Sci- Tech

air pollution and drones

By Shruti Sonal:

Sanchit, Pranav, and Triambikay at work

Approximately a month back, I read about a group of school-going youngsters – Sanchit, Pranav, and Triambikay – from Delhi who developed a drone that detects air pollution. In what could prove to be a boon for one of the world’s most polluted cities, their invention correctly reports the chemical composition of the air it is flown in.

Unlike the typical large air pollution monitoring stations or instruments/tools, this one is portable and compact. It is a fully autonomous device that comes equipped with a GPS, a barometer, accelerometer, a gyroscope and a pollution monitoring toolkit, and is designed to take off, hover around the city, check the pollution and land on its own. Pollution monitoring kit contains sensors like CO2, O2, and a dust sensor, measuring the presence of specific compounds in the air and providing readings in ppm (parts per million). One device can measure air pollution readings of several cities without having to deploy multiple drones! The data is then sent to a server, which displays live readings on pollution levels on a web page. Interestingly, the data can not only be viewed by the government or environmental experts but also by the public, making them active participants in the efforts to protect the environment.

I was extremely curious to understand what drives Class 10 students who are at an age where they are typically dealing with the trappings of puberty, to achieve so much. Well, according to Sanchit, it was their interest in technology, engineering and a common aspiration to build gadgets for a cause, which united them as friends and inventors.

By January 2015, Sanchit had developed a keen interest in drones and started researching on the technology involved. Pranav, intrigued by his research, suggested that they build a drone which could help bring greater accountability of pollutants present in the air. Not ones to sit helplessly as they read news reports about the deteriorating conditions in Delhi, they decided to use their interest in technology, to be the change.

The first step was to create a prototype, which came with its own set of struggles. Since the three lived so far apart, they organised weekly meetups at the MakerSpace, a community driven initiative where tools and devices are available for those looking to collaborate to design and build new gadgets. Here they discussed the features of the drone, designed its aerodynamics, planned the materials that needed to be used, and soon they had a blueprint. In the meantime, they also saved up money to buy the necessary materials for the drone.

By July 2015, in a span of five weeks, they were ready with their first prototype of the Air Pollution Monitoring Drone! With a hint of pride in his voice, Sanchit told me, “We made this drone for about just one-fourth the cost of commercial drones, used for a similar use! The total cost to make this was about INR 40,000.”

I wondered if it was difficult balancing the project alongside school. “Yes, it was quite tough. We used every free period to research the project! Our parents were not supportive at the start. But knowing the scope of this project and our huge interest in it, they eventually backed our efforts.” With teachers, it was a mixed bag. “Some were really impressed seeing our passion but others were not that much happy about it. They wanted us to focus on academics and textbooks, and not deviate.”

According to Sanchit, he is now brushing up on his software skills, putting together a team of highly skilled people and working on the backend architecture of his future organisation.

“I believe that we and the government can easily cooperate with each other on the large-scale use of drones, regulating its use in India and also removing the ban on its use. Our intention is to use drones to help people and raise awareness amongst the general public,” outlines Sanchit.

What a marvellous thought to sign off with! As the movement to clean Delhi’s toxic air gathers momentum, such innovations can play a significant role in bringing together the efforts of the government and the common man. Drones have already effectively been used in China to monitor air pollution. Hopefully, in India, too this brilliant innovation can be utilised to its full potential.


By Parth Sharma:

downloadEvolution to us is as natural as breathing. To surpass limited natural capabilities has been our endeavor since time immemorial. Earlier it was with sticks and bones, an extension of the human hand; now it is with the help of microchips, transmitters, and processors. Earlier humans used to interact with technology as a separate entity i.e. outside the human body, but now changes are being realized within the individual—changing the meeting point of humans and technology.

Technology has already touched almost all spheres of our life. The onus has shifted from making our life more convenient to altering our physical reality and mental faculty. The desire to change ourselves is not a result of the 21st century. From the Greek mythological Icarus and Daedalus to Julian Huxley, FM-2030 or Zoltan Istvan (founder of the Transhumanist Party), the attempt to change oneself, rebuild and reconstruct the human physiology is innate. It is a futuristic—cyborg society that these people deem impending.

According to Prof Al. Rodhan, a senior fellow at the Oxford University and authority in the field of transhumanism, it is our innate tendency to enhance our physical and mental capabilities, to strive to do better than the previous. He terms it as “inevitable transhumanism” which is only accelerating with the help of technology.

These technologies have enhanced, as was expected, our living experience either by taking the load off our back (Human Universal Load Carrier), by giving us company (Siri, Cortana, Cleverbot), by increasing our perceptions (Google Glass and Oculus Rift) and even replacing natural organs with artificial ones. So deep was/is our belief in technology that people have cryogenically frozen themselves, in hopes of being brought to back to life when it is possible.

And surely the thought is not absurd as these machines, or should we say our scientists, are over-reachers and have outdone their own expectations time and again. With transporting 1024 bits in trucks to carrying 1024 gigabytes in our pockets, we sure have come a long way and with processor speed doubling every two years, we still have a long way to go.

The developers of the AlphaGo-playing program also predicted, in 2014, another good ten years when artificial intelligence will defeat human champion without a head start, and in 2016, Google Deepmind’s AlphaGo AI defeated Lee Sedol, the reigning world champion. Maybe the glitch in approximation thus lies in our inability to grasp the potential inherent in this technology.

That is probably why Elon Musk has stated that AI could be more dangerous than nukes and is “our biggest existential threat”. Stephen Hawking joins him by warning artificial intelligence could end humankind by “taking off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”

Transhumanism also comes with its less pessimistic supporters. Rollo Carpenter, the founder of Cleverbot, says, “We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”

The man vs. the machine debate has also brought in the new angle of post-humanism. While we explore the possibilities of a post-human future, critics such as Nick Land are of the opinion that rather than merely adding to the capabilities of human beings and acting as subordinate aides, artificial intelligence will take over the human race. These philosophers view work in this light as an approach to freeze the natural process of evolution. The debate, however, is inconclusive as we aren’t there yet.

Ideally, those affected will welcome the post-human life as it will elevate their standards of living; obliterate impossible paralysis, ailments and achieve things inconceivable as of today. But will that eventually lead to a robotized, sub-human existence is the question?

While Mythology, Sci-fi movies, and futuristic science have done their bit of entertaining us with this anti-hero, their existence in reality, does not seem to be that far behind. The usage of artificial intelligence to chalk out and decipher military strategies has been doing the rounds for some time now. However, despite being a success story, artificial intelligence and transhumanism have the potential to become a chimera that might devour its own creator.


By Juliana Guarany:

startup-photosTechnology has brought violence against women to a whole new level. Privately taken nude pictures are no longer limited to a single copy in possession of the individual but are now on smartphones and one angry ex-boyfriend is all it takes to ruin a girl’s reputation online. As we are all aware, no matter the reason someone decides to publicly humiliate a woman, she gets more scrutiny than empathy once her reputation is on the line. With the advent of the internet, things have only gotten worse.

In March 2015, we had the chance to see the “patient zero” of slut shaming speak up. Monica Lewinsky demanded to tell her own story on a TED talk in Vancouver. For 20 minutes, she narrated 17 years of public humiliation. She said her case was the first one to break online instead of on traditional media. She continues to deal with violence online up to this day.

Old problems, new tools. Soon enough, we all discovered the devastating power of technology and how it has become so easy to hate. For women in general, violence took on one more avatar in slut shaming. It looked like more of the same: women as a target for how they look, for taking nude pictures, for having sex or even just because they exist.

But that same technology is now being used to fight all of that and more. Feminist groups and organizations are developing a variety of forms to combat violence and restore women’s confidence.

In the very recent past feminist groups were restricted by technology. They hardly made headlines with their actions, aside from demonstrations, but they produced vast material in the form of magazines, pamphlets and academic work. Slowly, traditional feminist organizations migrated to online media and started to create a space for their voices to be heard through websites. The internet made it possible for all to have access to information and to slowly start to get a sense of the amount of work put into the cause.

With social media a new feminism is rising, one that challenges slut shaming. This generation of girls took charge on blogs, Twitter and vlogs on YouTube. Discussion groups on Facebook are especially effective to organize protests, create new content or even just to help a girl defend herself against any kind of misogynistic attack.

The power of social media is so strong that it is changing the way women’s magazines are written, children’s toys are designed by bringing to light the different forms of sexism hidden in the mundane.

One specific cause that the new wave of feminism on social media addresses is street harassment. Not long ago – about two years ago – it was considered just some annoying part of women’s lives; you go out, you get catcalled and that is what it is. But after a nasty comment, one girl went on her social media page and complained about it. Another girl followed. Another five girls followed. And about 45 girls “liked” it. Suddenly something that had been socially accepted, even celebrated for so long was finally shown to be another face of violence.

