Apple hosted its annual hardware event on Tuesday, and it looked quite different from years past.
Rather than a two-hour-long spectacle featuring product demos, musical performances, and — most importantly — a new iPhone, Apple hosted a concise, one-hour virtual event.
But the lack of bells and whistles proved that they may not have been necessary in the first place. Apple unveiled six new products and services, three of which were brand-new, rather than upgrades of past products.
The new format should serve as a model for future tech reveals, whether or not the coronavirus restricts in-person gatherings.
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Apple on Tuesday hosted what is typically its most anticipated event on the year: its annual September hardware event where we get our first look at latest iPhone, Apple Watch, and more.
But this year’s event looked nothing like the spectacles of yore — instead of the usual fanfare with celebrity cameos, a cheering audience, and shiny new iPhones, we saw six major product announcements folded into a sleek, one-hour, virtual event. That’s a good thing.
Apple events have become as dependable as the clock over the years. But aside from the fact that this year’s event happened in mid-September, it bore little resemblance to any of the presentations of years past, a result of the coronavirus restricting large, in-person gatherings.
Gone were the hordes of journalists, who typically spend many hours and hundreds of dollars to make the bi-annual pilgrimage to Apple’s campus.
Gone were the opportunities for those in attendance to get an up-close look at Apple’s lastest products, to touch and feel them and get a sense of how they work before hitting Apple Stores.
Gone were the celebrity cameos, like NBA star Andre Iguodala or actor Jon Hamm, or the performances by Sia or Drake. Those star-studded appearances have, in recent years, reinforced Apple’s position as a luxury company that has seemed to cater to society’s elite.
Gone was the two-hour-plus program that allows for Apple to highlight the most minute details of its products and services with lengthy product demos.
Perhaps the most glaring change: no iPhone, not even a mention of its whereabouts, at an event typically focused on touting its every feature. It seems that not even the iPhone was safe from the third-party effects of the coronavirus, with all signs now pointing to an October reveal and a delayed shipping date.
And yet, despite all of the omissions from Tuesday’s event, despite all of the ways in which is was a stripped-down version of the pre-pandemic Apple pageants, it highlighted just how little we needed them in the first place.
By the end of the one-hour event, Apple had unveiled six new products, three of which were brand-new ventures for Apple.
Apple introduced the Apple Watch SE, a more approachable Apple Watch with a starting price of $279, in addition to the new Apple Watch Series 6, which starts at $400.
Then there was Apple Fitness Plus, a new at-home fitness service, which seems poised to take on Peloton.
And for those who rely on many of Apple’s services, there’s Apple One, a new subscription bundle that allows customers to combine services like Apple Music and Apple TV Plus into one monthly payment.
Apple didn’t skimp on the presenters, either. Over the course of one hour, CEO Tim Cook handed off to nine other presenters, including two women of color and five women total. While some previous Apple events have seemingly included one white, male presenter after another, this year’s event featured a more balanced lineup — and several new faces, like Lori Malm, Apple’s director of services, and Sumbul Ahmad Desai, Apple’s VP of health.
What Apple has always done best of all is style and marketing, eliciting a feeling that you want to buy Apple products because you want to live the life of the fit, creative, stylish, well-off people featured in its ads and commercials. Its product events have played a role in painting that picture, which would seemingly be heavily impacted by an all-virtual event where the audience is unable to experience the $14,000 chairs at Apple Park’s Steve Jobs Theater first-hand.
But in true Apple fashion, the production value of Tuesday’s event was creative, energetic, and high-quality — and adhered closely to COVID-19 safety guidelines, according to a scrolling list of the precautions taken by the crew that appeared at the close of the broadcast. Crew members and presenters were masked and socially distanced, the production locations were sanitized, and temperature checks and health screenings were put in place for everyone involved in the production.
The resulting presentation should serve as a model for tech product events of the future, whether or not the in-person gatherings remain restricted. Even if Apple hosts another event in October to unveil the new iPhone lineup — which seems likely — it’s still preferable to the typical hourslong parade of gadgets and presenters that has become the hallmark of a tech product reveal. If Apple’s end goal is to convince customers to spend $400 on a new Apple Watch or subscribe to more of Apple’s services, it’s hard to believe that the virtual presentation would have much effect on convincing customers to hit the “buy” button.
While many diehard Apple fans may miss the rapport between Apple executives, the crowd’s cheers, Tim Cook announcing “one more thing” around the two-hour mark, and, most importantly the iPhone, Tuesday’s presentation proved that perhaps we’re doing just fine without them.
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25 years after UN women’s meeting, equality remains distant
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Twenty-five years ago, the world’s nations came together to make sure that half of Earth’s population gained the rights, power and status of the other half. It hasn’t happened yet. And it won’t anytime soon.
In today’s more divided, conservative and still very male-dominated world, top U.N. officials say the hope of achieving equality for women remains a distant goal.
“Gender inequality is the overwhelming injustice of our age and the biggest human rights challenge we face,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said. Last week, in his address at the virtual meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly, he said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women and girls the hardest.
“Unless we act now,” he said, “gender equality could be set back by decades.”
