11th August 2020

Technology Mike Pompeo holds ‘candid’ talks with PM on Huawei and Dunn

Technology Mike Pompeo holds ‘candid’ talks with PM on Huawei and Dunn

Technology

Technology Mike Pompeo and Dominic RaabImage copyright
AFP

Dominic Raab has insisted the UK was not “strong-armed” by the US into excluding Huawei from its 5G network.

While US sanctions against the Chinese firm had affected the UK’s decision, the foreign secretary said the allies’ interests “overlapped” on the issue.

He said diversifying the UK’s telecoms supply chain was a priority to fill the gap once Huawei’s role ended in 2027.

US counterpart Mike Pompeo said the UK had made the right “sovereign” call and Chinese “bullying” must be resisted.

Speaking at a news conference in London during a two-day visit to the UK, he praised the UK’s recent actions on Hong Kong and suggested it and other allies must stand up to China’s threatening behaviour “in every dimension”.

The US had lobbied the UK to reverse its decision earlier this year to give Huawei a lead role in building the infrastructure for the next-generation mobile communications network.

Last week, the government announced that it would ban domestic mobile providers from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after the end of this year and force them to remove all of its 5G kit from their networks by 2027.

Last week, Mr Pompeo signalled that he hoped the UK would act more swiftly but, speaking in London, he thanked the government for its decision and its actions more broadly against China, saying “well done”.

Technology ‘Good decision’

Mr Raab was asked by journalists whether the UK had effectively been forced into the u-turn by Washington’s decision to sanction both US and foreign firm supplying technology to the Chinese company.

“As a result of US sanctions we have to look with a clear-sighted perspective…and we have taken a decision based on that,” he replied. “But I don’t think there is any question of strong-arming.

“Mike and I always have constructive discussions and, in the vast majority of cases, our views overlap.”

Mr Pompeo acknowledged the two countries had not always agreed over the issue but that the UK had ultimately acted in its own national interests.

“I think the UK made a good decision,” he said.

“But I think that decision was made not because the US said it was a good decision but because the leadership in the UK concluded the right thing to do was to make that decision for the people of the UK.”

Asked whether the US wanted to “crush” the Chinese firm, which Washington has accused of state-sponsored espionage, Mr Pompeo said the US would vigorously defend its national security and stop its citizens’ personal data from ending up “in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”.

Technology Dunn talks

Earlier, Mr Pompeo met Boris Johnson in Downing Street for “candid” talks on a range of security and economic issues, including current US-UK trade negotiations.

No 10 said Boris Johnson had also raised the death of Harry Dunn and the need for “justice” for his family.

Image copyright
Reuters

The UK continues to seek the extradition of Anne Sacoolas in connection with the 19 year-old’s death in a road traffic collision outside a US military base in Northamptonshire last year.

The US has said it cannot allow Ms Sacoolas, who has been accused of causing Harry Dunn’s death by dangerous driving, to return to the UK to be questioned, insisting she has diplomatic immunity.

In a statement, Downing Street said the PM had made Mr Pompeo aware of the “strong feeling among the people of the UK that justice must be delivered”.

“The prime minister reiterated the need for justice to be done for Harry Dunn and his family,” it said.

Downing Street said the two men also spoke about “shared global security and foreign policy issues, including China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the situation in Iran and the Middle East peace process”.

The two-day visit is likely to be Mr Pompeo’s last to the UK before November’s presidential election.

11th August 2020

Technology Russia satellite: Kremlin accuses US and UK of ‘distorting’ truth

Technology Russia satellite: Kremlin accuses US and UK of ‘distorting’ truth

Technology

Technology National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) image shows Comet NEOWISEImage copyright
EPA

Image caption

The UK said Russia’s space operations “risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites”

Accusations from the US and UK that Russia recently tested anti-satellite weaponry in space are “distorted”, Russia’s defence ministry says.

“Tests carried out [on 15 July] did not create a threat for other spacecraft,” the ministry said, adding that it had not violated international law.

Moscow said earlier that it had been using new technology to perform checks on Russian space equipment.

But the US and UK said they were concerned about the satellite activity.

“We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon,” the head of the UK’s space directorate, Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth, said on Thursday.

