Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Ugandan Baseball Player Debuts in America

In the heart of Maryland, the Frederick Keys baseball team introduced its newest player last week, one unlike any other the team has seen in its 35-year history.

Dennis Kasumba, 18-year-old catcher. From Uganda.

Kasuma recently turned what seemed like an impossible dream into a reality, making the leap from the rough fields of his home country to the manicured grass of American professional baseball stadiums. For those following his journey, he stands as a symbol of resilience.

Just three days after flying to the U.S., Kasumba took his first official steps onto an American baseball diamond on June 1 with the Keys. Batting in the ninth inning, he struck out on three pitches, but was able to make contact on the first pitch, fouling it off.

The young player who once honed his skills on muddy streets using old tires and oil drums in Uganda, now finds himself playing high-quality amateur league baseball, one step below the professional minor leagues.

“My first game was very, very good because I faced a pitcher who threw 95 [miles per hour – about 153 kph], yeah. And I hit it,” Kasumba told VOA. “I need to hit because I am here to hit, to show my skill, I am ready to hit. I want to show I can hit. I want to show them I can throw.”

Kasumba’s story extends beyond his on-field skills. His journey from Uganda to the U.S. has captured the imagination of thousands on social media who have marveled at his intense workouts. In one, he practices his catching drills with a tire strapped to his back.

One of these admirers was Joshua Williams, an American attorney and baseball enthusiast who helped make Kasumba’s dream a reality.

“It all just started because I saw a video of him hitting off of a tire, hitting a baseball off of the tire with a Coke bottle,” Williams said. “So, I reached out to him on Facebook, started talking to him. We talked about his dreams and aspirations.”

It took Kasumba almost two years to get a contract with an American team and several attempts at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda to secure a travel visa.

Williams and some friends intensified their efforts after his third visa request was denied.

“We started making our application a lot stronger. Several immigration attorneys at my firm jumped in and they were like, ‘Let’s figure this out,’” Williams told VOA. “And so, we just kind of put our heads together. So, he was denied on Friday. And on Tuesday we got a call from the embassy, and they said, ‘Be there Thursday at 2 o’clock.’”

Kasumba is not the first Ugandan to try his hand at baseball. Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed two Ugandans, Umar Male and Ben Serunkuma, to contracts. Both have played some games in the low minor leagues.

In his debut, Kasumba showed that he too may have a future in baseball, and also underscored his desire to learn.

“When I saw my pitchers throwing in 88, 95, 98. I thought, ‘Can I hit these guys? They are faster.’ But when I got to my first batting, in my heart I said, ‘I can hit, because I believe in myself,’” he said.

For Frederick Keys Manager Rene Rivera, Kasumba is already giving the team a jolt.

“This guy has so much energy, he brings so much to the other guys, you know, he’s hardworking,” Rivera said. “We all saw some of his videos on Instagram, the passion he puts behind him so he can be good. And I think that the players already see that, they come and work.”

Kasumba, who grew up an orphan in Wakiso, Uganda, is determined to make the most of the opportunity.

“There are a lot of kids, uh, people calling my name, my jersey number: Kasumba! Kasumba! Kasumba! This is my first time, to have someone asking me for a signature, photos,” he said. “I was so surprised. It makes me feel very, very good. I think I am blessed.”

The months ahead will bring challenges and opportunities alike for Kasumba. And to face these head-on, the young man has a few people he can count on, starting with his manager.

“We helped him come over here. And now he’s here,” Rivera told VOA. “So, I think that my job is to be his role model, to show him what I know and what I know from many years playing baseball, help him get to the next. I think that’s my main goal right now.”

Catching is baseball’s most complicated and physically arduous position, but Rivera can teach Kasumba a lot – he spent 13 years as a catcher in the major leagues.

