Key Announcements by US Tech Firms During PM Modi’s Silicon Valley Visit

Google will soon help India set up base for free Wi-Fi at 500 railway stations while Microsoft will take low-cost broadband technology to some 500,000 villages across that country as part of five key announcements made during the meeting the US top tech titans had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As the who’s who from the tech world gave a ringing endorsement to the ambitious ‘Digital India’ programme, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said it will announce cloud computing systems from data centers in India next week, calling it a “big milestone”.

“We are expanding our public Wi-Fi hotspots. For example, we want to ensure that free Wi-Fi is not only there in airport lounges, but also on our railway platforms. Teaming up with Google, we will cover 400 railway stations in a short time,” Modi told a gathering of Silicon Valley CEOs.

In his remarks, Nadella said Microsoft’s plan is to partner with the Indian Government to bring in low-cost broadband connectivity to 500,000 villages in India.

“We believe that low-cost broadband connectivity coupled with the scale of cloud computing intelligence that can be harnessed from data can help drive creativity, efficiency and productivity across governments and businesses of all sizes,” the first Indian-American Microsoft CEO said.

This in turn, he argued, would drive more affordable products and services and access to opportunity to all of India.

To that end, next week Microsoft would announce availability of its cloud services operating out of India’s data centres. “This is a big milestone,” he said.

Stating that in order to push digital literacy forward, it is very important for people to type in their native languages, Google’s CEO Sunder Pichai announced that next month Google would make it possible for people to type in 11 different languages on Android, including Gujarati.

India-born Pichai said Google is working on many connectivity projects.

In an effort to push Digital India initiative, chipmaker Qualcomm said it will invest $150 million for Indian start-ups in the mobile and Internet-of-everything (IoE) ecosystem.

“We are committed to providing local innovative start-ups with the support needed to help India’s IOE (Internet of Everything) ecosystem grow, increasing consumer choice and availability,” Qualcomm executive chairman Paul E Jacobs said in his remarks at the dinner hosted in honour of Modi, as he announced a $150-million (roughly Rs. 991 crores) fund to boost startups in India.

“We share Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to transform India into a digitally-empowered society and knowledge economy,” Jacobs said.

Prime Minister Modi also invited Apple to set up a manufacturing base in India and its CEO Tim Cookresponded positively, Indian officials said in San Jose.

“The Prime Minister (in his meeting with Cook) said he would like Apple to start manufacturing in India. He mentioned the huge opportunities India offered,” Ministry of External Affairs Spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters.

Foxconn, which is Apple’s largest manufacturer, has decided to set up a manufacturing base in India, he noted.

Unfriending Colleagues on Facebook Amounts to Bullying

Can trimming out someone from your Facebook friends’ list land you in the dock? In Tasmania it did, where a tribunal has ruled that ‘unfriending’ someone on Facebook amounts to workplace bullying.

The Fair Work Commission decided chopping someone out of your news feeds is tantamount to risking a colleague’s health and safety.

The case came up when two women fell out while working for a real estate agent’s office. After a flurry of disagreements one, Mrs Bird, deleted the other, Roberts, as a Facebook friend.

As Roberts suffered with depression and anxiety the tribunal ruled in her favour, claiming it showed “a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour”, Telegraph reported.

Plans for an anti-bullying order for the employer are now in the offing.

Separately, a study done by a University of Colorado doctoral student found 40 percent of people would avoid in real life anyone who unfriended them on Facebook.

Women were more likely than men to get offended by the gesture.

Perhaps a safer option is ‘hiding’ updates by the irritating “friends”.

Meet the 36 Indian Startups Featured at Nasscom’s Startup Konnect

Startup Konnect, held on Sunday by Nasscom in partnership with TiE Silicon Valley and IIM Ahmedabad’s CIIE India, featured 36 startups from India and five startups from US across a variety of sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, energy, financial inclusion, and cleantech.

