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China

China, Europe Drive Shift To Electric Cars as US Lags (reuters.com) 95

Electric cars will pick up critical momentum in 2017, many in the auto industry believe - just not in North America. Tighter emissions rules in China and Europe leave global carmakers and some consumers with little choice but to embrace plug-in vehicles, fuelling an investment surge, said industry executives gathered in Detroit this past week for the city's annual auto show. From a report: "Car electrification is an irreversible trend," said Jacques Aschenbroich, chief executive of auto supplier Valeo, which has expanded sales by 50 percent in five years with a focus on electric, hybrid, connected and self-driving cars. In Europe, green cars benefit increasingly from subsidies, tax breaks and other perks, while combustion engines face mounting penalties including driving and parking restrictions. China, struggling with catastrophic pollution levels in major cities, is aggressively pushing plug-in vehicles. Its carrot-and-stick approach combines tens of billions in investment and research funding with subsidies, and regulations designed to discourage driving fossil-fueled cars in big cities. The road ahead for electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States, however, could have more hairpin curves.
China

China Orders App Stores To Join Register (bbc.com) 21

China's internet regulator has ordered mobile app stores to register themselves with it immediately. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said the move would help "promote the healthy and orderly development of the mobile internet." From a report on BBC: Most smartphones in the country run Android, but Google does not operate its Play Store locally, meaning users go elsewhere to add software. A report last year linked this to the spread of malware. Cheetah Mobile Security -- a Beijing-based firm -- reported that more than 1.4 million Chinese users' mobile devices had been struck by infections as of January 2016, making it the worst afflicted nation. India and Indonesia were in second and third place. This follows previous efforts to censor what appears online, including a recent demand that Apple remove the New York Times from the Chinese version of its iOS App Store. The US newspaper was the first to report the watchdog's move outside of China itself. Because of the Play store's absence, Android users in China typically go to stores operated by local tech giants including Tencent, Xiaomi, Baidu and Huawei.
Earth

Moon Express Raises $20 Million In Series B-1, Fully Funds Trip To The Moon (techcrunch.com) 60

The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.
Businesses

Someone Is Trying to Sell Those Stolen Three-Screen Razer Laptops in China (geek.com) 48

Just a few days ago, Razer's awesome Project Valerie laptops -- the one with three 4K displays -- were stolen. Now it looks like whoever stole them is trying to sell them. From a report: It turns out that the thief (or thieves) didn't just nab one Project Valerie prototype. They actually got ahold of a pair. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan understandably wants them back, really, really badly. The company was willing to offer $25,000 to anyone who could offer information that led to the prototypes' return. So where did the laptops end up? Somewhere behind the Great Wall, apparently. Whoever has them isn't trying to quietly fence them in some dark Beijing alleyway, either. They've actually been listed on the immensely popular Chinese e-commerce site Taobao -- where they were spotted by writers at Engadget Chinese and Wccftech.
Robotics

Half the Work People Do Can Be Automated, Says McKinsey (techinasia.com) 402

Half the work people do in their jobs can be automated, according to a study published by McKinsey Global Institute. From a report: Instead of assessing the impact of automation on specific jobs, the study went to a more granular level by looking at the activities involved in various jobs. The logic is that every occupation has a range of activities, each with varying potential for automation. McKinsey found that 49 percent of the activities people are paid to do in the global economy can be automated with "currently demonstrated technology." That involves US$11.9 trillion in wages and touches 1.1 billion people. The study encompassed over 50 countries and 80 percent of the world's workers. China, India, Japan, and the US accounted for half of the total wages and employees. Not surprisingly, the two most populous countries, China and India, could see the largest impact of automation, potentially affecting 600 million workers -- which is twice the population of the US.
China

Bitcoin Slides as China's Central Bank Launches Checks On Exchanges (reuters.com) 43

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: China's central bank launched spot checks on leading bitcoin exchanges in Beijing and Shanghai, ratcheting up pressure on potential capital outflows and knocking the price of the cryptocurrency down more than 12 percent against the dollar. The People's Bank of China said its probe of bitcoin exchanges BTCC, Huobi and OKCoin was to look into a range of possible rule violations, including market manipulation, money laundering and unauthorized financing. It did not say if any violations had been found. Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to stem capital outflows and relieve pressure on the yuan. While the yuan lost more than 6.5 percent against the dollar last year, its worst performance since 1994, the bitcoin price has soared to near-record highs.
United Kingdom

