Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Management (How employers have gamified work for maximum profit), Science (Can China become a scientific superpower?), Sports-Tech (How FC Barcelona is preparing for the future of football), Business (No family business for India Inc.'s next-gen), Internet (The story of internet as told by Know Your Meme), History (The British woman who fought for India's freedom), and Geopolitics (India and Pakistan should stop playing with fire)

Published: Mar 9, 2019

g_113761_shutterstock_488706160_bg_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and encapsulate them in our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Management (How employers have gamified work for maximum profit), Science (Can China become a scientific superpower?), Sports-Tech (How FC Barcelona is preparing for the future of football), Business (No family business for India Inc.’s next-gen), Internet (The story of internet as told by Know Your Meme), History (The British woman who fought for India's freedom), and Geopolitics (India and Pakistan should stop playing with fire).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended March 08, 2019.

1) Can China become a scientific superpower? [Source: The Economist ]
China has been carefully building up the capacity to go where they have not; now it has done so. China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on moon on January 3rd, but it is not quite the pinnacle of achievement it once was. China wants the world, and its own people, to know that it is a global power—that it boasts not just a titanic economy, but the geopolitical sway and military might to match, soft power of all sorts, a storied past and a glorious future. And Science is a big part of this. The huge hopes China has for Science has prompted huge expenditure. Chinese spending on R&D grew tenfold between 2000 and 2016.
 
In terms of pure number of scientific papers published, China overtook America in 2016. But the quality of some of these papers is very low. In April 2018 Han Xueying and Richard Appelbaum of the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported opinions gathered in a survey of 731 researchers at top-tier Chinese universities. As one from Fudan University put it: “People fabricate or plagiarise papers so that they can pass their annual performance evaluations.” In 2008, the country started the Thousand Talents programme to draw the exiles back with promises of lucre and lab space. In theory, the programme is open to any top-notch researcher working in an overseas laboratory, regardless of nationality. In practice, few non-Chinese have availed themselves of it.

China’s energy research also extends to areas that the rest of the world is avoiding. China is building 13 new nuclear reactors to add to its fleet of 45; it has 43 more planned. If they are all built China will become the world’s biggest generator of nuclear electricity. The development of mass-produced, compact, cheap and safe nuclear reactors would be a Chinese first that a world in the throes of climate change would have real cause to celebrate—and start importing. While China, under Xi Jinping, is gearing to become a superpower, it’s got a lot to do in order to achieve this feat.  

2) How FC Barcelona is preparing for the future of football [Source: Financial Times ]
The game of football has evolved over the years with the updation of technology. Each and every footballer’s game can be tracked, including their strengths and weaknesses. FC Barcelona is upping the ante with its “Innovation Hub”. Launched in 2017, the “Barcelona Innovation Hub” is charged with helping to invent the future of football. The hub’s staff think about everything in the game from beetroot juice to virtual reality. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, a director of the football club Athletic Bilbao and a professor at the London School of Economics, says that in football data analytics, at least, “There is clear leadership by one club: Liverpool. They have a group of four or five PhDs in maths and physics, and they know football.” But Palacios-Huerta praises Barça for letting the hub’s specialists research freely. And Barcelona’s innovations may be wider-ranging than Liverpool’s.

Marta Plana, the board member who oversees the hub, talks about Barça becoming “the Silicon Valley of sport”. There’s one big difference: the Valley’s much-trumpeted cult of failure doesn’t apply here. For Barcelona, two defeats in a row is a disaster. The club cannot let innovation impede performance today. Nearly a third of injuries in professional football are muscular, with hamstrings the most common culprit. General medical research hasn’t taken the issue very seriously, because an ordinary person who pulls a hamstring can still go to work. And Barça cannot do much in-house research, because the club’s sample size of elite adult male footballers is only about 25. Other leading football clubs are unwilling to share their medical data. So Barça are now partnering, usually with scientists, in about 40 studies of muscle and tendon injuries. The focus is on individualising each player’s care. It’s relatively easy to monitor each person’s external load: how many games of what intensity has he played recently?

