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Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Management (Rocker's guide to management), MedTech (Using AI in diagnosing Cancer), Behaviour (National character stereotypes mirror language use), Technology (Robots controlled by paralysed people), Environment (Plasticphobia: Will going plastic-free harm the environment?) and Politics (When presidents were people) among others.

Published: Dec 14, 2018 03:48:25 PM IST

Ten interesting things we read this weekImage: 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 (Rocker’s guide to management), MedTech (Using AI in diagnosing Cancer), Behaviour (National character stereotypes mirror language use), Technology (Robots controlled by paralysed people), Environment (Plasticphobia: Will going plastic-free harm the environment?) and Politics (When presidents were people) among others.

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended December 14, 2018.

1) A rocker’s guide to management
[Source: 1843magazine.com]
Some interesting management lessons can be taken from the historic rock bands the world has seen. And this piece throws light on how some of the most famous bands in the world have managed to stick together over the years, while others broke apart. So, what’s the most important thing? Finding the right combination of personalities pays off. As an investor, Garry Tan, co-founder of Posterous and Posthaven, says he probes the relationship between a start-up’s founders as much as he does its business model. For him, the relationship needs to be deeper than the project.

Talking about Coldplay, they have been together for so many years. Why? Because they have a shared vision of success. All the band members get an equal cut even though Chris Martin is the lead. This democratic model depends on individual members believing that each has the group’s interest at heart, not just their own. Coldplay knew they wanted to be the biggest band in the world; each member had the same clear-eyed ambition. Their equal income split works like equity shares: every partner has a direct interest in keeping the band together.

Marie-Louise von Franz, a psychoanalyst, wrote that “whenever one is in a group…one has to draw a veil over a part of one’s personality.” Gains from collaboration are traded off against self-expression. Occasionally, she said, it’s the other way around: a group can become united in spirit and each individual expresses themselves more fully than they would be able to by themselves. A “superpersonal harmony” prevails. This rare condition, says von Franz, is what lies behind myths such as the Knights of King Arthur.  

2) Powerful Predictors: Diagnosing Cancer in India using AI [Source: digital.hbs.edu]
In India, less than 10,000 pathologists have to service a population of 1.3 billion people. While the number of pathologists are too less, approximately 74,000 women die from cervical cancer every year, accounting for one-third of the burden of cervical cancer deaths globally. To take on this challenge, a company is using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect cervical cancer. The company here is Aindra Systems, founded by Adarsh Natarajan. Aindra is demonstrating how strategic use of automated technologies has the potential to democratize access to quality care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).  

Aindra’s end-to-end diagnostic platform takes biological samples which are stained by an autostainer, converted into a digital image, and then analyzed by AI algorithms to differentiate between cancerous cells and healthy cells. This three-part process is done onsite at a clinic, eliminating the need for the tedious process of manual staining and the transport of large batches of samples to distant laboratories. As a result, patients are told if they have cancerous lesions within 1-2 hours instead of 5-6 weeks.

Aindra’s platform makes a strong case for the use of AI to address global health challenges, but AI-assisted technologies require vast amounts of labeled, high-quality data to train the AI algorithm, data that doesn’t exist in many low-resource environments. In the case of healthcare, poor quality data could lead to fatal outcomes. AI-powered cervical cancer detection, in combination with widespread human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination, has the potential to prevent deaths from cervical cancer globally — an historic achievement. Companies like Aindra could play a key role in reducing the burden of disease in populations with poor access to high quality care and set the stage for future entrepreneurs from LMICs to develop AI-assisted technologies using human-centered design.

3) What’s next for marketplace start-ups [Source: andrewchen.co]
In this essay, Andrew Chen, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, talks about the future of marketplaces. This essay covers: 1) why services are still offline; 2) the history of service marketplace paradigms which include the listings era, the unbundled Craigslist era, the “Uber for X” era, and the managed marketplace era; 3) the future of service marketplaces; and 4) the future opportunities.

