Indo-Pacific’ Nudging ‘Asia-Pacific’ Off the Table as China’s Shadow Looms

The US recognizes the importance of India and renames its Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific command. And this calls for an affirmative action by India. Just Imagine. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken that boat ride from the Andamans to Indonesia – it draws Asia’s popular consciousness to India’s position at the heart of the now fashionable Indo-Pacific. As a bonus, India could have overwritten the memory of Indonesia wanting to capture the Andamans to help Pakistan in 1965.
Indo-Pacific, in concept and substance, will dominate this week when Modi delivers the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the first Indian PM to do so. After the Trump administration made ‘Indo-Pacific’ the latest geopolitical fad, nudging the older ‘Asia-Pacific’ off the table, it has become a hotly contested space. At present, Indo-Pacific means different things to different countries with varying degrees of comfort with the term.
The political context for the Indo-Pacific is fairly clear – China’s decision to break out of Asia over land and sea, as an aggressive and expansionist power, using commerce, debt and military intimidation as tools of her trade. China has an alternate Indo-Pacific policy, it’s called OBOR. This is being actively contested.
For Japan which claims ownership of the term, Shinzo Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” is an alternative to a Sino-centric vision of Asia and beyond – primarily economic and infrastructure oriented, offering Asian and African countries development and money but without village moneylender rules. The US has also embraced the term, positioning it in its recent national security strategy as a “geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order”.
Australia has been an early proponent of Indo-Pacific, washed as it is by both Indian and Pacific oceans. Its strategic outlook used to be more relaxed, basking in the benefits of trade until China’s intrusive presence became a political pinch. Indonesia – the giant of Asean – is slowly waking up to its own potential power in the maritime space of the Indo-Pacific. Does this sound like Quad-Plus? That would be too confining for India.
India’s view of the Indo-Pacific is rooted in a reclamation of its traditional strategic space in the Indian Ocean, gravitating outwards. Broken down to its bare bones, India’s Indo-Pacific policy is about expanding its strategic, economic and cultural playing ground to a space between the Red Sea and the Pacific, with the Indian Ocean as the core.
There are six interlocking layers to India’s Indo-Pacific policy, part based on aspiration, and part on ability – development of a blue economy that integrates and builds mutual prosperity; enhancing naval capabilities and building interoperable defence relationships; building infrastructure and connectivity linkages; informal alliances and groupings on security and humanitarian platforms; bolstering the centrality of Asean. Lastly, Indian cultural and religious links – the ties that bind throughout this region, for centuries.
A key aspect of India’s policy in the Indo-Pacific is inclusiveness – that seeks to give a stake to small countries, but also asks for greater contributions from other countries, and the complete absence of expansionist tendencies. On another level, this is demonstrated in the fact that the best functioning grouping is the India-Japan-US trilateral, and the most useful bilateral relationships in the Indian Ocean-Indo-Pacific space are between India and France, India-US and India-Australia.
For this to flourish, a rules-based order is imperative – India’s acceptance of the 2014 UNCLOS ruling giving Bangladesh 20,000 km of EEZ is not appreciated enough by the region. The contrast to the 2016 judgment against China in the South China Sea is stark. The mantra of multipolarity, just like in the rest of the world, works for Asia as well.
As Rory Medcalf of Australian National University has said, “The complex geostrategic beauty of this region, which no doublethink can deny, is that it is too big for one power to dominate. It’s meant for multipolarity and a diversity of partnerships.” That is why, it’s fine for powers invested in the Indo-Pacific to have their own granularities. Part of this will certainly involve working with China in areas that are of common concern, and that too, is okay.
But this is not where China is coming from. That is the core of the pushback mounted by Beijing. China did not issue demarches against the Quad countries after it was revived in November 2017, but in the past few months Beijing has mounted a diplomatic campaign where they have cleverly conflated the Quadrilateral with the concept of the Indo-Pacific. So the Quad has been sold as an ‘Asian Nato’ to some countries. In other capitals, Beijing has made the case that Asean would be history, subsumed in the Indo-Pacific. A similar message has been sent to India’s neighbours as well, according to diplomats who follow developments.
Most important, Russia, China’s closest strategic partner, has acceded to this line and given India some diplomatic grief. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent comments about “non-bloc” security architecture reflect this. Russia is probably the only global power with virtually no presence in this region.
Asia-Pacific is good enough, they say. Why do we need the Indo-Pacific? Well, Asia-Pacific excluded India and would keep her confined to South Asia. More importantly, it would countenance China’s push westwards to the Indian Ocean, but not India’s push eastwards to the Pacific. The core of the Asia-Pacific concept was the Apec, where even now China is opposed to India’s entry.
Former foreign secretary S Jaishankar who views the Indo-Pacific as a series of concentric circles, said recently, “the outer Indo-Pacific circle add(s) to the security and stability of the inner Indian Ocean one. For the lynchpin of the Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific represents a conceptualisation of the peaceful periphery on the seas.”

WEF Suggests a New Operating System for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Society’s operating system needs an upgrade. The model we have been using is simply not up to the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
A new era is unfolding at breakneck speed. It has huge potential to address some of the world’s most critical challenges, from food security, to reducing congestion in big cities, to increasing energy efficiency, to accelerating cures to the most intractable diseases. But it also raises a host of social and governance issues that need addressing.
Given the speed and scale of the changes, and the slow pace of processes defining governance models to handle them, present solutions to these questions are being rapidly superseded. We end up operating in the “too late zone”.
We need to think and act quickly. At the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, researchers are laying the foundations for a new, global “operating system (OS) to facilitate delineation between the rights and responsibilities of different stakeholders.
This is all part of efforts to ensure this new phase of civilization is human-centric, benefitting not just the privileged few and driven not by the imperatives of technological development, but serving all of society. We must ensure that algorithms driven by vast data harvesting are trustworthy; that artificial intelligence and machine learning are as ethical as they are intelligent; and that data ownership is clear. These questions and many more are coming at us faster than we can formulate answers.
What are the building blocks of an operating system that could cope with such complex questions?
Human-centric use of data
Maximizing the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while minimizing its negative impact requires us to adopt “human-centric design” principles. Using these, we can project the positive or negative impact of specific technologies on society into the future, and work backwards to identify the governance protocols needed to set the right course today.
Data plays a key role: where it comes from, who owns it, what you can do with it, and who takes the rewards.
This requires a layered approach to governance:
Layer 1: The blockchain – the foundation
Blockchain’s peer-to-peer security architecture, transparency and rapidly evolving features such as smart contracts and tokens make it an ideal platform to build a system of accurate, human-centric protocols.
Layer 2: The Internet of Things – where does the data come from?
There are already more connected IoT devices than people. By 2020, more than 20 billion IoT devices are anticipated. This represents a massive opportunity to collect and use data to solve our most intractable problems. But to protect ourselves from potential data misuse, and to provide the foundation for a healthy, secure and equitable data economy, three crucial IoT protocols are required:
Authentication
There must be a way for the OS to ensure data comes from trusted sources, otherwise data-derived algorithms may be skewed by “fake data” being pumped into the system. This authentication must be highly secure, cross-industry and not under any single governmental control: a perfect opportunity to use blockchain.
⦁ Ethics Switch
What happens if a data-derived algorithm asks a car or bus to drive into a crowd of people? Or a transformer to cut off power to the population? Or a high-speed train to accelerate near the train station and crash? A medical device to stop functioning and kill its host? A drone to fly into electric transmission lines? At the moment, we have no methods for knowing what these data-derived algorithms are, nor means for influencing their design principles.
So how do we prevent them from harming society? Human-centric values must be embedded in the OS in such a way that it can apply them to the myriad practical situations confronting it every day. The Ethics Switch in the OS must allow for ethical rules to be deployed based on the legal framework of the relevant jurisdiction (city, state, nation, region).
These rules, as defined by the jurisdictions, could be designed using blockchain smart contracts to ensure that no-one can tamper with them, and that they can be downloaded and updated using the next protocol. Ideally these ethics rules should be universally agreed on. But there is a need for urgent action. The Ethics Switch framework could be used subsequently, once these universal rules are defined and updated.
Over the Air (OTA) upgrade
If devices are hacked or legal frameworks change, their software and security needs to be upgradeable without the need for physical replacement, hence the need for OTA upgrades much like those currently in use on smart phones.
With these protocols in place, we can ensure that the data are coming from trusted sources, and we can allow for the combination of vast sums of data across different domains to “de-bias” data sets, resulting in better algorithms.
Layer 3: Data ownership – who owns it, what can be done with it, and who gets the rewards?
A key concern for governments and citizens is data privacy. In the absence of any other means of control, governments tend to prohibit the movement of data outside borders, or they apply the laws of the jurisdiction in which the data is collected if it is taken across national borders. While this may reduce misuse of data, it also obstructs us combining global data sets to accelerate innovation in critical areas such as agriculture, the environment, traffic, energy and health. It also prevents multinational companies from combining data sets to support their global operations.
A decoupled architecture would address concerns while maximizing potential. It would consist of the following aspects:
⦁ Ownership
The relevant agency will need to be able to determine the rightful owner of the data (person, farmer, corporation, state etc.).
⦁ Right to use
The owner of the data will need to be able to specify the purpose and duration it can be used for (using, for instance, blockchain smart contracts). These contracts would be attached to the datasets, and would act as gatekeepers when the data are being accessed to ensure permitted use.
Rewards: The owner will determine if there needs to be any compensation for the right to use. Such a reward system could be based on blockchain tokens issued by public or private sector organizations, much like the loyalty programs that are in common use today.
For example, this would allow me, as a user, to specify that my genetic data can be used for cancer research for two years without any compensation. But if a drug manufacturer wants to access it, I could limit that use to six months and ask for compensation in the form of, say, tokens issued by the pharmaceutical company. When the terms of the smart contract expire, data access is automatically removed by the OS.
How would one value the tokens? In the same way that a cup of coffee or carbon emissions are valued, that is through “token exchanges” to be set up at the national, regional or perhaps global level, as we have done with commodity exchanges.
The rapidly emerging “edge computing” architecture, featuring smarter devices with larger data storage capacities and longer battery lives, would provide computing architecture for these vast sums of data. They would be stored closer to the “point of collection” and made available, subject to the protocols above, near the “moment of consumption”.
This protocol would also allow for flexible and secure use of data in emergencies such as wars or natural disasters, which would be regulated by international agencies. The owner of a satellite network would then be able to share their data in such cases, knowing that it would not be used outside permitted use.
Layer 4: Cross-border data flows
To fulfil the global potential of these protocols, this new operating system architecture requires interoperable – though not necessarily identical – cross-border data flow protocols across countries and regions.
For example, the CEO of a start-up operating in the “precision agriculture” space told me that in an African country, they were instrumenting the agriculture fields to dramatically increase (double and triple) the yield. But to do so, they needed to combine data from that country with other countries’ data, to avoid a biased data set. This was complicated by existing data protection protocols, as the data was not allowed to be taken out of the country.
Taxes, Intellectual Property, Legal System, Insurance
We also need to consider taxation, intellectual property rights and insurance in the context of this new operating system.
If I can 3D print a product, for example, I am effectively importing it, even though it has not passed any physical border. Should I be required to pay a fee? How do we ensure the authenticity of the design specification? How does the creator of the product get paid?
If an algorithm is derived from data coming from multiple sources, and there is no “human ingenuity” involved, is it patentable, and by whom?
Finally, on the insurance front, if the outcome of a decision made by an algorithm is harmful, who is at fault?
A world of possibilities
The above protocols apply to many areas set to be a feature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: drones, autonomous vehicles, precision medicine, 3D printing, robotics, and our management of the earth’s resources.
The advances could be paradigm-shattering. Consider the following examples:
During a recent visit to India, I was informed by government officials that at state hospitals, there is one doctor for every 12,000 citizens. It is impossible to build enough hospitals and train enough doctors to meet the demand, particularly with the population continuing to rise.
What if, once a week, we could swallow or sniff a nanoparticle – later flushed out of the body – that would collect and securely upload our cellular data and vitals to the largest scientific knowledge base? After consultation with an AI-assisted doctor, a personalized formula for medication could be downloaded to the person’s mobile device, to be 3D-printed at a kiosk. Using this science-fiction-like (but completely possible) model, personalized medicine could be delivered to hundreds of millions of people, rich or poor, without the need for building hospitals and training doctors.
Traffic congestion in cities is a major cause of stress, productivity loss and environmental degradation. It also pushes people out of city-centre jobs, because the commute from the suburbs becomes too strenuous. What if only autonomous taxis and buses were allowed in city centres? The number of parking spaces could be reduced, making cities more liveable. Public transport would become faster, safer and cheaper, with elderly and young people no longer forced to wait in bus queues or walk from the station to their homes. Emergency services would become more effective. Workers could commute to their city-centre jobs more quickly.
However, this would also mean job losses – for bus and taxi drivers, for instance – so citizens would need skills retraining and social protection. Revenue for the cities would also decline, with fewer parking and traffic fines, so vehicle usage could incur a consumption-based charge depending on time of day, vehicle used and location.
Illegal fishing, particularly tuna fishing, is a source of major income loss for some nations, as well as a disruption to the ecosystem. Sanctions are largely useless, as by the time fishermen are caught, the fish are already dead. What if we could collect data from low-orbit satellites, use machine-learning algorithms to detect illegal activity, then deploy drones to prevent it?
Smallholder farmers are a key source of income and a significant food security topic, particularly in emerging markets. What if we could bring the Internet of Things (IoT) to agriculture, gathering data on sunshine, precipitation and soil conditions and delivering the right kind of fertilizer, in the correct quantities, by drone? We could consume fewer agriculture products and increase yields.
Existing regulatory frameworks and governance models are getting in the way of such advances. During the Forum’s recent Latin America Meeting in São Paulo, the head of a national innovation agency shared a story about his daughter, an oncologist in the US, who devised a blood test to detect pancreatic cancer long before traditional methods. When she needed data from nearby hospitals to validate the test, existing privacy laws prevented the hospitals sharing the data. Those laws were written at a time when such innovation was not a possibility.
A Nordic country delegation, on a visit to the Center a few months ago, said they have vast amounts of environment data that they are willing to share, but cannot find a mechanism to do so.
At the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and through our global network, we are working with governments, business, academia and civil society to co-design this new operating system. It will provide transparency, accountability and innovative ways to solve the complex challenges of the new technology revolution. We need to think big, act quickly, and lay the foundations for a new, fairer, technology-based and global society.

China as renewable energy champion needs a new approach

 

China uses subsidies to make renewable energy generation more attractive. How much is it helping?
The development of renewable energy in China has attracted global attention in recent years. In 2012, China’s installed capacity of wind and solar power was 61GW and 3.4GW respectively, while the annual electricity generated by renewables was only 2.1% of China’s total consumption. By 2017, China’s wind and solar power capacity had increased to 168.5 GW and 130.06 GW respectively, and renewables were generating 5.3% of China’s electricity supply.
At present, China leads the world in terms of wind and solar power capacity. And with large-scale industrial applications, the costs have fallen substantially. A good example is photovoltaic (PV) technology: the price of PV modules decreased from about 30 Yuan per watt in 2007 to about 10 Yuan in 2012, and by 2017 it had decreased further to just 2 Yuan per watt.
The success of China’s renewable energy drive fully illustrates the effectiveness of China’s on-grid tariff subsidies. The advantage of the on-grid tariff policy – through which the government can make renewable energy production more competitive and attractive to businesses and investors – is that it anchors the revenue of power generation throughout the entire life cycle. In this way, it conveys a clear price signal to investors, and can effectively support the early stages of renewable energy development.
However, alongside the rapid expansion of installed capacity, the total amount of renewable subsidies is also mounting rapidly. Based on the average on-grid electricity tariff, the total amount of wind and PV subsidies in 2012 came to about 60 billion yuan, a figure that had increased to 170 billion yuan by 2017. Although the government reduced the subsidy several times during this period, the total amount of subsidy continued to climb. The subsidies for renewable energy should be compensated by the renewable surcharge collected from end consumers. China’s renewable surcharge was 0.015 yuan/kWh in 2012, and rose to 0.019 yuan/kWh in 2016. There was a surplus of 15 billion yuan in the account of China’s ‘renewable energy subsidy’ in 2012, but by 2017 it had turned into a large deficit of about 80 billion yuan.
Therefore, China’s expansion of renewables will inevitably lead to a rapid increase in subsidies. Solutions to accommodate rapid renewable expansion usually lead to two phenomena: one is the rapid growth of end consumer tariffs, such as in Germany, and the other is maintaining high subsidies, such as in China, but with a large subsidy deficit.
The rapid development of renewables in Germany has led to a significant rise in electricity tariffs, which have nearly doubled over the past decade, making Germany one of the countries with the highest electricity tariffs in Europe. Of these tariffs, the largest incremental has been the renewable energy surcharges. At present, Germany’s renewable surcharge roughly amounts to 0.8 yuan/kWh – or €0.11 – which alone is equivalent to China’s average end consumer tariffs. This has had a considerable negative impact and has provoked great opposition. As a result, the development of renewables in Germany has slowed sharply in the last two years.
Last year, there was an appeal to increase China’s renewable surcharge to 0.3 yuan/kWh in order to balance the subsidy deficit. But it did not happen. Instead, the government this year lowered the end consumer tariffs for industrial and commercial consumers by 10%. It would seem it is not possible to increase funding for renewable subsidies. At the same time, the installed capacity of China’s PV surged significantly. In the first nine months of 2017, about 42GW of new capacity had been installed and this increased the subsidy bill by nearly 30 billion yuan.
At present in China the quality of renewables, rather than the quantity, should be prioritized. Since competitiveness is crucial to future development, subsidies should be designed in such a way as to favour competitiveness. The current approach – subsidy based on quantity (generation hours) – could possibly prompt some enterprises to overlook the long-term interests of the industry in order to make short-term profits.
The curtailment of wind and solar in China is largely due to the imbalance in China’s energy endowment. The majority of renewable generation is concentrated in western China, but the market’s capacity to accommodate wind and solar power there is very limited. Despite the government’s efforts, the relatively large curtailment is likely to continue, as long as renewable installed capacity continues to grow rapidly. As such, the government might need to consider reducing subsidies to contain the enthusiasm for renewables. Further, with the current electricity surplus in China, transferring subsidy reductions into cost reductions can reduce inefficient capacity installations. Reducing subsidies can also force renewables manufacturers and power plant investors to consider future investments more carefully, and encourage them to look for more economical projects.
All subsidies are, in general, temporary and unsustainable. With the rapid growth of renewable energy, the increasing financial burden will inevitably lead to the reduction and even elimination of subsidies. It is problematic for an industry to plan long-term development with a reliance on subsidies. Further, with the costs of renewables falling drastically, the marginal stimulus effect of subsidies on renewables has been greatly reduced. It could be more effective to promote renewable development by implementing environmental tax, carbon trading and a carbon tax.
Renewable subsidies should be used to encourage technological innovation. Only the cost reductions brought about by innovation will be certain and permanent. It is commonly understood that the 21st century is a time for renewable development. However, renewable energy development still encounters challenges. Given that the businesses involved in renewables are still by and large struggling in their financial performances, government support is still needed and, in particular, technological innovation needs sufficient financial support.
If subsidy is still necessary at this stage, the government should change the way subsidy is granted. For example, the government could consider subsidising renewable energy enterprises for a fixed quantity until the quota runs out. This can prevent renewables firms from indulging in illegal behaviour, and force them to improve their competitiveness through innovation. Further, the government could move subsidy to the upstream of the industrial value chain to support key technologies such as energy storage.
As renewable energy in China enters this stage of rapid growth, subsidy policy should be more flexible and better designed to reflect reality. The government needs to carefully design subsidies in order to stimulate innovation and to address the developmental problems of renewables.

Companies Need Adapt to The Changing World

Although we have only seen the beginning, one thing is already clear: the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the greatest transformation human civilization has ever known. As far-reaching as the previous industrial revolutions were, they never set free such enormous transformative power.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming practically every human activity: the way we make things; the way we use the resources of our planet; the way we communicate and interact with each other as humans; the way we learn; the way we work; the way we govern; and the way we do business. Its scope, speed and reach are unprecedented.
Think of it: Just 10 years ago, there was no such thing as a smartphone. Today, no one leaves home without it.
Just a few decades ago, the internet connected computers at just a few sites. Today, practically every human being can connect to a network that spans the entire globe and provides access to the greatest repository of information and knowledge ever created by humankind.
Enormous power entails enormous risk. Yes, the stakes are high. If we get the revolution right, digitalization will benefit the nearly 10 billion humans inhabiting our planet in the year 2050. If we get it wrong, societies will be divided into winners and losers, social unrest and anarchy will arise, the glue that holds societies and communities together will disintegrate, and citizens will no longer believe that governments are able to fulfill their purpose of enforcing the rule of law and providing security.
That’s why the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just about technology or business; it’s about society. It is fascinating when a computer beats the best human GO player, when bots write texts, and machines “talk” to each other. Nevertheless, we humans define the algorithms that govern machines and not the other way around. And make no mistake about it: we are now writing the code that will shape our collective future.
That’s happening in manufacturing right now. What we call Industrie 4.0 enables manufacturers to create a “digital twin” of the entire manufacturing environment – from lab to factory floor, from showroom to service. Manufacturers can design, simulate, and test sophisticated products in the virtual domain before making the first physical prototype, before setting up production lines, and before starting actual production.
Software helps optimize every process and every task, whether performed by humans or machines. Once everything works in the virtual world, the results are transferred to the physical world, the machines, and they close the loop by reporting back to the virtual world.
This seamless integration of the virtual and the physical worlds in so-called cyber-physical systems – that is the giant leap we see today. It eclipses everything that has happened in industry so far. As in previous industrial revolutions but on a much larger scale, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will eliminate millions of jobs and create millions of new jobs. And because manufacturing accounts for 70% of global trade, this really is about “the wealth of nations”, to quote Adam Smith. That raises the question: what can we do to make sure as many citizens as possible benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
First, we can learn from the past and lay the conceptual foundation for an inclusive society. In the middle of the 20th century, thought leaders such as the economist Alfred Müller-Armack developed the so-called social market economy, Germany’s model of success to this day.
He envisioned an open society that aims to “unite the principle of the free market with that of the fair distribution of prosperity”. This vision is more relevant today than ever before because it points the way to an inclusive form of capitalism and to a sustainable model of economic and social well-being. I believe that the next step on the path to inclusiveness is to significantly raise standards for business as far as social responsibility and sustainability are concerned.
Contrary to Milton Friedman’s maxim, the business of business should not just be business. Shareholder value alone should not be the yardstick. Instead, we should make stakeholder value, or better yet, social value, the benchmark for a company’s performance.
Today, stakeholders – customers, shareholders, suppliers, employees, political leaders, society as a whole – rightfully expect companies to assume greater social responsibility, for example, by protecting the climate, fighting for social justice, aiding refugees, and training and educating workers. The business of business should be to create value for society. We call this “business to society”.
Second, because the Fourth Industrial Revolution runs on knowledge, we need a concurrent revolution in training and education. Here, both government and business must join forces to provide workers with the skills and qualifications they need to participate in the digital economy, for instance, by being able to tap the opportunities created by artificial intelligence. If the workforce doesn’t keep up with advances in knowledge throughout their lives, how will the millions of new jobs be filled?
Third, we must encourage innovation and the ability to adapt. Digitalization has demonstrated its disruptive power in the past; it has turned entire industries upside down. You know the saying, “The internet cuts out the middleman”. Digital technologies enable completely new business models – and now we see that they enable new social models. One of these is the sharing economy. It challenges one of the fundamental precepts of our economic order: the prominent role of property. Whether you consider this good or bad, it’s reality.
Fourth, as leaders we must summon the courage to address the tough questions. And there are plenty of them. How can we secure the future of those whose jobs will be eliminated by machines? Do we need a guaranteed basic income? Should we impose taxes on software and robots? Do companies that provide global IT platforms have to comply with national rules and regulations? If so, how can they be enforced? What freedoms and rights should individuals have in the digital age?
These are the tough questions we face today. And I don’t think longing for the alleged “good old days” will yield good answers. In his book “Retrotopia”, the Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman maintains that many have lost all faith in the idea of building a future society and turn to the ideas of the past, buried but not dead.
Instead, we should look forward, point out both the opportunities and risks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and then roll up our sleeves and create answers that really work for us and future generations.

Tackling Ocean Plastic Pollution in an Innovative Manner

Recent years have seen an unprecedented recognition of the rising tide of ocean plastic pollution. But it has become clear that despite significant levels of dedication, innovation and investment, clean-ups cannot keep pace. While essential for tackling the symptoms of the plastic pollution crisis, they do not address the root causes.
More than 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, yet the three biggest clean-ups deal with just 0.5% of that pollution. This crisis urgently demands innovators, industry and governments to develop systemic solutions that prevent plastic from becoming waste in the first place. That is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its $2 million New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize last May, funded by Wendy Schmidt, Lead Philanthropic Partner of the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.
The Circular Design Challenge focused on the vast amount of small items such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids that are currently not recycled and often end up in the environment.
The Circular Materials Challenge targeted the lightweight, flexible packaging used for some of our favourite, but most technically demanding, products. Around 13% of today’s packaging, such as crisp packets and food wrappers, is made of layers of different materials fused together. This multi-layer construction provides important functions like keeping food fresh but also makes the packaging difficult to recycle. Combined with the necessary infrastructure, the Circular Materials Challenge winners innovations could prevent the equivalent of 100 garbage bags per second of plastic waste being created.
Meet the Circular Design Challenge Winners
Rethinking grocery shopping
MIWA, from the Czech Republic, introduces an app that lets shoppers order the exact quantities of the groceries they need, which are then delivered in reusable packaging from the producer to their closest store or to their home.
Algramo, a Chilean social enterprise, offers products in small quantities in reusable containers across a network of 1,200 local convenience stores in Chile.
Redesigning sachets
Hundreds of billions of sachets are sold each year to get small quantities of personal care and food products, such as shampoo and soy sauce, to people mostly in emerging markets. Those sachets are not recycled and many end up polluting the ocean.
Evoware, an Indonesian start-up, designs food wrappings and sachets (containing, for example, instant coffee or flavouring for noodles) made out of a seaweed-based material that can be dissolved and eaten.
Delta, from the United Kingdom, offers a compact technology that allows restaurants to make and serve sauces in edible and compostable sachets.
Reinventing coffee-to-go
More than 100 billion disposable coffee cups are sold globally every year, yet today almost none of them (nor their lids) are recycled.
CupClub, based in the United Kingdom, introduces a reusable cup subscription service, in which reusable cups can be dropped off at any participating store.
TrioCup from the US offers a disposable paper cup made with an origami-like technique that removes the need for a plastic lid. The team has chosen a 100% compostable material and is working on an alternative that is 100% recyclable.
Make unrecyclable packaging recyclable
The University of Pittsburgh team applies nano-engineering to create a recyclable material that can replace complex multi-layered packaging that is unrecyclable. This mimics the way nature uses just a few molecular building blocks to create a huge variety of materials.
Aronax Technologies Spain proposes a magnetic additive that can be applied to a material, creating better air and moisture insulation – making it suitable to protect sensitive products such as coffee and medicines, while still being possible to recycle.
Working together, Full Cycle Bioplastics, Elk Packaging, and Associated Labels and Packaging make a compostable high-performance material from renewable materials, agricultural by-products and food waste to pack a broad range of products from granola bars and crisps to laundry detergent.
Combining materials that nature can handle
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has created a compostable multi-layer material from agricultural and forestry by-products, which could be used for stand-up food pouches for products like muesli, nuts, dried fruit and rice.
Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research has developed a coating with silicate and biopolymers that can be used in many different food packaging applications and is fully compostable.
Each winner will now work with experts to make their concepts marketable at scale, as part of a 12-month accelerator programme, run in collaboration with innovation catalysers Think Beyond Plastic.
These innovations demonstrate the possibilities when the principles of a circular economy are embraced, but achieving them will require new levels of commitment and collaboration from industry, governments, designers and start-ups. It will rely on investment to scale up new alternatives and provide the necessary collection and sorting infrastructure to support it. That is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation welcomes the latest steps from leading businesses and governments towards creating a circular economy for plastics.
We have seen the list of major brands, retailers and packaging companies working towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier has grown to 11 – Amcor, Ecover, evian, L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Walmart and Werner & Mertz – together representing around 6 million tonnes of plastic packaging per year.
In December, the French government reaffirmed its commitment towards systemic solutions, pledging to recycle 100% of plastics by 2025. In March they will unveil a circular economy roadmap of the practical steps needed to realize those ambitions. The benefits include new jobs and increased competitiveness and innovation according to Brune Poirson, Secretary of State to the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition.
In the UK, WRAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have announced a partnership to establish the first national implementation initiative of the New Plastics Economy in the UK, a unique government-backed collaboration bringing together businesses, governments and other stakeholders to make step changes in creating and implementing circular economy solutions to plastic waste.
Others around the world must follow their lead.

