Science & Technology

NEW YORK: IBM Corp has been sued by a shareholder who accused it of concealing how its ties to what became a major US spying scandal reduced business in China and ultimately caused its market value to plunge more than $12 billion.

IBM lobbied Congress hard to pass a law letting it share personal data of customers in China and elsewhere with the US National Security Agency in a bid to protect its intellectual property rights, according to a complaint filed in the US District Court in Manhattan.

The plaintiff in the complaint, Louisiana Sheriffs' Pension & Relief Fund, said this threatened IBM hardware sales in China, particularly given a program known as Prism that let the NSA spy on that country through technology companies such as IBM.

The Baton Rouge pension fund said the revelation of Prism and related disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden caused Chinese businesses and China's government to abruptly cut ties with the world's largest technology services provider.

It said this led IBM on October 16 to post disappointing third-quarter results, including drops in China of 22 percent in sales and 40 percent in hardware sales.

While quarterly profit rose 6 percent, revenue dropped 4 percent and fell well below analyst forecasts.

IBM shares fell 6.4 percent on October 17, wiping out $12.9 billion of the Armonk, New York-based company's market value.

The lawsuit names IBM, Chief Executive Virginia Rometty and Chief Financial Officer Mark Loughridge as defendants, and says they should be held liable for the company's failure to reveal sooner the risks of its lobbying and its NSA ties.

"These allegations are ludicrous and irresponsible and IBM will vigorously defend itself in court," IBM spokesman Doug Shelton said in an e-mail.

The Louisiana fund is represented by Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossmann, a prominent class-action specialist law firm. It seeks class-action status on behalf of shareholders from June 25 to October 16, 2013, and damages for shareholder losses.

Loughridge is retiring as CFO this month at age 60, which IBM calls its traditional retirement age. Martin Schroeter, who has been IBM's head of global finance, is replacing him.

MUMBAI: An emotional advertisement for Google's search engine has become a hit in India and Pakistan by surprisingly invoking a searing and traumatic period in the shared history of the South Asian archrivals.

Officially debuting on television Friday, the commercial already has been viewed more than 1.6 million times on YouTube.

"Reunion" portrays two childhood friends, now elderly men, who haven't seen each other since they were separated by the 1947 partition that created India and Pakistan from the old British empire in South Asia. Partition sparked a mass exodus as millions of Muslims and Hindus fled across the new borders amid religious violence.

In the ad, one of the men reminisces to his granddaughter about his happy childhood in Lahore and how he used to steal sweets from a shop with his best friend, who the ad implies is Muslim. His granddaughter uses the search engine to track down the childhood friend in the Pakistani city. Then, with the help of the Pakistani man's grandson (and naturally, Google), she arranges a journey to New Delhi for a surprise reunion.

The ad struck a cultural chord with Indians and Pakistanis.

"If it doesn't move you, you've got a heart of stone," wrote Beena Sarwar, a Pakistani journalist and part of the Aman ki Asha (Hope for Peace) initiative that promotes peace between Pakistan and India, on her blog.

It might seem a risky strategy to co-opt partition for a feel-good search engine advertisement. The period is one of the roots of the bitter animosity between Pakistan and India that has led to three wars, a nuclear arms race and deadly fighting in the disputed Kashmir region. Shortly after the partition, an estimated 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed in rioting, and 12 million were uprooted from their homes.

Yet Abhijit Avasthi, head of the Ogilvy India team that developed the ad, said the fact that partition evokes strong feelings among Indians and Pakistanis is one of the reasons the idea was chosen.

"Yes, this is a sensitive topic, a part of history with bitter memories" he said. "But that was the whole point, which is to tell people that those memories are in the past, that there is a way to revive your connection with your lost ones."

The spot also tapped into ordinary people's weariness with the hostilities.

"I don't see much hostility at the people's level," said Sanjay Mehta, a 48-year-old New Delhi-based businessman whose family is from what is now Pakistan.

