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Robots take over Korea
Also in today’s edition: AI to moderate Meta’s Metaverse, Hackers get a golden bug, Economy on a see-saw, Hold on to your Lego
Good Morning! You wouldn’t believe this. Dung is in demand. It doesn’t matter where it comes from—pigs, cows or even humans—any poop would do. That’s because chemical fertilisers are in short supply and urea prices are up 200%, according to Bloomberg News. The shortage has sent manure demand skyrocketing. The upshot? Willy-nilly, farms are turning organic.
Btw, our podcast has been going strong for two months now. Tune in on your daily jog, drive to the office, or even as you WFH-ers have breakfast in bed. We promise it’ll be music to your ears.
The Market Signal
Stocks: Indian indices ended the last week in the red as the euphoria of the central bank holding on to interest rates wore off. Investors appear to have put Omicron fears behind them even though a tinge of wariness remains. Global markets will keenly watch a key Fed Reserve meeting beginning Tuesday as the US continues to grapple with runaway inflation. Other central banks are also preparing to deal with price rise, but differently.
Meta’s AI Heads To The Metaverse
Engineers and researchers from the company’s artificial intelligence unit or “AI group” will move to Reality Labs, Meta’s augmented reality and virtual reality division.
Big deal? Sort of. Because the AI group, as The Information report said, was key to the company’s content moderation efforts such as detecting “blatant misinformation, violence or hate speech” across its family of apps. Its success has been a mixed bag, as we learnt from the Facebook Papers. While the AI group will be housed inside the Metaverse division, it will continue “its existing work.”
Moderating the Metaverse: Having struggled to get a grip around harmful content on its apps (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), the reorganisation helps Meta slow-pivot to a moderation-first approach towards the Metaverse. That wouldn’t be smooth sailing either, with racism seemingly thriving in virtual reality.
What the Hack is Happening?
Some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Cisco and IBM, are racing to patch a chink in a vital piece of Internet software that could trigger a wave of cyber attacks.
The bug is hidden in a free-to-use server software called Log4J which has been downloaded millions of times. Experts warn that corporate networks are at severe risk as the vulnerability is easy to exploit and attacks difficult to stop.
Cyber attacks have increased in the past couple of days although it is unclear whether they have used the same vulnerability. Attackers hacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account and tweeted that Bitcoin was legal tender in India.
Cybersecurity experts at Brazil's Health Ministry are working overtime to retrieve 50 TB of vaccination data after a ransomware attack deleted it. Several customers of BDO Unibank in the Philippines found that money had been transferred from their accounts in a sophisticated hack.
Digitisation has got a boost during the pandemic and so have cyberattacks. According to a report, there has been a 17% increase in publicly-disclosed data compromises until September 30, 2021 compared to 2020.
Virus, Economy Play Hopscotch
The Finance Ministry believes India will rebound from the pandemic better than rival economies even as the threat of Omicron looms. Its monthly Economic Review said that in July-September 2021 real GDP grew 8.4%, pipping the same period of 2019 by a mile.
Back to normal: The review said 19 of 22 high-frequency indicators (HFIs) crossed pre-pandemic levels in September, October and November. Those included electronic toll collection, transaction volumes of digital payments engine United Payments Interface (UPI), Google mobility index, and E-way bill volumes. Coal production and rail traffic too showed improvement. Auto sales and air traffic lagged.
Not so fast: Close on the heels of the upbeat forecasts, however, the October number for industrial output came in at an eight-month low of 3.2 per cent as the capital goods and automobile segments hit the brakes on manufacturing.
A Reuters poll showed retail inflation inching up in India to 5.1% in November 2021. US retail prices rose the most in 40 years last month, putting more pressure on the Federal Reserve to pull out its heavy guns.
Although the government is optimistic, economists are worried. While the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has spread some fear, it is not seen as causing as much disruption as Delta. The RBI has also revised its Q3 GDP growth forecast to 6.6% from its earlier estimated 6.8%.