A number of MOUs were signed at the event to strengthen the India US partnership to boost technology, innovation and startups. The startups were shortlisted through a nationwide selection process for companies that are building products for social good. Here’s a quick fact sheet on the startups that exhibited at the event.

Surya Power Magic
The Coimbatore-based cleantech startup Surya Power Magic provides solar irrigation solutions to farmers in power deficit regions.

Promethean Power Systems
Pune-based Promethean Power Systems designs and manufactures rural refrigeration systems for off-grid and partially electrified areas. It has installed over 100 milk chilling systems throughout rural India.

Aakar Innovations
A ‘hybrid social enterprise’ comprised of Aakar Innovations and Aakar Social Ventures, the Mumbai-based startup enables women to produce and distribute affordable, high-quality, compostable sanitary napkins within their communities.

Green India Building Systems and Services (GIBSS) is a Mumbai-based cleantech startup that manufactures and installs geo-thermal cooling systems. The firm and has commissioned over 250 systems in commercial and industrial facilities in India.

Greenway Appliances manufactures and supplies a range of biomass stoves which are eco friendly, designed for long-term and every day use.

Sickle Innovations
A farming solutions company focused on improving conventional farming practices through design intervention, Sickle Innovations’ flagship product is a handheld cotton-harvesting machine.

Gram Power
This Jaipur-based startup is a manufacturer of smart meters and off-grid electricity solutions. Its Smart Meter allows for prepaid selling of electricity, Gram Power’s Smart Microgrid provides power to remote villages at less than 30 percent cost of grid extension, and has a presence in 19 villages.

Mother Diagnostic Systems
A Bengaluru-based startup that deals with medical equipment and devices and their supplies in rural India.

Mukunda Foods
This firm designs and develops automated food equipment for use in the Indian food retail segment.Mukunda Foods’ flagship product is the DosaMatic, which the company claims is the first fully automatic Dosa Making machine.

Leaf Innovation
Leaf Innovation is a wearable technology company that retails a product called Safer, which allows wearers to alert others incase of an emergency.

Goa-based robotics startup Inventrom has created Netplug, an IOT device that lets users control their devices via mobile apps, Facebook and Twitter.

Innoflaps Remedy
Delhi-based Innoflaps Remedy specializes in speech products, based on R&D from speech therapy professionals and engineers.

Pune-based startup BleeTech has created a cross-platform haptic wearable device which converts music into regular ticks and vibrations at a selected rate. This can be used to time and sync music and dance.

Sattva MedTech
Sattva MedTech provides a foetal health monitoring device which uses advanced sensors to monitor and acquire physiological data of the foetus and mother.

Eko India Financial Services
Eko India Financial Services enables branchless mobile banking using the cellphone. Eko uses two factor authentication to complete the transaction, and has created a transaction platform called ‘SimpliBank’ that is used by its partners.

Forus Health
Forus Health is a Bengaluru-based ophthalmic technology company. Their flagship product 3nethra, is an affordable and portable eye screening device.

Achira Labs
Bengaluru-based Achira Labs has developed proprietary lab-on-chip platforms to deliver medical affordable testing for patients.

Pradin Technologies
Pradin Technologies is an eco-design startup specialising in providing innovative solutions for healthcare, green power and lighting in rural areas.

Tap to Learn
Pune-based Tap to Learn edtech startup passed out of the Y Combinator Program, and has a wide range of game-based learning apps for children.

Curadev Pharma
Curadev Pharma was founded in 2010 by a team of professionals from the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors with the mission to accelerate the discovery and delivery of new drugs.

Consure Medical
Delhi-based Consure Medical has developed a low-cost product for fecal incontinence, which affects more than 16 million patients in India and over 100 million patients worldwide.

Sohum Innovation Lab
Bengaluru startup Sohum Innovation Lab developed a mass-screening, non-invasive device to screen newborns for hearing loss in global resource-poor settings to prevent speech loss.

Prakash Labs
US-based research group Prakash Labs designs and builds low cost instruments for screening and scientific research.

