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Global Affairs

Breakfast Briefing: CryptoKitties on Ethereum and Starbucks in China

 4 min read / 

CryptoKitties Swamps Ethereum

The CryptoKitties game is now responsible for 11% of all traffic on the Ethereum network.

Editor’s Remarks: Since going live, speculators have hailed Ethereum’s decentralised platform as the future of applications performing high-level functions and self-executing smart contracts. However, the network is currently being slowed down by traffic stemming from CryptoKitties, a game in which players buy virtual kittens and breed them with other cats. So far, 22,000 such cats have been sold for a total of $22m. The game’s creators, Axiom Zen, built it in order to show consumers how blockchain technology could impact their day-to-day lives, even in relation to something as mundane as a game.

Starbucks Gambles in China

The coffee chain today opened a 30,000 square-foot roastery in Shanghai.

Editor’s Remarks: Starbucks currently operates around 3,000 stores in China in 130 cities and is opening new outlets at a rate faster than one each day. Today, the company opened its new roastery, which is its first outside of the US, in a bid to retain its reputation as a high-end beverages company in the nation. As Starbucks has spread across cities like Shanghai – where it now has over 600 stores, more than in New York or London – locals feel it has lost some of the exclusivity that first made it popular. The new roastery will allow visitors to watch beans be roasted or brewed in order to transform the regular coffee run into more of an experience.

Nobel Laureates Criticise Bitcoin

Nobel prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Robert J. Shiller have come down hard on bitcoin.

Editor’s Remarks: Stiglitz opined that bitcoin should be outlawed because it offers no “socially useful function”. Meanwhile, Shiller said that bitcoin’s popularity and subsequent price rises are derived largely from the same satisfaction that people get from watching a murder mystery – the chance to outsmart the system. Shiller added that while he does not know how high bitcoin will go, it “will reach a 1929 eventually”, referring to the Great Depression. Shiller and Stiglitz’ remarks coincide with bitcoin storming towards $12,000 after briefly dipping as low as $9,000 early last week just hours after it broke past the $10,000 milestone.

Black Friday Does Little for UK Stores

Retail sales rose just 0.6% in November compared to the same period a year before.

Editor’s Remarks: Black Friday is one US tradition that has gained significant traction in the UK in recent years, due largely to the proliferation of e-commerce and the consequent adoption of the trend by traditional stores. However, data collected by KPMG showed that consumer spending in November was hardly boosted by the sales bonanza that swept the British high street. Instead, sales growth was driven largely by food spending in the run-up to the Christmas period. However, Barclaycard, which processes around half of the UK’s total payments, said that on Black Friday itself there was a 7% increase in sales compared to 2016.

Supreme Court Allows Travel Ban

The US Supreme Court has allowed Trump to enforce his travel ban while it deliberates its legality.

Editor’s Remarks: On Monday, the court said that the Trump administration can implement the ban and prevent citizens from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen from travelling to the US. So far, the plan has faced opposition at every turn and has been called everything from “racist” to “xenophobic”, underlying the racial tensions that have characterised the Trump presidency thus far. The policy effectively works in tandem with Trump’s promise to build a Mexico-US border wall (which has not materialised yet) to form the twin pillars of his administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

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Global Affairs

Breakfast Briefing: Space Race, Google in China and Zuckerberg

google china

Google to Open in Beijing

Alphabet announced that it will open an AI research facility in the Chinese capital yesterday.

Editor’s Remarks: Under CEO Sundar Pichai, Google has been recommitting itself to China after it had most of its services blocked in 2010 when it refused to censor search content. In recent months, the tech giant has been marketing its new TensorFlow AI tools to the Chinese market, which aligns with the state’s ambitions to become a world leader in AI by 2030. Google’s new facility will consist of a small number of AI researchers, supported by hundreds of Chinese engineers. Google expects to face stiff competition for talent given how local tech giants, Baidu and Tencent, are ramping up their own AI efforts.

Telegram Is Not for Sale

Telegram’s elusive founder, Pavel Durov, insists that his messaging service will remain non-profit.