Over the years, the buying habits have changed. From physical stores to online, people have started shopping online. These ecommerce shopping portals account for trillions of dollars in market capitalization. The next era will do the same to the $9.7 trillion US consumer service economy, through discontinuous innovations in AI and automation, new marketplace paradigms, and overcoming regulatory capture.

In the next 20 years, there’ll be immense opportunities where technological, operational and regulatory hurdles persist. The services sector represents two-thirds of US consumer spending and employs 80% of the workforce. The companies that reinvent various service categories can improve both consumers’ and professionals’ lives–by creating more jobs and income, providing more flexible work arrangements, and improving consumer access and lowering cost.

4) In conversation with…Françoise Barré-Sinoussi [Source: mosaicscience
In this conversation, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi reveals how she identified HIV as the cause of AIDS, and also talks about her receipt of the Nobel Prize, and the latest efforts to prevent, treat and manage HIV. When Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, along with her colleague Luc Montagnier, found the virus that causes the disease, it proved monumental, a boulder thrown into a lake whose ripples still fan out today. It proved critical too, transforming our understanding of AIDS as it bulldozed through country after country, bringing blindness and pneumonia and death like a grim huckster.

Effective treatment might have been developed in 1996, but three things prevented Barré-Sinoussi from giving up her fight against the disease: the lack of availability of antiretrovirals – of today’s 35 million sufferers, only about a third receive treatment; the limitations of the treatment, which can cause a kaleidoscope of side effects; and the galloping rise in the number of infections. Barré-Sinoussi is “concerned” about young people, who are “too relaxed” about HIV because “the education campaigns are not sufficient…there is not enough information”. A 2013 survey in Scotland found one in ten pupils think HIV can be transmitted through kissing.

Since 2008, when the first known case of an HIV patient being ‘cured’ was reported, dubbed the ‘Berlin patient’, a growing wave of stories have appeared citing research from around the world on what could lead to a cure. But scientists largely prefer the term ‘functional cure’ (Barré-Sinoussi favours ‘remission’ or ‘sustained remission’), using it to describe a scenario in which a sufferer no longer needs antiretroviral therapy (ART) but his or her body is not wholly free from HIV. When asked whether functional cure will be available, she says, “Maybe we will have a treatment that will be effective not for all but for some.” Also, on getting a complete cure, she says even she is doesn’t know when that will happen.

5) National character stereotypes mirror language use: A study of Canadian and American tweets [Source: journals.plos.org]
Stereotypes about national character, i.e., individually held beliefs regarding psychological traits of world nations and cultures, are ubiquitous, stable and influential. The importance of these beliefs for the functioning of individuals, groups and societies is hard to overestimate. National character stereotypes, or beliefs about the personality characteristics of the members of a nation, present a paradox. Such stereotypes have been argued to not be grounded in the actual personality traits of members of nations, yet they are also prolific and reliable.

Stereotypes of Canadians and Americans exemplify the paradox; people in both nations strongly believe that the personality profiles of typical Canadians and Americans diverge, yet aggregated self-reports of personality profiles of Canadians and Americans show no reliable differences. The linguistic behaviour of nations mirrors national character stereotypes. A study conducted by using 40 million tweets from the microblogging platform Twitter quantified the words and emojis diagnostic of Canadians and Americans. Another study explored the positivity of national language use.

In other studies, the 120 most nationally diagnostic words and emojis of each nation are presented to naive participants. They are then asked to assess personality of a hypothetical person who uses either diagnostically Canadian or American words and emojis. Personality profiles derived from the diagnostic words of each nation bear close resemblance to national character stereotypes.