In order to show the world how much street harassment can ruin our days a few groups took on new technology to expose this problem. Using Google maps, they asked women to pin places where they were harassed and tell their stories. The campaigns were national, but similar in different parts of the globe. In Egypt, the HarassMap showed not just catcalling stories, but also situations of gang-abuse and women being assaulted during the Arab Spring demonstrations. A campaign in Brazil called Chega de Fiu Fiu (Enough of Whistling) conducted empirical research to prove that women actually do not like to be catcalled. They also created their own map. Hollaback, a global initiative based in the USA, has their own maps of testimonials as well as an app, so women can pin an incident of harassment at the same time it occurs. A similar app was also adopted by a project in South Africa called Blow the Whistle.

Another Brazilian initiative called PLP 2.0 took it a step further and connected their app to the police. Aimed at domestic violence, this app follows specific cases and works as a panic button if a woman is attacked. It is still restricted to one city but is slowly increasing the area it covers.

There are countless such projects around the world that use technology to amplify their work. Several times we might see different groups working on similar ideas, not knowing that someone, in a different part of the globe, has a solution they haven’t thought off yet. Feminist activists needs a global database.

In order to document feminist projects and connect similar ones, I created FemMap , a collaborative website that gathers information about projects focused on gender equality. It works both as a database and as a communication channel. As the platform gets more collaborators, it becomes a significant source of information about what type of projects are being done and the best practices for each idea. Through FemMap, groups can avoid redundancies in their work and help other organizations in whatever capacity they can- material, coding or simply better ideas to make it happen. We are using technology to break country and culture barriers.

It’s important to know how to benefit from technology and make it available to all. By working together, feminist groups are able to learn from mistakes made by others. Achieving gender equality is a long and bumpy road, so it’s always good to know we can get help.

This article was originally posted at Justice Adda

A man looks at a smartphone at the Intel booth during the 2015 Computex exhibition at the TWTC Nangang exhibition hall in Taipei, Taiwan, June 2, 2015. Computex, the world's second largest computer show, runs from June 2 to 6. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

विक्रम प्रताप सिंह सचान:

A man looks at a smartphone at the Intel booth during the 2015 Computex exhibition at the TWTC Nangang exhibition hall in Taipei, Taiwan, June 2, 2015. Computex, the world's second largest computer show, runs from June 2 to 6. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang - RTR4YFZT
Image credit: Reuters/Pichi Chuang.

हाल-फ़िलहाल दुनिया की सबसे बड़ी semiconductor निर्माता Intel Corporation ने लगभग 12,000 लोगों को नौकरी से विदा करने की घोषणा की है। ये सँख्या कुल कर्मचारियों की सँख्या की 11 प्रतिशत है। Intel यदि १२००० लोगो को नौकरी से विदा करती है तो वास्तविकता में अप्रत्य्क्ष रूप में इससे कहीं ज्यादा नौकरियाँ जाएँगी। Intel के काम का एक हिस्सा सर्विस बेस्ड कम्पनी जैसे Infosys, TCS, IBM द्वारा भी किया जाता है। जाहिर है कुछ लोग यहाँ भी प्रभावित होंगे। Intel विश्व में कम्प्यूटर और नोटबुक के मार्केट में लगभग 80 फ़ीसदी की भागीदारी लम्बे समय से रखता आया है। 1968 में स्थापित Intel ने 80,90 के दशक में x86 प्रोसेसर के साथ तत्पश्चात SRAM,DRAM, नेटवर्क कार्ड्स, मदरबोर्ड के साथ दशकों तक एक छत्र छाया रहा है। ये सोचना भी लाजिमी हो चला है की आखिर क्या मुख्य कारक रहे होंगे जिसके चलते विश्वसनीयता के लिये जानी जाने वाली कम्पनी Intel ने ये कदम उठाया।

कम्प्यूटर और नोटबुक के मार्केट के उतार का दौर:

२१वी शताब्दी का दूसरा दशक मोबाइल कंप्यूटिंग डिवाइस के नाम रहा। मोबाइल की बढ़ती कम्प्यूटेशन क्षमता और हमेशा पास रख पाने की कसहजता ने मोबाइल की लोकप्रियता को जन-जन तक पहुँचा दिया। उसी के चलते कम्प्यूटर, नोटबुक, और कैमरा इत्यादि का मार्केट संतृप्त सा हो गया।

जहाँ एक ओर Intel का कम्प्यूटर और नोटबुक के क्षेत्र में एकाधिकार रहा वहीं दूसरी ओर मोबाइल डिवाइस में Intel की प्रतियोगी ARM ने बाज़ी मारी है। ARM के कोर का इस्तेमाल कर चिप बनाने वाली कम्पनी Qualcomm, NXP व अन्य ने मोबाइल का बड़ा बाज़ार हथिया लिया। कम्प्यूटर से मोबाइल के इस सफर में Intel पीछे रह गया। या यूँ कहना बेहतर होगा की Intel का मुनाफा उस दर से नहीं बढ़ सका जिसकी उम्मीद थी। आज के दौर में दुनिया के 82 फ़ीसदी फ़ोन एंड्रॉयड पर आते है और उनमे ARM SOC का इस्तेमाल होता। कम पावर में अधिक कम्प्यूटिंग, कम हार्डवेयर की जरूरत ARM को आगे ले गया।

कम पावर में ज्यादा कम्प्यूटिंग और IOT का चलन:

आज मोबाइल, फ़िटनेस डिवाइस, टेलिमेट्रिक्स के क्षेत्र में कम ऊर्जा के इस्तेमाल से ज्यादा इनफार्मेशन हासिल करने दौर है। डिवाइस का फ़ॉर्म फ़ैक्टर कम होना एक जरूरत है ताकि उसे आसानी से कैरी किया जा सके। यहाँ पर ARM आधारित डिवाइस ज्यादा उपयुक्त है। IOT (इन्टरनेट ऑफ़ थिंग्स) मुख्यतः ARM पर ही आधारित है। कुल मिलाकर, इन्टेल एक एक बड़े और उभरते मार्केट से प्रतक्ष्य रूप से दूर रहा। इस क्षेत्र में की हिस्सेदारी लगभग ४ प्रतिशत ही रह गयी। इसी का ख़मियाज़ा कम विकास दर भुगतना पड़ा।

Cloud कम्प्यूटिंग का मार्केट अभी भी Intel की ताकत:

हालाँकि कम्प्यूटर और नोटबुक का मार्केट घटा है किन्तु क्लाउड कंप्यूटिंग में उदभव के बाद अधिक प्रोसेसिंग क्षमता वाली डिवाइस का ज्यादा उपयोग शुरू हुआ है। यहाँ Intel ने बढ़त हासिल की। इस क्षेत्र में लगभग 80 फ़ीसदी की भागीदारी अभी भी है। लेकिन समय के साथ NVIDIA, Qualcomm व अन्य कम्पनियां भी इस क्षेत्र में चुनौती देने के लिये तैयार हैं। ज़ाहिर है खर्चे कम और एक दिशा में ऊर्जा लगाने का प्रयास ही है ये 12,000 नौकरियों की कटौती।

कुल मिलाकर, तेज़ी से बदलती प्रौद्योगिकी के दौर में कोई व्यवसाय सुरक्षित नहीं है, सृजन और विजन दोनों जरूरी हैं। Nokia इसका सबसे मजबूत उदहारण है। हालाँकि Intel अभी भी एक बेहतर कम्पनी है, बस एक बुरे दौर से गुज़र रही है जहाँ धीरे-धीरे विकास दर कम हो रही है। किन्तु बदलाव कई बार सुखद अनुभव लेकर आता है।

An employee works inside a laboratory at Piramal's Research Centre in Mumbai August 11, 2014. Indian drugmakers are fleeing a regulatory morass at home and moving some research and development to Europe and the United States as they try to boost margins by producing high-value drugs. Companies like Piramal Enterprises Ltd, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and Lupin Ltd are investing millions of dollars and placing their future growth in foreign regulators' hands, as they seek to add more complex drugs to their product lines. Picture taken August 11, 2014. To match INDIA-PHARMACEUTICALS/RESEARCH/ REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH BUSINESS DRUGS SOCIETY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR4460X

By Akansha Singh:

An employee works inside a laboratory at Piramal's Research Centre in Mumbai August 11, 2014. Indian drugmakers are fleeing a regulatory morass at home and moving some research and development to Europe and the United States as they try to boost margins by producing high-value drugs. Companies like Piramal Enterprises Ltd, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and Lupin Ltd are investing millions of dollars and placing their future growth in foreign regulators' hands, as they seek to add more complex drugs to their product lines. Picture taken August 11, 2014. To match INDIA-PHARMACEUTICALS/RESEARCH/ REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH BUSINESS DRUGS SOCIETY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR4460X
Source: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Between 2003 and 2013, the number of Indian scientists and engineers who migrated to the US rose from 21.6 million to 29 million, says a report prepared by the National Science Foundation. With this, India has topped the chart of immigration of its scientists and engineers to the US, when compared to other Asian countries. This alarmingly varying data of immigration is indeed a big reason for the Indian government to worry.