NextGen’s flagship product, P3, is an online platform for companies to track, monitor, evaluate, and report on their CSR and sustainability performance.

Boond Engineering and Development
Boond is a social enterprise that promotes alternative energy in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi NCR and other northern states of India. The company is incubated in CIIE (Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship) at IIM-Ahmedabad.

Ready Bytes Software Labs
Rajasthan-based startup Ready Bytes Software Labs provides Open Source content management systems and e-commerce solutions.

Barrix Agro Sciences
Barrix Agro Sciences develops pest management products. It markets its indigenous pheromone-based traps under the brand name Barrix Catch, which are essentially fruit fly traps.

SocialCops bridges the information gap in communities to solve problems like public health, education and civic issues. It provides a mobile-based tool for collecting data from from people.

Navya Biologicals
Navya Biologicals’ technology platforms (YeXtreme & ItensiMAb) enable low cost production of high quality biopharmaceuticals.

Team Indus
An official Google Lunar X Prize team and the only Indian entry, Team Indus won the the $1 million prize for developing a robot that can land on the moon and travel 500 metres on its surface and send data back to earth.

Khethworks builds solar-powered irrigation systems that enable their customers to farm through all three seasons.

Research project EcoBLAC aims to recycle industrial waste into masonry construction materials, as a replacement for the clay fired brick.

A for-profit enterprise, Aquastech provides water treatment technologies to remove chemical contamination from water.

POC Medical Systems
POC Medical Systems, founded by technology and biomedical professionals has a patent-protected Point of Care Testing product for screening breast cancer.

Biotech startup SenesTech specialises in reproductive physiology, and applying its technology to control rats and mice in both agricultural and urban settings.

Remove Obstacles, Reduce Regulations Cisco Tells Indian Government

Government needs to make it much easier to do business and reduce regulations by removing all the hurdles for campaigns like Make in India and Startup India to succeed, Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers said.

“You have to overcome the challenges. So if you look at the Prime Minister’s agenda with Digital India, Make in India , skills in India, startups in India… you will have to remove hurdles,” Chambers said.

It it will take a very strong government leader and a leadership team that has the courage to make the changes and remove these hurdles, he added.

“… Govt does have to reduce the regulations. It has to make it much easier to do business. Look at logistics, you have to give people an equal playing field, you have to have a start up mentality and re skill the workforce,” Chambers said.

He said India can play a leading role in global economies helped by factors like strong domestic consumption and availability of English speaking engineers.

Stating that he is most optimistic now than he has been in the last 20 years about the Indian market, Chambers said adding businesses and government need to work for the progress of the country.

“India is way ahead of counterparts in the world. You can see the Indian economy picking up…,” Chambers told CNN IBN.

He added that India has the benefit of being the world’s largest democracy as well.

“There are disadvantages as well with it in terms of speed of change. But I think you have majority of positives versus your peers to lead,” he said.

He further added: “The question is whether you have the courage, whether the people in India have the patience for the change and not expect it in a quarter or this year… It takes 3-4 years to drive a change effectively”.

Earlier this year, the US technology giant had committed towards manufacturing in India and said it will invest USD 2 billion (roughly Rs. 13,227 crores) in the country this year.

The company, which pumps in USD 1.7 billion (roughly Rs. 11,241 crores) every year (including USD 250 million on R&D) in its India operations, also plans to invest an additional USD 60 million in the country on training and facility expansion.

Asked if India could outperform the Chinese market, Chambers said the company is “doubling down” on the India market.

“It’s not one country versus another (China). I think it’s about which country is moving more progressively. China is a country in a period of rapid change.

“If you look at India, it is also in a period of rapid change but it has the benefit of being the largest democracy in the world and a majority of engineers speak English. I think both countries will do well. I think India has a chance of doing well, we are doubling down on India,” he said.

IBM Expands Cloud Business Solutions in India

New York-based technology and consulting corporation IBM on Monday launched new cloud-based industry platforms, thereby expanding its business solution capabilities, the company said.

