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Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Business (How successful people stay calm), Technology (Elon Musk wants to link brains directly to machines), Media (Great race to rule streaming TV; Evolution of media consumption), Climate Change (Facing extinction by Catherine Ingram), History (Of India's genetic roots), and E-sports (Gaming cult looks to level up in India)

Published: Jul 27, 2019 08:14:29 AM IST
Updated: Jul 27, 2019 11:23:24 AM 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: Business (How successful people stay calm), Technology (Elon Musk wants to link brains directly to machines), Media (Great race to rule streaming TV; Evolution of media consumption), Climate Change (Facing extinction by Catherine Ingram), History (Of India’s genetic roots), and E-sports (Gaming cult looks to level up in India).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended July 26, 2019.

1) How successful people stay calm [Source: Forbes]
The way you perform is directly linked to the way you manage stress. 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. Here are 10 ways how successful people stay stress-free:
1. They appreciate what they have: Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.

2. They avoid asking “what if?”: “What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down.

3. They stay positive: Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about.

4. They disconnect: When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend?

5. They limit their caffeine intake: Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior.

6. They sleep: They surely know the importance of sleep. In order for our body to function properly, we need adequate sleep.

7. They squash negative self-talk: The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts.

8. They reframe their perspective: It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses, and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So, take a minute to put the situation in perspective.

9. They breathe: The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back.

10. They use their support system: It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it.  

2) Elon Musk wants to link brains directly to machines [Source: Economist]
Elon Musk is known for making spectacular pronouncements. On July 16th he was at it again, unveiling a new type of brain-machine interface (BMI). If human beings do not enter a symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI), he declared, they are sure to be left behind. And he, the announcement implied, was going to be the man who stopped that happening. Connecting brains directly to machines is a long-standing aspiration. And it is already happening, albeit in a crude way. In deep-brain stimulation, for example, neurosurgeons implant a few electrodes into a patient’s brain in order to treat Parkinson’s disease.

As with all things Musk-related, Neuralink is much more ambitious. The firm does not just want to develop a better BMI. Its aim is to create a “neural lace”, a mesh of ultra-thin electrodes that capture as much information from the brain as possible. Neuralink does indeed seem to have made progress. Its presentation, at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, included videos of a neurosurgical robot that is best described as a sewing machine. This robot grabs “threads” (films, containing electrodes, that measure less than a quarter of the diameter of a human hair), and shoots them deep into the brain through a hole in the skull. It is capable of inserting six threads, each carrying 32 electrodes, per minute. The firm has also designed a chip that can handle signals from as many as 3,072 electrodes—30 times more than current systems—and transmit them wirelessly.

Neuralink has already tested its system successfully on rats and monkeys. These were, it says, able to move cursors on screens with it. The firm now hopes to work with human volunteers, perhaps as early as next year should America’s Food and Drug Administration play along. Ultimately, Mr. Musk predicts, neural lace will allow humans to merge with AI systems, thus enabling the species to survive. Though, as this announcement shows, Mr. Musk does have a habit of presenting himself as the saviour of the human race (his desire to settle Mars seems motivated partly by fear of what might, in the future, happen to Earth), the idea that some machines at least will come under the direct control of human brains seems plausible. The biggest obstruction to this happening will probably not be writing the software needed to interpret brainwaves, but rather persuading people that the necessary surgery, whether by sewing machine or otherwise, is actually a good idea.  

3) The great race to rule streaming TV [Source: NY Times]
Earlier our TV boxes were the only source of entertainment, besides radio. But now, all of our screens are now TVs, and there is more TV to watch on them than ever. More dramas, more comedies, more thrillers, more fantasy-adventure series, more dating shows, more game shows, more cooking shows, more travel shows – more, more, more. And Netflix is the reason behind it. In the streaming era, “you don’t have to pull in a massive audience” to justify a show, says Ravi Nandan, who directs the television efforts of the boutique studio A24 — known for its dedication to moderately budgeted, auteur-driven material like the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.”

Since its metamorphosis in 2007 from a mail-based DVD-rental library into a streaming platform, Netflix has become an entertainment hegemon, spending heavily on original shows and movies (a reported 700 of them as of last year); minting new kinds of stars (the Tasmanian meta-comedian Hannah Gadsby, the Japanese home-organizing guru Marie Kondo); and growing its subscriber numbers to 149 million worldwide. Its rise coincides with a trend of major consolidations, including AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner and Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox’s entertainment properties. Each conglomerate is readying a new streaming platform, as is the Comcast-owned NBC Universal.

In the ongoing scramble for hours, international shows have emerged as another significant frontier. Importing such shows was once largely the province of PBS, but now Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are full of series licensed from or made in partnership with studios from Britain (“Fleabag”), Spain (“Money Heist”) and Scandinavia (“The Bridge”). Executives see them as affordable — which means that they are becoming more expensive. Nick Weidenfeld, an independent TV producer explains that the exorbitant costs involved in amassing hours of programming combined with parent-company consolidation, were already ushering in a period that he called “the Great Reclamation of Content — everyone’s gonna pull back what they own.” The coming landscape, as he envisioned it, sounded grim. “Once it consolidates and settles, like anything else, certain production methodologies and creative methodologies will be put in place, and they’ll become sacrosanct, and that’s all there’s gonna be for a while.”

