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Is this the year ‘weaponised’ AI bots do battle?

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Image caption What if AI is harnessed by hackers for malicious purposes?

Technology of Business has garnered opinions from dozens of companies on what they think will be the dominant global tech trends in 2018. Artificial intelligence (AI) dominates the landscape, closely followed, as ever, by cyber-security. But is AI an enemy or an ally?

Whether helping to identify diseases and develop new drugs, or powering driverless cars and air traffic management systems, the consensus is that AI will start to deliver in 2018, justifying last year’s sometimes hysterical hype.

It will make its presence felt almost everywhere.

AI can sift through vast amounts of digital data, learn and improve, spot patterns we can’t hope to see, and hopefully make sensible decisions based on those insights.

The key question is how much freedom should we give AI-powered systems to make their own decisions without any human intervention?

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Media captionFed up with motorway driving? Now you can switch to virtual reality

A driverless car making a split-second decision to apply the brakes or swerve to avoid an accident makes obvious sense. It can react much faster than we can.

But an autonomous weapons system deciding to fire on what it thinks are “insurgents” based on what it has learned from previous experience? That’s not so easy.

Yet almost by stealth, AI is infiltrating almost all aspects of our working lives, from machine learning algorithms improving the accuracy of translation software, to call centre chatbots answering our questions.

“AI-powered chatbots will continue to get better at conveying information that can help consumers make better, more informed purchase decisions,” says Luka Crnkovic-Friis, chief executive of Peltarion, a Swedish AI specialist.

Customer experience firm Servion predicts that by 2020, 95% of all customer interactions will involve voice-powered AI, and that 2018 will be the year this really takes off.

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Image caption Will chatbots become indistinguishable from human helpers?

“Advances in speech recognition, biometric identification, and neurolinguistics will also mean that as we interact with businesses and brands via voice, our experiences will become increasingly conversational and human-like,” says Servion’s Shashi Nirale.

J. Walker Smith, executive chairman of Kantar Futures, agrees, saying that “learning emotional empathy is the final barrier to AI’s full-scale market growth”.

Talking to machines will become as natural as typing used to be, the tech utopians believe. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Home voice-activated assistants are already in many homes, rapidly learning new skills.

In the workplace, these digital assistants – think of IBM’s Watson – will give employees “more immediate access to data” that will lead to “a reduction in repetitive or administrative tasks in their roles”, say Javier Diez-Aguirre, vice president of corporate marketing at office equipment maker Ricoh Europe.

This means that AI-powered machines “will become colleagues, not competitors”, concludes Mark Curtis, co-founder of Fjord, the Accenture-owned design and innovation company.

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Image caption Will we see AI-powered machines as helpers or rivals in the workplace?

AI-powered human resources systems could even help workforces become “superhuman”, argues Pete Schlampp, vice president of analytics at software platform Workday.

All those forecast to lose their jobs as a result of AI-powered automation may disagree.

And global collaboration will become easier, the world smaller, as translation services become more accurate, argues Alec Dafferner, director of GP Bullhound, a San Francisco-based tech investment and advisory firm.

“Driven by machine learning – seamless and instantaneous translation will become the new normal,” he says.

There seem to be few areas AI will not permeate, from recruitment to facial recognition, cyber-security to energy management systems.

The explosion in the amount of data generated by mobile devices, computers and the “internet of things” is feeding these learning algorithms. While the ability to analyse it all in real time using virtually unlimited cloud computing power has accelerated the pace of development.

AI still operates according to the rules we set – until we allow it to develop its own rules, of course. But what if those rules and assumptions are inherently biased?

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It’s something Rob McCargow, AI programme leader at global consultancy firm PwC, warns about, particularly in the field of recruitment and human resources.

“AI-augmented recruitment stands out as a key growth area with a range of offerings in the market,” he says.

“But if not governed and implemented responsibly, it can lead to an amplification of bias and discrimination.”

In other words, if past data shows the algorithm that white middle-class males have previously performed well at a company, it might conclude that this is the type of candidate it should select in future, reinforcing gender and racial stereotypes. An example of AI not acting intelligently at all.

The old computing maxim “rubbish in, rubbish out”, still applies.

Cyber-security: ‘Weaponised AI’

While many cyber-security firms point out AI’s potential in combating cyber-attacks – monitoring computer networks in real time for signs of abnormal behaviour, for example – others soberly observe that AI will also be “weaponised” by the hackers.

“2018 could be the year we see the first battle of the AI bots,” warns Dr Adrian Nish, head of threat intelligence at BAE Systems.

