The Pearl of the Indian Ocean—Sri Lanka

Not far below the Indian peninsula, lies in all its glory—the magnificent and glorious island of Sri Lanka. My siblings and I were looking for a week-long getaway and Sri Lanka turned out to be the ideal vacation spot for a luxuriant budget experience. The nation has a rich atmosphere that seemed to naturally draw one into its warm embrace. I shared this sentiment wholeheartedly as I touched down on Sri Lankan soil for the first time.

Ceylon, as it was known under the British crown until 1948, reflects its contemporary colonial fashion in synergetic coalescence with its own culture. The population primarily comprises a harmonious potpourri of three languages—Sinhalese, English, and Tamil. Several tourists from all over the world also make frequent trips to dip their toes in all that the country has to offer. As I took to the long and open roads, it felt quite similar, yet different to the Indian roads I was accustomed to. With long trees forming a cascade of lush greenery across the landscape, the drive from the airport feels like a road trip in and of itself.

The calm streets of Sri Lanka observed during the daytime.

Generally recognised as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, the beauty of the Kandy cityscape can be captured through the eyes of its exclusive viewpoint, amidst the winding roads. One can see the tropical rainforest hills, crystal-clear rivers, cascading waterfalls, valleys, and much more. Kandy also houses the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple that exhibits an architectural wonder at the heart of the royal palace. This temple is the namesake of Gautama Buddha’s tooth, said to be preserved across the ages, exchanged by the hands of several dynasties.

Tucked away in clouds of mist atop valleys and mountains lies Ella, undoubtedly the most aesthetic locale in Sri Lanka. The best way to travel to Ella is by train, an adventure of its own that treats one to a simply breath-taking view of the hilltop, bristling with lush foliage in the comfort of a luxurious coach. The train crosses the famous Nine Arch Bridge, where people can freely roam about the tracks and click pictures during brief periods. While waiting for the train, one can take a sip of the exotic world-famous home-grown tea along the hillside plantations—the country’s single largest export.

An angle of the traversable Nine Arch Bridge in Ella.

Walking through the streets of Ella, I was mesmerised by the quaint ambience the small village presented, which felt straight out of a children’s fairy tale. The topology provided for a plethora of experiences. One can hike up to Adam’s peak, where the primordial human from the Bible is said to have first set foot on earth. At the foothills, one can unwind with a zip-line through dense clouds of fog, making for a unique experience altogether.

On the way to the sunny beaches of Galle awaits a mystical boat tour just short of the Indian Ocean. As the boatman paddles, one can revel in the natural elegance with the temperament of wildlife ranging from endemic birds to monitor lizards—and the sporadic crocodile if you’re lucky! Apart from the gloomy mangrove caves, the boat also stops at a few islands along the archipelago, each with its own unique idiosyncrasies to offer.

Most of the exotic beaches of Sri Lanka can be found along the coast of Galle and Unawatuna. I felt rejuvenated as I stepped foot into the warm and fluffy golden sands of the seaside. The palm-fringed sunbed plays host to a variety of travellers and locals looking to relax and unwind as they feast their eyes on the sun taking a dip into the placid turquoise waters. Furthermore, the crystal-clear oceans allow for excellent visibility, making it a haven for scuba diving and snorkelling as one falls into the ineffable trance of the aquatic kingdom. A multitude of other water activities can also be availed to pass the time. When dusk falls, the idyllic ambience breathes life to the sands through a culturally vibrant nightlife—brimming with music, dance, and laidback parties.

The majestic Galle Fort, considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands strong against the test of time—including a calamitous tsunami in 2004—and serves as an important colonial hereditament. The adjoining Galle Lighthouse follows suit as the oldest lighthouse in Sri Lanka, still operational and guiding sailors to this day. Not too far away was the setting for one of my personal favourite moments—The Turtle Hatchery. I was taken aback by the magnanimity of the Sri Lankan locals towards marine conservation. Following a brief tour of marine life, I was given the gratifying opportunity to release a baby turtle into the ocean. This bittersweet moment left a poignant imprint on my mental scrapbook.

A view of the Galle lighthouse from atop the remains of Galle Fort.

Teeming with stories of lost ancient mythos, the masterfully crafted places of worship abundant in Sri Lanka ethereally call out to the religious soul. Be it Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, these houses of gods have been around for a lot of the nation’s spiritual history. The secularity rampant in the country is admirable and it anchors a society akin to that of Mother India. Gangaramaya Temple is one such temple that boasts a truly novel blend of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture.

Another prominent part of Sri Lanka’s colourful and exquisite culture is its flourishing gem industry. It is affectionately known as ‘Ratna-Dweepa’, or Gem Island, owing to the fact that nearly 25% of the total land area of Sri Lanka is potentially gem-bearing, making Sri Lanka one of the countries with the highest density of gem deposits.

At the heart of it all is Colombo City, the commercial capital and the largest city of Sri Lanka by population density. One can witness a drastic transition while heading towards the bustling city centre from the balmy tranquillity of the shores. Colombo is a sultry melting pot of modern life, colonial-style buildings, and monuments. The structural edifices such as the Twin Towers, the adjacent Bank of Ceylon, the Colombo Fort, and the Old Dutch Hospital, are architectural marvels inspired by multiple eras—most notably the British and Dutch. The bulk of the country’s major activities takes place here, such as concerts and cultural performances from all over the world. I would recommend wandering about on the old-world sidewalks to truly bask in the picturesque glory of Colombo.