4) The evolution of media consumption [Source: Axios]
Every media company is vying for screen space. The media consumption wars between the TV and tech giants are heating up. After decades in which media consumption was dominated by domestic TV, we're entering a much more fragmented and international world. Services like Netflix and TikTok (the mobile video clip app that aspires to be the next Netflix) are global in scope and ambition. That sets them apart from forthcoming rival subscription services being planned by Disney, Comcast and AT&T. Artificial intelligence has already proved its value with the success of TikTok, which was released internationally in 2017 by the Chinese AI giant ByteDance and has racked up 950 million downloads. The app curates unique individualized content streams by choosing from millions of 15-second videos uploaded by its users, and the effect is mesmerizing — even more addictive than precursors like Twitter.

Some new platforms will blur the lines between social media, video games and professionally produced video entertainment. The video game Fortnite is a form of social media, for instance, while the forthcoming Quibi video platform is likely to include many interactive elements. Much of the battle between services will be fought over what executives think of as "intellectual property" and everybody else thinks of as "shows."

As analyst and REDEF columnist Matthew Ball notes, none of these services wants to be in the business of "selling individual shows to a given TV watcher from time to time." They want to build brand loyalty in their own right, and it's unclear whether having a well-known anchor tenant will get them there. Netflix and Amazon became giants in this space by delivering unlimited video content on demand, uninterrupted by ads, all for much less than even an HBO subscription, let alone a typical cable-TV bundle. On mobile, however, where games and social-media apps are only a tap away, the most popular and addictive content looks very different and often isn't professionally produced at all.

5) Understanding the average impact of microcredit [Source: Microeconomic Insights]
The global microloan portfolio has increased immensely and is now worth over 102 billion dollars. Those in support of microcredit argue that offering more loans means offering more choices to households often left out of the formal financial sector. The policy can allow them to insure against risk, smooth consumption or buy large durable items they have trouble saving enough to buy on their own. But, few have challenged the lending practices of microfinance institutions (MFIs), arguing that they encourage clients to borrow more than they could repay.

This debate motivated researchers to implement several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and study its impact. After using a statistical analysis technique called Bayesian Hierarchical modeling, they found that: 1) There is little evidence that microcredit generally harms borrowers as was feared by some critics, but there is also little evidence that microcredit transforms poor households into prosperous entrepreneurs. 2) The effects of expanding microcredit services in different countries are surprisingly similar.

3) Microcredit usually has zero effect for households with no previous business experience. While it has a large average effect for households with business experience, this effect is highly variable across settings and does not generalize. 4) Economic variables such as interest rates predict variation in treatment effects better than differences in study protocols. The bottom line is that the best existing evidence suggests, with reasonable confidence, that the average impact of these loans are small.

6) Facing Extinction by Catherine Ingram [Source: catherineingram.com
In this longish essay, Catherine Ingram throws light on the effects of global warming and climate change. We have burned so much carbon into the atmosphere that the CO2 levels are higher than they have been for the past three million years. If we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, we are still on track for much higher heat for at least ten years. The continent of Antarctica is also melting rapidly at an acceleration of 280% in the last forty years.

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction with about 150 plant and animal species going extinct per day. Some of the consequences we face are mass die-offs due to widespread drought, flooding, fires, forest mortality, runaway diseases, and dying ocean life; all of which we now see in preview. A few of these consequences could even result in the annihilation of all complex life on earth in a quick hurry. If we were to make it through this gauntlet of threats, we would be still facing starvation.
Despite our having caused so much destruction, it is important to also consider the wide spectrum of possibilities that make up a human life. Yes, on one end of that spectrum is greed, cruelty, and ignorance; and on the other end is kindness, compassion, and wisdom.

7) Of India’s genetic roots [Source: The Hindu]
In this review of Tony Joseph Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, the author talks about ethnic foundations of the Indian people. The book seeks to raise and answer two basic questions: 1) Who are we? and 2) Where do we come from? “We” here includes all people of India from the earliest known period down to the present, people inhabiting this subcontinent irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

And the answer is complex, particularly because the ancestry of different sections of the Indian population is so intermixed, with strands drawn from different sources. Joseph summarises this complex answer in two simple (grammatically, that is) sentences: “We are all Indians. And we are all migrants”.

This book is remarkably accessible to the reader, dense as it is with evidence from multiple branches of knowledge, such as archaeology, linguistics, ancient texts and, most notably, the recent study of ancient genes (aDNA). It goes without saying that not all scholars will agree with the conclusions drawn on the basis of results of individual disciplines; so also, some may doubt the validity of generalisations based on limited samples, especially in the study of genes. But, here is a firm basis on which the study of Indian history can begin. This is of especial importance in the context of the post-truth conditions of the present when myth-making seeks to replace authentic knowledge.