As Kasumba steps onto the field, bat in hand, he believes he’s not just playing for the Frederick Keys — he’s playing for his country, his thousands of online supporters around the world and every dreamer who’s ever dared to dream big.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Apple, Defying the Times, Stays Quiet on AI

Resisting the hype, Apple defied most predictions this week and made no mention of artificial intelligence when it unveiled its latest slate of new products, including its Vision Pro mixed reality headset.

Generative AI has become the tech world’s biggest buzzword since Microsoft-backed OpenAI released ChatGPT late last year, revealing the capabilities of the emerging technology. 

ChatGPT opened the world’s eyes to the idea that computers can churn out complex, human-level content using simple prompts, giving amateurs the talents of tech geeks, artists or speechwriters. 

Apple has laid low as Microsoft and Google raced out announcements on how generative AI will revolutionize its products, from online search to word processing and retouching images.

During the recent earnings season, tech CEOs peppered mentions of AI into their every phrase, eager to reassure investors that they wouldn’t miss Silicon Valley’s next big chapter.

Apple has chosen to be much more discreet and, in its closely watched keynote address to the World Developers conference in California, never once mentioned AI specifically.

“Apple ghosts the generative AI revolution,” said a headline in Wired Magazine after the event. 

‘Not necessarily AI?’

Arguments vary on why Apple has chosen a more subtle approach. 

For one, Apple follows other critics who have long been wary of the catchall “AI” term believing that it is too vague and unhelpfully evokes dystopian nightmares of killer robots and human subjugation to machines. 

For this reason, some companies – including TikTok or Facebook’s Meta – roll out AI innovations, but without necessarily touting them as such. 

“We do integrate it into our products [but] people don’t necessarily think about it as AI,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told ABC News this week.

Indeed, AI was actually very much part of Apple’s annual jamboree on Monday, but it required a level of technical know-how to notice.

In one instance, Apple’s head of software said “on-device machine learning” would enhance autocorrect for iPhone messaging when he could have just as well said AI.

Apple’s autocorrect innovation drew giggles with the promise of iPhones no longer correcting common expletives.

“In those moments where you just want to type a ‘ducking’ word, well, the keyboard will learn it, too,” said Craig Federighi.

Autocorrect will also learn from your writing style, helping it guide suggestions, using AI technology similar to what powers ChatGPT.

In another example, a new iPhone app called Journal, an interactive diary, would use “on-device machine learning … to inspire your writing,” Apple said, again not referring to AI when other companies would have.

But AI will also play a major role in the Vision Pro headset when it is released next year, helping, for example, generate a user’s digital persona for video-conferencing.

‘Not much effort’

For some analysts, the non-mention of AI is an acknowledgement by Apple that it lost ground against rivals. 

“They haven’t put much effort into it,” independent tech analyst Rob Enderle told AFP. 

“I think they just kind of felt that AI was off into the future and it wasn’t anything surprising,” he added. 

The glitchy performance of Apple’s chatbot Siri, which was launched a decade ago, has also fed the feeling that the smartphone giant doesn’t get AI. 

“I think most people would agree that Apple lost its edge with Siri. That’s probably the most obvious way they fell behind,” said Insider Intelligence principal analyst Yory Wurmser. 

But Wurmser also insisted that Apple is primarily a device company and that AI, which is software, will always be “the means rather than the ends for a great user experience” on its premium devices.

In this vein, for analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities, the release of Apple’s Vision Pro headset was in itself an AI play, even if it wasn’t explicitly spelled out that way.

“We continue to strongly believe this is the first step in a broader strategy for Apple to build out a generative AI driven app ecosystem” on the Vision Pro, he said. 

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Four Restaurants in Vietnam Awarded One Michelin Star Each

Vietnam’s booming food scene was awarded its first-ever Michelin stars Tuesday, with four restaurants selected by the prestigious dining guide.

Three eateries in Hanoi — Gia, Tam Vi and Hibana by Koki — and one in Ho Chi Minh City — Anan Saigon — were each awarded one Michelin star.

