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The Internet Is A Right, Not A Technology

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When the pandemic hit in India, many of the country’s policies around vaccine roll-outs, online education and welfare services assumed universal Internet access and literacy. Yet, only 60 percent of households are connected, making essential services inaccessible to nearly one third of the population or more – a pattern of exclusion we’ve seen repeated around the world, and exacerbated in rural areas.

Since 2002, Ashoka Senior Fellow Osama Manzar’s Digital Empowerment Foundation has been building community-driven digital infrastructure across rural India. They have mobilized more than 20 million people to bring Internet connections and digital literacy to roughly 100 million people. Subhashish Panigrahi sat down with him to explore their plans to universalize Internet access as a human right.

Osama Manzar: Over the last 25 years, the Internet has changed from being something that’s nice to have in your pocket, to a necessity. And yet, half the world is still unconnected and most of those unconnected people live in India. To give you a real picture of India, some 60 percent of the country is online. The picture changes when we look at urban India, which is over-connected, versus rural India, which is largely under-connected. So, more than 60 to 70 percent of rural India is not connected meaningfully.

Subhashish Panigrahi: You’ve dedicated the last 20 years to this issue of access. Why?

Manzar: India moved very fast to making all essentials in life dependent on connectivity, whether it’s authentication through biometrics, e-banking, or e-commerce, the Internet has become a necessity in the last five to 10 years. Even though more than 60 to 70 percent or more of rural India is unconnected, their life is still dependent on the Internet. They can’t access food, health, and other essentials without connectivity. The only thing they get without connectivity is misinformation, and fake news. That’s the irony. People get rumors and hearsay but not connectivity.  That’s why it’s very, very important for the entire civil society, governments and corporates to understand the meaning of this dependency on connectivity. Connectivity or access is essential for people to exercise their human rights and harness new opportunities.

Panigrahi: Digital Empowerment Foundation has contributed to changing that reality in a massive way, bringing connectivity to more than 100 million people. How did that happen?

Manzar: The most important thing we’ve done is define our purpose not as connecting individual households, but by building community-level, village-level access. We get local communities to use frugal technologies, methodologies, and regulatory opportunities to create community networks. And we leverage existing infrastructure. For example, we build resource centers – public access points with lots of computers, tablets, biometrics, banking services, and education services available. Safe spaces where people can just walk in without hesitation. And these are managed by local entrepreneurs. So today, we have reached about 1,200 such locations across the country, where entrepreneur-driven, broadband-enabled Community Resource Centers are available. And 80 percent of the entrepreneurs are women, so they are also fighting the digital gender divide. Our experience is that wherever there is a woman involved, you have a better output, better accountability, better responsibility, and minimum problems. We also train barefoot engineers in bulk. People who are trained to build Wi Fi networks and solve internet connectivity issues locally. They can erect their own towers and find their own solution.

Panigrahi: And much of this, you’ve been able to scale through national policy changes, right?

Manzar: Yes. In 2011, we helped create the National Digital Literacy Mission – a national plan to ensure that every single household in India has at least one digitally literate person. We also helped the government and private sector create Common Service Centers across the country. These are village-level, entrepreneurially run kiosks to provide government services to the people. Another piece of good news came during the pandemic, when the government announced that you can now literally bypass all the bottlenecks of becoming an Internet Service Provider. So, any individual, any shop can buy internet and sell internet without having to pay for licensing fees. We had been working on this for years. This is the kind of scale I am talking about. We do not achieve this alone but by creating the policy environment and the entrepreneurship environment for people to do it on their own.

Panigrahi: What needs to come next?

Manzar: First, we need to stop understanding the Internet as tech. It’s a tool of necessity. For any developed country like India, where a large population is not connected, we have to stop relying just on the Ministry of IT to fix the access question. Why don’t we look at the Ministry of Health as having its own share of responsibility to connect all village health centers with video conferencing? That would make life so much easier for the grassroot level to talk to doctors anywhere in the country and solve their problems, because 80 percent of health access is about preventive health and not curative health – and that doesn’t require high tech solutions, just an internet connection. Same with education. We have 1.4 million schools, about 7 million teachers and roughly 320 million children. Why doesn’t the education ministry take the responsibility of making broadband Wi-Fi available in each and every school campus of the country. Why? We could apply the same thinking to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises, and the list goes on.