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Image caption AI programs could end up doing battle in cyberspace

“It’s inevitable that attackers will begin to incorporate machine learning and AI at the same rate as network defence tools. We may already be at this point, with online Twitter bots able to react to emerging events and crafting messages to respond.”

Simple but effective email phishing attacks, whereby employees are hoodwinked into clicking on dodgy links or downloading malware because they think the message is from someone genuine, could reach another level of sophistication, says Dave Palmer, director of technology at security firm, Darktrace.

Imagine a piece of malware that can train itself on how your writing style differs depending on who you are contacting and uses this to send relevant messages to your contacts, he says.

“These phishing messages will be so realistic that the target will fall for them. Such advances in AI will take us to the next stage in defenders versus attackers, and we need to be ready.”

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Cyber-security experts also warn about a growing threat to the integrity of data – hackers sabotaging data rather than stealing it. You can do a lot of damage to a company’s reputation, profits and share price if you mess with the facts on which it bases important investment decisions.

The burgeoning number of internet-connected IoT devices is another soft target for hackers.

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Image caption AI important for facial and image recognition

“If security isn’t internally integrated, then these IoT devices will be low-hanging fruit for attackers, who will always target the path of least resistance,” says Asaf Ashkenazi of semiconductor and security firm Rambus.

Meanwhile, businesses are steeling themselves for more ransomware attack, building up stockpiles of bitcoins with which to pay extortionists, says Chris Mayers of Citrix.

AI will only accelerate the cyber-security arms race.

Blockchain, mixed reality and other trends

While Bitcoin’s price leaps up and down like a crazy bucking bronco – the underlying technology blockchain will make steady progress, many believe.

The distributed ledger tech “has the potential to add an important aspect of traceability to the foods we eat”, says Tony Rodriguez, chief technology officer at Digimarc Corporation.

“Walmart, Kroger, McCormick, Tyson Foods and others have teamed up with IBM to experiment with track-and-trace tests on Chinese pork and Mexican mangoes, and we expect blockchain to be used more prevalently in grocery, retail and other industries.”

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Media captionKarishma Vaswani takes a look at blockchain and explains how it works

International banks have already experimented with blockchain-based trading systems that cut out the need for any middleman.

Meanwhile, lighter, more powerful virtual reality (VR) headsets will move the tech beyond gaming into more everyday uses, from looking round properties to virtual shopping, accurately recreating real stores.

And augmented reality services on smartphones will begin to transform the static world around us into something more dynamic and interactive – a golden opportunity for brands to market their wares more entertainingly.

“This will bring new meaning to the phrase ‘try before you buy’,” says Chris Wood, director of retail at Salesforce, the customer relationship management platform.

Drones will extend their surveying and photographing work, helping farmers, utility companies, estate agents, insurance companies and emergency services. And driverless cars and trucks will continue to be tested.

Philip Trillmich, a partner at international law firm White & Case, even thinks this will be the year “we see substantial innovation in driverless cargo ships”.

We will continue becoming a cashless society, with social media platforms offering more financial services and smartphones being used more for in-store payments.

But AI will be the dominant theme – for good or ill.

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Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins: ‘People really thought that only men loved action movies’

As the first female director of a Marvel or DC film, Jenkins has gently reinterpreted the superhero genre, bringing love and compassion to the world of fights and fantasy

At a sunbaked studio lot in LAs Culver City, a table laden with red and blue cake pops styled with miniature fondant headbands is drawing smiles: superheroes, in small and edible form. They are tiny and temporary (gone in a gulp), which is especially pleasing when you accept them for what they are homage to something huge and potentially lasting.

The new Wonder Woman movie, with its images of sword-wielding Gal Gadot now all over billboards, buses and social media feeds, is aiming to do for superhero movies what the excellent and feminist Mad Max: Fury Road did for action blockbusters. Its progressive yet crowdpleasing, faithful to the tenets of the genre yet wise to its own absurdities. In short, its a game-raiser for reasons beyond the fact that it is also the first ever Marvel or DC movie to be directed by a woman. She is 45-year-old Patty Jenkins, a soft-hearted hard-ass who has waited nearly 15 years for this moment. Jenkins is also only the second female director to command a budget of more than $100m.

Her last movie, 2003s Monster, was also her debut. It won Charlize Theron an Oscar for her portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos and it won Jenkins the attention of major studios. When she told Warner Brothers that she wanted to make a Wonder Woman movie, it began a very long conversation. The history of the film, in fact, is a saga more complicated and much more boring than any Marvel or DC storyline and with a bigger cast, too. Jenkins, the umpteenth director attached to the project, was finally hired in April 2015.