The architectural variety prevalent in buildings across Colombo City [Image Credits: Getty Images]

Although the country was facing economic problems in light of the pandemic, it did not hamper my experience one bit. My one-week sojourn in the Sri Lankan enclaves will always occupy a special place in my heart, from the places I visited, to the moments I lived.

Featured Image Credits: BBC

Humanity’s Rays of Hope—China’s Artificial Sun

The human race has been overly dependent on fossil fuels for its energy requirements for centuries. Over the years, newer and cleaner sources of fuels have been developed, but even today, many countries rely on coal for access to cheap and easily accessible power. Although renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy have made their presence felt in a lot of regions, they are still a long way away from replacing fossil fuels as the primary source of energy for our power-hungry species. With multiple energy crises crippling various economies since the turn of this century and global demands for cleaner, renewable power rising in order to curb the effects of global warming, it was high time a serious investment was made into clean, nuclear power.

Construction of China’s EAST Tokamak reactor within the site [Image Credits: Chinese Academy of Sciences]

Although nuclear fission power plants have been operational since the 1950s, they are not the answer to the ultimate energy crisis, given the amount of nuclear waste they generate on top of the high risk of nuclear disasters.

Nevertheless, nuclear energy remains the most reliable clean source of energy the human race could dream of harnessing. Given the spotty safety record of nuclear fission plants, nuclear fusion seems like the perfect alternative to it. Not only is fusion much more potent than fission, but it also carries zero risks for an accident like that in Chernobyl.

Achieving sustainable nuclear fusion has been one of the longest-running endeavours of the global scientific community. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) was founded in 1979 with the goal of achieving sustainable nuclear fusion by the second half of the 21st century.

Why Is This Energy Required?

As of 2019, 27% of the world’s energy demands were met by coal, one of the most polluting energy sources in existence. Despite legitimate concerns about air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, coal use is likely to continue to be significant in the absence of concerted government policies. Overall, fossil fuels contributed to about 84% of the world’s primary energy consumption in 2019 in spite of revolutionary advances made in various renewable power sources like solar, wind, and hydro energy. They simply aren’t efficient enough to fulfil the power needs of seven billion humans.

Although relatively cleaner and much more efficient than fossil fuels, the fission reaction has its own issues. In this process, the nucleus of atoms of heavy metals such as Uranium is split into two or more smaller nuclei which releases a lot of energy, along with radioactive byproducts. The amount of free energy contained in nuclear fuel is millions of times the amount of free energy contained in a similar mass of chemical fuel such as gasoline, making nuclear fission a very dense and yet inadequate source of energy.

The 444 nuclear power plants currently in existence provide about 10% of the world’s energy. In order to meet current and future energy needs, the nuclear sector would need to scale up to around 14,500 plants, which is beyond unfeasible given the high cost of this process and low availability of enriching the uranium these reactors use as fuel.

The Process Behind It

Nuclear fusion is the process of combining two or more atomic nuclei to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. The difference in the masses of the reactants and the products is manifested as an enormous amount of energy. Our Sun turns 600 million tonnes of Hydrogen into Helium through nuclear fusion every second, releasing the energy that gave birth to life on Earth.

The most efficient fusion reaction in a laboratory setting has been identified to be the reaction between two Hydrogen isotopes: Deuterium and Tritium. This fusion reaction produces the highest energy gain at the “lowest”(about 150,000,000°C) temperatures. ITER aims to achieve a sustainable fusion reaction with the help of a tokamak, an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Inside this doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber, under the influence of extreme heat and pressure, gaseous Hydrogen becomes plasma—a hot, electrically charged gas. Plasma provides the environment in which light elements can fuse and yield energy.

Central solenoid placed in the heart of the reactor to initiate and drive the plasma during operation [Image Credits: ITER]

The energy produced is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessels. Just like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators. Not only is this process much more efficient than fission, but it doesn’t produce any radioactive waste either. In addition to that, the fuels required for this process are Deuterium and Tritium, which are much easier to obtain when compared to the enriched Uranium that fission requires. In terms of sheer scale, the energy potential of the fusion reaction is superior to all other energy sources discovered so far. A controlled, ideal fusion reaction would yield four million times more energy than a chemical reaction such as the burning of coal, oil or natural gas and four times more than nuclear fission.


The fundamental principle on which the reactor works is nuclear fusion. As opposed to the widely used fission of particles, fusion requires an inexplicably large amount of initial temperature to take place. This is by no means easy to achieve, especially considering the work environment of a laboratory.

It is equally important to maintain the plasma at a very high temperature, which happens to be extremely challenging given the fickle nature of particles vibrating with high energy in their plasma state. Since plasma is being contained in a controlled environment, any slight miscalculation or error can prove to be fatal. The hot plasma formed by nuclear fusion is capable of laying waste to entire buildings and melting human tissue on contact. As such, there is an undoubtedly high risk that comes with working in a laboratory with such conditions.

