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The Gen-Z students at the heart of Vietnam’s chip plans

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Vietnam's government has said the country's current pool of around 5,000 semiconductor engineers must jump to 20,000 in the next five years
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Nguyen Phuong Linh is among a crop of young electronics students crucial to Vietnam’s ambitions to become a chips hub.

She’s driven, smart and already has her sights set on a professorship — wanting to train a new generation that could help woo foreign investors eager to diversify semiconductor production away from China and Taiwan.

Long viewed as a low-cost destination to make clothes, shoes and furniture, Vietnam is now eyeing a rapid climb up the global supply chain and has put computer chips at the heart of its development plans.

It is a goal that suits nations such as the United States — increasingly worried about economic tensions with Beijing — but there are huge hurdles to overcome, chiefly a shortage of highly skilled engineers.

“Chips are attracting so much attention… among both the government and the public,” Linh told AFP from a tiny windowless lab at Hanoi’s University of Science and Technology, crowded with computers.

“I used to dream of working as a chip designer but now I want to be a professor. I think our country needs more teachers to create a better workforce,” the 21-year-old said.

Vietnam’s market for semiconductors, which are used in everything from smartphones to satellites and to power AI technology, is expected to grow at 6.5 percent a year, reaching $7 billion by 2028, according to Technavio, a market research firm.

During a visit to the capital last year, US President Joe Biden announced deals to support Vietnam’s chips industry, and shortly after, Nvidia — an American giant in the sector — said it wanted to set up a base in the country.

South Korea’s Amkor and Hana Micron both opened packaging factories last year in Vietnam, which is already home to US firm Intel’s largest factory for assembling, packaging and testing chips.

As the hype around Vietnam’s emerging chips industry ramps up, its communist government has said the country’s current pool of around 5,000 semiconductor engineers must jump to 20,000 in the next five years — and to 50,000 over the next decade.

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang made an official request to the CEO of South Korea’s Samsung, asking the electronics giant to help.

Vietnam is currently producing just 500 qualified engineers per year, according to Nguyen Duc Minh, a professor of integrated circuit (IC) design who teaches Linh.

“We need to do much more to reach the target,” he told AFP. “I think this is a very challenging figure.”

– Brain drain risk –

Many electronics students already know what role they want to play in the semiconductor field, with Linh’s classmate Dao Xuan Son eyeing a job at Intel.

But the pathway Vietnam’s leaders want to take is less easy to understand, according to Nguyen Khac Giang, visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

“Do they want to achieve a national champion Samsung-like Vietnamese company in semiconductors, which requires a lot of capital and investment?” he asked.

“Or do they simply want to attract more investment in the semiconductor business in Vietnam?”

Experts also seem unclear about how the government arrived at the 50,000 engineer figure, and whether they are needed for chip design or factory work.

“We talk of a very huge number but it seems we have not looked to see whether the industry really needs that big number of graduates,” IC design professor Pham Nguyen Thanh Loan said.

Intel told AFP that their focus in Vietnam would remain on assembly and testing, the lowest-value part of the semiconductor supply chain.

“We face a challenge in expanding our talent pool beyond these areas,” said Kim Huat Ooi, vice president in manufacturing, supply chain and operations, and general manager of Intel Vietnam.

Several universities launched additional programmes this academic year that focus on semiconductor and chip design.

But more importantly, professors say, Vietnam needs to invest in quality training that allows students to gain practical skills demanded by the world’s top firms.

Although courses are often good on theory, “we need more investment in infrastructure and equipment for students to practise”, professor Minh told AFP.

Among those top graduates who do come through, there is “real risk” of brain drain to the world’s top chip-making nations, said analyst Giang.

“Let’s be honest, the salary in Vietnam is quite low, even for those with very high skills,” he said.

“They might get the feeling… it’s probably better to just move to Taiwan.”

Linh says she is keen to study abroad to gain better connections to industry, but she is set on returning home.

Final year student Son, however, dreaming of a design position with Intel, would be happy to study — and then stay overseas for a few years.

“I can learn more — and have more opportunities — outside Vietnam,” Son said.

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn

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Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker

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Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs

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Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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