Marriages,Royal and Political: Indian Media Style

What if channels covered the royal wedding like the Karnataka drama?
In this topsy-turvy world, anything is possible. Why international channels like BBC World and CNN International may even report on events in India while Indian news channels go where they have never been before — abroad. Unless of course, they’re accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi, something they didn’t do on his informal summit with the Russian President in Sochi, with the exception of WION which found the two leaders on a yacht ride, “beamed live across the world”, it said. Evidently, India inhabits another planet, since we did not see Narendra bhai beaming at brother Vladimir. Wonder if they discussed fixing the 2019 Indian elections… but we digress.
Last Friday-Saturday, BBC World and CNN International did what Indian news channels do best: Covered a single event for up to 48 hours. (Did we learn it from them — remember the continuous coverage of Prince Diana’s death?) Harry and Meghan were about to harness US-Britain relations in a splendid open air coach, which Frank Sinatra has immortalised: “Love and marriage/Love and marriage/Go together like a horse and carriage.”
Now, there’s nothing the Americans like better than a British royal wedding. And, if it happens to feature a certain beautiful lady from the United Suits of America, nothing like it. Especially, for channels like CNN which could then wear the Union Jack on its sleeve, which was better than wearing a one-piece swimsuit embossed with Prince Harry’s face in such a way that his bearded chin nestled you-know-where. Oops. Indian and foreign news channels (Fox News) marvelled at the daring of this garment design and wondered who’d wear it.
On precisely the same days, the Congress and JD(S) were trying to tie the knot of coalition politics in Karnataka. Imagine, as John Lennon advised, if our channels covered their transatlantic alliance (no, not NATO) and they came to our “mahagathbandhan”.
Let’s see now.
DD News: Since privy purses were abolished, DD has no experience of royal weddings. The closest it comes to spectacles is the Republic Day parade: “This is a historical day, a historical wedding at the historical Windsor Abbey, under a clear blue sky, perfect for a cloud fly past… thousands of thrilled royal fans wait to catch a glimpse of the Ascot Landau, one of five in the royal mews, dating back to 1883.”
ABP: The channel’s flagship show, Viral Sach analysed videos that had Markle marrying another man. The TV sleuths found the videotape was genuine and fake: Meghan as Rachel had indeed married Mike in the concluding episode of the TV series Suits.
NDTV I: Ravish Kumar was too busy tracking unemployed youth in his latest series to worry about such colonial leftovers as British royalty.
Meanwhile, CNN: Richard Quest was outside Delhi’s Supreme Court at 4 am: “There’s a race against time here in the muggy precincts of India’s premier court, to decide who will marry whom in Karnataka — a marriage which could possibly send the Sensex crashing.”
At Aaj Tak: Its daily Saas Bahu aur Betiyan announced that Bonny Prince Charlie’s decision to walk the bride down the aisle had inspired a new serial starring Kapil Sharma (since he is out of work). A working title? Kyunki Sasur Bhi Kabhi… They have still to decide what it’s about.
Friday morn, BBC World Service: “As the sun starts to rise above the skyline of Lutyens Delhi — once part of the British empire — devoted fans of JD(S) leaders Coo-mara-swamy celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to give the BJP’s Yeddy-ooo-rapa only till tomorrow to prove his majority.”
Zee News: Anchor Sudhir Chowdhary: Why is Priyanka Chopra at the wedding instead of the Pradhan Mantri of India: Is it an ISI or anti-national conspiracy?
One Hindi channel. Image of a bull: “This bull has been named Merry — as a compliment to Me(ghan) and (Ha)rry — a gift for the couple from PETA.”
BBC: Lyce Doucet, Bengaluru: “Behind me, is the hotel in Bangalore where Congress legislators are staying, ‘kidnapped’ by their own party, the BJP says. When they arrived, they looked remarkably happy and relaxed.”
CNN: “This is Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi, my colleagues are in Hyderabad, New Delhi and Washington. Let me ask all of you, is this the beginning of regime change in Indian politics? Are we seeing this marriage between two old foes as transformative of the monarchy, sorry of India?”
Richard Quest: “Well, I am at the poolside of this marvellous hotel and I have just discovered that the gentleman swimming beside me is the missing Congress legislator!”
Times Now: “Who took the sparkle out of Markle’s eyes? Ladies and gentleman, why is Meghan Markle’s father not attending the wedding? Is it a conspiracy hatched by Michael Curry, a man in a hurry to play her Reverend Father at the wedding?”
Republic: “On this Super Saturday, exclusive news that Meghan Markle’s father was kidnapped by the Congress Party and hidden along with its MLAs. This is an unholy alliance to prevent a man from giving away his daughter. That is the truth and the truth is revolting.”

Farmers Learning to Grow Food Sans Soil & Natural Light

When agriculture is embedded in national culture many people are creating urban farming methods. Growing food in cities became popular in Europe and North America during and immediately after World War II. Urban farming provided citizens with food, at a time when resources were desperately scarce. In the decades that followed, parcels of land which had been given over to allotments and city farms were gradually taken up for urban development. But recently, there has been a renewed interest in urban farming – albeit for very different reasons than before.
In process of nvestigating how urban farming is evolving across Europe, I found that in countries where growing food was embedded in the national culture, many people have started new food production projects. There was less uptake in countries such as Greece and Slovenia, where there was no tradition of urban farming. Yet a few community projects had recently been started in those places too.
Today’s urban farmers don’t just grow food to eat; they also see urban agriculture as a way of increasing the diversity of plants and animals in the city, bringing people from different backgrounds and age groups together, improving mental and physical health and regenerating derelict neighbourhoods.
Many new urban farming projects still struggle to find suitable green spaces. But people are finding inventive solutions; growing food in skips or on rooftops, on sites that are only temporarily free, or on raised beds in abandoned industrial yards. Growers are even using technologies such as hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics to make the most of unoccupied spaces.
Something fishy
Hydroponic systems were engineered as a highly space and resource efficient form of farming. Today, they represent a considerable source of industrially grown produce; one estimate suggests that, in 2016, the hydroponic vegetable market was worth about US$6.9 billion worldwide.
Hydroponics enable people to grow food without soil and natural light, using blocks of porous material where the plants’ roots grow, and artificial lighting such as low-energy LED. A study on lettuce production found that although hydroponic crops require significantly more energy than conventionally grown food, they also use less water and have considerably higher yields.
Growing hydroponic crops usually requires sophisticated technology, specialist skills and expensive equipment. But simplified versions can be affordable and easy to use.
Hemmaodlat is an organisation based in Malmö, in a neighbourhood primarily occupied by low-income groups and immigrants. The area is densely built, and there’s no green space available to grow food locally. Plus, the Swedish summer is short and not always ideal for growing crops. Instead, the organisation aims to promote hydroponic systems among local communities, as a way to grow fresh food using low-cost equipment.
The Bristol Fish Project is a community-supported aquaponics farm, which breeds fish and uses the organic waste they produce to fertilise plants grown hydroponically. GrowUp is another aquaponics venture located in an East London warehouse – they grow food and farm fish using only artificial light. Similarly, Growing Underground is an enterprise that produces crops in tunnels, which were originally built as air raid shelters during World War II in London.
The next big thing?
The potential to grow food in small spaces, under any environmental conditions, are certainly big advantages in an urban context. But these technologies also mean that the time spent outdoors, weathering the natural cycles of the seasons, is lost. Also, hydroponic systems require nutrients that are often synthesised chemically – although organic nutrients are now becoming available. Many urban farmers grow their food following organic principles, partly because the excessive use of chemical fertilisers is damaging soil fertility and polluting groundwater.
To see whether these drawbacks would put urban growers off using hydroponic systems, scientists conducted a pilot study in Portsmouth & installed small hydroponic units in two local community gardens, and interviewed volunteers and visitors to the gardens. Many of the people they spoke to were well informed about hydroponic technology, and knew that some of the vegetables sold in supermarkets today are produced with this system.?
Many were fascinated by the idea of growing food without soil within their community projects, but at the same time reluctant to consume the produce because of the chemical nutrients used. A few interviewees were also uncomfortable with the idea that the food was not grown naturally. They intend to repeat this experiment in the near future, to see how public opinion changes over time.
And while hydroponic systems can replace the enjoyment that growing food in soil can offer, they can save water and produce safe food, either indoors or outdoors, in a world with increasingly scarce resources. Learning to use these new technologies, and integrating them into existing projects, can only help to grow even more sustainable food.
As with many technological advancements, it could be that a period of slow acceptance will be followed by rapid, widespread uptake. Perhaps the fact that IKEA is selling portable hydroponic units, while hydroponic cabinets are on the market as components of kitchen systems, is a sign that this technology is primed to enter mainstream use.

Plea for Self-driving & Autonomous Trains

Trains could once again dominate long-distance travel – if the industry opens its arms to new technologies.  Judging by the frequency that self-driving cars are mentioned in scientific discussions and the media, they are not only the next big thing but might actually take over as our main means of transportation.
Traditional industries like the railways, on the other hand, seem to have lost that race already.
But, what if new technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices and Artificial Intelligence (AI), were not only used to create new transportation modes, but to transform old ones as well?
If we get this digitization right, then trains, as the winners of the first industrial revolution, could, in fact, be here to stay.
Long-distance
It is true that the technology behind autonomous cars has enormous potential and that they might emerge as the winners when it comes to shorter distances.
But I believe that trains have a very real chance at becoming the transportation of choice for long-distance travel.
How exactly could digitization make this happen?
With the help of new digital processes, rail companies could increase the capacity of their networks and resolve traffic bottlenecks. This will, in turn, help more people reach their destinations sooner.
The use of emerging technologies could also mean that the trains of the future will not only be more comfortable, but also more energy-efficient, safer and faster than cars over long distances.
Some pieces of this puzzle are already in place.
What is left for the rail industry is to identify the change still necessary to become ready for the future, and to accept IoT technologies and AI as its chief enablers.
What the rail industry already has going for it
1. Rail is energy-efficient. Government institutions examine the energy efficiency of different transportation means on a frequent basis. A recent US study, for instance, shows that high-speed trains are up to eight times more efficient than commercial planes, and four times more energy-efficient than cars over the same distance. While the overall trend remains the same globally, the numbers vary for different regions.
High-speed trains in Europe need only one-third of the energy used by automotive travel. The Japanese high-speed rail industry is even more advanced – it uses only one-sixth of the energy.
2. Rail traffic is clean. Cargo transport on the road produces eight times more CO2 emissions than freight trains. These numbers become even more clear when combining freight and passenger transport: railway companies only account for 1.3% of the total CO2 emissions in the transport sector, whereas aviation makes up 12.4%, ships 12.7% and road transport amounts to 72.2% of the emissions.
3. Rail is safer than other means of passenger transportation. The US Department of Transportation reports that, in 2010, the number of people injured on the highway was 304 times higher than the number of casualties in railroad accidents.
In Europe, where the predominance of car travel isn’t as pronounced as it is in North America, the numbers still show a clear trend: fifteen times as many people were fatally wounded in car accidents in 2013 than in railway-related accidents.
4. Rail is already on the rise. The total length of high-speed railway lines in Central Europe has increased 16-fold since 1981 and the expansion of the European rail network is still ongoing.
In general, worldwide passenger transport by train has doubled since 1985. People seem to like taking the train and they won’t stop anytime soon.
The challenges that lie ahead and how can we tackle them?
Low network capacities and traffic bottlenecks on busy routes are among the main factors that are holding back progress in the rail industry.
If we can’t figure out how to bring even more passengers and trains on railway tracks, and how to make sure that these trains arrive on time, then rail won’t be part of the “future of mobility”. The rail industry needs to adopt new technologies and operational processes in order to keep up.
IoT technologies and AI have the potential to enable this change ­– and in some areas it has already begun. Smart infrastructure components and autonomous trains will soon be interconnected and able to communicate with each other.
This machine-to-machine communication supports the efficiency of train services. It also means that smart sensors can transmit field data to the right platforms as efficiently as possible, that machine data can be used for more than just operation protocols, and that data from very diverse sources can easily be aggregated.
If train network operators combine these smart devices with machine learning algorithms, they can optimize their routes in real-time and distribute traffic more evenly.
Bottlenecks and maintenance
A very common reason for temporary traffic bottlenecks are unplanned maintenance actions.
Railway lines are closed completely or speed restrictions are put into place until the damage to the infrastructure can be fixed. Even though this problem has been around for as long as rail travel exists, it does not mean we have to accept it as inevitable.
Rail companies have already started to install smart sensors in their trains and infrastructure, so that they can react faster when problems arise.
Technologies, which use both this so-called “condition-monitoring” and AI, go one step further.
These solutions not only monitor the current health of rail infrastructure, but can also predict wear and potential failures in advance, and so enable rail companies to plan their maintenance in time and prevent train delays.
Route optimization in real-time, and fewer train delays caused by unplanned maintenance would not only reduce operational costs for rail companies, but make rail travel more appealing to passengers.
Add this to helpful IoT applications for the modern traveller, such as interactive maps of train stations, mobile tickets or journey planning apps, and railway will become part of the future of transportation – especially for long-distance travel.

US and Europe

“It is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that country is to be marked out as the eternal ally or perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Lord Palmerston said this to the House of Commons in March 1848 but his words were misunderstood and misquoted.
However, interests do not speak by themselves; they are perceived. Europe’s perception of its ally America was affected by its policies on Iraq. President Donald Trump’s cry of ‘America First’ shook its complacency. Now, his decision to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran has shattered it. His abrupt calling off of the summit with Kim Jong-un will add to the distrust. The first retort came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year, when she said in French President Emmanuel Macron’s presence, “It’s no longer the case that the United States will simply just protect us. Rather, Europe needs to take its fate in its own hands. That’s the task for the future.”
Macron asked Europe to unite and assert European sovereignty in the face of unilateral moves by the US on Iran and climate change. He urged Europe to defend the multilateral global order to ensure Europe’s sovereignty. The two are linked. Such language had never been heard before though foreign ministers Hubert Védrine of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany came close to it.
Europe’s perceptions of its interests have changed. Now we have French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire asking Europeans not to act as ‘vassals’ of the US. He wants European companies to continue trade with Iran despite Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions. Le Maire made a far-reaching proposal: set up a European body with the same powers as the US Justice Department to punish foreign companies for their trade practices. European and US companies will lose billions in commercial deals stuck since the accord with Iran in 2015 and also lose access to a major new export market.
The most meaningful words were said by the European Council president, Donald Tusk, this month: “The EU should be grateful to Donald Trump for his latest decisions … Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”
Things won’t be the same again; even if the differences are reconciled eventually. Despite those protests, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced, on May 21, the “strongest sanctions in history” against Iran. It is unlikely that Europe will back down. The consequences will be political and economic.
Europe’s perceptions of its interests have changed. The latest rift will add to its disillusion and yearning for change. The North Atlantic Treaty did not make sense even when it was signed in 1949. Then secretary of state Dean Acheson assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the treaty “does not mean that the US would automatically be at war if one of the other signatory nations were the victim of an armed attack”. A State Department paper said it was not a military alliance.
The worst-case scenario on which it was based was an illusion even in 1949. Having lost 27 million of its people, the Soviet Union was not in a condition to invade Western Europe. The British minister in Moscow, Sir John Balfour opined “as a shrewd realist, Stalin, so far as can be judged, has no wish to overreach the limits within which he can prudently exercise autocratic power”. Stalin’s concerns centred on Eastern Europe. Churchill conceded that to him at Moscow in October 1944. Roosevelt sabotaged it. He sought a Pax Americana. Charles de Gaulle warned against it. Churchill banked on a ‘special relationship’ with the US.
After 1945, the US liked “to give orders, and if they are not at once obeyed, they become huffy”, Anthony Eden remar­ked in 1954. Christopher Meyer, the UK’s ambassador to the US (1997-2003), forbade use of the words ‘special relationship’ inside the embassy. “Most Americans, whether Republicans or Democrats, sophisticate or redneck, believe that their country’s actions in the world are intrinsically virtuous.”
The collapse of the USSR led to the ‘rise of the Vulcans’ which James Mann describes in his book of this title. The mood was summed up in Charles Krauthammer’s famous article ‘The Unipolar Moment’. The New York Times published in March 1992 a report by Patrick E. Tyler titled ‘US Strategy Plan Calls for Ensuring No Rivals Develop’. It was based on official documents. Thanks to Trump, that order is disintegrating. A new world order is emerging with an assertive Europe, a determined Russia and a China on the rise. The Third World can play its part in this process; if only it ends its own squabbles. Western Europe will not be able to forge a viable order without the participation of Russia.

Comprehend the Facts of the New Global Order

China will soon surpass the US in economic terms – and is taking the lead on climate change and the digital economy.
At least three competing versions of the future world order crashed together at the World Economic Forum’s gathering in Davos last week. There was the one peddled by a combative Donald Trump, calling for a full-scale US retreat from the current order. Another came from Chinese leaders who proposed a new global economic system built around Beijing. Meanwhile, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron urged western leaders to double down on the current liberal order.
It would be a mistake to dismiss their speeches as empty grandstanding. This debate is deadly serious. The outcomes will likely determine the future of global stability and the security and prosperity of everyone. If the leaders of major countries and international organizations cannot see eye to eye, we are in for a very rough ride. Rather than withdraw, what is needed more than ever are new ideas, institutions and blueprints to navigate the coming storm.
We are living in abnormal times. The global liberal order is in an advanced state of meltdown. And as the world rapidly shifts from a uni-polar to a multi-polar reality, the international system itself is exposed to profound instability. If the situation is not handled with extreme care, the potential for a major collapse is real. The question is whether our world leaders are capable of fully understanding what is happening in real time and can muster the collective action to set new rules of the road.
The old global liberal order served as the bedrock of peace and stability since 1945. It was purposefully designed by the US and its western allies to prevent armed conflict and the economic nationalism that gave rise to it. It is composed of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the G20 and a thicket of treaties and agreements. While experiencing its ups and downs, it set the rules for a stable positive-sum game.
While virtually everyone agrees that a rules-based system is essential to managing security and trade, a power struggle is underway over who writes and enforces them. The spectacular rise of China over the past two decades and the relative decline of the US mean that sparks are bound to fly. Yet most westerners are only dimly aware of what’s occurring since the rug was so quickly pulled out from under them. The potential for catastrophic miscalculations – including US trade actions against China – are rising, with potentially devastating cascading effects to the global economy.
To get to grips with the seismic shifts taking place, consider these five facts.
1) China is in the process of surpassing the US economically. By one measure, 35% of world growth from 2017 to 2019 will come from China, 18% from the US, 9% from India, and 8% from Europe. By 2050, the top five largest global economies are most likely to be China, India, the US, Brazil and Indonesia. Is the west even remotely prepared for this kind of world?
2) China is leading the largest urbanization and infrastructure development scheme on earth. Already in its fifth year, the $900 billion “One Belt and One Road” (OBOR) project includes new roads, shipping lanes and building projects stretching to over 65 countries. The idea is to literally rewire global trade from China throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. While details are hazy, OBOR is being financed by Chinese state banks, with a modest strategic contribution by a new Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in partnership with other institutions.
3) China is set to become a global green powerhouse. China signalled its intention to take the lead on climate change reduction after signing the 2015 Paris climate agreement. By 2025, most new cars in China will be fully electric vehicles. China is aggressively cutting coal usage. Already, over 60% of high speed rail in the world is in China (10 times the length in Japan, for example). China also recently committed to achieving blue skies in all of its major cities within three years. The changes are already being felt: Beijing air is 30% cleaner this winter than last winter.
4) China is also setting the global pace on a digital economy, including cashless payments. In major cities, up to 90% of all commercial and retail transactions in convenience stores and cafes are occurring through Alipay and Wechat. E-commerce delivery in large Chinese cities through Alibaba is the currently the fastest in the world. One company, Alibaba, racked up sales of $25 billion in just one day – dwarfing the returns of so-called Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.
5) Chinese universities are also vaulting to the top of the international rankings. Two schools – Peking University and Tsinghua University – leapfrogged from well below the top 200 to the top 30 within five years. There are another 40 universities that are not far behind and are set to enter the elite in the coming years. While Chinese students are still seeking out educations in top schools in North America and western Europe, soon they won’t have to.
All the while, the west seems to be asleep at the wheel. There is a certain irony in our current predicament. On the one hand, the world is experiencing unparalleled levels of prosperity and connectivity, due in no small part to the US-backed global liberal order. Yet these advances are associated with ever greater complexity and systemic risks, increasing the liberal order’s vulnerability to collapse. The world’s global and national institutions are increasingly incapable of managing stresses to the system. Democracies, it turns out, lack the incentive systems to address higher-order and longer-term imperatives.
Faced with threats ranging from climate change to massive technological advancement, the world is in desperate need of stable and able global governance. And yet there is surging opposition to liberal governance due to rising inequalities and frustration with the perceived failures of the liberal order. Francis Fukuyama and Jan-Werner Müller view populism and the rise of parochial economic nationalism as among the gravest threats to future stability. The risk of a disorderly collapse of the system is more real than ever.
If we are to survive the global geopolitical transition, we must first accept that the era of US hegemony is over. Instead, the world is shifting to a new multi-polar order with the US and China at its centre. We need to restore and rebuild stable institutions and rules that acknowledge the changed context. They will need to be more inclusive, representative and legitimate. The role of international mechanisms of cooperation (such as the G20), regional organizations, non-state actors – especially financial and philanthropic actors – will also need to be elevated. What’s more, cities are claiming their place – witness Urban20, a collaboration between the world’s largest cities, to be formally launched in October 2018.
All of this will be hard to swallow for stalwarts of the global liberal order. It will also need to be explained to a public that is accustomed to linear change. The current transformations are both non-linear and increasingly exponential, processes that are hard for humans to grasp. We are fixated to the forward march of democracies and the underlying principles on which they are based, yet we must learn to compromise and accommodate multiple value systems.
The next order will be more complex and potentially more precarious, but that is the brave new world we face.

Shades of Black

At 47, Barack Obama became America’s first black president. At 36, will Meghan Markle be accepted as the UK’s first black princess?
In the lead-up to the royal wedding, Markle’s ethnicity has been called a number of things: Biracial, half-black, but never out-and-out black. Obama suffered from no such confusion. He was his nation’s first black, or African-American, president.
Markle and Obama share two things in common: their to-die-for glowing bronze skin, and their stunning looks, of which of course the skin tone is a primary component. In fact, so primary is it that Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president and one-time presidential candidate adversary famously called his future boss the first mainstream African-American presidential candidate who was articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.
Guess for Biden, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were dumb and dull and dirty and ugly. Obama seems to have agreed for he was happy to make Biden his vice president for eight-long gaffe-filled years. And now Biden is contemplating a run for president in 2020. Guess we’ll have two articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking guys in Biden and Trump in the fray. Oh, may the Lord help us.
Markle sparkles. Truly. But would that sparkle be dimmed by calling her straight-up black or African-American? And what about all those blacks they show on TV who are going gaga over the first biracial woman becoming an English princess? Do whites ever go wild if a half-white woman becomes the queen of a nonwhite country.
Such behavior only reinforces the inferiority complex that some blacks are supposed to suffer from. Slavery is gone but its vestige, mental slavery, continues to thrive.
During the time of slavery, if just one-sixteenth of your DNA was accounted for as black, you were deemed black. A century-and-a-half later, this vestige of slavery too survives. Sure, now many government and other forms have biracial and/or other to mark your ancestry as, but Obama was never considered half-white. Nor is Markle. Black still remains their dominating color.
Everywhere you look, colour of skin is important. India has some gorgeous dark women, but if you glance at the red carpet at the Cannes film festival, you mainly see paler-than-pale Indian women. That kind of pale complexion, only less than about 0.01 percent of Indian women might have. In India they say there is a madness over paleness. Just like it is in Mexico, in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, in Sri Lanka, and in many parts of Africa.
Just as it is in the pale West. At least six billion people in the world are dark-skinned. If many of them go about leading their lives with an inferiority complex, or are compelled to lead their lives in such fashion, imagine how terribly the human race suffers as a whole. Skin colour, even perhaps more than religion, seems to be the most defining, and divisive, factor in the world.
Whites forced blacks into America, converted them to Christianity, compelled them to adopt many of their mores and in turn adopted some of theirs, but the division along colour lines permeates America. You cannot have a discussion, oh, pretty much any discussion, in America without bringing into focus someone’s race or ethnicity, which are only a shorthand for bringing up their skin tone.
Did America then do any favour to itself by choosing a black president? Hadn’t the previous president, incidentally white, so destroyed the country, that people were willing to give a light-skinned black man, albeit with an elephantine brain, a chance. He repaid them in spades and how. But did we enter a season of post-racial America? Hell, no. The Beer Summit at the onset of Obama’s presidency, and the later ascendancy of a foul-mouthed white partisan to the presidency only showed that Americans had gone so far and were willing to go no further.
Should Prince Harry be commended for his choice of bride? Should the British royal family be hailed for being so open as to accept a half-black woman in their womb? Many commentators have subtly, and others not so subtly, implied so. But if you really look at looks alone, while keeping in mind that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, you will notice that Markle is better looking than most anybody in the royal family.
So, if looks are the criterion for judgment, as they seem to be, then it should not be Markle who should feel proud of snagging Harry, but instead the latter and his family who should count their lucky stars. And if she’s biracial, or half-black, or half-black half-white, then change the code for everyone, including Obama. Which means, Obama was America’s first half-black half-white president, not purely black or African-American.
Obama ducked and weaved over his blackness throughout his presidency. Let not Markle suffer the same fate.