Another important aspect to consider, as with anything that has to do with a developing civilisation, is the ever-changing political climate. It is unpredictable as to how the Chinese government may choose to distribute their new-found energy resource, should it come to fruition. Solid diplomatic relations with other countries would ensure that the world progresses as one. However, such overwhelming power in the wrong hands or with the wrong political connections at any point in the future might lead to a completely polar outcome.

Hindrances To Its Development

The most crucial step of harnessing this energy source is containing it first. In order to do so, a material must be found or fabricated to withstand the high temperature and prevent any leaks or that may arise, causing explosions and unprecedented disasters. Wang Yugang, a professor of nuclear physics at Peking University in Beijing, stated that some radioactive particles produced by fusion reactions could not be contained by HL-2M’s magnetic field. “It is fine only for short-term operation,” Wang said, also insinuating that no man-made material could withstand the cumulative damage over a long time period. Furthermore, Wang adjudged that finding the right material may take several years.

Scientists are currently uncertain as to how they can go about keeping the reactor burning. A commercial reactor would need to run for years or even decades, and Chinese researchers are trying to find a solution at the Tokamak (EAST) in Hefei, which was built to make the fusion reaction last several minutes or longer. Another concerning uncertainty is the amount of heat required. The Tokamak is the only facility in the world with the capacity of simulating a heat ten times the temperature of the sun’s surface.

Moreover, in its current progression, the scientists have successfully managed to maintain a steady temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for a grand total of 101 seconds, which is no way near the required amount of time for it to be a sustainable energy resource. It additionally attained a peak temperature of 150 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds. The heavy funding from government grants to further experiments is something to keep in mind, considering that the long-term plan of the project spans literal decades in the making.

The Tokamak reactor breaking the world record by successfully maintaining a high temperature for nearly two minutes [Image Credits: CRUX]

What’s In Store For The Future?

Despite the challenges, the Chinese government is primed to proceed with building the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) as soon as next year. The experimental reactor, which could take about a decade to build, would use extremely powerful magnetic fields to contain the hot plasma.

Apart from EAST, China is operating the HL-2A reactor as well as J-TEXT at the time. This experimental reactor is a milestone in the growth of China’s nuclear power research capacities. This project includes the contribution of various other countries such as India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the USA.

China aims to achieve the commercial production of fusion energy by the year 2050, and it is suggestive that this country would believe in the idea even when others abandon it considering it a costly, risky and potentially hopeless cause. ITER has also been working on its own reactor in France. It is expected to be completed in 2025.

While the thought of the reactor being completed in a couple of decades seems like a distant pipe dream, one must keep in mind the giant leap in modern civilisation it will bring in. The project has received copious amounts of criticism with respect to its production, along with scepticism from the media as well as distinguished professors and scientists. Nevertheless, the news of China’s Artificial Sun provides a sliver of hope and respite in light of real-world issues such as global warming and toxic pollution. As Rome was not built overnight, it will undoubtedly take an immense amount of time and effort to usher in the new age of clean energy.

Featured Image Credits: Foro Nuclear

Rebooting Convenience—The Phenomenal Tesla Bot

Remember the Will Smith movie I, Robot? Elon Musk sure does, and he seemingly derived inspiration aplenty. The ingenious minds at Tesla are back at it with yet another mind-blowing concept set to completely change our approach to life. In all its glory, the Tesla Bot was unveiled in a presentation by a panel of members at Tesla’s AI Day event, showcasing a variety of the Bot’s features with its purpose entailed.

The Glorious Purpose

Contrary to the exceedingly unrealistic expectations purported by society, the Tesla Bot was only designed for “dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks”, as proposed by the panel. The robot, codenamed ‘Optimus’, stands at an average height of 5’8” or 173m. Owing to the parts being composed of lightweight materials, it weighs around a measly 57 kg. The robot can also attain a maximum speed of 8 kmph or 5 mph.

The display of the model is inexplicably an eye-catcher among the people. The slender bi-pedal humanoid structure emulates a sense of familiarity and looks slick at the same time. The body is silky white with a jet-black coating from the shoulder up, including the facial region. As noted by hundreds of internet geeks, similarities are abundant with the infamous NS-5 model from I, Robot.

The Tesla Bot prototype that was unveiled during the presentation [Image Credits: Tesla]

One of the primary functions of the Tesla Bot is to lift and carry heavy items across locations. To this end, it is said to be able to accomplish a deadlift of over 68 kg at a time, with an extended arm lift of up to 5 kg. Additionally, it has a carrying capacity of 20 kg, making it the ideal solution for transporting goods and belongings.

The artificial intelligence and tools used to run the Tesla Bot will be built around the very same one currently being employed for Tesla’s smart cars. The operations of the robot are further enhanced by the 40 odd electromechanical actuators embedded into the body. Moreover, the face will not just be an empty blank screen—rather, it will serve as a display for useful information. It will also be equipped with state-of-the-art autopilot cameras and multi-cam neural networks to ensure smooth and responsive functioning.

The recognition system and cameras built into the Tesla Bot model [Image Credits: Tesla]

How It Revolutionises the Face of AI

Society is becoming increasingly less complacent to advances in the field of artificial intelligence, and several ideologies are being embraced as a result. Tesla’s AI technology is generally considered to be unparalleled by that of other companies, with the success of Tesla products and services heralding its supremacy. The Tesla Bot is predicted to follow suit in the same direction and completely change the way we look at our daily activities.