“Cloud business innovation centres provide an opportunity for clients around the world to work side-by-side with IBM solution consultants, researchers, digital marketing and experience design experts to personalise the industry platforms to their specific needs,” the company said in a statement.

The new industry platforms include retail consumer experience, personalised learning and insights for a connected world.

While retail consumer experience platform will empower retailers to quickly deploy increasingly sophisticated engagement capabilities driven by contextual, relevant, multi-channel, end-to-end personalisation, the personalised learning platform will deliver data-driven personalised learning to empower educators, to help students reach their full potential and for corporations to address fast moving learning needs within their organisations, IBM said.

The insight platform will turn vast volumes of data from multiple sources into insights that can be sold to ecosystem partners or used to inform new business models, improve customer service and business operations, it added.

As part of this initiative, the company also said that it was opening the first IBM cloud business innovation centre in Bengaluru.

“Our portfolio of cloud business solutions is a recognition of the mandate for speed and time to value, along with the requirement of clients to personalise business solutions to their own processes and culture and deploy them via the cloud,” said Sanjay Rishi, managing partner for IBM cloud consulting services.

Goibibo Launches GoStays, Budget Rooms Marketplace

Online travel aggregator announced the launch of GoStays, which aggregates unbranded budget accommodations across India.

The standardised budget room experience includes free Wi-Fi, breakfast, AC, TV, and hygenic washrooms. Bookings are backed by a moneyback guarantee, the company said.

GoStays accomodations will feature user reviews and ratings, and will also be available to book on other Goibibo network properties like redBus and SeatSeller, the company said.

Goibibo wants to position GoStays as an Amazon marketplace model, allowing other branded budget players to be listed on the platform. The co-branded properties won’t take away from the long term brand identity of the hotel, the company said.

The platform is live in 72 cities, 862 properties, translating to 10,000 rooms a day, the company said. At the time of publishing, the website listed 88 hotels in Bengaluru, ranging from Rs. 630 to Rs. 3,300.

The Goibibo mobile app has crossed 7 million downloads, growing by 1 million new installs per month, the company claimed, adding that it is now the largest hotels aggregator in the country, having registered 5x growth in the last year.

Ibibo group is owned by Naspers, a South African media conglomerate that has invested $10 million (roughly Rs. 66 crores) in the firm.

EU Open to Digital Competition, Says Oettinger

A top European Union official on a tour that includes visits to US technology giants said the EU bloc is open to all players, brushing aside references to “digital protectionism.”

“Our rules on a European level are relevant for everybody, for European producers and players, for Asian players, and for American players as well,” Guenther Oettinger, the EU commissioner for the digital economy and society, said in an interview late Wednesday with AFP and other media in San Francisco.

“It’s not protectionism, it’s nothing against anybody, it’s just to have less bureaucracy and more European clarity.”

Oettinger’s comments come amid growing complaints that the EU is discriminating against US tech firms by targeting them in probes on monopoly abuse, privacy and tax evasion.

One major point of contention is the EU requirement that Internet firms establish a “right to be forgotten” that allows people to erase inaccurate and outdated online information. Some in the US claim this amounts to censorship.

The EU earlier this year unveiled an ambitious plan to overhaul Europe’s fragmented tech landscape to create a “single digital market.”

The rules aim to make online services available on a similar basis in all EU countries, and also impose specific EU-wide regulations.

Oettinger said his ambition is to have “one level of European general data protection regulation with some but not too many exceptions.”

He added that this means having “a smart level (of rules) which is good for privacy but which doesn’t destroy big data services.”

Oettinger said he hopes “to come to a common understanding” with the United States on the right to be forgotten, possibly in an international forum such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Oettinger is on a five-day US visit where he planned to meet top executives at Facebook, Google, Appleand eBay. He later heads to Washington to meet policymakers and will then participate in the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development meeting in New York.