6) Why are Indian managers so damn good? [Source: qz.com
The co-authors of Made-in-India Managers, R Gopalakrishnan and Ranjan Banerjee, discuss why some of the Indian-born global corporate leaders are successful. Leaders like Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Indra Nooyi (formerly PepsiCo), Sundar Pichai (Google), Shantanu Narayen (Adobe), and Nitin Nohria (Harvard Business School) have had a significant component of their early upbringing, living experiences, and education in India. According to the authors, they are “made-in-India managers.”

After studying these leaders and others who were in leadership positions in global organisations across the world, the authors got an answer to their question; How did being ‘made-in-India’ help you get where you are today? The experience of growing up in India had shaped them positively in fundamental ways. There were basically four features that made them stand apart.

Competitive intensity: the authors conducted informal focus group to understand their perceptions of management education in India. One of the consistent themes that emerged through the interviews was their perception of Indian students as industrious and diligent. India’s foremost business school, IIM Ahmedabad, admits one student for every 400 applications. Diversity and inclusion: This comes to save them when adjusting to a different or a variety of cultural environments. Such exposure begins early in life. It is not unusual in school to share lunch with people from different states—a vast variety of cuisine is shared, understood, and appreciated.

Dealing with ambiguity: Indians learn to deal with a lot of things that are uncertain, and develop the ability to quickly assess situations and help themselves without waiting for the system to help them. Family values: The percentage of India-made leaders citing a family member as an influential role model is significantly higher than for their Western counterparts. The formative role of the family in shaping values through demonstration, stressing the value of education, and proving an “always there” support provides a strong value core that builds resilience. The strengths of the made-in-India manager emerge from the coming together of multiple, interlinked features with the ability to “think in English.”

7) Cafe opens in Tokyo staffed by robots controlled by paralysed people [Source: soranews24.com
Who said robots and humans can’t live together? On 26 November, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held in the Nippon Foundation Building in Akasaka, Tokyo for a very special kind of cafe. Called Dawn ver.β, this café is staffed entirely with robot waiters. So what’s new? Most of the places have robots. While this café’s waiters’ are robots, these robots are controlled by paralysed people.

Developed by Ory, a start-up that specializes in robotics for disabled people, the OriHime-D is a 120cm (4-foot) tall robot that can be operated remotely from a paralysed person’s home. Even if the operator only has control of their eyes, they can command OriHime-D to move, look around, speak with people, and handle objects. Created in collaboration between Ory, NPO Nippon Foundation, and airline ANA, Dawn ver.β is designed to resemble the titular cafe from the 2008 anime Time of Eve, which is also contributing to the project.

During this time a staff of ten people, with conditions such as ALS or spinal cord injuries and working from home, are paid 1,000 yen (US$8.80) an hour (a standard wage for part-time work in Japan) to serve up coffee and interact with the clientele. But more importantly than money, these people are also given a newfound independence. In an age where people are afraid of robots taking all the jobs, it’s nice to see an instance of robots giving people jobs for a change, especially in such a meaningful way.

8) Plasticphobia: Will going plastic-free harm the environment? [Source: BBC Radio
In this podcast, Tom Heaps, Rural Affairs Correspondent of BBC News, and a United Kingdom television and radio reporter and presenter, talks to several experts on plastic and its effects on our lives. The idea of plastic saving nature feels like environmental blasphemy today with its near universal polluting presence. We are all encouraged to live plastic-free, but does this put the interest of the planet first? Or are we at danger of damaging environmental side effects?   

Most of the things that we use in our daily lives are made out of plastic. Be it spoon, bottles, earphones, mobiles, kitchen accessories, office accessories, etc. In UK alone, there are around 13bn plastic bottles used for water and soft drinks. Also, we are irresponsible in disposing these plastics. It’s said that by 2020 all our plastic would be home compostable. Susan Lambert, curator of the Arts University, Bournemouth, feels that plastics are water-saving, land-sparing, etc. Tom Heaps also visited a plant where the company made plastics from plants. CEO of Biome Technologies, Paul Mines, says that they use plants to make bioplastics. And these bioplastics are used in making plastic materials like cups, bags, etc.