Barça are now making progress on measuring the internal load: how is a player reacting psychologically, biomechanically and physiologically to that external load? Together with commercial partners, Barça are also about to start measuring their players’ sleep quality and quantity, by making them wear night garments with sensors. Of course, it’s questionable whether all footballers would accept such an intrusion into their most private space. By 2023, Barça plan to have built what they modestly call “the best sporting complex in the world, in the centre of a great city”. Marta Plana hopes that one day Barça’s findings on sleep and nutrition will help the general population, and not just Messi & co. She says: “As a society, you’re going to perform at your very best as well.” But of course, if the projects work out, there will be royalties to be earned too.

3) No family business for India Inc.'s next-gen [Source: Livemint ]
The young generation of some of the large business families are finding or discovering their own paths, and starting their own independent entities. Some of these are: Kavin Mittal, founder of Hike messenger and son of Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel; Rohan Murthy, founder of Soroco, and son of Narayana Murthy, creator of Infosys; Akash and Isha Ambani, creator of Jio and son/daughter of Reliance Industries chairman, Mukesh Ambani. Also, the children of Kumar Mangalam Birla, Ananya and Aryaman, are pursuing their interests in microfinance and cricket respectively. In doing what they want to do, these next-gen family members are in a way also shaping up the new outlook for Indian family businesses.

In earlier times, it was given that the next generation will come into the business. What has changed now? “Second generation or third generation of a family no longer interested in running their family’s business just reinforces what I’ve said for some time: Haveli ki umar saath saal (which means the life of a business house is 60 years)," said Gurcharan Das, author and former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble India. Also, the earlier generation had few role models. Today, thanks to global exposure, the role models are men like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. In many cases, entrepreneurs want one of their children to start a different business for other reasons: either to create a hedge against the main business floundering or as a way to divide the family capital among two sons.

Family businesses often face tough challenges during the transition phase, when the founders attempt to retire and hand over the reins of the business to their successors. The senior generations usually fail to realize the need to prepare their offspring to succeed them. Thus conflicts arise. Further, as families grow, this results in fragmentation of ownership of the business across family members and generations. “So, the reluctance of families to talk about (succession) is slowly fading away, which is a very good sign," said Rishabh Shroff, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. Kavin, Rohan and an increasing number of next-gen businesspeople can take some credit for this change.

4) The story of the Internet, as told by Know Your Meme [Source: The Verge ]
With the growing usage of internet, the meme culture has also been growing. Since he graduated from NYU with a journalism degree in 2009, Brad Kim has terminally been online for almost a decade now. With few options and a long-nurtured interest in memes, he took an unpaid internship doing research for a new web series called Know Your Meme, produced by the daily vlog channel Rocketboom. The project started in 2007, in the tiny Rocketboom office that was “basically a hallway” in Chelsea, Manhattan, co-founder Kenyatta Cheese remembers. Know Your Meme set itself apart by approaching memes with journalistic integrity and rigor long before most people thought they deserved such treatment — or even knew what they were.

The website has since become the go-to encyclopedia for internet culture, an ever-expanding library of memes and other internet phenomena that gets cited by publications like The Atlantic and The Washington Post, and receives fact-checking calls from The New York Times. As for how researching memes became a full-time job, Kim says, “I really liked doing it because for me, it was kind of like not doing work.” On his first day at Know Your Meme, the staff sent Kim to Chinatown to find a plush toy version of Mudkips, a lesser pokémon that was part of a popular in-joke on 4chan. He failed, he says, but he loved it. Brandon Wink, the moderator of Reddit’s fake meme stock market, says we’ve entered a second generation of meme culture: “Websites of old have either died or faded to obscurity. New memers need [Know Your Meme] as [a] resource to know what rage comics were, how lol-speak and image macros came to be.”