So going forward, we have a very clear-cut agenda to continue to make the unconnected connected. We are focusing on 100,000 villages, which are on the margins of connectivity. Another emerging agenda is addressing the problem of authoritarianism, misinformation, fake news, human rights violations, and so on and so forth, for those who are connected. We want to bring sanity and safety online.

——

Osama Manzar is the founder of Digital Empowerment Foundation, based in Delhi. Follow on Twitter.

Subhashish Panigrahi leads Ashoka’s Law for All in India.

This conversation was condensed and edited. Watch the full conversation & browse more insights on Tech & Humanity.

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Intel researchers see a path to trillion-transistor chips by 2030

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Intel announced that its researchers foresee a way to make chips 10 times more dense through packaging improvements and a layer of a material that is just three atoms thick. And that could pave the way to putting a trillion transistors on a chip package by 2030.

Moore’s Law is supposed to be dead. Chips aren’t supposed to get much better, at least not through traditional manufacturing advances. That’s a dismal notion on the 75th anniversary of the invention of the transistor. Back in 1965, Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore predicted the number of components, or transistors, on a chip would double every couple of years.

That law held up for decades. Chips got faster and more efficient. Chip makers shrank the dimensions of chips, and goodness resulted. The electrons in a miniaturized chip had shorter distances to travel. So the chip got faster. And the shorter distances meant the chip used less material, making it cheaper. And so Moore’s Law’s steady march meant that chips could get faster, cheaper, and even more power efficient at the same time.

But Moore’s Law really depended on brilliant human engineers coming up with better chip designs and continuous manufacturing miniaturization. During recent years, it got harder to make those advances. The chip design ran into the laws of physics. With atomic layers a few atoms thick, it wasn’t possible to shrink anymore. And so Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang recently said, “Moore’s Law is dead.”

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Intel showed how it could build chips with complex interconnected packages.

That’s not good timing, since we’re just about to start building the metaverse. Moore’s Law is vital to addressing the world’s insatiable computing needs as surging data consumption and the drive toward increased artificial intelligence (AI) brings about the greatest acceleration in demand ever.

A week after Nvidia’s CEO said that, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said that Moore’s Law is alive and well. That’s no surprise since he has bet tens of billions of dollars on new chip manufacturing plants in the U.S. Still, his researchers are backing him up at the International Electron Devices Meeting. Intel made it clear that these advances are may five to ten years out.

In papers at the research event, Intel described breakthroughs for keeping Moore’s Law on track to a trillion transistors on a package in the next decade. At IEDM, Intel researchers are showcasing advances in 3D packaging technology with a new 10 times improvement in density, said Paul Fischer, director and senior principal engineer in components research at Intel, said in a press briefing.

“Our mission is to keep our options for process technology rich and full,” he said.

These packages have been used in innovative ways lately; Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices announced that its latest graphics chip has a processor chip and six memory chips — all connected together in a single package. Intel said it collaborates with government entities, universities, industry researchers, and chip equipment companies. Intel shares the fruits of the research at places like the IEDM event.

Intel also unveiled novel materials for 2D transistor scaling beyond RibbonFET, including super-thin materials just three atoms thick. It also described new possibilities in energy efficiency and memory for higher-performing computing; and advancements for quantum computing.

“Seventy-five years since the invention of the transistor, innovation driving Moore’s Law continues to address the world’s exponentially increasing demand for computing,” said Gary Patton, Intel vice president of components research and design enablement, in a statement. “At IEDM 2022, Intel is showcasing both the forward-thinking and concrete research advancements needed to break through current and future barriers, deliver to this insatiable demand, and keep Moore’s Law alive and well for years to come.”

The transistor’s 75th birthday

The layers between chip circuits can be as little as three atoms thick.

Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the transistor, Ann Kelleher, Intel executive vice president and general manager of technology development, will lead a plenary session at IEDM. Kelleher will outline the paths forward for continued industry innovation – rallying the ecosystem around a systems-based strategy to address the world’s increasing demand for computing and more effectively innovate to advance at a Moore’s Law pace.

The session, “Celebrating 75 Years of the Transistor! A Look at the Evolution of Moore’s Law Innovation,” takes place at 9:45 a.m. PST on December 5.

To make advances required, Intel has a multi-pronged approach of “growing signficance and certainly a growing influence within Intel” to look across multiple disciplines.
Intel has to move forward in chip materials, chip-making equipment, design, and packaging, Fischer said.