Regulators Criticize Banks For Lending Uber $1.15 Billion (venturebeat.com) 134

Federal regulators criticized several Wall Street banks over the handling of a $1.15 billion loan they helped arrange for Uber this past summer, reports Reuters, citing people with knowledge of the matter. From the report: Led by Morgan Stanley, the banks helped the ride-sharing network tap the leveraged loan market in July for the first time, persuading institutional investors to focus on its lofty valuation and established markets rather than its losses in countries such as China and India. The Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which are trying to reign in risky lending across Wall Street, took issue with the way in which the banks carved out Uber's more mature operations from the rest of the business, the people said.
China

WeChat Beats Google in Releasing Apps That Don't Need Downloading or Installing (mashable.com) 69

An anonymous reader shares a Mashable report: Click on a link in China's top messaging app, WeChat, and you'll be taken to a rich app-like experience, but without needing to download or install anything. Tencent, WeChat's maker, on Monday released "mini programs." The new mini programs work within the messaging app, and the early crop at launch include a Prisma-like photo editing app, a Pomodoro Timer productivity app, a flight search engine, and one for recipe searches. With the mini programs, the already-dominant WeChat continues its march to become practically ubiquitous on Chinese handsets, where people already use the messenger for real-life tasks like paying at restaurants, to hailing a Didi Chuxing ride. Last year, Google too announced that it would soon allow users to check out apps without downloading or installing them. The feature is yet to go live.
China

Choked By Smog, Beijing Creates A New Environmental Police Force (csmonitor.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes the Christian Science Monitor: A new police force will crack down on environmental offenders in Beijing, city officials announced Saturday, marking the Chinese government's latest attempt to reduce smog... Other measures included cutting coal use by 30 percent in 2017, shutting down 500 higher-polluting factories and upgrading 2,500 others, phasing out 300,000 higher-polluting older vehicles, and supplying cleaner gas and diesel at fuel stations starting February 15. The announcement came one day after municipal authorities in Beijing announced they would install air purifiers in the city's schools and kindergartens.
Beijing's mayor said that smoke from trash burning and open-air barbecues and even dust from roads "are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement."
Cellphones

Nokia Finally Returns To The Smartphone Market (In China) (mashable.com) 23

An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: To little fanfare, the Finnish technology company HMD Global Sunday unveiled the Nokia 6, a mid-range Android smartphone for the Chinese market. HMD owns the rights to use Nokia's brand on mobile phones. The Nokia 6, which runs the newest version of Google's mobile operating system, Android Nougat, sports a 5.5-inch full HD (1920x1080 pixels) display. With metal on the sides and a rounded rectangular fingerprint scanner housed on the front, the Nokia 6 seems reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S7.

The new Nokia smartphone is powered by a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor and will compete with the likes of Samsung's Galaxy A series models and other mid-end smartphones... The smartphone is priced at 1,699 Chinese Yuan (roughly $250).

Government

US Releases Declassified Report On Russian Hacking, Concludes That Putin 'Developed a Clear Preference' For Trump (theverge.com) 731

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released its unclassified report on Russian hacking operations in the United States. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," according to the report. "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump." The report, titled "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections," details the successful hack of the Democratic National Committee. "The Kremlin's campaign aimed at the U.S. election featured disclosures of data obtained through Russian cyber operations; intrusions into U.S. state and local electoral boards; and overt propaganda," according to the report. The report states that Russian intelligence services made cyber-attacks against "both major U.S. political parties" to influence the 2016 election. The report also publicly names Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, two sources of stolen information released to the public, as Russian operatives working on behalf of the country's military intelligence unit, the GRU. Officials from the organization were recently the target of U.S. sanctions. WikiLeaks is also cited as a recipient of stolen information. The report also notes that the U.S. has determined Russia "accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards," though no vote-tallying processes were tampered with. The FBI and CIA have "high confidence" the election tampering was ordered by Putin to help then-candidate Trump, according to the report. NSA has "moderate confidence" in the assessment. bongey writes: The declassified DNI report offers no direct evidence of Russia hacking DNC or Podesta emails. Exactly half of the report (subtract blank and TOC) 9 of 18 is just devoted to going after RT.com by claiming they have close ties to Russia and therefore a propaganda arm, trying to imply that rt.com is related to the hacking. "Many of the key judgments in this assessment rely on a body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior. Insights into Russian efforts -- including specific cyber operations -- and Russian views of key U.S. players derive from multiple corroborating sources. Some of our judgments about Kremlin preferences and intent are drawn from the behavior of Kremlin loyal political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actors, all of whom the Kremlin either directly uses to convey messages or who are answerable to the Kremlin." UPDATE 1/6/17: President-elect Donald Trump met with U.S. intelligence officials Friday, calling the meeting "constructive" and offering praise for intel officials. "While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines," Trump said in a statement after the meeting.
Transportation