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Death Toll Rises to 12 in London High-Rise Blaze

London (AP) — They banged on windows, screamed for help, dropped children from smoky floors in a desperate attempt to save them. Terrified residents of the Grenfell Tower said there was little warning of the inferno that engulfed their high-rise apartment building and left 12 people dead — a toll that officials said would almost certainly rise.

The blaze early Wednesday in the 24-story building in west London's North Kensington district also injured 74 others, 18 of them critically, and left an unknown number missing. A tenants' group had complained for years about the risk of a fire.

More than 200 firefighters worked through the night and were still finding pockets of fire inside later in the day. A huge plume of smoke wafted across the London skyline and left a burned-out hulk in the working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood.

"In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything of this scale," Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said.

Up to 600 people lived in 120 apartments in the Grenfell Tower. After announcing the updated death toll of 12 in the afternoon, Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said that "we believe this number will sadly increase."

Crews rescued 65 people, said Steve Apter, the fire brigade's director of safety and assurance.

Prime Minister Theresa May's office said she was "deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life" in the fire. Mayor Sadiq Khan said many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment blocks around the British capital.

The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12:54 a.m. and the first engines arrived within six minutes.

Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape during the nighttime fire. Some initially feared it was terrorism-related, although authorities have not suggested that terrorism was involved.

"The flames, I have never seen anything like it. It just reminded me of 9/11," said Muna Ali, 45. "The fire started on the upper floors. … Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly. It had completely spread within half an hour."

Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman drop a baby from a window on the ninth or 10th floor to people on the sidewalk.

"People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming," Lamrani told Britain's Press Association news agency.

When the woman indicated she was going to drop the infant, "a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby," she added.

Joe Walsh, 58, said he saw someone toss two children out a window on the fifth or sixth floor. Tiago Etienne, 17, said he saw about three children between the ages of 4 and 8 being dropped from around the 15th floor. There was no word on their fate.

Other residents told harrowing tales of their own escapes and frustration at not being able to help neighbors.

Ruks Mamudu, 69, said she ran to safety down one flight of stairs to the ground floor from her apartment wearing only her purple pajamas and bathrobe. She and her grandson sat outside the building, helplessly watching those trapped on higher floors.

"I sat there watching my house burn down and watching people cry for help who couldn't come down," Mamudu said.

Nassima Boutrig, who lives across from the building, said she was awakened by sirens and smoke so thick that it filled her home as well.

"We saw the people screaming," she said. "A lot of people said, 'Help! Help! Help!' The fire brigade could only help downstairs. … They couldn't stop the fire."

Resident Hamid Wahbi said that as he fled, he asked about a neighbor's father but was told he was still inside.

"We tried to go back, but it was all black, so I had to come out of the building," Wahbi added.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but the Grenfell Action Group has been warning about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013.

Edward Daffarn, who lived on the 16th floor, said the building's fire alarm didn't ring. He said residents had complained for years to Kensington and Chelsea Council about the building's safety, to no avail.

"I'm lucky to be alive. A neighbor's smoke alarm went off and another neighbor phoned and told me to get out," Daffarn said. "I consider this mass murder."

The Action Group expressed concern about the testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site. In a Nov. 20 blog, the group predicted that only "a catastrophic event" leading to "serious loss of life" would bring the outside scrutiny needed to make conditions safe for residents.

"All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable," the group said after the fire broke out.

The Kensington and Chelsea Council, which oversees the area where the fire occurred, said in a statement its immediate focus was helping victims and their families. It said the cause of the blaze would be "fully investigated."

Built in the 1970s, the housing block was recently upgraded at a cost of 10 million pounds ($12.8 million), with work finishing in May 2016, according to the local council. Rydon, the British company that did the refurbishing, said in a statement that its work "met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards."

Britain's government ordered checks at tower blocks going through similar refurbishment amid concerns that renovations at the Grenfell Tower contributed to the spread of the blaze. It was not immediately known if the building had a sprinkler system.

Authorities will "seek to identify towers that might have a similar process of refurbishment, run a system of checks so that we can, as quickly as possible, give reassurance to people," said Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd.

The Grenfell tenants' organization's newsletter instructs residents to stay put in a fire unless the blaze is in their own apartment or in their hallway — the same guidance used in multistory hotels and other high-rise buildings. The organization's July 2014 newsletter said Grenfell "was designed according to rigorous fire safety standards."

Neighbors began helping survivors with clothing, food and water as well as offering shelter.

Churches and a nearby mosque served as gathering points for donations for those who raced out of the burning building with little else than what they were wearing. Social media sites joined the effort, with some Londoners offering a space on their sofas for those affected by the blaze.


Associated Press writers Cara Rubinsky, Sylvia Hui and Ben Jary contributed.


This story has been corrected to show that the building has 24 floors, not 27.

