BRICS Think Tanks Agree to Create Digital Diplomacy Roadmap

BRICS Think Tanks Agree to Create Digital Diplomacy RoadmapThink tanks from the five BRICS countries – Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa, have agreed to come up with a roadmap to create digital diplomacy.

This merged from the just ended BRICS digital conference held in New Delhi on April 28 and 29, Xinhua news agency quoted Sandiso Ngcobo, who joined a South African think tank delegation to the conference, as saying on Monday.

BRICS think tanks had gathered to find a common ground in addressing the regulation of cyberspace and shared skills, Ngcobo said.

Despite different cultural, political and economic backgrounds, the BRICS have found common ground in main issues, said Ngcobo.

“I am happy with what happened in India. We managed to exchange knowledge and skills. We discussed how the internet could be used to address socioeconomic challenges and we agreed in those aspects,” he said.

The BRICS think tanks also addressed the issue of language barriers, taking into account that information in BRICS countries is mostly communicated in English, thereby leaving many outside, Ngcobo said.

They also agreed to address gender imbalance and empower women by elevating them to powerful positions, he said.

“We reached a common ground to regulate cyberspace. We know that we have different cultures, and different political and government structures. We want to use technology to address social economic challenges and make it inclusive,” Ngcobo said.

This would help harmonise cyberspace to promote international trade and e-commerce, he added.

The BRICS think tanks will meet in India again in October this year prior to a political leadership meeting.

Sea Urchin-Inspired Crawler Developed for Mars Exploration

Sea Urchin-Inspired Crawler Developed for Mars Exploration

Inspired by the sea urchin’s intricate mouth and teeth, a team of engineers and marine biologists from the University of California-San Diego has developed a claw-like device to sample sediments on other planets such as Mars.

Bio-inspiration for the study came from pink sea urchins which live off the west coast of North America.

Researchers extracted the urchins’ mouthpieces, scanned them and analysed the structures at school of medicine at UC San Diego.

This allowed engineers to build a highly accurate model of the mouthpiece’s geometry.

Led by mechanical engineering professor Joanna McKittrick, the team also used finite element analysis to investigate the structure of the teeth.

“The urchin’s extraordinary ability to rip through rock could translate to a good sediment sampler for space vehicles like the Mars rovers, which currently use shovels to collect ground samples,” said Michael Frank, PhD candidate at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

“Our goal was a bio-inspired device that’s more precise and efficient at grabbing ground samples from different areas and won’t disturb the surrounding area like a shovel would,” he added.

On the third iteration, they connected the teeth differently to the rest of the device, which allowed it to open much easier.

The students were able to quickly modify each prototype by using 3D printers. The device was then attached to a remote-controlled small rover.

The researchers first tested the claw on beach sand where it performed well.

They then used the claw on sand that simulates Martian soil in density and humidity. The device was able to scoop up sand efficiently.

Researchers envision a fleet of mini rovers equipped with the claw that could be deployed to collect samples and bring them back to a main rover.

Indian IT Infrastructure Market to Reach $1.93 Billion in 2016: Gartner

Indian IT Infrastructure Market to Reach $1.93 Billion in 2016: GartnerThe Indian IT infrastructure market will increase marginally to $1.93 billion (roughly Rs. 12,807 crores) this year whereas by 2020, it is likely to grow to $2.13 billion (roughly Rs. 14,137 crores), Gartner said Tuesday.

The IT infrastructure market includes server, storage and enterprise networking equipment.

In 2015, the market stood at $1.90 billion (roughly Rs. 12,611 crores). “The Indian IT infrastructure market will total $1.9 billion in 2016, a 1 percent increase from 2015,” Gartner said.

Indian enterprises will continue to focus on optimising their infrastructure and operations budgets in 2016, it added.

“Optimisation is primarily driven with an objective to create next generation data center architecture that can support the ever increasing challenges of digital business. With the emergence of bimodal IT, there are a lot of investments made in Mode 1, and there is an increasing focus on building Mode 2 infrastructure,” Naveen Mishra, research director at Gartner said.

Gartner said Mode 1 workloads are witnessing investments in areas such as cloud, software defined storage and network coupled with integrated systems.

“Public cloud is increasingly becoming relevant for data center managers and IT leaders in India,” it added.

Enterprise networking is the biggest segment within the Indian IT infrastructure market with revenue expected to total $848 million (roughly Rs. 5,628 crores) in 2016.

“This is an area where enterprises are focusing heavily in terms of their optimisation efforts and evaluating software driven networking, as this is becoming a barrier to a seamless digital experience,” Gartner said.

