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Europe must work together to stay at forefront of high-tech - Merkel

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European countries must work together on next-generation chip manufacturing, Angela Merkel said, drawing on her 16 years of experience in the highest office to warn that no European country could stay at the forefront of high-tech on its own, write Andreas Rinke and Thomas Escritt.

The outgoing German chancellor told Reuters in an interview that the costs of moving to the next level in areas from chip development to cloud and quantum computing and battery production meant that the private sector would need state support.

Merkel herself conducted fundamental research in quantum chemistry in East Germany before entering politics after German reunification in 1990. She pointed to Korea, Taiwan and U.S. President Joe Biden's stimulus package as examples of what was possible.

"The state will have to play a significant role. South Korea and Taiwan go to show that competitive chip production in the 3- or 2-nanometer range, for example, is essentially impossible without state subsidies," she said.

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The global economy's current struggle to restore supply chains snapped by resource shortages and the coronavirus pandemic further highlights the need to ensure that Europe has its own production facilities in key areas, she said.

But she also lamented the failure of German companies to capitalise on an outstanding research base.

In particular, she said she was "shocked" at German companies' lack of interest in quantum computing, even though Germany was a world leader in research in a field that could make computers faster and more powerful than ever before.

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She said her government had made steps towards improving Germany's innovation and start-up cultures, pointing to a German-led project to create a secure and efficient cloud data infrastructure for Europe, named Gaia-X.

"But in the long term it cannot be the state that drives new developments," the European Union's longest-serving leader said.

Germany's sprawling, decentralised government structure could also be a hindrance to innovation.

Merkel said the presence of an ethics council and data protection officer in each of the 16 federal states put a heavy burden on firms in life sciences, for instance, where Germany had fallen behind.

It was, however, at the leading edge of research in areas such as quantum physics, climate research, physics, chemistry and robotics, she said.

Not that the same could be said for Merkel's own use of home technology.

"I’m happy enough when I can set up a delayed start on my washing machine, but beyond that, to be honest, I have neither the time nor the inclination to have my whole home remote-controlled," she said.

"Maybe I’ll develop an interest when I have more time in the near future."

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Bulgaria

Inauguration of new European supercomputer in Bulgaria

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Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel has inaugurated the latest supercomputer of the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking: Discoverer, in the Sofia Tech Park, Bulgaria. Bulgaria's Minister for the Economy, Daniela Vezieva; the Minister for Education and Science, Nikolay Denkov; the Deputy Mayor of Sofia, Doncho Barbalov; and the Executive Director of the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking, Anders Dam Jensen, also participated in the ceremony. Commissioner Gabriel said:  “With the EuroHPC Discoverer, Bulgaria can foster research and be better integrated in pan-European innovation ecosystems. It will stimulate highly data intensive research in such areas as medicine, industry or security. This new supercomputer will aid European users in driving research and innovation, regardless of where they are located in Europe.”

Discoverer will be capable of more than 4.5 petaflops (or 4.5 million billion calculations per second) of processing power. It will help boost research in the EU by, for example, providing high-powered modelling of molecular interactions, or running seismic wave impact simulations, as well as many other research applications in the areas of health, energy, or engineering. Discoverer is the third supercomputer inaugurated by the European High Performance Computing (EuroHPC) Joint Undertaking this year.

It has previously inaugurated two other petascale supercomputers: MeluXina, in Luxembourg and Vega, in Slovenia. Four more supercomputers are underway: Karolina, in Czechia, Deucalion in Portugal, LUMI in Finland, and LEONARDO in Italy. In July 2021, the Council adopted the new EuroHPC Joint Undertaking Regulation, bringing a further investment of €7 billion to provide the newest supercomputers and quantum computers, and to support the EU's ambitious research and innovation agenda. More information is available in this press release by the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking.

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OASI, the first search engine to find the algorithms that governments and companies use on citizens

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  • Created by Eticas Foundation, the Observatory of Algorithms with Social Impact, OASI, collects information from dozens of algorithms used by Public Administrations and companies around the world to learn more about their social impact.
  • The objective is to give public access to information on both governments and company algorithms, and to know who uses them, who develops them, what threats they represent and if they have been audited, among other characteristics.
  • Algorithm bias and discrimination usually occurs based on age, gender, race or disability, among other values, but due to the general lack of transparency, it is still not possible to know all its consequences on the affected groups.

Eticas Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes the responsible use of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, has created the Observatory of Algorithms with Social Impact (OASI). This Observatory introduces a search engine to know more about the tools that make important automated decisions on citizens, consumers and users around the world.

Currently, both companies and Public Administrations automate decisions thanks to algorithms. However, its development and commissioning does not follow external quality controls, neither it is as transparent as it should be, which leaves the population unprotected. With this search engine, anyone can find out more about these algorithms: who has developed them, who uses them, their scope of application, whether they have been audited, their objectives or their social impact and the threats they represent.