Some people might have a notion that it is just a basic labour-intensive robot but rest assured that it is not just for carrying things. Only time will tell just how advanced the Tesla Bots will become with each new model, expanding its set of capabilities. Moreover, Tesla also aims to not have it operate with line-by-line instructions, but rather more humanely with voice commands used colloquially—like a helper buddy!

It wouldn’t be too irrational to expect a Tesla Bot to change your tyres, do the laundry and even complete the grocery shopping you’ve been putting off for too long. The AI technology will no doubt revolutionise the ease at which humans perform their daily chores efficiently and with minimum effort, simultaneously keeping them out of harm’s way.

Is It Worth It?

Of course, the thought of artificial life forms has always instilled a certain degree of fear and anxiety in human beings since the dawn of the technological age. Elon Musk himself acknowledged the valid concern put forward detailing the aspect of ethics during the presentation. While a hostile takeover of the human race seems unlikely, it can never be ruled out, as various forms of entertainment have shown us over the years.

However, the Tesla panel conveyed a sense of reassurance throughout their pitch that provided a repose to the malicious theories. In fact, they do have a convincing failsafe to this condition—the robot’s speed. It acts as a double-edged sword in that it could take a long time to accomplish simple tasks, but the average human can easily outrun and overpower it in case of any hints of malevolence.

Just as automation has rendered many jobs redundant over the last few years, there is a growing concern that in a couple of years or decades, the Tesla Bot may take over the jobs of maids and labourers, especially immigrants. This could potentially bring about a widening in the social divide and disrupt the status quo. In today’s political climate, countries are capable of doing just about anything to come out on top. Weaponising or militarising the Tesla Bots or any other robots manufactured by competing nations can produce chaos of a high order. Among other consequences, political tensions could get strained during the entire ordeal.

The global market trend forecasting a steep increase in AI sector revenue [Image Credits: Tractica]

Naturally, such a complex creation with a wide range of uses will not come cheap. For a good initial number of years, the Tesla Bot will mostly be owned by the most affluent individuals. Undoubtedly, this would further separate the divide between the rich and the poor. There is no certainty as to when it would be made commercial as well as the degree of it.

In spite of all this, some risks need to be taken for the greater good of humanity. Most of the aforementioned demerits portray a worst-case scenario, which need not come to fruition at all. The Tesla team has nonetheless done a great job in putting doubts to rest and generating a warm response from the public.

The Future Prospect

Netizens are full of mixed reactions in regard to the concept, with most of them turning to the classic spread of memes—not unlike Musk’s own character. As a matter of fact, Musk even snidely retorted during the Q&A session, “We hope this does not feature in a dystopian sci-fi movie.” As exciting as the idea of seeing robots carry out human tasks in the real world sounds, it will take quite a while for the products themselves to hit the shelves. Elon Musk announced that the team is still in the phase of gathering and assembling parts at this time. The final production of the first tangible prototype is estimated to be wrapped up only by late 2022.

Nevertheless, it is unpredictable as to what the Tesla Bots will be used for over the years. As laziness breeds invention, the Tesla Bot will undergo several prototypical changes akin to the iPhone series, adding new functions at each generation. Perhaps the most anticipated feature among these would be the cognitive perception of emotions, giving an extent of humanity to the lifeless hunk of metal.

Punctuality was never Tesla’s strong suit, with several promises made by the company not being met in actuality. For example, Musk tweeted that by 2018, self-driving cars would be able to bypass border limitations and be summoned across states. He also said that by 2020, Tesla would supply a million automated taxis on the roads. The release window of the Tesla Bot is mercurial in nature, and the entrepreneur’s vows must be taken with a grain of salt.

The thought of it all becoming a reality in the near future is as surreal as a Black Mirror episode. Who knows, we might get to witness a live robot check the “I’m not a robot” Captcha box one day. Tesla’s unwavering ambition to usher in an advanced way of life provides much-needed optimism in these trying times. The Tesla Bot is a cornerstone in the field of science—one which will pave the way for a brand-new experience for all of mankind.

Featured Image Credits: Tesla

A Brain New World—The Advent of Brain-Computer Interfaces

In 1924, the discovery of electroencephalography (EEG) initiated a radical domino effect that would lead to the birth of the brain-computer interfaces (BCIs)—a bidirectional bridge that linked the brain to an external device. Several technology companies across the globe have tirelessly worked to connect man and machine, applying fascinating scientific theories to experiments. With advancing technology around every corner, Elon Musk’s new venture, Neuralink, leaps the rest and uses impressive engineering to further improve on existing technology, making a huge impact in the world of BCIs.

BCIs in science fiction. [Image credits: penntoday.upenn.edu]

A Brief Timeline

It might be surprising to learn that research on brain-computer interfaces dates all the way back to the ’70s when the efforts made by the University of California (UCLA) allowed subjects to move a graphical object on a computer screen using a non-invasive EEG. This experiment subsequently led to the release of the first paper ever on BCIs. In 1997, esteemed Dr Richard Norman developed an electrode array with over 250 electrodes that could monitor neural activity. Less than a year after this, the first implant was placed in the brain of a paralyzed patient, marking an important milestone in neuroscience. Over a decade later, many companies such as BrainCo and Emotiv were founded to understand the human brain through body-machine interface (BMI) technology. This applied science has identified several useful applications in real-world situations such as assisting the visually/hearing impaired and getting injured athletes back up on their feetRecently in 2016, a 58-year-old woman, rendered paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease had successfully restored some of her motor functions using brain implants.