Mishra said with a revenue projection of $253 million (roughly Rs. 1,679 crores) in 2016, storage investment will witness a decline from last year primarily due to improved performance.

“Enterprises are increasingly investing in software defined storage, evaluating alternate, cheaper devices, such as flash storage, which is helping them to contain the ever increasing storage costs,” he added.

MobiKwik Raises $50 Million to Drive Expansion, Innovation

MobiKwik Raises $50 Million to Drive Expansion, InnovationMobile wallet company MobiKwik Tuesday said it has raised $50 million (about Rs. 330 crores) in funding, led by Japanese payments firm Gateway and Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek.

Its existing investors such as Sequoia Capital and Treeline Asia also participated in the current round of funding.

The company said it will use the proceeds for product innovations, team building and user growth.

“Despite the current business climate when funding has become challenging, unit economics, sustainable growth and a sound business model are what investors are focusing their attention on. We are very excited to live up to the investors’ expectations and raise the funding where even larger players are failing to raise funds,” MobiKwik founder and CEO Bipin Preet Singh said in a statement.

MobiKwik’s growth has been promising as the company’s GMV has grown drastically by 250 percent, he added.

With about 30 million users in the country, MobiKwik is one of the biggest wallet companies in India. It competes with the likes of Paytm and PayU.

“MobiKwik is a dominating player in the Indian mobile payments space and continues its consistent growth trajectory while staying true to its DNA of rapid product innovation and capital efficiency. Our valuation too has increased significantly,” Singh said but did not disclose the details.

Lack of profits has raised concerns over valuations of startups globally, leading to many of these businesses facing difficulty in raising fresh funds.

In the recent past, mutual fund T Rowe Price cut back its valuations in many of its tech startup investments, including India’s Flipkart. Morgan Stanley, too, made a similar move earlier this year.

MobiKwik has previously raised close to $30 million (about Rs. 195 crores) in funding from Sequoia Capital, American Express, Tree Line Asia and Cisco Investments.

MobiKwik has partnered 75,000 retailers, including the likes of Big Bazaar, WHSmith India, Cafe Coffee Day and Store King in the offline space.

Scientists Win $3 Million for Detecting Einstein’s Waves

Scientists Win $3 Million for Detecting Einstein's Waves

Researchers who helped detect gravitational waves for the first time, confirming part of Albert Einstein’s theory in a landmark moment in scientific history, will share a $3 million (roughly Rs. 20 crores) Special Breakthrough Prize, according to the prize’s selection committee.

The Breakthrough Prizes for scientific achievements were created by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner along with several technology pioneers, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In February, a team from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced a pair of giant laser detectors had measured the tiny ripples in space and time first theorized by Einstein a century ago, capping a decades-long quest.

Einstein predicted gravitational waves as part of his seminal theory of general relativity, which explained gravity as distortions in both space and time caused by bodies of matter.

LIGO’s three founders – Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever, who dedicated much of their careers to gravitational wave detection – will share $1 million. More than 1,000 contributors to the project will also split $2 million equally.

“That’s much more modern and much more the way that physics gets done,” said Weiss, a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of the decision to honor the entire team. “You can’t credit just the three of us for this.”

Researchers said the gravitational waves came from the collision of two black holes, the extraordinarily dense objects that Einstein’s theory also predicted. The black holes, both many times the mass of the sun, were located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

The waves should unlock new ways to understand the cosmos, including black holes, neutron stars and the mysteries of the early universe.

“For us to spend basically a half-century since the three of us started working in this field, to have it actually be pulled off successfully in the manner we dreamed – it was really remarkable and wonderful,” said Thorne, who is retired from the California Institute of Technology. “I’m forever grateful to the team that got it done.”

The winners will be honored at a December ceremony, when the regular annual awards for physics, life sciences and mathematics will also be announced. The Special Breakthrough Prize can be conferred at any time to mark “an extraordinary scientific achievement.”

Edward Witten, a prominent physicist who heads the physics prize selection committee, said the discovery’s magnitude warranted immediate recognition.

“There are a lot of basic things about Einstein’s theory of relativity that seemed like science fiction when I was a student,” Witten said. “This is the first time we’ve seen the full force of Einstein’s theory of gravity at work.”

Apple Exploring Investment Options in India: Ravi Shankar Prasad

Apple Exploring Investment Options in India: Ravi Shankar Prasad

Technology giant Apple and other global players are exploring opportunities to invest in India’s electronic segment, which has attracted investments of over Rs. 1,20,000 crores so far, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Monday.

“When I became minister, we had Rs. 11,198 crores of investments in electronic manufacturing. I am happy to tell you, now it is Rs. 1,20,000 crores plus which has been invested in India or committed,” Prasad said at the annual session of industry body CII.