Facing Future by Revisiting Past

 

PM Modi’s visit to Indonesia can re-energise an ancient partnership.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make his first visit to Indonesia, the first by an Indian PM since 2013. PM Modi has been to half the ASEAN countries and the biggest of them, Indonesia, finally gets its turn.
Modi’s summit with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, is an important one. They have met annually since their first meeting at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Myanmar in 2014, the year when both were elected. Both India and Indonesia have among the world’s largest Muslim populace, which are youthful, aspirational and have a commitment to development. Both are members of the G-20, NAM, EAS and the like. Despite these similarities and the rather short distance between the Andamans and the Western State of Aceh in Indonesia, the distance in the mind is rather long. India and Indonesia have a common heritage, cultural and trade linkages going back to antiquity. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, all came through these exchanges to Indonesia. The existence of Hindu and Buddhist temples in Yogayakarta and Borobudur and the influence there of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are astonishing to the modern visitor. India and Indonesia were allies in the fight against imperialism but in the 1970s, they started looking away from each other, till the return of multiparty democracy to Indonesia.
Since 2011, India and Indonesia are strategic partners, and an ambitious agenda of cooperation has been on the table but has not been implemented in a fulsome manner. The engagement needs to recognise the positive factors and the contradictions which impede it, to create a new paradigm which I call the “Masala Bumbu” effect (masala means spice in Hindi as bumbu does in Bahasa). In order to enhance the strategic partnership, five major aspects need consideration.
On the political front, there are signs of thaw in our engagement. Many stalled bilateral fora have successfully met in the last year. We must rationalise their calendar and implement decisions in a timely way. This will be more important after PM Modi’s visit. More consultation on regional and global issues — G-20, EAS and maritime security and sustainable development, for instance will give them greater cohesion in our regional and global outlook. We need to recognise that Indonesia has a view of China and the BRI which is at variance with ours. But it recognises India’s balancing role in maritime security, has cooperated on the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and is not supportive of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on its anti-Indian rhetoric. Our political need is to focus on commonalities, discuss issues frankly and establish political trust.
India-Indonesia maritime cooperation, exercises and patrolling between the Andamans and the Malacca straits have developed well. The engagement between the Indian navy and coast guard with the Indonesian navy has improved. We can now focus on supplying defence equipment to Indonesia and to look at joint production and development of such equipment. Indonesia requires a recognition of its capabilities and exploration of possible joint ventures would be appreciated. We could invest in a strategic port in Sumatra, which could support exports like coal and palm oil and support to Indian naval assets which require deep draught ports. A cooperative effort against terrorism and radicalisation needs to be high on the agenda.
On the trade and investment side, it is not advisable to curb trade for a balance since imports by India of coal and palm oil give Indonesia a surplus. This surplus will increase, as five lakh Indians now visit Indonesia. This can be compensated by Indonesian investment in India and allowing better access to Indian entrepreneurs to the growing Indonesian market for infrastructure, healthcare, mining and power. A special fast-track facility should be sought from Indonesia to support Indian business houses to secure and maintain business interest in Indonesia. Most Indian businesses feel that Indonesia is partial to China. Indonesia needs to be equitable in their engagements with India. If five flagship infrastructure projects like airport, port, hospital, power plant and mines are put on the fast track, it will create substantive economic impact. Similarly, Indonesia must present five investment proposals to join the Make in India programme. This could be in palm oil, food processing, roads and highways and the like. Indonesia, which has opened its market to Indian beef and found its positive economic impact needs to do the same for pharmaceuticals, rice, sugar and infrastructure machinery.
Around human resource development and education, much can be done by the two countries to fulfil each other’s aspirations. Most Indonesian students coming to India pursue religious studies, hardly any Indian students go to Indonesia. There is a need to develop a system of twinning universities to have common projects, faculty and student exchanges. The glorious days when Nalanda twinned with Muara Jambi need imaginative recreation.
Our common cultural heritage needs to be updated. Common archaeology projects can be undertaken. An Indonesia-India Ramayana festival held periodically should encourage development in the related dance forms over ASEAN countries and beyond. Moreover, the mainstream Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah need to be more closely engaged as they are the best bulwark against radicalisation. Greater space to such civil society cooperation efforts will give a long-term and popular base for the new thrust expected to the India Indonesia relationship through the PM’s forthcoming visit.

Remembering Nehru & Imagine True Successors of Gandhi-Nehru

This day in 1964 an icon of Modern India died. Jawaharlal Nehru- the Prime Minister of India dies and left the nation shell-shocked. Recounting the personal history of Jawaharlal Nehru is not enough. He is better celebrated by taking forward his vision of swaraj. Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary gives all those who believe in the swaraj that Gandhi and Nehru took forward from their predecessors and alternatives, an opportunity to recall and revitalise swaraj’s pledges.
If Gandhi had had a daughter — just one — in addition to his four sons and Nehru a son — just one — in addition to his daughter, would those two men have been any different? I cannot say they would have been but certainly, life around would have been different, very different.
Daughters are said to be very close to their fathers. Not discounting that belief, I think, in that daughter Kasturba Gandhi would have had an understanding ally. Prabha, as I might name that imaginary daughter, would have far more effectively, than her mother, been a bridge between the father and his rebellious son Harilal, a much-needed wall between her father and the many inconsiderate disciples who took up an inordinate amount of his time, seeking advice on utterly trivial matters; would have, I think, persuaded him against at least half a dozen of his fasts and above all, put her foot down against his experiments in brahmacharya. Would Prabha have entered her father’s political programmes — in other words, politics? I doubt it. I think she would have laughed off the suggestion. Would she have had an “arranged” marriage? Again, I think not. Having been dissuaded by her father from an early marriage, I think she would have found her own man in someone like Jayaprakash Narayan or Ram Manohar Lohia.
Sons of the famous and the powerful are known to be anti-climactically boring. Not devaluing that notion, I think in that son Jawaharlal Nehru would have faced his biggest challenge. If, in keeping with family tradition, the son had to have “lal” ending his name, he could have been named Hiralal. If older than Indira, he would have been seen as Jawaharlal’s natural heir and successor in all that the father was doing. Would he have had it in him to be and to do that? Who can tell? He would most definitely have joined politics and would have exercised a large measure of influence on the father, encouraging him to be closer to the Mahatma and less to theoretical influences from the history of other lands. I believe he would have been an open idealist, not the inscrutable pragmatist that his sister became. He would have been something of a Dara Shikoh to the Shah Jahan in his father. He would have married, of course, a flaming revolutionary, I think, a younger version of Aruna Asaf Ali or Kalpana Joshi.
An only son of Nehru, surviving him he may have been expected to become prime minister but, I would like to imagine, he would have spurned that allure to be the nation’s tribune. And I think Gandhi’s sons would have become even more obscure than they have been, and Indira Nehru would have had a very different, perhaps happier, personal life.
But let me, at this point, inform the reader that this imaginary daughter and son are not wholly imaginary. Kasturba did have a child born to her before Harilal, and while there is no record — unbelievably — to tell us whether “it” was a son or a daughter, there is a chance (and a belief in many who have studied the Mahatma’s writings) that the “balak” he writes of was a girl who died within days of her death. And it is a recorded fact that Kamala Nehru gave death to a son who did not survive before Indira was born.
Prabha and Hiralal are more real than we may think. And they would have had a more real sense of the nation’s evolving chemistry than even their insightful fathers. So?
At a time when Mahatma Gandhi’s and Jawaharlal Nehru’s political philosophy, their vision for India, their sense of India’s duties to itself and to the world are being either belittled or denigrated, I would like to imagine what a Prabha Gandhi and a Hiralal Nehru would have had to say or do.
First, Gandhi and Nehru did not belong to their families alone. They brought extraordinary energies to the Congress and to the freedom struggle — but as part of those dynamisms, joining others that went before them, who were as great if not in many ways even greater than them, certainly no less pioneering or innovative.
Second, history does not belong to dynasties, howsoever stunning the roles of individuals in those lines. “Gandhi” and “Nehru” should not be conflated with bloodlines but with timelines, which usher in eras not lineages, epochs not estates, and men who were passionate about India have to be supported with a sense of passion, not of possession.
Third, their task — the greatness of India in freedom and justice — faces its biggest challenge today. A narrow and dangerous bigotry is exploiting our innate pride of nation and reversing the larger gains of the struggle that lay in the idea of a republic of India, not in a revivalist recoil to all that kept us backward in thought, regressive in action and wholly unregenerate in vision.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary gives all those who believe in the swaraj that Gandhi and Nehru took forward from their predecessors and alternatives, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale foremost among them, an opportunity to recall and revitalise swaraj’s pledges. That swaraj is at the heart of the Preamble to the Constitution, where “we the people” give ourselves, very specifically, the freedoms of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. In Sanskrit, the phrase is “vicharasya abhivaktaye asthaha, dharmasya upasanayascha swatantrata”. In that form it reads like a powerful injunction. Hindutva cannot ignore it. And in Urdu, it is “azadi, fikr, izhaar, aqide, deen aur ibadat ki”.
It is this freedom, this swatantrata, this azadi that the struggle for freedom was about and it is that which is at stake today.
Nehru’s death anniversary is therefore not about one man’s chronology, but about one movement’s ideology. And everyone who believes in that movement and ideology is a Prabha and a Hiralal, the non-real yet more than real descendants of those two men.

Sunday Special: Who Says the World is Not Getting Better?

A recent survey asked, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better. And yet it is not so.
What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must, therefore, consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.
I. Poverty
To see where we are coming from we must go far back in time. 30 or even 50 years are not enough. When you only consider what the world looked during our lifetime it is easy to make the mistake of thinking of the world as relatively static – the rich, healthy and educated parts of the world here and the poor, uneducated, sick regions there – and to falsely conclude that it always was like that and that it always will be like that.
Take a longer perspective and it becomes very clear that the world is not static at all. The countries that are rich today were very poor just very recently and were, in fact, worse off than the poor countries today.
To avoid portraying the world in a static way – the North always much richer than the South – we have to start 200 years ago before the time when living conditions really changed dramatically.
Researchers measure extreme poverty as living with less than 1.90$ per day. These poverty figures take into account non-monetary forms of income – for poor families today and in the past this is important, particularly because of subsistence farming. The poverty measure is also corrected for different price levels in different countries and adjusted for price changes over time (inflation) – poverty is measured in the so-called international dollar that accounts for these adjustments.
If we think of people living in extreme poverty, we find that in 1820 only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living, while the vast majority of people lived in conditions that we would call extreme poverty today. Since then the share of extremely poor people fell continuously. More and more world regions industrialised and thereby increased productivity which made it possible to lift more people out of poverty: In 1950 three-quarters of the world were living in extreme poverty; in 1981 it was still 44%. For last year research suggests that the share in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%.
That is a huge achievement, for me as a researcher who focuses on growth and inequality maybe the biggest achievement of all in the last two centuries. It is particularly remarkable if we consider that the world population has increased 7-fold over the last two centuries – switch to the ‘Absolute’ view. In a world without economic growth, such an increase in the population would have resulted in less and less income for everyone; A 7-fold increase in the world population would have been enough to drive everyone into extreme poverty. Yet, the exact opposite happened. In a time of unprecedented population growth our world managed to give more prosperity to more people and to continuously lift more people out of poverty.
Increasing productivity was important because it made vital goods and services less scarce: more food, better clothing, and less cramped housing. Productivity is the ratio between the output of our work and the input that we put in our work; as productivity increased we benefitted from more output, but also from less input – weekly working hours fell very substantially.
Economic growth was also important because it changed the relationship between people. In the long time in which the world lived in a non-growth world the only way to become better off is if someone else got worse off. Your own good luck is your neighbours bad luck. Economic growth changed that, growth made it possible that you are better off when others become better off. The ingenuity of those that built the technology that increased productivity – the car, the machinery, and communication technology – made some of them very rich and at the same time it increased the productivity and the incomes of others. It is hard to overstate how different life in zero-sum and a positive-sum economy are.
Unfortunately, the media is overly obsessed with reporting single events and with things that go wrong and does not nearly pay enough attention to the slow developments that reshape our world. With this empirical data on the reduction of poverty we can make it concrete what a media that would report global development would look like. The headline could be “The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 130,000 since yesterday” and they wouldn’t have this headline once, but every single day since 1990, since, on average, there were 130,000 people fewer in extreme poverty every day.
II. Literacy
How did the education of the world population change over this period?  In the past only a tiny elite was able to read and write. Today’s education – including in today’s richest countries – is again a very recent achievement. It was in the last two centuries that literacy became the norm for the entire population.
In 1820 only every 10th person older than 15 years was literate; in 1930 it was every third and now we are at 85% globally. Put differently, if you were alive in 1800 there was a chance of 9 in 10 that you weren’t able to read – today more than 8 out of 10 people are able to read. And if you are young chances are much higher since many of today’s illiterate population are old.
If you think science, technology, political freedom are important to solve the world’s problems and you think that it helps to read and write to do this then look at the figures in absolute numbers. Today there are 5.4 billion people older than 15 years of which, as the chart shows, 85% are literate – these are 4.6 billion people. In 1800 there were fewer than 100 million people with the same skill.
III. Health
One reason why we do not see progress is that we are unaware of how bad the past was.
In 1800 the health conditions of our ancestors were such that around 43% of the world’s newborns died before their 5th birthday. The historical estimates suggest that the entire world lived in poor conditions; there was relatively little variation between different regions, in all countries of the world more than every third child died before it was 5 years old.
It would be wrong to believe that modern medicine was the only reason for improved health. Initially rising prosperity and the changing nature of social life mattered more than medicine. It were improvements in housing and sanitation that improved our chances in the age old war against infectious disease. Healthier diet – made possible through higher productivity in the agricultural sector and overseas trade – made us more resilient against disease. Surprisingly improving nutrition and health also made us smarter and taller.
But surely science and medicine mattered as well. A more educated population achieved a series of scientific breakthroughs that made it possible to reduce mortality and disease further. Particularly important was the discovery of the germ theory of disease in the second half of the 19th century. In retrospect, it is hard to understand why a new theory can possibly be so important. But at a time when doctors did not wash their hands when switching from post-mortem to midwifery, the theory finally convinced our ancestors that hygiene and public sanitation are crucial for health.
The germ theory of disease laid the foundation for the development of antibiotics and vaccines, and it helped the world to see why public health is so very important. Public health mattered hugely: Everybody benefits from everybody else being vaccinated, and everybody benefits from everybody else obeying the rules of hygiene.
With these changes global health improved in a way that was unimaginable to our ancestors. In 2015 child mortality was down to 4.3% – 10-fold lower than 2 centuries ago. You have to take this long perspective to see the progress that we have achieved.
IV. Freedom
Political freedom and civil liberties are at the very heart of development – as they are both a means for development and an end of development. Journalism and public discourse are the pillars on which this freedom rests, but qualitative assessments of these aspects bears the risk that we are mistakingly perceiving a decline of liberties over time when in fact we are raising the bar by which we judge our liberty. Quantitative assessments can therefore be useful when they help us to measure freedom against the same yardstick across countries and over time.
There are various attempts to measure the types of political regimes that govern the world’s countries and to capture something as complex as a political system is necessarily controversial. There is just no way around that. In this analysis I will rely on the Polity IV index as it is the least problematic of the measures that present a long term perspective. The index measures political regimes on a spectrum from +10 for full democracies to -10 for full autocracies; regimes that fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum are called anocracies. To this, I added information about the world’s countries that were ruled by other countries as part of a colonial empire.
Again I want to give a time perspective to get an idea of how political freedom has changed over the last 200 years.
Throughout the 19th century more than a third of the population lived in colonial regimes and almost everyone else lived in autocratically ruled countries. The first expansion of political freedom from the late 19th century onward was crushed by the rise of authoritarian regimes that in many countries took their place in the time leading up to the Second World War.
In the second half of the 20th century the world has changed significantly: Colonial empires ended, and more and more countries turned democratic: The share of the world population living in democracies increased continuously – particularly important was the breakdown of the Soviet Union which allowed more countries to democratise. Now more than every second person in the world lives in a democracy.
The huge majority of those living in an autocracy – 4 out of 5 – live in one autocratic country: China.
Human rights are similarly difficult to measure consistently over time and across time. The best empirical datashow that after a time of stagnation human right protection improved globally over the last 3 decades.
V. Population
There is an astounding increase of the world population over the last 2 centuries. The world population was around 1 billion in the year 1800 and increased 7-fold since then.
Population growth increased humanity’s demand for resources and amplified humanity’s impact on the environment. But this increase of the world population should evoke more than doom and gloom. First of all, this increase shows a tremendous achievement. It shows that humans stopped dying at the rate at which our ancestors died for the many millennia before.
In pre-modern times fertility was high – 5 or 6 children per woman were the norm. What kept the population growth low was the very high rate with which people died and that meant that many children were dead before they reached their reproductive age. The increase of the world population followed when humanity started to win the fight against death. Global life expectancy doubled just over the last hundred years.
Population growth is a consequence of fertility and mortality not declining simultaneously. The fast population growth happened when fertility was still as high as it was in the unhealthy environment of the past, but mortality has already declined to the low levels of our time.
What we have seen in country after country over the last 200 years is that once women realise that the chances of their children dying has declined substantially they adapt and chose to have fewer children. Population growth then comes to an end. This transition from high mortality and fertility to low mortality and fertility is called the demographic transition. In those countries that industrialised first it lasted at least from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century – it took 95 years for fertility to decline from above 6 children to less than 3 children per woman in the UK. Countries that followed later sometimes achieved this transition much faster: South Korea went from more than 6 children per woman to less than 3 in just 18 years, Iran even achieved it in just 10 years.
Just as countries went through this transition so is the world going through this transition. Global fertility has more than halved in the last 50 years, from more than 5 children per woman in the early 1960s to below 2.5 today. This means that the world is well into the demographic transition and global population growth has in fact peaked half a century ago.
Now that we see fertility declining everywhere we come to an end of population growth: The global population has quadrupled over the course of the 20th century, over the course of this century it will not double. And at the end of the century the UN expects a slow annual population growth of 0.1% .
VI. Education
None of the achievements over the last 2 centuries could have been made without the expansion of knowledge and education. The revolution in how we live was not only driven by education it also made education more important than ever.
And we know that education is on track to improve globally. Contrary to many other social aspects where forecasts are of limited use, I think education is an aspect where we can make some useful projections into the future. The simple reason is that the educational composition today tells us something about the education of tomorrow – a literate young woman today will be a literate old woman in 2070 and a student with secondary education now will be a graduate with secondary education in the future.
The younger cohort today is much better educated than the older cohorts. And as the cohort size is decreasing schools that are already in place can provide better for the next generation.
It is an interesting look into the future: With today’s lower global fertility the researchers expect that the number of children will decline from now – there will never be more children on the planet than today. And as mentioned I expect the world population to peak in 2070 and to decline thereafter.
Focusing on the educational breakdown the projection suggests that by 2100, there will be almost no one without formal education and there will be more than 7 billion minds who will have received at least secondary education.
With the great importance of education for improving health, increasing political freedom, and ending poverty this projection is very encouraging.
VII. Why do we not know how our world is changing?
The motivation for this history of global living conditions was the survey result that documented the very negative perspective of global development that most of us have. More than 9 out of 10 people do not think that the world is getting better. How does that fit with the empirical evidence?
I do not think that the media are the only ones to blame, but I do think that they are to blame for some part of this. This is because the media does not tell us how the world is changing, it tells us what in the world goes wrong.
One reason why the media focuses on things that go wrong is that the media focuses on single events and single events are often bad – look at the news: plane crashes, terrorism attacks, natural disasters, election outcomes that we are not happy with. Positive developments on the other hand often happen very slowly and never make the headlines in the event-obsessed media.
The result of a media – and education system – that fails to present quantitative information on long-run developments is that the huge majority of people is completely ignorant about global development. Even the decline of global extreme poverty – by any standard one of the most important developments in our lifetime – is only known by a small fraction of the population of the UK (10%) or the US (5%). In both countries the majority of people think that the share of people living in extreme poverty has increased! Two thirds in the US even think the share in extreme poverty has ‘almost doubled’. When we are ignorant about global development it is not surprising that few think that the world is getting better.
The only way to tell a history of everyone is to use statistics, only then can we hope to get an overview over the lives of the 22 billion people that lived in the last 200 years. The developments that these statistics reveal transform our global living conditions – slowly but steadily. They are reported in this online publication – Our World in Data. We see it as a resource to show these long-term developments and thereby complement the information in the news that focus on events.
The difficulty for telling the history of how everyone’s lives changed over the last 200 years is that you cannot pick single stories. Stories about individual people are much more engaging – our minds like these stories – but they cannot be representative for how the world has changed. To achieve a representation of how the world has changed at large you have to tell many, many stories all at once; and that is statistics.
VIII. Why it matters that we do not know how our world is changing
The successful transformation of our living conditions was possible only because of collaboration. Such a transformation would be impossible for a single person to accomplish. It is our collective brains and our collaborative effort that are needed for such an improvement.
There are big problems that remain. None of the above should give us reason to become complacent. On the contrary, it shows us that a lot of work still needs to be done – accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that 1 out of 10 people lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. We urgently need to reduce our impact.
It is far from certain that we will make progress against these problems – there is no iron law that would ensure that the world continues this trend of improving living conditions. But what is clear from the long-term perspective is that the last 200 years brought us to a better position than ever before to solve these problems. Solving problems – big problems – is always a collaborative undertaking. And the group of people that is able to work together today is a much, much stronger group than there ever was on this planet. We have just seen the change over time; the world today is healthier, richer, and better educated.
For our history to be a source of encouragement we have to know our history. The story that we tell ourselves about our history and our time matters. Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow humans is a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors. Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.
Freedom is impossible without faith in free people. And if we are not aware of our history and falsely believe the opposite of what is true we risk losing faith in each other

New Delhi recalibrating ties with Moscow

What does one make of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent informal summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin? This was the second informal summit that Modi took part in within a month – the earlier one was with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But why an informal summit with Putin at this juncture? The two leaders are anyway slated to meet each other for their annual summit later this year. What was the urgency for this meeting then at Sochi?
It is my hunch that the Modi administration is finally coming around to the view that it isn’t wise to put all eggs in one basket. In the initial phase of his government, Modi actively courted the US, making several trips to that country. In fact, a strategic understanding was sought with Washington to counter Pakistan and, to some extent, China. This saw New Delhi aligning its strategic interests more with Washington, something that was exemplified by the inking of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement that gives each side reciprocal access to the other’s ports, bases and military logistics. Russia has been watching all of this from the sidelines. And it has been disappointed that the current Indian regime has been ignoring the deep historic relationship that New Delhi and Moscow share.
It is my understanding that the growing Indo-American synergy forced Moscow to somewhat re-evaluate its partnership with India. And a direct consequence of this was Russia holding its first ever joint military drill with Pakistan in 2016. True, Russia’s new ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev, has played down Moscow’s growing military relationship with Islamabad, describing it as incomparable to Moscow’s relationship with New Delhi. But the fact remains that Russia had refrained from such ties with Pakistan in the past as it deferred to Indian interests.
But the Modi government wasn’t too perturbed by this, trusting the foundation of the India-Russia relationship. However, two things could have compelled New Delhi now to rein in the sense of drift that was creeping into ties with Moscow. First, I believe that the relationship with the US isn’t panning out the way Modi government had planned. The latter had hoped for a greater push of Indian interests from Washington. However, this isn’t happening exactly. For example, India had hoped for considerable economic concessions from the US. But the Trump administration has made it clear that it will make no exceptions under its so-called America First policy. US President Donald Trump has been hard on India for what he says are non-reciprocated protectionist tariffs. Exemplifying how far apart the two countries are on trade, India recently launched a WTO complaint against the US to challenge its tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. And we all know what Trump thinks of Indian duties on Harley-Davidson motorbike imports into India.
If things don’t look rosy on the economic front, it’s equally uncertain on the foreign policy front. And while the two sides appear to be on the same page on things like Afghanistan and South China Sea, it’s apparent that the US is simply pursuing its own interests. In other words, it’s a case of the Donald Trump administration simply doing what it thinks is right without a genuine care for the interests of allies. If allies agree with Washington, it’s well and good. If they don’t, Washington will still do what it had planned to do anyway. The US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal is a case in point – it makes things difficult for India and Europe.
Similarly, the so-called Quad comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia simply hasn’t got off the ground. While they principally adhere to the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ framework, it’s also clear that the four countries each have a very different set of priorities in the region. That India rejected Australia’s participation in this year’s multilateral naval exercise Malabar that will include the US and Japan, I believe, shows fading enthusiasm for the Quad. Plus, Asean nations want to maintain their centrality in any evolving security architecture in Southeast Asia and therefore are wary of the Quad and its interests overshadowing them.
All of this put together, I think, has forced a rethink on New Delhi’s part. And this is perhaps why New Delhi now is trying to maintain a balance and pulling back its strategic compass which had swung far too much in the US direction. Recalibrating ties with Moscow and looking to shore up areas such as bilateral trade and investments is a good bet. I still believe India’s best option is to pursue a genuine multipolar global order where it has a fair say. And coordinating with Russia is important for this.

