Researched by: Rachel John & Aarthi Ramnath
India’s GDP is looking good
According to government data, our GDP grew by 7.8% in the first quarter. The reasons: agriculture—which grew by 3.5%—and the financial, real estate and professional services—which expanded by a solid 12.2%. The Chief Economic Advisor says India can still hit the overall target rate of 6.5%, but experts are sceptical:
Crisil chief economist Dharmakirti Joshi was not as sanguine, predicting that the 7.8% growth in Q1 would likely be the “peak growth performance” for this year. “Growth in the July-September quarter will be moderated by softening consumption, as spiking inflation will dent discretionary spending power. For the rest of the year, headwinds from slowing global growth and the lagged impact of interest rate hikes will play out and if dry weather conditions continue, agricultural output could be impacted,” he emphasised.
A special Parliament session
The government has convened a special session from September 18 to 22—but has not explained why. Reports speculate the session will be held in the new Parliament building—and will showcase signature legislation just ahead of the elections. What’s also interesting: the announcement coincides with the mega Opposition bloc INDIA's third meeting underway in Mumbai. FYI: it’s pretty rare to call a special session like this. (The Hindu)
X wants your biometric data
The new policy says that X "may collect and use your personal information (such as your employment history, educational history, employment preferences, skills and abilities, job search activity and engagement, and so on) to recommend potential jobs for you, to share with potential employers when you apply for a job, to enable employers to find potential candidates, and to show you more relevant advertising."
Point to note: the biometric data and employment history info are listed in the section, "information you provide us." This move is likely linked to owner Elon Musk’s plans to allow you to make video and audio calls on X—without needing a phone number. And it may violate Twitter’s deal with the US government regarding its privacy policies. Ars Technica explains why.
The high price of a vegetarian thali
According to a Hindu analysis, the household cost of cooking a vegetarian thali at home has increased by 65% over the past five years in Mumbai. But the average wage earned by a day labourer has only increased by 37%—and by 28% for a salaried worker. The paper looked at the average retail cost of food ingredients in Mumbai between 2018 and 2023. Point to note: a recent report by Crisil found that the cost of preparing a vegetarian thali at home surged by 28% in July from the preceding month due to the jump in prices of vegetables and spices. The cost of a non-vegetarian thali rose by a relatively moderate 11%. The obvious culprit is the surge in tomato prices which we explained here. The Hindu (paywalled) has the exclusive on Mumbai and Mint has more on last month’s numbers.
Humans nearly went extinct 800,000 years ago!
A new global study revealed an astonishing fact about human history: 98.7% of all humans were wiped out between 800,000 and 900,000 years ago—during an interval of 117,000 years. At one time, there were only 1,280 breeding individuals alive. This happened during the early Stone Age—before humans spread out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. The reasons for this decimation in numbers “are mostly related to extremes in climate. Temperatures changed, severe droughts persisted, and food sources may have dwindled as animals like mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths went extinct.” Popular Science and Smithsonian have more details on the study.
Terrible stats about air pollution
A new report shows that air pollution is reducing the life span of people living in South Asia by an average of 5 years. The average lifespan of an Indian is shortened by 5.3 years—compared to a mere 3.6 months for an American. To give you some perspective: Cardiovascular disease reduces life expectancy by 4.8 years; tobacco use by 2.8 years; unsafe water and sanitation by as much as 1 year; and alcohol use by half a year. The other damning bit: between 2013 to 2021, India accounted for 59.1% of the increase in global pollution. (Indian Express)
The plus side of a female surgeon
The analysis…showed that 90 days after an operation, 13.9% of patients treated by a male surgeon had “adverse postoperative events”, a catch-all term that includes death and medical complications ranging from problems that require further surgery to major infections, heart attacks and strokes. The equivalent figure for patients seen by female surgeons was 12.5%.
Those with female surgeons were also less likely to require follow-up visits—25% compared to 20.7% to men. The difference isn’t due to talent but about the ability to listen to patients and “choose appropriate care.” Also this: on average, male surgeons spent an average of eight minutes less on an operation than female surgeons—indicating that the latter are slower and perhaps more attentive. (The Guardian)
Dear Google Assistant, meet Alexa!
As we all know, tech companies love making incompatible products forcing you to choose one or the other. Google and Amazon are no exception. But the two may finally be discovering the joys of compatibility. They are bringing their digital assistants together on a single smart speaker made by Harman. How this works:
[You] can ask either Alexa or Google Assistant to stop certain tasks — music that’s playing, a timer that’s going off, an alarm — and the activity will stop, regardless of which assistant actually initiated that activity.
You have to set each assistant up separately using JBL’s app. (The Verge)
Speaking of Google assistants: The company is rolling out a new tool called Duet AI. It will help you write emails, generate images, convert charts into spreadsheets etc—and work on all your Google apps like Gmail, Drive, Docs et al. Duet has two buttons:
[T]he “I’m feeling Lucky” option provided by the AI lets you choose from a number of fun variations on tone and style for the email content you’ve drafted. A similar “Help me write” feature will also come to Docs, Google noted, letting you change the tone of your content, summarize sections, add bullets, elaborate or shorten your text, receive a different generated draft if you didn’t like the first (“retry”) and more.
The going price for large organisations: $30 per user. There’s no alternative pricing plan as of now. Quote to note: “If Google’s Bard chatbot hallucinates a movie that doesn’t actually exist, that’s silly; if Duet misinterprets or invents your company’s sales numbers, you’re in big trouble.” See a short demo below. (TechCrunch)
Five things to see
One: On Wednesday, University of Nebraska set a new global record for the largest attendance ever for a women’s sporting event. A whopping 92,003 people showed up to watch the college game against Omaha. Why this is exceptional: the earlier record was held by a Champions League game when Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 5-2 at the Camp Nou Stadium in 2022—with 91,648 fans in attendance. (Associated Press)
Two: Kicking off this weekend’s list of trailer drops is the upcoming SRK flick ‘Jawan’—which is every bit as slick as you expect it to be. Vijay Sethupathi plays the villain in Tamil director Atlee’s Bollywood debut. The movie is slated to drop this coming Thursday. (Indian Express)
Three: Director Michael Mann—best known for ‘The Insider’—returns after an eight-year hiatus with a biopic of Enzo Ferrari. The cast is exceptional: Adam Driver plays the titular role with Penélope Cruz and Shailene Woodley as his wife and lover, respectively. (Collider)
Four: Taylor Swift’s trailer for her The Eras concert tour is very well produced.
Five: The James Webb Space Telescope offered up this beauty: details of a famous star that exploded back in 1987. It was the closest and brightest supernova to be seen from Earth in almost 400 years. BBC News has more nerdy details.