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2003. 2023. Same guy
Also in today’s edition: Is this the end of Miss Universe?; OpenAI goes postal; Breakthrough in the Israel-Hamas war; End of the Chanos era
Good morning! If the idea of needles drawing blood from your body gives you the heebie-jeebies, fret not, there’s hope. MIT Technology Review reports that the US Food and Drug Administration has cleared Smileyscope, a VR device for kids made to decrease the pain of a blood draw. How? By sending you to an underwater adventure with an animated character called Poggles the Penguin. The device alters real-life processes with virtual ones: the cool swipe of an alcohol wipe becomes cool waves washing over the arm; the pinch of the needle becomes a gentle fish nibble. Sounds ‘flow’-less!
Soumya Gupta, Dinesh Narayanan, and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: Asian shares were mixed in early trade although Japan’s Nikkei 225 hit a 33-year high on hopes that the US Federal Reserve is done with rate hikes and a rate-cut cycle will begin next year. The index has followed US markets, which were buoyant on Friday.
Oil prices rose on concerns that producers might cut back supply to support them.
Indian equities are likely to open flat, going by morning movement in the GIFT Nifty. Although Indian equities ended lower than their previous close on Friday, they finished with gains for the third straight week.
On Sunday, billionaire Gautam Adani, two union ministers and a deputy chief minister went to town saying that India had become a $4 trillion economy. While they celebrated the milestone, official sources of data such as the ministry of statistics and the finance ministry remained mum.
Australia Shatters 1.4 Billion Dreams
It’s not often you can hear a pin drop in a stadium with 130,000 spectators but it happened for a prolonged period on Sunday as Australia thrashed hosts India by six wickets in the men’s cricket World Cup final. We totally get it if you think it’s 2003 all over again. 😒
Spare a thought for the estimated 30,000-40,000 Indians who flocked to Ahmedabad for the final. Flight ticket prices had shot up by 200%-300% for round trips to Ahmedabad, while five-star hotels were charging ₹2 lakh-₹4 lakh ($2,400-$4,800) a night. If nothing else, the fast-developing Ahmedabad’s economy surely received a shot in the arm.
Despite the heavy defeat, the Indian team’s performance in the World Cup saved some of their employer’s blushes, after a delayed schedule release and a chaotic ticketing process. Not a good sign considering India aspires to host the Olympics in 13 years.
Her Crown? Ms. Bankruptcy
She’s a successful trans woman, single mother of two, running a listed, multinational, media empire that now owns the Miss Universe pageant. Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip is also in debt. Her company, JKN Global Group, filed for bankruptcy even as Miss Nicaragua was crowned the 72nd Miss Universe.
Mad rush: JKN Global’s troubles are part of a wider meltdown. Media companies threw money to acquire content rights during the pandemic but began losing viewers once countries lifted lockdowns. The company has been losing cash for the last three years and its stock is down 90% from last year.
Chump change: Jakrajutatip promised to make Miss Universe more progressive, starting with lifting the ban on married women and mothers. This year’s contestants included two trans women and a plus-size model. However, the pageant retained the controversial swimsuit round. Why? JKN Global is monetising the Miss Universe IP through merchandise, including swimsuits.
Ctrl + Altman + Delete
If this ages like milk by the time you’re done reading, blame not us but the theatre of the absurd at OpenAI. A recap of the still-ongoing drama that unfolded over the weekend at the hottest AI company: in a move blindsiding everyone—including Microsoft—chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, with the backing of the board (which he’s also part of) fired CEO Sam Altman. Greg Brockman was booted as board chair and resigned as company president in protest. OpenAI instated CTO Mira Murati as interim CEO. At least three senior researchers including Jakub Pachocki, who’s overseen the GPT language models powering ChatGPT, exited. OpenAI claims Altman hadn’t been “consistently candid in his communications with the board”.
Then, the coup against the coup. OpenAI and backers Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital, and Microsoft are working on reinstating Altman, Brockman & Co. If that happens, the board will be replaced. Easier said than done though.
