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The Japan Times


Japan considers facial recognition for contact tracing at big events

The Japan Times

The government aims to put a facial recognition system into practical use to prevent new coronavirus infections at large-scale events including the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, it was learned Friday. The government also hopes to improve the national capacity to conduct saliva-based polymerase chain reaction tests to simultaneously detect cases of influenza and novel coronavirus infection, informed sources said. The proposals are included in a draft program for developing new technologies for preventing coronavirus infection. The government will unveil the program shortly and carry out demonstration tests at relevant ministries and agencies. According to the draft, the government is looking at using security cameras equipped with a facial recognition system to record the movements of visitors to the Tokyo Games, which were postponed to 2021, and other large-scale events, the sources said.


World's smallest Rubik's Cube to be sold in Japan

The Japan Times

Japanese toy-maker MegaHouse Corp. said Wednesday it will launch the world's smallest working Rubik's Cube, weighing about 2 grams and measuring 0.99 centimeter on each side. On the same day, the Bandai Namco Holdings Inc. subsidiary started accepting orders for the product online. It is priced at ¥198,000 in Japan, including delivery costs. Delivery will start in late December. The Rubik's Cube, invented by Erno Rubik from Hungary in 1974, hit store shelves across the world in 1980. In Japan, MegaHouse has shipped out over 14 million cubes.


South Korea's Moon advocates regional virus initiative involving Japan, others

The Japan Times

Seoul – South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on Wednesday for a regional infectious disease control and public health initiative involving Japan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea to tackle health crises and lay the foundation for peace with Pyongyang. Moon unveiled the so-called Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health during a video address to the U.N. General Assembly. "In the face of the COVID-19 crisis that poses a greater threat to humanity than a war, we came to be acutely reminded that the safety of neighboring countries is directly linked to that of our own," Moon said, according to an English translation of his prepared remarks distributed by his office. Such an initiative would lead North Korea to "engage with the international community," according to Moon. "It is not only Korea's response to COVID-19 but also the invaluable lessons Korea will be gaining from institutionalizing peace that Korea wishes to share with the rest of the world," he said.


Tesla CEO Elon Musk's next big bet rides on better batteries

The Japan Times

SAN RAMON, California – Tesla is working on new battery technology that CEO Elon Musk says will enable the company within the next three years to make sleeker, more affordable cars that can travel dramatically longer distances on a single charge. But the battery breakthroughs that Musk unveiled Tuesday at a highly anticipated event didn't impress investors. They were hoping Tesla's technology would mark an even bigger leap forward and propel the company's soaring stock to even greater heights. Tesla's shares shed more than 6 percent in extended trading after Musk's presentation. That deepened a downturn that began during Tuesday's regular trading session as investors began to brace for a potential letdown.


Japan's robots fill the void as social distancing becomes the norm

The Japan Times

The coronavirus pandemic has forced society to reshape how people interact, and robots are fast filling the void, even to the point of helping alleviate feelings of loneliness in a world where social distancing has become the new norm. While automatons were primarily utilized to perform menial tasks such as cleaning in the past, their ability to remove the need for close contact has now elevated their status and importance. In February, robot and technology solutions company Seikatsu Kakumei Inc. began selling what it dubbed a "digital teleportation robot" package to help businesses carry out customer-facing activities during the pandemic. By helping shops, showrooms, conventions and trade exhibitions handle visitors, robots "can bring people closer to the normal state of communication," said CEO Yuko Miyazawa. "Being holed up in a room is unnatural for human beings," he added.


Microsoft's Bethesda acquisition paves way for Netflix of gaming

The Japan Times

With Microsoft Corp.'s $7.5 billion (¥784 billion) purchase of ZeniMax Media Inc., gamers' long-awaited fantasy about a "Netflix for gaming" took a step closer to reality. Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax gives it Bethesda Softworks, the popular publishing label behind some of the world's best-selling titles, such as The Elder Scrolls series. Microsoft aims to use that draw, along with other popular Bethesda titles such as Doom and Fallout, to attract subscribers to Xbox Game Pass, its ¥850-a-month library of hundreds of video games for Xbox and personal computers. Microsoft said the service has 15 million subscribers now, up from 10 million in April. Netflix, which has revolutionized the entertainment business, finished the second quarter with almost 193 million subscribers.


Twitter probes alleged racial bias in image cropping feature

The Japan Times

New York – Social media giant Twitter said Monday it would investigate its image-cropping function after users complained it favored white faces over Black ones. The image preview feature of Twitter's mobile app automatically crops pictures that are too big to fit on the screen, selecting which parts of the image to display and which to conceal. Prompted by a graduate student who found an image he was posting cropped out the face of a Black colleague, a San Francisco-based programmer found Twitter's system would crop out images of President Barack Obama when posted together with images of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. "Twitter is just one example of racism manifesting in machine learning algorithms," the programmer, Tony Arcieri, wrote on Twitter. Twitter is one of the world's most popular social networks, with nearly 200 million daily users.


The Musk Method: Learn from partners then go it alone

The Japan Times

Elon Musk is hailed as an innovator and disrupter who went from knowing next to nothing about building cars to running the world's most valuable automaker in the space of 16 years. But his record shows he is more of a fast learner who forged alliances with firms that had technology Tesla lacked, hired some of their most talented people, and then powered through the boundaries that limited more risk-averse partners. Now, Musk and his team are preparing to outline new steps in Tesla's drive to become a more self-sufficient company less reliant on suppliers at its "Battery Day" event on Tuesday. Musk has been dropping hints for months that significant advances in technology will be announced as Tesla strives to produce the low-cost, long-lasting batteries that could put its electric cars on a more equal footing with cheaper gasoline vehicles. New battery cell designs, chemistries and manufacturing processes are just some of the developments that would allow Tesla to reduce its reliance on its long-time battery partner, Japan's Panasonic, people familiar with the situation said.


As COVID-19 persists, Japan looks to send in the robots

The Japan Times

As the subway roared into Tokyo's Tsukishima Station a gust of wind tossed up a stray face mask, sending it sailing above the platform. Hisashi Taniguchi watched the piece of fabric fluttering about. He immediately pictured in his mind a microscopic view in which the wind dispersed -- in the air he was breathing -- countless viral particles that had been trapped between the mask's filters. There needs to be an efficient system to disinfect these public spaces, he thought. This was back in March, when the spread of COVID-19 was just starting to pick up speed in the capital.


TikTok's owner gaining confidence that Beijing will OK U.S. deal

The Japan Times

TikTok-owner ByteDance Ltd. is getting more confident its envisioned alliance with Oracle Corp. will pass muster with China's regulators, a critical step in the political clash over the popular video app, people familiar with the matter said. While Beijing has asserted its right to block the sale of critical technologies, it is likely to greenlight the deal as long as it doesn't involve the transfer of the artificial intelligence algorithms that drive TikTok's service, they said, asking not to be identified discussing a private deal. That's true even if ByteDance were to cede majority control over TikTok, they said. ByteDance had reached a deal with Oracle and later made revisions put forward by the Treasury Department aimed at addressing U.S. national security concerns, it was reported Thursday. The proposal calls for ByteDance to own most of TikTok, with Oracle, Walmart Inc. and venture capital investors holding a minority. But U.S. President Donald Trump, who's threatened to ban the app on national security grounds, has final say on the transaction and has said he doesn't want the Chinese parent to retain majority control.