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Thousands of Students at Nearly 100 Virginia Schools Staged Walkout Over Anti-Trans Policies



More than 20,000 comments have been submitted to the Virginia Department of Education over the rules.

The Walkout

Public high school students in Virginia are protesting new Department of Education guidelines issued by Gov. Glenn Youngkin that could impact transgender students.

Among other measures, the guidelines dictate that a student will only be referred to by the name, sex, and pronouns listed in the district’s official records. The only way to change the records is by written request from the student’s parent or guardian. 

Students would also require a court order or legal documentation if they want to be referred to by a different preferred name.

Versions of these guidelines are set to be adopted across the 133 school districts in the state after the 30-day comments period expires in late October.

This prompted more than 12,000 students in nearly 100 schools across Virginia to participate in a walk-out in protest on Tuesday.

“Our main goal is to ensure that we get enough pushback to these regulations so that they don’t get passed, and even if they do get passed, that school boards will be under enough pressure to reject them,” one lead organizer said.

Concerns About Guidelines

Supporters of the guidelines believe these policies will give rights back to parents by keeping them informed about and responsible for this aspect of their children’s lives.

“The guidelines make it clear that when parents are part of the process, schools will accommodate the requests of children and their families,” a spokesperson from Governor Youngkin’s office said. “Parents should be a part of their children’s lives, and it’s apparent through the public protests and on-camera interviews that those objecting to the guidance already have their parents as part of that conversation.”

Students and others who oppose the measures fear they could lead to bullying or harassment of trans students, who might not be able to go by their chosen gender and name while in class.

As of the evening of Tuesday, more than 20,000 comments have been submitted to the Virginia DOE. Upon closing the comment period on Oct. 26, staff at the DOE will review submissions and recommend any changes necessary to the draft. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (USA Today) (Guardian)

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Actor James Earl Jones Gave Green-Light for His Voice to be AI-Generated in “Star Wars” Properties



What does this mean for the future of actors and AI in movies?

James Earl Jones Hangs Up His Hat

At the age of 91, actor James Earl Jones has decided to step back from his role as Darth Vader in the famous “Star Wars” trilogy, allowing Skywalker Sound to use voice archives to create AI-generated dialogue for the character in appearances moving forward.

For the prequel series on Disney+, “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Skywalker Sound hired the Ukraine-based startup Respeecher to craft the dialogue using their AI technology and Jones’s recordings from previous performances. Essentially, they take the recordings and “teach” an AI how to replicate the patterns and tone of Darth Vader that scared so many for so many years. 

AI in Hollywood

AI voices have been a point of controversy for a while. For example, “Roadrunner,” the documentary about the late Anthony Bourdain, used AI technology to replicate Bourdain’s voice, reading letters he had written during his life. This sparked backlash online from those who found it unethical to use someone’s voice posthumously. 

“Star Wars” has gone beyond generating just voices — using AI to achieve a variety of feats. In 2016’s “Rogue One,” filmmakers digitally resurrected Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. In the same movie, they used CGI to put Carrie Fisher’s face on a double. They later used the same method after she passed away.

That same CGI was also recently used to digitally de-age Mark Hamill for his role as Luke Skywalker in the Disney+ show “The Book of Boba Fett.”

It has not been confirmed if Jones will be paid for the continued use of his voice in this manner, but his family did say they were pleased with the work done on “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

See what others are saying: (Vanity Fair) (ABC News) (AV Club)

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California Lawmakers Pass Bill Protecting Children From Manipulative Tech Companies



The bill’s proponents liken it to other consumer welfare rules like nutrition standards and car seats, but opponents warn it could endanger users’ privacy.

The First State Children’s Code in the Country

California state senators passed a bipartisan bill Monday that would require online sites and apps to proactively design their products with child safety in mind.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has not voiced his opinion on the bill, but if he signs it into law, it will make California the first state to implement legislation of its kind in the country.

AB 2273, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, does not give many specific directions to tech companies, but it may create the potential for legal challenges if they don’t take adequate steps to ensure the safety of their younger users.

Some of the bill’s measures intend to block minors from viewing explicit content, limit the collection of their personal information, and restrict web services from gathering children’s geolocation data unless “strictly necessary.”

The law would also clamp down on “dark patterns,” a general term for manipulative design features meant to encourage minors to give away personal information unnecessarily.

“The digital ecosystem is not safe by default for children,” democratic state lawmaker Buffy Wicks, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Jordan Cunningham, told The New York Times. “We think the Kids’ Code, as we call it, would make tech safer for children by essentially requiring these companies to better protect them.”

AB 2273 forces web services to enable the highest privacy settings by default for minors.

 Additionally, it requires services to establish the age of child users with a “reasonable level of certainty.”

If signed, the law would go into effect in 2024.

Are the Internet’s ‘Wild West’ Days Over?

California could set the example for other states, or the federal government, to build digital guardrails for minors, and tech companies may find it easier to proactively update their child protections across the country to avoid the difficulty of enforcing different policies in different states.

Another bill, AB 2408, which would let parents sue social media companies over addictive features, failed to pass the California legislature earlier this month.

The United States already has a 1998 federal law that protects children’s privacy, but it only applies to those under 13 years of age and only when they use online services specifically targeting children.

AB 2273 was based on similar legislation passed last year in the United Kingdom, the “Children’s Code,” which created comprehensive safety standards for minors, such as preventing adult strangers from contacting them or disabling social media features that could show a child’s exact location on a map to other users.

Baroness Beeban Kidron, a key figure behind the U.K. law, leads a nonprofit that sponsored AB 2273. He and other advocates have compared the law to nutrition labels, testing for cribs and car seats, and similar consumer welfare regulations.

The bill, however, has its detractors.

Eric Goldman, a professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, has argued that AB 2273’s age verification requirements, though well-intentioned, could become intrusive on the very users whose privacy the bill is seeking to safeguard.

“The actual process of age authentication usually involves either (1) an interrogation of personal details or (2) evaluating the user’s face so that software can estimate the age,” Goldman wrote in an op-ed. “Neither process is error-free, and either imposes costs that some businesses can’t afford.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Verge)

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