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Google's Australia investment could be a big boost for the nation's A.I. scene – CNBC

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People gather for picnics beside the Harbour Bridge in the suburb of Kirribilli on September 19, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. Covid-19 restrictions have eased for people in NSW who are fully vaccinated.
James D. Morgan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

San Francisco, London, Montreal, Paris, and New York have all developed a reputation for being hotbeds of artificial intelligence research over the years.

Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two biggest cities, have not. But that could be about to change.

Google announced Monday that it plans to set up a new Google Research Australia lab in Sydney as part of a 1 billion Australian dollar ($729 million) investment in Australia. The lab will research everything from AI to quantum computing.

The move has been welcomed by AI researchers in Australia who told CNBC that there have been limited opportunities for AI gurus in the country over the years.  

Stephen Merity, an Australian AI researcher who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, told CNBC that Google should have launched Google Research Australia years ago, adding that there are many well-known luminaries in the field from Australia.

“They almost all had to leave Australia to get opportunities,” he said. “Those who stayed were under-utilized, including those at Google Sydney.”

Google works on a handful of projects in Sydney but the scope of the search giant’s research has been relatively limited compared to the likes of Mountain View, where Google is headquartered, London, Zurich and Tokyo.

Jonathan Kummerfeld, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, told CNBC that none of the big technology companies had labs in Australia until very recently.

Amazon opened a lab in Adelaide, while Oracle and IBM have set up AI labs in Melbourne. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have offices in Australia but they don’t have significant teams of AI researchers there.

“The more the industrial research ecosystem in Australia grows, the more other companies will consider opening offices,” said Kummerfeld.

“University departments have been robustly growing over the last decade as enrollments in computer science have gone up, and more faculty means more postdocs and more PhD students, but that’s a relatively small number of permanent jobs in the scheme of things,” he added.

New Sydney headquarters

Google’s investment will also be used to expand Google’s cloud computing infrastructure in Australia and fund partnerships with local universities and other organizations.

The investment package — dubbed the “Digital Future Initiative” — is expected to create 6,000 jobs and support an additional 28,000. It was launched at an event attended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison where Google officially opened a new Australia headquarters in Sydney.

“The announcement by Google is a $1 billion vote of confidence in Australia’s digital economy strategy,” Morrison said.

The investment comes after U.S. tech giants were criticized by Australian lawmakers earlier this year for failing to pay local news publishers for content that gets shared on their platforms. In response, Google Australia’s Managing Director Mel Silva threatened to block Google Search in the country.

Australia then became the first country in the world to make it a legal requirement that large technology firms including Google and Facebook, now Meta, pay for news content on their platforms.

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Modi's farm reform reversal to deter investment in India's agriculture – Financial Post

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NEW DELHI — India’s repeal of agriculture laws aimed at deregulating produce markets will starve its vast farm sector of much-needed private investment and saddle the government with budget-sapping subsidies for years, economists said.

Late last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced three laws meant to open up agriculture markets to companies and attract private investment, triggering India’s longest-running protest by farmers who said the reforms would allow corporations to exploit them.

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With an eye on a critical election in populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi agreed to rescind the laws in November, hoping to smooth relations with the powerful farm lobby which sustains nearly half the country’s 1.3 billion people and accounts for about 15% of the $2.7 trillion economy.

But by shelving the most ambitious overhaul in decades, Modi’s backtracking now seemingly rules out much-needed upgrades of the creaky post-harvest supply chain to cut wastage, spur crop diversification, and boost farmers’ incomes, economists said.

“This is not good for agriculture, this is not good for India,” said Gautam Chikermane, a senior economist and vice president at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

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“All incentives to shift towards a more efficient, market-linked system (in agriculture) have been smothered.”

The u-turn does allay farmers’ fears of losing the minimum price system for basic crops, which growers say guarantees India’s grain self-sufficiency.

“It appears the government realized that there’s merit in the farmers’ argument that opening up the sector would make them vulnerable to large companies, hammer commodities prices and hit farmers’ income,” said Devinder Sharma, a farm policy expert who has supported the growers’ movement.

But the grueling year-long standoff also means no political party will attempt any similar reforms for at least a quarter-century, Chikermane said.