Saturday Special: China acquires ‘the crown jewels’ of U.S. technology

The U.S. fails to adequately police foreign deals for next-generation software that powers the military and American economic strength.
The U.S. government was well aware of China’s aggressive strategy of leveraging private investors to buy up the latest American technology when, early last year, a company called Avatar Integrated Systems showed up at a bankruptcy court in Delaware hoping to buy the California chip-designer ATop Tech.
ATop’s product was potentially groundbreaking — an automated designer capable of making microchips that could power anything from smartphones to high-tech weapons systems. It’s the type of product that a U.S. government report had recently cited as “critical to defense systems and U.S. military strength.” And the source of the money behind the buyer, Avatar, was an eye-opener: Its board chairman and sole officer was a Chinese steel magnate whose Hong Kong-based company was a major shareholder.
Despite those factors, the transaction went through without an assessment by the U.S. government committee that is charged with reviewing acquisitions of sensitive technology by foreign interests.
In fact, a six-month POLITICO investigation found that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the main vehicle for protecting American technology from foreign governments, rarely polices the various new avenues Chinese nationals use to secure access to American technology, such as bankruptcy courts or the foreign venture capital firms that bankroll U.S. tech startups.
The committee, known by its acronym CFIUS, isn’t required to review any deals, relying instead on outsiders or other government agencies to raise questions about the appropriateness of a proposed merger, acquisition or investment. And even if it had a more formal mandate, the committee lacks the resources to deal with increasingly complex cases, which revolve around lines of code and reams of personal data more than physical infrastructure.
“I knew what was critical in 1958 — tanks, airplanes, avionics. Now, truthfully, everything is information. The world is about information, not about things,” said Paul Rosenzweig, who worked with CFIUS while at the Department of Homeland Security during President George W. Bush’s second term. “And that means everything is critical infrastructure. That, in some sense, means CFIUS really should be managing all global trade.”
As a senior official at the Treasury Department, which oversees CFIUS, put it: “Any time we see a company that has lots of data on Americans — health care, personal financial data — that’s a vulnerability.”
When CFIUS was formed, in the 1970s, the companies safeguarding important technology were so large that any takeover attempt by foreigners would be certain to attract attention. Now, much of the cutting-edge technology in the United States is in the hands of much smaller firms, including Silicon Valley startups that are hungry for cash from investors.
The gap in oversight became a more urgent problem in 2015, when China unveiled its “Made in China 2025” strategy of working with private investors to buy overseas tech firms. A year earlier, Chinese investments in U.S. tech startups had totaled $2.3 billion, according to the economic research firm CB Insights. Such investments immediately skyrocketed to $9.9 billion in 2015. These amounts dipped the following year, as the Obama administration voided a high-profile deal, but analysts say China’s appetite to buy U.S. firms and technology is still strong. In 2017, there were 165 Chinese-backed deals closed with American startups, only 12 percent less than the 2015 peak.
Yet the failure to investigate some forms of Chinese investments in American technology has flown under the radar as President Donald Trump goes tit for tat with Beijing, imposing tariffs meant to punish China for unfair trade practices. Critics noted on Monday that Trump’s tentative agreement to drop his tariff threat in exchange for Chinese pledges to purchase billions of dollars more in American goods avoided any mention of the outdated foreign-investment policies that have alarmed lawmakers across the political spectrum.
On the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lashed out at Trump’s approach. “China’s trade negotiators must be laughing themselves all the way back to Beijing,” he said. “They’re playing us for fools — temporary purchase of some goods, while China continues to steal our family jewels, the things that have made America great: the intellectual property, the know-how in the highest end industries. It makes no sense.”
National security specialists insist that such a stealth transfer of technology through China’s investment practices in the United States is a far more serious problem than the tariff dispute — and a problem hiding in plain sight. A recent Pentagon report bluntly declared: “The U.S. does not have a comprehensive policy or the tools to address this massive technology transfer to China.” It went on to warn that Beijing’s acquisition of top-notch American technology is enabling a “strategic competitor to access the crown jewels of U.S. innovation.”
Some congressional leaders concur. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) regularly warns his colleagues that China is using private-sector investments to pilfer American technology. China has “weaponized” its investments in America “in order to vacuum up U.S. industrial capabilities from American companies,” Cornyn said at a January hearing. The goal, he added, is “to turn our own technology and know-how against us in an effort to erase our national security advantage.”
Legislation to expand the CFIUS budget and staff has been moving slowly through the halls of Congress amid pushback from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and business groups. The legislation would give CFIUS new resources to scrutinize bankruptcy purchases and establish stricter scrutiny of start-up investments.
As months passed without any action, and the issue of Chinese investments got overshadowed by tariff fights and feuds between Beijing and the Trump administration, national security experts grew more concerned, fearing that Congress lacked a sense of urgency to police transfers of sensitive technology.
AIRING CONCERNS: China has “weaponized” its investments in America “in order to vacuum up U.S. industrial capabilities from American companies,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said at a January hearing. At right, Heath Tarbert, the Treasury Department assistant secretary overseeing CFIUS, testified in January that allowing foreign countries to invest in U.S. technology without making sufficient background checks “will have a real cost in American lives in any conflict.”
The White House began exploring what more it could do on its own, asking the Treasury Department in late March to offer a list of potential Chinese investment restrictions within 60 days. Finally, in May, the Senate and House leaders announced plans to mark up the bill, starting a process that could lead to passage later this year.
Still, the failure to act more quickly may itself be jeopardizing national security. At a hearing in January, Heath Tarbert, the Treasury Department assistant secretary overseeing CFIUS, testified that allowing foreign countries to invest in U.S. technology without making sufficient background checks “will have a real cost in American lives in any conflict.”
‘Made in China 2025’
Last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping took the podium before 2,300 Communist Party delegates to deliver his expansive vision for China’s future. Xi was speaking at the party’s 19th Congress, a summit held every five years to choose the nation’s leaders in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the expansive theater right off Tiananmen Square. Speaking in front of a giant gold hammer and sickle framed by bright red drapes, Xi held forth for 3½ hours, declaring that China would look outward to solve its problems.
“China will not close its door to the world — we will only become more and more open,” Xi declared to his rapt audience of party leaders, many of them having close ties to the billionaire investors who represent China in the global market. “We will deepen reform of the investment and financing systems, and enable investment to play a crucial role in improving the supply structure.”
China watchers said Xi was alluding to the government’s relatively new economic plan, dubbed “Made in China 2025,” which leaders had unveiled in 2015. The detailed vision shifted the focus on domestic research investments to the need to pump money into — and better understand — foreign markets. “We will,” the document proclaimed, “guide enterprises to integrate into local culture.” “We will,” the document continued, “support enterprises to perform mergers, equity investment and venture capital investment overseas.”
At the top of the investment wish list were high-tech industries like artificial intelligence, robotics and space travel.
For the increasingly powerful Chinese leader, it was the culmination of years of efforts to guide how China spends its blossoming wealth. In addition to luring foreign companies to China, Xi wanted the country — which is sitting on several trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves — to start investing abroad.
The plan had “much more money behind it” and “much more coordination” between Beijing and Chinese industrialists than previous economic strategies, according to Scott Kennedy, an expert on Chinese economic policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank that specializes in defense matters. “And a big component of that is acquiring technology abroad,” he said.
From 2015 to 2017, Chinese venture capitalists pumped money into hot companies like Uber and Airbnb, but also dozens of burgeoning firms with little or no name recognition. The country didn’t just want “trophy assets,” Kennedy explained. China’s leaders wanted to “fill in some of the gaps they have” in China’s tech economy.
While the Asian power has piled up profits from its large manufacturing plants that churn out low-cost products, the Beijing government realized it would face declining productivity unless its economy, from agriculture to manufacturing, adopted high-tech methods. Essentially, China wanted to automate entire industries — including car manufacturing, food production and electronics — and bring the whole process in-house.at an exhibition in Beijing highlighting China’s achievements under five years of President Xi Jinping’s leadership. U.S. officials have a name for their frustration with Beijing’s technology ambitions: “Made in China 2025.” Issued in 2015, it calls for China to develop its own global competitors in fields from information technology to electric cars to pharmaceuticals.
So Beijing’s leaders encouraged the country’s cash-rich investors to search for “emerging companies that have technologies that may be extremely important … but aren’t proven,” Kennedy said. The initiative has spawned investments in American startups that work on robotics, energy equipment and next-generation IT. Of particular concern to U.S. national security officials is the semiconductor industry, which makes the microchips that provide the “guts” of many advance technologies that China is seeking to leverage.
“A concerted push by China to reshape the market in its favor, using industrial policies backed by over one hundred billion dollars in government-directed funds, threatens the competitiveness of U.S. industry and the national and global benefits it brings,” declared a January 2017 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, warning of the urgent threat to U.S. superiority in semiconductor technology.
Notably, many of China’s investments didn’t register on the CFIUS radar. They involved the early-seed funding of tech firms in Silicon Valley and low-profile purchases such as the one in Delaware bankruptcy court. They included joint ventures with microchip manufacturers, and the research and development centers created with international partners. “They have diversified to look for smaller targets,” Kennedy said. “Those things typically do not generate a CFIUS reaction. That is part of it.”
An obscure research body
CFIUS was set up by Congress in 1975 amid growing concerns about oil-rich countries in the Middle East buying up American companies, from energy firms to armsmakers. Chaired by the Treasury Department, the committee brought together representatives from all the major Cabinet agencies to assess the financial, technological and national security threats posed by such investments. For its first decade, however, CFIUS existed mostly as an obscure research body. From 1975 to 1980, the committee met only 10 times, according to congressional reports.
Japan’s economic ascendance in the 1980s changed that. The Defense Department asked CFIUS to step in and investigate potential Japanese purchases of a U.S. steel producer and a company that made ball bearings for the military. In 1988, Congress gave the committee the authority to recommend that the president nix a deal altogether. Still, the committee remained mostly an ad hoc operation into the 1990s.
“Bureaucratically it was not a very smooth, functioning operation,” recalled Steve Grundman, who worked as part of the committee during the Clinton administration. “We had to pick up some intelligence here, some technology assessment there, some industrial analysis hither.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress renewed its interest in CFIUS, passing legislation that instructed the committee to consider a deal’s effect on “homeland security” and “critical industries,” a notable change, according to Rosenzweig, the DHS official who worked with CFIUS during the George W. Bush administration. The directive gave the committee a mandate to keep an eye on a wider array of industries, such as hospitals and banks, that DHS considered “critical” to keeping American society operating.
Rosenzweig called it a “singular shift.” Over time, he said, the committee went from reviewing acquisitions of steel companies — involving just two parties and a tangible product — to investigating technically complex purchases of microchip companies and other software or data-rich firms. “When I first came to CFIUS, the filings from the other side would be a few-page letter about why this was a good deal,” Rosenzweig said. “Now it’s a stack of books that’s up to my knee.”
The committee’s staffing and resources have not kept pace with the growing workload, multiple people who work with CFIUS told POLITICO. While the Treasury Department has been hiring staffers and contractors to help handle the record workload, the committee’s overall resources are subject to the whims of the individual agencies involved in the process, said Stephen Heifetz, who oversaw the CFIUS work at DHS during the second Bush administration.
A Chinese company’s plan to acquire the American money transfer company MoneyGram fell apart when the two sides realized they would likely not get CFIUS approval because of concerns that the personal data of millions of Americans – including military personnel – could fall into the hands of the Chinese military.
There is no single budget or staffing figure for CFIUS. Instead, each agency decides the level of personnel and funding it’s willing to commit to the committee. The Treasury Department and DHS have two of the larger CFIUS teams, Heifetz said. During his tenure, Heifetz’s DHS squad included roughly 10 people, split equally between government workers and outside contractors. “Each agency decides more or less on their own how they’re going to staff it,” Heifetz said.
At Treasury, there are now between 20 and 30 people working for CFIUS, according to a senior department official. But even with the expanded team, the committee is stretched precariously thin. The official described 80-hour workweeks, regular weekend work and no ability to take time off. “It’s enough to handle the current mandate, but not comfortably,” the official said.
Amid this uncertainty over resources, CFIUS investigations into foreign acquisitions nearly tripled from 2009 to 2015. The most common foreign investor that hits the CFIUS radar is now China. Nearly 20 percent of the committee’s reviews from 2013 to 2015, the most recent data available, involved the Asian power, easily ahead of second-place Canada at just under 13 percent.
Since 2015, the Treasury official said, those trends have only continued: Chinese deals now represent a large plurality of the committee’s work.
The attention appears to be well-founded. In recent years, China has been repeatedly accused of industrial espionage — using indirect means to obtain American software and military secrets, everything from the code that powers wind turbines to the designs that produce the Pentagon’s modern F-35 fighter jets. And several Chinese businessmen have pleaded guilty to participating in complex conspiracies to get their hands on sensitive technical data from U.S. firms and shuttle it back to Beijing. Again and again, high-tech products and military equipment have popped up in China that bear a too-striking resemblance to their American counterparts.
Spurred by these incidents, CFIUS has successfully advised the president to nix Chinese deals at a record clip. In December 2016, President Barack Obama stopped a Chinese investment fund from acquiring the U.S. subsidiary of a German semiconductor manufacturer — only the third time a president had taken such a step at that point. In September 2017, Trump halted a China-backed investor from buying the American semiconductor maker Lattice, citing national security concerns.
Three months later, a Chinese company’s plan to acquire the American money transfer company MoneyGram fell apart when the two sides realized they would likely not get CFIUS approval because of concerns that the personal data of millions of Americans — including military personnel — could fall into the hands of the Chinese military.
Weeks after that, the committee essentially jettisoned a Chinese state-backed group’s attempt to buy Xcerra, a Massachusetts-based tech company that makes equipment to test computer chips and circuit boards. Then, in March, Trump blocked the purchase of the chipmaker Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom Ltd. CFIUS said such a move could weaken Qualcomm, and thereby the United States, as it vies with foreign rivals such as China’s Huawei Technologies to develop the next generation of wireless technology known as 5G.
NOT DOING ENOUGH? “You can buy a [partial] interest in a company and gain access to the same type of technology,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress in October. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis echoed those concerns last summer, warning that America is failing to restrict foreign investments in certain types of critical industries.
To national security leaders, though, CFIUS is still only scratching the surface of China’s ambitions to acquire U.S. technology, noting that traditional sale-and-purchase agreements to obtain a U.S. company aren’t the only ways to gain access to cutting-edge technology.
“You can buy a [partial] interest in a company and gain access to the same type of technology,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress in October, adding that Justice Department investigators “are really worried about our loss of technology” in instances where Chinese investors buy small stakes in American tech companies.
The U.S. military has raised similar concerns. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned last summer that America is failing to restrict foreign investments in certain types of critical industries, testifying during another hearing that CFIUS is “outdated” and “needs to be updated to deal with today’s situation.”
A mysterious takeover
The case that occurred last summer in an obscure courtroom in Delaware seemed innocuous enough: one relatively small tech firm buying out a bankrupt competitor, a transaction that elicited about as much drama as mailing a letter.
The bankrupt semiconductor maker ATop Tech had only 86 employees when it was declared insolvent. But it had a more than a $1 billion market share of the electronic-design automation and integrated circuits markets, the company told the bankruptcy court, giving it potential value to any player seeking to enter the highly specialized semiconductor industry.
Avatar Integrated Systems, the company seeking to purchase ATop, was apparently such a player. But it was not well known to others in the semiconductor industry, and its precise ownership was a bit of a mystery. The sole director listed on its incorporation papers was a Hong Kong-based businessman named Jingyuan Han, and it issued shares to King Mark International Limited, a Hong Kong company in which Han was an investor. Avatar was set up in March 2017, according to the company.
The transaction went ahead despite concerns raised to the court by other players in the semiconductor industry, as well as those of a former senior Pentagon official who specifically suggested the Chinese government may be backing Avatar.
The former Pentagon official, Joseph Benkert, was enlisted by another American semiconductor company, Synopsys, to help recoup money it was owed by ATop. He warned the court that the deal might have national security risks.
“CFIUS has identified businesses engaged in design and production of semiconductors as presenting possible national security vulnerabilities because they may be useful in defending, or seeking to impair, U.S. national security, as semiconductor design or production may have both commercial or military applications,” Benkert, the former assistant secretary of defense for global affairs under the second Bush administration, wrote to the court.
Benkert argued that the question of Avatar’s ownership needed more review given that the company appeared to be “under the control of Han, a Chinese national.” “In my opinion,” Benkert wrote, “the proposed transaction is likely to receive thorough CFIUS scrutiny and there is a material risk that it will not receive CFIUS approval.”
But despite those concerns, the deal to buy ATop Tech was not given a formal review by CFIUS, according to a senior administration official with direct knowledge of the process. A Treasury Department official, speaking on behalf of CFIUS, declined to comment on the merger.
An Avatar official, reached at the company office in Santa Clara, California, did not respond to questions or a request for an interview with Han. The company did not respond to multiple requests to discuss its relationship — if any — with the Chinese government or the details of its business.
Han, who has been described in media reports as one of China’s wealthiest men, has spent his career almost entirely in the iron and steel industries. Avatar’s scant history seemed to suggest that it was created for the sole purpose of acquiring an established American semiconductor firm like ATop Tech, according to several former national security officials who still work on CFIUS cases.
Attempts to reach Han through China Oriental Group, the iron and steel company that he runs, were also unsuccessful.
Officials familiar with the CFIUS process say that bankruptcy deals such as the Atop-Avatar case sometimes fall off their radar because of difficulty in discerning whether Chinese investors are working with the government. In other bankruptcy cases, Chinese investment in a potential buyer may not be visible in official filings, especially when a web of holding companies is involved. Thus, say current and former officials working with CFIUS, a significant amount of detective work is necessary to discern both the identity and the intentions of the investors.
Traditionally, courts have defined control of a company as “the ability to direct management to make certain decisions.” But a former Treasury Department official said CFIUS needs to focus on “beneficial ownership,” defined as having the ability to obtain technology from the firm, rather than overall decision-making power. “It is very hard to find beneficial ownership,” said the official. “Our concern is the capacity of the system to deal with these.”
The bills pending in Congress to strengthen the CFIUS review process include provisions designed to make scrutiny of bankruptcy cases easier. The bills would require CFIUS to “prescribe regulations to clarify that the term ‘covered transaction’ includes any transaction … that arises pursuant to a bankruptcy proceeding or other form of default on debt.”
A sharper focus on bankruptcy cases, particularly in making sure CFIUS scrutinizes investors to ties to foreign governments, is desperately needed, said a former Pentagon official who is still involved in CFIUS cases. “How do they find out about it now? They are reading The Wall Street Journal late at night,” the official said. “It is not a very systematic process.”
The former official also recalled that in the past, the Pentagon has hired an outside contractor to scour around for unreported transactions that might raise some national security flags, such as in the semiconductor or aerospace sectors. Such checks need to be performed in a more systematic way. “There is no process for surfacing information out of the bankruptcy courts,” the official said.
China goes to Silicon Valley
In Silicon Valley, Chinese investment isn’t typically viewed as a threat, but rather more of a blessing. Chris Nicholson, co-founder of Skymind, an artificial intelligence company that makes the type of cutting-edge software that both the United States and China covet, recalls the many long months he spent in 2014 trudging up and down Sand Hill Road, the heart of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firms, and all the doors that slammed shut.
Nicholson hadn’t sought Chinese money. But then Tencent, China’s internet and telecommunications giant and now one of the world’s largest companies, approached the firm, offering $200,000 in seed funding. The Chinese monetary infusion buoyed Skymind, which soon landed a coveted spot in Y Combinator, the powerful startup accelerator. American investors, who had only months earlier eschewed the firm’s overtures, quickly changed their tune. Chinese investment soon beget American investment. “It was that crucial piece of Chinese capital that allowed us to survive,” Nicholson said. “That’s all it took. Now we’re a company with 35 employees.”
Reflecting a common feeling among his cohorts in Silicon Valley startups, Nicholson insisted that working with Chinese investors does not mean granting Beijing officials access to the coding process. “My American co-founder and I are in control,” Nicholson said, noting that Skymind has given up none of the rights to its intellectual property and has made its code “open sourced,” which means the code is freely available for cybersecurity experts to inspect, audit and offer suggestions.
But Bryan Ware, CEO of Haystax Technology, which works with law enforcement, defense and intelligence clients on securing their technologies, cast some doubt on the idea that the owners of tech startups would naturally refuse to share details of their technology with their investors: “If you’ve got a Chinese investor and that’s the lifeblood that’s going to allow you to get your product out the door, or allow you to hire your next developer, telling them, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ or, ‘No you shouldn’t do that,’ while you have no other alternatives for financing — that’s just the nature of the dilemma.” “Every investment comes with a risk of some loss of intellectual property or foreign influence and control,” Ware said.
And too many Silicon Valley deals exist in a “netherworld” between passive investment and absolute takeover, “where there’s access to information, technical information, [and] there is the ability to influence and potentially coerce management,” according to the senior Treasury Department official.
One major concern among specialists like Ware is that Beijing officials could use early Chinese investments in next-generation technology to map the software the federal government and even the Defense Department may one day use — and perhaps even corrupt it in ways that would give China a window into sensitive U.S. information.
A review of 185 tech startups with Chinese investors found just over 5 percent had received government contracts, loans or grants ranging from a few thousand dollars to several million dollars. Often, the contracts simply involved research — renewable energy for the Energy Department, electronics and communications equipment for the Pentagon, space technology for NASA. Others ordered lab equipment for the Commerce Department, or machine tools for the military.
“There’s a tremendous amount of intelligence value there,” Ware said. “All governments desire to know what other governments are doing. And knowing the technologies and how they work I think is a big part of that.” While there’s no indication that the firms had U.S. government contracts at the time that Chinese investors became involved, that may be part of China’s strategy. Derek Scissors, who manages the American Enterprise Institute’s China Global Investment Tracker, an exhaustive database of China’s major global investments, said that as welcome as the surge of Chinese-funded deals may be in Silicon Valley, the engine behind them is the Chinese government. China’s Silicon Valley investment strategy “was shaped by the state and that shaping has gotten tighter,” he said.
Still, many Chinese investments in the United States are not directly backed by the Beijing government, but it can be hard to distinguish. Some prominent Chinese VC firms in Silicon Valley have clear links to the government. Westlake Ventures, for example, received funding from the government in the coastal Chinese city of Hangzhou, according to media reports and a Pentagon research paper. And Westlake has put money into other VC funds, such as the WI Harper Group, which has a stake in a wide slate of American tech companies, from a dating app to a three-dimensional imaging company to a maker of robot cooks. Westlake did not respond to a request for comment.
But it’s not always easy to trace the money back to a single source, let alone determine what connection that source has to Beijing’s Communist leadership. Haiyin Capital, a Beijing-based VC firm, is partially backed by a state-run Chinese company, according to a company release. Also complex is ZGC Capital Corporation — located in Silicon Valley and focused on providing startups with basic business help — is a subsidiary of a state-owned enterprise funded by the Beijing government, according to the organizations’ websites. Attempts to reach each organization were unsuccessful.
Security and economics experts say they are unsure how much financial or national security harm these Chinese investments are actually causing the United States — if any — simply because it may not be clear for years exactly how important the technology may be. In the meantime, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are blunt: America actually needs Chinese money to maintain its global tech advantage.
“Here’s my warning shot,” Nicholson said. “If we make it difficult for foreign talent and foreign capital to find each other by over-regulating early-stage startup investing … we will lose our supremacy as the top tech economy in the world.”
Enter Congress
In Washington, Silicon Valley’s warning has been heard loudly enough to delay the passage of a bill to strengthen the CFIUS process, despite the support of such bipartisan figures as Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, and California’s own Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Last year, after a cascade of warnings from the Defense Department, Justice Department and other powerful sources, both the House and Senate seemed ready to take action to strengthen oversight of foreign investment in technology companies.
The bipartisan proposal would direct CFIUS to consider whether pending investments would erode America’s technological edge, enable a foreign government to utilize digital spying powers that might be used against the United States, or give sensitive data — even indirectly — to a foreign government. Similarly, it would expand the definition of “critical industries” — a reference to sectors like banking, defense or energy — to include “critical technologies,” a significant expansion of the committee’s current mandate. Under the bill, CFIUS would have to create a system to monitor transactions that aren’t voluntarily brought to the committee’s attention.
The measure would also centralize some of the committee’s functions and allow the committee to charge filing fees up to 1 percent of the total value of the transaction up to $300,000, and let Treasury offer a single CFIUS budget request rather than relying on contributions from other departments.
The Trump administration offered a full-throated endorsement of the bill in January, saying it “would strengthen our ability to protect national security and enhance confidence in our longstanding open investment policy.” And while the bill doesn’t explicitly cite China, the provisions are clearly aimed at limiting its access to the most sensitive areas.
Pittenger insisted that Congress’ inaction is allowing China to brazenly pilfer the technology that drives America’s military might, and sell that technology to adversaries like Iran and North Korea. He noted that a Treasury official told him getting the bill signed is the department’s No. 1 legislative priority for 2018.
But many technology entrepreneurs believe the bill would simply drive cutting-edge research overseas. In 2016, foreign investors injected $373 billion into the United States, a figure that has been mostly increasing since the early 2000s, according to government data. Lengthening the CFIUS review time — currently 30 days, but set to extend to 45 days under the new bill — could damage the “brittle process” of early-stage fundraising, said Nicholson, who encouraged lawmakers to focus on expanding CFIUS powers in other areas, such as bankruptcy courts.
“I worry that they’re driving a bulldozer towards a rose garden,” said Nicholson, echoing his claim that training the CFIUS lens on Silicon Valley could scare off the very financing that keeps America growing.
IBM’s vice president for regulatory affairs, Christopher Padilla, agreed, warning at a January hearing that the bill “could constitute the most economically harmful imposition of unilateral trade restrictions by the United States in many decades.” He raised particular concerns about expanding CFIUS authority to cover foreign investments in “critical technologies,” a phrase tech leaders say is worryingly opaque and that could force companies peddling sensitive technology to have every single sale reviewed. Padilla called it a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach to regulating that “would be deeply damaging to U.S. competitiveness, and, more important, could lead to a false sense of security.”
Some industry groups have suggested that the bill should delineate these technologies — robotics or artificial intelligence, for instance — to avoid having every deal scrutinized from top to bottom. “We would be well served to define those issues from the outset,” said Dean Garfield, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group representing industry heavyweights such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. Garfield said getting the bill revised is a top-five issue for ITI in 2018. He cautioned that the bill, as written, could spike the number of annual CFIUS reviews from “a few hundred deals” to “a few thousand.”
Proponents, however, feel that specifying specific technologies might be impossible. The software powering the country — from waterways to missile systems — is constantly changing and evolving, they say. Instead, they suggest, new CFIUS funds and a streamlined reporting process would help keep the growing stream of deal reviews moving. “For the price of a single B-21 bomber, we can fund an updated CFIUS process and protect our key capabilities for several years,” Cornyn said at a hearing. “That is a down payment on long-term national security.”
Nonetheless, lawmakers have been working to address industry complaints, making tweaks to the legislation. And just last week, lawmakers made a breakthrough, agreeing to slightly narrow the bill’s scope, raising the chances the measure will make it to the president’s desk.
The House and Senate are scheduled to mark up their respective CFIUS bills on Tuesday, and lawmakers now are angling to attach the legislation to the annual, must-pass defense authorization bill as a way to guarantee it gets through. But lingering disputes could still derail the process.
National security leaders and lawmakers warn that these squabbles, while reflecting sincerely held positions, are simply delaying necessary action. At that January hearing, Cornyn described a changing reality if CFIUS is left in its current iteration. “Just imagine if China’s military was stronger, faster and more lethal,” Cornyn said. “That is what the future likely holds,” he added, “unless we act.”

The Iron Ladies of USA

“I know that at home you call me ‘the old lady.’ Well, I’m a grandmother, and you’re a grandfather. And so from one grandparent to another, let me express my hope that our grandchildren will know a future of peace …” — Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Recently, two women were named at the head of what is seen as the center of power in the US, the Intelligence services: Gina Haspel and Kirstjen Nielsen. It is this permanence of public service that, in the USA, assures that a president cannot be omnipotent; it is a true sign of democracy.
Some Arab leaders stood out, in part, by their sexist and disrespectful language against former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat referred to Golda Meir as the Old Lady. There was a famous discussion about it when Sadat came to the Knesset, and in front of the camera she said to him: “I know that at home you call me ‘the old lady.’ Well, I’m a grandmother, and you’re a grandfather. And so from one grandparent to another, let me express my hope that our grandchildren will know a future of peace…”
The Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, had what some referred to as a slightly eerie obsession with Condoleezza Rice, describing her as his “African Princess.”
Secretary Nielsen was brought to the helm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a department staffed with 200,000 employees. The DHS was created after 9/11 to pool together a number of disparate branches of the administration, from emergency management, to customs, border protection and immigration. It is an extremely important position.
The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia, remains — beyond imagining— the best performing foreign intelligence organization in the world, and therefore an essential tool for US foreign policy. Gina Haspel is the first woman to be named to Langley.
This was not the result of “reverse discrimination.” Director Haspel seems to have been born for public service. She wanted to join West Point, the prestigious military academy, but closed to women at the time. She nevertheless worked with the 10th Special Forces Group, then went to join the CIA.
For 30 years, Director Haspel worked first as a reports officer, then in several undercover overseas operations, and ultimately as station chief, before becoming assistant director, and finally the top job. One of her predecessors, John Brennan, albeit a Democrat, has praised her skills and integrity, and strongly defended her nomination. These are two sharp profiles, adapted to the responsibilities that they have shouldered until now.
The other point to emphasize is that the institutional architecture in the US is special. Although appointed by the President, the directors of the agencies obey his directives only in respect of the laws, and especially of the missions, of the institutions they manage. This is a constant in the United States whereby democracy lives and thrives.
The two women will handle two crucial battles in Donald Trump’s agenda. Director Haspel will be in charge of the fight against terrorism, a file she knows blindfolded — whether funding, religious indoctrination or recruitment. Her memos will be sure to affect diplomacy, especially as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is a former colleague who appreciates the primacy of Intelligence. Ultimately, the President’s tweets will not impact the work of the CIA; rather, the other way around.
Secretary Nielsen will be in charge of the thorny issue of immigration. The president’s maximalist proposals will be put to the test by realities on the ground and by the law. There is no doubt that the work of the homeland intelligence will be at the forefront of this job.
It is this permanence of public service that, in the USA, assures that a president cannot be omnipotent; it is a true sign of democrac

The Choppy Port of Recall-Chabahar

Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and plans for renewing sanctions against Iran raise concerns over oil and energy prices, it’s worth analysing the impact of this decision on India and China.
Both India and China are heavily dependent on oil and energy, and by extension on energy-rich Iran for their needs. US sanctions on Iran can adversely affect both these countries. However, China also stands to gain from Washington’s move. As the US retreats from globalisation and multilateralism, China has an opportunity to fill the void.
As already reflected by President Xi Jinping’s speech at Davos in 2017, China has emerged as a champion of globalisation. Foreign minister Wang Yi’s statement about Beijing’s determination to protect the Iranian nuclear deal, in which he stated the deal is a result of multilateral efforts to support peace and stability, also puts the spotlight on China as a supporter of multilateralism. The US, with its pullout from the deal, however, signals hegemonism.
The reneging of the nuclear deal will also strengthen the coalition of anti-West forces. This is already unfolding as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited China last weekend after Donald Trump’s announcement. Zarif then visited Moscow to meet his counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
Additionally, the Gwadar port near Iran, which had been operationalised less than a year ago, will probably see Chinese engagement in the light of western sanctions. While the Chabahar port was a result of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan in 2016, in March 2018, Iran invited China and Pakistan to ‘participate’ in Chabahar. Even in June 2017, concerns regarding the US possibly reimposing sanctions on Iran was the cause for western manufacturers shying away from supplying equipment to the port, which India has been developing. Chinese firm ZPMC had since come forward to supply equipment.
Given that Trump has now made plans of reimposing sanctions on Iran clear, the same concerns among suppliers is bound to creep in, making Indian efforts at the development of the port more difficult. In such a scenario, Iran will weigh in favour of China taking active participation in the port. In any case, China does not have much regard for sanctions, as exemplified by its engagements with North Korea amid previous UN sanctions.
For India, this becomes a double whammy. It has already invested more than $500 million in the port, and India’s continued interest in the port—essential for ensuring trade and energy supplies from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia—could become a sticking point in India-US relations. The port is also strategically important for India and is seen as a counter to the Gwadar port in Pakistan being developed by China, which will enable wider Chinese access to the Arabian Sea for civilian and military purposes.
In addition, Chinese involvement in the very port that India sought to develop as a counter to Gwadar ends India’s strategic purposes through Chabahar. Iran has already invited China to join the port, and Afghanistan, in all probability, will follow suit. The prospect of a joint economic collaborations in Afghanistan between India and China has already been welcomed by Afghanistan. Chabahar will fall under this category. But in the middle of all this, the economic loss as well as the strategic one is for India to bear.
In such a scenario, India could invite Japan to get on board Chabahar’s development. Previously, the Japanese side had shown interest in the development of the port, and with China’s rapid development of connectivity linkages in the form of its Belt and Road Initiative, Japanese investment in Chabahar would give further impetus to India, as well as to Japan building connectivity linkages in Asia and beyond.
But US allies such as Japan and South Korea may now well be wary of any linkage with Iran, given the apprehension of losing the security cover against North Korea. In such a scenario, it is pertinent that India enters into more talks to allay such fears. In addition to bringing Japan on board for Chabahar’s development, India should start looking for other like-minded countries for participation, to reduce the negative impacts of the US sanctions on Iran to the minimal possible level.