“3D packaging technology is enabling the seamless integration of chiplets,” or multiple chips in a package, he said. “We’re blurring the line between where silicon ends and packaging begins.”

Continuous innovation is the cornerstone of Moore’s Law. Many of the key innovation milestones for continued power, performance and cost improvements over the past two decades – including strained silicon, Hi-K metal gate and FinFET – in personal computers, graphics processors and data centers started with Intel’s Components Research Group.

Further research, including RibbonFET gate-all-around (GAA) transistors, PowerVia back side power delivery technology and packaging breakthroughs like EMIB and Foveros Direct, are on the roadmap today.

At IEDM 2022, Intel’s Components Research Group said it is developing new 3D hybrid bonding packaging technology to enable seamless integration of chiplets; super-thin, 2D materials to fit more
transistors onto a single chip; and new possibilities in energy efficiency and memory for higher-performing computing.

How Intel will do it

Intel foresees voracious demand for computing power.

Researchers have identified new materials and processes that blur the line between packaging and silicon. Intel said it foresees moving from tens of billions of transistors on a chip today to a trillion transistors on a package, which can have a lot of chips on it.

One way to make the advances is through packaging that can achieve an additional 10 times interconnect density, leading to quasi-monolithic chips. Intel’s materials innovations have also identified practical design choices that can meet the requirements of transistor scaling using a novel material just three atoms thick, enabling the company to continue scaling beyond RibbonFET.

Intel’s latest hybrid bonding research presented at IEDM 2022 shows an additional 10 times improvement in density for power and performance over Intel’s IEDM 2021 research presentation.

Continued hybrid bonding scaling to a three-nanometer pitch achieves similar interconnect densities and bandwidths as those found on monolithic system-on-chip connections. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Intel said it is looking to super-thin ‘2D’ materials to fit more transistors onto a single chip. Intel demonstrated a gate-all-around stacked nanosheet structure using a thin 2D channel just three atoms thick, while achieving near-ideal switching of transistors on a double-gate structure at room temperature with low leakage current.

These are two key breakthroughs needed for stacking GAA transistors and moving beyond the fundamental limits of silicon.

Researchers also revealed the first comprehensive analysis of electrical contact topologies to 2D materials that could further pave the way for high-performing and scalable transistor channels.

To use chip area more effectively, Intel redefines scaling by developing memory that can be placed vertically above transistors. In an industry first, Intel demonstrates stacked ferroelectric capacitors that match the performance of conventional ferroelectric trench capacitors and can be used to build FeRAM on a logic die.

An industry-first device-level model captures mixed phases and defects for improved ferroelectric hafnia devices, marking significant progress for Intel in supporting industry tools to develop novel memories and ferroelectric transistors.

Intel sees a path to trillion-transistor chips with several approaches.

Bringing the world one step closer to transitioning beyond 5G and solving the challenges of power efficiency, Intel is building a viable path to 300 millimeter GaN-on-silicon wafers. Intel breakthroughs in this area demonstrate a 20 times gain over industry standard GaN and sets an industry record figure-of-merit for high performance power delivery.

Intel is making breakthroughs on super-energy-efficient technologies, specifically transistors that don’t forget, retaining data even when the power is off. Already, Intel researchers have broken two of three barriers keeping the technology from being fully viable and operational at room temperature.

Intel continues to introduce new concepts in physics with breakthroughs in delivering better qubits for quantum computing. Intel researchers work to find better ways to store quantum information by gathering a better understanding of various interface defects that could act as environmental disturbances affecting quantum data.

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3 ways emotion AI elevates the customer experience

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Technology serves as a way to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds. It connects us and opens up channels of communication in our personal and professional lives. Being able to infuse these conversations — no matter where or when they occur — with emotional intelligence and empathy has become a top priority for leaders eager to help employees become more effective and genuine communicators.

However, the human emotion that goes into communication is often a hidden variable, changing at any moment. In customer-facing roles, for example, a representative might become sad after hearing why a customer is seeking an insurance claim, or become stressed when a caller raises their voice. The emotional volatility surrounding customer experiences requires additional layers of support to meet evolving demands and increasing expectations.

The rise of emotion AI

Given how quickly emotion can change, it has become more important for technology innovations to understand universal human behaviors. Humans have evolved to share overt and sometimes subconscious non-lexical signals to indicate how conversations fare. By analyzing these behaviors, such as conversational pauses or speaking pace, voice-based emotion AI can reliably extract insights to support better interactions.

