Economist 4/7/16

  1. At least 1,634 people were put to death by shooting, beheading, lethal injection or hanging according to figures from the human-rights organisation Amnesty International. This is a 50% increase on 2014 and is the highest number for 25 years, mainly due to a surge in three countries: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in which 90% of all executions took place. Actual figures are likely to be much greater. China is believed to execute thousands of people, but the numbers are kept a state secret.Of the 977 known executions in Iran last year, more than 80% were for drug crimes, and in Saudi Arabia—where executions in 2015 saw a 20 year high—it was around half.Pakistan carried out 326 executions following the reversal of a moratorium on the death penalty for civilians in December 2014 after the Peshawar school massacre.In America—one of only three developed countries alongside Japan and Singapore to practice the death penalty—the number of executions declined in 2015, as it did the previous year.Forty years ago only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty. Last year that number reached 102.
  2. As we have previously reported, Stanford University researchers recently unveiled what they billed as a cure for jet lag, using flashes of light. That treatment, though, requires exposure to perfectly calibrated machinery the night before a flight.Airbus’s new A350 XWB aeroplane has LED lights that can produce 16.7m different colour shades which, it says, can mimic the light effect of different times of day. When travelling east, the plane can expose passengers to brighter lights before dawn, making it seem as if the day has already begun, as it has in their destination. In the reverse direction, continued exposure to light in the evening can simulate the delayed sunset to the west.Only five airlines use the A350: Qatar Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Finnair, TAM Airlines (in Brazil) and Singapore. At this point, those carriers are using it just for luxury flights.
  3. INDIA has surprisingly few brands that are recognized abroad. Zomato, a restaurant listing service now striving to diversity, counts as an exception. It is trying to take its local business model global. It operates in nearly two dozen countries. Zomato, which is based near Delhi, started in 2008 as a listing service for local eateries.Since 2012 it has expanded to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), New Zealand, Poland, Turkey, the Philippines, America and beyond.Few other Indian ventures go down this route. One reason for Zomato’s overseas push was, somewhat ironically, its limited domestic market, says Deepinder Goyal, one of the firm’s founders.Investors, including Temasek, a Singaporean fund, smacked their lips at the strategy and have funnelled $225m to Zomato, valuing it at roughly $1 billion. After acquisitions abroad, India accounts for barely a third (and falling) of Zomato’s revenue, which is reported to have reached $30m in 2015.In October it sacked around 10% of its global workforce, which now numbers around 2,200. Much of the slicing happened in America, where the firm had spent over $50m to acquire and rebrand Urbanspoon, a rival based in Seattle.
  4. chatbots are text-based services which let users complete tasks such as checking news, organising meetings, ordering food or booking a flight by sending short messages. Bots are usually powered by artificial intelligence (hence the name, as in “robot”), but may also rely on humans.The timing looks right, because smartphone software is in flux. Download numbers are still growing, but the app economy is clearly maturing.A quarter of all downloaded apps are abandoned after a single use.Only instant messaging bucks the trend. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed, with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, leading the pack.
  5. As a result of these various developments, a new software ecosystem has started to emerge. Text-based services have been around since the dawn of internet time, but the birth of the bot economy can be dated to June last year, when Telegram, a messaging app with Russian origins and more than 100m users, launched a bot platform and a “bot store”.A few dozens startups exist. Some provide tools: Chatfuel is a web-based offering that lets users build bots for Telegram.Then there are firms which want to be the foundation for other services. Assist aims to be the equivalent of Google’s search box—to find bots. Another firm, Operator, hopes to become the Amazon of bot-commerce.No guarantee exists, however, that the bot economy will be as successful as the app one.The popularity of messaging apps suggests people will happily talk to bots. But much will depend on “killer bots”—hugely popular services that work best in the form of bots.As with apps, bots will need much experimentation to find their place.

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