Weekend Special: The New Science of Psychedelics

Recent studies are finding that drugs such as LSD and psilocybin can help to alleviate depression, anxiety and addiction—and may have profound things to teach us about how the mind works
To anyone who lived through the 1960s, the proposition that psychedelic drugs might have a positive contribution to make to our mental health must sound absurd. Along with hallucinogens like mescaline and psilocybin (that is, magic mushrooms), LSD was often blamed for bad trips that sent people to the psych ward. These drugs could make you crazy.
So how is it possible that, 50 years later, researchers working at institutions such as New York University, Johns Hopkins, UCLA and Imperial College in London are discovering that, when administered in a supportive therapeutic setting, psychedelics can actually make you sane? Or that they may have profound things to teach us about how the mind works, and why it sometimes fails to work?
Recent trials of psilocybin, a close pharmacological cousin to LSD, have demonstrated that a single guided psychedelic session can alleviate depression when drugs like Prozac have failed; can help alcoholics and smokers to break the grip of a lifelong habit; and can help cancer patients deal with their “existential distress” at the prospect of dying. At the same time, studies imaging the brains of people on psychedelics have opened a new window onto the study of consciousness, as well as the nature of the self and spiritual experience. The hoary ‘60s platitude that psychedelics would help unlock the secrets of consciousness may turn out not to be so preposterous after all.
The value of psychedelic therapy was first recognized nearly 70 years ago, only to be forgotten when what had been a promising era of research ran headlong into a nationwide moral panic about LSD, beginning around 1965. With a powerful assist from Timothy Leary, the flamboyant Harvard psychology professor, psychedelics had escaped the laboratory, falling into the eager arms of the counterculture. Yet in the decade before that there had been 1,000 published studies of LSD, involving 40,000 experimental subjects, and no fewer than six international conferences devoted to what many in the psychiatric community regarded as a wonder drug.
Compared with other psychoactive compounds, these powerful and mysterious molecules were regarded as safe—it’s virtually impossible to overdose on a psychedelic—and nonaddictive. Rats in a cage presented with a lever to administer drugs like cocaine and heroin will press it repeatedly, unto death. LSD? That lever they press only once.
This is not to say that “bad trips” don’t happen; they do, especially when the drugs are used carelessly. People at risk for schizophrenia sometimes have psychotic breaks on psychedelics, and people surely do stupid things under the influence that can get them killed. But the more extreme claims about LSD—that it scrambled users’ chromosomes or induced them to stare at the sun until blind—were debunked long ago.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that a small band of researchers began to unearth what an NYU psychiatrist describes as “a buried body of knowledge” about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. Perhaps the most promising application of the new drugs was in the treatment of alcoholism. Few people in Alcoholics Anonymous realize that Bill Wilson, the founder, first got sober after a mystical experience he had on a psychedelic administered to him in 1934, or that, in the 1950s, he sought, unsuccessfully, to introduce LSD therapy to AA.
In parts of Canada during the 1950s, psychedelic therapy became a standard treatment for alcoholism, and a 2012 meta-analysis of the six best-controlled trials of LSD therapy for alcohol addiction during that period found a “significant beneficial effect on alcohol misuse.” Early studies of psychedelics for the treatment of several other indications, notably including depression and anxiety in cancer patients, also showed promise.
These first-wave studies were, by contemporary standards, poorly controlled. That’s why many of the early experiments are now being reprised using more rigorous modern methods. The early results are preliminary but encouraging: A pilot study of psilocybin for alcohol dependence conducted at the University of New Mexico found a strong enough effect to warrant a much larger phase 2 trial now under way at NYU.
Another recent pilot study, at Johns Hopkins, looked at the potential of psilocybin to help people quit smoking, one of the hardest addictions to break. The study was tiny and not randomized—all 15 volunteers received two or three doses of psilocybin and knew it. Following what has become the standard protocol in psychedelic therapy, volunteers stretch out on a couch in a room decorated to look like a cozy den, with spiritual knickknacks lining the bookshelves. They wear eyeshades and headphones (playlists typically include classical and modern instrumental works) to encourage an inward journey. Two therapists, a man and a woman, are present for the duration. Typically these “guides” say very little, allowing the journey to take its course, but if the experience turns frightening, they will offer a comforting hand or bit of advice (“trust and let go,” is a common refrain).
The results of the pilot study were eye-popping: Six months after their psychedelic session, 80% of the volunteers were confirmed to have quit smoking. At the one-year mark, that figure had fallen to 67%, which is still a better rate of success than the best treatment now available. A much larger study at Hopkins is currently under way.
“The universe was so great, and there were so many things you could do and see in it that killing yourself seemed like a dumb idea,” a woman in her 60s told me. During her journey she grew feathers and flew back in time to witness various scenes in European history; she also died three times, watched her soul rise from her body on a funeral pyre on the Ganges, and found herself “standing on the edge of the universe, witnessing the dawn of creation.”
“It put smoking in a whole new context,” she said. It “seemed very unimportant; it seemed kind of stupid, to be honest.”
Matthew Johnson, the psychologist who directed the study at Hopkins, says that these sorts of “duh moments” are common among his volunteers. Smokers know perfectly well that their habit is unhealthy, disgusting, expensive and unnecessary, but under the influence of psilocybin, that knowledge becomes an unshakable conviction—“something they feel in the gut and the heart.” As Dr. Johnson puts it, “These sessions deprive people of the luxury of mindlessness”—our default state and one in which addictions flourish.
‘Few if any psychiatric interventions for anxiety and depression have ever demonstrated such dramatic and sustained results.’
Perhaps the most significant new evidence for the therapeutic value of psychedelics arrived in a pair of phase 2 trials (conducted at Johns Hopkins and NYU and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2016) in which a single high dose of psilocybin was administered to cancer patients struggling with depression, anxiety and the fear of death or recurrence. In these rigorous placebo-controlled trials, a total of 80 volunteers embarked on a psychic journey that, in many cases, brought them face to face with their cancer, their fear and their death.
“I saw my fear…located under my rib cage,” a woman with ovarian cancer told me. “It wasn’t my tumor, it was this black mass. ‘Get the f— out,’” she screamed aloud. “And you know what? It was gone!” Years later, her fear hasn’t returned. “The cancer is something completely out of my control, but the fear, I realized, is not.”
Eighty percent of the Hopkins cancer patients who received psilocybin showed clinically significant reductions in standard measures of anxiety and depression, an effect that endured for at least six months after their session. Results at NYU were similar.
Curiously, the degree to which symptoms decreased in both trials correlated with the intensity of the “mystical experience” that volunteers reported, a common occurrence during a high-dose psychedelic session. Typically described as the dissolution of one’s ego followed by a merging of the self with nature or the universe, a mystical experience can permanently shift a person’s perspective and priorities. The pivotal role of the mystical experience points to something novel about psychedelic therapy: It depends for its success not strictly on the action of a chemical but on the powerful psychological experience that the chemical can occasion.
Few if any psychiatric interventions for anxiety and depression have ever demonstrated such dramatic and sustained results. The trials were small and will have to be repeated on a larger scale before the government will consider approving the treatment. But when the researchers brought their data to the FDA last year, the regulators reportedly were sufficiently impressed to ask them to conduct a large phase 3 trial of psilocybin for depression—not just in cancer patients but in the general population.
So how does psychedelic therapy work? And why should the same treatment work for disorders as seemingly different as depression, addiction and anxiety?
When scientists at Imperial College began imaging the brains of people on psilocybin, they were surprised to find that the chemical, which they assumed would boost brain activity, actually reduced it, but in a specific area: the default mode network. This is a brain network involved in a range of “metacognitive” processes, including self-reflection, mental time travel, theory of mind (the ability to imagine mental states in others) and the generation of narratives about ourselves that help to create the sense of having a stable self over time.
The default mode network is most active when our minds are least engaged in a task—hence “default mode.” It is where our minds go when they wander or ruminate. The Imperial scientists found that when volunteers reported an experience of ego dissolution, the fMRI scans of their brains showed a precipitous drop in activity in the default mode network, suggesting that this network may be the seat of the ego.
One way to think about the ego is as a mental construct that performs certain functions on our behalf. Chief among these are maintaining the boundary between the conscious and unconscious realms of the mind as well as the boundary between self and other.
‘Who couldn’t benefit from the mental reboot that a powerful experience of awe can deliver?’
So what happens when these boundaries fade or disappear under the influence of psychedelics? Our ego defenses relax, allowing unconscious material and emotions to enter our awareness and also for us to feel less separate and more connected—to other people, to nature or to the universe. And in fact a renewed sense of connection is precisely what volunteers in the various trials for addiction, depression and cancer anxiety trials have all reported.
This points to what may be the most exciting reason to pursue the new science of psychedelics: the possibility that it may yield a grand unified theory of mental illnesses, or at least of those common disorders that psychedelics show promise in alleviating: depression, addiction, anxiety and obsession. All these disorders involve uncontrollable and endlessly repeating loops of rumination that gradually shade out reality and fray our connections to other people and the natural world. The ego becomes hyperactive, even tyrannical, enforcing rigid habits of thought and behavior—habits that the psychedelic experience, by loosening the ego’s grip, could help us to break.
That power to disrupt mental habits and “lubricate cognition” is what Robin Carhart-Harris, the neuroscientist at Imperial College who scanned the brains of volunteers on psychedelics, sees as the key therapeutic value of the drugs. The brain is a hierarchical system, with the default mode network at the top, serving as what he variously calls “the orchestra conductor” or “corporate executive” or “capital city.” But as important as it is to keep order in such complex system, a brain can suffer from an excess of order too. Depression, anxiety, obsession and the cravings of addiction could be how it feels to have a brain that has become excessively rigid or fixed in its pathways and linkages—a brain with more order than is good for it.
Dr. Carhart-Harris suggests that, by taking the default mode network offline for a period of time, psychedelics can, in effect, “reboot” the brain, jog it out of its accustomed grooves and open a space for new pathways to arise. His lab has made maps of the brain’s traffic patterns on psychedelics showing that, when the default mode network is quieted, myriad new connections spring up in the brain, linking far-flung areas that don’t ordinarily talk to one another directly.
The value of such an experience is surely not limited to the mentally ill. There are rich implications here for what one psychedelic researcher calls “the betterment of well people.” Who doesn’t sometimes feel stuck in destructive habits of thought? Or couldn’t benefit from the mental reboot that a powerful experience of awe can deliver?
One of the lessons of the new research is that not just mental illness but garden-variety unhappiness may owe something to living under the harsh rule of an ego that, whatever its value, walls us off from our emotions, from other people and from nature. “For the moment,” wrote Aldous Huxley, describing his own psychedelic journey in 1954, “that interfering neurotic who, in waking hours, tries to run the show, was blessedly out of the way.”

Digital India comes of age

After coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the vision of Digital India as an important programme to transform India through the power of technology and bridge the digital divide. Other programmes like Start-up India, Stand-up India and Skill India were designed to become an important adjunct to this larger narrative.
Four years down the line, empirical evidence suggests that Digital India is not only creating empowerment but also generating employment opportunities and promoting entrepreneurship. Laying down of 2,74,246 km of optic fibre connecting 1.15 lakh gram panchayats under BharatNet, in comparison to a mere 358 km under the previous government, speaks volumes about the speed with which we have created digital infrastructure.
Aadhaar, now backed by a robust law unlike in the UPA proposal, is playing a significant role in linking the physical with the digital to facilitate seamless delivery of services in a transparent manner. The JAM trinity (31 crore Jandhan bank accounts, 120 crore Aadhaar and 121 crore mobile phones) and the delivery of welfare measures and benefits directly to the bank accounts of the poor under DBT has led to a saving of Rs 90,000 crore, because digital identity removes middlemen and fictitious claimants.
The unique platform of Common Services Centres (CSCs) – which were just 83,000 when the present government was formed – now numbering 2.91 lakh with presence in 1.83 lakh gram panchayats has become a robust movement for digital delivery of services ranging from banking to insurance to pension to land records to Bharat bill payments and a host of others. Many of these are moving into new areas like skilling, LED bulb manufacturing, spreading digital literacy and even establishing low-cost sanitary napkin outfits for improving menstrual health in rural areas. In FY 2017-18, the CSCs carried out transactions worth Rs 19,925 crore against merely Rs 182 crore in 2013-14.
Home grown, low cost technology based initiatives like e-Hospital, e-Scholarship, soil health cards, Jeevan Pramaan for pensioners, e-NAM linking agricultural mandis to farmers and a host of other digital products are ensuring flawless delivery of services and creating entrepreneurship. Other digital products like the cloud based digi-locker and extraordinary rise in digital payments including phenomenal success of the home grown Bhim app (whose monthly transaction value increased from Rs 5,325 crore in October 2017 to Rs 24,172 crore in March 2018), are all extraordinary signs of transformation leading to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. The stellar success of the recently launched Umang app that integrates central and state government services on one platform and has seen more than 50 lakh downloads since its November 2017 launch, is noteworthy.
In making Digital India a mass movement our programme to open BPOs in small towns of India provides government support to bridge the viability gap. In just 3 years, 89 BPOs operate today in 27 states/UTs. BPOs are now operational in Imphal, Guwahati, Siliguri, Patna, Muzaffarpur, Madurai, Puducherry and even in areas like Badgam, Sopore and Srinagar. BPOs in places like Gaya, Deoria, Jhansi, Jehanabad, etc have now been finalised. Many girls and boys from rural areas work in them and some even service clients from abroad. This has created opportunities for thousands of jobs.
This extraordinary development of a digital ecosystem is taking place in sync with the larger and conventional IT profile of India. According to Nasscom, the formal IT-BPM sector today stands at $167 billion with exports reaching $126 billion. It has added 6,00,000 jobs in the last three years, employing 3.97 million people directly and almost 12 million people indirectly. Even in face of global slowdown, the sector continued to expand in India and added almost 1 lakh jobs in FY 2017-18. According to Randstad, the Indian IT sector is poised to grow at a cumulative growth rate of 9%.
As part of the larger Make in India vision, my ministry has actively promoted electronics manufacturing. Riding on government incentives such as MSIPS and others, electronics manufacturing has grown significantly in the last four years. Mobile phone manufacturing units in the country increasing from just 2 in 2014 to 120 in 2018. In the same period, annual production of mobile handsets increased from 6 crore units valued at Rs 18,900 crore to 22.5 crore units valued at Rs 1,32,000 crore. It has created 1 lakh direct and 3 lakh indirect jobs. Similarly, TV and LED products manufacturing have grown significantly, with more than 50 units set up in the last 4 years.
Another area of strong growth is the e-commerce sector, mainly driven by growing rural aspirations. Apart from generating employment in direct activities related to e-commerce platforms, this growth has a positive impact on the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and has a favourable cascading effect on other industries, creating increased employment opportunities.
The future is very promising because India’s digital economy, large size of our market, demographic dividend and passion for technology is creating enormous demand. Our digital economy also includes emerging areas like AI and IoT, the growing start-up movement and low cost, effective cyber security solutions. While we work out the details, no one doubts the potential to make India’s digital economy worth $1 trillion, employing 50-70 lakh people in the next 5-7 years.
The Asia head of a large tech company recently told me that in IIT campus interviews, the better students earlier used to line up for employment but now toppers state they would like to venture out as a start-up, because they want to be job givers rather than job seekers. The moment of digital empowerment, entrepreneurship and employment has indeed arrived.

Labelling Global Regions Needs Rethinking

Bill Gates may be on a mission to eradicate extreme poverty, but he’s not going to do it by focusing on the “developing” world anymore.
“I talk about the developed and developing world all the time, but I shouldn’t,” Gates wrote in a new blog post this week.
His new resolution to eradicate “developing” and “developed” from his vocabulary was spurred by the release of the book “Factfulness,” written by his good friend and Swedish statistician Hans Rosling. Rosling died of pancreatic cancer last year, but his book is out post-mortem, after his son and daughter-in-law finished the final pages for him.
Gates called it “one of the most educational books I’ve ever read.” and said the world would be better if millions of others read it, too.
Factfulness is Rosling’s final attempt to change the fatalistic ways that he says most people view the world. He wants us to know that statistically speaking, things aren’t as bad as we might think. He believes we rely too much on a set of emotion-fueled “instincts” to frame the state of the world, painting a much gloomier-than-reality picture of everything from global education to healthcare and natural disasters.
One of the biggest ways he hopes to do this is by replacing the binary framework of one “developing” world pitted against another “developed” world.
Instead, he says it’s more useful (and accurate) to think of world income levels in four distinct brackets. While someone living in Level 1 might use their fingers to rinse and brush their teeth each night, a person living in the Level 4 income bracket would more likely plug their electric toothbrush in for a charge when they’re done sudsing up their pearly whites.
But it’s not just Rosling who’s changing his global income vocabulary. The World Bank now uses a similar four-tiered system to talk about income levels, too. And Gates wants to be next.
“I’m going to try to use this model moving forward,” the billionaire philanthropist wrote on his blog Tuesday.
Here’s how the four global income levels break down:
Level 1: People live on less than $2 a day. Rosling estimates that one billion people are living at or below this threshold. They get around on their own two barefoot feet, cook over an open flame like a cookfire, fetch water in a bucket, and sleep on the ground.
Some people living in countries like Nepal, Madagascar and Lesotho all fall into this income category.
Lesotho, Rosling says, has the lowest life expectancy of any country in the world.
Level 2: This is the income group where the majority of the world’s people live. They get by on between $2 and $8 a day and might have some possessions like a bicycle, a mattress, or a gas canister for cooking at home.
Countries like Bangladesh, China, Zambia and Nigeria all have people living in this income level, but of course many Chinese and Nigerian people have much higher incomes, especially if they live in big cities.
That’s one of the reasons that Rosling argues it’s silly to lump entire countries and sections of the world into broad categories like “developing” versus “developed.” It’s meaningless.
Level 3: This is the second most populous category on Rosling’s list, after level 2. People in level 3 live on anywhere from $8 a day to $32. They have running water, might own a motorbike or car, and their meals are a rich and colorful mix of foods from day to day. They also probably have electricity and a fridge, which makes things like studying and eating enough varied nutrients easier.
Egypt, Palestine, the Philippines and Rwanda all have citizens living on this level.
They might have enough money to take small vacations, and their children are generally free to finish high school, because they don’t have to drop out early to make money for their family.
Level 4: Like level 1, roughly one billion of the world’s people live on this level. They make $32 a day or more and have things like running water (both hot and cold) at home, a vehicle in the driveway, and plenty of nutrients on their plate. They’ve also likely had the chance to finish twelve years of school, or more.
Just about anyone living in the US, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden or South Korea is going to fall into this income category.
It includes essentially all of what people think of as the “developed” world, but accounts for roughly one-seventh of the global population.
Be cautious about assuming that your level is the best, or most “normal'” level, Rosling says.
“Be cautious about generalizing from Level 4 experiences to the rest of the world,” Rosling writes. “Especially if it leads you to the conclusion that other people are idiots.”
People around the world are coming up with ingenious ways to solve their problems on every level, every day. Rosling cites the example of visiting one family in Tunisia whose house is in a continuous state of construction.
“In Sweden, if someone build their house like that, we would think they had a severe planning problem, or maybe the builders had run away,” he writes.
Rosling says the reason their house is always being constructed is because without easy access to a bank, it’s the best way for the Tunisian family to safeguard their wealth. Unlike a pile of money, a pile of bricks being slowly cemented into a home can’t be easily stolen.
“When something looks strange, be curious and humble,” Rosling adds. “Think, in what way is this a smart solution?”
And remember, “leveling up'” isn’t always a good thing.
Just because someone’s not living on the tippy-top Level 4 doesn’t mean they’re living an unfulfilling, deprived life.
Rosling says that a full 80% of the world’s people have some access to electricity. That means people on levels 2, 3 and 4 are all taking advantage of some current every day. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re flipping off a switch every night when they go to bed, but at some point in their daily life, they’re plugging in and getting what they need, whether it’s at home, work, school or elsewhere in town.
Meanwhile, people living in Level 4 aren’t doing everything right. They have by far the highest CO2 emissions levels of anyone on the planet. As Rosling notes, Canada’s per capita CO2 emissions are today “twice as high as China’s and eight times as high as India’s.” Together, people living on income Level 4 burn more than 50% of the fossil fuels consumed on Earth each year.

Dictators on Way Up, Not Out

All around the world, democracy is looking shaky. While consolidated democracies are struggling to stay healthy, many flawed ones have turned into outright authoritarian regimes – most notably Russia under Vladimir Putin and Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But the news isn’t all bad: on several continents over the last decade, longstanding dictators have resigned, lost elections, or been deposed. A number of dictators who’ve fallen in recent years for all sorts of reasons is a cause for optimism.
But has their demise led to any kind of democratic reform? It’s a mixed picture to say the least. While a handful of promising cases deserve praise, only a few of the dictatorships that have fallen in recent years have given way to lasting, stable democracies.
The 2010s began with tremendous optimism for the future of global democracy, reaching an apogee with the Arab Spring protests in 2011. Across the Middle East and North Africa, several dictators fell in a row: after Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was toppled in a civil war. Fighting also erupted in Yemen, leading to the eventual flight of longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.
It seemed for a moment that in one fell swoop, a clutch of countries were suddenly shaking off authoritarianism at last. But with the exception of Tunisia – whose situation is still somewhat fragile – none of them have developed into democracies.
Egypt’s brief spell under the elected Muslim Brotherhood came to an end in 2013, when a military intervention brought General Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi to power. He remains president today, legitimised by largely meaningless elections. Libya is still a weak state beset by instability and violence; Yemen has slipped into devastating conflict and humanitarian crisis. Though protests exploded throughout the Middle East, only modest reforms took place elsewhere. And in Syria, the Assad regime’s crackdown on the 2011 protests helped spark a nightmarish conflict that has torn the country apart.
Iraq and Afghanistan, meanwhile, saw a change in leadership with the elections that forced Nouri al-Maliki and Hamid Karzai out of power. But neither country’s democracy has notably improved. Afghanistan is still authoritarian and unstable, and in Iraq, Maliki is still very powerful behind the scenes.
Mixed bag
Latin America was home to a clutter of military dictatorships for decades, but since the mid-to-late 1980s, most of its countries have been flawed but functioning democracies.
The two notable holdouts were Venezuela under Hugo Chávez and Cuba under Fidel Castro – and in the last decade, the two have diverged considerably. While Cuba has reformed a little under the rule of Fidel’s brother Raúl, who has now handed over to Miguel Díaz-Canal, Venezuela is falling apart under the dictatorial leadership of Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro. Other regimes in Latin America continue to hold free and fair elections, but struggle to uphold the rule of law.
In Asia, meanwhile, a few less-than-democratic countries have made strides towards reform, but most authoritarian regimes have stayed the same. Still, some reforms and resignations are noteworthy. In the Caucasus, Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan was recently forced to resign after mass protests against his rule. Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan also stepped down after elections, the first peaceful handover of power in the country’s history.
In South-East Asia, most of the attention since 2015 has been on surprising events in Myanmar, when the military regime that ran the country for decades allowed open elections for the first time since 1990. Myanmar’s military government was oppressive even by authoritarian standards, so it was quite something to see it holding elections, releasing political prisoners and allowing more press freedom. The regime’s leader, Thein Sein, stepped down to make way for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
But the democratic transformation was short-lived. The regime has continued to violate the human rights of its minority groups, most notably the Rohingya minority, and civil liberties and press freedoms are in serious jeopardy.
Turfed out
One place where things are looking up for democracy is Sub-Saharan Africa. The last decade has seen the overall standing of democracy in Africa improve. In the early 1980s, only five countries in Africa could be considered democratic: Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius, Senegal and Zimbabwe. The end of the Cold War saw the expansion of elections and civil liberties. But more recent years has seen the fall or peaceful resignation of important authoritarian figures, many of them old men who had clung on to power for decades.
Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia eventually fled the country in 2017 after he lost the presidential elections to the opposition. Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso resigned after political protests broke out in 2014, following nearly three decades in power. José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola resigned after nearly 40 years in power (though he remains influential in Angolan politics). All three countries have become slightly more democratic as a result.
But the biggest tree felled in Africa was undoubtedly Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. In his capacity as president since 1980, Mugabe had become increasingly dictatorial and brutal, and his misguided leadership plunged the country into chaos. When he unceremoniously fired his vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa at the end of 2017, his previous backers in the military decided they had finally had enough. With parliamentary impeachment hearings in the offing, Mugabe eventually resigned, and new elections are scheduled for July 2018.
The bloodless Zimbabwean transition was a heartening spectacle, but there are nonetheless plenty of other countries to worry about. Hungary’s Viktor Orban is threatening to constrict his country’s democracy by clamping down on civil liberties, even as he wins landslide election victores. China’s Xi Jinping recently orchestrated the removal of term limits, giving him power to rule indefinitely. Thailand’s military is heading the most repressive government the country has seen in years. Still, while many countries have taken an authoritarian turn, others have made a success of their escape from dictatorship.
As recent events in Armenia attest, citizens the world over are becoming more involved in politics and taking their displeasure to the streets. And while it’s true that most dictators who fall are replaced by another dictator, there are enough examples to the contrary to give the defenders of democracy some hope.

