Facing Hostile Chinese Authorities, Apple CEO Signed $275 Billion Deal With Them

Interviews and internal Apple documents provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the company made concessions to Beijing and won key legal exemptions. CEO Tim Cook personally lobbied officials over threats that would have hobbled its devices and services. His interventions paved the way for Apple’s unparalleled success in the country. The Information: Apple’s iPhone recently became the top-selling smartphone in China, its second-biggest market after the U.S., for the first time in six years. But the company owes much of that success to CEO Tim Cook, who laid the foundation years ago by secretly signing an agreement, estimated to be worth more than $275 billion, with Chinese officials promising Apple would do its part to develop China’s economy and technological prowess through investments, business deals and worker training. Cook forged the five-year agreement, which hasn’t been previously reported, during the first of a series of in-person visits he made to the country in 2016 to quash a sudden burst of regulatory actions against Apple’s business, according to internal Apple documents viewed by The Information. Before the meetings, Apple executives were scrambling to salvage the company’s relationship with Chinese officials, who believed the company wasn’t contributing enough to the local economy, the documents show. Amid the government crackdown and the bad publicity that accompanied it, iPhone sales plummeted.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

China ‘Modified’ the Weather To Create Clear Skies For Political Celebration, Study Finds

Chinese weather authorities successfully controlled the weather ahead of a major political celebration earlier this year, according to a Beijing university study. The Guardian reports: On 1 July the Chinese Communist party marked its centenary with major celebrations including tens of thousands of people at a ceremony in Tiananmen Square, and a research paper from Tsinghua University has said an extensive cloud-seeding operation in the hours prior ensured clear skies and low air pollution. […] On Monday the South China Morning Post reported a recent research paper which found definitive signs that a cloud-seeding operation on the eve of the centenary had produced a marked drop in air pollution.

The centenary celebration faced what the paper reportedly termed unprecedented challenges, including an unexpected increase in air pollutants and an overcast sky during one of the wettest summers on record. Factories and other polluting activities had been halted in the days ahead of the event but low airflow meant the pollution hadn’t dissipated, it said. The paper, published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science journal and led by environmental science professor, Wang Can, said a two-hour cloud-seeding operation was launched on the eve of the ceremony, and residents in nearby mountain regions reported seeing rockets shot into the sky on 30 June. The paper said the rockets were carrying silver iodine into the sky to stimulate rainfall.

The researchers said the resulting artificial rain reduced the level of PM2.5 air pollutants by more than two-thirds, and shifted the air quality index reading, based on World Health Organization standards, from “moderate” to “good.” The team said the artificial rain “was the only disruptive event in this period,” so it was unlikely the drop in pollution had a natural cause.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

DeepMind Cracks ‘Knot’ Conjecture That Bedeviled Mathematicians For Decades

The artificial intelligence (AI) program DeepMind has gotten closer to proving a math conjecture that’s bedeviled mathematicians for decades and revealed another new conjecture that may unravel how mathematicians understand knots. Live Science reports: The two pure math conjectures are the first-ever important advances in pure mathematics (or math not directly linked to any non-math application) generated by artificial intelligence, the researchers reported Dec. 1 in the journal Nature. […] The first challenge was setting DeepMind onto a useful path. […] They focused on two fields: knot theory, which is the mathematical study of knots; and representation theory, which is a field that focuses on abstract algebraic structures, such as rings and lattices, and relates those abstract structures to linear algebraic equations, or the familiar equations with Xs, Ys, pluses and minuses that might be found in a high-school math class.

In understanding knots, mathematicians rely on something called invariants, which are algebraic, geometric or numerical quantities that are the same. In this case, they looked at invariants that were the same in equivalent knots; equivalence can be defined in several ways, but knots can be considered equivalent if you can distort one into another without breaking the knot. Geometric invariants are essentially measurements of a knot’s overall shape, whereas algebraic invariants describe how the knots twist in and around each other. “Up until now, there was no proven connection between those two things,” [said Alex Davies, a machine-learning specialist at DeepMind and one of the authors of the new paper], referring to geometric and algebraic invariants. But mathematicians thought there might be some kind of relationship between the two, so the researchers decided to use DeepMind to find it. With the help of the AI program, they were able to identify a new geometric measurement, which they dubbed the “natural slope” of a knot. This measurement was mathematically related to a known algebraic invariant called the signature, which describes certain surfaces on knots.

In the second case, DeepMind took a conjecture generated by mathematicians in the late 1970s and helped reveal why that conjecture works. For 40 years, mathematicians have conjectured that it’s possible to look at a specific kind of very complex, multidimensional graph and figure out a particular kind of equation to represent it. But they haven’t quite worked out how to do it. Now, DeepMind has come closer by linking specific features of the graphs to predictions about these equations, which are called Kazhdan-Lusztig (KL) polynomials, named after the mathematicians who first proposed them. “What we were able to do is train some machine-learning models that were able to predict what the polynomial was, very accurately, from the graph,” Davies said. The team also analyzed what features of the graph DeepMind was using to make those predictions, which got them closer to a general rule about how the two map to each other. This means DeepMind has made significant progress on solving this conjecture, known as the combinatorial invariance conjecture.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Meta Has a ‘Moral Obligation’ To Make Its Mental Health Research Transparent, Scientists Say

In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg published Monday, a group of academics called for Meta to be more transparent about its research into how Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp affect the mental health of children and adolescents. The Verge reports: The letter calls for the company to allow independent reviews of its internal work, contribute data to external research projects, and set up an independent scientific oversight group. “You and your organizations have an ethical and moral obligation to align your internal research on children and adolescents with established standards for evidence in mental health science,” the letter, signed by researchers from universities around the world, reads.

The open letter comes after leaks from Facebook revealed some data from the company’s internal research, which found that Instagram was linked with anxiety and body image issues for some teenage girls. The research released, though, is limited and relied on subjective information collected through interviews. While this strategy can produce useful insights, it can’t prove that social media caused any of the mental health outcomes. The information available so far appears to show that the studies Facebook researchers conducted don’t meet the standards academic researchers use to conduct trials, the new open letter said. The information available also isn’t complete, the authors noted — Meta hasn’t made its research methods or data public, so it can’t be scrutinized by independent experts. The authors called for the company to allow independent review of past and future research, which would include releasing research materials and data.

The letter also asked Meta to contribute its data to ongoing independent research efforts on the mental health of adolescents. It’s a longstanding frustration that big tech companies don’t release data, which makes it challenging for external researchers to scrutinize and understand their products. “It will be impossible to identify and promote mental health in the 21st century if we cannot study how young people are interacting online,” the authors said. […] The open letter also called on Meta to establish an independent scientific trust to evaluate any risks to mental health from the use of platforms like Facebook and Instagram and to help implement “truly evidence-based solutions for online risks on a world-wide scale.” The trust could be similar to the existing Facebook Oversight Board, which helps the company with content moderation decisions.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.