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Biden calls on Facebook to tackle misinformation after saying it’s ‘killing people’ | Joe Biden

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Joe Biden has tempered his assessment that social media platforms are “killing people” by hosting misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines, saying Monday that he hoped they would not take it “personally” and instead would act to save lives.

While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they are helping people around the world access verified information about the shots, the White House says they haven’t done enough to stop misinformation that has helped to slow the pace of new vaccinations in the US to a trickle. It comes as the US sees a rise in virus cases and deaths among those who haven’t gotten a shot, in what officials call an emerging “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

Speaking at the White House, Biden insisted he meant “precisely what I said” when he said Friday of the tech giants that “they’re killing people”. But he said the point of his rhetoric was to ramp up pressure on the companies to take action.

“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying ‘Facebook is killing people,’ that they would do something about the misinformation,” Biden said.

A March report by the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate and cited by the White House last week found that 12 online personalities, dubbed the “disinformation dozen”, are responsible for the vast majority of Covid-19 anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories.

“Facebook isn’t killing people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it, it’s killing people,” Biden said. “It’s bad information.”

Biden’s comments come as the White House has struggled to counteract resistance to getting a shot, particularly among younger and more Republican demographics. Fewer than 400,000 Americans are getting their first vaccine dose each day – down from a high of more than 2 million a day in April. More than 90 million eligible people have not received a dose.

Last week the US surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, declared misinformation about the vaccines a deadly threat to public health.

“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said during remarks Thursday at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”

Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms must make meaningful changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of false information while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.

Too often, he said, the platforms are built in ways that encourage the spread of misinformation.

“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”

Facebook on Friday responded to Biden’s attack, with spokesperson Kevin McAlister saying: “The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”

The company also released a blogpost saying its internal research showed it was not responsible for Biden’s missed vaccination goal. “The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, insisted Monday: “We’re not in a war or battle against Facebook – we’re in a battle with the virus.” But she ramped up pressure on the companies to share information on how many Americans are exposed to misinformation on their platforms and how their secretive and powerful algorithms promote false content to users.

“Do you have access to information from these platforms as to who is receiving misinformation?” she asked. “I don’t think that information has been released. Do you know how the algorithms are working at any of these platforms? I don’t think that information has been released.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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Power Capital takes majority interest in Terra Solar’s portfolio

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Terra Solar, a NovaUCD start-up founded in 2016, is giving up its sites in Wexford and Cork to Power Capital to develop solar farms.

Dublin-based company Power Capital Renewable Energy (PCRE) has announced plans to acquire majority interest in Terra Solar’s 400MW portfolio.

This will bring the company’s total solar assets to 840MW and boost its presence in the Irish solar power space.

A start-up that sprung out of NovaUCD, the University College Dublin accelerator, Terra Solar was founded by David Fewer and André Fernon in 2016. State-owned ESB was one of Terra Solar’s early investors, putting up €2.5m for a stake in the company.

Paris-based VC firm Omnes Capital will back the development of the solar sites over the next few years, which require around €200m to build out. Irish and international lenders will also back the development.

Power Capital director Peter Duff said that his company’s aim of becoming Ireland’s leading independent power producer has come a step closer with the deal.

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“Both Terra Solar and PCRE share common values and ambitions to help Ireland meet its 2030 targets and we are excited that Terra Solar chose us as a partner to bring these sites through construction,” he said.

The solar farm sites, located in Wexford and Cork, are a culmination of more than four years of engagement with local landowners, communities and planners, said Fewer.

“We will be retaining an equity stake in the developments and will be working intensively with all stakeholders over the coming few years to ensure that these sites are successfully constructed while equally continuing to grow our remaining development pipeline of 600MW.”

Justin Brown, co-founder of Power Capital, said that the company is currently in talks with other industry bodies about “increasing our foothold in the sector and we expect to see renewable energy being the dominant generator of electricity across Ireland within the next decade”.

Construction on the solar farms is set to begin in 2022 and the project is expected to be completed in the next five years.

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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