But he added that travelling between the countries is not as easy as the ad portrays. "I want to visit Pakistan but it's not easy to get a visa."

Last year, India and Pakistan signed an agreement to make it easier for business travellers, senior citizens, divided families and religious pilgrims to get visas. However, improving ties have been set back by sporadic clashes in Kashmir.

PARIS: A slowdown in global warming that climate sceptics cite in favour of their cause was partly induced by one of the world’s most successful environment treaties, a study said on Sunday.

The UN’s Montreal Protocol, designed to phase out industrial gases that destroy Earth’s protective ozone layer, coincidentally applied a small brake to the planet’s warming, it said.

Without this treaty, Earth’s surface temperature would be roughly 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher today, according to its authors.

“Paradoxically, the recent decrease in warming, presented by global warming sceptics as proof that humankind cannot affect the climate system, is shown to have a direct human origin,” according to the paper, published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Signed in 1987 and implemented in 1989, the Montreal Protocol committed signatories to scrapping a group of chlorine- and bromine-containing chemicals.

Used in aerosol sprays, solvents and refrigerants, these substances destroy ozone molecules in the stratosphere that filter out cancer-causing ultraviolet light.

Some of the chemicals also happen to be hefty greenhouse gases, with a powerful ability to trap the Sun’s heat.

So their phaseout, which began to hit its stride in the 1990s, was also a small but perceptible gain in the fight against climate change, the scientists said.

From 1998 to 2012, Earth’s mean global temperature rose by an average of 0.05 C (0.09 F) per decade, a benchmark measure of warming.

This is far less than the average decadal increase over half a century of 0.12 C (0.2 F), and is out of sync with the ever-rising curve of greenhouse-gas emissions.

As a result, sceptics claim the 15-year “Pause” as proof that climate change has natural causes, showing that green calls to reduce fossil-fuel emissions are flawed or a scam.

The paper, led by Francisco Estrada, an atmospheric physicist at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, is a statistical comparison of carbon emissions and warming during the 20th century.

Overall, temperatures rose last century by 0.8 C (1.4 F).

Cooling and warming

Two World Wars contributed to cooling, as did the Great Depression — massively so. From 1929 to 1932, annual emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) fell by 26 per cent.It took until 1937 for CO2 emissions to return to their pre-1929 levels.

The cooling effect took some time to kick in, but it lasted until the middle of the century.

The post-World War II boom led to a surge in emissions that, from 1960, began to be perceived in a clear signature of sustained warming, according to the investigation.

The paper said that the “Pause” may also be attributable, but in a far smaller way, to changes in rice farming in Asia, a generator of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

In a comment on the study, Alex Sen Gupta, of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said the cooling benefits from the Montreal Protocol “are going to be short-lived.”

“In the end, the continuing rise in other greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, will keep temperatures marching upwards.”

In September, the UN’s paramount group of climate experts scoffed at the “Pause,” essentially calling it a non-issue.

They said the period of 1998-2012 was far too short to give a long-term view of climate trends.

They also hinted at selective bias, noting that the period began with a strong El Nino, a heat-linked weather phenomenon, thus making following years seem cooler by comparison.—AFP

SEOUL, South Korea: Samsung Electronics Co. has a new goal after overtaking Apple in smartphones: it wants to be world No. 1 in tablet computers too.

A top executive, Shin Jong-kyun, told analysts on Wednesday that Samsung's tablet business is growing rapidly and the company will become the biggest maker of tablet computers. He didn't give a timeframe.

Shin said Samsung's tablet sales will exceed 40 million units this year, more than double sales in 2012.

"Samsung tablet shipments started to grow remarkably since the second half of last year," he said.

Research group IDC estimates that Samsung sold 16.6 million tablets in 2012, lagging far behind Apple Inc. which sold 65.7 million iPads.