 

AI Needs to be Trusted

Every day, I put my life in the hands of hundreds of people I will probably never meet. The men and women who designed and manufactured my car. Those who prepared my shop-bought lunch, and installed the power sockets in my office. There are countless more.
The capacity to trust in other humans we don’t know is why our species dominates the planet. We are ingenious, and our relentless search for new and better technologies spurs us on. But ingenuity alone would not be sufficient without our knack for cooperating in large numbers, and our capacity to tame dangerous forces, such as electricity, to safe and valuable ends.
To invent the modern world, we have had to invent the complex web of laws, regulations, industry practices and societal norms that make it possible to rely on our fellow humans.
So what will it take for you to trust artificial intelligence? To allow it to drive your car? To monitor your child? To analyse your brain scan and direct surgical instruments to extract your tumour? To spy on a concert crowd and zero in on the perpetrator of a robbery five years ago?
Trust by default
Today, we tend to answer that question by default. Few of us read the terms and conditions before we tick the consent box and invite virtual assistants, like Alexa or Google Home, into our homes. Nor do we think too deeply about the algorithms working behind the scenes in police forces, credit unions and welfare agencies to shape the communities we live in.
We can be confident that AI technology is evolving rapidly; that the well-financed ambitions of nations like China and France will accelerate its development; and that the concentration of massive datasets in the hands of Amazon, Google and Facebook will enable experiments on a scale we may well find discomforting.
Some applications of AI, such as medical devices, will run into existing regulatory regimes. But few of those regimes were designed with AI in mind. And the applications of AI that most concern the public today – those deployed in social media – have exposed the limitations of current laws.
How long can the default assumption of trust in AI hold? Scientists have been here before. For decades, conversations about biotechnology have been dogged by widespread mistrust of the word “gene”, just as pharmaceutical and agricultural industries have been assailed by a fear of “chemicals”. If consumers could be brought to clamour for “gene-free food” and “chemical-free water”, it’s not so hard to imagine calls for an “AI-free internet”. Or an AI ban.
True, we could never enforce such a ban. But we could certainly shut down AI development in the places where we most want to see it – in ethical and reputable organisations. We must be more nuanced in our approach. We can be, if we remember our signature achievement as a species: securing trust.
Manners matter
Think of the sophisticated spectrum of controls that operate in human societies – let me call them HI societies, for Human Intelligence.
At the extreme left end of the spectrum, we have societal norms – manners, if you like – and incentives for good behaviour. Moving along the spectrum, we have organisational rules that govern how to act in classrooms or the workplace, and commercial regulations for interactions in the market. Further along, there are penalties for misdemeanours such as poor car parking, then punishments covering crimes such as robbery and assault. Approaching the right-hand end of the spectrum, we have severe punishments for the worst civil crimes such as premeditated murder or terrorism. At the very right-hand end, there are internationally agreed conventions against weapons of mass destruction.
We will need a similar control spectrum for AI. At the left end, in particular, there is a worrying void. After all, what constitutes “good behaviour” in a social media company’s use of AI? Where is it documented? Who codes it into AI, so that HI and AI can grow peaceably and productively together?
We could conceivably come to a set of norms by trial and error – or scandal and response. But in a febrile environment, intellectual coherence is unlikely to emerge by lurching from one crisis of confidence to the next.
We need the equivalent of the manners we teach to children. We don’t wait for kids to do something objectionable, then make up a rule as we punish them. We reinforce the expectation of ethical behaviour from day one.
Manners in HI societies differ, but they are all designed to make individuals feel comfortable through mutual respect. Developers of AI need to keep this in mind, integrating it in their company model from the start and consistently reinforcing it as the reality of doing business.
Raising standards
Any proposal to regulate in a sector that trades on its reputation for “moving fast and breaking things” will meet resistance. I understand the impulse.
What one realises that the standards – and the entire compliance process – were the framework one needed for building a competitive company that traded on quality. True quality is achieved by design, not by testing and rejecting. The ISO 9000 quality management systems (from the International Organisation for Standardization) ensure that high expectations are built into design and business practices, from product conceptualisation, through production, to maintenance and replacement. Compliance is assured by a combination of internal and external audits. We maintained these exacting design and business practices for our non-medical products too, because they made us a better company and gave us a commercial edge.
In HI societies, there are consequences for falling short of societal standards. We need the same for AI developers – a way for consumers to recognise and reward ethical conduct.
A new way to trust
The most straightforward method would be an AI trustmark. Let’s call it the Turing Certificate, for the great Alan Turing. A Turing Stamp would be the symbol that marks a vendor and product as bearers of the Turing Certificate, meaning they are worthy of trust.
The combination of the two – trustworthy organisation, trustworthy product – is critical. This model has long prevailed in the manufacturing sector. Indeed, if it were not for the implementation of agreed standards for design, manufacturing and business practices, our society would have completely rejected all electrical devices years ago on safety grounds, and we would not be worrying about AI today.
In the manufacturing sector, standards are both mandatory and enforceable. Manufacturing is a highly visible process with an obvious geographical footprint. AI development is more elusive. Mandatory Turing certification would be cumbersome. A voluntary Turing Certificate would allow responsible companies to opt in, including start-ups. It’s better to grow up with standards than bump into them in your teens. Done right, the costs of securing certification should be covered by increased sales, from customers willing to pay a premium.
But there would only be a commercial incentive to comply if all players – companies, consumers and governments – could trust the system. Every Turing-certified organisation would be, in effect, a Turing ambassador. Smart companies, trading on quality, would welcome an auditing process that weeded out poor behaviour, just as Axon Instruments and thousands of other companies accept internal and external quality audits on a regular basis in exchange for the privilege of selling medical and non-medical devices.
At the same time, citizens would surely welcome the opportunity to make informed decisions, and to tread the middle path between accepting a free-for-all or excluding AI from their lives.
If we can cooperate in HI societies, surely we can cooperate in the vital work of nurturing HI and AI together.

Malaysia & Armenia Poised on the Cusp of Change

They may not qualify as echoes of May 1968, but a pair of intriguing developments means that May 2018 could go down as a historic turning point in the political trajectories of at least two very different countries.
First and foremost, the Malaysian election result earlier this month was remarkable on several counts. It was the first instance of power democratically changing hands in that country since it gained independence in 1957, and that too in a region where lately elections have generally served to reinforce the status quo. Furthermore, the ostensible transformation has been led by a nonagenarian who, until the turn of the century, personified the status quo, in collaboration with his most celebrated victim.
Mahathir Mohamad, during his 32 years as prime minister, frequently lapsed into the authoritarian category, especially in terms of crushing dissent. His most prominent victim was his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, with whom he spectacularly fell out following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Facetiously charged with sodomy, Anwar was brutalised and incarcerated for the remainder of Mahathir’s tenure.
He was imprisoned again, on the same absurd charge, after winning more votes than another Mahathir protégé, Najib Razak. Last week, Anwar emerged from imprisonment following a royal pardon obtained through Mahathir’s intercession as the newly elected prime minister, after the multi-ethnic coalition that includes both men’s parties unexpectedly won the election on a reformist agenda.
Cronyism was among the accusations by Anwar on which he fell out with Mahathir in the 1990s, but the latter’s political machinations were not guided by the goal of personal enrichment. Najib’s regime, on the other hand, has been cited by the US Department of Justice as kleptocracy at its worst. Raids on his properties in recent days yielded not only incriminating amounts of cash in various currencies but also a haul of Hermes Birkin handbags and various other luxuries. Who knows whether Donald Trump was aware of his DOJ’s verdict when he feted Najib at the White House and presented him with a signed photograph inscribed with the words: “To my favourite prime minister.”
Najib’s biggest scandal revolved around billions siphoned off from a state fund known as 1MDB, including some $700 million that ended up in his personal account — although it has been claimed that amount came from personal Saudi donors. It was apparently the 1MDB embarrassment that was decisive in Mahathir turning against Najib and successfully seeking reconciliation with Anwar. Even so, no one seriously expected the opposition alliance to triumph against the Barisan Nasional coalition headed by the United Malays National Organisation, given the latter’s penchant for bribery, manipulation and gerrymandering.
But it seems the tide had decisively turned, and it seems to have helped that the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, had a familiar figure at its helm — at nearly 93, Mahathir looks at least 20 years younger and remains perfectly coherent in his speech, which is still characterised by the sharp tongue that made him an entertaining presence at international gatherings.
If Mahathir’s late-life resurgence lends some sort of hope to Nawaz Sharif, others such as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri may be more moved by the example of Nikol Pashinyan, who was catapulted in the past few weeks from protest leader to prime minister in Armenia.
The impetus for change evolved last month when Serzh Sargsyan, who had exhausted his two terms as president, sought to parachute himself into the prime ministership of the former Soviet republic — which has followed the common trajectory of a failed socialist model morphing almost instantaneously into neoliberal authoritarianism. Wide­spread protests, mainly rooted in economic discontent, persuaded Sargsyan to bow out. But his party, holding a parliamentary majority, initially rejected Pashin­yan as a replacement.
During the second vote, there were an estimated 250,000 people in the square and streets outside parliament, awaiting its verdict — that is, close to 10 per cent of the nation’s population. Enough members of the ruling party caved in for Pashinyan to emerge as the prime minister. In that capacity, he has promised to call fresh elections as soon as conditions are conducive. He has also promised to liberate the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan, and thereby to solve a dispute that marred the final years of the Soviet Union and has persisted ever since.
Of course, in both these instances, one must concede that the harbingers of hope may be short-lived. Armenia isn’t exactly out of the woods, and in Malaysia the longevity of the anti-Najib coalition is difficult to predict now that he is out of the way and quite possibly headed for the courtroom dock. The hopes that have been raised may be disappointed. But they might not. If it’s premature for anyone to jump for joy, there’s certainly no harm in keeping one’s fingers tightly crossed.

What Age Should Kids be to Own a Cellphone?

With the influx of cellphones and other technology into kids’ lives, parents increasingly do feel worried. A 2015 study by MediaSmarts, a Canadian not-for-profit focused on digital literacy, says over a quarter of students in Grade 4 own cellphones, and that skyrockets to 85 percent by Grade 11. Some children as young as eight own phones. And many will take their phones to class.
Millions of Canadian kids are heading back to school — some earlier than others — raising the questions of what age is too young to have a phone and how owning one helps or harms kids.
‘Kids should just be kids’
The parent of one eight-year-old thinks that’s too young.
“I am totally against it,” says Melissa Joyce on her daughter Aniah having a cell phone, although the competitive dancer and avid soccer player keeps asking for one. “Kids should just be kids.”
⦁ A cellphone for Aniah would open a “whole other realm that she doesn’t need to be exposed to,” says Joyce. She notes access to technology and the internet, notably social media, is especially problematic for young girls.
Thierry Plante, a media education specialist at MediaSmarts, says the omnipresence of cellphones could keep kids plugged in to social media, which can be problematic.
According to a 2012 MediaSmarts study, over half of Grade 11 students in Canada sleep with their phones because they fear missing messages.
“Social media can exacerbate problems” like bullying, harassment and FOMO (fear of missing out), he says, noting school should be one of place kids can have “digital breaks.”
Plante gives the example of a 2012 MediaSmarts study that found over half of Grade 11 students sleep with their phones because fear of missing messages.
“Bringing cellphones to school could bring with it other problems you might have,” he says.
Some schools have considered banning cellphones. The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest, did just that from 2007 to 2011.
“We all know that technology is here to stay, and so the school board has to get with the times,” Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the TDSB, told CBC News in 2015.
Some schools have considered banning cellphones, which the Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest, did from 2007 to 2011.
Health and academic consequences
However, many schools and classes have increasingly been using technology to teach. The results vary.
“There has been a lot of research on whether or not devices in school are useful,” says Plante. “We are still in the discovery stage.”
Plante says one literature teacher used Twitter to teach Shakespeare, having the students create Twitter accounts for characters and live-tweeting during class.
However, not everyone has been able integrate technology in the curriculum.
“There is a bit of a struggle to use devices in a way to support learning,” says Plante, noting the success of BYOD (bring your own devices) policies largely depends on the teacher. “Some teachers find them disruptive.”
Many schools use technology to teach. Thierry Plante, a media education specialist at MediaSmarts, says success depends on the teacher. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)
Some researchers suggest there’s a link between cellphone bans at school and increased academic performance.
⦁ In a May 2015 research paper by the London School of Economics, researchers sifted through surveys from 91 schools in England with cellphone ban policies and compared their standardized test scores for 16-year-olds to the rest of the country’s.
It found overall student scores improved by 6.41 per cent.
Although she does not support a ban on cellphones at school, Joyce believes they’re not necessary in that environment.
“If [kids] need to use the internet, schools have computer labs. If they want to play games, they have recess,” she says. “If there is an emergency, she can call me from the office or a counsellor can call me.”
“Kids should be using pen and paper.”
A pupil uses his phone for research during class in Winterbourne, England, in 2015. Researchers for the London School of Economics suggest banning cellphones at school can improve academic performance. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
⦁ Some studies suggest excessive time spent using screens, including cellphones, can affect children and youth adversely, stunting emotional and cognitive growth, warping a young person’s perspective on social norms and causing health problems such as poor eating and sleeping habits.
In 2012, the Canadian Pediatric Society came out with these guidelines for children and adolescents:
⦁ Children under 2: no screen time is recommended.
⦁ Children 2-4: less than one hour a day.
⦁ Children 5-11 and youth 12-17: no more than two hours a day; lower levels are associated with health benefits.
Too much screen time harms “aspects of cognitive and psychosocial development,” writes the CPS.
Plante agrees. “The time spent in front of a screen is time taken away from interacting with the real world and with real people and the benefits of cognitive development,” he says.
The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends children under two should not spend any time in front of screens because doing so ‘negatively impacts aspects of cognitive and psychosocial development.’ (CBC)
For JP Casino, parent of two and owner of KidGadget, an online tech and gadget store for Canadian parents, cellphone usage for children is “less age-dependent and more need-dependent.” Casino says he knows teenagers who don’t have or want a mobile phone and 12-year-olds who do.
Casino says some of the need comes from a desire for safety.
⦁ “Some children walk some distance to get to school, and parents can’t always accompany them,” he says.
A cellphone can help a parent track kids on their way to and from school. Kids get “a means to get a hold of [parents] in case of an emergency.”
Joyce says the only situation where she could imagine giving Aniah a cellphone is if she started walking home by herself in Grade 7 or 8.
For parents who balk at the idea of handing their kids a smartphone, Casino recommends other devices that have speech and tracking features.
“There are an emerging number of kids’ wearables, like smartwatches, that have GPS and calling features,” he says. Such devices use less data than phones.
JP Casino, with his six-year-old son Joshua, says parents need to ‘be vigilant and educate themselves.’ That includes knowing what apps their kids use, and even their passcodes. (CBC)
Casino’s six-year-old son Joshua uses Tinitell, a watch with mobile phone and locating features.
“He’s a bit young for a cellphone,” he says. The watch does not have the capacity to run Snapchat and other social media platforms that may put kids at risk.
Although Casino does not believe cellphones are an absolute necessity for school-aged children, he thinks it is important for them to be more tech-literate because much of society, including classrooms, is becoming more plugged in.
⦁ “More teachers are talking about and using apps, and devices are starting to take the place of (the) notebook,” he says. “There’s also peer pressure” to own a phone.
But Casino says parents need to “be vigilant and educate themselves.” That includes knowing what apps their kids use, and even their passcodes.
“A cellphone is like anything else, it’s a tool,” says Casino. “Until kids can demonstrate responsibility, parents should not let them use it completely unsupervised.”

Impact of 50% Globe Being Offline

Last month scientists at Tufts University announced that they had created a sensor that can be mounted on a tooth to track diet quality and make tailored nutritional recommendations.
Around the same time, Microsoft announced that it had developed software that could translate Chinese to English as fast and as accurately as a human. To top it off, just last week the world learned that there is now a robot that can autonomously assemble furniture. Such stories make it clear: to read the science and technology news today is to see a world of rapid progress and infinite potential.
And from one perspective it is.
But we believe that now is a good time to remind everyone of a fundamental limitation of the ability of technology to make the world a better place. All of these advances in one way or another rely on the internet – a tool which remains foreign to over half of the world’s population.
The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development says that the world will not even achieve 50% internet use until the end of this year. If the world maintains current internet user growth rates – a big if – we won’t approach 100% global internet adoption for well over two decades.
Internet of Things
In that time experts predict that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be in full swing. We will be connected to a vast Internet of Things network that will feed unimaginable amounts of data into ever more advanced artificial intelligence tools, enabling us to create new and highly disruptive products and services that generate huge amounts of wealth. Or, at least those of us with an internet connection will be.
This looming and unequal wealth explosion is important because it will exacerbate the current fault lines of global inequality. Internet use is overwhelmingly concentrated in advanced economies, and the biggest gaps are in the world’s poorest areas.
If this situation is not resolved soon the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will accrue principally to the global haves, leaving the have-nots even further behind.
This is not to argue that the only thing stopping one of today’s Least Developed Countries from becoming a global leader in artificial intelligence is getting their full population online. Rather, doing so would create a national digital ecosystem that increases a country’s chances of being a player. In particular we should not discount the prospect of emerging economies launching homegrown industries that offer tailored products to national or regional populations, driving economic growth and helping to fight global inequality.
Do not forget the example of M-Pesa, a leading global mobile payments provider that is 50% African owned and has its largest user base in Kenya.
This perspective, that countries with minimal internet penetration are likely to miss the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is why the digital divide matters so much now. It should play a much more central role in discussions about internet development at the global level.
To date, the argument in favour of prioritizing internet development has been tied to its potential to drive sustainable development. This is an easy case to make. Not only are there now many studies that show the macro-level growth benefits of increasing broadband penetration but the stories of how the lives of individuals and communities are regularly transformed by the arrival of the internet continue to amaze. As internet development professionals we have seen these ourselves
A poor Indonesian entrepreneur grew his income seven-fold in nine months when he received an internet connection in his home. He used Facebook to find distributors for the food product he made, convinced several to make a visit, and signed contracts with everyone.
An eight-year-old boy was able to use the internet to save the local economy of a village in northern Brazil. The village survived on selling chickens, and a very large number of local hens had recently begun eating their own eggs. This was traditionally seen as a sign that the bird was possessed by spirits and needed to be put to death. But the boy was able to find a YouTube video that explained it simply indicated a calcium deficiency in the chicken’s diets, well within the villagers capacity to solve.
Yet as compelling as these arguments are, they have not adequately swayed the global debate.
Despite the fact that the rate of internet growth is too slow, despite the fact that the Global Infrastructure Hub has identified a $1 trillion global financing gap for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure between now and 2040, over the last six years multilateral development banks have devoted just 1% of their resources to this issue.
Why? A recent survey supported by the World Wide Web Foundation showed that investment in ICT connectivity is seen overwhelmingly as the domain of the private sector, and specifically of mobile operators.
This needs to change, and a good first step is to flip the argument. If governments, whose requests to development banks drive the MDB loan portfolio, cannot justify ICT investments on sustainable development grounds, perhaps they can do so by showing how connectivity is now imperative to taking part in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This might also help generate the political will to clarify regulatory regimes and make the sector more transparent and attractive to non-traditional private investors.
World Economic Forum is working with governments and regional bodies on ways of broadening the pool of connectivity investors through our Internet for All project.
In areas of low internet use, mobile operators face a difficult investment environment. Though in some cases the returns to connectivity investments can exceed the costs in less than two years, these returns are accrued to the economy as a whole rather than to a private investor. Network operators often need co-financing to make an investment profitable.
If we bring more players into the ICT investment space, we can start to socialize the costs of investments to better reflect the disbursement of returns. This should significantly increase ICT infrastructure development. But it starts with thinking about the internet differently. Connecting a population is not just about economic growth or social inclusion. It’s about keeping your country from missing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, furniture-building robots and all.

China Attracts India and Japan

High-profile leaders from Japan and India met with Chinese leaders in April and May this year, signaling a change in relations between these traditional rivals. The meetings indicate that after years of conflict, Japan and India are seeking to warm relations with China. America’s growing unreliability as an ally is causing these Asian nations to put aside their differences and draw closer together.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in China on April 27 and 28. In the informal summit, they discussed ways to ease the tense situation on their Himalayan border. Last year, the two nations were on the brink of war over a territorial dispute. However, Xi and Modi pledged at the summit to keep the border in “peace and tranquility” by using “strategic communications” to prevent misunderstandings. They also agreed to “handle all [their] differences through peaceful discussions.”
India and China have never been the best of friends. Their shared border is a constant source of dispute and near-conflicts. As two of the largest powers in Asia, they are also constantly jockeying for influence. China is the largest economy in Asia. It also has a significant military force and a penchant for gobbling up territory that is not its own. The Belt and Road Initiative is another contested point between the two nations. India tries to portray itself as the alternative to China in the region. Each nation seeks to contain the other’s influence, which inevitably leads to clashes.
Brahma Chellaney, a senior fellow at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, pointed out that the meeting “was long on symbolism and vague promises, but short on tangible results.” However, the fact that there even was a meeting shows that India and China may be open to making a change. C. Raja Mohan, director of the Carnegie India think tank, told the Financial Times, ”The geopolitical context has changed with the U.S. threatening and demanding a reorganization of the China-U.S. economic relationship. The Chinese have woken up and said: ‘At least keep our periphery a little calmer.’”
According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Xi told Modi, “The great cooperation between our two great countries can influence the world.” As U.S. influence wanes, India is realizing that it isn’t in its best interest to be too anti-China.
Japan is another traditional adversary of China that is reconsidering its position. China and Japan have been on tense terms for several years because of a series of territorial disputes. China has been aggressively taking control of waters and islands in the South China Sea that are not its own. As an island nation, Japan eyes China’s territorial grabs uneasily, but it doesn’t want to fight back. ) There is a lot of bad blood between the two nations. However, it may be in Japan’s best interest to build warmer relations with China, since its American ally is becoming more isolationist.
On May 9, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The main topic on the agenda was North Korea, but Abe also had a one-on-one summit with the Chinese leader.
As one source told Bloomberg, “The summit’s main deliverable is the fact that these proud countries are talking.” According to the Japan Times, Japan and China are working toward establishing free trade through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. They have also agreed on a “Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism” to prevent unnecessary conflicts between their forces in contested waters. China has made no move to give up the islands and waters that it has already taken over. Still, it looks like the two nations are moving toward an uneasy friendship.
Both Japan and India have traditionally had close ties with the United States. However, U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy is causing them to rethink their alliances. China is rapidly gaining power and influence in Asia. Trade war between the U.S. and China has become a reality. As the U.S. isolates itself, it makes the rest of the world more likely to unite against it.
It may seem far-fetched to say that India, China and Japan will end up as allies. This alliance will include Russia, China and Japan, and probably India, the Koreas and smaller southeast Asian nations.
Despite its many national, religious and political differences, Asia will ultimately be welded together into a common power bloc.” Japan and India’s rapprochement with China show the growing reality of that “kings of the east” alliance.

The Slow Creeping Authoritarianism of 21st Century & India

During the 20th century, democratic constitutionalism was typically threatened by autocrats who staged a coup or declared a state of national emergency. Convicted of misusing government funds, this is what Indira Gandhi did in 1975: Within hours the prime minister’s political opponents were deprived of their liberty, and newspaper editors of their electricity supply. Today there is no declared State of Emergency, nor are tanks rolling on the streets of Delhi. And yet, in an unprecedented press conference in January this year, four senior judges of the Supreme Court announced that India’s democracy was under threat. In April, the main Opposition party launched a “Save the Constitution” campaign. Is our democracy really ailing?
Unlike their naked-fisted counterparts of the 20th century, autocrats of the 21st century — in Hungary, Poland, Sri Lanka, the US, Turkey, Venezuela and elsewhere — have used stealthier, incremental tools to undermine constitutionalism. Constitutionalism looks to independent institutions — the judiciary, election commission, corruption and human rights watchdogs, attorneys and auditors general, investigative and prosecution agencies — to check the most dangerous branch, that is, the political executive. Political parties are allowed to play the game we called democracy freely, even aggressively. But they must not cheat, they must accept the decisions of these checking institutions, and they must not change the rules of the game for partisan advantage.
Instead of challenging democratic constitutionalism outright, the latter day autocrats appropriate its vocabulary even as they undermine it. Rather than an all-out assault, they chip away at constitutional institutions. Each covert micro-assault keeps just on the right side of legality and, when isolated from the broader context, appears relatively unthreatening. Checking institutions, mindful of choosing their battles carefully, often tolerate these micro-assaults, until they are eventually captured by party loyalists. The war is lost even before the big battle worth-fighting-for materialises. Creeping authoritarianism destroys democratic constitutions not with a full-frontal assault, but with a thousand paper cuts.
Is India in the throes of creeping authoritarianism as well? One of the most rigorous, global, comprehensive data sets on the health of democracies (the Varieties of Democracy or “V-Dem” dataset) compiled by independent social science experts might provide an answer. In this data set, the Electoral Democracy Index tracks the health of political competition between parties, the freeness and fairness of elections, and the ability of civil society to influence politics. The Egalitarian Democracy Index tracks the degree to which different groups of citizens enjoy democratic rights and the country’s resources equally. The Free Expression Index tracks the degree of freedom of media, academic and cultural expression. And the Judicial Independence Index tracks the level of independence of the judiciary and its control over the executive. A higher score indicates a healthier democracy, while a lower score signals authoritarianism.
India’s electoral democracy index score rose sharply with the inauguration of its 1950 Constitution, and — except for two exceptions — broadly remained stable. This is no mean feat. While many post-colonial states succumbed to dictators, the Indian army stayed in its barracks. Presidents did not dismiss prime ministers. Elections were mostly regular, free and fair. Political parties gracefully left office after losing elections. Judicial declarations of unconstitutionality of laws were generally respected. These are things Indians should be proud of, even while criticising the country’s flawed institutions and their inadequate attempts to deliver on the promises of independence (a shortcoming made painfully visible by the bottom-most line charting India’s consistently low Egalitarian Democracy Index).
All four V-Dem measures dropped sharply during Indira Gandhi’s imperious career in the 1970s (the first vertical line marks the start of the Emergency). With a few honourable exceptions, most checking institutions capitulated to her whims. The Emergency ended only when a mercifully-misplaced overconfidence in her own popularity led Indira Gandhi to go to polls in 1977. After her staggering defeat, the succeeding Janata government strengthened constitutionalism by making declarations of Emergencies harder. India’s democratic scores were revived, and remained more or less steadfast until recently (although some signs of vulnerability were already apparent under UPA-II).
For present purposes, the health of our Constitution since 2014 — when the Narendra Modi government took office (denoted by the second vertical line in the graph) — is particularly concerning. Barring the Indira years, the country is worse off on every single index since 1953. The decline is steady along all indicators, although the free expression index’s nosedive in the graph is especially dramatic. The government’s battles with the judiciary have intensified only recently, so the judicial independence index is likely to follow suit once the 2018 figures are in. Admittedly, attempts to reduce such complex phenomena to numbers is imperfect. Neither can all changes be attributed to the central government. Yet, a trend away from the constitutional checks and towards a creeping authoritarianism in India over the last few years is undeniable.
Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism was of the older variety — hard to deny and harder still to defend. Nations can sleepwalk into creeping authoritarianism of the 21st century because of its stealthy incrementalism. Whether constitutional guardians are able and willing to resist institutional capture, check executive power, and protect opposition and citizen’s rights will ultimately determine the fate of Indian democracy.