India’s GDP growth has been impressive over the past decade, with latest being 7.3 percent. However, this immigration, which is popularly known as ‘brain drain’ is not new to India. The question is why has this growing economy failed to retain its workforce largely over years? Despite taking pride in modern scientific research and in establishment of institutes like the IITs, India has failed to mark breakthrough work in these fields. This humungous brain drain has indeed earned India a bad name.

If we look at India’s premier institutes for science and technology, the intake of students is very less. The acceptance rate in the IIT is 2%. The case is not quite different when it comes to colleges for higher education in the field of scientific research. Where do the deserving candidates who do not get admission here go? A lot of deserving candidates, who are backed by cultural capital, settle with the decision of going abroad for a better providence and bright opportunities. This is the answer to India’s brain drain.

This clearly shows that there is a need for India to allocate more funds to the education and research sectors. Instead, the reality proves to be rather contradictory. Since the Modi government has come to power, there have been unreasonable slashes in fellowships and research budgets. Recently, the UGC Non-NET fellowships were terminated altogether, which led to widespread students’ movement across the country. Also in 2015, the CSIR fund was cut, asking it to self-finance its projects. It was directed to keep the government updated with whether the projects being undertaken are advancing government’s policies or not. Why under such an unsupportive government, would its workforce want to work at all, where prospects of their success are bleak?

Painting dazzling pictures with initiatives like ‘Make In India’ is not going to help. It might get the attention of the Indian entrepreneurs based abroad but it is definitely not going to be helpful in engaging the engineers and researchers who have travelled across.

The challenge that is posed to the Indian government is its economy. India is a mixed economy. Government’s policies have to connect with both the rural and the urban sectors. Negating one to put an emphasis on the other would prove to be unsuccessful, as India’s history already shows. Past is irretrievable but mistakes can be prevented in future. This onus lies with the present government. However, the schemes it has initiated gives impetus to entrepreneurs, having nothing great in the bag for either our farmers or our researchers.

The road to ‘Achhe Din’ will remain to be far flung till the time the government strikes a balance between the two ends of its economy.

Posted by YouthKiAwaaz in News

meluha shiva

News by YKA Staff: 

Like last year, a selection of papers with mythological overtones created a controversy at the Indian Science Congress held at the Mysuru University, Mysuru, Karnataka.

The ISC began on 3rd January this year, after it was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It ended today (7th January) and was attended by 12,000 odd participants.

The most controversial aspect of this year’s ISC was the scheduled presentation of a paper on Lord Shiva, eulogising him as an “environmentalist.” The paper was scheduled for presentation yesterday (6th January). Akhilesh K. Pandey, who is the chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Private Regulatory Commission, was to present the said paper, according to reports.

However, in a curious turn of events, he was unable to present the paper. The Business Standard, which also reported on the issue, noted that the reason for Pandey not showing up to present the paper was unknown.

But Mint reported that “Pandey suffered an unfortunate accident on a staircase and could not present the lecture.”

Nevertheless, the mythological flag was held aloft by Indian Administrative Services officer Rajeev Sharma, who presented a paper on the “health benefits” of blowing a conch. His claims were received with incredulity by a “gasping” audience, the TOI reported.

Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who teaches at Cambridge University, UK, has already derided the ISC as a “circus.” The TOI quoted the structural biologist as saying that “(the ISC is) an organization where very little science is discussed. I will never attend a science congress again in my life.”

Ramakrishnan’s statement was rebutted by Manjul Bhargava, award-winning mathematician from Princeton, who attended the ISC. The TOI quoted him saying that the current edition was “better.” Ramakrishnan’s statement also divided the scientific community over the worth and relevance of the ISC.

In yet another controversy on the day of the inauguration itself, the PM declined to award Vijnana Bharati, an RSS-backed group ostensibly promoting science in the country. The award was apparently to be given for organising the “largest science class in the world.”

Last year’s edition of ISC was marred by the controversy over the presentation of a paper claiming that Indians knew how to fly planes in ancient times.

This year’s ISC saw scientists from abroad hailing India’s contribution to particle physics. Male infertility was another topic which was discussed at one of the sessions. An attempt was also made to publicise scientific findings by women at the ISC.

It is unfortunate that such controversies are derailing the organisation of the ISC which also provides young students with a platform to showcase their experiments and allows them, along with the general public, to listen to Nobel Laureates and other scholars holding forth on important scientific discoveries and other issues.

space photo 1

By YKA Staff:

On March 27 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko set out on a mission to spend 342 days or almost one year in space to help researchers better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight. Now done with three-fourths of the journey, the astronauts are set to arrive on Earth on March 6, 2016.

Over the last 8 months, Kelly has carefully documented the expedition on social media using the hashtag #YearInSpace and shared breathtaking images of Earth from space. He has even initiated various Tweet chats (from space, beat that!), and shared some important information and learnings. Like how they experience day and night every 92 minutes, how being in a place you can’t leave makes you value your freedom more, or how the lessons from the #YearInSpace could help us with the proposed journey to Mars.

Here are 20 stunning photos shared by Kelly on Twitter. You’ll never look at the Earth the same way again!

1. An aerial view of the Earth.

2. The River Nile at night is “like a jewel”.

3. The majestic Andes mountain range.

4. When clouds over the Earth look like sheep.

5. The Himalayas like you’ve never even imagined.

6. The Suez Canal, actually 193 km in length!

7. The coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

8. Anyone else think of ‘The Creation Of Adam’?

9. A river literally cutting across the Earth.

10. The Alps in a never-seen-before light.

11. The Bahamas, almost like a painting.

12. Some hard truths as seen from space.

13. A glimpse of France and London, at once!

14. What a morning!

15. If you needed any more proof about the rapid industrialisation in China…

16. The Sahara desert.

17. Night-time in the southern part of India.

18. The Canadian Rockies, like a sheet of ice.

19. Festive feels over New Zealand!

20. The New Year from space!

free basics facebook

By YKA Staff:

The debate about Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’, the repackaged ‘’ has been raging high in the last few days. A chunk of Facebook users cried foul as the social network sneakily asked people to send automated emails to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), letting them know that you support ‘Free Basics’. Meanwhile, TRAI put a hold on ‘Free Basics’ till the body confirms their stand on Net Neutrality.

READ: The 10 Facts About ‘Free Basics’ That Facebook Isn’t Telling You

A number of influencers came out in support of net neutrality, explaining how ‘Free Basics’ hurts the very ethos of a free, fair and equal internet and information flow.

And now (29th December 2015), nearly 50 faculty members of the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Science have released a joint statement taking a stand against Facebook’s controversial Free Basics programme. They claimed and explained how Free Basics will end up limiting the freedom with which Indians can use the internet – one of the biggest sources of information in this day and age.

Read the full text of the statement below:

Allowing a private entity

– to define for Indian Internet users what is “basic”,

– to control what content costs how much, and

– to have access to the personal content created and used by millions of Indians

is a lethal combination which will lead to total lack of freedom on how Indians can use their own public utility, the Internet. Facebook’s “free basics” proposal is such a lethal combination, having several deep flaws, beneath the veil of altruism wrapped around it in TV and other media advertisements, as detailed below.

Flaw 1: Facebook defines what is “basic”.

The first obvious flaw in the proposal is that Facebook assumes control of defining what a “basic” service is. They have in fact set up an interface for services to “submit” themselves to Facebook for approval to be a “basic” service. This means: what are the “basic” digital services Indians will access using their own air waves will be decided by a private corporation, and that too one based on foreign soil. The sheer absurdity of this is too obvious to point out.

To draw an analogy, suppose a chocolate company wishes to provide “free basic food” for all Indians, but retains control of what constitutes “basic” food  ̶  this would clearly be absurd. Further, if the same company defines its own brand of “toffee” as a “basic” food, it would be doubly absurd and its motives highly questionable. While the Internet is not as essential as food, that the Internet is a public utility touching the lives of rich and poor alike cannot be denied. What Facebook is proposing to do with this public utility is no different from the hypothetical chocolate company. In fact, it has defined itself to be the first “basic” service, as evident from Reliance’s ads on Free Facebook. Now, it will require quite a stretch of imagination to classify Facebook as “basic”. This is why Facebook’s own ad script writers have prompted Mr. Zuckerberg to instead make emotional appeals of education and healthcare for the poor Indian masses; these appeals are misleading, to say the least.

Flaw 2: Facebook will have access to all your apps’ contents.

The second major flaw in the model, is that Facebook would be able to decrypt the contents of the “basic” apps on its servers. This flaw is not visible to the lay person as it’s a technical detail, but it has deep and disturbing implications. Since Facebook can access un-encrypted contents of users’ “basic” services, either we get to consider health apps to be not basic, or risk revealing health records of all Indians to Facebook. Either we get to consider our banking apps to be not “basic”, or risk exposing the financial information of all Indians to Facebook. And so on. This is mind boggling even under normal circumstances, and even more so considering the recent internal and international snooping activities by the NSA in the US.

Flaw 3: It’s not free.

