Elon Musk, tech experts call for pause on AI systems amid risks to humanity

Billionaire Elon Musk and a number of tech experts in a letter Wednesday called for a pause on artificial intelligence (AI) experiments and systems, citing risks to society and humanity. In recent months, AI labs around the world "locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one - not even their creators - can understand, predict, or reliably control," said the letter published on website of Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts, US. The necessary level of planning and management that could have "a profound change in the history of life on Earth" is not happening, said the letter signed by dozens of tech experts, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. "Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?" the letter said. Signatories argued that such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders, and powerful AI systems should be developed only once humanity is confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable. They called for AI labs to immediately pause for at least six months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4 -- the latest multimodal large language model released earlier this month by San Francisco-based research lab OpenAI. "This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium," they urged. The signatories included profound professors in physics, computer science and neural networks, co-founders of many US-based tech firms, and researchers in private institutions.

Source: Anadolu Agency

ODIHR opens election observation mission to Türkiye

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) today opened an election observation mission for the 14 May general elections in Türkiye, following an official invitation from the national authorities.

The mission is headed by Ambassador Jan Petersen and consists of a core team of 14 international experts based in Ankara and 28 long-term observers, who will be deployed throughout the country from 7 April. ODIHR will request 350 short-term observers, to arrive several days before election day.

The mission will assess the conduct of the elections for their compliance with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections, as well as with national legislation.

Observers will closely monitor all aspects of the elections, including pre- and post-election developments. Specific areas of focus include the implementation of the legal framework, candidate registration, the conduct of the campaign including on social networks, as well as the work of the election administration at all levels, election dispute resolution and media coverage. They will also assess the implementation of previous ODIHR election recommendations.

Meetings with representatives of state authorities, political parties and candidates, civil society, the media and the international community form an integral part of the observation.

On election day, the ODIHR mission will join efforts with the delegations of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to observe the opening of polling stations, voting, the counting of ballots and the tabulation of results.

An interim report will be published some three weeks prior to the elections to update the public and the media on the observation mission’s activities. The day after the elections, the mission’s preliminary findings and conclusions will be presented at a press conference. A final report with an assessment of the entire election process and containing recommendations will be published some months after the elections.

Source: EMM/ OSCE

US democracy summit to create division: China

China said Tuesday that the US-led "so-called" Summit for Democracy "blatantly" draws an ideological line between countries and creates division.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said it 'violates the spirit of democracy and further reveals the US' pursuit of primacy behind the facade of democracy."

"What our world needs today is not to stoke decision in the name of democracy and pursue de facto supremacy-oriented unilateralism, but to strengthen solidarity and cooperation and uphold true multilateralism on the basis of purposes and principles of the UN charter, " said Mao. "What the world needs today is not to interfere in other countries' internal affairs under the guise of democracy but to advocate genuine democracy, reject pseudo-democracy and jointly promote greater democracy in international relations."

She said the world does not need a Summit for Democracy that "hypes up confrontation but a conference of solidarity that focuses on taking real actions to solve prominent global challenges."

Beijing advised Washington to stop "pointing fingers" at other countries and to stop "interfering" in their internal affairs in the name of promoting democracy.

Washington has not invited China and Trkiye to the summit and Pakistan declined an invitation.

The US invited Taiwan, which Beijing considers an inalienable part of its territory.

The virtual two-day summit begins Wednesday in Washington.

Source: Anadolu Agency

Q&A: Prosecutor Discusses How US Punishes Russian Sanctions Violators

More than a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Justice Department task force set up to enforce U.S. sanctions on Russia continues to seize and forfeit assets owned by Russian oligarchs.

To date, the effort has resulted in roughly $1 billion worth of assets that have been seized and are subject to forfeiture.

But in the longer term, said Task Force KleptoCapture director Andrew Adams, the “more impactful” cases would target third-party actors involved in helping Russia dodge sanctions: money laundering facilitators, professional sanctions evaders and export control evasion networks.

In an interview with VOA’s Ukrainian Service, Adams, who is also acting deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, discusses his team’s major accomplishments, as well as efforts to use proceeds of seized Russian assets for Ukrainian reconstruction, using newly granted congressional authority.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

VOA: In March of last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched KleptoCapture and appointed you as the director of this task force. Could you talk about your goals and achievements during this first year?

Andrew Adams, Task Force KleptoCapture director: The task force kicked off immediately after the full-scale invasion. By early March we had set up a group of attorneys, prosecutors, agents, analysts, specialists from around the U.S. government to focus on two key priorities. The first was a short-term rush for seizure and the beginning of forfeiture proceedings aimed at large expensive and movable assets, the yachts, the airplanes and the like.

At the same time, we knew that over the long term, the more impactful cases would ultimately be aimed at money laundering facilitators, professional sanctions evaders and export control, evasion networks.