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    ‘I went to the web to find a new kidney’ – BBC News

    Image caption Matthew Pietrzyk found a kidney donor online

    Eleven-year-old Matthew Pietrzyk can now swim, run, have a bath and eat chocolate, all impossible before his kidney transplant.

    But he might still be on the waiting list, enduring 12 hours of dialysis each day, if his mother, Nicola, had not run a Facebook campaign to find him a living donor.

    Matthew is one of a number of UK patients who have bypassed the traditional NHS system of organ allocation, instead harnessing the power of the internet to find their own.

    Transplant doctors fear this development could result in an unsavoury competition to attract donors online, in what some have called an “organ beauty pageant”.

    And they worry that it rips up the traditional health service ethos of equal access to treatment for all.

    Consultant nephrologist Dr Adnan Sharif, from Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, says: “Somebody who is well-to-do, a professional, will be very good at promoting themselves,” whereas poorer patients, perhaps from minority ethnic communities, will not have the same opportunities.

    The woman donating organs to strangers

    Woman with 100-year-old kidney from mum ‘still going strong’

    But Matthew’s mother is unrepentant.

    “I’m not going to lie, I think on Matthew’s side was the fact he was a child,” she says.

    “In all walks of life, we use things to our advantage.

    “If it meant that he didn’t have to spend his life on dialysis, then I’d take it – I don’t care.”

    Living-donor option

    There are 28,000 people on dialysis in the UK.

    Some 5,000 patients are on the national waiting list for an organ transplant from a dead donor.

    There is a permanent shortage of such kidneys.

    But there is another option; they may get a kidney from a living donor, because most of us can live healthily with just one.

    Image caption Alison Thornhill donated her kidney to an anonymous recipient

    Living donors now make up a third of all kidney transplants in the UK.

    Some are donated anonymously through a very successful NHS scheme.

    But social media campaigns such as Matthew’s can bring dozens of would-be donors to be tissue-tested for just one patient, squeezing resources.

    Sue Moore, the lead NHS living donor coordinator in Birmingham, says: “You’d get people call out of the blue, and it was quite overwhelming really.”

    However, since Matthew’s appeal was launched in 2013, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the biggest renal centre in Europe, has adjusted to handling such pressures.

    Matthew’s mother argues publicity for his campaign increased awareness of kidney donation.

    And some of the people initially tested for Matthew went on to give a kidney to someone else.

    One was Alison Thornhill, who was touched by his Facebook appeal.

    “If one of my grandchildren was in that situation, I would want somebody to step forward and be tested to see if they were a match for him,” she says.

    Alison wasn’t a match for Matthew, but since she “was prepared to give a kidney to a little boy who I didn’t know, it made sense just to go on and give it to somebody else who I didn’t know who needed it”.

    Eighteen months ago, she went into hospital and became an anonymous donor.

    Unexpectedly, she later got letters from the recipient, and from his mother, who wrote: “I don’t know anything about you apart from the fact that you are a very kind and compassionate person.

    “I will be eternally grateful to you.

    “Kindest regards, a loving and thankful mother.”

    Image caption Gemma Coles wants to chose who to donate her kidney to

    But some would-be donors want to choose precisely who receives their kidney.

    Searching online, Gemma Coles identified a series of patients she wanted to donate to, though for various reasons it has not yet happened.

    Asked why she wants to choose the recipient, she replies she has only one kidney to give.

    “You have to be judgemental,” she says.

    “There’s thousands of people, literally, needing a kidney, and more and more now their stories are available on social media, and it can feel you’re being very critical of people’s lives, trying to decide who to give and who not to.”

    If the transplant community was disturbed by Facebook kidney appeals, it was shocked by websites offering to match donors and patients, who can browse through profiles and photos. was set up in the US by businessman Paul Dooley as a non-profit venture.

    It charges $595 (464) for US patients seeking a donor.

    In 2012, he brought the website to the UK, but this time, without charging any fees.

    According to the regulator, the Human Tissue Authority, transplant centres must refuse operations involving a website that does charge fees.

    Since is free to use in the UK, there is no regulatory barrier to stop it brokering a transplant.

    But chief executive Mr Dooley says not one such transplant has taken place in five years in the UK.

    There are 73 UK patients waiting – some have found matches with potential donors, but none has had permission from their hospital to go ahead.

    Image caption Prof Vassilios Papalois says doctors must be allowed to make ethical decisions

    In 2015, he stopped stopped signing up British patients, because “there’s no use them going to a gas station if there’s no gas”.

    It seems the transplant community simply decided organ-matching websites were beyond the pale. But is this fair?

