NSA, FBI and CIA Warn Americans Not to Buy Huawei, ZTE Smartphones

A handful of U.S. intelligence agencies have advised American citizens not to buy smartphones made by Chinese tech firms.

Six top intelligence officials, including the directors of the FBI, CIA, NSA and Defense intelligence Agency, gave the stern warning when testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, CNBC reported.

The officials suggested that devices manufactured by firms such as Huawei or ZTE may pose a security threat to U.S. citizens who purchase them. Reportedly, a senator asked the agency chiefs to raise their hands if they recommended U.S. customers buy or use these products. None of them did, according to CNN Tech.

There’s a risk when letting any firm “beholden to foreign governments” into U.S. telecom networks, FBI Director Chris Wray explained during his testimony.

“That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure,” Wray added. “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

Huawei is the largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world, and more recently, it surpassed Apple as the world’s second-largest smartphone brand.

But while Huawei and other Chinese OEMs are dominant forces in their home market, they’ve mostly failed to gain any sort of traction in the U.S. Earlier this year, a plan to sell Huawei devices via AT&T fell through.

Largely, that’s because of U.S. government suspicion that the Chinese government could use smartphones and other devices made in China as espionage tools.

Congress has both introduced and passed legislation preventing government and federal agencies from buying from Chinese firms, or contracting them for other services. In 2012, Congress released a report saying Huawei and ZTE should be “viewed with suspicion,” CNN reported

For its part, Huawei said in a statement to CNBC that it “poses no greater cybersecurity risk” than any other tech vendor. Huawei CEO Richard Yu has also criticized American carriers and their “measured resistance” to Chinese firms, accusing them of diminishing customer choice.

It’s only the latest push by lawmakers to restrict foreign-made services or products due to intelligence concerns. Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, for example, has been banned from federal systems, CNN Tech reported.

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Beyond Flint: Drinking Water Violations Affect 45 Million Americans Annually

What’s in Your Water?

Over the past few years, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has cast a spotlight on the consequences aging infrastructure can have on water quality. However, a new report indicates that similar problems could be more widespread than we realized.

The study looked into health-related violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act that occurred between 1982 and 2015, which pertained to 17,900 community water systems. Using this data, authors Maura Allaire, Haowei Wu, and Upmanu Lall analyzed spatial and temporal trends in problems with the water supply.

The researchers found that during each year within the timeline they examined, between 9 and 45 million people had been affected by violations — accounting for between 4 and 28 percent of the U.S. population.

What happened in Flint is certainly significant in its own right, but the study points toward an even more alarming reality: that it’s part of a much broader trend.

Clear and Pure

The paper does note that generally speaking, people in the U.S. do have good access to clean drinking water. Around 7 or 8 percent of community water systems report at least one violation in a given year, which is said to be relatively low. Still, there’s room for improvement.

The water crisis in Flint is thought to have contributed to public health concerns ranging from an uptick in cases of Legionnaires’ disease to a decrease in birth rates. Though the situation in Flint is perhaps a more extreme case of potential violations, particularly those associated with the use of lead pipes.

Other water quality infractions which may be considered less severe can still cause trouble, though. For example, in the U.S. around 16.4 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are attributed to community water systems every year.

At present, state enforcement agencies do not have a systematic method of determining which water systems are in need of additional monitoring and inspection. While samples are taken from systems with recent violations on a more regular basis, Allaire, Wu, and Lall’s paper suggested maintaining high standards could be made easier if authorities identified “hotspots,” and the circumstances that seem to lead to violations.

To that end, the paper highlighted hotspots in parts of Texas and Oklahoma — two areas where water systems with repeat violations are more common. Though, in general, these violations seem to be more common in rural parts of the country as opposed to urban areas. In any case, low-income communities are often hit hardest. Conversely, privately-owned utilities and systems that purchase their water from other utilities experience fewer violations.

By paying more attention to spatial and temporal trends in drinking water violations, we might be able to allocate resources to the systems in need of scrutiny. However, the modernization efforts necessary to address these problems present a host of challenges: aging infrastructure, impaired or contaminated water at the source, and a lack of community finances are all flagged as contributing factors to this ongoing problem.

The post Beyond Flint: Drinking Water Violations Affect 45 Million Americans Annually appeared first on Futurism.


Half of Americans Want Universal Income, but Expect AI Companies to Pay It

Responding to Displacement

Americans are concerned about how growing automation will affect their jobs. There seems to be no limit to what tasks sophisticated robots can perform equal to or better than us, yet experts and the public alike disagree on how to respond to this displacement. In a 2018 Gallup and Northeastern University poll, 48 percent of Americans agreed that a universal income program is a positive solution.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a concept in which all citizens receive a set income, no matter their occupation, financial history, housing, demographics, or any other qualifier. It is a concept that has been lauded by people like Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg and criticized by people like Joe Biden. The hotly debated concept may seem far-fetched, but Scotland is already trialing a program to test it.

