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Opinion

Red lines in the age of tech

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Last week the India Foundation held a conclave on the MetaVerse. Speaking at the event which had a robot as a co-compere, Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Minister of Civil Aviation quipped that soon they would not be needing him to come and address the gathering, as there will come a time when a robot could come and deliver his speech. Taking up this train of thought, RSS leader Ram Madhav commented that since we are heading towards a world of Artificial General Intelligence there is a cause for worry as there is one crucial difference between robots and humans and this is intelligence with a heart. He commented that already there are cases of AI outguessing human intelligence, citing the example of Alpha Zero a chess engine developed by Deep Mind & Google search engines, that claims to defeat any chess player that ever lived. Hence there is a need to put checks and balances in place and draw some red lines. Madhav is right otherwise we could well be living in a world where we are shaped by tech instead of the other way around. (In fact, some would say, we are already halfway there).

Also speaking at the India Foundation conclave K Ananth Krishnan (TCS) pointed out that there are more smartphone owners in India than toothbrush owners. We are already in a dependent and needy (toxic is a better word) relationship with technology. In their book, The Art of Bitfulness, Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani, quote a December 2020 survey of 2000 smartphone users revealed that on an average users spent 6.9 hours on their phones every day; and most (46 %) pick up their phones at least five times in an hour-long conversation with friends. 84 % say they check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up.

It would be fair to state that the digital world has our undivided attention. And beckoning from the horizon is the Metaverse, a collective virtual shared space that we can inhabit by creating avatars or our virtual counterparts. By inhabit, they mean everything, from socialising to attending business meetings to even shopping. You can even experience the physical intimacy of a virtual hug or a handshake. You can also buy land and space on this metaverse that is being cultivated by tech giants such as FaceBook and Microsoft (only the latter calls its metaverse Mesh).

All this is very well but where does that leave our human avatars? What kind of discourse will we have where all our conversation will be governed by algorithms. Already with twitter replacing the physical townhall as the preferred forum for debate, we are in the danger of living in an algorithm bubble where we are shown only those posts that match our ideological beliefs. Facebook and Twitter have us wrapped in a bubble where we are shown only those posts that the algorithm thinks are best suited for us. We have already outsourced our search engine to them. Any further dependence will only be detrimental to our capacity for independent and free-thinking.

Digital platforms can also be misused to propagate a certain kind of narrative. If Facebook doesn’t want you to read a particular article it will simply set its algorithm in a way that will make the article harder to find on its search engine. Ditto for YouTube. Twitter can simply ban your account. So for better or (meta) worse, one must approach technology with all the trepidation and enthusiasm of handling a two-edged sword.

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Astronomers reveal first image of Black Hole

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Astronomers snapped an image of a supermassive black hole for the first time in history. This is the second result of the research team since 2019, when it presented a picture of the M87 black hole. The Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) also participated in the research. Scientists said the result is a milestone in the history of astronomy. Humans have taken one more step closer to the secret of the birth of the universe. According to the KASI on May 12, Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, the global joint research team formed by more than 300 researchers from 80 institutions, captured the image of the supermassive black hole “Sgr A” at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This is the result made in three years since the team succeeded in observing the shadow of the black hole in the core of the galaxy M-87. The black hole Sgr A is located at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, 27,000 light years from Earth. It is roughly 4 million times the mass of the sun. Dr. Sohn Bong-won at the KASI said, “The Sgr A is the closest supermassive black hole to Earth that humans have ever observed.” As the Sgr A is 2,000 times closer to Earth than the black hole in M87, it is a strong target for black hole research. However, the Sgr A is 1,500 times more compact than M87 black hole, which means that drawing out Sgr A was far more difficult as the gas flow moves faster and change rapidly. The EHT used for the research is a virtual super ultra-telescope coordinated by eight radio observatories around the world. The team captured a clear image of the black hole by analyzing the black hole’s radio signal data observed by the eight telescopes and translating the signals into a representative image of the black hole. An official from the KASI explained the telescope’s performance, “It is able to read newspapers in New York while sitting at a cafe in Paris.” To process massive b l a c k h o l e observation data, the t e a m a n a lyz e d d at a by u s i n g supercomputers and conducted simulations for five years. After calibrating data and making the image, the ream succeeded in observing the shadow and ring-like structure of the Sgr A. Three Korean VLBI Network (KVN) of the KASI also participated in the project. The three units observed that the structure of the Sgr A black hole is close to a sphere shape, and the accretion disk of the black hole is facing Earth head-on. Korean researchers, including the KASI, carried out various tasks of the research such as operation of Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter, submillimeter Array (ALMA) and Hawaii’s James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) to observe and process data.