But Samsung is on the rise, capturing 20 percent market share in the July-September quarter while Apple, which led the commercialization of tablet computing, fell to 30 percent.

Apple previously had more than half of the global tablet market but its dominance has eroded as Samsung boosted sales with cheaper Galaxy Tab computers that offer many different screen sizes.

The same trend has already played out in smartphones. Apple transformed the mobile phone industry when it started selling the iPhone in 2007 but its success was quickly imitated and Samsung's smartphone shipments surpassed Apple's iPhone sales in 2011. The following year, the South Korean company became the largest supplier of mobile handsets overall, surpassing Nokia.

Shin's speech was part of Samsung's first event tailored for analysts and investors since 2005 as the South Korean company tries to boost its share price, which has flagged despite a string of record profits.

Responding to pressure to increase returns to investors, Chief Financial Officer Lee Sang-hoon said Samsung plans to double its dividend this year to the equivalent of 1 percent of the average price of its common shares.

Samsung also said it plans to adopt outside technologies and hire talent through aggressive acquisitions.

Kwon Oh-hyun, the company's vice chairman, said Samsung wants to be the top medical device maker through acquiring companies and developing its own technologies. In the last three years, Samsung spent $1 billion to buy 14 companies in medical equipment, mobile software and services.

The event failed to boost investor confidence immediately. Shares of Samsung closed 2.3 percent lower in Seoul.

The first rat pressed a lever, anticipating the tasty reward it’d been trained to expect. An implant in the rat’s brain converted its neural activity into an electronic signal and beamed the impulse to the brain of the second rat, which leaped forward and pressed a lever in its own cage. But rat #2 had never been trained to press the lever. Its movement impulse came not from its own brain, but directly from the brain of rat #1 – despite the fact that the two were separated by thousands of miles.

What we have created, said lead researcher Miguel Nicolelis, is “a new central nervous system made of two brains.”

That advance happened in 2012, and other labs were quick to one-up Nicolelis and his team. In the summer of 2013, a team of Harvard University researchers engineered a brain-to-brain interface between a rat and a human, enabling the human to control the rat’s tail movements simply by willing them to happen.

Finally, in August 2013, University of Washington scientists Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco succeeded in making one leap everyone was waiting for: A human-to-human brain-to-brain interface. By strapping one person into a non-invasive EEG helmet, and strapping the second into a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) helmet, the researchers mind-melded themselves – for the sake of science.

 

Mind-Meld Gaming

The experiment went like this: Rao and Stocco sat across campus from one another, watching the same video game. Rao, wearing an EEG helmet, was at the controls – but instead of using his hand to hit the spacebar to fire, he simply imagined moving his hand.

Every time he did this, with near-instantaneous speed, a computer converted Rao’s brain signals into a digital signal and beamed it to Stocco’s TMS helmet. That helmet converted the signal into a burst of magnetic stimulation delivered to the precise region of Stocco’s motor cortex that controlled his right hand. Stocco’s hand would then twitch involuntarily, tapping the spacebar and (sometimes) scoring a hit in the game.

 

What did this feel like? “The two of us had very different experiences,” Rao says. “For me, it was only after the action had occurred that I had the chance to reflect upon what had happened – that it was Stocco’s hand, stimulated by my brain signal, that had caused the action. That realization was both exciting and a bit eerie.”

Stocco, on the other hand, reports that he simply felt an involuntary muscle twitch, which caused his hand to move and hit the keyboard. There was no conscious “need” to flex the muscle, he says, since the entire sequence of events from stimulation to movement happened within just a few tens of milliseconds. And what’s more, Rao says, “I don’t think he can resist the movement once he’s received the stimulation, since it operates at the subconscious level.” Eerie indeed.

But even with this subconscious level of connectivity, the process wasn’t flawless or error-free. And in fact, the system’s flaws and errors reveal some interesting truths about how our brains process information.