Neuralink was officially established in 2016 with the long-term goal of achieving a symbiosis between humans and technology. In an ostentatious public unveiling in 2019, Elon Musk, co-founder of the company, described the device as “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires”. It was not until July 2020 that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially gave the nod for animal testing using a preliminary prototype. A month later, the widely-anticipated trial was conducted on a pig, wherein it was shown that the pig could function normally after the implant was installed and removed. Such advances are expected to help communication venture into a completely surreal dimension, where interaction can take place via thoughts. While BMI technology until now focused on just one particular aspect—transferring some of the brain’s prowess to AI—Neuralink is trying to achieve a viable model where AI itself can transfer its overarching abilities to the brain. 

A public demonstration of the Neuralink device on a healthy pig. [Image Credits: Nerdist]

Chipping Into the Brain—How Exactly Does It Work?

The human brain is comprised of approximately 86 billion neurons which form a holistic network that achieves mutual interactions. They communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Every reaction generates a small electromagnetic field that can be harnessed by electrodes placed nearby, and subsequently be translated by a suitable computer algorithm. An implementation such as this would, needless to say, require advanced surgical skills beyond the capabilities of human hands. Hence, Neuralink has proposed a highly sophisticated robot that can carry out the complex surgical process. Around ten thousand electrodes would be inserted into the cerebrum with the help of hair-thin needles under a microscope. The process is estimated to take just a couple of hours, under partial anaesthesia.

The device will allow the wearer to communicate with smart devices, enabling them to send messages, watch videos, listen to their favourite music, and even make calls without phones, by simply using their minds. A more munificent approach to this application would be the improvement of healthcare services.

Attachment of an N1 implant of an estimated Neuralink prototype. [Image credits: Cnet]

Although a major endeavour in BCIs, Neuralink isn’t the only company to have made revolutionary progress. Other ground-breaking inventions such as neuroprosthetics, specialized pacemakers, and many others have paved a solid foundation for it. These utilize cutting-edge technology to optimize the functions of the neural networks that are beyond the scope of a human. In essence, different machines are used to execute simple tasks that the body is unable to perform. This is a blessing in disguise for many physically impaired lives. Still, a distinctly overt disguise nonetheless—when robotic limbs stand in lieu of flesh and bones, it attracts curious eyes and pitiful smiles. Some of these devices prove inconvenient for everyday applications, requiring a sizeable machine to be lugged around all day. Also, the mechanisms of many BMIs are programmed to accommodate only a predefined set of functions. They have finite flexibility in other domains of the body, as seen in cochlear and retinal implants. Those experiencing ineffectual auditory and visual sensations see a ray of hope, but at twice the cost.

This is where Neuralink steps in as a more feasible alternative. Through a microscopic chipset lodged inside the brain, the need for large, complex structures is eliminated. This also allows people to move about without overbearing machinery, offering resistance. It promises to overcome the limited body-to-machine interaction, with one tiny device ensuring holistic resolution of the entire brain.

With artificial intelligence of such caliber, humans may likely be able to tap into the full potential of their abilities, such as improved metabolism, hearing sounds outside the frequency range, and even seeing through walls—the possibilities are endless! Neuralink will eventually explore more user cases when the technology is deployed, but the primary focus will be to make sure the technology interacts seamlessly with devices.

Fatal Flaws

Despite its benefits, AI has always been surrounded by conspiracies, which also occupies a large chunk of fiction. Sci-fi storylines revolving around AI usually start as an optimistic venture which turns into macabre robotic colonization. Apart from this, the secondary plots see a gradual decrease in human labour—phasing out their creative thinking, the extreme splurge in resources, and the invasion of privacy. Even if the world hasn’t witnessed a computer-related apocalypse yet, AI has surely pulled off the other onerous feats. With AI—still a nascent field—as their parent discipline, companies like Neuralink that hope to release such products in the market are exposed to such concerns.

Along with the aforementioned issues, the human brain’s intimate involvement further complicates its ordeal.  Having the efficiency of a computer stacked into the brain seems like an awesome tool to have, but computers can easily encounter the risks of being hacked. Although a computer once hacked can be salvaged, can the same be said about the brain? It is imperative to ensure strong encryption to avoid any breach of security and safeguard people’s privacy and safety.

The usage of BCI might lead to adverse effects on the human brain. [Image credits: theatlantic.com]

Another glaring issue is malpractices by tyrannical governments to secure their obtuse agendas. It could further escalate political tensions between countries if the United States does not contrive an appropriate distribution model. In the distant future, if governments procure access to this technology easily, this can be used as a potent weapon for warfare. Tying into the brain hacking concern, this can be used to access and control minds to trigger a war between conflicting groups.

There are also concerns that it will drive the distance between the higher and lower strata of society further apart. Once this becomes commercially available, the privileged will have easy access to a plethora of knowledge. This may put them at a higher ground in the academic or industrial sectors compared to those who cannot avail of its benefits.  It may very well lead to volatile socio-economic conditions. On the off chance that it becomes accessible to all people alike, it may become infamous for being an indispensable tool. Like phones, extreme dependency on it can render unhealthy reliability which may be misused by some.