Faraday Future Unveils Super Fast Electric Car (bbc.com) 121

Start-up Faraday Future has unveiled a self-driving electric car that it says can accelerate from zero to 60mph (97km/h) in 2.39 seconds. Faraday says the FF91 accelerates faster than Tesla's Model S or any other electric car in production. From a report on BBC: It was shown off at the CES tech show in Las Vegas. But Faraday Future has faced financial difficulties and one analyst said it had to challenge "scepticism" following last year's CES presentation. The FF91 was introduced via a live demo, in which it drove itself around a car park and backed into an empty space. Pre-recorded footage also showed the car accelerating from standstill to 60mph in 2.39 seconds. Tesla's fastest model did it in 2.5 seconds on the same track. Late in the presentation, however, there was an awkward moment when Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting tried to demonstrate the car's self-parking function on stage in front of the audience. This time, the vehicle remained stationary.
China

China To Plow $361 Billion Into Renewable Fuel By 2020 (indiatimes.com) 117

China will invest $361 billion in renewable power generation between 2016 and 2020, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said Thursday, as the world's largest energy market pushes to shift away from coal power. From a report: The investment will create over 13 million jobs in the sector, the NEA said in a blueprint document that lays out its plan to develop the nation's energy sector in a five-year period. The NEA repeated its goal to have 580 million tonnes of coal equivalent of renewable energy consumption by 2020, accounting for 15 percent of overall energy consumption.
China

Apple Removes NYTimes App in China, Shows How Far It Is Willing To Go To Please Local Authority (theguardian.com) 174

Apple has removed the New York Times app from its store in China after a government request, in an example of how far the company will go to please the authorities in its third-largest market. From a report: China operates what is thought to be the largest internet censorship regime in the world, blocking thousands of foreign websites viewed as a threat by the ruling Communist party. Google, Twitter, Facebook Youtube and Instagram are all inaccessible. Apple removed the English and Chinese-language versions of the New York Times app on 23 December, although it was not immediately clear why. "We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," said Carolyn Wu, an Apple spokeswoman. "As a result the app must be taken down off the China app store. When this situation changes the app store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China."
Businesses

Apple App Store Developers Earned $20 Billion in 2016, Up 40 Percent Year Over Year (cnbc.com) 26

Apple said Thursday its App Store generated $20 billion for developers in 2016, a 40 percent increase from 2015, helped by the popularity of games such as Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run and increased revenue from subscriptions. From a report on CNBC: "2016 was an amazingly great year for the App Store," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told CNBC. "We continue to advance what is available for developers to create. And our catalog of apps grew 20 percent to 2.2 million." Schiller said the biggest drivers for the App Store included games such as "Pokemon Go," which was the most downloaded app in 2016; "Super Mario," which was the most downloaded app on Christmas and New Year's days; and subscription-based apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Time Warner's HBO Go. The tech giant said its biggest day of sales on the App Store was on Jan. 1, 2017, when customers spent a record $240 million. The top grossing markets included the U.S, U.K., Japan and China, which saw 90 percent year-over-year growth.
Bitcoin

Over 1,800 MongoDB Databases Held For Ransom By Mysterious Attacker (bleepingcomputer.com) 115

An anonymous reader writes: "An attacker going by the name of Harak1r1 is hijacking unprotected MongoDB databases, stealing and replacing their content, and asking for a 0.2 Bitcoin ($200) ransom to return the data," reports Bleeping Computer. According to John Matherly, Shodan founder, over 1,800 MongoDB databases have had their content replaced with a table called WARNING that contains the ransom note. Spotted by security researcher Victor Gevers, these databases are MongoDB instances that feature no administrator password and are exposed to external connections from the internet. Database owners in China have been hit, while Bleeping Computer and MacKeeper have confirmed other infections, one which hit a prominent U.S. healthcare organization and blocked access to over 200,000 user records. These attacks are somewhat similar to attacks on Redis servers in 2016, when an unknown attacker had hijacked and installed the Fairware ransomware on hundreds of Linux servers running Redis DB. The two series of attacks don't appear to be related.
AI