But one question that needs an answer is whether it is harmful for the environment? As these are made from plants, wouldn’t it harm the nature? Mr. Mines says that these bioplastics are compostable within 3 months compared to years that it takes for a normal plastic bottle. While compostable plastic is one option, the other one is recycling. Steve Mahon from Armstrong Energy feels that we can turn all the plastics that are burnt or dumped into oil again. Armstrong Energy is making oils from plastics. So they are taking it back to its original form.

9) ‘An education arms race’: Inside the ultra-competitive world of private tutoring [Source: the Guardian] Every parent wants their offspring to be a master at whatever they plan to do in their careers. And to make that possible, they’ll work day and night so that they can afford the best education for their kids. You can gauge this by the number of students being dropped at the Explore Learning tuition centre for extra maths and English coaching. The Bradford branch of Explore Learning is a tiny window into Britain’s booming private tuition sector, now worth an estimated £2bn. Founded in 2001 by Bill Mills, a Cambridge maths graduate, the business now has 139 centres around the country (plus five in Texas run by a sister company). They are located mainly in shopping centres, so busy parents can get on with their weekly shop while their offspring perfect their times tables, punctuation and grammar.

The families who use the centre come from various walks of life. Some parents have their own businesses; others work at Bradford Royal Infirmary. There are families from Latvia, Poland and the Philippines. The parents talk about giving their children “an edge”, the “leg up” they never had. Geoff Clayton, a retired garage worker, has been bringing his 10-year-old grandson, Brooklyn, to Explore Learning for about nine months. Brooklyn lives with his grandparents and likes football, Minecraft and maths. “He’s done really well,” says Clayton. “His reading has got a lot better, everything’s got better.” The membership takes a significant chunk out of his pension, but he is happy to pay it to give Brooklyn “a bit of a leg up”.

Initiatives aimed at making tuition more accessible already exist: some agencies pledge a proportion of their tuition to poorer pupils for free, while non-profit programmes such as the Tutor Trust connect tutors with disadvantaged schools. Explore Learning offers “scholarships” that give a 50% discount to parents on income support or jobseeker’s allowance.

Some parents buy extra tuition to support children with special educational needs such as dyslexia, which mainstream schools are increasingly unable to meet. One mother from Nigeria said she sought extra support for her child as a practical response to racial discrimination: “Any child from a minority has to be many times better than their white counterparts to be able to get into the top schools and universities.” But, not everyone is positive about the impact of tuition. “It can cause students to not work in lessons,” said one teacher. Another said: “The need for tutoring frightens me. Schools should be able to offer students the support they need in class sizes that are manageable.”

10) When presidents were people [Source: the Atlantic ]
In this digital age, people are so exposed to fake news that they fail to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake. This article, and Richard Ben Cramer’s book ‘What it Takes’, shows how the era of politicians like George H. W. Bush and Donald Trump have seen dramatic change. Mr. Bush showed himself to people and was human-like, emoting genuine feelings. He didn’t shield stuff that made him human from the people who covered him.    

More so in those times a person’s word mattered (since people were overall less about faking it). The spurts of doubt didn’t matter, Mr. Cramer writes: Nixon had told Bush, to his face, that he was innocent, and for Bush, that was that. “That was what he had to give, that was the measure of loyalty—and the requirement of the code: personal commitment,” Cramer writes. But, today's fast-paced life, era of reading headlines and low "real" interactions have made us judge, jury and executioner quick to write off things/people at a moment’s notice.

In the Donald Trump era, where cries of “fake news” abound and the president views the media as the enemy, it’s hard to imagine a resurgence of such access to politicians as people. A politician today is much more robotic, hence becoming less empathetic and way more rehearsed (can be read as fake) and everyone (not just politicians) is moving towards this. This is now becoming innate and something like-lie about your feeling and actions enough and that might just become the new normal or acceptable feeling (less human perhaps).

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