It is the first time that the UK has made accusations about Russian test-firing in space, and comes just days after an inquiry said the UK government “badly underestimated” the threat posed by Russia.

The US State Department also said it had observed the use by Russia of “what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry”.

The US and Russia are to hold bilateral talks on space security in Vienna next week, the first since 2013.

The talks could be an opportunity to emphasise that “outer space is not a lawless and ungoverned territory”, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation Christopher Ford said.

Technology What has Russia said about its satellite tests?

In a statement on Friday, Russia’s foreign ministry said that one of the country’s “inspector” satellites had “carried out a check of a Russian spacecraft at close range with the use of specialised small spacecraft apparatus”.

It said the operation “did not violate any norms or principles of international law”.

The ministry accused the US and UK of “again attempting to present the situation in a distorted manner in order to… justify their steps to deploy weapons in space and achieve funding to that end”.

“We consider this latest anti-Russian attack as part of an information campaign initiated by Washington focused on discrediting Russian space activities,” the statement, quoted by the Interfax news agency, added.

Moscow earlier said that last week’s satellite test had resulted in “valuable information about the technical condition of the object under investigation” being recorded.

Technology Why are the US and UK concerned?

In a statement on Thursday, Gen Jay Raymond, who heads US space command, said there was evidence Russia had “conducted a test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon”.

“This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems and [is] consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold US and allied space assets at risk,” he said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation, Christopher Ford, accused Moscow of hypocrisy after it said it wanted arms control to be extended to space.

“Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counter-space programme,” he said.

The US said the Russian satellite system was the same one it raised concerns about in 2018 and earlier this year, when the US accused it of manoeuvring close to an American satellite.

Air Vice Marshal Smyth added: “Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends.”


Russia, the UK, the US and China are among more than 100 nations to have committed to a space treaty that stipulates that outer space is to be explored by all and purely for peaceful purposes.

The treaty adds that weapons should not be placed in orbit or in space.

11th August 2020

Technology Spot robot turns ‘Fluffy’ in new factory floor job

Technology Spot robot turns ‘Fluffy’ in new factory floor job

Technology

BBC Click’s Jen Copestake looks at the best of the week’s technology stories including:

  • One of the largest technology gatherings, CES, announces that it will be an all-digital, online-only event in 2021
  • The bosses of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appear before US lawmakers facing claims of “harmful” power. The companies argued the world needed large firms and they spurred innovation
  • Boston Dynamic’s Spot robot gets renamed Fluffy as Ford leases it to make making 3D scans of the factory floor

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

11th August 2020

Technology Research robot helps with housework and other news

Technology Research robot helps with housework and other news

Technology

BBC Click’s Jen Copestake looks at the best of the week’s technology stories including:

  • US burger chain White Castle announces it will use the Flippy robot in one of its restaurants
  • Oppo reveals a charger capable of charging a phone battery in 20 minutes
  • Hello Robot’s research robot which can help with housework, including playing with the family dog, is developed

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

11th August 2020

Technology E-skin recreates sense of touch and other tech news

Technology E-skin recreates sense of touch and other tech news

Technology

BBC Click’s LJ Rich looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week including:

  • Google’s planned takeover of the wearable tech firm Fitbit will face a full scale investigation by the European Commission
  • US President Donald Trump says he will ban TikTok in the United States next month if it is not bought by an American company
  • An electronic skin which could recreate a sense of touch in prosthetic limbs or robots is developed by the National University of Singapore

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

11th August 2020

Technology Huawei holds summit as global pressure grows

Technology Huawei holds summit as global pressure grows

Technology

Technology Huawei faces growing pressure as tensions rise between Beijing and the West.Image copyright
Getty Images

Chinese technology giant Huawei starts a four-day online event today focusing on how technology can be used in the fight against the coronavirus.

The “Better World Summit” will also explore how to boost the world economy in the wake of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, HSBC has issued a statement defending its cooperation with the US in a case against Huawei.

It came after Chinese state media accused the London-headquartered bank of “setting traps to ensnare” Huawei.

The world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker said the summit will feature talks by technology industry executives and experts from around the world, including Huawei’s deputy chairman Guo Ping as well as South Africa’s telecoms minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The event is being held against the backdrop of growing pressure on the company as tensions rise between Beijing and western governments.