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Europe halts partnership of moon exploration with Russia

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The European Space Agency has announced discontinuation of its cooperation on Russia’s Luna series of robotic moon missions, amid the country’s invasion into Ukraine. ESA’s Director General Dr Josef Aschbacher initiated a comprehensive review of all activities currently undertaken in cooperation with Russia and Ukraine. The review was to determine the possible consequences of this new geopolitical context for ESA programmes and activities and to create a more resilient and robust space infrastructure for Europe, officials said in a statement. “ESA will discontinue cooperative activities with Russia on Luna-25, -26 and -27,” the statement said. “As with ExoMars, the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting sanctions put in place represent a fundamental change of circumstances and make it impossible for ESA to implement the planned lunar cooperation,” it added. The agency said its PILOTDA landing camera will be taken off the Luna 25 mission, which is scheduled to launch later this year. Instead, an alternative flight opportunity to test the ESA navigation camera is being procured from a commercial service provider, the ESA said. The Luna 27 rover, planned for 2025, was expected to feature a Europebuilt optical navigation system relying on artificially intelligent image analysis, and a subsurface drill designed to obtain samples of lunar soil from depths of up to 1 metre. The drill will now fly to the Moon on board a NASA-led Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission, Aschbacher said. 

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India carries out successful test firing of HELINA

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I ndia on Tuesday carried out yet another successful test of the indigenously developed helicopter launched Anti-Tank Guided Missile ‘HELINA’ in high altitude conditions in Ladakh. The flight test was jointly conducted by teams of scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Army, and the Indian Air Force (IAF). “India today carried out a successful test firing of the Helina anti-tank guided missile from the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter in high altitude areas of Ladakh. The missile was tested yesterday also in the same area where it successfully hit a simulated tank target,” DRDO officials told ANI. On Monday, the missile, being equipped on the variants of indigenous ALH Dhruv chopper, was successfully flight tested at highaltitude ranges as part of user validation trials. The flight trials were conducted from an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and the missile was fired successfully engaging a simulated tank target. The missile is guided by an Imaging InfraRed (IIR) Seeker operating in the Lock on Before Launch mode. It is one of the most advanced anti-tank weapons in the world, DRDO officials said. Secretary Department of Defence R&D and Chairman DRDO Dr G Satheesh Reddy congratulated the teams for the commendable job performed in difficult conditions.

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AI ROADMAP FOR DEFENCE PSUS: 61 PROJECTS IDENTIFIED

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The Defence Ministry has made an Artificial Intelligence (AI) roadmap for each defence public sector undertakings (PSUs) under which 61 defence specific projects have been identified for development. “Out of these 61 projects, 26 have been completed by the defence PSUs,” Minister of State for Defence, Ajay Bhatt, said in a written reply to Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut in the Rajya Sabha. Bhatt said that to study the whole gamut of issues surrounding strategic implications of AI in the perspective of national security, the Department of Defence Production (DDP) set up a multi-stakeholder task force in March 2018 under the chairmanship of N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons. 

The task force submitted its report in June 2018, which recommended integrating and embedding AI strategy for defence with defence strategy and the establishment of a high-level Defence Artificial Intelligence Council (DAIC) and a Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA). The task force also recommended development of data management framework, establishing a data management office and appointing a data management officer. It also recommended scaling the existing capability of data centres and establishing a centrally facilitated network of test beds. 

The task force further recommended the creation of a framework to work with the industry and encourage startups to develop AI capability for defence and IP management. It also recommended organising AI training courses in all defence training centres and institutes for training of defence personnel, and earmarking of AI budget from yearly defence budget with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore to be provided each year for next five years to support AI activities. Based on the recommendations, the Defence Ministry through an order dated February 8, 2019 created the Defence AI Council (DAIC) under the chairmanship of the Defence Minister, and Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA) with Secretary (DP) as ex officio head for providing necessary guidance to enable and effect development of operating framework, policy level changes and structureal support for AI adoption. 

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Technology adoption in educational institutions key for NEP implementation

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CollPoll , a Mobile-first Digital Campus Platform, has released a series of key insights on NEP adoption across higher education institutions in India.
The CollPoll NEP 2022 survey captures the insights of higher education leaders from 40-plus institutions and highlights the importance of Digital Transformation of educational institutions to attain the outcomes of the National Education Policy (NEP). The survey was conducted by CollPoll to gauge the preparedness of higher education institutions for NEP implementation and has received responses from senior leaders, management, and key stakeholders of various institutions including OP Jindal Global University (JGU), Bennett University, Rishihood University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), DY Patil International University, IIM Udaipur, Chitkara University, Vidyashilp University and RV University, among others.