In a blog post ahead of his visit, Oettinger acknowledged that “many in the US are worried that our aim with the digital single market is to benefit only European companies” but added that the plan “is about adapting the European economy to the Digital age; Europeanizing our digital policies” and achieving a “level-playing field.”

“I have never been shy to point out that the European economy needs to adapt to the new realities that the Internet and digital technologies have brought us,” he said.

“There are questions that need to be answered, on the power of these platforms, the way they manage the enormous troves of data they collect, and the potential harmful effects on competition and innovation that dominant players can have.”

Is the Internet Hurting Proper English?

A friend who teaches middle school English starts the school year with a lesson on how to email properly. You’d think kids born in the same year as Facebook would know this stuff, but my friend says they overlook certain technicalities.

They don’t start with a greeting, for instance. They sprinkle their writing with emoticons and textspeak. And she has to coach them specifically on the use of the “enter” key: They don’t put line breaks in their emails, because they don’t do it in texts or tweets.

Hearing lesson plans like this one, you might assume the Internet is wrecking English As It Once Was. (In fact, there’s a ton of moral panic over the issue: just try Googling the phrase “death of English.”) But as my friend would gladly tell you, her students have learned very quickly that there’s a time for emoji, and there’s a time for line breaks.

In fact, as a study out of Georgia Tech confirmed last week, today’s digital natives essentially speak two languages – Internet and proper English – and they’re very, very savvy about when to use each.

“This research shows that for many people … non-standard English is not a question of ability, but of reserving standard English for the right social situations,” Jacob Eisenstein, the paper’s lead author, said in a statement. “In this sense, heavy social media users have an especially nuanced understanding of language, since they maintain multiple linguistic systems.”

To come to this conclusion, Eisenstein and his team analyzed a body of 114 million geotagged tweets, looking for patterns in the use of regional and Internet slang. They found that, by and large, people forego “proper English” when they’re tweeting to a limited audience. (For instance, when they’re @-replying a friend.) But when people tweet to a larger group, as on a hashtag, or send a tweet that they know could be seen by more people, they tend to use more standard language.

This suggests a couple sociolinguistic possibilities, all of which should hearten the parents and language-defenders of the world. First off, people who grew up speaking in abbreviations and acronyms do know “proper” English, which is by no means dead. Second, their use of non-proper English is an identity choice, frequently tied to their geographic location. (In this study, people tweeting to other users in their city often used slang more.) Third, they know when it is or is not appropriate to bust out that slang – which is actually a pretty sophisticated linguistic choice.

“These findings suggest that users of social media are attuned to both the nature of their audience and the social meaning of lexical variation,” the paper concludes, “and that they customize their self-presentation accordingly.”

This isn’t an entirely novel finding, we must note: For several years, some educators and researchers have pushed back against the English-is-dying alarmists, arguing that Internet slang is just a more visible form of “style-shifting” or “code-switching,” a well-documented linguistic phenomenon. When someone code-switches, he alternates between multiple languages or language styles, depending on his audience: A bilingual speaker might call his mom in Spanish, for instance, but use English with his co-workers in the office. Likewise, the students in my friend’s English class lol and smh their way through texts with their pals, but – with very minimal instruction! – they learn not to do that in formal e-mails.

And yet, fear around this issue persists, particularly in the context of education. A 2013 Pew report found, for instance, that 40 percent of teachers think that social media has hurt their students’ writing.

In reality, studies like this one suggest that the opposite may be true: Social media may actually produce writers and speakers who have a more nuanced understanding of language and identity than non-users do.

Eisenstein’s paper was recently published in the journal American Speech.

Nasdaq Center Aims to Build Relationships With Startups

Nasdaq has long been known as the “tech-heavy” stock exchange, where some of Silicon Valley’s best-known companies have gone to sell shares. Now, as it faces stiff competition from rival exchanges to lure the next hot IPO, it’s reaching out to business startups before they go public.

New York-based Nasdaq, through an affiliated foundation, is opening what it calls an “Entrepreneurial Center” Thursday in a trendy commercial district south of San Francisco’s Market Street. It’s promising business training, mentoring and networking opportunities for early stage startup founders – maybe even the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page.