Google's AlphaGo AI Secretively Won More Than 50 Straight Games Against World's Top Go Players (qz.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: When Google's artificial intelligence program AlphaGo made history by taking down Korea's Lee Sedol -- one of the world's best Go players -- in a landslide 4-1 victory in March, Chinese player Ke Jie was skeptical. He famously wrote on Weibo the next day, "Even if AlphaGo can defeat Lee Sedol, it can't beat me," and has since agreed to take on the AI at an undecided time. But now even Ke, the reigning top-ranked Go player, has acknowledged that human beings are no match for robots in the complex board game, after he lost three games to an AI that mysteriously popped up online in recent days. The AI turned out to be AlphaGo in disguise. On Jan. 4, after winning more than 50 games against several of the world's best Go players, Ke included, a user registered with an ID of "Master" on two Chinese board game platforms came forward to identify itself as AlphaGo. "I'm AlphaGo's Doctor Huang," the user "Master" wrote on foxwq.com, according to screenshots from Chinese media reports. Taiwanese developer Aja Huang is a member of Google's DeepMind team behind the AI. Since Dec. 29, Master has defeated a long list of top Go players including Korea's Park Jung-hwan (world No. 3), Japan's Iyama Yuta (No. 5) and Ke in fast-paced games. He won 51 games straight before his 52nd rival, Chen Yaoye, went offline, forcing the game to be recorded as a tie. By Jan. 4 when the test was completed, Master had racked up 60 wins, plus the one tie, and zero loss, according to numerous reports (link in Chinese).
Power

Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth In Less Than a Decade (bloomberg.com) 504

Solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world. In less than a decade, it's likely to be the lowest-cost option almost everywhere, reports Bloomberg. From the article: In 2016, countries from Chile to the United Arab Emirates broke records with deals to generate electricity from sunshine for less than 3 cents a kilowatt-hour, half the average global cost of coal power. Now, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Mexico are planning auctions and tenders for this year, aiming to drop prices even further. Taking advantage: Companies such as Italy's Enel SpA and Dublin's Mainstream Renewable Power, who gained experienced in Europe and now seek new markets abroad as subsidies dry up at home. Since 2009, solar prices are down 62 percent, with every part of the supply chain trimming costs. That's help cut risk premiums on bank loans, and pushed manufacturing capacity to record levels. By 2025, solar may be cheaper than using coal on average globally, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The solar supply chain is experiencing "a Wal-Mart effect" from higher volumes and lower margins, according to Sami Khoreibi, founder and chief executive officer of Enviromena Power Systems. The speed at which the price of solar will drop below coal varies in each country. Places that import coal or tax polluters with a carbon price, such as Europe and Brazil, will see a crossover in the 2020s, if not before. Countries with large domestic coal reserves such as India and China will probably take longer.
China

China Smog: Millions Start New Year Shrouded By Health Alerts and Travel Chaos (theguardian.com) 77

Millions in China rang in the New Year shrouded in a thick blanket of toxic smog, causing road closures and flight cancellations as 24 cities issued alerts that will last through much of the week. From a report on The Guardian: On the first day of 2017 in Beijing, concentrations of tiny particles that penetrate deep into the lungs climbed as high as 24 times levels recommended by the World Health Organization. More than 100 flights were cancelled and all intercity buses were halted at the capital's airport. In the neighbouring port city of Tianjin, more than 300 flights were cancelled while the weather forecast warned thick smog will persist until 5 January. All of the city's highways were also shut as low visibility made driving hazardous, effectively trapping residents.
The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Breaks $1,000 Level, Highest in More Than 3 Years (cnbc.com) 146

The price of digital currency bitcoin has hit the $1,000 mark for the first time in three years. From a report on CNBC: The cryptocurrency was trading at $1,021 at the time of publication, according to CoinDesk data, at level not seen since November 2013, with its market capitalization exceeding $16 billion. Bitcoin has been on a steady march higher for the past few months, driven by a number of factors such as the devaluation of the yuan, geopolitical uncertainty and an increase in professional investors taking an interest in the asset class. "We are seeing the aftermath of zero interest rates run amok. So bitcoin is a healthy reminder that we don't have to hold on to dollars or renminbi, which is subject to capital controls and loss of purchasing power. Rather it's a new asset class," Bobby Lee, chief executive of BTC China, one of the world's largest bitcoin exchanges, told CNBC by phone.

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