Computing

The new president of Kazakhstan is now proving that he will keep the old, oppressive systems alive for the 21st century, using advanced technical tools....

The man in the middle: Beginning last week, Kazakhstan’s government is intercepting all HTTPS traffic inside the country, ZDNet reports. HTTPS is a protocol meant to offer encryption, security, and privacy to users, but now the nation’s internet service providers are forcing all users to install certificates that enable pervasive interception and surveillance.

On Wednesday, Kazakh internet users were redirected to web pages instructing them to install the government’s root certificate in their web browser, which enables what’s called “man in the middle” interception of internet traffic, decryption, and surveillance.

We reached out to browser developers and certificate authorities Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla to ask how they will deal with Kazakhstan re-encrypting internet traffic for surveillance, and we have not heard back yet.

How dictators work in the 21st century: Most Americans likely couldn’t find Kazakhstan on a map. Yet the recent actions have wide implications.

Kazakhstan sits in a region ruled by dictators steadily marching into the 21st century. Just next door is the repressive dictatorship of Turkmenistan, which, like its neighbors, has been steadily increasing internet surveillance as a means to control the population.

This man-in-the-middle scheme is not the Kazakhstan government’s only move to increase control of the country through the internet. The government is also a known customer of NSO Group, an Israeli company that sells hacking technology to governments around the world, including dictatorships that use it to squash dissidents. NSO Group’s technology typically targets one person at a time. Now the government’s technological ambitions have clearly grown.

Upskilling the dictator: From the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 until 2019, Kazakhstan had the same strongman in charge: Nursultan Nazarbayev. A new president came to power in 2019, but this is hardly a meaningful changing of the guard.

The victory of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in the 2019 presidential election began with the detention of hundreds of dissidents.

Just months after the election, Tokayev’s attempts to take even greater control over the country through technology mean it’ll be a seamless transition from an old-fashioned dictatorship to a 21st-century autocrat able and willing to bend the day’s technology to his will.

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Toyota is finally diving into fully electric vehicles, striking a deal with China’s BYD to jointly develop batteries, sedans, and SUVs for the world’s largest automobile market....

Japan’s top automaker expects to deliver its first Toyota-branded EV in China next year, a version of its C-HR/IZOA compact crossover, Reuters reported.

So what? The move comes in response to growing global demand for electric vehicles, driven by a combination of government subsidies, emissions mandates, and increasing acceptance among consumers.

The partnership with BYD, the world’s largest EV maker, underscores how dominant China has become during recent years in electric vehicles and batteries. It comes on the heels of Toyota’s announcement earlier this week that it will buy vehicle batteries from and develop them with CATL, China’s dominant player. That widens and diversifies Toyota’s supply chain beyond Panasonic, which provides batteries for the company’s plug-in hybrids. (See “China’s ambition to power the world’s electric cars took a huge leap forward this week.”)

Playing catch-up: While Toyota was an early leader in hybrids, it’s been a laggard in rolling out full electric vehicles. But last month, the company announced that EVs and hybrids would represent half its worldwide sales by 2025, moving up its timetable by five years, Reuters reported.

The fuel-cell dream isn’t dead: Toyota isn’t laying all its bets on battery-powered EVs. The company has also developed a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car, the Mirai, which can be bought or leased in California. The bet is that consumers or perhaps long-haul truckers will prefer the ease and speed of hydrogen refueling over prolonged battery recharging. Of course, it won’t be close to convenient for anyone unless regions first build networks of hydrogen fueling stations.

“Toyota has long been seen as the proponent of fuel cells,” said David Hart, director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy at George Mason University, in an email. “I doubt that they've given up on that entirely, but clearly they are coming to terms with the fact that batteries are here now and fuel cells' time is in the future if ever.”  

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TR 35

Innovators Under 35 | 2019

It’s part of our ethos that technology can and should be a force for good. In these profiles you’ll find people employing innovative methods to treat disease, to fight online harassment, and to create the next big battery breakthrough.