At the moment, OASI collects 57 algorithms, but expects to reach the 100 in the following months. Among them, 24 are being already applied in the USA by the Government and Big Tech companies. For example, ShotSpotter, an algorithm tool deployed by the Oakland Police Department to fight and reduce gun violence through sound-monitoring microphones, and an algorithm to predict potential child abuse and neglect used by Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Another example from a corporate is Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition system, which was audited by the MIT Media Lab in early 2019, and found to perform substantially worse when identifying an individual’s gender if they were female or darker-skinned.

The most common discrimination is on grounds of age, gender, race or disability, produced unintentionally by developers who lack of socioeconomic skills to understand the impact of this technology. In this sense, these engineers design the algorithms based only on technical skills, and since there is no external controls and it seems to be working as expected, the algorithm keep learning from deficient data.

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Given the lack of transparency about the functioning of some of these algorithms, Eticas Foundation, apart from the launch of OASI, is developing a project of external audits. The first is VioGén, the algorithm used by the Spanish Interior Ministry to assign risk to women who seek protection after suffering cases of domestic violence. Eticas will conduct an external audit through reverse engineering and administrative data, interviews, reports or design scripts, to collect results at scale. All this with the objective of detecting opportunities for improvement in the protection of these women.

“Despite the existence of algorithmic control and audit methods to ensure that technology respects current regulations and fundamental rights, the Administration and many companies continue to turn a deaf ear to requests for transparency from citizens and institutions,” declared Gemma Galdon, founder of Eticas Foundation. “In addition to OASI, after several years in which we have developed more than a dozen audits for companies such as Alpha Telefónica, the United Nations, Koa Health or the Inter-American Development Bank, we have also published an Guide to Algorithmic Audit so that anyone can perform them. The objective is always to raise awareness, provide transparency and restore confidence in technology, which in itself does not have to be harmful.”

In this sense, algorithms that are trained with machine learning tecnhiques using a large amount of historical data to "teach" them to choose based on past decisions. Usually these data are not representative of the socioeconomic and cultural reality on which they are applied, but on many occasions they reflect an unfair situation which is not intended to be perpetuated. In this way, the algorithm would be technically making "correct" decisions according to its training, even though the reality is that its recommendations or predictions are biased or discriminate.

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About Eticas Foundation

Eticas Foundation works to translate into technical specifications the principles that guide society, such as equal opportunities, transparency and non-discrimination which are in the technologies that make automated decisions about our lives. It seeks a balance between changing social values, the technical possibilities of the latest advances and the legal framework. To this end, it audits algorithms, verifies that legal guarantees are applied to the digital world, especially to Artificial Intelligence, and carries out intense work to raise awareness and disseminate the need for responsible, quality technology.

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Computer technology

Artel to strengthen position as a leading innovator in Central Asia

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Artel Electronics LLC (Artel), Central Asia’s leading home appliance and electronics manufacturer and one of Uzbekistan’s largest companies, continues to strengthen its Research and Development (R&D) position to bring new, innovative products to its customers.

Artel’s custom R&D centre in Tashkent is one of the most extensive manufacturing research facilities in Central Asia. The centre’s designers, engineers and technicians develop new technologies to advance the next generation of contemporary products for the modern home.

The expansion of Artel’s R&D centre is at the heart of the company’s forward-looking strategy. In the near future, the company will strengthen its in-house expertise through employing over 100 additional specialists and by attracting leading international talent. The centre will also establish a number of departments dedicated to research priorities, including in automation and robotics. Moreover, to capitalize on international trends, Artel is exploring establishing branches of the R&D centre overseas, including in Turkey and China, and partnership opportunities with technical universities worldwide.

The R&D centre also plays a central role in the identification and training of the next generation of Uzbek technicians, designers and engineers. The R&D centre has had long lasting cooperation with the Department of Mechatronics and Robotics at the Islam Karimov Tashkent State Technical University, and a branch of the centre focusing on automation and robotization of production operates on site. Since establishment, the centre has provided state-of-the-art training to over 250 young specialists who now work throughout Artel’s operations. By investing in and nurturing homegrown talent, Artel channels expertise, ideas and creativity into its operations.

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Rustem Lenurovich, director of the R&D Center, said: “At Artel, we know that the constant development of new, sophisticated products and processes is fundamental to our business and growth. Through our hard work and innovation, and by investing in energetic young talent, we will continue to deliver the most advanced appliances and electronics to our customers. We look forward to strengthening our R&D position even further in the coming years.”

Artel’s R&D facility was established in 2016, and the main center was opened in 2017. The centre’s team of specialists develop technologies to continuously refresh the company’s product portfolio and optimize production processes. The onsite VR laboratory and pilot production facilities are used to create and test prototypes. In the first half of 2021 alone, the centre initiated over 30 projects. The centre has also recently partnered with Gree company on the development of washing machine and air conditioner technologies.

Artel Electronics LLC manufactures a wide range of household appliances and electronics, and operates in all regions of Uzbekistan. The company currently exports its products to over 20 countries throughout the CIS and the Middle East, and is also the regional partner of Samsung and Viessmann.

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