Ahead of Thursday’s high-level meeting to commemorate the landmark 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing, the head of the U.N. agency charged with promoting gender equality lamented the “slow, terribly uneven” progress, “pushback” and even regression in reaching the goals in the 150-page platform adopted by the 189 nations that met in China’s capital.
While there has been progress since Beijing, U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told The Associated Press on Tuesday that gains have been modest. What’s more, she says, “there is also sometimes an exaggeration and an illusion of much bigger progress than there has been.”
She pointed to the number of women in parliaments, which moved from about 11% in 1995 to a global average of 25% today. Now, women hold just 23% of managerial positions in the private sector. And among the 193 U.N. member nations, there are 21 female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, about twice as many as in 1995.
This means that men still hold about 75 percent of the power positions in the world, Mlambo-Ngcuka said. They “make decisions for us all, and that is what we have to crack.”
Guterres has stressed the uphill struggle, which he attributes to “centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny.”
The landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was crucial because it adopted a road map to gender equality. It was the largest-ever formal gathering of women, though hundreds of men were among the 17,000 participants at the official meeting that adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Some 30,000 people, the vast majority women, attended a parallel NGO forum outside the capital.
“The Beijing Declaration is still the equivalent of the United Nations Charter for women,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “It’s the one thing we have that was adopted by the largest number of member states.”
The platform called for bold action in 12 areas for women and girls, including combating poverty and gender-based violence, ensuring all girls get an education and putting women at top levels of business and government, as well as at peacemaking tables.
It also said, for the first time in a U.N. document, that women’s human rights include the right to control and decide “on matters relating to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka said there has been significant “pushback” on reproductive rights, explaining that groups once on the fringes are now in the mainstream, and developed countries from the “global north are also being part of pushback,” including the United States.
“When the U.S. regresses, it is a big deal, not just for the U.S. but for many people who are influenced by trends in the U.S.,” she said.
She expressed deep concern at the possible replacement of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “who was the pillar of the feminist agenda,” with a conservative jurist like Trump administration nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
In the European Union, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, there are countries that want to pull out of The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women or are refusing to ratify it. “You would not have expected that to happen within the EU,” she said. And in Africa and Asia, she said, there are governments “that have not felt any pressure” to move forward.
“So our energy has had to go to stop this pushback, not to work for the advancement of women,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “And then came COVID, and that has made the situation worse.”
She said Thursday’s meeting is important to generate fresh support from world leaders for the Beijing platform and for the U.N. goal to achieve gender equality by 2030, and “to reaffirm multilateralism as indispensable.”
At the meeting, 170 nations are expected to speak including over 50 world leaders, among them French President Emmanuel Macron and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who had been scheduled to host “Generation Equality” forums this year for thousands of civil society representatives and activists. Those were postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.
The summit will not be adopting any document. That happened in March when the Commission on the Status of Women, the main U.N. body promoting women’s rights, reaffirmed the 1995 Beijing declaration and platform and pledged to step up implementation.
Mlambo-Ngcuka did point to some advances in the last 10 years including 131 countries that enacted legislation to advance gender equality. The U.N. has also helped change and amend 25 constitutions in 25 years to entrench gender equality and “that is a big deal,” she said.
At the 1995 Beijing conference, then U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton galvanized participants with a rousing speech featuring words that have become a mantra for the global women’s movement: “Human rights are women’s rights — and women’s rights are human rights.”
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Clinton said in a virtual discussion on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing conference at the Georgetown Institute For Women, Peace and Security.
“Am I discouraged? No. I’m disappointed we haven’t gone even farther in 25 years. I’m worried about the pushback and the backlash that we see from authoritarian leaders, in particular, who are trying to turn the clock back,” she said.
“But that just energizes me more to speak out, to work with others, to defend those who are on the front lines,” Clinton said. “”My thinking has also evolved. I’m certainly going to continue to call for women’s rights. But more important to me now is enabling women to have the power to claim their rights.”
Edith M. Lederer, chief U.N. correspondent for The Associated Press, has been reporting internationally for nearly a half century, including at the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EdithLedererAP
NIST is crowdsourcing differential privacy techniques for public safety datasets
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is launching the Differential Privacy Temporal Map Challenge. It’s a set of contests, with cash prizes attached, that’s intended to crowdsource new ways of handling personally identifiable information (PII) in public safety datasets.
The problem is that although rich, detailed data is valuable for researchers and for building AI models — in this case, in the areas of emergency planning and epidemiology — it raises serious and potentially dangerous data privacy and rights issues. Even if datasets are kept under proverbial lock and key, malicious actors can, based on just a few data points, re-infer sensitive information about people.
The solution is to de-identify the data such that it remains useful without compromising individuals’ privacy. NIST already has a clear standard for what that means. In part, and simply put, it says that “De-identification removes identifying information from a dataset so that individual data cannot be linked with specific individuals.”
Specifically, the Challenge focuses on temporal map data, which contains time and spatial information. The call for the NIST contest says, “Public safety agencies collect extensive data containing time, geographic, and potentially personally identifiable information.” For example, a 911 call would reveal a person’s name, age, gender, address, symptoms or situation, and more. “Temporal map data is of particular interest to the public safety community,” reads the call.