On Friday, an article in China’s official People’s Daily newspaper said HSBC had “framed” Huawei and played a role in the arrest of the company’s finance chief Meng Wanzhou.

The following day, HSBC posted a statement on the Chinese social media platform WeChat which said it was not involved in Washington’s decision to investigate Huawei or arrest Ms Meng.

It also said “HSBC has no malice against Huawei, nor has it ‘framed’ Huawei”. In response, another Beijing-controlled newspaper, The Global Times, said: “Chinese observers called HSBC’s statement ‘not persuasive’ at all”.

Meanwhile, the US has been calling on members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance – which also includes the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to avoid Huawei kit.

Australia has barred Huawei from providing 5G technology for the country’s network.

Earlier this month, the British government banned the country’s mobile providers from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after the end of this year.

The companies were also told they must remove all of the Chinese firm’s 5G kit from their networks by 2027.

It follows sanctions imposed by the US government, which claims Huawei poses a national security threat – something the company denies.

As early as this week a court in Canada will open a hearing into what evidence should be made public in proceedings on whether to extradite Ms Meng to America.

11th August 2020

Technology Watford 2-1 Newcastle: ‘What’s the point of the technology?’ – Steve Bruce

Technology Watford 2-1 Newcastle: ‘What’s the point of the technology?’ – Steve Bruce

Technology

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce questions VAR and says his side gave away two ‘soft’ penalties in their 2-1 defeat to Watford.

MATCH REPORT: Watford 2-1 Newcastle

Watch highlights of Saturday’s Premier League games on Match of the Day at 22:20 (BST) on BBC One and iPlayer.

11th August 2020

Science Science Museum in London begins Covid-19 collection

Science Science Museum in London begins Covid-19 collection

Science

The Science Museum in London is reopening on 19 August after being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, an exhibition opened at the site that told the stories of previous pandemics.

The museum says it has started collecting objects from this latest one – such as signage and medical technology – to tell the story of the outbreak for future generations.

11th August 2020

Science Amazon soya and beef exports ‘linked to deforestation’

Science Amazon soya and beef exports ‘linked to deforestation’

Science

science Cattle graze in the Amazon basinImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Brazil provides more than a quarter of EU beef imports

Up to one-fifth of Brazil’s soya exports to the European Union may be “contaminated” by illegal deforestation, a study has found.

Researchers used freely available maps and data to identify the specific farms and ranches clearing forests to produce soya and beef destined for Europe.

They found 2% of properties were responsible for 62% of illegal deforestation.

These “bad apples” have global environmental consequences, they said.

Prof Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, said it was up to the country’s political and economic leaders to root out “the bad apples in the soy and beef sectors”.

“Brazil has the information it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free,” he said.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Amazon forest fires in 2019 led to global protests

Science What does the study show?

Reports from non-governmental organisations and journalistic investigations have previously revealed cases of soya and beef being produced in areas of deforestation and exported.

But this is the first study to link property-level illegal deforestation with export data.

The research, published in the journal Science, found that 2% of properties in the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado grasslands are responsible for 62% of all potentially illegal deforestation.

Roughly 20% of soya exports and at least 17% of beef exports to the EU may be “contaminated with illegal deforestation”, the researchers said.

According to their analysis, two million tons of soya grown on properties with illegal deforestation may have reached EU markets annually during the period of analysis, 500,000 of which came from the Amazon.

As the soya is fed mainly to livestock, customers can’t be sure whether the meat they buy is “deforestation-free”.

Duncan Brack, of the Chatham House think tank, said the study strengthened the argument for government measures to end UK consumers’ contribution to deforestation, such as a due-diligence or duty-of-care obligation on companies importing products such as beef or soya.

Science What is the scale of the problem?

A recent report found the majority of all soya (65%) comes from countries with high deforestation rates. The land required overseas to meet the UK’s annual demand for soya between 2016 and 2018 equated to an area approaching the size of Wales, according to environmental groups WWF and the RSPB.

“Without knowing it, we’re eating meat and dairy products from animals fed on soy grown on deforested land in Brazil,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK.

“We need to stop importing habitat destruction.”