The third flaw is that the term “free” in “free basics” is a marketing gimmick. If you see an ad which says “buy a bottle of hair oil, get a comb free”, you know that the cost of the comb is added somewhere. If something comes for free, its cost has to appear somewhere else. Telecom operators will have to recover the cost of “free basic” apps from the non-free services (otherwise, why not make everything free?). So effectively, whatever Facebook does not consider “basic” will cost more.

If Facebook gets to decide what costs how much, in effect Indians will be surrendering their digital freedom, and freedom in the digital economy, to Facebook. So this is not an issue of elite Indians able to pay for the Internet versus poor Indians, as Facebook is trying to portray. It is an issue of whether all Indians want to surrender their digital freedom to Facebook.

That the “Free Basics” proposal is flawed as above is alarming but not surprising, for it violates one of the core architectural principles of Internet design: net neutrality. Compromising net neutrality, an important design principle of the Internet, would invariably lead to deep consequences on people’s freedom to access and use information. We, therefore, urge that the TRAI should support net neutrality in its strongest form, and thoroughly reject Facebook’s “free basics” proposal.

Krithi Ramamritham, Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Bhaskaran Raman, Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Siddhartha Chaudhuri, Assistant Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Ashwin Gumaste, Associate Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Kameswari Chebrolu, Associate Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Uday Khedker, Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Madhu N. Belur, Professor, EE, IIT Bombay

Mukul Chandorkar, Professor, EE, IIT Bombay

Amitabha Bagchi, Associate Professor, CS&E, IIT Delhi

Vinay Ribeiro, Associate Professor, CS&E, IIT Delhi

Niloy Ganguly, Professor, CS&E, IIT Kharagpur

Animesh Kumar, Assistant Professor, EE, IIT Bombay

Animesh Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, CSE, IIT Kharagpur

Subhashis Banerjee, Professor, CSE, IIT Delhi

Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, Assistant Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Saswat Chakrabarti, Professor, GSSST, IIT Kharagpur

H.Narayanan, Professor, EE, I.I.T Bombay

Vinayak Naik, Associate Professor, CSE, IIIT-Delhi

Aurobinda Routray, Professor, EE, IIT Kharagpur

Naveen Garg, Professor, IIT Delhi

Amarjeet Singh, Assistant Professor, CSE, IIIT-Delhi

Purushottam Kulkarni, Associate Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Supratik Chakraborty, Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Kavi Arya, Associate Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

S. Akshay, Assistant Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Jyoti Sinha, Visiting Faculty, Robotics, IIIT Delhi

Joydeep Chandra, Assistant Professor, CSE, IIT Patna

Parag Chaudhuri, Associate Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

Rajiv Raman, Assistant Professor, IIIT-Delhi

Mayank Vatsa, Associate Professor, IIIT-Delhi

Anirban Mukherjee, Associate Professor, EE, IIT Kharagpur

Pushpendra Singh, Associate Professor, IIIT-Delhi

Partha Pratim Das, Professor, CSE, IIT Kharagpur

Dheeraj Sanghi, Professor, IIIT Delhi

Karabi Biswas, Associate Professor, EE, IIT Kharagpur

Bikash Kumar Dey, Professor, EE, IIT Bombay

Mohammad Hashmi, Assistant Professor, ECE, IIIT Delhi

Venu Madhav Govindu, Assistant Professor, EE, IISc Bengaluru

Murali Krishna Ramanathan, Assistant Professor, CSA, IISc Bangalore

Sridhar Iyer, Professor, IIT Bombay

Sujay Deb, Assistant Professor, ECE, IIIT Delhi

Virendra Sule, Professor, EE, IIT Bombay

Om Damani, Associate Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

V Rajbabu, Assistant Professor, EE, IIT Bombay

Hema Murthy, Professor, CSE, IIT Madras

Anupam Basu, Professor, CSE, IIT Kharagpur

Sriram Srinivasan, Adjunct Professor, CSE, IIT Bombay

K.V.S. Hari, Professor, ECE, IISc, Bengaluru

Ashish Mishra, CSA IISc , Bangalore

Shalabh Gupta, EE, IIT Bombay

Suman Kumar Maji, EE, IIT Patna

Space Earth WP

By Parveen Kaswan:

It is believed that astronomy is as old as human presence. All through history man has been constantly inquisitive about space and far-off stars. The creation of the telescope supported him enormously, which is an instrument that aids in the perception of far-off objects. Distinctive kinds of the telescope were utilized in relying upon the part of electromagnetic range needed to see Radio, X-ray, Infrared, Visible light etc.

Space Earth WP
Image source: WordPress

On 12th October 2015, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) tweeted a mesmerising image of Crab Nebula which is one of the brightest hard X-ray sources in the sky. The tweet marked a new scientific achievement; India is now just the fourth nation to have this sort of lookout in orbit. Space-based observatories are similar to a major telescope fitted on a satellite rotating around the earth in a settled orbit, and making observations in the unfathomable universe. Our own ASTROSAT, which India launched on 28th September is gazing the far off stars. According to ISRO, now “Astrosat would be looking at some of the black hole sources/candidates like GRS 1915+105, Cygnus X-1, Cygnus X-3 during the month of November.”

It is a well-known fact that earth is surrounded by a layer of atmosphere and this layer can possibly square X-Ray, Infrared and Ultraviolet beams. It can likewise distort/twist Microwaves and Visible light which has an immediate effect on the picture quality of ground-based telescopes. In spite of the fact that some of these issues can be rectified by setting observatories on higher elevations, furthermore utilising technological advances like adaptive optics, but they still have their limits. Additionally even space-based radio and visible light telescopes are complementary in nature to their earth based counterparts. As a space-based telescope won’t be affected by climatic twists furthermore by simulated or artificial lights, it will give us sharp pictures of space and remote cosmic systems.

Crab Nabula image
Image source: Parveen Kaswan

Though they have their particular problems, confronted by any earth circling a satellite, these sort of observatories at some point need essential rectification additionally which is very much a mind-boggling mission. And they have their own particular mission period if the refuelling part is not a part of the project.

Hubble telescope, the space observatory named after astronomer Edwin Hubble, is the best case which was operationalised in 1990 and now gives high-resolution pictures of outer space and galaxies. Its observation has also helped in unravelling the riddles of the universe and determining the rate of expansion after the Big Bang.

Indian ASTROSAT dispatch was initially planned in 2005, and then in 2010, lastly it was activated in 2015. The reason for delay was mainly technical in nature. The considerable thing about this venture is that its very participatory in nature as nearly 10 noteworthy research institutions including ISRO, TIFR, BARC, Raman Research Institute, Canadian Space Agency and so forth are a part of it. The objective includes “to measure the magnetic fields of neutron stars and understand high energy processes that occur in binary and extragalactic systems.”

The observatory is now rotating in an equatorial near earth, in a 650 km orbit with five instruments on board, covering Visible, near Ultraviolet, far Ultraviolet, soft X-ray and hard X-ray regions of electromagnetic spectrum. According to ISRO, it will study ‘astrophysical objects ranging from the nearby solar system objects to distant stars, to objects at cosmological distances; timing studies of variables ranging from pulsations of the hot white dwarfs to active galactic nuclei with time scales ranging from milliseconds to few hours to days.’

After some exceptionally successful ‘Technology Demonstrator’ missions like MOM and Chandrayaan, it is time that we pay attention to some scientific activities too. Astrosat mission gives an adequate extension to India for presenting itself as a major contender for the space market pie, which is worth 400 billion dollars. ‘Indian Remote Sensing’ system is today the world’s largest constellation of satellites in civilian use which is also a good source of income for ISRO. Its application is used in the socio-economic development of the country, from agriculture to town planning and from geology to marine fisheries.

Such feats are required to tap into Asian and African space markets by providing cost effective and reliable services. It is high time that India should also look beyond the horizon, deep into space, and Astrosat is a right step in the right direction.

FireChat Manila Students

By Marina Azcarate

Technology is a beautiful thing: with the small machines in our pockets we can buy a plane ride to the other side of the world, order a cab and some pizza, maybe even swipe right for a date.

But when communication is really critical, for example in the middle of a natural disaster, we have to rely on technology that is at least thirty years old. From New Orleans to New York, Kashmir, Tacloban and Kathmandu, we know how floods, typhoons and earthquakes can quickly wipe out the telecom networks that are our communication lifeline for survival. Then even the humble SMS doesn’t work. All that is left in those situations are devices like satellite phones and ham radios, too expensive to buy and difficult to operate for most of us.

FireChat Manila Students

We need a new way to share critical, life-saving information, in real time and on a large-scale even when all networks are down. People bake their own bread, grow their own vegetables and generate electricity on their roofs. Why can’t they also harness the power of their smartphones at the time when they need it the most?

The solution may already be here. FireChat, is a free mobile messaging app that works even when networks are down. It connects mobiles phones to one another through Bluetooth and Peer-to-Peer Wi-Fi and lets people establish their own peer-to-peer networks that work independently of traditional networks. These new types of networks can be used on an everyday basis for free communication and also as a lifeline in times of emergency when all other networks are destroyed.

