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Our dystopian future isn’t found in ‘1984’

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella set a high bar for developers at the company’s annual Build conference last week with a slightly off-putting challenge: don’t let your programs — and by extension, our technology — turn human society into a subservient mass of soulless drones.

“I do believe it’s up to us to ensure that some of the more dystopian scenarios don’t come true,”

Nadella said, flanked by a backdrop of the book jacket illustrations from George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, two of the 20th century’s most well-known works of fiction.

Satya Nadella calling out developers at Microsoft Build.
Satya Nadella calling out developers at Microsoft Build.

Image: screenshot/mashable

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the term itself, you know (and probably love) countless examples of dystopian media. Typically, the genre imagines a future society as a painful, bleak, and soul-crushing hellscape.

The go-to examples for most people these days, 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, are characterized by complete subservience to a centralized entity like the government or, more broadly, the patriarchy. Toss some extra focus on tech into the mix, and you’re looking at works where AI rises up and takes control like The Matrix or The Terminator.

Given the current political climate, that authoritarianism verging on totalitarianism isn’t so hard to imagine. Comparing…
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Ecommerce

How will oil prices shape the Covid-19 recovery in emerging markets?

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How will oil prices shape the Covid-19 recovery in emerging markets?

– After falling significantly in 2020, oil prices have returned to pre-pandemic levels
– The rise has been driven by OPEC+ production cuts and an improving economic climate
– Higher prices are likely to support a rebound in oil-producing emerging markets
– Further virus outbreaks or increased production would pose challenges to price stability

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A combination of continued production cuts and an increase in economic activity has prompted oil prices to return to pre-pandemic levels – a factor that will be crucial to the recovery of major oil-producing countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Brent crude prices rose above $60 a barrel in early February, the first time they had exceeded pre-Covid-19 values. They have since continued to rise, going above $66 a barrel on February 24.

The ongoing increase in oil prices, which have soared by 75% since November and around 26% since the beginning of the year, marks a dramatic change from last year.

Following the closure of many national borders and the implementation of travel-related restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, demand for oil slumped globally.

In the wake of the Saudi-Russia price war in early 2020, Brent crude prices fell from around $60 a barrel in February that year to two-decade lows of $20 a barrel in late April, as supply increased and demand plummeted. The value of WTI crude – the main benchmark for oil in the US – fell to record lows of around $40 a barrel last year on the back of a lack of storage space.

While global demand for oil remains low, one factor credited with reversing the trend is the decision to make significant cuts to oil production, which subsequently tightened global supplies.

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How the Rural-Urban Divide Plays Out on Digital Platforms

It is one thing for entrepreneurs, whether urban or rural, to create and operate an online store, as some digital platforms have made it relatively easy to manage an e-store – even by using just a smartphone.

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In the West, villages are emptying out due to the lack of economic opportunities. Consider Italy where, in a bid to attract newcomers, a handful of municipalities have turned to selling houses for €1.

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Will South-east Asia’s tech giants turn to SPACs to boost post-pandemic growth?

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Will South-east Asia’s tech giants turn to SPACs to boost post-pandemic growth?
– SPACs have become a hot-button topic in global finance
– The vehicle is widely used to help tech start-ups go public
– Both Singapore’s and Indonesia’s exchanges are set to allow SPACs
– Several South-east Asian tech unicorns may use SPACs to list publicly

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South-east Asia is seeing a wave of interest in special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, with various major tech players considering them as a means to fast-track public listings. In parallel to this, several exchanges in the region are moving to allow SPAC listings, with a view to boosting post-coronavirus growth.

SPACs are shell companies set up by investors and then listed on a given stock exchange. Their sole function is to acquire a private company, enabling it to go public without having to go through a traditional initial public offering (IPO).

A SPAC does nothing beyond its essential function – it neither produces nor sells anything, and a SPAC’s only assets are the funds raised from its own IPO.

Crucially, people who buy into a SPAC do not know what its eventual acquisition target or targets will be. This is why SPACs are often referred to as “blank cheque companies”: they give the founders a free rein to back their choice of private company. A key feature of SPACs is that they are often headed by big-name business executives or fund managers, who trade on past successes to inspire trust in investors.

While they are far from a novel phenomenon, SPACs have become a hot button topic in recent times: SPAC initial offerings quadrupled last year, with the vehicles raising a record $80bn.

Merging with a SPAC enables a company to go public and raise capital more quickly and painlessly than with a traditional IPO, circumventing some of the volatility that Covid-19 unleashed on global markets. At the same time, they function rather like venture capital, helping investors to buy into high-growth start-ups on the ground floor.

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