Anything for Alexa

Also in today’s edition: No country for the young; Apple’s modem headache; SE Asia vs. SE Asia; Delhi-Ottawa deadlock

Good morning! After hibernating for about a fortnight, lander Vikram and rover Pragyan are set to face a new dawn on the Moon. Initially designed to last one lunar day (~14 earth days), the brainiacs at ISRO are now hoping to extend the lifespans of Chandrayaan-3’s lunar modules by another day. If they succeed, Vicky and Pragy could shed new light on lunar soil and ice. Time to rise and shine, sleepyheads.

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🎧 Performance artist Marina Abramovic requires visitors to squeeze between nude models for museum entry. Also in today's episode: India-Canada relations are in the midst of a full-blown diplomatic standoff. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Today’s edition also features pieces by Adarsh Singh Jangpangi, Soumya Gupta, and Julie Koshy Sam.

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The Market Signal*

Stocks & Economy: Indian investors joined their global counterparts in selling stocks on Thursday as they reconciled to prospects of high interest rates across the world for at least the next few months. Asia was awash in red on Friday morning trade even though the GIFT Nifty indicated a likely positive opening for India.

While foreign investors were net sellers, local institutions were net buyers on Thursday.

The country’s economy got another vote of confidence and promise of more foreign capital flows after JP Morgan said it will add India’s government bonds to its emerging-market index from June next year. The inclusion will increase inflows into Indian bonds.

Meanwhile, Russia has banned exports of diesel. A prolonged supply deficit—Russia exports one million barrels a day—could send up prices of the fuel, vital for commercial transport, including ships and trains.

The Bank of Japan will announce its interest rate decision today.


We Don’t Need No Education

What’s the point, when there are no jobs? Over 42% of India’s graduates under 25 were unemployed in 2021-22, a report has found. This, even though India’s unemployment rate fell to 6.6% that year.

Caste, gender matters: On the bright side, more women have jobs than they did in the 1980s. There’s also more intergenerational mobility, meaning fewer people work the same menial jobs their parents were forced into.

But this progress has caveats. Women earned 15% less in 2021-22 than they did before the pandemic because economic distress forced them into self-employment. Even today, 75% of the workers from SC/ST groups are in the same jobs as their parents.

Sputtering engine: Small businesses are crucial to job creation. But Indian conglomerates are squeezing them out, skewing economic growth. Just 20 companies took 80% of profits in FY22, double from a decade ago.


America’s Next Top Modem…

…won’t come from Apple. We’re specifically referring to cellular modems, which connect devices to wireless carriers.

Apple has been trying to make wireless components for the iPhone since 2018 but repeatedly failed. The result is that it continues to sleep with the enemy: Qualcomm. The two recently prolonged their chip partnership despite hating each other’s guts.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has been unable to extend its success in microprocessor manufacturing to modem chips despite poaching Qualcomm talent and acquiring Intel’s wireless team. Cellular modems must work seamlessly with networks ranging from 2G to 5G in countries that have their “own technological quirks”. Haphazard splitting of the wireless team and unrealistic deadlines didn’t help.

Aside: CNBC reveals that Apple and Goldman Sachs were working on a stock trading feature for the iPhone. Apple reportedly dropped the project fearing consumer backlash after the 2022 stock rout.

Upsetting the Apple cart: The iPhone 15 is prohibitively expensive in India compared to markets abroad. Why’s this happening despite the base model being made in the country? PS: we also address that viral ‘Mother Nature’ video touting Apple’s sustainability efforts. While Rajneil is a believer, Roshni calls bs on a range of claims, including carbon neutrality. Tune in to this week’s episode of TechTonic Shift, dropping Saturday. Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Limp Biscuit

Did the outgoing chief of Amazon’s devices unit—which bore the brunt of the company slashing 27,000 jobs since 2022—just deliver a supersized cookie before the end of his term? Seems so. At Amazon’s annual product event, Dave Limp announced at least 10 new devices, then topped that with a biggie: Alexa will be OK, after all.

Reports were circulating about Amazon using generative AI to resuscitate voice assistant Alexa (and by extension, the company’s struggling devices business). The event confirms that Amazon, which until now focused AI efforts towards corporate cloud customers, will make AI the core of consumer offerings too. It’s already introduced AI tools for e-commerce sellers.

The new Alexa will understand multiple, even ambiguous prompts and be able to create complex routines. These capabilities won’t just sync with Amazon’s smart home system, but also Alexa-compatible third-party appliances.