    Prof Vassilios Papalois, who formerly chaired the British Transplantation Society’s ethics committee, says the views of transplant teams must be respected.

    “They have the autonomy to say that for us it’s ethically objectionable,” he says.

    Asked if he is trying to provide the catwalk for an organ beauty pageant, Mr Dooley replies: “Every single person on our website who’s an organ donor wants to choose.

    “They want to say, ‘I want to give to an old grandfather, ‘I want to give to a single father,’ and if that’s what they consider a beauty contest, that’s not a beauty contest, it’s the choice of who you want to donate to.”

    The Organ Beauty Pageant is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 2 May, at 20:00 BST, and repeated on Sunday, 7 May, at 17:00 BST.

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    A bug is causing tweets from people you don’t follow to show up in your timeline

    Image: getty images

    UPDATE: Jan. 11, 2017, 3:34 p.m. EST According to the Twitter, a bug caused the “Liked by ___ and # others” label to not display along with the tweets. The bug has been fixed and tweets in your timeline from people you don’t follow, but who are within your broader network (as designated under the “You might like” header), should properly show the label again.

    The original story follows below.

    Seeing tweets in your Twitter timeline from people you don’t follow? Stay calm, you’re not going crazy.

    Some Twitter users started reporting on Wednesday that their timelines are displaying tweets from people they aren’t following.

    Twitter told BuzzFeed Newsit was aware of the “bug” and was working on a fix.

    Needless to say, many Twitter users were not happy to see these unwanted tweets:

    The tweets also don’t appear to be promoted ones, either:

    This story is developing…

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    Silicon Valley appears open to helping US spy agencies after terrorism summit

    Obama administration acknowledges complicated first amendment issues after top counter-terrorism officials traveled to California to woo technology executives from companies including Apple, Facebook and Twitter

    Technology giants appeared to be open to helping the US government combat Islamic State during an extraordinary closed-door summit on Friday that brought together Americas most senior counter-terrorism officials with some of Silicon Valleys most powerful executives.

    The remarkable rendezvous between Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and others and a delegation from the White House revealed a willingness on the part of tech firms to work with the government, and indicated that the Obama administration appears to have concluded it cant combat terrorists online on its own.

    Top officials including National Security Agency director Michael Rogers, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and FBI director James Comey appeared to want to know how they could launch a social media campaign to discredit Isis, a person familiar with the conversation said.

    A briefing document sent to tech executives Friday morning in advance of the meeting and shared with the Guardian laid out a wish list from the government delegation, which included Americas most senior spy, director of national intelligence James Clapper.

    We are interested in exploring all options with you for how to deal with the growing threat of terrorists and other malicious actors using technology, including encrypted technology, the briefing document said. Are there technologies that could make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize?

    Despite recent fights over civil liberties, encryption, and surveillance, tech executives appeared receptive to this message, according to sources familiar with conversations at the meeting.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of the conversation, said one attendee, Matthew Prince, chief executive of CloudFlare, a San Francisco-based security and network company. Christopher Young, head of Intels security group, who was also in the room, added it was a good discussion today.

    In Washington earlier, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters many of these technology companies that are participating in the meeting today are run by patriotic Americans and would want to cooperate.


    Christopher Young, head of Intels security group, on his way to the summit. Photograph: Stephen McLaren for the Guardian

    Earnest acknowledged there are obviously a lot of complicated first amendment issues and other things but added: you know, our sense here is that theres some common ground that we should be able to find.

    One area of discussion was over how a system used by Facebook to deal with users at risk of suicide could serve as a model for identifying terrorist sympathizers.

    The social networks chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, walked government officials through how Facebook currently enables users to flag people who appear to be posting suicidal thoughts, a person familiar with the conversation said. The government officials in the room wondered if such a system could be used to flag terrorist content or detect a user who appears to be radicalizing, added the person, declining to be quoted on the record.

    This meeting confirmed that we are united in our goal to keep terrorists and terror-promoting material off the Internet, a Facebook spokeswoman said. Facebook does not tolerate terrorists or terror propaganda.

    It wasnt all agreement. At another point, Apples chief executive Tim Cook told the government it needs to state publicly that it supports strong encryption. Over the past year, Apple has faced repeated attacks from the FBI for selling products that, officials say, criminals could use to communicate in secret.

    Other technology companies present included LinkedIn, DropBox, YouTube, Yahoo and PayPal.

    This was not the first time such a senior delegation has traveled to Silicon Valley, but the attempt by Americas leading counter-terrorism officials to court tech executives was an unusual sight.

    Flanked by Secret Service agents, secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson and McDonough smiled as they popped out for a Starbucks run about 20 minutes before the scheduled 11am start of a meeting in San Jose, California.