This form of emotion AI takes a radically different approach than facial recognition technologies, more accurately and ethically navigate AI usage. Customer-facing organizations and their leaders must raise their standards for emotion AI to focus on outcomes that boost the emotional intelligence of their workforce and provide support to create better customer experiences.

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Emotion AI is not a new concept or practice of technology. It has been around for years, but recently has gained momentum and attention as more companies explore how it can be applied to specific use cases. Here are three ways that customer-facing organizations can use voice-based emotion AI in the enterprise to elevate customer experience initiatives:

Increase self-awareness

Think of emotion AI as a social signal-processing machine that helps users perform better, especially when they’re not at their best. In the world of customer experience, representatives undergo many highs and lows. These interactions can be abrasive and draining, so offering real-time support makes all the difference.

These situations are similar to driving a car. Most individuals consistently perform driving fundamentals, but do not drive as well when tired from a night shift or long road trip. Tools like lane detectors can provide additional support, and emotion AI is the workplace equivalent. Not only can it offer real-time suggestions for better interactions with others, but the increase in self-awareness helps foster deeper emotional intelligence. Ultimately, when better emotional intelligence is established, more successful customer service interactions can occur.

Improve employee confidence and well-being

Customer experience is intrinsically tied to employee experience. In fact, 74% of consumers believe that unhappy or unsatisfied employees harm customer experiences. The problem is that showing up to work engaged and at our optimal efficiency every single day and in every instance is not a realistic expectation for employees.

Emotion AI can remove anxiety and self-doubt around performance by helping individuals through difficult experiences and encouraging them during positive ones. This added support and confidence promotes employee engagement and creates a space for employee wellbeing to shine. Any investment in improving work experiences or making workflows more frictionless is a reliable way to boost employee experiences and see ROI across multiple enterprise divisions.

Understand the customers’ state

Consider the driving metaphor again. While it’s vital to ensure a tired driver receives the aid they need to get home safely, the context makes the difference.

Call center representatives consistently multitask — conversing with customers while updating or identifying records, seeking to find a solution and managing inquiries promptly. Utilizing voice-based emotion AI to analyze the sentiment on both ends of the line can provide detailed insights needed to perform and connect. When emotion AI can identify customers who are “highly activated” with excitement or anger, agents are more equipped to take stock of the situation and find the best approach forward. Expanding situational awareness around customers’ mental states and analyzing the data can help enterprises consistently improve call outcomes.

Investing in emotion AI technology could not be more pertinent as we look to the future. Forrester’s 2022 U.S. Consumer Experience Index found that the country’s average CX score fell for the first time after years of consistent, positive growth. While a myriad of influences are at play, from supply chain shortages to the Great Resignation, the reality is that customers have grown to have higher expectations of the businesses they interact with, and it is no longer an option to underperform.

Finding opportunities to ignite emotion across the enterprise and use technology to improve service interaction is critical to customer satisfaction. It’s up to organizations to invest in technology that celebrates and improves emotional intelligence for continued success — and it starts with introducing technology like emotion AI.

Josh Feast is CEO and cofounder of Cogito.

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Copycats can drown   • TechCrunch

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a nuanced take on this week’s startup news and trends by Senior Reporter and Equity co-host Natasha Mascarenhas. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

To end the year, let’s continue to return to columns that I wrote that have aged, well, interestingly. In July, I wrote about how Y Combinator is building a Product Hunt, Product Hunt is building an Andreessen Horowitz and Andreessen Horowitz is building a Y Combinator. It was a not-so-subtle nod to how top institutions are trying to be accelerators, discovery engines, content marketers and check-writers all in one.

Enter the latest. Future, Andreessen Horowitz’s formal foray into tech media, is shutting down less than two years after first launching, according to Business Insider. To me, the shutdown is less about a venture firm failing to jump into the editorial space — the firm is still very much creating content and even building a new podcast on tech and culture as we speak — and more about how the medium is truly the message.

The whole allure of going direct as a founder and venture capitalist is built around assumptions. First, that you have something important to say. Second, you have to believe that you can package that content in a compelling way, consistently. And third, perhaps most importantly of them all, your important, well-packaged content needs to find an audience that trusts it.