Although there were no stars handed out to traditional street food eateries serving classics such as pho — a noodle soup — or bun cha — a vermicelli noodle dish with grilled pork — Vietnamese flavors feature heavily among the winners.

Tam Vi largely focusses on northern Vietnamese dishes including ham with periwinkle snails — served with fresh herbs, rice vermicelli noodles and fish sauce — and crab soup with spinach, a popular summer meal.

Nguyen Bao Anh, whose mother, Tam, owns the restaurant and named it after herself, said her mum “had a dream of opening a restaurant where customers could come and feel like they were eating a home-cooked meal.”

“The restaurant serves traditional food, and I think now not many restaurants serve that kind of food that remind people of familiar flavors,” Bao Anh told AFP after the awards ceremony in Hanoi.

“This award is for my mum and I’m proud of her,” she added.

Sam Tran, the chef and co-founder of high-end contemporary restaurant Gia, spent 10 years studying in Australia before returning to Hanoi, her home city, to push the boundaries of Vietnamese cuisine.

“Through each dish at Gia, I want to tell the story of Vietnamese culture,” she wrote in a guide to the ceremony.

“I want to tell the story of each stage of my life, the regions I have visited, the flavors passed down from generation to generation that I have tasted.”

In Ho Chi Minh City, Anan Saigon was recognized for its modern take on Vietnamese classics, including a bone marrow wagyu beef pho.

Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, said Vietnam’s two biggest cities, Hanoi and commercial center Ho Chi Minh City, offered a vibrant and varied dining experience.

“Hanoi has a laid back and relaxed vibe, with small shops and restaurants mostly from the Old Quarter,” Poullennec said.

“Ho Chi Minh City, on the other hand, is a bustling and rapidly growing city, which offers a unique energy to all travelers and a very diverse food scene.”

Hibana by Koki, which serves Japanese cuisines was the only non-Vietnamese restaurant to receive a star.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Financial Institutions in US, East Asia Spoofed by Suspected North Korean Hackers

There are renewed concerns North Korea’s army of hackers is targeting financial institutions to prop up the regime in Pyongyang and possibly fund its weapons programs.

A report published Tuesday by the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future finds North Korean aligned actors have been spoofing well-known financial firms in Japan, Vietnam and the United States, sending out emails and documents that, if opened, could grant the hackers access to critical systems.

“The targeting of investment banking and venture capital firms may expose sensitive or confidential information of these entities or their customers,” according to the report by Recorded Future’s Insikt Group.

“[It] may result in legal or regulatory action, jeopardize pending business negotiations or agreements, or expose information damaging to the company’s strategic investment portfolio,” it said.

The report said the most recent cluster of activity took place between September 2022 and March 2023, making use of three new internet addresses and two old addresses, and more than 20 domain names.

Some of the domains imitated those used by the targeted financial institutions.

Recorded Future’s named the group behind the attacks Threat Activity Group 71 (TAG-71), which is also known as APT38, Bluenoroff, Stardust Chollima and the Lazarus Group.

This past April, the U.S. sanctioned three individuals associated with the Lazarus Group, accusing them of helping North Korea launder stolen virtual currencies and turn it into cash.

U.S. Treasury officials levied additional sanctions just last month against North Korea’s Technical Reconnaissance Bureau, which develops tools and operations to be carried out by the Lazarus Group.

The Lazarus Group is believed to be responsible for the largest theft of virtual currency to date, stealing approximately $620 million connected to a popular online game in Match 2022.

Earlier this month, U.S. and South Korean agencies issued a warning about another set of North Korean cyber actors impersonating think tanks, academic institutions and journalists in an ongoing attempt to collect intelligence.


Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Japan, Australia, US to Fund Undersea Cable Connection in Micronesia to Counter China’s Influence

Japan announced Tuesday that it joined the United States and Australia in signing a $95 million undersea cable project that will connect East Micronesia island nations to improve networks in the Indo-Pacific region where China is increasingly expanding its influence.