Although the majority of HFIs rising shows improvement in economic activity, some of them such as exports and imports could be higher because of inflation. A rise in UPI transactions is to be expected because of the pandemic. In fact, the indicators seem to show that the digitally plugged-in parts of the economy are doing well. The rest of the picture is still unclear.
Korea Building A No-touch Economy
South Korea is sprinting towards an ‘untact’ future ever since president Moon Jae-in endorsed the concept in his ‘New Deal’ for the country.
No skin in the game: ‘Untact’ envisions an economy that is weaned off tactile interactions. First proposed in 2017 to deal with South Korea’s ageing workforce, it got a new lease of life thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic catalysing touchless-everything.
In a country with the world’s second-largest concentration of robots per 10,000 employees, you now have robots doing everything from making coffee to chiding people who do not wear masks. Phone shops are going unmanned, and politicians are launching avatars for citizen grievance redressal.
Hug it out: But sociologists are concerned. Can the elderly and infirm navigate the learning curve of untact ways of life? And let’s not forget that pandemic-induced touch starvation made people depressed. Touch researchers (yes, that’s a thing) also link ‘skin hunger’ to immune disorders and deteriorating relationships.
Going touchless is great. But not at the cost of skinship.
Lego Is Better Than Gold
While stocks could come with a side of heebie-jeebies, there are options that defy these instances. Unlikely contenders include Lego sets and whisky funds. Call it passion or hobby investing, it does pay off, sometimes better than the run-of-the-mill assets.
Brick by brick: Unopened, limited edition Lego sets on popular movies, famous buildings or holidays spell high returns; much more than long-term assets such as gold, art, jewellery and bonds. According to a study, the value for an unorthodox investment such as Lego soars by 11% annually on the secondary seller market. Superhero mini-figures and rare Barbie dolls also are worth a few bundles.
Cheers to that: They’re called liquid gold for a reason. Rare, single-malt whiskies are finding their place in the sun. Investing in a whisky fund is one way to go about it. In fact, according to The Wealth Report, rare whiskey remains one of the sixth most popular investments of passion among clients.
What Else Made The Signal?
Visa curbs: Changes to immigration laws proposed in the US will add new conditions for issuing H1B visas, restricting the ability of US companies to hire foreign high-skilled workers, a large number of who come from India.
Syringe crisis: Following a directive from the Haryana Pollution Control Board, Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices shut down its Haryana plant. This could potentially create a shortage of syringes in the country.
Off the peak: Netflix's survival drama Squid Game rolled off the weekly list of the top 10 most-watched TV shows in the US since it first premiered. It was the most talked-about show on Twitter this year.
It's raining jobs: Students at IIT Kharagpur have received 1,600 job offers, the highest among IITs. One student has been offered an annual starting salary of ₹2.4 crore.
All about flicks: Netflix has launched Tudum, a website that has every bit of update you need about the shows on its streaming platform.
Shell out: Hospital bills are likely to shoot up. Apollo and Fortis are set to revise their treatment rates to fight overhead costs.
Up: Surfing the Internet could become more expensive as service providers are expected to hike their rates.
Online duel: China has done to the US what Elon Musk does to rivals. Gripe on social media. US President Joe Biden’s ambitious Summit for Democracy had several world leaders weighing in on fair elections, safeguarding human rights and fighting corruption. But China slammed it saying the US was using democracy as a “weapon of mass destruction” and to “stoke divisions and confrontations”. And it literally made a song and dance of it titled It is Ameri-cracy.
Relic of the past: In January 1966, a Mumbai-Geneva Air India flight that also had nuclear scientist Homi Bhabha on board, crashed near the Mont Blanc summit killing all 117 passengers. Nearly six decades later, a climber found a "Made in India" box atop the mountain that held emeralds and sapphires and handed it to the local police. Now Chamonix Crystal Museum at the base of the mountain will exhibit the gems.
Game on: Excel spreadsheet pros fought tooth and nail in an esports-like competition this weekend. Winners of The Financial Modeling World Cup took home a sweet $10,000. The competition was bankrolled by Microsoft.
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