The elephant in the room during every conversation about meme culture in 2018 is, of course, the 2016 election — when the grossest monsters of 4chan and Reddit came out from under the bed and baffled the public — and Gamergate, the 2014 harassment campaign that preceded it. But we have, now, what Kim calls “a meme president,” who is such a prime example of “troll bait” that he can’t pass up even one opportunity to spout insanity or spar with the media. “So, that turns into this weird industrial complex.” Kim says that the staff also plans to do more blogging and reporting with opinion and analysis that can give readers more in-depth context on memes. “Our main focus this year is to elevate our work to meme journalism, so to speak,” he says. Eventually, he wants to leave Know Your Meme and go into activism full-time, inspired by the way the 2017 Women’s March succeeded in rallying people via pre-existing internet communities.

5) India and Pakistan should stop playing with fire [Source: The Economist ]
The world knows that India and Pakistan are not friendly neighbours, and there’s always tension on their borders. But, the recent attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) terror outfit that killed ~40 Indian soldiers had created a war-like situation. India responded by bombing what it said was a terrorist training camp in the Pakistani state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan retaliated by sending jets of its own to bomb Indian targets. In the ensuing air battle, both sides claim to have shot down the other’s aircraft, and Pakistan captured an Indian pilot (released now). The intention of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, in ordering the original air strike was simple. Pakistan has long backed terrorists who mount grisly attacks in India, most notably in Mumbai in 2008, when jihadists who arrived by boat from Pakistan killed some 165 people. Although Pakistan’s army promised then to shut down such extremist groups, it has not.

In the long run, stability depends on Pakistan ending its indefensible support for terrorism. But in the short run Mr. Modi shares the responsibility to stop a disastrous escalation. Because he faces an election in April, he faces the hardest and most consequential calculations. They could come to define his premiership. Mr. Modi has always presented himself as a bold and resolute military leader, who does not shrink from confronting Pakistan’s provocations. He has taken to repeating a catchphrase from the film “Uri”, which portrays a commando raid he ordered against Pakistan in 2016 in response to a previous terrorist attack as a moment of chin-jutting grit.

Over the past five years Mr. Modi has lived up neither to the hype nor to the dire warnings. The economy has grown strongly under his leadership, by around 7% a year. He has brought about reforms his predecessors had promised but never delivered, such as a nationwide goods-and-services tax (GST). Mr. Modi has not sparked the outright communal conflagration his critics fretted about before he became prime minister. But his government has often displayed hostility to India’s Muslim minority and sympathy for those who see Hinduism—the religion of 80% of Indians—as under threat from internal and external foes. A member of his cabinet presented garlands of flowers to a group of Hindu men who had been convicted of lynching a Muslim for selling beef (cows are sacred to Hindus). Mr. Modi has made a career of playing with fire, but if he really is a patriot, he will now step back.

6) The Tinder algorithm, explained [Source: Vox.com ]
Online dating has massively increased over the couple of years, and apps like Tinder are at the forefront of this trend. Everybody knows what Tinder is, even if they haven’t tried the app. But, nobody knows what happens behind/inside the app. Globally, more than 57 million people use Tinder, but do they know what they’re doing? In this piece, Kaitlyn Tiffany explores the algorithm used by the app and also gives a few tips! She starts with the Tinder algorithm basics; essentially, the app uses an Elo rating system, which is the same method used to calculate the skill levels of chess players: You rise in the ranks based on how many people swipe right on (“like”) you, but that’s weighted based on who the swiper was. The more right swipes that person had, the more their right swipe on you means for your score.

Also, one of the more controversial Tinder features is the Super Like. Tinder says that Super Likes triple your chances of getting a match, because they’re flattering and express enthusiasm. There’s no way to know if that’s true. You get one per day for free, which you’re supposed to use on someone whose profile really stands out. Tinder Plus ($9.99 a month) and Tinder Gold ($14.99 a month) users get five per day, and you can also buy extra Super Likes à la carte, for $1 each. Tinder’s not the only dating app, and others have their own mathematical systems for pairing people off. Hinge — the “relationship app” with profiles more robust than Tinder’s but far less detailed than something like OkCupid or eHarmony — claims to use a special type of machine learning to predict your taste and serve you a daily “Most Compatible” option. The League — an exclusive dating app that requires you to apply using your LinkedIn — shows profiles to more people depending on how well their profile fits the most popular preferences.

