X Pro powered by Intel’s new Core Ultra 9 processor, shocked and angered them, because it suggested to them that the Commerce Department had approved shipments of the new chip to Huawei.
“One of the greatest mysteries in Washington, DC is why the Department of Commerce continues to allow US technology to be shipped to Huawei” Republican Congressman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the House of Representatives select committee on China, said in a statement to Reuters.
A source familiar with the matter said the chips were shipped under a preexisting license. They are not covered by recent broad-cased restrictions on AI chip shipments to China, the source and another person said.
The Commerce Department and Intel declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The reaction is a sign of growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to thwart Huawei’s rise, nearly five years after it was added to a trade restriction list.
In August, it shocked the world with a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC, becoming a symbol of China’s technological resurgence despite Washington’s ongoing efforts to cripple its capacity to produce advanced semiconductors.
At a Senate subcommittee hearing this week, Kevin Kurland, an export enforcement official, said Washington’s restrictions on Huawei have had a “significant impact” on it access to US technology. He also stressed that the goal was not necessarily to stop Huawei from growing but to keep it from misusing US technology for “malign activities.”
But the remarks did little to stem frustration among Republican China hawks following the news about Huawei’s new laptop.
“These approvals must stop,” Republican congressman Michael McCaul said in a statement to Reuters. “Two years ago, I was told licenses to Huawei would stop. Today, it doesn’t seem as though the policy has changed.”

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Updated 13 April 2024

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

  • The 3 reporters were taken to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah
  • Journalist Sami Shehada lost his leg in the attack

GAZA: Three Palestinian journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza on Friday.

Sami Shehada and Sami Barhoum were covering the events for the TRT Arabic TV channel, while Ahmad Harb was on duty for Al Arabiya News Channel at the time of the incident.

All three journalists were first taken to Al-Awda Hospital, a small facility in the north of the enclave, but later transferred to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Shehada lost a leg in the attack, which reportedly directly targeted the media team.

“(We) were in a (relatively) safe spot, wearing our press armor and helmets,” Shehada told Arab News. “Even the car I arrived in was labeled ‘TV,’ and I’m a civilian and a journalist — they targeted us.”

Since Oct. 7, at least 122 journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes, according to UN figures, and many more have been injured.

UN experts said in February that they were “alarmed at the extraordinarily high numbers of journalists and media workers who have been killed, attacked, injured and detained in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Gaza, in recent months, blatantly disregarding international law. We condemn all killings, threats and attacks on journalists and call on all parties to the conflict to protect them.”

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

Updated 12 April 2024

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.

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The biblical battle for the Holy City

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

Updated 12 April 2024

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.