VOA: In December when talking to VOA, you addressed the total approximate amount of foreign seized funds, both domestically and internationally. It was up to $40 billion. What portion of that is attributable to KleptoCapture?

Adams: So, to focus on what the Department of Justice brings to the table here, which is seizure and forfeiture pursuant to judicial warrants, pursuant to forfeiture actions in court, that number is roughly $1 billion worth of assets. There are warrants that are executed on airplanes. We're talking about the yachts that have been seized. We're talking about real property in the form of condos and luxury property around the United States, as well as bank accounts, securities holdings and the like.

Beyond that, you are getting into the realm of what our Treasury Department, our State Department, our Commerce Department and our foreign partners can do with their blocking powers, which can go significantly beyond what the Department of Justice can seize and forfeit.

VOA: In February, a New York judge ruled that U.S. prosecutors may forfeit $5.4 million belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, and these funds may be used to help rebuild Ukraine. But recently, a U.S.-based Russian lawyer filed a claim against these funds. Do you expect the transfer to go through despite the legal challenges?

Adams: The funds that are now authorized to be transferred are $5.4 million. The period for putting in a claim passed without incident. And now those are free and clear to be given to the Department of State following the period for an appeal to pass. We fully expect that it will occur. And at that point the Department of State, working with our friends in Ukraine, will determine the best place for those funds to go. It is an example, I think, of a real success story from the last year, although $5.4 million is a drop in the bucket of the amount of harm that this war has caused Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. It's a symbol of what can be done through judicial processes that respect due process, that respect third-party rights, that are in full conformity with our Constitution, and with international law.

VOA: And how many cases are close to adjudication?

Adams: The number of investigations that we have going at any given point is in the dozens. The way that we approach all of those is to think about the forfeiture possibilities. At this point, we have filed the Malofeyev action, which is essentially finished — it's on appeal. There are roughly a half dozen different criminal cases that we filed in the late part of last year, as well as a civil forfeiture action against a set of real property, targeting about $75 million worth of property tied to Viktor Vekselberg.

VOA: Could you shed light on the role of international cooperation?

Adams: In terms of international cooperation, we operate in almost every case with significant international support. We've executed arrests in Estonia and Latvia, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain and elsewhere. We've made seizures in a number of countries around the world, including in some jurisdictions that are not traditionally viewed as the closest allies of the United States.

VOA: In December, Congress passed legislation giving the DOJ authority to direct the forfeited funds to the State Department for the purpose of providing aid to Ukraine. Could you talk about the importance of that decision?

Adams: It's an incredibly important piece of legislation. As a legal matter it paves the way for us to make these transfers in a way that we can't do very easily without this new authority. So, that was critically important - that the driving motivation for all of these cases at the end of the day is to give assistance to Ukraine. As a symbolic matter, it demonstrates both at home but also to our partners in Europe and elsewhere that there are means and mechanisms for providing exactly this kind of assistance to Ukraine through forfeiture.

VOA: The task force and broader international sanctions regime imposed a certain level of discomfort for some Kremlin-aligned oligarchs. Do you believe those sanctioned oligarchs’ voices matter to the Kremlin?

Adams: In addition to some public outcry even from people formerly close to the Kremlin, there are effects that go far beyond the specific oligarchs that come from the sanctions regimes and come from vigorous enforcement of the sanctions regimes. The effect that this has on financial institutions, on insurance companies, on aviation or maritime companies — in a way that has a material effect on the Russian war machine and the Kremlin's ability to fund this war.

Source: Voice of America

US House Speaker McCarthy urges President Biden to begin debt ceiling talks

US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy sent a letter Tuesday to the White House, urging President Joe Biden to begin negotiations on the nation's debt ceiling.

McCarthy said he and Biden sat down two months ago to discuss a solution to the debt ceiling but argued the president's team has been absent since and accused Biden of being "completely missing in action."

"With each passing day, I am incredibly concerned that you are putting an already fragile economy in jeopardy by insisting upon your extreme position of refusing to negotiate any meaningful changes to out-of-control government spending alongside an increase of the debt limit," wrote McCarthy.

He offered ways to reduce the national debt, such as decreasing excessive non-defense government spending to levels before high inflation and reclaiming unspent funds for the coronavirus pandemic that have not been touched for more than two years.

"Mr. President, simply put: you are on the clock," wrote McCarthy, and he asked Biden to reach out by end of the week.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in recent months has repeatedly urged Congress to suspend or raise the debt limit to avoid a default on government obligations.

The world's biggest economy hit its debt ceiling Jan. 19 and Yellen said her agency has started using "extraordinary measures" to avoid default.

The US has never defaulted on its debt, while the debt ceiling has been raised 22 times between 1997 and 2022.

Source: Anadolu Agency

French President Macron’s popularity rating lowest since 2018: Survey

French President Emmanuel Macron's popularity rating is at its lowest since 2018, according to a survey.

Research and consulting company BVA conducted a survey for the French broadcaster RTL on March 24-25, and published the results on its website on Monday.