OpenAI executives are denying whispers that Altman’s ouster had anything to do with malfeasance or concerns over profitability trumping AI safety. But the latter is likely. After OpenAI went for-profit in 2018, Altman became the face of the company, the one who brought in investments. Sutskever reportedly worried that this increasing commercialisation went against the charter of the non-profit parent, whose “primary fiduciary duty is to humanity.”
If the board upheld this charter, partaking in negotiations to U-turn its decision is a terrible look even to save the $86 billion share sale. In essence:
Let There Be Pause!
That’s the message from the Americans. As per reports, a US-brokered deal between Israel and Hamas seems to be in the works. The deal would require a five-day pause in fighting between the two sides, ensured by overhead surveillance. The goal is twofold: release hostages held in Gaza and resume humanitarian aid on ground via Egypt.
More than 240 hostages are estimated to be held captive in Gaza. The Israeli government is increasingly facing heat from its citizens over its inability to resolve the hostage crisis.
Nuance: The pause in fighting should not be mistaken for a ceasefire. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, POTUS Joe Biden noted the futility of a ceasefire, as doing so would only allow Hamas to revitalise themselves.
Chanos Could Not Bear It Any More
If bulls are batters, bears are bowlers. And much like cricket pitches and crowds, market conditions generally favour bulls. That is why one of the world’s most famous short-sellers, Jim Chanos, is shutting down his hedge funds.
Chanos, a 30-year veteran, who at one point managed $6 billion, famously spotted the rot at energy company Enron early and successfully bet on its spectacular collapse. His short on Tesla did not work, though. Chanos’ funds returned 20% from short-selling ideas in the past three years.
History: The most famous hedge fund fold-up prior to this was perhaps Julian Robertson winding up Tiger Management in 2000. After losing a lot of money, Robertson conceded that he did not understand tech and it was better he returned investors’ money.
Meanwhile: ProPublica reports that Warren Buffet, the Sage of Omaha, may not exactly be the saint he is made out to be.
Rescue ops: Seven days after an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarakhand, the government is considering drilling a new passage to rescue the 41 workers trapped inside. Reports suggest there were serious safety lapses in the project.
Fancy vroom: Luxury car makers Mercedes-Benz and Audi made record sales in India this festive season, particularly of SUVs.
Big win: Free market proponent Javier Milei, who has vowed to shut down the country’s central bank and abolish the peso for the US dollar, was elected Argentina’s new President.
We agree: Reuters reports that France, Germany, and Italy have arrived at a consensus on how artificial intelligence should be regulated. They prefer voluntary but binding commitments.
Stet: India’s rice exports ban may stay in place until at least the 2024 general elections, which will keep international prices under pressure, Bloomberg reports.
Route risk goes up: A Bahamas-flagged cargo ship owned by an Israeli billionaire and headed to India’s Pipavav port was seized by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.
Windfall: The ₹25,163 crore (~$3 billion) of Sahara’s refund money lying with market regulator Sebi may be handed over to the government.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The peak concurrency viewership record set by streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 final between India and Australia. (Business Standard)
La dolce vita: For fans of The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), it sure is. The fandom got together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tolkein’s passing at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome. Why there? Because it was organised by Italy’s Culture Ministry. You see, LOTR is a major symbol of the right wing in Italy. The books provided a safe alternative to the down-and-out Italians looking for heroes in a post-fascist world. With Giorgia Meloni’s rise to Prime Ministership, the exhibition (and the fandom) has turned into a frontier of the culture wars. 😮💨
Bon voyage: In a first, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed on an icy runway in Antarctica. The flight, operated by Norse Atlantic Airways, was chartered by 45 scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute. Its goal was to transfer them and 12 tonnes of equipment to the Troll research station in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. The plane’s historic landing could open new possibilities for logistics and research on the icy continent. Science FTW!
Grim Reaper: That’s what TMZ is being called these days. The entertainment daily has become the go-to source for reporting celebrity misfortunes. This break-neck speed and accuracy, though, is largely fulfilled by questionable ethics. The agency is regularly abetted by civil servants passing along unauthorised information, usually for a payout or because of the thrill. One example of this symbiotic relationship is that of the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s chief spokesman, who was dismissed for supposedly providing confidential information to the site. While TMZ’s reporting might be enthralling for its readers, those on the receiving end are often left feeling shortchanged.