Technological Hurdles

The EEG device that Rao used to send outgoing signals is based on technology that dates back to 1875. Though today’s devices are far more precise than those nineteenth-century models, they still operate on the same basic principle: Electrodes distributed across a person’s scalp pick up patterns of electrical activity that oscillate at specific frequencies within that person’s brain. Because EEG electrodes sit on the surface of the scalp, they can’t pinpoint this activity to a specific three-dimensional point within the brain. But with a little calibration, they’re very handy for tracking large-scale brain phenomena such as mood swings, shifts in attention and movement impulses.

TMS is a more recent technology – and, because it works by disrupting activity deep within the brain, more controversial. Numerous researchers have reported that TMS triggered seizures in some of their patients – although most experts now agree that the risk of seizure is extremely low for subjects not already prone to epilepsy. Meanwhile, experimenters throughout the 1990s and 2000s have succeeded in using TMS to trigger involuntary movements, to temporarily increase working memory, and even to treat depression.

On top of all that, TMS is non-invasive – so when it Rao and Stocco set out to design their brain-to-brain interface, TMS stood out as the clear choice for the output end. “I realized that, in EEG and TMS, we had noninvasive technologies for both recording from and stimulating the human brain,” Rao says. “So I approached Andrea Stocco, who had just arrived at UW and was using TMS for his cognitive psychology experiments. Andrea and I got really excited about the idea, and we started brainstorming.”

Brain Training

One thing that quickly became clear was that Rao’s EEG wouldn’t always send a clear signal. “EEG signals are quite hard to use for controlling devices,” he explains, “because the signal is a weak, noisy, filtered version of the underlying brain activity.” Movements of the eyes, face or body – or even stray thoughts – can interfere with the signal. Such stellar concentration took months of practice for Rao.

“In the early sessions,” Rao says, “we had several false positives, where Andrea’s hand would hit the ‘Fire’ key even though that was not my intention.” But as the trials wore on, Rao learned to control his EEG output more precisely – until, in the final session, Rao and Stocco achieved close to 100 percent accuracy (in their signals, though not in the game itself). “The only miss after that,” Rao says, “happened when Andrea’s hand moved but didn’t hit the key with sufficient force to fire the cannon.” A small bug indeed, in light of the team’s overall ambition.

Sign Me Up

Perhaps the most exciting thing about this project – aside from the “mind-meld” aspect – is the fact that it’s built on technology that’s rapidly entering the consumer marketplace. Although TMS remains confined to medical facilities and laboratories, groups of indie engineers around the world are hard at work building their own TMS devices. Home EEG kits, meanwhile, are widely available from companies such as Emotiv and NeuroSky – that is, if you wouldn’t rather build your own from scratch.

And though Rao’s initial tests transmitted mere movements, future iterations could theoretically transmit perceptions, concepts, or emotions. Then we truly would be talking about a mind-meld – allowing two people, through technology, to communicate directly via their brains.

For as long as we humans have felt curious about the world around us, we’ve struggled to communicate our thoughts to others clearly and to understand them in turn; to “get inside their heads.” But it hasn’t been until the last couple years that each of us can put on a little plastic helmet and watch what’s happening inside our own brains – and the brains of our friends – right at home. What’s next but to truly get inside each others’ minds and see what we find there?

Technologies like these might seem to have the potential to make robots of us all – but they also hint at a future of empathy more direct and immediate than any we’ve experienced before.

Top image by sweetsake / Shutterstock

ABU DHABI: Nokia, a global leader in mobile communications, redefined smartphone innovation with the launch of six new game-changing devices at Nokia World 2013. The mega event held at St Regis Island Resort in Abu Dhabi, turned out to be an exciting platform for Nokia to showcase the latest and newest devices and services to media and analysts from across the world.

“Now more than ever, mobile devices are at the center of consumers’ lives as they look to capture, curate and share experiences on the go,” said Stephen Elop, Executive Vice President, Devices and Services at Nokia, during the keynote session.

