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Deepfakes v pre-bunking: is Russia losing the infowar? | Ukraine

Speaking behind a podium bearing the Ukrainian state emblem, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his now signature green attire, calls on his soldiers to lay down their weapons and return to their families.

The one-minute clip is a deepfake, the term for a sophisticated hoax that uses artificial intelligence to create a phoney image, most commonly fake videos of people.

What unfolded next was the latest episode in the infowar that has accompanied the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a war being waged across social media platforms, via satellite images of battlefields and on hackers’ keyboards.

Zelenskiy posted a bona fide response on his Instagram account on Wednesday dismissing the “childish provocation” and telling Russian troops to return home. His response to the deepfake, which remains of unknown provenance and is not of a high quality, received more than 5m views.

Social media platforms swung into action as well. Facebook and Instagram’s owner, Meta, said it had removed the video from its services and tipped off other platforms after the deepfake appeared on a reportedly hacked Ukrainian news site and started spreading across the internet. Twitter said it was “actively” tracking the video and removing it if it was being displayed without comment or held up as real.

Sam Gregory, programme director at Witness, a technology-focused human rights group, said the Ukrainian response showed Zelenskiy’s team had an effective strategy in place to deal with this type of disinformation. “The Ukrainians had warned about a video like this,” he said, referring to pre-bunking efforts. “Then the video itself was poor quality and discernible as faked to the human eye and ear. And then the subject of the deepfake was able to rapidly rebut it in real-time, via his own social media channels to an audience who trusts him.”

One expert said the concept of an infowar between Russia and Ukraine and its allies needed be seen in a global context.

“Ukraine is doing an extraordinary job. It is making sure the world understands the gravity of the situation and the fight that they’re undertaking on behalf of the rest of democracy,” said Andy Carvin, managing editor of the digital forensic research lab at the Atlantic Council, a US thinktank. Russia has “failed and fumbled”, he said, including by “posting questionable videos of doubtful provenance”.

Hackers have claimed success too in hampering the state narrative inside Russia, with the RT news service among the websites targeted by distributed denial of service attacks that render sites unreachable. The volume of DDoS attacks since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began has “disproportionately targeted Russia”, according to Recorded Future, which monitors cyber threats.

But Carvin cautioned against drawing only positive conclusions from the infowar. “It’s very easy for us in the west to assume well, they stink at this, and Ukraine is winning the argument online and in public discourse. But if you look around region by region, or even within certain countries, you’ll see very different narratives spreading.”

Carvin pointed to Russia, where Facebook and Instagram are blocked, access to Twitter is heavily restricted, all western content has been barred on TikTok, and dissent has been all but quashed. “From Putin’s perspective, domestically, I think he’s probably fairly happy with where things stand,” he said.

Internationally, RT and another state-owned news service, Sputnik, have been removed in the UK and EU by Facebook and Instagram, and RT’s UK broadcast licence was revoked on Friday.

But Carvin noted that RT and Sputnik are “thriving” in South America and pointed to a recent study showing that 50% of posts examined on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, backed Russia’s argument that the war was the fault of western countries, Nato or Ukraine. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, he said, the Russian narrative was also playing well. “Region by region, it’s not necessarily looking as great as it may appear through our lenses,” he said.

Other aspects of the infowar are more difficult for Russia to counter, thanks to open source intelligence, or OSINT. OSINT refers to publicly accessible information, from mobile phone footage to images made available by Maxar, a commercial satellite company, which are then scrutinised by organisations like investigative journalism site Bellingcat.

“OSINT is playing a transformational role in the information landscape surrounding the political and military conflict in Ukraine,” said Justin Crow, a researcher at the University of Sussex school of engineering and informatics. “It is helping to inform high-level strategic decisions, as well as keeping the general public informed. Perhaps most importantly, it is helping to prevent Russia from dominating the narrative around the war.”

For some Russians, the dwindling information options are not a deterrent to seeking out the truth. Mikhail, a 29-year-old consultant in Moscow, said that the ban on social media and independent outlets would not affect the way he consumed the news.

“I saw this coming from a mile away, this was expected given in which directions the authorities are moving,” said Mikhail who got a virtual private network, which allows you to access sites blocked in your country, at the end of last year. “Getting real information about the invasion is very important to me. I don’t want to become a zombie watching state television.”

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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