The Differential Privacy Temporal Map Challenge stands on the shoulders of similar previous NIST differential privacy Challenges — one centered on synthetic data and one aimed at developing the technique more generally.
NIST is offering a total of $276,000 in prize money across three categories. The Better Meter Stick portion has $29,000 for entries that measure the quality of differentially private algorithms. A total of $147,000 is there for the taking for those who come up with the best balance of data utility and privacy preservation. And the wing of the contest that awards the usability of source code for open source endeavors has $100,000 available.
The Challenge is open for submissions now through January 5, 2021. Non-federal agency partners for the Challenge include DrivenData, HeroX, and Knexus Research. Winners will be announced February 4, 2021.
Turkey, Iran deploy ‘game-changing’ drones in north Iraq
Turkey and Iran are increasingly adopting “game-changing” drones as their weapon of choice against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, prompting fears for the safety of civilians and stoking geopolitical tensions.
“Not a day goes by without us seeing a drone,” said Mohammad Hassan, mayor of Qandil, the mountainous Iraqi stronghold of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“They fly so low Qandil’s residents can see them with their naked eye,” Hassan told AFP.
The PKK has used Qandil for decades as a rear-base for its insurgency against the Turkish state.
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDK-I) has similar rear-bases in other remote areas of Iraqi Kurdistan, from which it launches attacks across the border into Iran.
Turkey and Iran consider the Kurdish rebels as “terrorists” and routinely conduct cross-border ground assaults, air strikes and artillery bombardments against their Iraq bases.
Starting in 2018, both countries began using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance and even targeted assassinations in northern Iraq.
Drone use has expanded dramatically since Turkey launched a new assault in June, analysts and residents of affected areas told AFP.
Activists said dozens of border villages and adjacent farms have been abandoned by their terrified residents.
The drone strikes have also prevented thousands of Yazidis from returning to their homes in Sinjar district, close to the Syrian border, where PKK elements now have a presence.
“The Turkish bombing causes so much terror, so Yazidis are not coming home,” Sinjar mayor Mahma Khalil told AFP.
– ‘Mistrust, irritation’ –
Despite public criticism, Turkey has continued its drone warfare — likely because of new strides against the PKK.
For years, the PKK sheltered in Iraq’s mountains, where manned warplanes and ground troops struggled to reach them.
But drones have allowed Ankara to track, identify and eliminate PKK targets within minutes, Nicholas Heras of the Institute for the Study of War told AFP.
“Turkey’s use of military drones in northern Iraq has been a game-changer in its war against the PKK,” he said.
Ankara is now swapping expensive fighter-bombers like the US F-16 for drones like the domestically-produced Bayraktar TB2, which has better surveillance, can fly for 24 hours and is cheaper — so “expendable” if downed by the PKK, said Turkish drone expert Sibel Duz.
In an exclusive interview in Qandil, PKK spokesman Zagros Hiwa told AFP Turkey had created a 15 kilometre (10 mile) buffer zone in northern Iraq with the help of its drones.
“Our forces have downed seven drones this year,” he said, declining to provide details of PKK losses.
The PKK has had limited success with improvised drones of its own, commercial models fitted with explosives.
A US source familiar with Turkey’s drones programme said US special operations forces in northern Iraq were bristling at the new “frequency and intensity” of strikes.
“The Turks are overflying US positions with armed assets, which is a no-no. There is general mistrust and irritation over all this,” the source said.
– ‘Shooting gallery’ –
Iran first began deploying aircraft fitted with cameras during its 1980-88 war with Iraq.
The newer Mohajer-6 and Shahed-129 are Tehran’s weapons of choice for northern Iraq, said Adam Rawnsley, who tracks Iranian drones for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
“The way Iran is using drones against Kurdish targets in Iraq is 180 degrees different than how they use drones everywhere else. It’s much more sophisticated,” he said.
In a rare interview this spring, the head of Tehran’s drone division Colonel Akbar Karimloo told local media Iran uses the aircraft for both surveillance and attack, and to provide forward observation for artillery and missile launchers.
Earlier this month, Iran said it would “take coordinated steps” with Turkey to counter Kurdish rebel activity along its borders. It did not specifically mention drones.
Baghdad and Kurdish authorities have said little on the expanding drone campaigns, and Iraqi officials have told AFP privately they have no leverage over Turkey or Iran.
After a Turkish drone strike killed two top Iraqi officers in the north in August, Baghdad expressed outrage but did not pressure Ankara.
“The general problem Iraq has is that larger powers tend to use it as a shooting gallery,” Rawnsley told AFP.
Wim Zwijnenburg, who works on disarmament for Dutch peace organisation PAX, said avenues for recourse were limited.
“A lot of these strikes are in areas which are not very populated, so there’s little information from people or journalists on the ground,” he said.
Indeed, neither activists nor officials could provide a specific death toll from drone strikes in the north.
“That only adds to the obscurity of the drone campaigns,” Zwijnenburg told AFP.
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