Neuralink is a stepping stone towards an unfathomable future featuring AI and BCIs at its absolute best. Moreover, it opens doors of opportunities in the field of BCIs for generations to come. Despite its limitations, BCIs promise a future of hope to all those people suffering from physical and mental aberrations. If maximum precautions are administered to its engineering, the risks associated with it can be further reduced. A profound interaction with this technology can transcend humanity beyond surreal boundaries, thrusting it into uncharted territory. A century ago, such inventions would never have been thought of as pragmatic. Now, with such inspiring insights into the world of BCIs, the sky is the limit to the endless possibilities the future has in store for us.

Featured Image Credits: Engadget

Sports During CoVID-19

“The first match in the top European Leagues after the pandemic, the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 got fans all over the world excited over the return of the sport. While there was no absence of fluid, attacking football, the stadium echoed stray shouts from the players, instead of the united, deafening chants of the Yellow Wall it was previously accustomed to. As Raphael Guerriero skillfully escaped the offside trap and finished with his left foot to essentially seal the game, the nonchalant celebrations that followed accurately reflected the current nature of football. The sport was back, yes, but not quite in spirit and passion.”

Players from Borussia Dortmund celebrate in front of empty stands, after they put their team in the lead by scoring a goal in the first Bundesliga match, which marked the return of football after the pandemic hit the world. [Image Credits: The Telegraph]

The world is in the grip of a deadly pandemic that threatens to wipe off humanity’s very existence. Citizens all over the world are concerned about failing economies, changing lifestyles, and the rapidly spreading fear of the outdoors. Around ten billion people, constituting the fanbase of the four most-watched sports in the world, are also worried that the sports industry might not return to its earlier glory. From a lack of investments to dampening of enthusiasm, athletes around the world face an uphill task as they adapt to overcome the new challenges hindering their pursuit of success.

The Dejection of Sports Enthusiasts

As countries around the globe impose lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, people are in search of various forms of entertainment. While TV shows and web series saw a massive spike in viewership and popularity, sports events could not capture the interest of their target demographic. Even re-runs of earlier contests did not keep sports enthusiasts hooked as they moved on to other shows.

According to the BARC-Neilsen report, between 14 March 2020 and 20 March 2020, impressions on sports channels fell by 69 per cent. The daily average time spent by viewers decreased by 59 per cent, and the daily average reach of sports events dropped by 29 per cent. This fact deals a shocking blow to the collaboration between various teams and their broadcasting companies and may have many fiscal repercussions in the future.

The Prospect of Business

Sports, elite or professional, have become increasingly dependent on corporate sponsors. In the present times, though, a dearth of live sporting events means no profits for sponsors, which is the basis of most of their income. Multiple reports have suggested that pushing back the Tokyo Olympics by a year will rake up costs of around £2 billion, aside from affecting the schedules of the various sporting events to be held in 2021.

A couple of women pose for selfies in front of the Olympics logo erected in Tokyo as preparations for the mega event got stalled due to the spread of the virus. [Image Credits: The Bangkok Post]

Keeping aside the broader issues at hand, various organizers, smaller sporting events that fall under the umbrella of hugely popular leagues, the support staff, and other businesses may not recover from these economic losses. Clubs in the English Premier League are estimated to lose as much as £750 million — a significant reason being incomplete broadcast contracts. Assuming a best-case scenario where sports activities do resume in the second half of the year, the whole line of activities from sponsorship to event management to strategic services would still stagger under the weight of substantial losses.

The Player’s Perspective

Players across countries are anxious about the current situation of sports in the world. The extension of lockdowns in various countries has provided the players with a much-needed respite from their hectic schedules. Many players who were injured before are now offered a spell to recover. The relaxation of their strenuous routines, however, may come at a hefty price—a loss in mental composure, which could scar many of them. Multiple medal-winning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles has stated that she does not doubt that her coaches and regular training will get her back to shape, but the psychological problems will be much harder to overcome. Players have voiced their longing to return to the pitch all over social media and are also continuing to train hard at home, fortifying their love for the game.

The problem gets more complicated at the grassroots level, where fresh, young talents are forged. Parents will become wary of sending children to sporting events and group activities. It could severely impact the unearthing of new talent in various sports.  Following the spread of the virus and the subsequent curbs on sports, India’s women’s cricket captain, Mithali Raj, opined that the present situation will make it harder for youngsters like Shefali Sharma-who was a revelation for India in the recently concluded T20 World Cup-to make a breakthrough into the international arena.

Safety First

Precautions are an utmost priority in every situation, and the field of sports is no exception. With the re-introduction of several sports, it is vital to ensure the protection of not just the players, but the staff and all the authorities concerned. As with safety measures found in day-to-day life, the players and staff should be checked for high temperatures or any symptoms of the disease before a game. The staff must also ensure to wash the benches thoroughly before and after the game, and the squad members should be seated one seat apart, following social distancing norms. Moreover, players must avoid pre-game handshakes in order to prevent unnecessary contact. Players should be encouraged to get their own bottles as opposed to sharing a water cooler, and are obligated to drive to the stadium instead of availing the facility of a team bus.