    The top Obama administration officials walked past a Mexican restaurant; a sign on an office window describes the region as the worlds innovation incubator. Moments later, Johnson was seen shaking hands with Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox.


    Secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson was seen shaking hands with Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox. Photograph: Stephen McLaren for the Guardian

    No tech executive would want to be seen supporting terrorism online, but the governments ask is trickier than it may seem.

    Ideally, the Obama administration wants technology companies to be able to find terrorists on social media and chat apps for them, current and former US officials said. This would involve piecing together communications networks and message content to map terrorist cells. The governments assumption, these people said, is that technology firms are doing much of this anyway for business purposes.

    However, since Edward Snowden leaked western government secrets to the Guardian and other outlets in 2013, Silicon Valley has become increasingly cautious about seeming too cozy with Washingtons three-letter agencies.

    Government requests also raise legal issues. Under current US law, tech firms only are supposed to share user content with authorities if faced with a court order for a specific user or there is a credible, immediate threat of harm.

    Its a very fine line to get that information, said Andre McGregor, a former FBI terrorism investigator and now director of security at Tanium Inc, a Silicon Valley security company. Youre essentially trying to take what is in someones head and determine whether or not theres going to be some violent physical reaction associated with it.

    Companies provide some voluntary assistance now such as when it removed a Facebook page last month linked to the shootings in San Bernardino but its unclear how much further they would go.

    The government also appears conscious of the risks. In the briefing document sent to tech executives before the meeting it asked if any terrorist content flagging system were clearly independent from government involvement, would that increase its viability.

    They also face competing demands from different US officials. Public-facing politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the respective Democratic and Republican presidential frontrunners have called on technology companies to effectively kick terrorists off the internet. Thats impossible, the companies respond.

    Others, such as those inside the FBI and NSA, sometimes want American firms to keep terrorist accounts up and keep authorities in the loop.

    Its a no-brainer to keep Isis using US products, said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union and a privacy advocate. Soghoian countered however that its up to the government to find terrorists online and it would be impractical to ask companies to do it.

    Referring to the armies of overseas contractors tech companies use to police social media he said, are you going to entrust that decision to someone getting paid $2 an hour in the Philippines?

    After the meeting wrapped up, the nations top spies demonstrated their skills of evasion. Attendees slipped out various side doors. Others exited the building. None were available to comment.

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    Wildfires blaze in Gatlinburg, TN; thousands evacuated

    Gatlinburg, Tennessee (CNN)Fanned by strong winds and the Southeast’s worst drought in nearly a decade, at least 14 wildfires burned in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, forcing evacuations from the popular tourist destination and nearby communities.

    “If you’re a person of prayer, we could use your prayers,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday evening as crews battled wind gusts of up to 70 mph.


      Several homes and businesses in downtown Gatlinburg were “completely lost to fire,” according to authorities. By Tuesday morning, the scope of the disaster was difficult to quantify, with officials unable to give estimates for the number of fires, their size, injuries and how many structures had burned. But a report hours earlier from TEMA reported at least 30 structures had been impacted, including a 16-story hotel and an apartment complex that was consumed by flames.
      Staff at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg were forced to evacuate Monday evening, but all of the facility’s 1,500 animals are still inside, Ripley Entertainment Regional Manager Ryan DeSear told CNN Tuesday.
      DeSear said that according to reports he has received, the building is still standing. The facility’s webcam showed lights and power still working inside, but he’s concerned about the deteriorating air quality, as well as the smoke and flames. DeSear said he’s hoping some staff will be allowed back into the facility Tuesday morning to assess the damage.

      If you are able, ‘evacuate immediately’

      Authorities issued evacuation orders for Gatlinburg and nearby areas,including the north end of Pigeon Forge: “Nobody is allowed into the city at this time. If you are currently in Gatlinburg and are able to evacuate … evacuate immediately.”
      TEMA said on its website that State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed except for emergency traffic and the same highway leaving the city is open for evacuations.
      Schools in Green, McMinn and Sevier counties will be closed Tuesday, the agency said, and more than 12,000 people in Sevier County were without power as of early Tuesday morning.
      Several evacuation shelters opened as about 1,300 people stayed overnight at the local community center and park. Shaken residents, some needing oxygen after inhaling so much smoke, huddled with each other at the shelters.
      “We watched a building go down in flames to the right of us,” said one tearful evacuee, who was rescued by firefighters.
      At Dollywood, the theme park owned by Dolly Parton in Pigeon Forge, officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park evacuated guests from its resort and cabins as flames approached the area. The property had not suffered any damage as of late Monday night and its crew was working to protect the park areas, said Pete Owens, director of media relations at Dollywood.