Macron's popularity is at its lowest since 2018, reaching 28% and approaching the level recorded during the 2018 Yellow Vest protests (26%), BVA said.

This is due to the pension reform plan which triggered massive outrage when revealed in January.

The rating indicates a downfall of six points in a month for Macron.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also suffers from plunging popularity, with 28%.

It is the lowest rating recorded since her nomination as the prime minister, the survey showed.

A survey conducted in early March by another research and consulting company, Ipsos, for the weekly Le Point, showed that Macron's popularity rating was at its lowest in three years, with 32%.

Borne's popularity was 27%, after a fall of seven points, according to the same survey.

Source: Anadolu Agency

Terror threat in Northern Ireland raised to ‘severe’

Britain’s security service MI5 has raised the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland from “substantial” to “severe.” Thats according to the UK's Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, who on Tuesday stated that after the shooting of a police officer last month “a small number of people remain determined to cause harm.”

“MI5 has increased the threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism from ‘substantial’ (an attack is likely) to ‘severe’ (an attack is highly likely),” Heaton-Hayes wrote in a statement to parliament. “The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland,” he added.

The UK has five terror threat levels, ranging from ‘low’, meaning “an attack is highly unlikely,” to ‘critical’, meaning “an attack is highly likely in the near future.” ‘Severe’ is one step below ‘critical’ on the scale. Northern Ireland’s threat level was lowered from ‘severe’ to ‘substantial’ last year, the first time it had been downgraded since 2010. The rest of the UK has remained at ‘substantial’ since last February.

Read more Court rules British army tortured Irish prisoner

The change comes as US President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton prepare to visit Northern Ireland next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Brokered by Clinton and signed on April 10, 1998, the deal involved nationalists and unionists agreeing to share power, while their respective armed paramilitary groups agreed to decommission their weapons in exchange for the release of political prisoners.

The peace was shattered four months later, however, when the Real IRA, an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army that opposed the agreement, detonated a bomb in the town of Omagh, killing 29 people. Paramilitary violence has continued at a low level since, and another attack in Omagh this February saw masked gunmen shoot and injure a police detective.

The New IRA, another dissident republican splinter group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The unionist DUP and nationalist Sinn Fein parties both condemned the shooting.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since last February, with the DUP opposing the British government’s Brexit deal with the EU, which places a customs barrier between the entire island of Ireland and Great Britain. Sinn Fein backs the deal, arguing that the only alternative would be a return to a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a situation unseen since the decades of violence before the Good Friday Agreement.

Source: Russia Today

Greece reiterates stance on not recognizing Kosovo

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said Tuesday that Athens's stance on not recognizing Kosovo is clear and unchanging.

Sakellaropoulou's remarks came at a joint press conference with her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic during an official visit to Belgrade.

"Our stance on Kosovo is clear and unchanging. There is always pressure on this issue, but they do not affect Greece. There is consistency in our own policy. It is important that the dialogue continues," said Sakellaropoulou.

She added that Athens believes Serbia belongs to the European family and needs to join the European Union.

Spain, Slovakia, the Greek Cypriot administration, Romania, and Greece are EU member countries that do not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Vucic, for his part, said Serbia is striving for European Union membership and will continue to implement all the agreements that will pave the way to the bloc's membership.

"Much of what is expected from Serbia is related to the dialogue with Pristina," said Vucic.

Serbia-Kosovo dialogue

The EU announced on Feb. 27 that Serbia and Kosovo agreed to sign a proposal to normalize ties after a meeting in Brussels.

The parties later agreed on how to implement the agreement, according to EU officials.

The EU-led Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue that was launched in 2011 aims to find a mutually agreeable solution for disputes in the framework of a legally binding agreement.

Following a flareup in border tensions last summer, EU special representative for the talks, Miroslav Lajcak, presented the bloc's latest proposal on normalizing in September.

The EU requires Kosovo and Serbia to reach a final agreement and resolve disputes to progress in their integration into the bloc.

Most UN member states, including the US, UK, France, Germany, and Trkiye, recognized Kosovo as a separate country after it declared independence from Serbia 15 years ago.

Serbia continues to regard it as its territory.

Vucic said last October that Germany and France had offered to expedite Serbia's EU membership process if it recognized Kosovo's independence and allowed it to become a member of international organizations.

Source: Anadolu Agency

Trkiye to provide ‘all kinds’ of support to Palestine: President Erdogan

Trkiye will continue providing "all kinds" of support to Palestine, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday told his Palestinian counterpart over the phone. In a phone call with Mahmoud Abbas, Erdogan also thanked him for solidarity the Palestinians displayed following the Feb. 6 deadly earthquakes in southern Trkiye, according to Trkiye's Communications Directorate. The leaders exchanged greetings on the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Trkiye supports a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the UN Security Council resolutions that would ensure two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders.

Source: Anadolu Agency