The approximately 2,250-kilometer (1,400-mile) undersea cable will connect the state of Kosrae in the Federated State of Micronesia, Tarawa in Kiribati and Nauru to the existing cable landing point located in Pohnpei in Micronesia, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Japan, the United States and Australia have stepped up cooperation with the Pacific Islands, apparently to counter efforts by Beijing to expand its security and economic influence in the region.

In a joint statement, the parties said next steps involve a final survey and design and manufacturing of the cable, whose width is about that of a garden hose. The completion is expected around 2025.

The announcement comes just over two weeks after leaders of the Quad, a security alliance of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, emphasized the importance of undersea cables as a critical component of communications infrastructure and the foundation for internet connectivity.

“Secure and resilient digital connectivity has never been more important,” Matthew Murray, a senior official in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a statement. “The United States is delighted to be part of this project bringing our region closer together.”

NEC Corp., which won the contract after a competitive tender, said the cable will ensure high-speed, high-quality and more secure communications for residents, businesses and governments in the region, while contributing to improved digital connectivity and economic development.

The cable will connect more than 100,000 people across the three Pacific countries, according to Kazuya Endo, director general of the international cooperation bureau at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.


Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Could Artificial Intelligence Help Stop Trade in Goods Made From Child, Forced Labor?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking at how artificial intelligence can be used to help identify goods made with child or forced labor and prevent those goods from entering the country. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. VOA footage by Adam Greenbaum.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Legacy Craftsmen in Indian Kashmir Face Indifference, Low Demand

Kashmir valley, in the Indian- administered portion of Kashmir, is known for its unique craftsmanship. For centuries, locals learned skills from those who arrived from central Asia following the arrival of Islam in the region. However, among the hundreds of skills, three are in danger of being lost. For VOA, Muheet Ul Islam reports from Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Camera and produced by: Wasim Nabi

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Musk Says China Detailed Plans to Regulate AI

Top Chinese officials told Elon Musk about plans to launch new regulations on artificial intelligence on his recent trip to the Asian giant, the tech billionaire said Monday, in his first comments on the two-day visit.

The Twitter owner and Tesla CEO — one of the world’s richest men — held meetings with senior officials in Beijing and employees in Shanghai last week.

“Something that is worth noting is that on my recent trip to China, with the senior leadership there, we had, I think, some very productive discussions on artificial intelligence risks, and the need for some oversight or regulation,” Musk said. “And my understanding from those conversations is that China will be initiating AI regulation in China.”

Praised China

Musk, whose extensive interests in China have long raised eyebrows in Washington, spoke about the exchange in a livestreamed Twitter discussion with Democratic presidential hopeful and vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr., the nephew of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Musk did not tweet while in China and Tesla has not released readouts of Musk’s meeting with officials.

But official Chinese channels said he lavished praise on the country, including for its “vitality and promise,” and expressed “full confidence in the China market.”

Several Chinese companies have been rushing to develop AI services that can mimic human speech since San Francisco-based OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November.

But rapid advancements have stoked global alarm over the technology’s potential for disinformation and misuse.

Musk didn’t elaborate on his discussions in China but was likely referring to a sweeping draft law requiring new AI products to undergo a security assessment before release and a process ensuring that they reflect “core socialist values.”

The “Administrative Measures for Generative Artificial Intelligence Services” edict bans content promoting “terrorist or extremist propaganda,” “ethnic hatred” or “other content that may disrupt economic and social order.”

Under Beijing’s highly centralized political system, the measures are almost certain to become law.

Describes meetings as ‘promising’

Musk has caused controversy by suggesting the self-ruled island of Taiwan should become part of China — a stance that was welcomed by Chinese officials but which deeply angered Taipei.

The 51-year-old South African native described his meetings in China as “very promising.”

“I pointed out that if there is a digital super intelligence that is overwhelmingly powerful, developed in China, it is actually a risk to the sovereignty of the Chinese government,” he said. “And I think they took that concern to heart.”