      ‘It’s just engulfed’

      Despite evacuation orders, some people — including guests at one Gatlinburg hotel — could not safely leave the area as the fire advanced.
      “I just see fire everywhere,” said Logan Baker, who had checked into the Park Vista Hotel on Monday. The fire swept up to the hotel parking lot, he told CNN affiliate WATE. He posted videos of the hotel doors and windows glowing from the fire looming outside.
      Baker was among dozens of guests who couldn’t leave because falling trees engulfed in flames had blocked the only road out.
      “We can’t go outside. The firefighters said the wind is blowing at 80 miles per hour and the debris in the air is too hard to get us down right now,” he said.
      The fire had not reached the hotel, but smoke had permeated the building, making it hard to breathe, he said. Guests stood in the hotel lobby with masks over their faces.
      But Baker said he felt safe so far. He said he could see downtown Gatlinburg “just engulfed” in flames with cabins on the hillside on fire. The night sky had turned orange, clogged with smoke as ash rained down.

      Evacuations in national park

      Elsewhere, the Great Smoky Mountains National Parkevacuated employees from the Elkmont and park headquarters housing areas on Monday.
      The flames proved unpredictable even for authorities as the fire blew into downtown Gatlinburg, forcing officials to evacuate their original command post at City Hall, said Dana Soehn, spokeswoman for the National Park Service. She was uncertain of the condition of City Hall.
      The National Guard was activated to help fight the fire and assist in evacuations.

      Fire is ‘everywhere’

      Fires burned perilously close to roads and homes. Social media images and videos showed the night sky blazing bright orange from the flames.
      Several roads were closed because of fire danger, stemming from dangerous weather conditions, falling trees and downed power lines. Authorities asked people who have not been instructed to evacuate to stay off the roads as evacuees crammed the streets to get to safety.
      Among them was Bill May, the executive director at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg. He posted on Facebooklate Monday that several of the school’s buildings had burned, but thankfully all personnel were safe.
      “It is raining and winds have died down which offers hope, but the resources are stretched too thin with this much fire everywhere,” he wrote.

      Good news and bad news

      There may be some good news: Rain moved into the area late Monday night, heading east.
      But with the rainfall came some bad news.
      “Unfortunately, some wind gusts will accompany this rain,” noted the National Weather Service.
      High winds are possible across eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and southwest North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. They could topple trees and power lines and fan the flames.

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      Selena Gomez criticized after weighing in on the Taylor Swift/Kanye West drama

      Image: Brian Killian/getty images

      Selena has had enough of this feud between Kanye West and her fellow squad member, Taylor Swift, and she’s speaking out.

      The world was introduced to the latest chapter of the ongoing celebrity feud which began after West interrupted Swift’s VMA speech in 2009 on Sunday night after Kim Kardashian shared footage on her Snapchat of a phone conversation between her husband Kanye and Swift.

      Like many others who immediately rushed to social media, Selena Gomez felt compelled to make a passionate statement about the issue on Twitter, and is receiving her fair share of backlash for not using her platform to support social causes.

      The videos Kardashian shared capture a phone call which appears to show West openly sharing ideas and intentions about his Swift-centered “Famous” song lyric, though Swift originally denied that Kanye requested her approval.

      After Taylor reacted to the situation with an Instagram post, her gal pal Selena voiced her own thoughts on Twitter.

      Gomez expressed her belief that after all of the tragedies that recently occurred in the world, the issue of Kanye and Swift is not something that should be in the forefront of our minds.

      After Gomez shared her disappointment in the amount of attention the latest chapter in Swift’s dramatic narrative was receiving, she herself became a target for criticism and Twitter users began calling her out for hypocritical behavior.

      After one Twitter user questioned Gomez on her #BlackLivesMatter stance, she replied, “oh lol so that means if I hashtag something I save lives? No – I could give two fucks about ‘sides’. You don’t know what I do.”

      Gomez has since deleted the tweet.

      Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

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      Sean Spicer: brash brawler in frontline of Trump’s ‘war with the media’ – period

      The White House press secretary used his first briefing to berate the shameful press but may find it hard to represent a master who communicates via Twitter

      The world is about to hear a whole lot more about Sean Spicer. Period.

      As the public face of the Donald Trump administration, Spicer will be giving reporters daily briefings from the podium in the West Wing of the White House.

      In fiction, the role of press secretary was played with aplomb by CJ Cregg (Allison Janney), sashaying from President Jed Bartletts office to the briefing room in the TV drama The West Wing. In real life, Barack Obamas most recent mouthpiece was the urbane Josh Earnest, who had a penchant for jokey sports metaphors.