In 2019, an area of primary forest the size of a football pitch was lost every six seconds across the world, according to a study by the University of Maryland, US.

Brazil accounted for a third of it, its worst loss in 13 years apart from huge spikes in 2016 and 2017 from fires.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

11th August 2020

Science Nasa Mars rover: How Perseverance will hunt for signs of past life

Science Nasa Mars rover: How Perseverance will hunt for signs of past life

Science

science Artwork: RoverImage copyright
NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Nasa’s Perseverance rover, due to launch to Mars this summer, will search an ancient crater lake for signs of past life. But if biology ever emerged on the Red Planet, how will scientists recognise it? Here, deputy project scientist Ken Williford explains what they’re looking for.

Today, Mars is hostile to life. It’s too cold for water to stay liquid on the surface, and the thin atmosphere lets through high levels of radiation, potentially sterilising the upper part of the soil.

But it wasn’t always like this. Some 3.5 billion years ago or more, water was flowing on the surface. It carved channels still visible today and pooled in impact craters. A thicker carbon dioxide (CO2) atmosphere would have blocked more of the harmful radiation.

Water is a common ingredient in biology, so it seems plausible that ancient Mars once offered a foothold for life.

In the 1970s, the Viking missions carried an experiment to look for present-day microbes in the Martian soil. But the results were judged inconclusive.

Image copyright
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Image caption

Previous missions have found evidence that Mars had the right ingredients for life billions of years ago

In the early 2000s, Nasa’s Mars Exploration Rovers were tasked with “following the water”. Opportunity and Spirit found extensive geological evidence for the past presence of liquid water.

The Curiosity rover, which touched down in 2012, found the lake that once filled its landing site at Gale Crater could have supported life. It also detected organic (carbon-containing) molecules that serve as life’s building blocks.

Now, the Perseverance rover will explore a similar environment with instruments designed to test for the signatures of biology.

“I would say it’s the first Nasa mission since Viking to do that,” said Ken Williford, the mission’s deputy project scientist, from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“Viking was the search for extant life – that is, life that might be living on Mars today. Whereas the more recent Nasa approach has been to explore ancient environments because the data we have suggest that the earliest history of the planet tells us that Mars was most habitable during its first billion years.”

The target for Perseverance is Jezero Crater, where signs of a watery past are even clearer, when viewed from orbit, than those at Gale Crater.

The rover will drill into Martian rocks, extracting cores that are about the size of a piece of chalk. These will be sealed away – cached – in containers and left on the surface. These will be collected by another rover, sent at a later date, blasted into Mars orbit and delivered to Earth for analysis. It’s all part of a collaboration with the European Space Agency (Esa) called Mars Sample Return.

But the rover will also perform plenty of science on the surface.

Jezero features one of the best-preserved Martian examples of a delta: layered structures formed when rivers enter open bodies of water and deposit rocks, sand and – potentially – organic carbon.

“There’s a river channel flowing in from the west, penetrating the crater rim; and then just inside the crater, at the river mouth, there’s this beautiful delta fan that’s exposed. Our plan is to land right in front of that delta and start exploring,” said Dr Williford.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionDrive with Nasa’s next Mars rover through Jezero Crater

The delta contains sand grains originating from rocks further upstream, including a watershed to the north-west.

“The cement between the grains is very interesting – that records the history of the water interacting with that sand at the time of the delta deposition in the lake,” says Ken Williford.

“It provides potential habitats for any organisms living between those grains of sand. Bits of organic matter from any organisms upstream could potentially be washed in.”

Jezero is located in a region that has long been of interest to science. It’s on the western shoulder of a giant impact basin called Isidis, which shows the strongest Martian signals of the minerals olivine and carbonate as measured from space. “Carbonate minerals are one of the key targets that led us to explore this region,” says Ken Williford.

Image copyright
Science Photo Library

Image caption

Stromatolites in Shark Bay, Australia

A survey of the minerals in Jezero Crater by Dr Briony Horgan of Purdue University, Dr Melissa Rice of Western Washington University (both scientists on the mission) and colleagues, revealed carbonate deposits at the western edge of the ancient shore. These “marginal carbonates” were likened to a bathtub ring – the build-up of soap scum that’s left after the water is drained.