The Philippines and French Polynesia are among the first countries to adopt this technology, with the support of their respective governments. Their goal is to create ‘citizen communication networks’ that are disaster-proof.

It is not a coincidence that both are island nations with fragile geographies. Those countries are taking a hard reality-check of the future and it is cruel. They have contributed next to nothing to warming the world, yet will pay a disproportionate price for the changing climate with unpredictable, stronger and more frequent typhoons and hurricanes. In a sense, they are already living in the future: weather patterns are becoming unstable and there is an urgent need to harness technology in innovative ways towards disaster preparedness at scale.

Copy of TyphoonWatch3Jeepneys are van-like trucks used everywhere in the Philippines to transport people. They are brightly painted and stylish. Passengers sit facing each other: ten, twelve or fifteen across two long benches. In Tacloban, we sat facing a man who was maybe in his fifties or seventies: it was impossible to tell. The look in his eyes was of infinite sadness. For a long time, we wondered what had happened to him, or his family on that terrible Friday in November almost two years ago when the city was devastated by one of the most powerful typhoons or ‘storm-surges’ ever recorded. The moment the storm hit, all cell networks stopped working and communication across the city became impossible. People could not be warned, could not be reached, could not call for help or even be rescued when help was available.

The Philippines are home to a vibrant community of civic leaders, weather experts, scientists such as Dr Mahar Lagmay and development practitioners doing brilliant work in preparing communities for disaster. Filipinos call it the ‘Zero Casualty’ paradigm. A crucial part of this ambitious effort is to pioneer new communication mechanisms that help warn populations in real time. We are honoured to contribute to this forward-thinking movement by offering a communication alternative that could become a lifeline in critical moments.

Disaster-proof communications are not just about ‘resilience’, they are also about taking charge: life is fragile in the face of the wild, primitive forces that are the rain, the wind, the sea, and seismic shifts. Yet everyone wants to feel strong and empowered. Everyone wants to be able to take care of themselves, of their family, their friends and neighbours when emergency strikes.

FireChat users in The Philippines and Polynesia are already acting on this principle. We predict that in the future, this aspiration will be shared everywhere in the world and that peer-to-peer technologies like FireChat will become ubiquitous.

About the author: Marina Azcarate is Head of Global Marketing at Open Garden, which is a pioneer in peer-to-peer mesh networking technology and the creator of FireChat, the first mobile messaging app that works even if there is no Internet access or cellular phone coverage. FireChat is available for iOS and Android at

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

By Anushk Mittal:

I knew if I fail I wouldn’t regret it, but the one thing I might regret is not trying.”

When I revisit my summer vacations, I remember my peers playing, traveling, and engaging in summer camps. My favorite pastime, however, was sleeping. For sleeping 10-hours a day, I was inevitably categorized as a sleepy head. While most people classify an 8-hour sleep as ample, my outlook differed, especially because of my inability to wake-up fresh at the alarm’s first ring. Most people view sleep to be just an absence of being awake and don’t realize the importance of sleep. Reports from dignified resources establish that most Americans, or for that matter people around the world, are not satisfied with their sleep quality. People often find themselves snoring over the morning alarm and wishing for more sleep. Most of us have experienced those nights when we just lie awake in bed for hours. It’s shocking to see that people know literally nothing about an activity they spend approximately 1/3rd of their lives on.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

We, programmers, are often known to solve problems. The tech geek and entrepreneur in me got the inspiration from this investigation about sleep. At the age of 16, during my summer vacations, I went on to explore this area. Being a newbie at hardcore mobile development, I found Objective-C quite difficult to decipher. Then, I found about apple’s new programming language, Swift, which was made specifically to design apps for Apple’s platform. This new programming language was the thing that I needed. Launched only a year ago, everyone was new at it, and was learning from one another. Swift is also a visually appealing language, and coming from a background in Java, I found Swift to be my language. I spent my summer vacations learning and mastering the language and getting familiar with the new reference frameworks. It was also the time when Apple unveiled the WatchOS 2 native applications, which opened a whole new platform of technology for developers. After school hours, I would do the coding for my application, and being an indie developer, I was not only the developer but also the designer of my app.

My vision is to bring sleep monitoring apps in reach of the common man. Today, wearable devices are a sensation in the market. The trend clearly reflects that soon most people would have one of those with them. With devices like Apple Watch, we as developers have the opportunity to access all the inbuilt sensors of the device that stay connected to the user throughout the day.

Being a high school senior, I understand the importance of sleep and thus I made it my mission to bring satisfying sleep to people across the globe, and SleepIsle is the first step towards it. Anyone with an Apple Watch can download the app. It monitors your heart rate throughout the night, making it easy for you and/or your doctor to analyze your sleep.

SleepIsle is a sleep tracker and monitoring app that effectively monitors your sleep along with displaying important sleep statistical data like the sleep cycles, sleep stages, calories burned while sleeping (yes, we do burn extra pounds off while sleeping). It also helps you improve your sleep efficiency by playing dreamy melodies to help you fall asleep when you’re in your lightest sleep stage. Moreover, SleepIsle helps you in waking up feeling fresh, by playing soft music in a 30-minute window. The app, I have developed, lets you be incharge of the 1/3rd of your day that you have mostly ignored till today.

Note: The author is the founder of SleepIsle ( You can download the app here (


By Abhishek Choubey:

You went to Facebook headquarters, did a Q&A session over there, Mark changed his profile picture to tri-colour saying that he’s supporting Digital India campaign.

People start thinking that our PM is making India’s presence felt all over the world. But Mark’s not a fool, he knows that supporting the Digital India campaign will indirectly let him promote in our country.

If you don’t know what is, let me explain.


As per Facebook: is a partnership between the social networking company Facebook and six other companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that plan to bring affordable access to selected Internet services to less developed countries, and facilitate development by connecting them through Internet, to the world.

Now the reality: is a Facebook proxy targeting India’s poor, i.e. giving them restricted access to Facebook and similar websites, including the websites that are under the campaign, for free. For other websites not under we have to pay much more.

Sir, we need Net neutrality, otherwise:

1) We will not be able to get access to all websites available on the Internet with the data plan we have.

2) We will have to pay, separately, to access the websites, ie. we will have to pay to access Youtube, Flipkart, even Facebook (if some service provider doesn’t let you access it, as of now only Reliance has agreed to give free access) and so on.

3) We will be paying to use WhatsApp, Hike, and such messenger apps separately.

4) We have to pay to use Ola or Uber or any other app, including games.

5) Even access to the IRCTC app will be subjected to payment.
The list goes on…

If there was no Net Neutrality, companies such as Flipkart, Snapdeal, and other Indian ventures wouldn’t have managed to get where they are (since Amazon was already in the market). Do you think people will buy a separate plan to access the upcoming startups’ websites they barely know about?

This will be a blow for startups, and the fight to promote and spread awareness about startups would become that much harder. They are the building blocks for the improvement of our country’s economy. If you want to turn the 8 trillion economy to 20 trillion, you have to maintain Net Neutrality so that people can access the websites available on the internet equally, so that people could use the new websites as much as the established ones.

The internet is responsible for innovation (directly or indirectly), by providing access to knowledge, and freedom of speech. And these are possible in large parts due to Net Neutrality, the idea that internet service providers give their customers equal access to all lawful websites and services available on the internet, in a single data plan, without giving priority to any website over another.

This is something that has let the economy enhance, and let people get connected to each other all over the world. Instead of, give free or low-cost Internet to areas that need it (as Microsoft has agreed to give.) Otherwise, the poor will only then get limited to access to Facebook, and the websites under, and not others. This wouldn’t let them connect to the world, and as a result they would have to pay more for accessing other websites.

Sir, please don’t support It will not help India become Digital, it will only let people become members of Facebook, and that will only develop Facebook. If an Indian made a social networking website, do you think people will pay separately to access it, knowing that Facebook is giving its services for free? And if you think so, you are our next KRK, Sir. How will our people start their companies effectively then? It’ll ensure that there are no new start-ups, and the entrepreneurs will fail miserably.

Please, Sir, let Net Neutrality stay. Do not allow in India.

A humble request from a common man from India.

E learning

By Shivani Chimnani:

Technology has managed to invade the church of learning- the classrooms. It has spun itself around the learning process, creating something novel and maybe potentially dangerous. E-learning is rampantly expanding and reaching remote parts of the world, replacing apparently outdated teaching practices, and so much more. The internet has become a vital, almost indispensable part of each student’s life. The emergence of the internet and other technology has been both productive as well as harmful. Its impact has been twofold:

E learning
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. For representation only.

The Better Part

Technology plays an integral role in our life, teaching us the unimaginable. The advent of the internet has changed the fundamental learning process in educational institutions, making children potentially sharper and independent. We are using this medium to bring children closer to world experiences and the global community.

School textbooks are essentially very brief and confined to very few aspects of majorly vast topics, and a lot of times, they are outdated and non-insightful. The internet gives school children an opportunity to learn much beyond the script of the government prescribed textbooks, to broaden their horizons with the mere click of a button.