The Signal

Dave Limp’s last hurrah at Amazon is all about ambient intelligence, where AI goes beyond answering queries and becomes a “superhuman assistant”. Amazon has a literal home advantage: while other AI frontrunners are focused on services for phones and computers, smart home devices are packed with mics and sensors that “can add context to generative AI queries”.

This will tie in with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which dominates the cloud market and is the company’s most profitable business. Knowing full well that AI is a data devourer, AWS has taken a full stack approach ranging from making its own AI chips to training large language models.


The World’s Favourite Billionaire

Elon Musk is perhaps the most wanted man in the world after Tim Cook. Of course, we mean it in the nice way that billionaires are wanted.

Countries across the vague global division of north and south are ready to roll out the red carpet for a Tesla factory, with or without the prefix giga. The latest to join the bandwagon is Thailand’s newly elected prime minister Srettha Thavisin, who is canvassing investments in the US, including from Musk.

Alt China: Thailand is competing with Asian peers, including India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, which want to benefit from China’s fall as a manufacturing destination in western eyes. Vietnam, which now makes Apple’s devices, is imploring the US for more market access. While countries such as France, Turkey, and Israel want Musk’s factories to generate jobs, a Tesla or Apple unit is a manufacturing imprimatur in Asia.


A Hurricane In The Making

The India-Canada spat is now a full blown conflict with the Indian government indefinitely halting visa services for Canadians.

The Modi government’s tough stance comes even as Canada’s intelligence-sharing Five Eyes Alliance partners, the US and Australia, supported the investigation and urged India to cooperate with it. US President Joe Biden had reportedly raised the issue with Prime Minister Modi during the G20 summit.

Disruption in visa services could be a blow to thousands of Canadian (those with overseas Indian citizen cards and long-term visas are unlikely to be affected) visitors to India, including those who have families back in India. Airlines’ business could be hit as traffic between the two countries is particularly heavy in the festival season. Brands such as Tim Hortons and McCain are facing heat, and a Canadian rapper’s India tour has been cancelled.


🤝: Glenmark Pharmaceuticals will sell 75% of its stake in its life sciences arm to Nirma for ₹5,652 crore ($680 million).

Succession in slomo: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 92, is stepping down as chair of News Corp and Fox. His elder son Lachlan will replace him but Murdoch senior will stay on as chair emeritus.

Shutter down: Social commerce startup DealShare has shut down its B2B arm and laid off about 100 people.

Leaving the building: Jatin Dalal has resigned as chief financial officer of Wipro after serving in the role for over 20 years; he will be replaced by Aparna Iyer.

In the bank: Uber-backed mobility company Everest Fleet has raised ₹50 crore ($6 million) from private equity firm Paragon Partners.

You’re mine now: US IT giant Cisco has acquired cybersecurity company Splunk for about $28 billion in what is its biggest acquisition yet.

Served: The Authors Guild, on behalf of writers Jodi Picoult, George Saunders, John Grisham, and others has filed a class action lawsuit against OpenAI for copyright violation.



The percentage of NFTs deemed worthless, according to a new study that polled 73,257 collections. About 69,795 of these have a market cap of zero dollars. (Rolling Stone)


What passport?: Singapore's Changi Airport will now be passport-free. The airport will introduce end-to-end biometric clearance beginning 2024, eliminating the need for physical travel documents such as boarding passes and passports. Biometric technology, including facial recognition software, is already deployed to some extent at the airport's immigration checkpoints. The upcoming change will be introduced at various touch points including bag drops to immigration clearance and boarding. Tbh, given that Changi will be privy to large tracts of travellers’ personal information, we can't help but wonder about the privacy and security implications.

Moo point: Step aside buff and cows, there’s a new bovine coming for human plates. Mithun or Bos frontalis (if you’re of a scientific bent) has been approved for a ‘food-animal’ tag by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The tag allows for the commercial breeding and sale of mithun meat. Found mostly in northeast India, the animal holds cultural significance for local populations. Given this association and its relatively low maintenance, people are excited about the revenue potential with this development. Local entrepreneurs are already chalking up plans to sell mithun pickles, soups, and wafers. They are also thinking of promoting the meat as ‘premium’ due to its low fat content. Now that’s a meaty good deal.

New genre of art thievery just dropped: Talk about audacity. Danish artist Jens Haaning was handed $76,000 by a museum to make art in 2021. But the artist took the dough and ran instead. Now, a Copenhagen court has ordered that Haaning repay a portion of his fees for violating the deal. For context, the Kunsten Museum in Aalborg had directed the artist to incorporate the banknotes into two artworks, but received only blank canvases. Btw, Hanning titled them "Take the Money and Run." Well played.

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