And, in the absence of private investment, “inefficiencies in the system will continue to deliver wastage and food will continue to rot,” he warned.

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COLOSSAL WASTE

India ranks 101 out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index, with malnutrition accounting for 68% of child deaths.

Yet it wastes around 67 million tonnes of food every year, worth about $12.25 billion – nearly five times that of most large economies – according to various studies.

Inadequate cold-chain storage, shortages of refrigerated trucks and insufficient food processing facilities are the main causes of waste.

The farm laws promised to allow private traders, retailers and food processors to buy directly from farmers, bypassing more than 7,000 government-regulated wholesale markets where middlemen’s commissions and market fees add to consumer costs.

Ending the rule that food must flow through the approved markets would have encouraged private participation in the supply chain, giving both Indian and global companies incentives to invest in the sector, traders and economists said.

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“The agriculture laws would have removed the biggest impediment to large-scale purchases of farm goods by big corporations,” said Harish Galipelli, director at ILA Commodities India Pvt Ltd, which trades farm goods. “And that would have encouraged corporations to bring investment to revamp and modernize the whole food supply chain.”

Galipelli’s firm will now have to re-evaluate its plans.

“We have had plans to scale up our business,” said Galipelli. “We would have expanded had the laws stayed.”

Other firms specializing in warehousing, food processing and trading are also expected to review their expansion strategies, he said.

PERISHABLE PRICES YO-YO

Poor post-harvest handling of produce also causes prices of perishables to yo-yo in India. Only three months ago, farmers dumped tomatoes on the road as prices crashed, but now consumers are paying a steep 100 rupees ($1.34) a kg.

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The laws would have helped the $34 billion food processing sector grow exponentially, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industry group.

Demand for fruits and vegetables would have gone up. And that would have cut surplus rice and wheat output, slicing bulging stocks of the staples worth billions of dollars in state warehouses, economists said.

“Crop diversification would also have helped rein in subsidy spending and narrow the fiscal deficit,” said Sandip Das, a New Delhi-based researcher and farm policy analyst.

Food Corporation of India (FCI), the state crop procurement agency, racked up a record 3.81 trillion rupees ($51.83 billion) in debt by last fiscal year, alarming policymakers and inflating the country’s food subsidy bill to a record 5.25 trillion rupees ($70.16 billion) in the year to March 2021.

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However, while the federal government now has limited scope for change, local authorities “can opt for reforms provided they have the political will to do so,” said Bidisha Ganguly, an economist at CII.

Similarly, venture capital-funded startups have also expressed interest in India’s agriculture sector.

“Agritech, if it is allowed to take root, has the potential to enable a better handshake of farmers and consumers through their technological platforms,” Chikermane said. (1 = 74.83 rupees) (Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav; additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed; editing by Gavin Maguire and Kim Coghill)

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Bukele steps up El Salvador’s bet on sliding bitcoin; buys another 150 coins

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El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said the Central American country had acquired an additional 150 bitcoins after the digital currency’s value slumped again, enlarging his bet on the cryptocurrency despite criticism.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down about 30% from the year’s high of $69,000 on Nov. 10. Bukele said last week that El Salvador had acquired 100 additional coins to take advantage of the currency weakening.

Late on Friday, Bukele announced the government had stepped into the market again.

“El Salvador just bought the dip! 150 coins at an average USD price of ~$48,670,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

Until Nov. 26, El Salvador had 1,220 bitcoins.

In September El Salvador became the world’s first nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, a move that generated global media attention but also attracted criticism from the opposition and foreign financial institutions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday that El Salvador should not use bitcoin as legal tender, considering risks related to the cryptocurrency.

 

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Trump's Media Company to Get $1 Billion in Investment From SPAC – Bloomberg

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Former President Donald Trump’s media company said Digital World Acquisition Corp. has agreed to a $1 billion investment following the combination of both companies. 

Trump first announced the plan to merge with the so-called blank-check firm in October that would help enable him to regain a social media presence after he was kicked off Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. platforms. The new enterprise will be in operation by the first quarter of 2022 and plans to start a social media company called Truth Social. 

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