We live in a time where a child does not have to wait till Monday morning Geography class to learn about the solar system, he can do it right there with YouTube and its exquisite graphics, along with a solid explanation. A lot of applications facilitate e-learning, teaching children the crux of varied topics in the most lucid manner rendering them smarter, even giving birth to prodigies. The internet is the immediate and most convenient tool for satisfying a child’s thirst for knowledge, it does not only answer ‘why’ but also what, when and how, followed by facts of world history. If you ask a student the shape of the Earth, be sure yourself, because it’s not a sphere but an oblate spheroid, which he/she must have learned online.

Further, the internet has helped myriad school students further objectives of social justice, to connect with other students from remote parts of the country, even the world, to fight for their rights (they know their rights, which is commendable in itself). In early 2009, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousufzai wrote a BBC diary to campaign against the Taliban’s hegemony which was denying education to girls. Yousufzai continued to use this very medium to advocate the power of education and to express Taliban’s growing influence in Swat which led to her gaining massive global support. The internet has done some serious good for many students.

For The Worse

Steve Jobs once said, “The most important thing is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can.” Unfortunately, the internet has managed to partially ruin the bond between teachers and students by reducing students’ reliance on their teachers. Today, if a student is doubtful of something, instead of asking the teacher, they prefer to google their query. Such practice is harmful because the internet might answer his question, but it won’t engage with the student and provide facets to ponder over, which a teacher would have happily done. The art of posing questions to teachers is gradually fading because a student seems to feel like a know-it-all because he possesses Google.

They often fail to realize that their teacher can provide them much more insight and analysis which will help them remember the theory taught for eternity. A concept taught by a teacher creates an everlasting impact which can maybe even change your life, something which our tech-savvy students are in dire need of understanding. A teacher not only endows us with answers but also with motivation, inspiration and intuition. Google can never subdue the power of teaching, forget replacing it.

Excessive reliance on the internet has to a large extent hindered the students’ thinking ability. The moment a student gets a class assignment, he/she googles about it instead of thinking over it, even slightly. The brain has stopped doing its job because of Google. This is especially harmful because students are not engaging in the most fundamental part, thinking. That’s the only aspect which separates us from other living beings, our ability to think. The internet has rendered our students dull, lazy and utterly dependent.

Change is inevitable. We may fear change, but we cannot stop it. Technology will seep into the education sector and make a powerful impact, but we have to find the necessary ways to strike a balance. We have to make attempts to make the best of both – human and technology. Education and the process of facilitating learning has to be rendered in the most effective manner, be it through humans or machines.

Image source:

By YKA Staff:

Digital India, the mega project of PM Modi, has been in the news again ever since he declared that he would be attending a Q&A session at the Facebook headquarter with Mark Zuckerberg. The project has a lot of takers in the Sillicon Valley, and why not.

China, with its 64 crores plus internet users is on a lock down from the rest of the virtual world. After China, India has the highest number of internet users and that’s when only a nominal portion of the population has access to the internet.

The leaders of the digital world in the west, in their unconditional support for the campaign, are being foresighted. Not only are they creating customers, they’re also making sure that those customers stay loyal only to them. If is to be taken as an example, people who use as first time users might not know about the internet beyond it.

This infographic will reveal the quantum of business that Asia Inc can give to the rest of the world.


Digital Landscape in Asia

Via Visually.

buzz aldrin astronaut man on moon

By YKA Staff:

In 1980, Dennis Hope began a business for selling land on the Moon, Venus, Mars, Mercury and one of Jupiter’s moons Io. He has now sold 611 million acres of land on the Moon, 325 million acres on Mars, and a combined 125 million acres on Venus, Io and Mercury! Can he do that legally? Well, that’s one for the UN to answer.

According to the ‘Outer Space Treaty’ of 1967, all celestial bodies are to be considered peaceful bodies. Yet, since 1961, mankind has been trying to reach for the stars, and reach first. India too has made large strides in space travel, with Mangalyaan, India’s space probe orbiting the planet Mars since 2014. But space and space travel is not just the realm of ISRO, NASA or other space organizations. The common man is also catching up. Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson is now offering flights into space for its customers, with actors like Ashton Kutcher booking their seat in advance.

This infographic shows how the world has evolved space travel over time and how different countries and people are still scrambling to be that one power with the maximum satellites and spaceships, ready to own the world above their own.


facebook dislike button

By Sharang Shah:

In a Question and Answer session (Q&A) last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company has been working on creating a ‘Dislike’ function.  The purpose of this button will be to express empathy with posts covering events that seem inappropriate to like, such as tragedies.


Calls for creating a ‘Dislike’ button have been around ever since Facebook first created the ‘Like’ button in 2009. The creator of the popular social media network said that hundreds of people have asked him about creating this feature over the years but he wasn’t keen on making one because he didn’t want Facebook to become a forum for people to up-vote or down-vote content.

What’s In A Name?

In this context, a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. The branding of the button will play a huge role in the way people use it. If Facebook were to name the button ‘Dislike’, it would probably be used for everything, but the intended purpose. Brands could use the button to down-vote competitor’s posts and limit their reach; people could use it express disagreement with posts on ideological fronts; and trolls could use it to do what they do best – ‘trolling’. Naming it a ‘Solidarity’ button may go a long way in making sure it is used as intended. However, there is always a certain level of uncertainty with these things and even the noblest aim could be twisted.

Your Newsfeed Is About To Change

The biggest impact, however, will not be on the number of trolls, but on your news feed. As most users may know, the posts appearing on your Newsfeed are anything but random. They’re selected by an algorithm that traces, among other things, your history and browsing patterns on the site, and processes those to show you posts that it thinks you will be most interested in.

The more likes a post has, the more likely it is to appear on your newsfeed and if a number of your friends are among the people who have liked the post, the likelihood of it appearing on your news feed increases even further. If a ‘Dislike’ button is added, it will probably have an opposite effect on the algorithm. Thus, the content you see will be shaped by your friends preferences like never before.

The Customer Is Always Right

The announcement may have made daily users of the social media website break a smile, but it would have definitely left brands and data analysts absolutely ecstatic.  The addition of a ‘Dislike’ button will have not only a direct impact on your news feed, but also an indirect impact on the content that is published.

Up till now, analysts with different brands and pages have only been relayed limited amounts of data on negative feedback of their posts. They could see how many people had seen the post but chose to ignore it completely as they could not tell whether such people were disinterested in the content or were repulsed by it. Only the opinion of the vocal few who took time out to comment on their disagreement could be heard. However, majority of users do not take their time out to actually express their disinclination towards a post. The ‘Dislike’ button would be a game changer in this regard.

Brands will finally have reliable data on whether their content is being perceived negatively.  This will most likely lead to a situation where irrelevant content will be completely removed and only content that the customer can relate to, will be produced. Thus, this is another significant stride in moving towards customer-driven content.

Despite so many advantages, some questions are more pertinent and still remain unanswered – Will users perceive this button as a ‘Dislike’ button or will Facebook be able to prevent that from happening? And, is user-driver content the best way to go, especially for delivering the news, as it can now be filtered and presented?


By Saima Noreen:

In the years since the world started going digital, one of the big changes has been that we don’t need to remember very much. Why risk forgetting a partner’s birthday or a dinner date with a close friend when you can commit the details to your computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet and get a reminder at the appropriate time?

Paul McCartney gave a useful insight into this in an interview over the summer. He claimed that back in the 1960s The Beatles may have written dozens of songs that were never released because he and John Lennon would forget the songs the following morning. “We would write a song and just have to remember it. And there was always the risk that we’d just forget it. If the next morning you couldn’t remember it – it was gone.”

How different to the way he records now then, when he can “form the thing, have it all finished, remember it all, go in pretty quickly and record it”.
‘I forgot to remember to forget’ John Raoux

With technology now well ingratiated into our everyday life, researchers have been investigating the lasting impact that it is having on the way that we learn and remember information. Some research has suggested that our reliance on technology and the internet is leading to ‘digital amnesia’, where individuals are no longer able to retain information as a result of storing information on a digital device.

In one study, for example, 1000 consumers aged 16 and over were asked about their use of technology. It found that 91% of them depended on the internet and digital devices as a tool for remembering. In another survey of 6000 people, the same study found that 71% of people could not remember their children’s phone numbers and 57% could not remember their work phone number. This suggests that relying on digital devices to remember information is impairing our own memory systems.

The Upgrade

‘Who you calling stoopid?’ Four Oaks

But before we mourn this apparent loss of memory, more recent studies suggest that we may be adapting. One such study from 2011 conducted a series of experiments looking at how our memories rely on computers. In one of them, participants were asked to type a series of statements, such as ‘an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain’.

Half of them were told that their documents would be saved, and half were told that they would not. Everyone was then tested to see if they could remember what they had typed. Those who had been told their work would be saved were significantly poorer at remembering the information.

In another experiment, participants were asked to type a series of statements that would be saved in specific folders. They were then asked to recall the statements and the folders in which the files were located. Overall, they were better at recalling the file locations than the statements. The conclusion from the two experiments? Technology has changed the way we organise information so that we only remember details which are no longer available, and prioritise the location of information over the content itself.

