Social media platform X to offer video, audio calls

The calling features would work on iOS, Android, Mac and PC systems, and no phone number would be needed. (AFP/File)
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Updated 31 August 2023

Social media platform X to offer video, audio calls

  • Elon Musk said new features coming soon
  • The move is a step towards transforming Twitter into a one-stop shop for all social media, messaging, and payments needs

WASHINGTON: The social media platform X will begin offering video and audio calling, owner Elon Musk announced on Thursday, a step toward turning the former Twitter into an “everything app.”
“Video & audio calls coming to X,” Musk wrote in a post on the platform, without specifying when the new features would be available.
The calling features would work on iOS, Android, Mac and PC systems, and no phone number would be needed, he said.
“X is the effective global address book,” the billionaire added. “That set of factors is unique.”
Last month, Musk and his newly hired chief executive Linda Yaccarino announced the rebranding of Twitter as X, saying it would become an “everything app” inspired by China’s WeChat that would allow users to socialize as well as handle their finances.
X’s payment branch Twitter Payments LLC was granted a “crucial” currency transmitter license from the US state of Rhode Island on Monday, allowing it to “engage in cryptocurrency-related activities” such as exchanges, wallets and payment processors, the crypto website CoinWire reported this week.
The license allows X to “securely store, transfer, and facilitate the exchange of digital assets on behalf of its users,” according to CoinWire.
Since Musk bought Twitter last October, the platform’s advertising business has collapsed as marketers soured on his management style and mass firings that gutted content moderation.
In response, the tycoon has moved toward building a subscriber base and pay model in a search for new revenue.
Many users and advertisers alike have responded adversely to the site’s new charges for previously free services, as well as its changes to content moderation and the return of previously banned far-right accounts.
Musk also killed off the Twitter logo, replacing its globally recognized blue bird with a white X.

EU reaches a deal on the world’s first comprehensive AI rules

Updated 9 sec ago

EU reaches a deal on the world’s first comprehensive AI rules

  • Under the deal, the most advanced foundation models that pose the biggest “systemic risks” will get extra scrutiny
  • Researchers have warned that these powerful foundation models could be used to supercharge online disinformation and manipulation, cyberattacks or creation of bioweapons

LONDON: European Union negotiators clinched a deal Friday on the world’s first comprehensive artificial intelligence rules, paving the way for legal oversight of technology used in popular generative AI services like ChatGPT that has promised to transform everyday life and spurred warnings of existential dangers to humanity.
Negotiators from the European Parliament and the bloc’s 27 member countries overcame big differences on controversial points including generative AI and police use of facial recognition surveillance to sign a tentative political agreement for the Artificial Intelligence Act.
“Deal!” tweeted European Commissioner Thierry Breton, just before midnight. “The EU becomes the very first continent to set clear rules for the use of AI.”
The result came after marathon closed-door talks this week, with the initial session lasting 22 hours before a second round kicked off Friday morning.
Officials were under the gun to secure a political victory for the flagship legislation but were expected to leave the door open to further talks to work out the fine print, likely to bring more backroom lobbying.
The EU took an early lead in the global race to draw up AI guardrails when it unveiled the first draft of its rulebook in 2021. The recent boom in generative AI, however, sent European officials scrambling to update a proposal poised to serve as a blueprint for the world.
The European Parliament will still need to vote on it early next year, but with the deal done that’s a formality, Brando Benifei, an Italian lawmaker co-leading the body’s negotiating efforts, told The Associated Press late Friday.
“It’s very very good,” he said by text message after being asked if it included everything he wanted. “Obviously we had to accept some compromises but overall very good.” The eventual law wouldn’t fully take effect until 2025 at the earliest, and threatens stiff financial penalties for violations of up to 35 million euros ($38 million) or 7 percent of a company’s global turnover.
Generative AI systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT have exploded into the world’s consciousness, dazzling users with the ability to produce human-like text, photos and songs but raising fears about the risks the rapidly developing technology poses to jobs, privacy and copyright protection and even human life itself.
Now, the US, UK, China and global coalitions like the Group of 7 major democracies have jumped in with their own proposals to regulate AI, though they’re still catching up to Europe.
Strong and comprehensive regulation from the EU “can set a powerful example for many governments considering regulation,” said Anu Bradford, a Columbia Law School professor who’s an expert on EU and digital regulation. Other countries “may not copy every provision but will likely emulate many aspects of it.”
AI companies who will have to obey the EU’s rules will also likely extend some of those obligations to markets outside the continent, she said. “After all, it is not efficient to re-train separate models for different markets,” she said.
Others are worried that the agreement was rushed through.
“Today’s political deal marks the beginning of important and necessary technical work on crucial details of the AI Act, which are still missing,” said Daniel Friedlaender, head of the European office of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech industry lobby group.
The AI Act was originally designed to mitigate the dangers from specific AI functions based on their level of risk, from low to unacceptable. But lawmakers pushed to expand it to foundation models, the advanced systems that underpin general purpose AI services like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard chatbot.
Foundation models looked set to be one of the biggest sticking points for Europe. However, negotiators managed to reach a tentative compromise early in the talks, despite opposition led by France, which called instead for self-regulation to help homegrown European generative AI companies competing with big USrivals including OpenAI’s backer Microsoft.
Also known as large language models, these systems are trained on vast troves of written works and images scraped off the Internet. They give generative AI systems the ability to create something new, unlike traditional AI, which processes data and completes tasks using predetermined rules.
Under the deal, the most advanced foundation models that pose the biggest “systemic risks” will get extra scrutiny, including requirements to disclose more information such as how much computing power was used to train the systems.
Researchers have warned that these powerful foundation models, built by a handful of big tech companies, could be used to supercharge online disinformation and manipulation, cyberattacks or creation of bioweapons.
Rights groups also caution that the lack of transparency about data used to train the models poses risks to daily life because they act as basic structures for software developers building AI-powered services.
What became the thorniest topic was AI-powered facial recognition surveillance systems, and negotiators found a compromise after intensive bargaining.
European lawmakers wanted a full ban on public use of facial scanning and other “remote biometric identification” systems because of privacy concerns while governments of member countries wanted exemptions so law enforcement could use them to tackle serious crimes like child sexual exploitation or terrorist attacks.
Civil society groups were more skeptical.
“Whatever the victories may have been in these final negotiations, the fact remains that huge flaws will remain in this final text,” said Daniel Leufer, a senior policy analyst at the digital rights group Access Now. Along with the law enforcement exemptions, he also cited a lack of protection for AI systems used in migration and border control, and “big gaps in the bans on the most dangerous AI systems”