Nokia introduced its first Windows tablet the Nokia Lumia 2520, that runs on Windows RT 8.1. It became the cynosure of all eyes at the event as the tablet, touted as the real game-changer for Nokia as well as the industry, is a complete package and made to support life on the go. “It is designed for mobility, reliability, longevity and has a unique sense of style and color,” said Elop, demonstrating the gadget.

Nokia also launched a portfolio of large screen Lumia smartphones: Lumia 1520 and 1320 and three new Asha models – including the first 3G device in the Asha Platform family of smartphones -delivering winning designs, new vibrant colors and a more intuitive user interface, all at attractive prices.

Amazing journey
“With a pending Microsoft portfolio, we are embarking on an amazing journey with great products. We will remain the company that continues to connect people,” Elop said.

“With our latest range of Lumia and Asha products, we’re delivering imaging innovation to bigger devices at more accessible prices,” he said. The Lumia 2520 is designed to work anywhere with its vivid 10.1-inch HD display providing the best outdoor and indoor readability. Building on Nokia’s rich mobility heritage, the Lumia 2520 combines both 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity and a 6.7MP camera for the first time ever on a tablet, ZEISS optics, letting people click quality pictures – even in low light.

The Lumia 2520 also comes with a number of unique software experiences that are exclusive to the Lumia family, including the exclusive “Dragon’s Adventure” interactive game developed in partnership with DreamWorks Animation.

Additionally, the Lumia 2520 includes Nokia Storyteller, a Nokia developed application that introduces a new way to curate and relive images and videos as a story on a map, as well as Nokia Video Director, which offers the ability to edit and get even more creative with videos shot on the Lumia 2520 – as well as content from Lumia smartphones.

The Lumia 2520 pairs with a unique and stylish accessory which offers a great set of benefits: the Nokia Power Keyboard. Offering up to five extra hours of battery life and two built-in USB ports, the Nokia Power Keyboard makes battery life worries a thing of the past. The Nokia Lumia 2520 will be available in red and white in a glossy finish as well as cyan and black in a matte finish, and is expected to start shipping in Q4 2013.

The Lumia Series
Continuing to redefine smartphone innovation, Nokia introduces its first-ever large screen Lumia smartphones, the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1320. With a 6-inch screen and the latest software advancements for Windows Phone, the Lumia 1320 and Lumia 1520 are perfectly suited for entertainment and productivity.

The Lumia 1520 offers the latest imaging innovation from Nokia – a 20MP PureView camera with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) enabling sharp images even in the dark. In addition to the new Nokia Camera and Nokia Story Teller applications, the Lumia 1520 offers a 6-inch screen and a 1080p full HD display for outstanding outdoor readability.

The Lumia 1320 features many high-end Lumia innovations on a large 6-inch 720p display and extends the Nokia Camera App to another price range. With a range of imaging apps available, the Lumia 1320 comes with Nokia Music for free streaming of ad-free music and HERE maps and location services.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 will be available in yellow, white, black and glossy red. It is expected to start shipping in Q4 2013. The Nokia Lumia 1320 will be available in orange, yellow, white, and black and is expected to start shipping in Q1 2014.

The Asha experience
The Nokia Asha 500, Asha 502 and Asha 503 combine beautiful design with a rich mobile experience. The newest additions to the Asha Platform family of devices – the Nokia Asha 500, Asha 502 and Asha 503 – join the already successful Asha 501 in pushing the boundaries of affordable smartphone innovation. All three handsets build on Nokia’s renowned design and feature a new crystal-clear look. Support for 3G is available on the Asha 503, which also includes a 5MP camera and comes with a Dual SIM option.

Launching the Nokia Asha 500, Asha 502 and Asha 503, he said, they include new enhancements to the Asha Platform for even more intuitive navigation. “Asha is very exciting as we reach out to the emerging markets. We want everyone on this planet to have a smartphone. Five billion people will have smartphones soon,” Elop said.

