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Digital Planet


Technological and digital news from around the world.

Technological and digital news from around the world.


London, United Kingdom




Technological and digital news from around the world.






BBC World Service Bush House Strand London WC2B 4PH


Robots that can assemble almost anything.

Researchers at MIT have made significant steps toward creating robots that could practically and economically assemble nearly anything, including things much larger than themselves, from vehicles to buildings to larger robots. Many objects could be built from tiny identical lightweight pieces e.g. an airplane wing or a racing car, and this latest work is a big step towards a fully autonomous self-replicating robot assembly system. Two of the authors are Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Director...


Twitter – what next?

What is happening with Twitter and what can we expect? Bill Thompson give us his assessment while Angelica Mari discusses the how the new direction of the platform Pix payments two years on PIX payments have revolutionised how people in Brazil use money – especially the 40 million of the population who are unbanked. We discuss with Fintech expert David Birch why Pix has been so successful and where does it go from here. What’s new in WhatsApp Angelica Mari brings us up to date with...


The Open Internet for Africa

We hear about a new plan to drive economies and improve lives across Africa – the Open Internet project between the continent and the EU. A report “The Open Internet as Cornerstone of Digitalisation” is funded by the EU and points out in detail what needs to done to secure easy, reliable and cheap online access without which development will simply stall. We speak to two of the report’s authors – one from the EU and the other from Africa. Monitoring Mangroves in the Pakistan Indus Delta...


Controlling protesters in Iran via phones

A new report shows how the authorities in Iran can track and control protestors phones. An investigation by The Intercept news organisation has found that mobile phone coverage is being switched from a healthy 5G or 4G network to slow and clunky 2G coverage when protestors gather. This means they no longer can communicate using encrypted messages or calls on their smartphones and instead have to rely up traditional phone calls or SMS messages which can be intercepted and understood easily....


The Twitter takeover

Elon Musk completed on a 44-billion-dollar takeover of Twitter last week. He’s expressed the want to restructure the platform and create a digital ‘town square’, a potential space for free speech, growth and learning. But defining freedom of speech is a minefield, and some parties are afraid that Elon’s vision could provide opportunity for greater disinformation and misinformation. Gareth and Becky Hogge speculate as to whether Twitter can ever fulfil the digital idealism that many first...


Chip exports and US-China relations

The Biden administration announced a monumental policy shift earlier this month, set to limit and control the exportation of artificial intelligence and semiconductor technologies to China. The restrictions will block leading U.S. chip designers from accessing the Chinese market; selling goods that form the backbone of AI and supercomputing. Gregory Allen from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies explains how these actions could potentially ‘strangle’ large segments of the...


5bn mobile phones to become waste in 2022

The WEEE forum estimates that of the 16 billion mobile phones in the world about 5.3bn will no longer be in use this year. Despite being packed with precious metals like gold, silver and palladium and other recyclable parts most will not be disposed of properly. This mountain of e-waste (that if piled on top of each other would reach 120 times higher than the International Space Station) is only part of e-waste problem with other small consumer electronics e.g. remotes, headphones, clocks,...


Internet under attack in Ukraine

Ukraine has faced internet outages since missile attacks restarted on Monday -a drop of more than 20% was recorded yesterday by The Internet Observatory Netblocks. This loss of connectivity is not thought to be due to cyber attacks but more about physical attacks on power infrastructure. Director of Netblocks, Alp Toker, is on the show to explain what’s happened. The boom in mobile money in Somalia Despite the worst drought in 40 years, Somalians are embracing mobile money to the point that...


Pandemic pushes women online

In 2020 more than 40% of the world’s population was not using the internet, with many more women being unable to get online. Now a new global study into digital access in 90 countries shows that although women were disproportionately impacted by the Covid pandemic, it seems to have got more of them online in South East Asia and Africa. In these two parts of the world, the study shows progress in terms of bridging the gap between men and women and access to tech and the internet. While,...


Tiny robots cure mice with deadly pneumonia

Microrobots have been created and used to treat the most common form of pneumonia that infects patients in ICU. In experiments, currently carried out in mice at the University of California San Diego, the tiny robots swam around the lungs and delivered antibiotics that killed the disease-causing bacteria. The amount of antibiotics needed is a tiny fraction of the amount currently used to treat this infection intravenously. The robots are made from algae cells (this allows them to move)...