      Spicer, to put it mildly, has a different approach.

      He kept reporters waiting for an hour on Saturday afternoon before barnstorming into his press room debut. Stocky, cropped-haired and wearing a grey pinstripe suit that was a tad too large around the collar, the 45-year-old gripped each side of the lectern and launched a blistering tirade against the media over what he called deliberately false reporting.

      One example, he argued, was to do with the size of the crowd at Trumps inauguration on Friday.

      This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period both in person and around the globe, Spicer said angrily. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.

      It was not the first time Spicer has used the word period for emphasis and it will probably not be the last. He also warned, were going to hold the press accountable, a phrase that would be chilling in many regimes around the world.

      Where Earnest was usually measured, Spicer was brash, loud and combative, entirely in sync with his boss, who earlier in the day told an audience at CIA headquarters that he had a running war with the media. He wrapped up after five minutes and marched off, ignoring a cacophony of shouted questions. The dissatisfaction on faces of reporters on the front row spoke volumes.

      I feel like Im back at school, being given a ticking off by the head teacher, sighed one. Another filed a TV report that said Spicer tore a strip off the media as wide as an Iowa farm.

      Sean Spicer steps away from the podium without taking questions after speaking at the White House on Saturday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

      Spicer, who is also a lieutenant in the naval reserve, grew up in Rhode Island. His father is an insurance agent and his mother an academic manager at a university. At Connecticut College, according to a Washington Post interview last year, he caught the student government bug after the sailing team could no longer satisfy his competitive urges.

      Surrounded by liberal classmates, he began to think of himself as Republican. His agenda wasnt particularly partisan working to ban smoking in a dining hall, fighting for cable TV in the dorms. But the seeds of his contentious relationship with the press had already been sown.

      I am writing in response to the article in the 26 April edition of the Voice in which my name was misspelled, he wrote to his school paper in 1993. While the paper had told him it had been unintentional, he believed that it was a malicious and intentional attack.

      The paper had called him Sean Sphincter.

      The first amendment does uphold the right to free speech, he said. However, this situation goes beyond the bounds of free speech.

      Spicer studied politics at the American University in Washington, became communications director for the Republican Conference in the House, then joined George W Bushs administration as spokesman for the US trade representative. He played the Easter Bunny at the White House Easter egg roll.

      Spicer is the Republican National Committees longest-serving communications director, having started in 2011, later adding the job title chief strategist. He is credited with boosting its social media operations, building an in-house TV production team and creating a rapid response effort to reply to attacks.

      His Twitter reponses to news stories include: Another example of false, reprehensible, pathetic, tabloid faux journalism.

      The Washington Post interview said: One editor of a DC-based publication said shes been on the receiving end of so many Spicer tirades that when he calls her at home, her young child will recognize his voice and burst into tears. Sean Spicer, she says, is a curse word in our house.

      Like many Republicans, Spicer was critical of Trump before going to work for him. When the billionaire businessman criticised John McCain, senator and former prisoner of war in Vietnam, Spicer issued a statement: Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period.

      By last summer he was having to clear up the mess of Melania Trumps Republican convention speech having been partly plagiarised from an address by Michelle Obama. He memorably claimed on CNN that the phrases were widely used, including in a childrens cartoon: Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony said, This is your dream. Anything you can do in your dreams, you can do now.

      Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus)

      Sean Spicer chewsand swallowstwo and a half packs of cinnamon gum by noon every day. Great @bterris read

      August 17, 2016

      Now he is in the harshest of spotlights. The job of press secretary has drawn its share of characters. Michael McCurry, representing Bill Clinton, once began a briefing as an anonymous official with a paper bag over his head.

      It also draws fire. At a parting breakfast with journalists this week, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Earnest said: The stakes are just higher and every sentence and in some cases every word that you choose to utter is being closely watched around the world and has global consequences.

      He noted the example of former press secretary Robert Gibbs who, discussing US-UK relations, inadvertently neglected to use the timeworn phrase special relationship, triggering a not insignificant kerfuffle on both sides of the Atlantic ocean.

      Spicer has an added problem never faced by a press secretary before. Trumps shoot-from-the-hip tweets may take him by surprise as much as anyone.

      Earnest said: One of the things that will be challenging is its apparent that the president-elect often sends tweets without consulting him and that has the potential to put Mr Spicer in a difficult situation if the tweets of the president-elect are not effectively coordinated with the public comments of the spokesperson.

      That kind of dissonance, if you will, is something that can be overcome in the context of a political campaign but the consequences are much higher when youre talking about a range of sensitive policy issues, including some policies that have a direct bearing on our national security and our relationship with countries around the world.

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