Does this poll mean that Americans are on board? Well, not exactly. While just below half are in favor, the majority disagreed about the use of UBI. More so, while an overwhelming 65 percent of Democrats support the concept of a universal income, only 28 percent of Republicans do, according to this poll.

In fact, according to the poll, 81 percent of those who identify as “very liberal” voiced support for UBI while only 27 percent of those who identify as “very conservative” said the same. If any type of universal income system is considered in the U.S., will it further divide the country’s parties?

Finding Solutions

Beyond the disparity in agreement over whether to implement a UBI, not everyone agrees on how we might pay for such a program. Only 45 percent of those polled would be willing to pay higher taxes to fund such a program. Interestingly enough, however, 80 percent of those who are in favor of a universal income also expect that business who benefit from artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous technologies should pay for it. 

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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This line of thinking aligns with the concept of a “robot tax,” something that Bill Gates overwhelmingly supports. The thinking behind this is that, because a human worker pays taxes, automation could lead to both job loss and a severe blow to government finances.

Because the workers they are replacing would pay taxes, this idea argues that it would only be right if taxes were paid on behalf of the robot — by the company that built it. There are those who say that this de-incentivizes innovation, but others agree that it could be a feasible solution to the cost of such a program.

Technology will unquestionably continue to advance, and innovation continue to streamline our lives, improve medical care, and push forward progress across fields and occupations. Among those polled by Gallup either, 76% either agreed or strongly agreed that AI will “fundamentally change the way people work and live in the next ten years.” Presently, 77% are “mostly positive” or “very positive” about AI’s impact, yet it’s clear that automation will lead to job losses at rates we have never experienced before. While not everyone agrees on the prospect of UBI, solutions must be found.

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More Americans Are Working From Home — And It’s Better for the Environment

Stay-at-Home Americans

There’s no doubting the transformative power of technology. Advances in tech have led to new and improved entertainment experiences, from allowing us to stream our favorite shows on-demand to immersing us in virtual worlds. They’re changing how we earn a living by making it easier to work remotely, and now, instead of going out to buy stuff, we shop online. Americans are staying home more, and according to a new study, that lifestyle change is affecting energy consumption.

For the study, which was published in the journal Joule, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the Rochester Institute of Technology analyzed 2003 to 2012 data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that compiles information on the daily schedules of some 11,000 Americans.

The researchers found that Americans are staying home an average of eight days more in 2012 than in 2003. Conversely, by spending more time at home, Americans spent less time traveling (1.2 days) and staying in non-residential buildings or areas (6.7 days) in 2012 compared to 2003.

The age of the survey respondents affected the time they spent at home, according to the researchers’ analysis. People between the ages of 18 and 24 spent an average of two weeks more at home in 2012 compared to 2002, a change that was 70 percent higher than the rest of the population.

As for what they were doing at home, most people spent their time working, watching videos, and using computers. At the same time, people also spent more time doing the “essentials,” such as sleeping, preparing meals, and eating.

The researchers didn’t simply focus on the fact that Americans are staying home more, though — they also looked at how that lifestyle change affected energy consumption. What they found surprised them: staying at home decreased the average national demand for energy by an estimated 1,700 trillion BTU in 2012. That’s equivalent to about 1.8 percent the total national energy demand for the year.

“We did expect to see net energy decrease, but we had no idea of the magnitude,” said lead researcher Ashok Sekar from the University of Texas at Austin in a news release.

Americans are staying home
Image Credit: Sekar et al., Joule (2018).

Let’s put that 1.8 percent or 1,700 trillion BTU into perspective.

As Sekar told Futurism, that amount of energy is approximately equivalent to the state of Kentucky’s total energy consumption in 2015. It’s most than what Connecticut, Hawaii, and Nevada combined consumed that same year, and it’s nearly half the total energy consumed by the state of New York in 2015.

“You could also compare [it with the] annual energy use of a car,” co-author Eric Williams told Futurism. “1,700 trillion BTU is equivalent to 30 million cars’ worth of gasoline usage over a year.”

Environmental Benefits

This change in lifestyle could have a noticeable environmental impact.

If Americans are staying home more often, that means they are consuming less fuel for transportation, which remains one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gasses. In 2015, around 27 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. came from transportation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Presumably, that number could’ve been higher had technology not made it possible for Americans to work or shop remotely.

The team did note that their study doesn’t account for variances in location, labor markets, or demographics that could impact activities and, therefore, emissions.

“The trend we report in the study is for the average population,” Sekar told Futurism. “The results can vary very much between people living in urban versus rural areas. [For example], people living in the city may use public transportation which has relatively much less energy consumption than people driving their cars.”

The team’s study makes one thing clear, though: technology does influence lifestyle and that influence is currently decreasing energy consumption. If the shift in habits and lifestyle continues on its current trajectory, it could play a significant role in the fight against climate change, right alongside decreased fossil fuel consumption and increased usage of clean energy alternatives.

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