The Canterbury Bulldogs players seated on the bench during the second round of the National Rugby League [Image Credits: AAP]

Supporters are slowly getting acquainted with watching games from home and not entering the confines of the stadium. The number of ball-boys, assistant referees, and coaches should be truncated as much as possible to reduce further risk. Bundesliga, a German football league, has shown successful implementation of these protocols to bring back the beautiful game, setting a huge precedent for other teams and leagues to follow. Various sports associations in countries like South Korea and New Zealand, where the government has been efficient in combating the virus, have restarted their seasons early amidst precautionary measures. Other sports tournaments will soon be able to complete their respective seasons, after being required to abandon them midway with all these measures being administered.

An Unexpected Surprise

While sports leagues around the world have been comparatively dull due to the lack of atmosphere created by fans, the excitement generated till now has been unusually palpable. Very close games, league finishes and last-minute heroics have been the highlight of various sports post-lockdown. In the world of football, the race for the top 4 in the Premier League was the closest it had been in years. The competition for the spots went till the final day, with Leicester, who were projected to get the spot at 92% before the suspension, narrowly missing it out to Manchester United and Chelsea. Elsewhere, in Spain, Real Madrid took advantage of the points dropped by Barcelona, who were favourites to win the league, to unexpectedly triumph over their long-time rivals. Even the relegation battles in various leagues around Europe, especially in England and Spain was exciting as well, with most teams just escaping league demotion by an inch of their hair.

Lando Norris getting a podium finish in the post-lockdown 2020 Austrian GP, becoming one of the youngest racers to do so [SImage Credits: thesportsrush.com]

Another sport that had people at the edge of their seat was Formula 1, with the comeback better than everwith the first race of the new shortened season in Austria. On completion, the Austrian GP was being debated as one of the greatest F1 races of all time, and with a whopping 9/20 cars retiring, there was no lack of excitement. The race didn’t lack any drama either, as current world champion Lewis Hamilton was given a five-second time penalty for causing Red Bull’s Alexander Albon to spin. McLaren’s 20-year-old Lando Norris put in a stunning final lap of the race to ensure the first podium finish of his career. Since then, F1 has gone on to host one more Grand Prix in Austria and another in Hungary, which didn’t fail to enthral.

Even the West Indies tour of England didn’t disappoint, with the game going into Day 5, with both the teams fiercely battling it out. Eventually, West Indies couldn’t hold out on a draw on the last day of the Second Test, with England winning by 113 runs, in large part due to immense contributions from Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes.

The Prospect of Revival

Several sports associations pushed for a quick continuation to end the season before the tentative start of the new season, keeping in mind the revenues in broadcasting and other entities. Tennis fans around the world were disappointed, having witnessed the cancellation of their beloved grass-court championship at Wimbledon. A plethora of top-tier football leagues had advanced as far as training sessions pretty early and managed to bring their players to match-day fitness just in time.

The extremely intense competition in the NBA resumed on the 31st of July, with the Jazz triumphing over the NOLA Pelicans, and the Lakers winning over their local LA rivals on the first day, with the point differential in both being just two. Closer to home, with the pandemic situation in India still dire, the IPL is scheduled to be held in the UAE, with a start date of 19th September being announced. Amid a stressful lockdown, avid sports fans turn to highlight reels of nail-biting finishes as well as documentaries such as Netflix’s ‘The Last Dance’ to quench their thirst for sports.

Michael Jordan in a still from ‘The Last Dance’, one of the most-watched and critically acclaimed sports documentary in human history. [Image credits: Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images.]

In the very near foreseeable future, it is reasonable for fans to expect their favourite teams back in action, albeit the lack of a stadium environment. In these trying times, the unique ability of sports bringing people all over the world together is truly lamented more than ever. It is incredibly likely, however, that the sporting industry would re-emerge more robust and in favour than it already was before the lockdown. The respective federations, coaches, players and fans are working in conjunction the best they can in order to establish new protocols and guidelines to revive the sport one way or another. After a long hiatus, fans and players alike remain optimistic about their chances of experiencing the thrill and excitement of the sport that they love.

[Featured Image Credits: The Economist]

Connecting the World Through the Stars—SpaceX’s Satellite Program, Starlink

For aeons, the night sky has been a steady light for sailors making their way across the globe. Nature’s own constellations helped conduct them along the high seas. Now instead of staring up at the sky, voyagers can look down at their mobiles as the human-made satellite constellation, Starlink will guide users with their very own network. 

An establishment that stands at the forefront of human innovation, SpaceX never fails to captivate the minds of today’s generation. Their projects range from tantalising space cars to the colonisation of other planets. One such intriguingly ambitious project that seeks to revamp the internet, and the world at large, is Starlink. Constructed in the form of a satellite constellation, Starlink sets its sights on providing satellite internet access. The project was first announced in 2015 with the main intention to create the world’s most advanced broadband internet access at reasonably affordable prices. The Federal Communications Commission granted their approval for the project in 2016, allowing SpaceX to break into this trillion-dollar market. As of 22nd April, Starlink has 420 satellites in orbit.

SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, stated that the purpose behind Starlink was to meet the demands of low-cost global broadband communication. “We’re talking about something which is, in the long-term, like rebuilding the internet in space”, said Musk during the public unveiling of the project in Seattle. Additionally, Starlink serves as a base operation for funding SpaceX’s plans of an extra-terrestrial colonisation scheme in Mars, paving the way for a plausible spin-off in the upcoming years. 