Socotra and the Benefits of Obscurity

For centuries past Indian sailors have set off from Kutch, Khambat and the Konkan to trade with Arabia and Ethiopia. And days into their journey they had their first sight of land – the island of Socotra at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, below Yemen and just off the Horn of Africa. Few wanted to stop there, but they were wary of it. Socotra is notorious for ship-wrecks on its shoals, and also violent storms, especially during the monsoon months, during which the island was entirely cut-off from the wider world.
So sailors propitiated the spirits of the place. “The seafarers would salute and reverentially float a model of their craft towards the isle as they passed by,” explained historian Kalpana Desai, in a report published in the Times of India (ToI) in 2001, about an exhibition about the seafarers of Western India. “Over time, they started to raise shrines to Socotra’s memory when they landed safely at home.”
In these shrines the island’s spirits became a mother goddess, Socotri-mata or Sikotar-maa, worshipped by seafarers. She was also Vahanvati Maa, who looked over their vessels, and there are models of ships in her temples in Gujarat. ToI also noted that her shrines “are guarded by headless dwarapals. Their heads are said to be at sea.”
This is an odd and little known history, but that is true for almost anything to do with Socotra. It is known as one of the most obscure places in the world, yet earlier this week this obscurity was broken by the news the United Arab Emirates (UAE) might be manoeuvring to take it over from Yemen, as that country falls to pieces in a civil war which has become a proxy battleground for Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Reports are unclear, and tend to reflect the interests of those reporting it. The UAE maintains its interest in Socotra is humanitarian, driven by concern for its population of around 50,000 who risk real isolation. It has always been hard to land ships in Socotra, which is why the real opening up of the island only happened after the first air strip was built there in 1999.
With hardly any flights coming from Yemen, flights from the UAE are now the main link to the outside world.
Some reports suggest that a deal has been struck between the UAE and one Yemeni faction, but that would hardly be accepted by the other factions. One suggestion is that anti-UAE rhetoric is being supplied from Iran, which wants to establish its own base in Socotra, to support its allies in Yemen who are fighting attacks from Saudi Arabia. Another threat – and reason for the UAE’s action – is said to come from the pirates operating close by from Somalia, another country in collapse.
Complicating matters is Socotra’s status since 2008 of being a UNESCO recognised world natural heritage site.
Socotra’s long isolation has given it extraordinary biodiversity, particularly of plants, most of which are found nowhere else. One name for it is the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, since only a few places, like the Galapagos Islands, have more unique endemic species. This heritage clearly needs safeguarding by someone, but is the UAE suited for this?
All this does fit a historical pattern with Socotra. Over centuries it has alternated long ages of obscurity with sudden attempts to take it over, then abandonment to obscurity again. Most places that manage this trick tend to be small, remote or little noted in history, yet Socotra is none of these things. It is the 150th largest island in the world, just a little smaller than Long Island, New York, and in one of the most constantly trafficked parts of the world.
Seafarers of antiquity, like the Greek writer of the Periplus of the Erythraen Sea, Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta, all made note of Socotra. One sign of its links with India might come from its name, which has been speculated to derive from the Sanksrit dvipa sukhadara, or island of happiness, though the reasons for such joy are unclear.
Archaeologists have found inscriptions there in Brahmi and Kharoshti that are among the oldest writings in Indic scripts found outside the subcontinent. They are usually names of sailors, who might have come to trade there, or been shipwrecked or stranded during the monsoon.
Christians were interested in the legend that St.Thomas had stopped in Socotra on his way to India, converting the inhabitants of its interior, though the population is now all Muslim.
Western powers were attracted by its location at the heart of the Arabian Sea and in 1507 the Portuguese tried to set up a base for the India trade, but gave up in a few years. Sir Thomas Roe, the British ambassador to the Mughals from 1615-1618, also stopped there, but like most visitors to Socotra, left as soon as he could.
In 1830s the East India Company investigated established a coaling station on Socotra for ships bound to India, but lost interest after the acquisition of Aden in 1839. But Socotra didn’t vanish from British interests.
In 1876 ToI wrote, that Socotra was unlikely ever to be much used, but “its importance to England can only be as one of the links in the chain by which her highway to India is guarded.” Substitute India with the oilfields of the Middle East, and that is the argument being made today.
Socotra was then under control of the Sultan of Mahra, on the South Arabian mainland, and the British struck a deal for him to acknowledge their paramountcy, in return for a yearly payment.
Socotra came under the Aden Protectorate, which itself was part of Bombay Presidency. Despite this fairly direct link the British paid little attention to Socotra until 1897 when a P&O liner named, with grim coincidence, the SS Aden was shipwrecked just off its shores.
Then, as now, newspapers thrived on reporting tragedies and much was made of the SS Aden’s end, not least because a group of survivors was found who had managed to live on the stuck ship for almost two weeks until they were rescued. The publicity caused a demand for a lighthouse to be built on Socotra, but the British government was reluctant to sanction funds, especially given the likely high costs of keeping any manned and fuelled operation going on Socotra.
But the SS Aden disaster did at least raise Socotra’s profile, and in the following years expeditions were taken out to explore and map the island’s interior. A report printed inToI in 1898 is the first to talk positively about the island, mentioning its unique vegetation, stunning scenery and the pleasantly simple life its people seemed to lead. Socotra, declared the writer, with rather startling passion, was “an island not interesting only, but liquid, romantic, with the features of a coquettish maid.”
Another ToI report from 1907 is more typical of the British Raj. Accompanying a very rare official visit to Socotra, by Lord Lamington, the Governor of Bombay, the writer complained that “one of the greatest drawbacks to the island is the absence of anything to shoot.” The British seemed ready to let the island slip back into obscurity, with only the occasional expression of interest, for example in 1936, for whether it would make a suitable stop for flying boats (definitely not). It took a war to raise interest in Socotra again. Fears of German or Japanese submarines using the island as a base, along with concerns of access to Middle Eastern oil, raised interest in Socotra’s strategic location again in 1942. Till then, noted a ToI report, its main interest was “a fairly considerable trade with Bombay and Zanzibar, chiefly in ghee.” A subsequent expedition made note of the island’s special breed of small cow, almost a dwarf, which produced very fine ghee from the island’s meagre grazing.
Socotra doesn’t seem to be known for ghee any more, but other products have come into demand. One of the most expensive honeys in the world comes from Socotra, sold for huge amounts in the UAE. In The Scent Trail, Celia Lyttelton’s investigation into the sources of perfumery, she makes a special trip to Socotra to find some of the purest frankincense and myrrh in the world and, even more uniquely, ambergris, a product that is, essentially, solidified whale vomit, which is still occasionally found on the shores of Socotra due to the number of whales that visit its waters.
India has occasionally shown interest in Socotra. In 1983 the research ship Sagar Kanya was dispatched to the waters around the island to investigate the onset of the monsoon.
But during the Cold War decades it was rumoured that Yemen, the Arab world’s only Marxist country, deliberately kept Socotra low profile at the request of the Soviet Union who planned to use it as a secret military base. It isn’t clear if this happened, but Indian defence forums have debated whether the Indian government should lease Socotra for a naval base.
The UAE move would now seem to rule out any such plans. But it remains to be seen if this will really break Socotra’s repeated ability to defeat the schemes that outsiders have for it, and prevent it lapsing back into obscurity. Since that obscurity has been the reason for the island to retain its unique ecology, perhaps it’s to be hoped that Socotri Mata or whatever other deity is in charge will soon work to restore the forgotten peace of the place.

 

 

UK reveals cyberattack against ISIS, Canada keep Secret

An extraordinary and significant little slice of history unfolded this spring in Britain that had nothing to do with royal nuptials.
The event, which passed almost unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic, was the remarkable disclosure by the head of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) that Britain had launched its first-ever military-style cyber campaign against the Islamic State.
Jeremy Fleming surprised a cyber conference in Manchester with the revelation in April , telling his audience “the outcomes of these operations are wide-ranging.”
He wouldn’t discuss the details, except to say the sustained campaign ended up “destroying equipment and networks” but was conducted in compliance with international law.
What the head of GCHQ did was pull back the curtain, ever so slightly, on Britain’s notoriously discrete signal intelligence branch and set a bar for public disclosure for other partners in the so-called “Five Eyes community,” including Canada.
It has been almost a year since the Liberal government’s defence policy gave explicit license to the Canadian military to conduct “offensive” cyber operations, the kind Britain feels free to discuss in somewhat opaque terms.
The Liberal government’s intelligence oversight legislation — Bill C-59 — is still grinding its way through Parliament. It establishes a National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, among other things.
What remains unclear is how and when — if ever — the public will learn about Canadians conducting cyber campaigns against foreign adversaries and perhaps even governments.
Greater understanding needed
Alicia Wanless, an expert in information warfare at the Centre for Dynamic Research, said she believes the public should know when instruments of national power are being utilized in cyberspace.
“If you are engaged in warfare information — and I mean the entire gamut, up to and including effect on humans — there needs to be disclosure,” she said.
She qualified her assessment, however, by emphasizing more education is needed at all levels, particularly about the differences between cyber and information warfare.
Without that sound understanding, Wanless said she’s concerned public discourse and debate could turn corrosive.
“There fundamentally isn’t a sound understanding of what we’re dealing with,” Wanless said. “I think the understanding of what is happening — both at a government and a public level — is so weak that I think the debate might be detrimental.”
‘Canadian people need to be told’
The difference between the physical acts of hacking and destroying an adversary’s computer networks and spreading so-called fake news and false information is a critical distinction for University of British Columbia defence expert Michael Byers.
He also said, from a legal perspective, there should be public disclosure about what the military is doing in the cyber realm.
The taking down of infrastructure in another country, for example, could be an act of war “and the Canadian people need to be told” if our country is involved.
“There is no distinction between using a tool over the internet and using a gun or a missile if physical damage is caused in a foreign, sovereign country,” said Byers.
The accountability line, he said, is property damage and loss of life: “Anything that causes physical harm is governed by international law.”
Byers said he’s not certain the federal government would be politically or legally obliged to disclose its counter-propaganda and disinformation activities.
“If a foreign entity was distributing fake news to disrupt a Canadian election campaign and if you’re going back and targeting the sources of that fake news; it wouldn’t be dealt with by the same international rules,” he said.
A spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would only say Bill-59 addresses the issue of accountability through Parliament.
“Under the proposed legislation, all of [Communications Security Establishment] activities, including ACO (active cyber operations), which will require approval by both the Minister of National Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs, will be subject to review by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians,” said Byrne Furlong in an email.
Byers said that is not the same as public disclosure.
“This is DND saying they don’t need to tell Canadians when they’re conducting a cyber campaign,” he said.

AI Shall Make Global Economy Cross $16 Trillion By 2030

Advancements in AI are rewriting our entire economy. Automation might even allow some of us to escape the traditional work week. Once theorized as visions of a future society, technology like automation and artificial intelligence are now becoming a part of everyday life. These advancements in AI are already impacting our economy, both in terms of individual wealth and broader financial trends.
It’s long been theorized that a readily available machine workforce will make it more difficult for humans to keep their jobs, but automation may, in fact, offer up more even-handed consequences. Major changes are coming, but there’s reason to believe these changes could benefit a broader range of stakeholders — not just corporations who no longer have to worry about paying living wages (just parts and servicing).
“It is far more an opportunity for growth,” said Joshua Gans, holder of the Jeffrey S. Skoll chair of technical innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “At the moment, while some jobs have been replaced by automation, this has also led to job creation as well. So while there may be short-term disruption, the longer-term potential is very strong.”
While jobs that rely on manual labor may increasingly fall to machines, everything from the design of these systems to their upkeep has the potential to create new jobs for humans. There’s also the capacity for technology to augment the human workforce, allowing them to accomplish tasks that would otherwise be impossible. For instance, imagine a robotic suit that could allow a factory worker to lift objects so heavy they could never perform the task with their human strength alone (at least not without incurring injury). In a more general sense, these technologies stand to increase productivity, which would have far-reaching benefits.
“I don’t think they are going to disrupt the economy but instead make individuals and firms more efficient,” said Gans. “In other words, they are productivity enhancing.”
Automation might even allow some of us to escape the traditional work week. If you have access to a self-driving car, you could use it as a taxi service, collecting profits without having to be behind the wheel. This isn’t dissimilar to the basic concept of cryptocurrency mining, which puts the hardware to work in order to earn money for its human owners.
Assuming that individuals aren’t priced out of buying new hardware, this could make a huge shift in how we earn money. A basic income could be accrued from ownership of a machine that performs a task for others. Of course, a scenario like this would prompt questions of disparity in access: how could we ensure the rich won’t simply get richer, while the less wealthy are left behind?
MONEY MAKERS
The days of a standard 40-hour work week seem to be coming to an end. In an ideal world, we’d all be able to provide for ourselves by leveraging a robotic workforce on a personal scale to earn money. In practice, it’s much more likely that corporations are going to be able to invest in this infrastructure well before individuals can do so.
Universal basic income (UBI) has been touted as one solution to decreased job opportunities for humans. Automation could even foot the bill via a tax on robotic workers – though, critics of this idea have suggested it could discourage widespread adoption.
Proponents have argued that UBI could foster entrepreneurship, and even have a positive impact on the economy. It would be a huge shift in its own right, and there could be smaller changes to be made in the meantime that would ease the transition toward a greater reliance on automation and AI.
“In countries with a well established social safety net and non-employer related health insurance, the transition will be much easier,” said Gans. “That said, there are few companies that have good programs for mid-career retraining. So this is an area that could use some significant public policy effort.”
This much is clear: these technologies are already beginning to change the way we work. It’s of crucial importance that we start preparing for greater changes as soon as possible. Automation and AI could have a positive effect on wealth disparity and quality of life for the average person. However, if they aren’t employed with the proper care and consideration, they also have the potential to bring about the opposite effect
It’s widely accepted that artificial intelligence (AI) will have a huge impact on our lives in the coming decades – but what’s its value to the global economy?
According to a new report, global GDP will be 14% higher in 2030 as a result of AI – the equivalent of $15.7 trillion, more than the current output of China and India combined.
The report, Sizing the Prize, was launched by PwC in a session at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2017 in Dalian, China.
Who benefits?
Improvements to labour productivity will account for over half of all economic gains from AI between now and 2030, while increased consumer demand resulting from product enhancements will account for the rest.
Regional gains will be most strongly felt in China, which will receive a 26% boost to GDP in 2030, followed by North America (14.5%). Together, these regions will account for almost 70%, or $10.7 trillion, of AI’s global economic impact.
North America’s readiness for AI and the high number of jobs that are susceptible to replacement by more-productive technologies mean that the region will initially experience faster gains than China.
However, the Asian giant will begin to pull ahead of the US within 10 years as it closes the technology and expertise gap.
China has become a world leader in AI development, filing patents at a rate that significantly outpaces other countries. Accenture analysis, meanwhile, shows that AI could boost China’s productivity by 27% by 2035.
Europe and developed countries in Asia also stand to benefit significantly (9-12% of GDP in 2030), while developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia will experience only modest gains (less than 6%).
Anand Rao, Global Leader of Artificial Intelligence at PwC, said: “It demonstrates how big a game changer AI is likely to be – transforming our lives as individuals, enterprises, and as a society.”
The benefits of AI will be felt differently across sectors, the report’s authors go on to say. Retail, financial services and healthcare stand to reap the rewards as AI increases productivity, product value and consumption.
In our best interest?
AI was the subject of another session at AMNC17, which asked: As AI becomes more autonomous, will it act in our best interests? Should we fear it?
No, said Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka.
“It’s not the machines versus us, it’s machines helping us”, said Pascale Fung, Professor, Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
In order to control AI, however, we need to come up with a totally new type of regulation and more robust governance, said Yale University’s Wendell Wallach, a sentiment that was also echoed by the authors of the PwC report.
There is, however, an emerging “AI divide”, said Pascale Fung. “There is an AI divide between developers and consumers. We [the developers] don’t have the fear, the same concerns. There is a divide between countries who have more research labs, and those who don’t.
“There is an AI divide between the genders – who gets to participate and to benefit from it? Even though most of the world’s consumers are female, most of the developers are male. So there is a divide in every aspect in terms of AI, and our job is to bridge these divides … including the one between human values and machines.”

Who Knows Which Country the U.S. Will Invade Next

By the end of this column, it will be clear which country the United States might invade and topple next. Or failing that, it will be clear which country our military-intelligence-industrial complex will be aching to invade next.
We all want to know why America does what it does. And I don’t mean why Americans do what we do. I think that question still will be pondered eons from now by a future professor showing his students a video mind-meld of present-day UFC fighters booting each other in the head while thrilled onlookers cheer (not for either of the fighters but rather for more booting in the head).
But we all seem to assume that America—the entity, the corporation—has some sort of larger reasoning behind the actions it takes, the actions put forward by the ruling elite. And almost all of us know that the reasons we’re given by the press secretaries and caricature-shaped heads on the nightly news are the ripest, most fetid grade of bullshit.
We now know that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. We now know that the crushing of Libya had nothing to do with “stopping a bad man.” If one does even a cursory check of what dictators around the world are up to recently, you’ll find that the U.S. doesn’t care in the slightest whether they are bad or good, whether they’re using their free time to kill thousands of innocent people or to harmonize their rock garden. In fact, the U.S. gives military aid to 70 percent of the world’s dictators. (One would hope that’s only around the holidays though.)
So if it’s not for the stated reasons, why does the U.S. overrun, topple and sometimes occupy the countries it does? Obviously, there are oil resources or rare minerals to be had. But there’s something else that links almost all of our recent wars.
As The Guardian reported near the beginning of the Iraq War, “In October 2000, Iraq insisted on dumping the U.S. dollar—the currency of the enemy—for the more multilateral euro.”
However, one example does not make a trend. If it did, I would be a world-renowned beer pong champion rather than touting a 1-27 record. (I certainly can’t go pro with those numbers.)
But there’s more. Soon after Libya began moving toward an African gold-based currency—and lining up all its African neighbors to join it—we invaded it as well, with the help of NATO. Author Ellen Brown pointed this out at the time of the invasion:
[Moammar Gadhafi] initiated a movement to refuse the dollar and the euro, and called on Arab and African nations to use a new currency instead, the gold dinar.
John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” also has said that the true reason for the attack on Libya was Gadhafi’s move away from the dollar and the euro.
This week, The Intercept reported that the ousting of Gadhafi, which was in many ways led by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, actually had to do with Sarkozy secretly receiving millions from Gadhafi, and it seemed that his corruption was about to be revealed. But, the article also noted, “[Sarkozy’s] real military zeal and desire for regime change came only after [Hillary] Clinton and the Arab League broadcasted their desire to see [Gadhafi] go.” And the fact that Gadhafi was planning to upend the petrodollar in Africa certainly provides the motivation necessary. (It doesn’t take much to get the U.S. excited about a new bombing campaign. I’m pretty sure we invaded Madagascar once in the 1970s because they smoked our good weed.)
Right now you may be thinking, “But, Lee, your theory is ridiculous. If these invasions were about the banking, then the rebels in Libya—getting help from NATO and the United States—would have set up a new banking system after bringing down Gadhafi.”
Actually, they didn’t wait that long. In the middle of the brutal war, the Libyan rebels formed their own central bank.
Brown said, “Several writers have noted the odd fact that the Libyan rebels took time out from their rebellion in March to create their own central bank—this before they even had a government.”
Wow, that sure does sound like it’s all about the banking.
Many of you know about Gen. Wesley Clark’s famous quote about seven countries in five years. Clark is a four-star general, the former head of NATO Supreme Allied Command, and he ran for president in 2008 (clearly he’s an underachiever). But it’s quite possible that 100 years from now, the one thing he’ll be remembered for is the fact that he told us that the Pentagon said to him in 2002: “We’re going to take down seven countries in five years. We’re going to start with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, then Libya, Somalia, Sudan. We’re going to come back and get Iran in five years.”
Most of this has happened. We have, of course, added some countries to the list, such as Yemen. We’re helping to destroy Yemen largely to make Saudi Arabia happy. Apparently our government/media care only about Syrian children (in order to justify regime change). We couldn’t care less about Yemeni children, Iraqi children, Afghan children, Palestinian children, North Korean children, Somali children, Flint (Michigan) children, Baltimore children, Native American children, Puerto Rican children, Na’vi children … oh wait, I think that’s from “Avatar.” Was that fiction? My memories and 3-D movies are starting to blur together.
Brown goes even further in her analysis of Clark’s bombshell:
What do these seven countries have in common? … [N]one of them is listed among the 56 member banks of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). That evidently puts them outside the long regulatory arm of the central bankers’ central bank in Switzerland. The most renegade of the lot could be Libya and Iraq, the two that have actually been attacked.
What I’m trying to say is: It’s all about the banking.
So right now you’re thinking, “But, Lee, then why is the U.S. so eager to turn Syria into a failed state if Syria never dropped the dollar? Your whole stupid theory falls apart right there.”
First, I don’t appreciate your tone. Second, in February 2006, Syria dropped the dollar as its primary hard currency.
I think I’m noticing a trend. In fact, on Jan. 4, it was reported that Pakistan was ditching the dollar in its trade with China, and that same day, the U.S. placed it on the watch list for religious freedom violations. The same day? Are we really supposed to believe that it just so happened that Pakistan stopped using the dollar with China on the same day it started punching Christians in the nose for no good reason? No, clearly Pakistan had violated our religion of cold hard cash.
This leaves only one question: Who will be next on the list of U.S. illegal invasions cloaked in bullshit justifications? Well, last week, Iran finally did it: It switched from the dollar to the euro. And sure enough, this week, the U.S. military-industrial complex, the corporate media and Israel all got together to claim that Iran is lying about its nuclear weapons development. What are the odds that this news would break within days of Iran dropping the dollar? What. Are. The. Odds?
The one nice thing about our corporate state’s manufacturing of consent is how predictable it is. We will now see the mainstream media running an increasing number of reports pushing the idea that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and is trying to develop nuclear weapons (which are WMDs, but for some strange reason, our media are shying away from saying, “They have WMDs”). Here’s a 2017 PBS article claiming that Iran is the top state sponsor of terrorism. One must assume this list of terror sponsors does not include the country that made the arms that significantly enhanced Islamic State’s military capabilities. (It’s the U.S.)
Or the country that drops hundreds of bombs per day on the Middle East. (It’s the U.S.) But those bombs don’t cause any terror. Those are the happy bombs, clearly. Apparently, we just drop 1995 Richard Simmons down on unsuspecting people.
Point is, as we watch our pathetic corporate media continue their manufacturing of consent for war with Iran, don’t fall for it. These wars are all about the banking. And millions of innocent people are killed in them. Millions more have their lives destroyed.

Brand Markle Sparkle

The British are masters of pomp and pageantry, especially when it comes to their Royal Family. The former Empire has shrunk to a few islands and ceremonial roles in some nations, but the Windsors garner more interest than any other royals in Europe and elsewhere. And considering “Prince Henry of Wales” will be the last major British royal to wed for the next couple of decades at least, he has certainly done his bit by falling in love with and marrying an American.
While there is no doubt that Meghan Markle has genuinely captivated her red-haired prince – and is, in turn, quite besotted herself—the fortuitousness of their love story cannot be doubted by the analysts looking at the economic prospects of post-Brexit Britain. The wedding itself is expected to cost a modest (by Indian luxury wedding standards) 2 million pounds excluding security, but is expected to generate 500 million pounds worth of business for the British economy.
The knock-on economic effect of this transcontinental pairing will be felt at least for the next decade or so on both sides of the Atlantic, as the newly anointed – and first –American Princess continues her links to her birthplace. Considering they fought Britain for their independence in 1776, it is amusing that Americans are today the biggest fans of these descendants of King George III, who sent British troops to (unsuccessfully) subdue the American Revolution.
There is nothing quite like a royal wedding in Britain to keep the tills ringing long after the peals of the wedding bells waft away. Their effect on fashion and lifestyle—even before the advent of 24/7 media—has been manifest ever since the 20-year-old Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha wearing the first-ever white silk and lace bridal dress and they cut a 150 kg, 9ft wide wedding cake, a surviving slice of which was auctioned in 2016 for $2,100.
Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding in 2011 reportedly cost less than Harry and Meghan’s will today, even though it was held in a grander venue—Westminster Abbey instead of St George’s Chapel at Windsor—and had more than double the guests at the ceremony. And as the Duchess of Cambridge’s sartorial choices for herself and her children since then have led to those items selling out almost instantly, the return on that investment has been high.
Anti-monarchists have demanded that Queen Elizabeth II should foot the 30 million pound security costs. But as Meghan will now become an indirect revenue stream for fashion and lifestyle brands in Britain and around the world, it’s a piffling demand. Not only will even more American tourists flock to Britain now that one of their gals is a “real live princess”, Meghan is poised to fill the gap left by Michelle Obama as the “woman of colour” style icon in US too.
Cynics would point out that the Harry-Meghan duo are already carving out a separate niche for themselves, to create a broad coalition with William and Kate. As the latter are now regarded as stylish traditionalists, the newly-weds will probably be seen as the relatively iconoclastic alternative, eagerly adopting new practices and departing from convention—albeit in inoffensive ways—thus saving the Royal Family from being eventually regarded as anachronisms.
Indeed, it can be said that the Royal Family is certainly doing its bit –even if unwittingly or unintentionally—to shore up Britain as it prepares to leave the EU. The Windsors will maintain familial and social links with the crowned heads of Europe regardless of what elected governments do, and an articulate, savvy, providentially bi-racial and socially conscious American princess in their ranks will certainly bring Britain closer to the US and even Canada at many levels.

East is East & West is West & The Twain do meet

To look back at the past, to understand and locate the present, we must first give up the idea of a fundamental dichotomy between the psychology and culture of East and West. There is, indeed, a powerful and respectable “sense of history and sociology” which believes to be axiomatic a fundamental dichotomy between the psychology and culture of the East and the West.
Tagore had lived through progressively troubled times that had culminated in the Second Great War, eliciting the dying poet’s final testament, Crisis of Civilisation (1941. Tagore saw the “spectre of barbarity” striding over Europe and realised the devastating consequences of “the spirit of violence dormant in the psychology of the West”. With a sense of history and sociology, Pathak now tells us, “we could understand why Tagore was disillusioned and refused to believe that ‘the springs of a true civilisation would issue out of the heart of Europe.”’ He, rather, hoped: “Perhaps the new dawn will come from the East where the sun rises.” “But then” — and this is the crux of Pathak’s argument regarding our present troubled times — “with the pragmatism of the nation-making we forgot the poet’s wisdom, and today in this post-Gandhi/post-Nehru era of global capitalism and religious nationalism, the ruling forces seem determined to make the same mistake that nationalist/militaristic/totalitarian Europe did when Tagore was delivering the [Crisis of Civilisation] speech”.
There is, indeed, a powerful and respectable “sense of history and sociology” which believes to be axiomatic a fundamental dichotomy between the psychology and culture of the East and the West. Such is the hold of this belief that it turns into a seductive argument what is but a poetic metaphor, namely, a new dawn coming from where the sun supposedly rises. Further, it sees certain marked breaks in the shaping of modern India. Having for very long subscribed to this sense of history myself, I now think that it better be taken with a pinch of salt.
Convenient, even essential, though broad-spectrum categories like Gandhian, pre-Gandhian and post-Gandhian may be, their use must be informed by the awareness that they conceal more than they reveal. In any case, they tell us little of the kind of dormant forces — like the spirit of violence Tagore saw in the psychology of the West — which are central to any discussion of the patterns supposed to be unique to such large segments of humankind as the East and the West.
What moves human beings is their perception — their imaging — of the reality around them. Some of these images crystallise into collectively-believed truths and operate as critical historical forces. The imaging of the world along the East-West divide has been one such truth and historical force. The divide is not simply geographical. It polarises the psychologies of humans inhabiting the two geographical halves.
Without going into history, I shall simply point to the incongruity of Tagore separating the heart of the West from that of the East and yet believing in the universality of literature and art. What universality of creation or of reception can there be where hearts — and, constructively, minds — are so radically differently structured?
A year after he had written his Hind Swaraj, Gandhi was asked, in London, to speak on “East and West”. Contrary to Rudyard Kipling, the imperialist bard who proclaimed that “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” Gandhi believed that there had been no impassable barrier between the East and the West. What was presented as Western or European civilisation was neither Western nor European. It was modern civilisation, modern industrial civilisation. An unadulterated evil, it had pulled the West away from itself, and also from the East. A wedge having been created between the East and the West, there were only two possibilities for their meeting ever again. One, that the West should throw modern civilisation overboard. The other, that the East also adopts western civilisation. The latter is what is happening (belying Gandhi’s fond hope that the former might happen).
Seen in terms of the making of the modern Indian nation, there never was a Gandhian era. It would be pointless, therefore, to talk of a post-Gandhi era. There was a Nehruvian, and hence post-Nehruvian era. But, if slash implies a degree of similarity, there is no ground — other than their coevality — to talk of a post-Gandhi/post-Nehru era. Gandhi had a clearly articulated vision of free India. His vision was categorically rejected by the new “ruling forces” led by Nehru. The “ruling forces” have since changed significantly, but there has been no sign of change about that historic rejection.
Had Gandhi been heeded — not just selectively followed when convenient — a different kind of pragmatism of nation-making would have taken root. Had the social construction programme — so integral to Gandhi’s idea of Swaraj — figured in the nationalist scheme of things, a strong institutional basis would have been provided to the making of a humane and equitable nation.
Nothing of this is unknown. And yet, tellingly, neither in received academic wisdom nor in popular memory is the dominant Indian image of Gandhi touched by these unglamorous contrary facts. He remains the Father of the Nation even as the non-violent Indian freedom movement under his leadership remains a unique experiment in the annals of humankind. This image permits us a sense of pride and an illusion of decency, besides the comforting myth of uniqueness. We cannot let our self-image be disturbed by Gandhi’s discovery on the eve of freedom that his movement had never been non-violent. It had been passive resistance, which is invariably a preparation for violence. What erupted at the time of Partition, Gandhi realised, was the violence that, for fear of the British, the Indians had kept repressed within them.
The consensus within the national movement, even during the brief phases of Gandhi’s supreme hold, was that the modern Indian nation would be cast in the western mould. There could, therefore, have been nothing post-Gandhian about the nation-making project. India’s entry into the era of global capitalism — even religious nationalism (which would require a separate discussion) — is but the unfolding of, not a departure from, the initially chosen course of development.
Humankind has through the millennia lived by a paradoxical imperative. It has needed violence, and internalised, institutionalised and valorised it. It has also, at the same time, so fashioned itself as to cherish core values — believing them to be eternal and universal — like love, compassion and forgiveness that compel avoidance of violence. This is as true of the West as it is of the East. There is no reason to believe that only one — the East — possesses the potential to usher in non-violence. Nor to believe that violence is lodged in the heart of only one.
Modern civilisation has over the centuries bred two ruthless regimes of domination: Colonialism succeeded by the total market. Compared to what they were when this process began, the West and, under its inexorable pressure, the East have undergone an identical transformation, so that now, barring geography, there is little to tell one from the other.
Humans everywhere have always had freshly-cobbled or well-worn out justifications for violence. The violence they resort to — as opposed to the other’s violence — is always just or necessary or unavoidable, or pre-emptive. At its most ambitious, it is not violence, or is meant to abolish all violence. It is with this universal human incorrigibility in mind, and without abdicating the duty to hope, that we must walk with the poet and reflect on the troubles of our times.