“We want to support amazing entrepreneurs, who may be starting a company today or their next three companies down the line, who will remember the things they were taught as part of the Nasdaq community,” said Nicola Corzine, a veteran startup investor who will operate the center as its executive director.

Nasdaq executives say they have a long tradition of working with young companies, and the new center is open to entrepreneurs in other sectors besides tech. Still, it’s no coincidence the center’s in a region rife with new tech startups. Facebook, Google and Apple are all traded on Nasdaq.

The move comes as Nasdaq’s chief rival, the New York Stock Exchange, has increased its outreach to the tech sector in recent years and has lured some high-profile startups like Twitter, which held its initial public offering on the NYSE in 2013. Twitter’s decision to list on the NYSE came after Facebook’s debut on Nasdaq in May 2012 was marred by technical glitches that tarnished the exchange’s reputation.

“Your competitor always wants to make advances in your area of strength, and we also make advances in areas that may not have been our strength 10 years ago,” said Bruce Aust, a vice chairman at Nasdaq who is also president of the new center. As an example, he said Nasdaq is now home to a number of airlines that might have chosen the NYSE in the past.

“Nasdaq is all about growth companies,” Aust said, while downplaying concerns about the rival exchange. “So we feel pretty good about our position.”

Silicon Valley is home to a number of tech “incubators” and other programs that support new startups, sometimes in exchange for equity. Aust said the new center will work with those programs while offering unique opportunities of its own, such as mentorships or informal classes taught by executives at successful Nasdaq companies. Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini, which advises a number of tech companies, is one of several sponsors.

There’s no charge for entrepreneurs to participate, but they’ll be screened for at least two references from advisers, fellow entrepreneurs or even university professors, Corzine said. Programs are also open to students or recent graduates with ideas for a new business.

The new center fills 13,000 square feet of remodeled space that includes meeting areas, a media training studio where founders can develop videos to promote their companies, and a coffee shop for casual networking.

In recent years, some high-profile tech startups like Uber, Airbnb and Snapchat have delayed going public and opted to continue raising money from venture capitalists and other private sources. Aust said Nasdaq’s got that trend covered, as well: It launched a “private market” service last year that helps companies raise money from investors without issuing publicly traded stock.

“Nasdaq has always been about being a source for companies to raise capital,” he said.

Will Droids Eventually Take Over All Our Jobs?

There have been many dystopian predictions about how advances in technology would take jobs away from humans, replacing them with machines. During the Industrial Revolution, the rise of machines was largely confined to blue-collar workers. Technology is now learning white-collar skills, but how worried should we be about this disruption entering our workplaces?

Economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that while technology have made many jobs redundant over the years, we might not yet be looking at a completely jobless future. In a worldfilled with disruptive and new technologies, we will see a job market that has many new roles and skill requirements that didn’t exist even a decade ago. We are already witnessing a trend in the decline of many traditional industries and a whole new set of skills will be required in order to succeed in the future.

A number of jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete as we rush to embrace technology and big data. India is a prime example of this with the government’s focus on digitization. Technology and digital platforms offer a massive opportunity for businesses to connect and interact with customers in a more personalized, consistent and instant manner. And the banking industry has been quick to adapt. Online banking is crucial today for banks and digitized interfaces are replacing traditional customer facing roles, a process that was started years ago with automated tellers – ATMs.

Think of the massive workforce employed in the Indian postal services. Globally, postal workers are one of the groups most affected by job automation. From sorting the post office to mail delivery, machines can today perform tasks much quicker than human workers. This can prove to be a huge threat for a country that today boasts one of the largest postal networks in the world!

If you’re thinking these are low-skilled or unskilled jobs and a robot couldn’t do your job, think again. Legal firms are already using software called Lex Machina that uses complicated algorithms to predict the outcome of patent lawsuits. If lawyers can be replaced by machines, anyone can.