It’s one of the many reasons that media is a hard business, and one of the reasons I’m not surprised to see Future shut down (despite the fact that the venture firm could, presumably, keep funding a version of it). Some think that there was an obvious advantage to the firm having a home to house smart content on its portfolio companies, but just because something makes sense doesn’t mean that it has the impact that an institution would hope for.

A16z has built a reputation around being a services-oriented firm. To me, the story is less that a venture firm with billions in assets under management failed at a plucky experiment. It’s more that, in the pursuit to be an accelerator, discovery engine, content marketer and check-writer, organizations are teaching us in real time what translates and what doesn’t.

We often think about the webs of venture capital in a conflict of interest type aperture — and there’s more to come on that angle in the weeks to come. But this week has me thinking about how the intertwinement of different trends, themes and products shifts as priorities do, too.

You can find me on TwitterSubstack and Instagram, where I publish more of my words and work. In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about executive turnover, red flags and good news.

Executive turnover and the art of conflict

Tech’s labor market has certainly raised many questions around the stability of certain industries and roles — and if growth can protect a company from having layoffs. The big news of this week was that Bret Taylor stepped down from his co-chair and CEO position at Salesforce, a month after losing his job as Twitter’s board chair after Elon Musk bought the social media platform.

But that’s not the only kerfuffle in town this week.

This week, DoorDash and Kraken cut portions of their workforce. BloomTech, formerly known as Lambda School, cut half of staff in its third layoff since the beginning of the pandemic. And on Friday, Opendoor CEO Eric Wu stepped down, to be succeeded by CFO Carrie Wheeler. Turnover is everywhere, both voluntary and involuntary, which makes me think a lot about the second-order consequences.

Here’s why this is important, via Brava Leaders CEO Karla Monterroso:

We are at the beginning of creating what multicultural institutions look like and how they will operate. I do think a lot of the turnovers that we’re seeing, whether it is the layoffs or the new management, means that people are coming in to create homogeneity in their companies yet again.

So, they do a layoff, and they take all the complexity out. They slice off the parts of the organization that created friction. And that friction is essentially what makes multicultural institutions more effective because they’re asking different kinds of questions. But a lot of the leaders that are coming in do not have the range to manage a multicultural organization or company. And because they don’t have the range for it, they just cut it out. Then that creates homogeneity because that is what makes a band of leaders comfortable right now. And we’re going to need leadership that is actually much more comfortable with complexity.

Co-CEO of Salesforce, Bret Taylor, speaks at the Vivatech show in Paris, France, June 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Image Credits: Thibault Camus / AP Photo

Are red flags really that hard to spot?

Equity also unpacked the latest blog post written by famed venture capitalist Bill Gurley — in which he lists out the red flags that investors should look out for when investing in startups. As you may be able to tell by our title of the episode, we certainly had thoughts.

Here’s why this is important: While I’m all for highlighting explicit mistakes that budding investors should avoid, Gurley’s post missed a key point — which is that many investors do know how to identify red flags, they just choose to ignore them in pursuit of “the outlier.” What will actually stop investors from backing the next FTX is to create an environment where conflict is prioritized over groupthink.

"Subject: Tropical storm in the beach paradise ResortLocation: Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico."

Image Credits: YinYang (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

[Insert good news here]

We’re officially at the time of year, and part of the news cycle, when I’m desperately searching for good news to highlight.

Here’s what made me smile this week:

Famous Golden Gate Bridge with buildings in the background in San Francisco, California, USA

Image Credits: Wirestock (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

A few notes

Seen on TechCrunch

San Francisco police can now use robots to kill

Elon Musk suspends Kanye West’s account for breaking Twitter rules

LastPass says it was breached — again

Instafest app lets you create your own festival lineup from Spotify

Here’s everything AWS announced in its re:Invent data keynote

Seen on TechCrunch+

Box reaches $1B run rate in spite of a quarter dogged by currency challenges

ChatGPT isn’t putting me out of a job yet, but it’s very good fun

Startup valuations are declining — but not consistently

Proptech in Review: 3 investors explain why they’re bullish on tech that makes buildings greener

As BlockFi files for bankruptcy, how contagious will FTX’s downfall become?

If you like this newsletter, do me a quick favor? Forward it to a friend, tell me what you think on Twitter, and follow my personal blog for more content. We only have a few more issues of Startups Weekly until next year, some come back next week — OK?

Stay warm,

N



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