Knowing how important free messaging is to people, WhatsApp will be available for the Nokia Asha 501 and is to arrive later in the year for the new Asha devices. “We are quite excited about the future. The statistics are mind-blowing as around 250,000 Nokia devices sign up for WhatsApp every day.

“One swipe to capture and one touch to share. The new Asha user interface enables faster and easier sharing of images on social networks,” Elop pointed out. The Nokia Asha 500, Asha 502 and Asha 503 will be available in bright red, bright green, yellow, cyan, white and black, and are planned to start shipping in Q4 2013. The Nokia Asha 500 features a 2.8-inch screen, 2MP camera and comes in single SIM and Easy Swap Dual SIM variants. The Nokia Asha 502 features a 3-inch screen, a 5MP camera with LED flash and Easy Swap Dual-SIM.

The Asha 503 features 3.5G connectivity, a 3-inch screen, 5MP camera with LED flash, Corning Gorilla Glass 2 and comes in single SIM and Easy Swap Dual SIM variants. People can get the most from Nokia’s latest Lumia portfolio through a new selection of applications including: Nokia Video Director, Nokia Beamer, Nokia Storyteller, DreamWorks Animation’s Dragons Adventure, Instagram, Papyrus and InNote and Vine, a popular video service.

By Sajeev K Peter

New York: At your neighborhood coffee shop, you can order your beverage in small, medium or large. Now, you can do that with phones, too.

HTC Corp. is introducing a larger version of its popular HTC One phone, becoming the latest phone maker to offer its flagship device in three sizes - and, of course, three prices.

The new HTC One Max has one feature unavailable on the smaller models: a fingerprint identification sensor similar to that on Apple's new iPhone 5S. It's an optional way to unlock a phone without using a four-digit passcode. Unlike Apple's version, however, the Max can be programmed to automatically open one of three favorite apps, depending on which finger is used.

HTC spokesman Tom Harlin said the company designed the Max with a fingerprint sensor to make the larger device easier to operate with one hand. Engineers also moved the power button to the side. On smaller models, it's on top of the phone, when held vertically.

The Max has a screen that measures 5.9 inches diagonally. That compares with the 4.7 inches on the standard version and the 4.3 inches on the HTC One Mini. HTC is designing its software to take advantage of the larger screen. With many Android phones, images and text simply get larger on bigger phones. With the Max, the layout of selected apps is reformatted to fit more content.

The Max also has more battery capacity than the smaller models, but otherwise shares their design and hardware features. Like the other Ones, the Max has a camera that can capture better low-light shots than the typical smartphone camera, but images are of lower resolution, at 4 megapixels. The Max weighs 7.7 ounces, which is more than the 5.9 ounces for Samsung's 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3.

The price hasn't been announced, but it likely will be comparable to the $300 for the Note 3 and Motorola's Droid Maxx. That price typically requires a two-year service agreement and is $100 more than the regular HTC One, Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Motorola's Droid Ultra when they launched.

Harlin said HTC is offering variety to meet consumers' differing needs. Some might prefer a small device that is cheap and can fit in the pocket of skinny jeans, while others might want more screen space.

As for the fingerprint sensor, HTC is including similar security safeguards found in the iPhone 5S. A mathematical representation of the fingerprint is stored on the phone in a secured location, inaccessible to other apps or remote servers. However, HTC does plan to eventually offer a way for other apps to use the ID system, without accessing the fingerprint data directly. Apple has no current plans for third-party access.

Despite assurances of security from Apple, a German hacking group claims to have bypassed the system using a household printer and some wood glue to create an artificial copy of a genuine fingerprint. Apple hasn't commented on that.

HTC said Verizon and Sprint Corp. will sell the HTC One Max in the U.S. in time for the holidays. AT&T Inc. has been offering the Mini since August. All four national carriers, including T-Mobile US Inc., have the standard version.

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