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Spectacular Myanmar lake festival resumes after three years


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In secular Japan, what draws so many to temples and shrines? Stamp collecting and tradition.


Nonreligious struggle to find their voice and place in Indian society and politics


From The Asian Reporter, V33, #11 (November 6, 2023), page 2.

SoftBankís Son says AI will surpass human intelligence

TOKYO (AP) ó Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son says he believes artificial intelligence (AI) will surpass human intelligence within a decade, urging Japanese companies to adopt it or be left behind. Son, speaking at a corporate conference in Tokyo last month, said "artificial general intelligence will surpass the total intelligence of humankind by 10 times in 10 years." It will affect every industry, from transportation and pharmaceuticals to finance, manufacturing, logistics, and others, and the companies and people that work with AI will be the leaders in the next 10 to 20 years, Son said. Son, who founded SoftBank and is a leading figure in Japanís business world, has enjoyed both victories and defeats in his array of technology investments. He latched on to the potential of the internet decades ago, and now is seeking to invest in AI-related companies. "I want to be on the side of progress," he said. "It would be sad to be on the side that gets left behind, like an old, shuttered high street," he said, and called on Japanese companies to "wake up" to his vision of a future led by AI. "The youth of Japan, letís wake up." At the Hiroshima summit in May, Group of Seven leaders agreed to promote reliable AI, and Japanís government is seeking to be part of international rule-making to achieve reliable use of AI. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, at a recent science forum in Kyoto, said he acknowledges a big potential for generative AI and hopes it will contribute to an even more convenient society. But he also noted the need to address concerns of disinformation and risks to privacy and copyright. Son said Japan should not repeat its past mistake of falling behind in the internet age, warning against reluctance of some companies due to fear of data leaks and other possible risks. SoftBank recently expanded on the Nasdaq listing of its chip subsidiary Arm Holding Plc, which Son acquired in 2016. Son said the British unit will be key to AI development.

X tests $1 fee for new users in the Philippines, New Zealand

LONDON (AP) ó Elon Muskís social media platform X has begun charging a $1 fee to new users in the Philippines and New Zealand, in a test designed to cut down on the spam and fake accounts flourishing on the site formerly known as Twitter. The company said it has started trying out the annual subscription method for new and unverified accounts. The program, dubbed Not a Bot, wonít apply to existing users. Itís not clear why it only applies to New Zealand and the Philippines or why those countries were chosen. "This new test was developed to bolster our already successful efforts to reduce spam, manipulation of our platform, and bot activity, while balancing platform accessibility with the small fee amount," the X support account tweeted. "It is not a profit driver." Some experts said charging a fee might not do much to stop fake accounts and could even amplify the problem. If X decides to roll out the $1 fee worldwide, it could be "disastrous" for the platform, said Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the investigative collective Bellingcat who previously worked at Twitter. "There is nothing to stop a scammer from spending $100 to buy a hundred new bot accounts. In fact, it may even make the platform more bot filled," she said. "New users to the platform may not be inclined to pay $1 and give their credit card information to X."

Philippine military ordered to stop using AI apps

MANILA, The Philippines (AP) ó The Philippine defense chief has ordered all defense personnel and the 163,000-member military to refrain from using digital applications that harness artificial intelligence (AI) to generate personal portraits, saying they could pose security risks. Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. issued the order in an October 14 memorandum, as Philippine forces have been working to weaken decades-old communist and Muslim insurgencies and defend territorial interests in the disputed South China Sea. About a week later, the Department of National Defense confirmed the authenticity of the memo, which had been circulating online, but did not provide other details, including what prompted Teodoro to issue the prohibition. Teodoro specifically warned against the use of a digital app that requires users to submit at least 10 pictures of themselves and then harnesses AI to create "a digital person that mimics how a real individual speaks and moves." Such apps pose "significant privacy and security risks," he said. "This seemingly harmless and amusing AI-powered application can be maliciously used to create fake profiles that can lead to identity theft, social engineering, phishing attacks, and other malicious activities," Teodoro said. "There has already been a report of such a case." Teodoro ordered all defense and military personnel "to refrain from using AI photo generator applications and practice vigilance in sharing information online" and said their actions should adhere to the Philippines Defense Departmentís values and policies.

Two workers at Fukushima nuclear power plant hospitalized

TOKYO (AP) ó Two workers at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were hospitalized after accidentally getting sprayed with liquid laced with radioactive materials, according to officials. The incident occurred when a group of workers was cleaning the piping at the Advanced Liquid Processing System, ALPS, a wastewater filtering facility that is key to the treatment of the radioactive wastewater that accumulates on the plant and its ongoing discharge into the sea. Four workers were cleaning the piping when a drainage hose suddenly came off. They were splashed with the tainted liquid waste, which was not the wastewater running inside the system. All four were wearing full face masks, and test results showed none of them had ingested radioactive particles. None have shown any health issues, according to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO).

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