Terrestrial carbonates can lock up biological evidence within their crystals. One type of structure that sometimes survives is a stromatolite.

These are formedwhen many millimetre-scale layers of bacteria and sediment build up over time into larger structures, sometimes with domed shapes. On Earth, they occur along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water are plentiful.

Billions of years ago, Jezero’s shore was exactly the kind of place where stromatolites could have formed – and have been preserved.

Perseverance will examine the carbonate-rich bathtub ring with its science instruments, to see whether structures like this ever formed there.

Image copyright
Science Photo Library

Image caption

The layers in a stromatolite are irregular and wrinkly. Perseverance will look for similar shapes

An instrument called Sherloc captures close-up images of an interesting rock and produces a detailed map of the minerals present, including any organics. Another instrument called Pixl will then give scientists the detailed elemental, or chemical, composition of the same area.

Within this data-set, scientists will “look for concentrations of biologically important elements, minerals and molecules – including organic matter. In particular, [it’s] when those things are concentrated in shapes that are potentially suggestive of biology”, says Ken Williford.

Drawing together many lines of evidence is vital; visual identifications alone won’t be enough to convince scientists of a biological origin, given the high bar for claims of extra-terrestrial life. Short of a huge surprise, finds are likely to be described only as potential biosignatures until rocks are sent to Earth for analysis.

Referring to stromatolites, Dr Williford explains: “The layers tend to be irregular and wrinkly, as you might expect for a bunch of microbes living on top of each other. That whole thing can fossilise in a way that’s visible even to the cameras.

“But it’s when we see shapes like that and, maybe, one layer has a different chemistry than the next, but there is some repeating pattern, or we see organic matter concentrated in specific layers – those are the ultimate biosignatures that we might hope to find.”

Yet, Mars might not give up its secrets easily. In 2019, scientists from the mission visited Australia to familiarise themselves with fossil stromatolites that formed 3.48 billion years ago in the country’s Pilbara region.

“We will have to look harder [on Mars] than when we went to the Pilbara… our knowledge of their location comes from many decades of many geologists going year-after-year and mapping the territory,” says Ken Williford.

On Mars, he says, “we are the first ones”.

Image copyright
Briony Horgan

Image caption

Dr Briony Horgan and colleagues have been working at Lake Salda, Turkey, where carbonate beaches and terraces can be found. The area’s rocks are similar in composition to what’s seen at Jezero Crater

But what if the rover doesn’t see anything as large and obvious as a stromatolite?

On Earth, we can detect fossilised microbes at the level of individual cells. But in order to see them, scientists have to cut out a slice of rock, grind it to within the thickness of a sheet of paper and study it on a glass slide.

No rover can do this. But, then, it might not have to.

“It’s very rare to find an individual microbe hanging out on its own,” says Dr Williford.

“Back when they were alive – if they were anything like Earth microbes – they would have joined together in little communities that build up into structures or clumps of cells that are detectable to the rover.”

After exploring the crater floor, scientists want to drive the rover up onto the rim. Rock cores taken here, when analysed on Earth, could provide an age for the impact that carved out the crater and a maximum age for the lake.

But there’s another reason for being interested in the crater rim. When a large space object slams into rocks containing water, the huge energy can set up hydrothermal systems – where hot water circulates through the rocks. The hot water dissolves minerals from the rocks that provide the necessary ingredients for life.

Image copyright
NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/BROWN UNIVERSITY

Image caption

Jezero’s delta is one of the best preserved examples on Mars

“If that happened, that would have been the first habitable environment at Jezero Crater,” says Ken Williford. The evidence – along with signs of any life that colonised the environment – could be preserved up on the rim.

The current mission scenario foresees the rover driving to the nearby north-east Syrtis region as an “aspirational goal”.

It’s more ancient even than Jezero and also holds the promise of exposed carbonates – which may have formed in a different way to those in the crater.

If, by the end of this mission, signs of past life haven’t presented themselves, the search won’t be over. The focus will turn to those cores, waiting for delivery to Earth.

But the exciting prospect remains that the mission might not just throw up more questions, but answers too. That outcome could be planet-shaking. Whatever lies in wait for plucky Perseverance, we are on the verge of a new phase in our understanding of Earth’s near-neighbour.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

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