‘Four Daughters’ wins inaugural Asharq Documentary Award

Updated 08 December 2023

‘Four Daughters’ wins inaugural Asharq Documentary Award

  • Prize marks company’s commitment to film industry, nurturing talent
  • Winner announced at Red Sea International Film Festival 2023

DUBAI: Kawthar Ben Haniyeh’s portrait of a Tunisian mother and her four daughters living in a society wracked by extremism has won the inaugural Asharq Documentary Award.

The awards are named after Saudi Research and Media Group’s Arabic free-to-air channel Asharq Documentary. The winning entry was announced during this year’s Red Sea International Film Festival at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Jeddah.

“Four Daughters” uses interviews and reenactments to tell the story of Olfa Hamrouni and her daughters, the two eldest of whom were radicalized and went missing.

“This award marks the beginning of several initiatives we have planned to recognize and reward filmmaking talent, while supporting the regional film industry,” Mohammed Al-Yousei, general manager of Asharq Documentary, said.

“A defining aspect of Asharq Documentary is its dedicated, in-house production capabilities, offering exclusive access to regional documentary films for our audiences.”

The new channel aims to provide a platform for creators to showcase their stories and productions, the company said in a statement.

Seven other films were in the running for the award. They were: Iraq’s “Hiding Saddam Hussein,” “Iraq’s Invisible Beauty” and “The Dalkurd Story,” Morocco’s “The Mother of All Lies,” Libya’s “Donga,” the UK’s “Copa 71” and Ireland’s “In the Shadow of Beirut.”

Shivani Pandya Malhotra, managing director of the Red Sea International Film Festival, said the Asharq Documentary Award was an important addition to the festival as the two organizations were committed to supporting storytelling and filmmaking.

Asharq Documentary is available through its dedicated TV channel and social media accounts, as well as live streaming and on-demand services via Asharq NOW.

Media watchdog calls for release of Gaza correspondent amid growing press safety concerns

Updated 08 December 2023

Media watchdog calls for release of Gaza correspondent amid growing press safety concerns

  • Diaa Al-Kahlout detained at gunpoint on Thursday along with family members
  • News follows claim that Israeli killing of Reuters journalist was part of a ‘deliberate assault on civilians’

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Israeli authorities to release Palestinian journalist Diaa Al-Kahlout, who was detained in northern Gaza on Dec. 7.

Al-Kahlout, the chief bureau correspondent for the Qatari-funded, London-based Arab newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, was detained along with family members.

CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, Sherif Mansour, expressed “deep concern” about the incident and called for Al-Kahlout’s immediate release.

“The Israeli army should disclose his location, release him immediately, and take steps to ensure the safety of all journalists covering this war, especially those in Gaza who face imminent harm,” he said.

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, one of the few pan-Arab news outlets that still has a physical presence in northern Gaza, said it had lost contact with Al-Kahlout at around noon on Thursday, and later discovered that he and his family were detained at gunpoint.

Reports suggest that Israeli soldiers detained Al-Kahlout, leaving his disabled daughter behind, and subjected him and others to alleged mistreatment, including physical assault.

Hussam Kanafani, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed’s editor-in-chief, said the outlet was working to determine Al-Kahlout’s whereabouts and secure his release.

Kanafani claimed that Israel deliberately “arrests, targets, and kills journalists” to prevent documentation of crimes.

Since the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out last Oct. 7, CPJ has reported the arrest of 19 journalists, most based in the West Bank.

According to the media watchdog, at least 63 journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict, the highest casualty count in over 30 years of record-keeping.

Israel has faced persistent allegations of harassing, detaining and obstructing journalists, along with accusations of deliberate targeting.

On Thursday, Reuters published an investigation into the death of reporter Issam Abdallah in an Israeli attack near the Lebanese border on Oct. 13.

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, previously said that the organization’s inquiry into the incident suggested it was a “direct attack on civilians.”

He added that such attacks are “absolutely prohibited by international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it was important that an Israeli inquiry into the incident reached a conclusion and that its findings were transparent.

Axel Springer to close Upday in shift towards AI-based news

Updated 08 December 2023

Axel Springer to close Upday in shift towards AI-based news

  • Upday to close at end of the year, relaunch expected for summer 2024
  • More than half of jobs to be eliminated, company said

BERLIN: Axel Springer is shutting down the news outlet Upday, the German publishing giant said on Friday, in plans to revive the brand as a “trend news generator” driven by artificial intelligence.

Upday will close by the end of the year in its current form, with the new service scheduled to launch in the summer of 2024.

A spokesperson said jobs at Upday are being eliminated during the transformation process, adding that the company would examine whether staff can continue to work elsewhere in the group.

Of a one-time workforce of 150, 70 staff members remain, the spokesperson said.

The aim of the transformation is to explore “the opportunities that (artificial intelligence) presents for journalism and the news industry”, the company said.

Upday has been pre-installed on Samsung cell phones and other devices under a deal between Axel Springer and the South Korean company in 2015. It expanded into 34 European countries.

Axel Springer owns top-selling German tabloids Bild and Welt, as well as US political news website Politico. The company plans to transition from print media to digital news.

TikTok makes people 17% more antisemitic, claims ex-South Carolina governor

Updated 08 December 2023

TikTok makes people 17% more antisemitic, claims ex-South Carolina governor

  • TikTok rejects Nikki Haley claim as ‘100% false’
  • Republican presidential hopeful ridiculed online

DUBAI: Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley claimed on Wednesday that spending time on social media app TikTok made people “17 percent more antisemitic, more pro-Hamas” every 30 minutes.

During the Republican presidential primary debate, Haley said: “We really do need to ban TikTok once and for all and let me tell you why.

“For every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok every day they become 17 percent more antisemitic, more pro-Hamas based on doing that.”

Haley was likely referring to a recent study, but her comments were not entirely accurate, pointed out Steve Goldstein, European bureau chief for MarketWatch.

“The study, a pretty decent sample of some 1,323 Americans under the age of 30, found that spending 30 minutes a day on TikTok was associated with a 17 percent increase in the likelihood they were to hold antisemitic or anti-Israel views compared to people who don’t use it at all,” he wrote.

“While much higher than the antisemitic views of Instagram or X users, the study does not suggest that continuing to use the Chinese-owned social media service will further bolster the user’s antisemitic views,” he added.

Goldstein also drew attention to “the important distinction between causation and correlation,” saying that the study authors note “that for every video view with a pro-Israel hashtag, there are 54 with a pro-Palestinian one.”

Haley’s comments have sparked amusement and mockery online.

Anthony Goldbloom, the data scientist behind the study, retweeted a clip of Haley speaking during the debate on Wednesday.

In other tweets, he said that he does not trust TikTok because the company allegedly puts out “so many contradictory and easily falsifiable comments” in their news releases.

TikTok said on Twitter through its policy account that Haley’s comments are “100% false.”

Her claims have been labelled as false by TV station WUSA9 and Verify This.