He said that last year 111 million mobile phones were manufactured in India, logging a growth rate of 81 percent in production.

“Today all the big companies from Taiwan to …. have come in India. Apple is exploring possibility here in India. Therefore from smartphone to ordinary phone to solar panel to what not, immense potential is there in India . We have got a proper incentive scheme available including electronics clusters,” Prasad said.

However, the minister did not divulge details on Apple’s plans that whether the iPhone maker was exploring possibilities in retail segment or in manufacturing. Prasad said that Digital India is going to create $1 trillion (roughly Rs. 66,13,770 crores) economy which will include $400 billion (roughly Rs. 26,45,485 crores) worth of electronics market, $350 billion (roughly Rs. 23,16,440 crores) worth IT and ITes sector and $250 billion (roughly Rs. 16,54,600 crores) communication business.

The minister said that government is building Digital India as platform of empowerment with launch of various programmes including digital literacy programme, connecting 2.5 lakh village panchayats with broadband etc. He said that government has given Internet service provider licence to Common Service Centre- Special Purpose vehicle for spreading internet in rural area

“After the gram panchyat is connected through fibre, we will lit it up with Wi-Fi to give service in the adjoining village. CSC nodal agency has been given an Internet service provider licence so that they can inspire all the CSCs to take the Wi-Fi facility and take it to the villages,” Prasad said.

He said that government has trained about 45 lakh under digital literacy program and further trageting to expand it to cover 6 crore people in rural area.

Facebook Starts Using AI to Describe Photos to the Visually Challenged

Facebook Starts Using AI to Describe Photos to the Visually Challenged

Facebook is training its computers to become seeing-eye guides for blind and visually impaired people as they scroll through the pictures posted on the world’s largest online social network.

The feature rolling out Tuesday on Facebook’s iPhone app interprets what’s in a picture using a form ofartificial intelligence that recognizes faces and objects. The iPhone’s built-in screen reader, VoiceOver, must be turned on for Facebook’s photo descriptions to be read. For now, the feature will only be available in English.

The descriptions initially will be confined to a vocabulary of 100 words in a restriction that will prevent the computer from providing a lot of details. For instance, the automated voice may only tell a user that a photo features three people smiling outdoors without adding that the trio also has drinks in their hands. Or it may say the photo is of pizza without adding that there’s pepperoni and olives on top of it.

Facebook is being careful with the technology, called “automatic alternative text,” in an attempt to avoid making a mistake that offends its audience. Google learned the risks of technology last year when an image recognition feature in its Photos app labeled a black couple as gorillas, prompting the company to issue an apology.

Eventually, though, Facebook hopes to refine the technology so it provides more precise descriptions and even answers questions that a user might pose about a picture.

Facebook also plans to turn on the technology for its Android app and make it available through Web browsers visiting its site.

The Menlo Park, California, company is trying to ensure the world’s nearly 300 million blind and visually impaired people remain interested in its social network as a steadily increasing number of photos appear on its service. On an average day, Facebook says more than 2 billion photos are posted on its social network and other apps that it owns, a list that includes Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Until now, people relying on screen readers on Facebook would only hear that a person had shared a photo without any elaboration.

Meizu MX5e With 16-Megapixel Camera, 5.5-Inch Display Launched

Meizu MX5e With 16-Megapixel Camera, 5.5-Inch Display Launched

Meizu, months after launching its MX5 smartphone in China, has launched a variant of the smartphone dubbed the MX5e. Priced at CNY 1,699 (roughly Rs. 17,400), the smartphone is listed on the company store. The handset as compared to the Meizu MX5 is slightly cheaper and features toned-down specifications. Its availability outside the country is not yet known.

The dual-SIM supporting smartphone, like the MX5, features a metal body and a physical home button that also acts as the mTouch 2.0 fingerprint scanner. The Meizu MX5e also features a 5.5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) Super Amoled display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection like the MX5. The processor however, has been downgraded from 64-bit MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core processor (Cortex-A53) clocked at 2.2GHz to a MediaTek MT6795 processor clocked at 2GHz, coupled with 3GB of RAM.

(Also see: Meizu MX5e vs. Meizu MX5)

The Meizu MX5e sports a 16-megapixel rear camera as compared to the MX5’s 20.7-megapixel camera. However, the 5-megapixel front-facing camera stays the same. It also houses 16GB of inbuilt storage and a 3150mAh battery. Connectivity options on the smartphone include 4G LTE, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS/ A-GPS, Glonass, and Micro-USB. The handset’s Android OS version is not known.

