Researched by: Sara Varghese, Aarthi Ramnath & Priyanka Gulati
The great earthquake: The latest update
The confirmed death toll of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria is now close to 12,000. And it is expected to keep rising as rescue teams desperately search through the rubble. The scale of destruction spread over a vast area means that many are still waiting for aid—stranded in the harsh winter weather. And rescuers are in a race against time to find survivors:
Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble or otherwise unable to obtain basic necessities was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said it was too soon to abandon hope. “The first 72 hours are considered to be critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The survival ratio on average within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22% and by the fifth day it is 6%.”
The Telegraph has the bittersweet story of a baby girl who was born under the rubble—and is the only survivor in her family. She was still attached to her mother with the umbilical cord. You can see the brief rescue clip below:
Erdogan’s response: In the midst of this tragedy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is firmly focused on his prospects in the upcoming election. On a visit to the disaster zone, he admitted “shortcomings” in the government’s response to the disaster. But the government has also ‘throttled’ access to Twitter—to prevent citizens from sharing their anger at authorities. Also this: “Turkish police have announced that multiple people have been detained or arrested following ‘provocative posts’ about the quake on social platforms and websites ‘that want to abuse our citizens’ have been shuttered.”
A related read: Al Jazeera has an interactive report with satellite images showing the scale of destruction wreaked by the earthquake. Our Big Story looked at the geological reasons why there are so many earthquakes in this region.
The AI chatbot wars are heating up!
Microsoft’s Bing+: The company officially launched its ChatGPT-powered search engine yesterday—which is now available as a “limited preview” on desktop. You can visit Bing.com and take some example searches for a spin—if it shows you the new interface. You can’t experiment with your own queries for now. But you will get full access—even on your mobile phones—within the coming weeks. Join the waitlist here. (The Verge)
Google’s Bard: was off to a rough start. The chatbot made an error on its first demo—giving an incorrect answer to a query about the James Webb Space Telescope. Google said it “highlights the importance of a rigorous testing process”—and promised to set a “high bar” for the quality of information. But experts continue to be sceptical, and here’s why:
[A] major problem for AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard is their tendency to confidently state incorrect information as fact. The systems frequently “hallucinate”—that is, make up information—because they are essentially autocomplete systems. Rather than querying a database of proven facts to answer questions, they are trained on huge corpora of text and analyse patterns to determine which word follows the next in any given sentence… a trait that has led one prominent AI professor to label them “bullshit generators.”
Alibaba joins the fray: Even as Google and Microsoft duke it out, the Chinese giant announced that it too is working on a rival to ChatGPT. This comes on the heels of Baidu’s announcement that it’s testing its own chatbot called “Ernie bot” in English or “Wenxin Yiyan” in Chinese. (CNBC)
Zoom announces big layoffs
The company announced that it is laying 1,300 employees—about 15% of its workforce. Its revenue dropped by 38% in 2022. There will also be salary cuts across the board—starting with the CEO. In a blog post, Eric Yuan said he will “show accountability” by reducing his salary for the coming fiscal year by 98%—and passing on his bonus. (Bloomberg News via Fortune)
Meanwhile, over at Meta: The company’s big bet on metaverse—the Horizon Worlds app—has proved to be a dud with adults. Its weekly retention rate was 11% in January—i.e only about one in nine users play again the following month. So Meta is revamping the app to attract kids instead—specifically, teens between the ages of 13 and 17. Reminder: Meta had to abandon plans for a kiddie Insta after research showed that the platform was toxic for teenage girls. Also: Horizons has been plagued with allegations of sexual harassment. (Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, over at LinkedIn India: The company announced that it has crossed 100 million users in India—that’s a 56% jump over the last three years. India is the second largest market for LinkedIn. According to the country manager, we are “over-indexing on networking, messaging, and learning more than any other region globally.’‘ No, contrary to popular belief, we don’t spend all that time crafting cringe posts. Indians are busy learning new in-demand skills. In fact, “professionals in India spent 4.6 million hours learning on the platform, which is nearly 2x the learning hours spent on LinkedIn in the US.” (The Hindu)
US warning on Chinese surveillance
Last week, Americans were agog at the sight of a massive Chinese air balloon sailing across the United States. The Pentagon shot it down—claiming it was a spy balloon carrying surveillance equipment “roughly the size of three large buses” (see: our Big Story). Unnamed Pentagon officials now claim that these balloons are part of “vast aerial surveillance” program:
The surveillance balloon effort, which has operated for several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, has collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest to China including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines…
“What the Chinese have done is taken an unbelievably old technology, and basically married it with modern communications and observation capabilities” to try to glean intelligence on other nations’ militaries, said one official. “It’s a massive effort.”
Of course, we take any information provided by unnamed sources with a pinch of salt. But this one doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. (Washington Post)
Two health studies of note
Twitter mood-meter: An analysis of two million tweets in two big cities—San Francisco and London—shows how you feel may be linked to where you are. Researchers sorted people’s tweets into seven emotional categories—anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and trust. And then they looked at which kinds of tweets were shared at what location in the city:
For instance, in both cities, tweets made in train stations, bridges, and other transportation sites tended to express less joy and more disgust. Tweets from hotels and restaurants showed higher levels of joy.
Events can also affect your mood. For example: “San Francisco users displayed their highest levels of anger, disgust, and sadness on the day of the 2017 Women's March.” Hmm. (Science Daily)
Whiskey and skincare: A new study has found that a by-product created while distilling whiskey—called pot ale—is fabulous for your skin. The benefits include “reducing inflammation and puffiness, calming redness and fighting free radical damage from the environment.” Point to note: A skincare company that now plans to make whiskey-infused products was part of the study. But surely whiskey companies will want to get in this game. Glenfiddich serum, anyone? (Sky News)
Get ready for Valentine’s Cow Hug Day
The government wants all good citizens to hug a cow on February 14. The animal welfare board has asked everyone to celebrate the occasion not as V-day but as ‘cow hug day’: “In view of the immense benefit of the cow, hugging (a) cow will bring emotional richness, hence increase our individual and collective happiness.” It isn’t clear why the board decided to hijack Valentine’s Day for this purpose, though its note complains:
Vedic traditions are almost on the verge of extinction due to the progress of west(ern) culture over time. The dazzle of western civilisation has made our physical culture and heritage almost forgotten.
One tiny problem with this grand plan: Animal experts warn that flinging yourself at cows may, in fact, alarm them—and make some of them cranky: “Dogs are most accustomed to people touching them, a cow might actually get upset and butt the hugger.” We can’t stop laughing. (The Telegraph)
A LeBron thing to see
The basketball legend became the NBA's all-time top scorer—breaking Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s 39-year-old record of 38,387 points. He set the record while scoring 38 points in the LA Lakers game against Oklahoma City Thunder:
He broke the record on a fadeaway 2-point shot in the final seconds of the third quarter… James extended his arms out like he was flying as he jogged back toward the other basket. Then he raised his arms and looked up into the stands at the thousands of people who had come to see him make history.
Watch the moment below. (New York Times)