Editor’s Remarks: Durov and his brother Nikolai founded VK, Russia’s answer to Facebook, before they were forced to sell their stakes to a Kremlin-friendly oligarch. The pair has since relocated and built Telegram, an encrypted messaging service that they insist will never be sold. A libertarian – having enabled Telegram users to even send messages that will self-destruct – Durov and his product have gained popularity among cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Durov himself is bullish about the prospects of cryptocurrencies and owns at least 2,000 bitcoins. Pundits, meanwhile, reckon that Telegram is worth in the region of $5bn.

Japanese Space Startup Raises $90m

Ispace Inc raised $90m from Japan’s largest corporates in a bid to reach orbit by 2019. 

Editor’s Remarks: Ispace is backed by Japan Airlines, Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings and also government-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan. The company plans to sell advertising space on its spacecraft, which will then feature prominently in distributed images. However, Ispace also envisages the use of rovers that will offer a “projection mapping service”, which will essentially produce a tiny billboard on the surface of the moon. This is the latest announcement in what is rapidly shaping up to be a wider commercialisation of space exploration. Elsewhere, SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing reusable rockets, while Planetary Resources intends to mine asteroids.

Roy Moore Loses Alabama

Moore, who was backed by Trump, narrowly lost to Doug Jones, a largely unknown Democrat.

Editor’s Remarks: Moore’s election efforts appeared to have succumbed to allegations of child abuse that were made against him last week. Newcomer Jones won 49.9% of the vote against Moore’s 48.4% in deeply conservative Alabama, marking the Democrats’ first Senate victory in the state since 1992. Moore is a household name in Alabama but the accusations recently levelled against him have ruined his once impeccable reputation. Reluctant to concede defeat in his home state, Moore has said that Alabama must “wait on God and let the process play out”. Meanwhile, Democrats are jubilant that they have managed to reduce the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, which could impact Trump’s tax reform.

Zuckerberg Backs VR Firm

Dreamscape Immersive, a virtual reality (VR) company, is backed by 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Mark Zuckerberg.

Editor’s Remarks: Dreamscape is developing new VR arcades for shopping centres and has just closed a $30m Series B funding round – 50% more than planned. Among its initial backers were Steven Spielberg, 21st Century Fox and Warner Bros. The company has now added to that impressive list the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Nickelodeon. Dreamscape is capitalising on Hollywood’s interest in VR, which the film industry reckons will draw in greater numbers of viewers and provide an opportunity to raise margins. Dreamscape intends to open seven VR centres in locations across North America and the UK.

Keep reading |  4 min read

Asia

Google to Open Artificial Intelligence Centre in China

 2 min read / 

Google AI China

Google will be opening its first artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in China, despite many of its services being blocked there.

Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of Google Cloud, said:

“I believe AI and its benefits have no borders. Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, it has the potential to make everyone’s life better for the entire world. As an AI first company, this is an important part of our collective mission. And we want to work with the best AI talent, wherever that talent is, to achieve it.”

The research centre will focus on basic AI research, and will consist of a team in Beijing, who will be supported by Google China’s engineering teams.

Google’s search engine and its Gmail are banned in China. However, the country has 730 million internet users, making the market too large to ignore.

Google is not the only tech giant facing restrictions in China. Facebook is also banned, while Apple’ App Store has been subject to censorship. In order to comply with government requests, Apple removed many popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its App Store in China earlier on this year.

China has recently announced plans to develop artificial intelligence, and wants to catch up with the US. However, human rights groups are concerned by China’s use of artificial intelligence to monitor its own citizens.

Keep reading |  2 min read

Europe

Europe Warns Trump on Tax

Europe Trump

Finance ministers from Europe’s largest economies have said that Trump’s tax plans breach global agreements.

Europe’s leading finance ministers, including UK chancellor Philip Hammond, penned a letter to the White House in which they raised the possibility of retaliation if the Republicans push on with their tax reforms. Europe is worried that Trump’s “America First” doctrine will undermine global trade patterns and escalate ongoing tensions between the US and its key allies. With the UK looking to its closest ally for support post-Brexit, it is unlikely that Hammond’s latest move will sweeten any future US-UK trade deal. Meanwhile, Trump is unlikely to care about shaking up current trading arrangements, given that he ran for office on the platform of making the US more competitive.

Keep reading |  1 min read

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