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No workplace for married women

Also in today’s edition: Lahori’s boon is also its bane; ‘Vernacular’ chatbots are almost here, and that may not be a good thing

Good morning! WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is finally returning to Australia as a free man. Assange spent the past five years confined to a 3-by-2 metre cell in London's Belmarsh prison, fighting US extradition attempts. His crime? Publishing classified US military documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Financial Times reports Assange's path to liberty came via a surprising plea deal with US prosecutors. Well, whatever greased the wheels, at last greater sense prevailed. After all, it's a bad look for a country that blows the trumpet of press freedom at every chance to unleash hell on an editor and publisher. 

🎧 Why AI companies are rushing to adapt chatbots to Indian languages. Also in today’s episode: an abrupt end to Julian Assange’s legal saga. Tune in to Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dinesh Narayanan and Anup Semwal also contributed to today’s edition.

The Market Signal*

Stocks & Economy: A US Federal Reserve governor Michelle Bowman has said that the central bank could raise interest rates again if inflation remains steady or rises. Bowman, a member of the Fed’s rate-setting committee, said conditions that could fuel a price rise persisted in the economy. 

The Indian economy is going great guns, according to Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das. It is on the cusp of a structural shift where its growth trajectory would sustainably move into the 8% orbit, Das said

Meanwhile, market regulator Sebi’s same-day settlement cycle experiment called T+0 has failed to take off. A pilot for 25 stocks has seen trades of just Rs 8.7 lakh on the NSE and BSE combined since it was launched in March. 

Asian stocks opened mixed. The GIFT Nifty indicates a flat to positive opening for Indian equities.


Wanted: Single Women To Make iPhones

Foxconn doesn’t like married women, it seems. A Reuters investigation has found that the iPhone maker systematically avoids recruiting married women at its plants in India. 

The report says the company rejects married women because of “family duties, pregnancy and higher absenteeism”. Some recruiting agents and former Foxconn HR executives also claimed that one reason was that customary jewellery worn by married women could mess with production processes. 

India does not have any rule against such discrimination, but it violates the company’s own as well as Apple’s policies. Both companies’ hiring rules specifically bar discrimination on the basis of marital status, among others. The companies reportedly informally instruct recruiting agents to not hire married women. However, some of them even put out the condition on public ads, unwittingly blowing the lid on the practice. 

Foxconn assembly line jobs are coveted by low-skilled women as it offers them a secure work environment and financial independence.


A Desi Bet On Beverages

Lahori, which specialises in ethnic aerated drinks, competes in a cutthroat beverage market dominated by global giants. Offering flavours like jeera and masala soda, the homegrown Lahori leans into nostalgia and regional preferences overlooked by major players. Its differentiation is desi flavour and affordability, with products priced at Rs 10 for 160 ml. It recently got a $15 million investment from Verlinvest to boost production and marketing capabilities. 

Yet, Lahori faces hurdles scaling nationwide, particularly in less familiar markets. The impending entry of giants such as Parle Agro threatens Lahori's market position, since the former has superior distribution and production capacities. Lahori's journey illustrates the opportunities and complexities of carving out a niche in India's diverse beverage landscape. Head to The Core to read the full story. 


Local Colour For LLMs

If you’re following the trajectory of AI frontrunners such as OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google, you know the next frontier of their ongoing rat race is about the full stack: enterprise and consumer-facing software anchored by custom chips and data centres. This is so resource-intensive that companies are investing in alternative energy and trying to convince the world that the entire exercise is worth trillions of dollars in investments.

Indian AI startups have no such privilege. Instead, they’re betting on adapting existing large language models (LLMs) for Indian languages. Financial Times reports that Silicon Valley-backed Indian companies such as Krutrim and Sarvam AI are developing AI voice assistants given Indians’ penchant for audio messaging over text. This approach, if successful, will be emulated in other markets.

The Signal

We’ve curated multiple editions about AI hallucinations, copyright infringement, and disinformation. Over a year ago, we also wrote about the many issues with introducing AI in India’s legal system. One of those is the lack of database standardisation. And that’s in major languages such as English and Hindi, of which there are a lot more repositories to train LLMs.

AI trained on relatively scant or ‘noisy’ data is more likely to spew garbage. This is a disturbing prospect for the world’s most populous country, one that’s a major market for Google (Android, YouTube) and Meta (social media). For all its prowess in indexing, Google has yet to make Translate foolproof. We shudder to think what inadequately-trained LLMs could bring to the table.


Back to the garage: Tesla is recalling 11,000 Cybertrucks to sort out issues with windshield wipers and exterior trim. 

Shore-up deal: Volkswagen may invest up to $5 billion in loss-making electric pick-up maker Rivian in a bid to bolster its own software shortcomings. 

Sell one to save one: After selling its 18% stake in Indus Towers for Rs 15,300 crore ($1.8 billion), Vodafone Plc will likely invest Rs 3,000 crore in its Indian venture Vodafone Idea.

New leader: Rahul Gandhi will be the Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha, the Congress Party announced after a meeting with its alliance partners. 

Duke it out: Kodikunnil Suresh, Congress Party’s member of Parliament from Mavelikkara, Kerala, will face off with Bharatiya Janata Party’s Om Birla for the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post on Wednesday unless the BJP agrees to a deputy speaker from the opposition. 


Rs 11,131.6 crore

Or ~$1.3 billion. Bids received on the first day of the government’s 5G telecom spectrum auction. (Moneycontrol.com


Weird flyers: Trends, right? Some we get, some we don’t. But this one? Mind-boggling. So guys on TikTok are hyping each other up to ‘rawdog’ flights. Yep, they’ve coined a phrase for an activity as thrilling as staring at the flight map for the entire duration of a flight and doing nothing else. Not even bathroom breaks. The London dude who blew the lid off this quirky pastime of a small group of male flyers claims staring into the map nonstop is his meditation. For other men, it’s a challenge of how long they can resist any form of pleasure. Well, to each his own, but let’s just hope this doesn’t turn into the big boy stereotype: "Real men don’t watch movies on flights."

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