Tinder obviously cares about making matches, but it cares more about the app feeling useful and the matches feeling real — as in, resulting in conversation and, eventually, dates. That’s why you get only 100 right swipes a day. To sum it up, don’t over-swipe (only swipe if you’re really interested), don’t keep going once you have a reasonable number of options to start messaging, and don’t worry too much about your “desirability” rating other than by doing the best you can to have a full, informative profile with lots of clear photos.

7) How to identify talent: Five lessons from the NFL draft [Source: behavioralscientist.org ]
The challenge of finding the next generation of talent is both ubiquitous and vexing. Yet, if there is one consistent yet underappreciated principle for making good hires, it is that process beats technology. It turns out that best practices in hiring have much in common with what psychologists have preached for decades. In this piece, the author throws light on how you hire talents through the National Football League (NFL) draft. There are few industries that invest as much into each “hire” as professional sports. Why is it so hard to draft or hire well? One reason it is that it is so difficult to be consistent. A draft pick is the product of a year’s work, by dozens of people, an outcome negotiated from diverse perspectives to satisfy diverse preferences.

The five universal prescriptions are: a) Understand your goal: To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. An easy way to flub a hire from the beginning is to skip asking exactly what it is you’re looking for. b) Keep your judges apart: In some teams a scout will know the previous scouts’ opinions before forming his or her own while other teams keep scouts blind to previous evaluations. This is a key difference. c) Break the candidates into parts: NFL teams break players down in minute detail. There are physical qualities: For a quarterback it includes, for example, arm strength, mobility, and release. And then there is their “makeup,” or the intangibles considered critical for success.

d) Bring them back together mechanically: If your hiring rankings aren’t perfectly replicable, you have noise in the process; if you have noise in the process, you’re more likely to take bad candidates and pass on good ones. Replicability is a referendum on your process. The single best way to reduce noise is to aggregate opinions mechanically. e) Keep score: On one hand, intuition based on years of repeated exposure and pattern recognition can be quite good. On the other, unless that experience comes with clear and regular feedback it can be misleading.

8) The future of water, Brazil’s government is tested and China’s science fiction [Source: The Economist ]
Jason Palmer, the host of the Intelligence podcast, talks about fresh water becoming increasingly scarce, Brazil’s government and its economy, and China’s science fiction film. One of the largest rivers in the world is drying up. The Murray-Darling basin in Australia is a body of water larger than Ethiopia, but mismanagement of water and overproduction of crops are causing it to dry up. Kate McBride, a fifth-generation sheep and cattle farmer, has been campaigning for better water management. Though the world is surrounded by water, there’s only 1% fresh water and most of it is underground. It’s not that there’s too little water, but water management is a major issue. If water crises continue at this pace, then there’ll certainly be a day when people will fight for even a drop of water.  
 
Then he talks about Jair Bolsonaro who was sworn in as Brazil’s president in January this year. He had talked about a national effort to fix the country’s economy and to tackle crime and corruption. He was elected basically because of three issues: 1) lagging economy; 2) corruption; and 3) rising crime rates. Since he was elected, various bills have been proposed to control these three issues, but whether these bills will be implemented and whether they will be popular with the masses is yet to be seen. 

Lastly Jason talks to James Miles, The Economist's China Editor, about the latest movie that he saw. James recently saw a big-budget Chinese science fiction film that reflects the philosophy of the country’s leader. In this movie, James says, the Sun is expanding and engulfing, and the people of this earth build thrusters to move the earth away from the orbit. It’s when the earth goes beyond Jupiter that things go out of hand. Jupiter begins to drag the earth into its orbit. And yes, it’s created by a state-owned film company.

