Researched by: Aarthi Ramnath & Nirmal Bhansali
Startup woes: Is Dunzo dunzo?
The context: The delivery startup seemed to be one of the few genuine successes of the startup world. It started out offering a courier service that its customers greatly value. That early success attracted big investors like Reliance Retail—and the company soon expanded into 15-20 minute grocery delivery—a business model that proved to be a dud (this Big Story explains why).
There was also noise about using AI for search—in general, the kind of stuff that gets lots of coverage whether or not it is financially sound. All that money and attention proved heady—and the company was soon burning $15 million (Rs 100 crore) a month last summer.
Where we are now: Dunzo has not been able to pay salaries since June. It has now asked employees to wait until September to get all overdue paychecks. Facebook and an online software consultancy firm have served Dunzo legal notices for nonpayment of dues. Hell, it’s also received a notice from one of the biggest investors Google. Yup, that’s how broke the company is despite raising $45 million from Reliance and Google—which was still $20 million short of its target. (Economic Times)
An export ban on non-basmati rice
Worried about rising food prices at home, the government has banned the export of all varieties of white rice except basmati. The price of rice has shot up by 20-30% in the past three months due to poor harvests—caused by erratic rainfall. The move is likely to send global prices soaring—as India is the world’s largest rice exporter, contributing 40% to the global trade. The most affected: African countries that depend on Indian rice—which is typically cheaper than the grain sold by Vietnam, Thailand and Pakistan. (Mint)
Netflix ends password sharing in India
The party has come to an end, dear friends. The streaming service has already cracked down on account sharing in the US and Europe. And it is now putting an end to it in India. What this means: only members of the same household can share the same account. But unlike the US, Netflix is not offering a subsidised subscription for a friend or family member who doesn’t live at home. Reminder: getting mean has worked out excellently for Netflix—which added 5.9 million subscribers in the last quarter. (Economic Times)
Moving on to Amazon India: BBC has entered into a new partnership with Prime Video—which means you can watch a variety of its shows—including ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Also: BBC Kids—which is a huge boon for parents. But you’ll have to pay an additional Rs 599 per year for the privilege of watching BBC content—while the kids package is priced separately at Rs 199. (Bloomberg News, paywall, Economic Times)
Is ChatGPT getting dumber?
Turns out the performance of OpenAI’s chatbot can vary as greatly as our Airtel wifi. Stanford researchers checked the latest versions of ChatGPT in March—and then again in June. They looked at its ability to solve maths problems, answer sensitive and dangerous questions, generate code—and visual reasoning. And the chatbot seems to be getting significantly worse over the months. For example: the March version of GPT-4 identified prime numbers with 97.6% accuracy—but that number collapsed to 2.4% in June.
No one knows what is happening or why—though experts have many theories. OpenAI says it’s looking into the report. Why this matters: it is difficult to build anything around an AI model if its performance is this erratic—and needs constant monitoring. Also read: A Princeton prof’s defence of ChatGPT in this Twitter thread. (Business Insider)
Three big sports stories of note
FIFA Women’s World Cup: kicked off in Auckland today. The tournament is being jointly hosted by New Zealand and Australia—with 32 teams participating in eight groups. What’s even more notable: the prize money has skyrocketed from $30 million in 2019 to $110 million. Rights to the tournament were not bundled with the men’s event—and instead sold separately. The favourites to win: Team USA—which is aiming for a third consecutive victory. Mint explains why this World Cup is special and The Ringer has a beginner’s guide to the tournament. (BBC News)
Asia Cup 2023: Get ready for India and Pakistan to face off on September 2 in Kandy. And there will be a rematch during the Super 4 stage on September 10 in Colombo. Reminder: the tournament is now being co-hosted by Sri Lanka—after India refused to play in Pakistan. (ESPN CricInfo)
Brij Bhushan: The former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief has been released on bail after being arrested for sexual harassment of women wrestlers. The notorious godfather and MP from Kaiserganj, Uttar Pradesh has promised not to tamper with witnesses or evidence. Our courts seem to be far more trusting of sexual predators than activists, yes? (Hindustan Times)
A big Stanford University scandal
A-list US universities are having a bad summer. Last month Harvard behavioural scientist Francesca Gino was accused of falsifying results. But this one is even worse: Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has been accused of “manipulation of research data”—and has been forced to step down:
Marc Tessier-Lavigne… authored 12 reports that contained falsified information, including lab panels that had been stitched together, panel backgrounds that were digitally altered and blot results taken from other research papers.
But the internal investigation seems to have left him off the hook—concluding that he likely wasn’t aware of the fraud—even though he was the principal author on five of the reports, and a co-author on seven. The panel merely concluded that he “could have overseen his lab better to identify others who may have been manipulating research.”
Point to note: This story was broken by the campus newspaper Stanford Daily—which was far harsher in its conclusions:
In early 2023, The Stanford Daily published further allegations that… he had published a paper in the journal Nature that contained falsified data. Relying on unnamed sources, the student newspaper suggested that a research review committee had conducted an internal investigation at Genentech into the 2009 paper and found evidence of data falsification. The Stanford Daily also suggested that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne had been made aware of these issues but prevented them from being released to the public.
Three things to see
One: Aww, look: two rare pink dolphins spotted off the coast of Louisiana. Even Ma Nature is celebrating the release of ‘Barbie’:) FYI: this is “likely an albino dolphin, given its reddish eyes and blood vessels, indicating a lack of pigment.” (CBS News)
Two: There has been a ton of buzz around a secret Indian sci-fi project titled ‘Project K’—starring Prabhas, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan. The producers dropped a teaser at the San Diego Comic-Con—revealing its name: ‘Kalki 2898AD’. Of course, like any other sci-fi flick, it’s set in a dystopian future ruled by “forces of darkness” 🙄. But it does look good. (Indian Express)
Three: Kenneth Branagh is back as Hercule Poirot in the latest adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel—titled ‘A Haunting in Venice’. Reminder: this has every sign of being an established franchise—which includes ’Murder on the Orient Express’ and ‘Death on the Nile’. This one also has Tina Fey and Michelle Yeoh—so it’s very promising. (Collider)