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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Delhi in Davos

Indians interview Indians in Davos, while Brazilian President prepares to ring in Republic Day

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | New Delhi | Published: January 25, 2020 6:22:17 am
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev at World Economic Forum, Davos. (Photo: Isha Foundation)

Davos is back on our screens. Specifically, Indians in Davos are back on our screens, from Kamal Nath to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, all being interviewed by Indian journalists. The whole exercise could have been accomplished right here at home, in the studios of the National Capital Region, without the bother of having to buy international tickets and fill out those peculiar visa forms where they require travellers to declare that they have never supported terrorism, never committed war crimes and never stolen candy from a laughing baby’s mouth, to paraphrase Jethro Tull. For the international news from Davos, European services like Deutsche Welle and Euronews are generally more illuminating. Don’t miss Imran Khan’s interviews, in which he alternately speaks of the “extreme ideology” which runs India, and professes not to “know enough” about the detention and re-education of Uighurs in China. Actually, he had to feign ignorance to TRT World at Davos last year, too. It’s a tough neighbourhood he lives in.

Now, to space. C3PO would have loved this, for anthropomorphism in space is in fashion. In August 2019, the Russian space agency Roscosmos sent Skybot F-850 ‘Fedor’(Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research), who bears a passing resemblance to the Star Wars character, to dock with the International Space Station. Functionally, he appears to be a cross

between the Terminator and Robocop. Videos posted by Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, had entertained millions when they were run by CNN Tech, showing Fedor with a pistol in either mechanical hand on a shooting range, driving a car and doing pushups.

This week, Isro has revealed that our own pioneers in space, scheduled for launch in 2022, will find the trail blazed by an anthropomorphic robot named Vyomamitra, modelled on a woman. She is everything that Fedor is not. The choice of gender may have been actuated by the same logic that causes announcements in airport terminals, rail stations and the telephone system to be delivered in artificially generated female voices — instinctively, we perceive women to be reliable. Since anthropomorphic robots will accompany human crew on long space flights in the hostile environment of space, hearing a reassuring female voice could be more comforting than having a gunslinging robot pal on board.

Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro is to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, and is accompanied by a large entourage of ministers, officials and businessmen. And coinciding with the visit are reports of Glenn Greenwald, co-founder and editor of the “adversarial journalism” news site The Intercept, being charged by Brazilian prosecutors with cybercrimes, including spreading cellphone messages “that embarrassed prosecutors and damaged the reputation of an anti-corruption task force.” Sounds like a serious and condemnable act of reporting, doesn’t it? Greenwald has clarified that he was cleared of charges on the basis of the very same evidence two months ago, and that the present charge has been brought by a prosecutor who tried and failed to attack the head of the Brazilian bar association for criticising a minister.

Accused of being disengaged from the protests in progress in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal did an extraordinary takedown of Times Now in its own programme, accusing the channel of going on about Hindu-Muslim issues 24×7 because it does not have the courage to raise the question of unemployment. If it did, he said, to a cheering audience, the channel knows it would be shut down. Unstoppably, he spoke of a progressive dream, with schools and colleges everywhere, the inculcation of the scientific temper, when everyone has access to roads, electricity, water and sewerage. He has acquired the skills of a demagogue, the foremost of which is to be able to keep talking, no matter who or what gets in the way. Thankfully, his focus is civic amenities, and the method is to offer government as a service, rather than a Big Brother.

Speaking of engagement with protests, a debate seems to be beginning in the US about Clearview AI, a service with the world’s biggest people database, scraped off social media and other websites, which matches faces to provide all sorts of details, including names and addresses. It is being used for crime-fighting, since it dwarfs even the FBI’s database, which is based on official photo ID like passports and driving licenses. But the reason for disquiet is that the service may be released to the public in the future. The software which now finds stalkers may be used by stalkers to find victims. It is problematic even without a public release, if you consider the many instances where policemen were found video recording the Delhi protests. Identifying all associated with a protest amounts to deterrence. And why would the authorities need to make their own recording anyway, when there are hundreds of TV cameras there to put everything and everyone on the record?

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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