8) Quantum supremacy is coming: Here’s what you should know [Source: Quanta Magazine]
Every tech company today is building or trying to build a quantum computer. Will they replace classical computers? No. So what will they do? They will be to offer a fundamentally different way of performing certain calculations. They’ll be able to solve problems that would take a fast classical computer billions of years to perform. They’ll enable the simulation of complex quantum systems such as biological molecules, or offer a way to factor incredibly large numbers, thereby breaking long-standing forms of encryption. But, why is it taking so much time to build one?

As long as quantum circuits remain small, classical computers can keep pace. So to demonstrate quantum supremacy via the random circuit sampling problem, engineers need to be able to build quantum circuits of at least a certain minimum size — and so far, they can’t. Circuit size is determined by the number of qubits you start with, combined with the number of times you manipulate those qubits. Manipulations in a quantum computer are performed using “gates,” just as they are in a classical computer. Different kinds of gates transform qubits in different ways — some flip the value of a single qubit, while others combine two qubits in different ways.  If you run your qubits through 10 gates, you’d say your circuit has “depth” 10. So what’s the challenge? As the number of qubits and gates increases, so does the error rate. And if the error rate is too high, quantum computers lose their advantage over classical ones.

To verify quantum supremacy, you have to show two things: that a quantum computer performed a calculation fast, and that a classical computer could not efficiently perform the same calculation. By many accounts Google is knocking on the door of quantum supremacy and could demonstrate it before the end of the year. (Of course, the same was said in 2017.) But a number of other groups have the potential to achieve quantum supremacy soon, including those at IBM, IonQ, Rigetti and Harvard University.
9) Gaming cult looks to level up in India [Source: Livemint]
Gaming cult in India has increased immensely in the past decade. Youngsters are addicted to video games. Be it Pokemon Go or PUBG “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, we all have come across some news related to youngsters’ addiction. The lure of the game is highest for a slew of young Indians getting online for the first time through their mobile phones. Some of them even go “pro". There’s even a respectable name for gaming: e-sports. Take Ankur Diwakar, for example, who calls himself “JauntyTank" (Plays FIFA) based on his online persona. When he first started playing games back in 2007, the industry was still seen as a hobbyists arena. Today, Diwakar gives lectures at many Indian universities to explain why e-sports is a viable career option.

While the term “e-sports" is still unknown to many, to those in this industry, India has been a market that presents more hope than many others. There are, of course, some downsides. In May, the World Health Organisation officially included gaming disorder as a disease in the International Classification of Diseases, placing it next to gambling disorder. PUBG, in particular, has come in for scrutiny from a slew of government entities. The number of Indians who game has shot up from 20 million in 2010 to 250 million by 2018, according to a KPMG and Google report. And there’s significant money involved too. By 2021, India’s gaming market is expected to earn revenues worth nearly $340 million, according to a Frost & Sullivan estimate. There is money even in designing and exporting games, an estimated annual global market of $1.7 billion within a few years.

With a dramatic rise in internet penetration and dirt cheap data prices, India has seen a wave of young millennials, hailing from smaller cities and towns, flood a slew of online services. In a recent interview, P. Krishnakumar, senior VP and GM of Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell, said that the sales of gaming laptops is driving the overall sales of the PC segment in India at the moment. There are also gaming events organized where the prize money is huge. What’s changed in 2019 though is that gaming is being taken seriously. Product makers like Dell, Asus, Lenovo and HP have all brought their newest devices to the Indian market and also host their own gaming events. This adds to the burgeoning number of gaming events that are already happening in the country.

10) If your boss shows these 4 signs, head for the hills [Source: Forbes]
In most of the companies, employees don’t feel like working, and the attrition rate is very high. It is found that bad management is the reason behind it. For how long you will work (or survive) in a company, it all depends on who your boss is. The author of this piece has elaborated on four characteristics of the highly ineffective managers. 1) Rarely communicates: A boss needs to be open and transparent in his communication. Managers who prefer to keep to themselves rather than interacting regularly with their troops simply aren’t well-suited for the role.  

2) Takes no responsibility: A good manager takes responsibility for his/her actions. As the old leadership saying states, “Give credit, take responsibility.” Unsatisfactory managers are always ready to throw others under the bus. 3) Has the scruples of a timber rattler: Weak unprincipled management is invariably less concerned with “doing the right thing” for an organization than with protecting their own career interests.

4) Is far more concerned about his career than yours: The best managers focus on the needs of others, because they know that that’s how they can get the best out of others. On the other hand, selfish managers will only think about themselves. If your boss possesses even one of these traits, then you surely will have sleepless nights. The author says that it’s always advisable to maintain professional demeanor and performance, but at the same time you also need to begin looking elsewhere.

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