President Trump Bans Transactions With WeChat and TikTok
This move, the most recent in a series of political moves between the two countries as tensions have continually risen for the past few years, has escalated the conflict between the two governments, leaving sizable question marks hanging over the future of the global technology industry.
Trump announced the executive orders on Thursday, over a month after the administration announced its increased efforts to begin purging Chinese apps it does not trust from digital networks across the United States. The Trump administration accused Tencent Holdings’ WeChat, and ByteDance’s increasingly popular TikTok apps of being significant threats to US data security.
Despite Trump’s attitude towards the apps, Chinese officials have made a statement on Friday claiming that every company complies with the laws and regulations of the US, also warning that the country will “bear the consequences” of its decision to ban transactions.
“The U.S. is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing.
The potential ban of popular short-form video app TikTok has been dominating headlines recently. US officials have national security concerns, with fears that the app is collecting data and providing it to the Chinese government on US citizens. Despite Trump’s decision to allow Microsoft until September 15th to complete a deal to purchase TikTok, the company is still “shocked” by the latest developments.
TikTok made a statement on Friday, saying “We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process.” The statement also added that the app would “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded”.
Whilst the ban on TikTok threatens a number of content creators positions, and the personal lives of millions who have leaned on the app for entertainment, especially throughout global lockdowns, the potential ban of WeChat carries more weight.
WeChat has more than a billion users around the world, and compiles services such as those found on WhatsApp, Facebook, PayPal, Uber, and more in one place. These users depend on the app to remain connected with their families and friends whilst split apart by distance, something especially crucial whilst travelling the world is made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A ban on WeChat could be potentially catastrophic for businesses working in China, and devastating for people with family and friends still there whilst living or travelling in the United States.
Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft
Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design.
NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’.
Who is Dr Wei?
An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab.
Why is His Research Important?
Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards.
‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.
‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’.
What Are His Other Projects?
In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft:
- A 2-year grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in conjunction with West Virginia University and Honeywell Aerospace to investigate “learning-based” aviation systems
- A six-month SBIR Phase I NASA award with Intelligent Automation to mitigate airspace congestion at vertiports—the electric craft version of airports.
- A 1-year collaborative grant with the University of Virginia and George Mason University from the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) to develop anti-cyber attack technologies and aviation video systems
Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative.
According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.