Group Mind

This idea that individuals prioritise where information is located has led some researchers to propose that digital devices and the internet have become a form of transactive memory. This idea, which dates back to the 1980s, refers to a group memory that is superior to that of any individual.

Hive talkin’ djem
According to this account, individuals can collectively store and distribute information using a shared store of knowledge. This store of knowledge means that individuals can access details that they may not know themselves by knowing that another individual remembers it, thus enhancing what information is available to them by communicating with other people. In the same way, individuals develop a transactive memory with the internet and rely on it for information by focusing on where details are located rather than the details themselves.

More recent research has extended this line of work and found that saving information on a computer not only changes how our brains interact with it, but also makes it easier to learn new information. In a study published last year, the participants were presented with two files that each contained a list of words. They were asked to memorise both lists. Half of the participants were asked to save the first file before moving on to the next list, while the others had to close it without saving.

The experiment revealed that the participants recalled significantly more information from the second file if they had saved the previous file. This suggests that by saving or ‘offloading’ information on to a computer, we are freeing up cognitive resources that enable us to memorise and recall new information instead.

In sum, anyone worrying that technology is wrecking one of our most important abilities should take some reassurance from these findings. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no cause for concern: for instance McCartney said in the same interview that the songs in the 1960s that did make it to the recording studio were the most memorable ones. So it is possible that the lack of technology made The Beatles better songwriters.

But it may be that just as oral storytelling was usurped by the written word, having digital devices to outsource our memories means that it is no longer necessary for us to try to remember everything. And if we can now remember more with a little help from our technology friends, that is arguably a great step forward. Rather than worrying about what we have lost, perhaps we need to focus on what we have gained.

Saima Noreen is a lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London

This article was originally published here on The Conversation in the Science + Technology section.


By Arati Nair:

The war of words between renowned IT industrialist, N.R. Narayana Murthy and celebrated scientist, Professor C.N.R. Rao is at a crucial juncture, exposing the lacunae in our innovation paradigm and industry’s contribution to the same, or lack thereof. With his barbed comments a few months back at the IISC convocation, Mr. Murthy had lamented the dearth of Indian scientific inventions, in the past sixty years, worth global acceptance. Though his opinion opened a Pandora’s Box among industrialists, innovators and the scientific community at large, an open verbal confrontation did not take place. However, the scientist in C.N.R. Rao did not take the veiled insult lightly. Now, in what is deemed a befitting reply to the jibe, he has highlighted the lacklustre role of industry in ensuring a competitive environment for innovation in India.


His article published in the journal Current Science was a strongly worded reply to Narayana Murthy’s claims in which he said- “It would not be entirely fair of me to ask Narayana Murthy to ask what the industry has done for the society other than making products and profit. It would be wonderful if Narayana Murthy and others collect a few billion dollars so that we can set up a university such as Stanford. I would be delighted to work full time to build such an institution without any remuneration.”

The price of innovation

In his controversial convocation address in July, Murthy credited western universities like MIT for having nurtured young minds to think out of the box. He extolled the virtues of scientific temperament, its diligent cultivation and the role of his own company, Infosys in devising the two revolutionary ideas for productivity of global corporations – the Global Delivery Model and the 24-hour workday- a modest pat on the back for himself, no doubt.

Mr. Murthy, like others of his ilk, failed to look beyond the smokescreen of westernized technical innovation. The long strides taken by developed countries are incomparable to the baby steps we have managed back home, but the lack of talent was never the cause. For a country plagued by poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, epidemics and climatic vagaries, the prerogative for groundbreaking inventions takes a backseat. The pseudo-socialist economic setup, partial to quick fix fiscal solutions, provides limited options for heavy public expenditure on science and research. In such situations, industrialists like Narayana Murthy can step in to bridge the monetary gap, taking a leaf out of the book of his contemporaries in the western world. While businessmen and industrialists contribute almost 40-45 percent of the funding for universities abroad, such symbiotic culture is yet to develop in India, where even the government’s share in research and development is a meagre 2 percent of the GDP.

Avant-garde trends at home

C.N.R. Rao has rightfully described the capitalist tendencies of Indian industrialists, whose sole contribution to public welfare has been the mandatory dues imposed as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). If only Mr. Murthy had chosen to broaden his perspective on innovation, he would have discovered a raging trend in small town India, with its dizzyingly innovative ideas. From an advanced investigation analysis and data recording system to electric vehicle manufacturer Ampere, the bylanes in India are teeming with fresh ideas at low cost without the aid of first world expertise. In fact, our indigenous technology is being adopted elsewhere while our skewed civic system leaves innovators hanging. A prime example of the same is India’s ‘Plastic Man’, who has invented a means to build durable and cost-effective roads using plastic. Sadly, his hard work is being used by the Netherlands while his nation turns a blind eye.

Ultimately, groundbreaking inventions have materialized in India over the past decades, sometimes in flashes, but are largely ignored as the industry that ought to absorb such ideas, has been risk-averse to invest in technologies that are not entirely profitable. Laurels such as the Nobel Prize may be few and far between, but our scientists all over the world are associated with path-breaking projects. Even Mr. Rao, who has worked diligently in the domain of superconductivity and carried out pioneering research that helped enrich the field, finds his work apparently unacknowledged without an approval from the West.

A difference of opinion that transforms the lackadaisical attitude of the government and the industry could benefit the weary research and development apparatus in India. However, a rhetorical blame game may not be in the best interests of the nation at large and the scientific strata in particular.

solar eclipse

By Shruti Sonal

Recently a news item dated August 22 has been creating an uproar on the internet, with its claims of a “Blackout” that will occur over 15 days during the month of November. Even as people had already started stacking up DVDs of horror movies and making cheesy plans for candlelight dinners at 12 pm, the news turned out to be a hoax.

solar eclipse
For representation only. Image source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Just how any article about a scary food habit begins with “Scientists believe that“, every astronomical rumour starts with “NASA confirmed that“. Of course, upon visiting its website, there was no official confirmation. A video about “emergency preparedness” by NASA official Charles Bolden that was doing the rounds turned out to have been recorded earlier in the context of natural disasters.

As The Independent pointed out, such rumours have often been triggered off on social media. Previously, the explanation given for a blackout was that of a “solar storm” that’d cause dust and space debris to become plentiful and block 90% of sunlight. The article went on to point out that although solar storms are a natural phenomenon, they are unlikely to create major disturbances in the Earth’s magnetosphere. To put it simply, they’d cause no more effect than ruffling your hair or throwing a flying bird slightly off balance. In one instance, NASA was forced to come out and debunk the myth of blackout caused by a “photon belt.

Further, to all those who have watched too many Sci-Fi movies and still see the possibility of this happening, I consulted an ACTUAL astrophysicist- Mr. Rajaram Nityananda to confirm this. Even in the scenario that Venus and Jupiter do engage in a “close parallelism“, it’s unlikely that heating up of Venus will cause disturbances on Jupiter. Firstly, Venus has miniscule levels of hydrogen and thus the magnitude of explosion mentioned seems scientifically not possible. Secondly, when the Sun, which has huge amounts of hydrogen and is 115 times bigger than Venus is not able to change the Earth’s atmosphere, the thought of Venus doing the same to Jupiter with a way smaller size and larger distance seems improbable. Moreover, the point that the explosion will cause “Sun’s temperature to increase by 9000 degrees kelvin in an instant” is a cause of concern. Any Tom, Dick and Harry who has done a project on global warming in school knows that a gradual heating up of the Sun is giving experts headache. 9000 degrees Kelvin at once? That’s doomsday stuff. (Alas, I have lost faith in the concept of doomsday after surviving 2012).

However, because all human beings are gifted with a healthy imagination, there’s no harm in picturing an actual blackout. India is likely to be spared, due to the divine light emanating from the various Radhe Maas et al. Other nations might use the opportunity to catch up to our population (and fail). Gulzar might find inspiration to write many more songs about the moon. Modi’s yoga programme will suffer a blow due to exclusion of Surya Namaskar. As streetlights malfunction due to heavy load, Kejriwal and Najeeb Jung will debate under whose authority maintenance of traffic lies. And I will just be sitting around with a grin on my face, watching the world descend into chaos.

the dark web

By Kabir Sharma

The dark web first came into mainstream knowledge with the FBI’s crackdown of the online drug marketplace Silk Road in 2013. There is lots of news about it once again: the much debated trial and life sentence given to Ross Ulbricht (Dread Pirate Roberts, founder of Silk Road) a few months ago; Europol starting a training program to catch dark web cybercriminals; rising interest in the encryption following Edward Snowden’s revelations on worldwide online mass surveillance; and Wikileaks once again accepting anonymous leaks on their dark web portal, after a four year long gap.

the dark web
The dark web refers to web content that exists on ‘dark nets’, networks requiring specific software to access. One such is the Tor (The Onion Router) network, which jumbles up IP addresses by randomly relaying the traffic between users worldwide. So if you, sitting in India, are viewing a website hosted in the UK, it could appear someone from New Zealand was viewing content from South Africa. The dark web forms a very small part of the Deep Web, which is all the content not indexed by search engines. This is estimated to be 96% of the web’s information, though it is largely just password protected databases like those of various journals and scientific organizations, private albums, intranets, etc.