Over the last decade, India has evolved into an ‘information-intensive society’ and there is a growing need to adopt technology in the field of education. According to the Policy, one of the core principles guiding the education system will be the ‘extensive use of technology in teaching and learning, removing language barriers, increasing access as well as education planning and management. According to the findings of CollPoll NEP Survey 2022, more than 95 per cent of the institutions listed technology as the key enabler for effective implementation of NEP. Over 63 per cent respondents noted that technology adoption and effective planning for policy implementation and rollout will be a key accelerator for NEP adoption. In the survey, 54 per cent of the respondents ranked the implementation of a fully flexible learning system as the key outcome from technology enablement. Over 56 per cent of the respondents also highlighted that through technology integration, it will become easier to allow students to craft their own degree.

Other key findings from the survey include:
-Over 41 per cent of higher education institutes will take between 2-5 years and more than 44 per cent of them will take more than 5 years to adopt NEP completely
-63 per cent respondents ranked change management among stakeholders as one of the key challenges for NEP implementation
-47 per cent respondents are not planning to offer education in vernacular language whereas 41 per cent are still unsure. Only 11 per cent respondents are willing to support education in vernacular language
-54 per cent of the institutions wanted to be a teaching-intensive institution while the rest 46 per cent opted for research-intensive university
-Multi-disciplinary learning outcomes, boost in employability were listed as the top two benefits from NEP implementation
-Multi entry-exit points, academic bank of credits and 4 year multi-disciplinary UG courses were listed as the three top most difficult to implement part of the policy
-Choice based learning system, academic bank of credits and 4 year multi-disciplinary UG course was listed as the top 3 parts of NEP which will be implemented first by the institutions

With over 51000 institutions and almost 40 million students, India has the world’s third-largest higher education system. In July 2020, India unveiled its first and most comprehensive education policy, the NEP, to guide the development of the education sector and implement transformational reforms in the country’s institutions. With the education sector plagued by rote learning, slow skill development, and a lack of employability, NEP introduces opportunities for growth in all areas. NEP is a much-needed, forward-looking policy, however, the benefit of this policy cannot be harnessed if the implementation is not backed by technology. The right use of technology is critical towards greater student success and education outcomes. The success of NEP lies in the implementation and it can only be possible if the institutions prioritize digital transformation.

CollPoll is a SaaS company offering a web and mobile-based campus automation, digital learning and analytics platform designed to address the rising complexity, competition, and digital compliance of higher education institutions. It has seen aggressive adoption across all sizes of educational institutions and has automated more than 3000 business processes, 150,000 applications on career opportunities, half a million assignments, four million quizzes and six million feedback. It has helped institutions improve learning outcomes, achieve academic excellence, cut down administrative costs and comply with government regulations. CollPoll has partnered with over 60 educational institutions with more than 100K users and is planning to add 300 more institutions with over half a million users by the end of 2022. Its customers are spread across India, Middle East, Africa, and South-East Asia and include reputed educational institutions such as O.P. Jindal Global University, Ashoka University, Manipal Dubai & Malaysia, Chitkara University, and DY Patil Pratishthan University, among others.

Supporting Quotes:

Hemant Sahal, Founder & CEO, CollPoll
“The introduction of the New Education Policy has catapulted the Indian education system into a new era. The real test, however, is in the implementation, which necessitates orchestrating a series of complex activities that cannot be accomplished simply by adding resources. Therefore the adoption of Digital transformation of campus is important for attaining the outcomes of NEP. CollPoll’s aim is to enable the usage of critical technologies that are simple to implement, easy to use and ensure smooth collaboration between multiple stakeholders for effective NEP implementation. Universities are looking for automation to help them streamline processes and deliver slicker, smarter experiences at scale. This is a huge opportunity for CollPoll and we are primed to impact the Higher Education sector and empower the modern campuses as their long-term technology partner.”

Prof BS Satyanarayana, Vice-Chancellor, CV Raman Global University
“CV Raman Global University as a new university has leveraged the NEP 2020 framework to create a unique pedagogy with a focus on multidisciplinary immersive experiential learning. The same is enabled through seamlessly linking skill and knowledge to create competence enabled learning. True learning can only be assessed through a continuous formative assessment in a dynamic and integrated way, to see if “Learner Centric” education is happening. This without a quality ERP LMS system in this era of digitalisation would be very tough. So, we are glad that we have a partner like CollPoll in this transformational journey to facilitate us.”

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