Gamification – does making things fun work?

Do you track your physical activity on your phone, count your daily steps, or how many calories you’ve burnt? Perhaps you are learning a new language using an app or have performance-related leaderboards at work? All these things are part of gamification – making everyday tasks more fun. But is all this gameplay good for us and is there actually any evidence that it works? Digital Planet this week explores the phenomenon of gamification with guests Adrian Hon, the CEO and founder of the...


Community Networks: Connecting the unconnected

The Digital Divide in Tribal Communities Across the North American continent, there is a stark difference in the availability of the internet to different communities. Tribal lands are typically remote, rural, and rugged landscapes, and often have very patchy, or non-existent internet connectivity. Dr. Traci Morris explains why such a digital divide exists and how tribes are working together, both within their communities and with each other, to create and gain access to communications...


Happy birthday Digital Planet!

In this special 21st birthday show we’re bringing our Digital Planet community together for the first time since 2019. The team has been asking World Service listeners about their favourite bit of tech – we hear from around the world about the software and hardware that our listeners can’t live without. We will also be having not one but two special appearances – holograms from Canada and France – using the technology that President Zelensky used to beam himself to UN and London Tech week....


Inoculation videos against misinformation

Inoculation against misinformation Could people be inoculated and protected against misinformation online? A new study published in Science Advances shows that short animated videos could protect people from harmful content. Controlled experiments where people were shown how misinformation is spread e.g. using emotional language or scapegoating, appeared highly effective in helping people judge what might be fact or fiction on the web. Psychologists worked with Google Jigsaw and tested their...


India’s cyber scam scourge

Nearly a third of people in India lost money through online fraud in 2020 alone. Of them, it is thought that only 17% saw any returns through redressal mechanisms. Despite this prevalence of scams, reports have shown that the Indian population have got more trusting of unsolicited messages from companies online over the last five years. New Delhi based journalist Mimansa Verma from Quartz has been exploring this problem and joins the programme to discuss. Ultrasound sticker that monitors...


Misinformation on the midterms on social media

With the US midterm elections only a few months away Twitter has announced how it plans to “enable healthy civic conversation” on its platform i.e. how they plan to control political disinformation. Journalist Emma Woollacott who has written about the new measures for Forbes is on the show, as is New York Times Reporter Tiffany Tsu to tell us about political misinformation on TikTok. Facebook evidence – should they have handed over private messages? Should Facebook have handed over private...


How Nancy Pelosi’s flight was tracked

Were you one of the 2.92million people who was watching Nancy Pelosi fly into Taiwan on FlightRadar24 bypassing Chinese bases in the South China Sea as it approached Taipei? It’s one of the most popular flight tracking sites in the world and uses open standard surveillance technology which allows planes to transmit their location data to anyone with a receiver. As the receivers are fairly inexpensive it now has a network of more than 30,000 and collects data from other sources too like...


Is disability tech delivering?

Why does tech not understand my speech? Physicist Dr Claire Malone is facing a problem: no speech-to-text software understands her. She is living with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her movement and muscle coordination, including her speech. Claire shares how much of a difference this tech could make in her life, and Gareth speaks to Sara Smolley, the co-founder of Voiceitt, one of the leading companies in the area, about how close we are to having software that can understand...


Grassroots data – holding the powerful to account

Open source investigators We live in an age where there is data on almost everything, and a large chunk of it is publicly available. You only need to know where to look. There are many investigators on the internet that are gathering Open Source Intelligence, or OSINT for short, and conduct research and verification, much of it focussed on war zones. The most prominent collective in this field is the NGO Bellingcat, but there is a whole ecosystem of amateur sleuths online. Gareth speaks to...


Self-driving cars on the horizon?

A recent amendment to a regulation by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) will extend automated driving technology to 130 km/h. The regulation, which will come into effect in January 2023, will set the standard for car manufacturers to develop so-called "level 3" autonomous vehicle. Gareth speaks to Francois Guichard, who is leading UN regulations on vehicle automation, about what "level 3" really means, and when we will see these types of cars on the road. Also, Prof...