Meizu is additionally expected to launch its Meizu m3 note smartphone on Wednesday. The handset is said to feature the Helio X10 MediaTek MT6795 SoC; 5.5-inch display; 2GB of RAM; 3200mAh battery, and will come with 16GB/ 32GB storage. The report says that the Meizu m3 note is expected to be priced around CNY 799 (approximately Rs. 8,000) for the 16GB model and CNY 999 (approximately Rs. 10,000)

Google Removes Afghan Taliban App From Play Store

Google Removes Afghan Taliban App From Play Store

Google has removed a Taliban smartphone app from its online store, the US Internet giant said Monday, countering the tech-savvy Afghan militant group’s increasing efforts to boost global visibility.

The Taliban launched their foray into smartphone apps on Friday with a Pashto language app called “Alemarah”, giving access to propaganda statements and videos.

The digital campaign, first reported by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, added to the Taliban’s already robust social media presence and a website in five languages including English.

But barely a day after the launch, the app was no longer available for download on Google Play Store, the tech giant confirmed in a statement.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was not reachable on Monday for comment.

He told AFP on Sunday that the militant group’s “technology department” was also working on a Farsi version of the app.

Once seen as uneducated thugs, the Taliban have developed a media-savvy PR team who use digital technology to reach out to audiences worldwide.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, almost all electronic products were outlawed as un-Islamic.

Photographs of living things were illegal and ownership of a video player could lead to a public lashing.

But the Taliban have avidly embraced electronic communication and social media in recent years as a recruitment tool and to promote their propaganda.

However their efforts pale in comparison to the Islamic State group, which has actively exploited social media to lure thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq and is making gradual inroads in Afghanistan.

“In this era of IS and its disturbingly tech-savvy ways, many of the older guard militant groups like the Afghan Taliban may feel they’re losing out,” Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based think tank the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told AFP.

“By tapping into these kinds of new technologies, the Taliban can demonstrate to potential recruits that it’s just as technologically hip as its younger competitors,” he said.

Teen Took Snapchat Photos While Crashing Mercedes at 107 mph. Now Her Victim Has Sued Snapchat

Teen Took Snapchat Photos While Crashing Mercedes at 107 mph. Now Her Victim Has Sued Snapchat.

Christal McGee was behind the wheel of her father’s white Mercedes, 18-years-old and on her way home from work on a Thursday night in September 2015, when she pulled out her phone and opened the app.

Snapchat has a filter that allows users to record their speed of travel, and she wanted to see how fast she could go. So McGee accelerated, then accelerated some more, reaching 113 miles per hour (181kmph) on a suburban road outside Atlanta where the speed limit is 55.

She didn’t see Maynard Wentworth, an Uber driver just starting his shift that night, until it was too late. She hit him at 107 miles per hour (172.2kmph).

Wentworth suffered a traumatic brain injury and was hospitalized for months.

Now he and his wife are suing McGee – and Snapchat – for negligence. The narrative of that night is outlined in a civil complaint filed in Spalding County court last week, which alleges that Snapchat was equally responsible for the cause of the crash because the company did not delete the miles per hour filter from the app after it was cited in similar accidents prior to the September 2015 crash.

The complaint and a statement from Wentworth’s lawyer, Michael L. Neff, explain that night like this: McGee was driving several of her friends home from work at a local restaurant in Hampton, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. One of the friends was pregnant, according to the statement from Neff’s office. Over the pregnant passenger’s objections, McGee urged the Mercedes faster and faster.

She argued, according to the statement, that she was trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour (160.9kmph) so she could post it on Snapchat. McGee’s passengers saw the controversial filter hit 113 miles per hour. The teen was just about to post the Snapchat, the statement says, when she crashed into Wentworth’s Mitsubishi.

The collision caused Wentworth “permanent brain damage,” the complaint says, rendering him unable to work and causing him to lose 50 pounds since the wreck.

McGee hit her head on the windshield of the Mercedes – then Snapchatted a photo of herself backboarded, in a neck brace, blood trickling down her forehead, according to the statement. The caption on the Snapchat read: “Lucky to be alive.”

Wentworth’s lawyers argue that McGee’s behavior could have been prevented had Snapchat taken greater precautions with its miles per hour filter.

“On and before September 10, 2015, Snapchat knew that wrecks had occurred due to the use of Snapchat’s app while driving at high speed,” the complaint says. “Despite Snapchat’s actual knowledge of the danger from using its product’s speed filter while driving at excessive speeds, Snapchat did not remove or restrict access to the speed filter.”

A Snapchat spokesman told CNN that he could not speak about pending lawsuits, but added that a warning not to Snapchat while driving has always been included in the app.