Though it isn’t easy to study activity on the dark web, a 2014 study found the most requested type of content on Tor related to its darkest activity: child abuse, in the forms of child pornography and pedophilia. There have been arguments to explain why this could be a false result, including the fact that many of those visitors would have been child porn investigators; however the fact that it allows child abusers to work with impunity, is something even the staunchest dark web supporters find hard to counter. Still, it is important to note that the Internet Watch Foundation found out of the total 31,266 URLs containing child porn images online, only 51 were hosted on the dark web.

Other illicit things such as drugs, weapons and explosives, services of hackers and hit men, fake IDs and bank notes, are readily available on the dark web as well. However, the dark web’s contribution to such activities web-wide is again small. Websites selling drugs and other ‘dark web’ items are also far more on the regular web. The Tor Project claims only 1.5 percent of overall traffic on its anonymous network is to do with hidden sites, the rest of the users use Tor just to hide their regular browsing habits.

Surveillance, Whistleblowers And The Dark Web

The debate between those resolutely for and against mass surveillance by governments, fought over concerns of privacy versus security is an ongoing one, and one that can only be resolved if adequate legal checks and balances are put in place. For example, the passing of the Freedom Act in the U.S. this year, responding to the uproar that followed Snowden’s revelations on the NSA (National Security Agency)’s PRISM project has been a significant step forward. Snowden had revealed to what level the NSA was spying on millions of non-suspects, collecting material to potentially squelch dissent or intimidate those fighting to make corporate and state power more accountable.

In India, neither the Congress nor the BJP governments took parliamentary sanction for the Central Monitoring System (our version of PRISM) being enforced across the country this year. Present laws governing tapping, the Indian Telegraph Act and IT Act, were made before the concept of mass surveillance, and are not up to the task of providing the checks required.

In the meantime, the dark web has been providing an anonymous space to whistleblowers and political discussion forums alike. And they maintain a good presence on its pages, even in countries like China.

The impact of mass surveillance on individual expression and dissent is still unclear. One study found 75% writers from developed, democratic and ‘free-er’ countries to be self censoring their publicly made opinions. However, another found 60% respondents feeling surveillance would not change their tendency to publicly criticise their governments; with the majority of those who felt it would, saying it would spur them on to criticize more. The same survey however, found only 17% people supportive of mass surveillance covering all internet users worldwide.

While all of this is debated, adapting to the times, the ‘Snowden effect‘ is seeing an increasing number of people moving to methods to encrypt their browsing and communication through the dark web or otherwise. And big corporations like Facebook, well ahead of the curve, are already on their way to monetizing this. Facebook’s new service claiming to provide NSA-proof email encryption, and earlier move to become available through a Tor URL, though difficult to take seriously, are steps into an expanding market. And similarly, Facebook and others are holding on to their existing IM markets by standing up to governments wanting to disallow heavily encrypted services such as WhatsApp; all the while championing user privacy.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Saswati Chatterjee:

Satoru Iwata, Chief Executive Officer of Nintendo, passed away on July 11, 2015. He was 55 years old. His death was mourned across the industry, especially for many for whom his name was synonymous with that of Nintendo itself. Iwata took over Nintendo in 2002 and was the push behind many of Nintendo’s most innovative devices, including the Nintendo DS and the Wii.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

When the Nintendo DS first came to light, early in 2004, many questioned Nintendo’s decision to move away from their earlier, extremely popular Game Boy series (which would continue on for sometime after the DS was revealed). The Nintendo DS, with its dual screen and stylus was a novelty then, and it took the world by storm. It is the second best selling console of all time, beaten only by Sony’s Playstation 2. The Nintendo DS eventually became the successor to the Game Boy series and was eventually succeeded by the DSi (a more streamlined version of itself) and finally the Nintendo 3DS. All of these consoles have remained extremely popular in the market and Iwata was instrumental in carving out a niche for Nintendo in the gaming world.

Not only the handheld console, but Nintendo also broke ground in the home console markets under Iwata’s leadership. It introduced the Wii, a home console which competed directly with the likes of the Playstation 3 (Sony) and the Xbox 360 (Microsoft) and even against these giants, Nintendo was able to hold its own. The Wii has more worldwide sales than both of the above consoles and has remained extremely popular because of its broad and family friendly appeal. It was succeeded by the Wii U which became the first 8th generation console.

Iwata is also fondly remembered in the Industry for his contribution to the wildly popular Pokemon games. He worked on both Pokemon Gold and Silver for the Gameboy Colour as well Pokemon Stadium for the Nintendo 64, though he was not employed by Nintendo and initially worked for HAL Laboratory. It helped that Iwata’s background was in programming which allowed him to understand the nuances of the gaming industry as well as gaming itself. As Iwata put it, “On my business card, I’m a corporate president. In my mind, I’m a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

This simple logic and understanding took Iwata from strength to strength. If he was liked within the Industry he was loved within Nintendo, with the company flying its flag at half mast following the announcement of his death after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was a man who was not afraid to take risks, as shown with both the Wii and the Nintendo DS. All his risks did not pay off, as is evidence with the Wii U, but Iwata did not let this stop him and he soon unveiled the Nintendo 2Ds, a cheaper version of the 3DS for younger children as well as announcing Nintendo’s move to mobile gaming, a move which is likely to bolster Nintendo’s recent flagging sales.

In an industry vying for the next most popular game or console, he was a man who remembered what it meant to be a gamer at heart. He will be missed.

new logo fb

By Bhanvi Satija:

Have you visited your Facebook profile recently? Noticed any changes? I am quite sure you haven’t. Next time you log in, strain your eyes a little bit and concentrate hard on the icons that Facebook uses. There’s a slight possibility you will notice the change.

Image Credit: Caitlin Winner
Image Credit: Caitlin Winner

After a subtle change in their logo, which only the font-freaks must have noticed, Facebook has come up with new ‘friends’ and ‘group icons’. The design manager at Facebook, Caitlin Winner, recently shared her experience of the process of change in a blogpost on Medium. The post and the adoption of these icons by Facebook is nothing less than inspiring for all those concerned about gender equality.

In her post, Winner explains how she stumbled upon one of the photoshop files in the company’s glyph kit (stylebook) that represented people. “The iconic man was symmetrical except for his spiked hairdo but the lady had a chip in her shoulder. After a little sleuthing I determined that the chip was positioned exactly where the man icon would be placed in front of her, as in the ‘friends’ icon”, wrote Winner. She also mentions how the ‘chip in the shoulder’ was offensive for her (and possibly for many other women) as she herself is a lady with ‘two robust shoulders.’ Her first idea was to draw a double silhouette, with no hard line indicating who was in front. However, she describes that the icon looked more like a ‘two headed mythical beast’ if put in that manner.

The new friend’s icon shows the lady silhouette in front instead of the man. The chip in the shoulder is gone, and the silhouette has a new bob cut too! The male silhouette now has a smoother hairdo. What is important to note, is that both the silhouettes appear almost of equal size even when the woman is in front of the man and despite the fact that the female silhouette is actually smaller than the male one. Winner did achieve her initial goal of making both the silhouettes equal. She has also brought about a change in the ‘Groups’ icon on Facebook. The earlier icon was represented by a man in the center, and two people in the background – the right one being the silhouette of a man and the left one of a woman. In the new icon, the woman silhouette comes in front with two men silhouettes behind her.

Of course, Winner had her doubts about her actions. However, it all seemed to have worked out fine. She writes, “Timidly, I saved out a new version of the glyph file, not sure if I was breaking any rules and half expecting a bunch of angry designers to message me asking why I was messing up Facebook’s glyph kit. Instead, and somewhat magically, the new icons began to appear in new products across the company and our many platforms.”

Many of us need to learn and adapt what the Facebook office preaches – “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” In the fight against patriarchy and for a just and equal world, we must be pro-active and directly engage with the issue that we think must change. It turns out that such a self-initiated project is not the first at Facebook. Designer Julyanne Liang worked with engineer Brian Jew, last year, to give the non-American half of the globe an accurate world view from the notification icon. Since then they’ve added an Asia-centric globe too.

The change of icons is a small step and might even seem insignificant, but such symbolic acts go a long way in facilitating conversations around how we have been conditioned to accept the patriarchal order that we don’t even pay attention to such subtle reminders of the dominant worldview. With this move, Caitlin has become an inspiration for all those who resist gender discrimination or stereotyping on a daily basis. “As a result of this project, I’m on high alert for symbolism. I try to question all icons, especially those that feel the most familiar”, wrote Caitlin. I have been awe-inspired by her actions and she has reinstated my belief in the fact that resistance to discriminatory or stereotypical behavior is possible in any form we choose – including through our day-to-day activities.

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