9) The British woman who fought for India's freedom [Source: BBC ]
Love stories in the early 1930s were rare, but this one of BPL, as his friends call Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, and Freda Bedi is the rarest of them all. They both first met at Oxford. Driven by curiosity and by sympathy with those struggling against the Empire, Freda also went along to the weekly meetings of the Oxford Majlis, where radicals among the university's small number of Indian students asserted their country's case for nationhood. BPL Bedi, a handsome and cheerful Punjabi, was a regular there. A friendship developed into intellectual collaboration and, within months, Freda and BPL were a couple. Freda was fortunate in her student friends. Barbara Castle, who later became a commanding British woman politician of her era, was thrilled when Freda confided that she intended to marry her boyfriend. "Well, thank goodness", Barbara exclaimed. "Now at least you won't become a suburban housewife!"

From the moment she married, Freda regarded herself as Indian and often wore Indian-style clothes. When they came to Bombay (now Mumbai), they had a tough time dealing with the authorities. The couple had already been marked out by the British authorities as revolutionaries and potential trouble makers because of their student activism. When they disembarked in Bombay, their bags and cases were inspected for seven hours to check for left-wing propaganda. The key test of Freda's marriage was still to come - the first meeting with her Indian mother-in-law, a widow and matriarch known in the family as Bhabooji. Although Freda was determined to fit in with her Indian extended family, her lifestyle was anything but conventional. "Nowhere had I seen a white woman trying to be a typical Indian daughter-in-law", commented Som Anand, a frequent visitor to the Bedis' huts. "It surprised me to see Mrs. Bedi coming to Bhabooji's hut in the morning to touch her feet.

When World War Two broke out, both BPL and Freda were outraged that India was being dragged into supporting the British war effort. BPL was detained in a desert prison camp to stop him sabotaging military recruitment in Punjab. Freda decided to make her own stand against her motherland. She volunteered as a satyagrahi, a seeker of truth, and was among those chosen by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi to defy emergency wartime powers.  The Bedis' political prominence persisted after independence, when they moved to Kashmir - Freda joined a left-wing women's militia and worked with the radical nationalists who gained power there. Later, she became steeped in Tibetan spirituality. And once she felt that she had fulfilled her role as a mother (the film star Kabir Bedi is one of her three surviving children), she broke convention again by taking vows as a Tibetan Buddhist nun.  

10) How employers have gamified work for maximum profit [Source: aeon.co ]
Today everything is gamified. Gamification is the application of game elements into nongame spaces. It is the permeation of ideas and values from the sphere of play and leisure to other social spaces. It’s in coupon-dispensing loyalty programmes at supermarkets. Big Y, local supermarket chain in Boston, employs digital slot machines at the checkout for its members. Gamification is the premise of fitness games such as Zombies, Run!, where users push themselves to exercise by outrunning digital zombies, and of language-learning apps such as Duolingo, where scoring prompts one to master more.

But gamification’s trapping of total fun masks that we have very little control over the games we are made to play – and hides the fact that these games are not games at all. Gamified systems are tools, not toys. They can teach complex topics, engage us with otherwise difficult problems. Or they can function as subtle systems of social control. Even most of the companies track production in real time; for e.g.: Disney and Target. Amazon has also bought big into gamifying work. Warehouse workers are subject to scoreboards that display the silhouettes of workers who were caught stealing, what they were caught stealing, and how they were caught. Their productivity is monitored by handheld devices that scan and locate products. Through gamified technology, corporations such as Amazon and Disney now have an unprecedented level of control over the individual bodies of their employees.

And the gamification isn’t limited to work. Social platforms all employ some form of gamification in their stats, figures, points, likes and badges. Dating apps gamify our romantic life; Facebook gamifies friendship. Even war has been gamified: drone pilots operate in a highly gamified environment. Foeke Postma, a researcher and programme officer at the Dutch peace organization PAX, says that drone warfare often takes the shape of a game, right down to the joysticks or PlayStation-like controllers that the pilots use. The expansion of game-like elements into nongame spaces is a global phenomenon. 
 

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