Sunday Special: Advent of the Ambient Video Game

 

‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ and its contemporaries are sensory soothing software several decades in the making.
In February 1986, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda, the original game in the series, to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. It was developed at the company’s studio in Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, amidst a period of rapid economic growth. One of its directors, Shigeru Miyamoto, wanted to draw on his childhood experiences of climbing mountains and discovering lakes in the countryside around Sonobe, a town roughly an hour’s drive from nearby Kyoto and Osaka. His wish found expression in the original Zelda’s large, nonlinear and mythical pre-modern Japan. The designers, coders, and artists crafted a crude 8-bit landscape with the emerging computer-chip technology, the game’s deep, verdant greens a far cry from the concrete and steel dominating Japan’s cities and towns at the time.
Japanese ambient music of the 1980s reflected such concerns. Hiroshi Yoshimura released the album Green in the same year as The Legend of Zelda, crafting a work of almost unfettered naturalism, lush with shrubbery and the drip of water. He did so by entwining himself with a machine during the process — the Yamaha DX7 in this case — just as Miyamoto and his colleagues did with the computer boards, code, and cartridges of the Famicom. Yoshimura’s other records were interwoven with the burgeoning wealth of corporations in ‘80s Japan. A I R, released in 1984, was produced for the cosmetic company Shiseido, imagined as a sonic equivalent to one of their fragrances (it surely smelt of pine and rain), while Surround, released two years later, was designed to be played in the model homes of the Misawa Home corporations.
Both The Legend of Zelda and these ambient records channeled the natural elements of water, earth, and air — phenomena of increasing rarity in the modern Japanese city. To step into such video game worlds was to stabilise oneself within the frenetic noise and anonymity of the expanding urban spaces. The Famicom allowed players to experience video games from the comfort of their home while Yoshimura, alongside other ambient artists of the era such as Satoshi Ashikawa, designed their records for public spaces whose mood they attempted to subtly augment. Later, in 1993, Haruomi Hosono, member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, released Medicine Compilation From the Quiet Lodge, an ambient album touching on house and techno but infused with Japan’s past and elementalism. Its title articulated the healing potential of music created outside of the metropolis.
Other consumer electronics tacitly acknowledged this need for mood-regulation in the city. Both the Sony Walkman (1979) and the Nintendo Game Boy (1989) enabled portable experiences of the respective mediums they channeled through their hardware. People would often deploy these in overwhelming or distressing sensory situations, like the often crowded work commute on public transport. For those who could afford such technologies, the rhythm of music or the video game was frequently preferable to that of the train or bus.
In Japan, the Game Boy’s release prefigured the asset bubble collapse of 1992. What broadly followed was a shift away from the job security supported by post-war economic growth to more precarious working conditions. Partially, the ambient music and video games during this period plugged part of the gap that dwindling labor rights had left. The soft aural tones and system-based play offered a sense of safety where it was otherwise deficient .
In the decades since, a neoliberal emphasis on competition and profit contributed greatly to the erosion of working conditions in both the east and west. Computer programs and their integration into the workplace drove this development, their ability to streamline and automate processes highly valued by the modern business. With industrial processes and production long outsourced to regions with cheap labor, the modern work environment is one primarily of people and their computers. Video games, as a core component of the modern leisure environment, embody this relationship between person, machine and program. They are, after all, a subset of interactive systems that include Microsoft Office, email services and internet browsers. When we grow weary of these programs’ austere bureaucracy, perhaps it’s unsurprising that we turn to video games, just another take on the interactive system.
Advancements in technology have rendered these work and leisure computer programs more efficient, but also more enveloping. Where early video games required the player’s imaginative flexibility to bring their worlds to life, modern iterations bedazzle with sumptuous visuals and high-fidelity sound. They are easy to slip into and capable of rendering various moods to match our own.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, released last year and immediately heralded as one of the greatest games ever, arguably captures such computer programs at their most expressive. The game has incredible grass. It undulates gently in the wind while the sun paints its tips yellow. Meadows turn into shimmers. Holding forward on the controller jostles Link, the game’s boy-hero protagonist, into a light jog, his weight only just displacing the greenery around him. In the evening I sit on the couch, letting the colours and sounds of the digital world wash over me, allowing my brain to slowly decompress. It’s a relaxation activity that slips nebulously into self-care, the video game equivalent of putting an ambient record on.
In Brian Eno’s liner notes to Ambient 1: Music For Airports, regarded as one of the first significant ambient works, the artist said he composed the music to “accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” And while Eno crafted Music For Airports to defuse the atmosphere of the airport terminal, to make it more hospitable, ambient video games lighten moods. Their coded atmospheres offer a space for reflection.
But Breath of the Wild’s soothing quality wasn’t developed in a vacuum, instead reflecting trends and processes that have grown steadily since the early noughties. Shadow of the Colossus, another open-world game set in an imagined pre-modern Japan, is perhaps the clearest touchstone from which Breath of the Wild poaches its reflective mood and atmosphere. Nintendo’s recent offering is similarly filled with the ruins of an ambiguous, distant past, eschewing the hyper-detail commonly expected of modern video games. Instead, its impressionistic look is comprised of warm washes of colour and simply drawn flora and fauna.
Repetition rules in these games, too. Breath of the Wild asks players to defeat its four Divine Beasts alongside the completion of 120 Shintoist shrines scattered across the landscape. Shadow of the Colossus, meanwhile, features 16 monstrous colossi who must be killed. Both games become predictable — routine — following the same, familiar steps of exploration followed by puzzle solving and/or combat. One can exist both within and outside of their worlds simultaneously, leaving mental space for other subconscious, cognitive activities gently aided by the delicate piano score reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Eno situated repetition at the heart of Music For Airports, building on the work of French composer, Erik Satie, just as his Japanese contemporaries did (Satie’s Vexations is a short piano refrain intended to be played 840 times). While Eno originally used analogue tape loops to create Music For Airport’s repetition, in recent years he has explored the potential of the algorithm. In his notes on 2017’s Reflections, Eno refers to the music as “generative” — i.e. it is self-creating, a process commonly applied to video game environments capable of replication. Ed Key and David Kanaga’s 2013 game, Proteus, used procedural generation to create a unique island each time the player started a new session. No Man’s Sky, meanwhile, explores literal infinite potential to simulate an entire universe, each planet a reformulation of the algorithmic rules.
The result might be described as variations on a theme. Proteus and No Man’s Sky both offer an unlimited number of possibilities, albeit within a single framework. They produce cosy repetitions that calm rather than unsettle. Anomalies aren’t welcome in their worlds. No Man’s Sky’s repetition extends to its loops of action—gathering resources to survive and upgrade your spaceship — giving the game, alongside the thrill of discovery, a consistent tempo. Writing about the game for Waypoint, critic Austin Walker said, “repairing my new ship was exactly the relaxing, quiet experience I needed. A synth track repeated itself, regularly letting me drift into a rhythm I needed more than I knew.”
Exploring a serene world in No Man’s Sky.
Other studios have self-consciously aimed for ambient experiences such as the California-based, Thatgamecompany. Across three titles — Flow, Flower, and Journey — it has explored soft-focus video games encompassing the life of microorganisms to worldless meditations on existence. 2009’s Flower channels the familiar unease of the city’s destructive potential, asking the player to control an expanding throng of petals capable of healing skyscrapers and electric pylons. But it carries little of the ambiguity ambient experiences rely on, lapsing into prescriptiveness. Flower becomes the video game equivalent of a whale noises CD, a new-age remedy for the ills of modern living. It does, though, stop short of simulating actual whale noises unlike Abzû, directed by Matt Nava, a former Thatgamecompany employee. During Abzû’s underwater exploration, players can sit at meditation statues and switch between the game’s oceanic inhabitants, effectively turning the television set into a Windows 98 screensaver.
Ambient video games have also made the jump to cellular devices, tailoring them perfectly for modern life. David O’Reilly’s Mountain dispenses existential advice while the game’s titular object slowly accrues the detritus of human waste. Breathe is a work by studio, Tru Luv Media, whose output is based on the values of “care, connection, transcendence, and celebration”, headed up by former Assassins Creed designer, Brie Code. The self-described “companion app” directs the user to breathe in and out as a carefully illustrated lotus flower expands and contracts while soft ambient music plays in the background. It’s intended to be synced with Heart Rate data, a health app on iOS devices, that allows the lotus to augment with the user’s own body tempo as they repeat the exercise one breath at a time. Other illustrations are available but they must be purchased for $0.99 each. A mountain is one of the options.
Breathe is a distillation of the ambient video game, furthering its minimalist design principles with the stripping away of paraphernalia until only essential components remain. It, and some of these other video games, offer pockets of calm away from the hyperstimulation of multi-tabbed and windowed internet browsers. And with its explicitly defined goal of self-care, the app attempts to pick up the slack where other services and networks fail, its Apple Store page holding an anecdote of how it countered workplace stress. Breath of the Wild’s ability to administer self-care is less explicit but reveals itself through play in the wash of repetition and quiet pastoralism. These experiences are both a product of and a means through which we cope with the precarity of modern life. For a moment, they soothe our scorched retinas

Ancient India- An Analysis

If anything, ancient India is either extolled to the skies or is undervalued and underrated. almost into insignificance. It has never received its due. It is amazing that most of the people over the globe have a vague understanding of Chinese history but they have no idea about Indian history. For example, most people know that the Middle Kingdom is how China referred to herself but how many people know about Bharat? How many know about even the Guptas? People know that China was famous for ceramics and tea but how many people know about ancient India’s achievements in metallurgy? People know about the Great Wall, but how many know about the great temples of southern India?

This is partly due to the lackluster historical records that ancient Indians kept and also partly because modern Indians have a tendency to look down upon their ancient heritage and view western ideas and ideals as superior. China also has this problem but not nearly to the same extent.

The discovery that the earth is spherical is credited to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was born in 384 BCE. However, very few people know that a man from ancient India established the idea of “spherical earth” during the 8th-9th century BCE. The man was called Yajnavalkya who first discovered that the earth is round. He was the first to propose the heliocentric system of the planets. In his work Shatapatha Brahmana, he proposed that the earth and the other planets move around the sun. He also calculated the period of one year as 365.24675 days. This is only 6 minutes longer than the currently established time of 365.24220 days.

Take the example of Kung Fu. The whole world knows about the martial art called Kung Fu. The person who foundedKung Fu was none other than a prince of the Pallava dynasty from Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu who visited China during the 5th century CE. He became the 28th patriarch of Buddhism and established the Shaolin temple and founded the martial art which became world famous today. That prince was called Bodhidharma.

But how many people know about that Kung Fu and Shaolin was founded by an Indian? Precisely, if Indians are unaware of their heritage, why should they expect that someone else will know about their history and achievement?

The achievements of ancient Indians are lost in obscurity. India’s ancestors had invented many ways which eased the basic life of a common man. These inventions may seem primitive today, but we can’t ignore the fact that these were revolutionary achievements during their era.

The Indus Valley civilization is known for the broad and the sanitized drainage system which was no less than a miracle during those ancient times. But how many people know that the ancient Indians from Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) were the first to invent a flush toilet?

The people around the world use rulers to measure everything. How many people know that Indus Valley Civilization was the first to invent the rulers? A ruler has been found at Lothal which is 4400 years old. Not only this, the people of IVC were the first to invent buttons. The world knows that the Chinese discovered the art of weaving silk dresses. How many people know that IVC people were the first to weave dresses made of cotton?

The ancient Indians were first to invent the weighing scales. Archaeologists have discovered weighs and scales from the excavation sites of Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Lothal etc. These scales were extensively used for trading.

Ancient India has givenYoga to the world- which is widely practiced almost all over the world to keep people fit and fine. Models, supermodels, film stars, athletes, etc. regularly attends Yoga session to keep themselves fit.

Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, and Bhaskaracharya were the three eminent mathematicians from ancient India who established the concept of zero as a mathematical value in different eras. Brahmagupta was the first to invent a symbol for the value “shunya” (zero).

Bhaskaracharya was the first to use it as algebra. The oldest inscription of zero can be found at theChaturbhuj temple in Gwalior fort.

Ancient Indians were pioneers in the field of chemistry too. The person who first invented the“atomic theory” was none other than Acharya Kanad from ancient India*. He explained the atomic theory using terms like “Anu”(atom) and “Paramanu”(nucleus).

Ancient Indians were advanced in medical science too. The great physician of the time, Sage Shusrut was the first to carry out different surgeries which included plastic surgery and cataract surgery. His works are composed in his book called Shusrut Samhita (The works of Shusrut). The world hardly knows aboutCharak, the great specialist in medicine from ancient India. He was the first physician to establish the problems and medicinal treaties in fields like physiology, embryology, digestion, sexual disease, immunity, etc. His works on Ayurveda is composed as a book called Charak Samhita (The works of Charak).

The Chera dynasty of Tamil Nadu invented the idea of ofproducing finest steel by heating black magnetite ore along with carbon. The mixture was kept in a crucible and heated in the charcoal furnace. The Wootz Steel originated from India, but today is popular as Damascus Steel.

India’s monuments are grand and are probably, the only way others recognize the importance of ancient Indian civilization. India’s gigantic monuments bear the testimony of the greatness of ancient India.

This is the Kailash Temple. It is a megalith which was constructed by cutting out a single rock- a mountain. The whole mountain was cut from the top to carve out the temple campus.

This is Dwarka, the grand and mysterious city submerged in the Arabian sea on the extreme west of India. The submerged heritage is no less than a treasure bearing the pride of Indian race!

This is Khajuraho, the marvel where the rocks have taken the form. The best of our monuments are not built on soft rocks like marble. Our ancestors carved out even the hardest of the rocks to give it a beauty.

The grandest and largest temple in India-Brihadeshwara temple. Breathtaking, isn’t it?

India is the land of grandest temples and breathtaking architectures. The heritage of India can’t be encapsulated within a small answer! To end the answer with, I will now share my personal favorite-The Sun Temple of Konark!

The main structure of the temple was partially destroyed by invaders like Kalapahad- a military general of the medieval period. Later, the prime structure totally collapsed when British stored gunpowder inside the structure and it caught fire accidentally.

Even though the main temple is gone, the amount of what left is still breathtaking by every means. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote about Konark-“here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.”

The whole temple was designed like a huge chariot of Sun God having 24 wheels pulled by 7 horses. Each wheel had 8 major spokes denoting 1 prahar (Hindu time period of 3 hours). There was a huge magnet at the top of the temple which used to keep the idol of the Sun deity suspended in the air due to the magnetic arrangement.

Ancient India was a hub of culture and technology and the absolute capital of world spirituality. I could talk about India for hours. India is many things but being ballooned into hyperbole is definitely not one of them.

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New One-sided Great Game in the Indo-Pacific

It’s a one-sided project. While China has been drawing up strategies, India and other major powers have done nothing but talk. Dokola, Wuhan, and even the recent deployment by China of cruise missiles to artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea: These are not a series of reactive moves by China. Instead, they are part of a larger Chinese strategy in the New Great Game playing out today in the Indo-Pacific. The big question is whether India, and other major powers in the Indo-Pacific, are being maneuvered by China or if they have a longer-term strategy of their own?
Politicians and policy analysts have a tendency to view political events as part of a game of short-term chess moves and counter-moves. What is important here is not the individual moves of the players, but the larger chessboard of the Indo-Pacific — one that is today strategically dominated by China.
China’s long-term strategy in the Indo-Pacific rests on its Belt and Road Initiative, which seemingly focuses on investing in infrastructure and enhancing connectivity to create a “win-win” for all involved countries. Yet these are meant to support China’s strategic interests — indeed hard power deployment in the Indo-Pacific — when needed.
China’s game in the Indo-Pacific is all about dual-use ports. These can, and have, hosted Chinese military vessels and served as Chinese territory and special economic zones (SEZ). The game is increasingly reminiscent of the British East India Company’s forays in the Indo-Pacific. The examples of Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan illustrate this. In Kyaukpyu port in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, the Chinese have 70 per cent equity along with a reported $10 billion investment in a neighboring 4,000-acre SEZ. Pipelines connecting the port to China already enable it to bypass the Malacca chokepoint for oil and gas delivery to its Yunnan province.
Chinese port investments in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, through 6.3 percent interest-bearing loans were unprofitable and exacerbated the country’s debt, leading it to sell its crown jewels to the Chinese and allow port visits by the Chinese navy in 2014. The Chinese now have an 85 per cent stake in Hambantota port under a 99-year lease agreement, a majority stake in the security provision of Hambantota, and, in an equity-for-debt swap, acquired an additional 15,000 acres nearby to develop another SEZ. In Colombo Port City, the Chinese have another 99-year lease agreement to invest $15 billion to reclaim and build on 665 acres right next to the Sri Lanka’s capital.
Chinese investments in Pakistan’s Gwadar port, where China has a 40-year lease agreement after the Port of Singapore Authority abandoned the unprofitable port in 2013, are similarly part of a larger plan. The $62 billion planned investments in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will link Gwadar port, a planned nearby naval base, and several 10-year, tax-free, SEZs in Pakistan with China’s restive Xinjiang province through a network of roads, railroads and energy projects. Though there is little transparency on the loan agreements, these Chinese investments, as always, will be through interest-bearing loans and China will pocket over 80 per cent of the profits. Moreover, Pakistan has created a special division of 1,50,000 troops with the sole mandate of protecting the corridor, some of which will run through the disputed Kashmir territory, exacerbating both security and political tensions.
China’s investments in ports in the Indo-Pacific and their linkages to Chinese-controlled hinterland strategy is not only about economic interests. Its current increase of marine forces from 20,000 to 1,00,000 in order to rotate them through the expanding Chinese presence in ports from the South China Sea to Pakistan and Djibouti is also part of its strategy. The 2017 live-fire exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the Indian Ocean would have required significant prior planning. Sending submarines and deploying missiles in the Indo-Pacific is just part of a larger Chinese plan.
The big question is what strategy, if any, do India and other Indo-Pacific powers have for the chessboard of the Indo-Pacific? To date, there is little evidence of such a strategy. At a recent conference in Sri Lanka to seek alternative sources of port funding, Japan showed up with a high-level delegation, while India was hardly present. An Indo-European alliance in the Indo-Pacific is a pipe-dream when major European players such as Germany cannot even agree on a foreign policy for the near-abroad. And despite the Trump administration’s tough talk in response to China’s deployment of missiles, this administration takes a transactional and not long-term approach to foreign policy. Moreover, strategic thinking on the Indo-Pacific has been turned over to the US defence department, where existing silos of command structures prevent formulation of a comprehensive strategy for the Indo-Pacific. Vietnam’s efforts to draw closer to a possible Indo-Japanese alliance to hedge against Chinese forays into waters it claims has met with little success. And attempts to institutionalise common interests between democratic Indo-Pacific powers, through concepts such as the Quad, have been big on talk and little on a common game plan.
To date, the New Great Game in the Indo-Pacific is rather one-sided. While India and other major Indo-Pacific powers talk, China continues to strategise and build. History, it seems, is being replayed.

Mixed-Race Identity & Perceptions of the Biracial

Meghan Markle is a mix-raced child. Her mother, Doria Ragland, a yoga instructor and social worker, is Afro-American and Meghan’s father is Dutch-Irish.
The number of mixed-race Americans is increasing three times faster than the population of the United States as a whole, yet Western societies, which are seeing this surge in interracial marriages, still have not taken a serious debate on issues of identity and acceptance of these newcomers, who are building bridges between two cultures, countries and colors. Racism still persists, structural racism still has its covert impact, and mixed marriages are in this context the best alternative to racism and xenophobic tendencies, which demonize differences between people.
In the 1970s only one percent of all American children were of mixed race. Now, this number has risen to 10 percent. Acceptance of mix-raced relationships in the western countries happened only after later Eighties. My best friend in Denmark is of mixed race, the daughter of an Indian doctor from Goa and a Danish nurse. She has described many instances of how throughout her education she kept bumping into mixed-raced children of all kinds of origin trying to club together.
You are not white enough to be Danish, British, Dutch, Irish, or Swedish. And then you are not dark enough to be Indian, Afro-American, African, Sri-Lankan, etc.
Barack Obama was the first mixed raced President of the United States, yet the confusion persisted, and he was referred to by some as the first black President of the United States, and for some the not black enough President of the United States.
Meghan Markle’s popularity and the British royal family’s popularity seem to be shooting for the star because Prince Harry’s marriage is seen as an embrace of racial diversity, which is becoming increasingly common. Even though royal families across European countries are still popular and successful, there are no examples of marriages of mixed race or persons of another race altogether. Therefore there is unusual attraction and attention given to this British royal wedding tomorrow. Prince Joachim of Denmark had married Princess Alexandra Manley, who is from Hongkong, but this marriage did not get international exposure. They are divorced now and have two children in Denmark.
Children of mixed race are often children of parents who have made the world a more tolerant place. A century ago mixed marriages were seen as a curse in America, with very little acceptance. Schools were segregated and the chances of people meeting and marrying across racial boundaries were minimal.
I regard these mixed marriages, and especially the children born out of those marriages, as personal projects of peace. People speaking two different languages, people who are black and white and of all shades of black and white can now marry, making those barriers superficial today. But historically speaking, this is a right earned recently. A few decades ago, white men kept black mistresses but the question of marrying them was impossible.
Close to a billion people will watch this marriage tomorrow, and hopefully, this would in some way translate into better acceptance of racial diversity. I hope Indians, too, can identify with Meghan, who is fond of yoga, an Indian invention.
Mixed marriages, inter-caste marriages, and marriages between persons of different nationalities are creating an amalgamation resulting in a brand new cultural trend, which highlights tolerance and diversity.
As Markle- Harry marraige took place, an ordinary American and a British citizen, whether white or of coloured origin could identify with what is happening on the royal arena. The royal family’s popularity will rise and, what is even better, finally millions of children of mixed-race background will have a role model to see up to.

Gold Rush: Stick & Carat Treatment for Affluent Society

Legend has it that Cleopatra served Mark Antony a goblet of wine which had a pearl dissolved in it as a token of her love for him. History, however, does not record whether the queen of the Nile took the precaution of checking to see if the vessel had lead in its composition, an oversight which might have contributed to her suitor’s eventual defeat. For according to one theory, the decline and fall of the Roman empire can be traced to the lead poisoning the upper classes unwittingly subjected themselves to by using a type of unglazed pottery that contained this metal which causes infertility and chronic toxic disorders.
In an apt demonstration of its Midas touch that has transmuted the base metal of defeat into victorious wealth, present-day Japan is reportedly evincing a taste for gold in the form of tiny flakes known as “longevity noodles” which are on offer in Tokyo restaurants for the equivalent of $300 a helping.
Over the past year, Japan’s 24-carat gastronomes are estimated to have consumed 8 kg of this precious commodity, of the total world production of 2,005 tonnes.
The Japanese yen for the yellow metal presumably is based on the belief that it is conducive to a long and healthy life, a view that was shared by medieval alchemists who prescribed “potable gold” for a variety of ailments.
Before inflation and control orders made such conspicuous consumption prohibitive, India too was on the gastronomical bullion standard as represented by the gold leaf traditionally used to decorate sweets and other delicacies. Those who rue the passing of that golden age may seek solace in the thought that food prices being what they are, people there might just as cheaply eat gold as anything else.
India’s consumer society bemoans the cost of high living in a poor country. Rather like the epicure who, after a feast, faced the dilemma of whether or not to take a remedy that would bring relief but would also deprive him of the most expensive stomach ache he had ever experienced

Sunday Special: Queen Elizabeth as Listener-in-chief Changed the Commonwealth

The transition from Empire to Commonwealth would have been more unsettling and acrimonious, were it not for the Queen’s approach.
How the Queen, listener-in-chief, changed the Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth last month declared that it was her “sincere wish” that her son and heir, Prince Charles, should take her place when the time comes.
For a woman who rarely, if ever, says out loud what she really thinks, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth’s intervention in the somewhat delicate deliberations about who should succeed her as Head of the Commonwealth last month was, to say the least, uncharacteristic. She declared that it was her “sincere wish” that her son and heir, Prince Charles, should take her place when the time comes. The assembled delegates from 53 nations, representing 2.4 billion people, a third of humankind, duly obliged.
Who gains most from this arrangement – the British royal family, or the Commonwealth – is a moot point. What certainly became clear to me during the making of the BBC World News documentary The Queen: Her Commonwealth Story over several months last year – and first broadcast at the same time as the Commonwealth summit to commemorate her 92nd birthday as well as the last time she is likely to head that body – is that the Commonwealth offers the Queen, Britain’s head of state, a rare opportunity to exercise a degree of independence she could never hope to achieve at home.
At the state opening of UK’s Parliament, for example, words are, quite literally, put into her mouth. This is not the case when she speaks as Head of the Commonwealth, especially during her Christmas broadcasts, delivered without the advice of ministers. In 1983, after a trip to South Asia, the Queen argued that the greatest problem facing the world was the “gap between rich and poor countries”. Would she ever say the same about inequality within United Kingdom? That way lies a Constitutional crisis.
It’s a tribute to the Queen’s 66 years at the helm of the Commonwealth that she has, for the most part, avoided controversy, constitutional or otherwise. It’s quite an achievement given what history dished up during her reign. The Queen has presided over Britain’s transition from a colonial power to what it is today – an island nation in the process of re-inventing its place in the world. India, the jewel in the crown, may have fought for and won its freedom before she came to the throne but there was plenty more going on elsewhere in the former empire – not least the “winds of change” blowing through Africa. From the late 1950s onwards, whether it was Malaya in 1957, Nigeria in 1960, or St Kitts & Nevis in 1983, Britain’s former empire was shrinking like a deflating balloon.
Imagine for a minute a more opinionated, more bumptious monarch. How would such a figure have dealt with that transition from Empire to Commonwealth? My view now is that that process might have been more unsettling, more acrimonious, were it not for the Queen’s approach. She has been listener-in-chief, not talker-in-chief. She has won many friends, some more unlikely than others. Take Australia’s larger-than-life, straight talking former prime minister Bob Hawke who campaigned, unsuccessfully, for his country to become a republic, ditching the Queen as head of state. When we met at his office overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge whilst making our documentary, he said he had “almost unlimited respect” for her.
To watch the archive of the Queen’s Commonwealth travels – and there’s plenty of it in our film – is to witness the transformation of a young and apparently diffident woman into one who learnt to play her hand deftly and to great effect. And remember, she has done so as a woman in a man’s world. Talking to us, Princess Anne describes the Queen playing the role of an “honorary man”. I know what she means. On a number of occasions I was told that it was precisely because she was a woman that Commonwealth politicians came to trust her. She has commanded the respect of leaders around the world, even when they had little respect for what her government at the time was doing.
The most obvious case in point was the ferocious debate within the Commonwealth in the 1980s about apartheid South Africa. Virtually every member, including powerful states like India, Canada, Australia, were in favour of sanctions; they were opposed by the UK’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was an issue that threatened to split the Commonwealth.
At a gathering of key leaders in London in 1986 she broke with convention and hosted what her courtiers called a “working dinner” at Buckingham Palace on the night before the official meeting. There were eight guests at the table; seven were in favour of sanctions and one – Mrs Thatcher – was not.
At some point during the meal the Queen is said to have made it clear that she wanted her beloved Commonwealth to arrive at a consensus. Sir Shridath Ramphal, the organisation’s Secretary General at the time, told me everyone around that table understood to whom that message was directed. He says Mrs Thatcher looked grim. It’s a view backed by Sir William Heseltine, then the Queen’s private secretary, who describes her unprecedented intervention as perhaps the “boldest political initiative of the decade”.
That was 30 years into her reign, but she had exhibited this independent streak much earlier. In 1961, the Macmillan government in Britain was concerned about her planned trip to Ghana fearing that political unrest there – bombs were going off – made the trip unsafe and that it might look like an endorsement of an increasingly authoritarian Kwame Nkrumah. The Queen, however, was adamant. Aware that Ghana’s first leader was flirting with the Communist bloc she insisted on going, telling the prime minister she took her Commonwealth responsibilities very seriously.
That commitment has not diminished with time; if anything, it has grown. She will be a hard act to follow. Fair or not, the Queen has set a standard against which Prince Charles will be judged.