Why is Starlink required? 

The innovation behind Starlink is highly relevant to the network problems faced by the population. As far as accessibility is concerned, this is of utmost importance as many families across the globe are unable to avail internet access due to being in remote locations that are in lesser proximity to relay towers. Creating a network above the stratosphere would ultimately eliminate the requirement of towers and would allow for the direct access of Wi-Fi. Currently, broadband services offer expensive packages at much slower download speeds. Broadband costs can range from $35 to $150 per month, whereas Starlink aims to provide a higher quality service at the projected rate of $80 monthly.

A trail of Starlink satellites as seen from Japan. [Image credits: CNET]

An In-Depth Look at the Concept

Keeping Starlink a cut above the rest is the internet that it delivers, which is without the limitations of laborious wiring and infrastructural blockades. The areas which previously found their domestic cable service unreliable or even unavailable at times would also benefit to Starlink’s broad coverage. Another salient feature is the speed at which the data travels through space, which is approximately 50% faster than it does through fibre optic cables, making it the fastest broadband service ever to grace the population. At present, fibre optic cables take the throne as the fastest data transmitting medium, but there still exist doubts regarding the cost and labour of laying down the wires. Along with this, the substantial lag in packet transfer hinders the speed of the service. The latter remains an issue for television companies that rely heavily on international live broadcasting from one end of the Earth to the other which Starlink dodges with its novel technology.

Starlink operates on a strict timeline to meet its goal, efficiently and within budget. A projected constellation of 12,000 satellites is expected to form the Starlink base by the year 2027, and these would be launched in batches over the months. To put this into perspective, the number of artificial satellites orbiting the Earth currently, excluding Starlink satellites, is merely around 2,000. Starlink aims to expand to near-global coverage of the world by 2021 rapidly. Each of these satellites can essentially be considered as a flying solar-powered wireless router. They are equipped with krypton gas thrusters based on the Hall effect that aid in station-keeping. A satellite apiece weighs about 260 kg and is roughly the size of a table, keeping it lightweight and compact.

A lesser-known ingenuity of the project is how it fulfils the necessity of keeping space clean. The satellite is integrated with a debris-tracking system that enables it to avoid any sort of collisions, thus making it more autonomous, reliable, and less prone to human error. Starlink meets the ecological industry standards while also performing a self-cleaning procedure on-orbit. At the expiry of a satellite’s lifespan, the onboard ion propulsion system is employed to deorbit the outpost over a small period. In the final model, every Starlink spacecraft will link to four others, and the resultant will beam data to the surface of the Earth at nearly the speed of light. 

Possibly the most interesting bit of technology onboard every satellite is a set of lasers to be used for the salient job of “backhaul” communications. This is the ability to link nearby satellites together optically to find a path between any two ground stations. Rather than sending internet signals through electric cables, which must be physically installed to scope out far-fetched places, satellite internet works by beaming information through the vacuum of space. User terminals smaller than a pizza box would then need to be installed at households or buildings to receive the relayed information. 

A typical Starlink satellite design. [Image Credits: Spacenews]

Challenges Faced Along the Way

While the services provided by Starlink may seem like a deus ex machina to the people, a few limitations obscure the future of the project. The most agitated entity is the astronomical society that considers the bright bodies of the satellites as a hindrance to their scientific observations. The autonomous movement of the satellites per their programming makes it an impossible challenge for the astronomers to predict their movement to change their scheduling. Space exploration, as a whole, is adversely hampered as a result. To combat this, a reflectance-reducing coating, DarkSat, is applied to the satellites which makes them nearly invisible to the human purview. Considering a source of transmission of high altitude such as Starlink, the weather also plays an essential role in determining the smooth connection between man and machine. Unfavourable weather conditions can, at times, disrupt the transmission and reduce the overall broadband quality. A significant factor that cannot be disregarded is that areas with high population are prone to overloading of bandwidth, which affects everyone sharing the bandwidth as they would witness a slower Wi-Fi.

On a global scale, the great power of hosting the fastest internet provider in the world does indeed come with great responsibility. Amazon, OneWeb, and Telesat are few companies that are also working on conceptualising their constellations while Google is looking to invest billions in the gamble. The London based firm OneWeb had planned a network of 648 satellites, having already launched 74 of them. Regrettably, the company filed for bankruptcy on 27th March due to a severe cash crunch, blaming the unceasing pandemic for their woes. At present, going head-to-head with Elon Musk is Jeff Bezos who plans to launch Amazon’s satellite constellation. Project Kuiper will entail a constellation of 3236 satellites, though none have been put into orbit yet. Along with these companies, Facebook, Boeing, and Telesat have also announced their intention of joining this new age space race. “This is probably one of the most challenging projects we have undertaken. It’ll cost the company about $10 billion or more to deploy this system”, said Gwynne Shotwell, the COO of SpaceX.

A regular Starlink satellite (left) compared to one coated with DarkSat reflectors (right). [Image Credits: SatTrackCam]

Hope for a Better Future

The satellite competition has never been more fierce with SpaceX at the helm of it all. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not deterred SpaceX’s efforts to launch their constellation. The company has revealed plans to start private beta testing in three months and public beta testing in six.  Starlink is expected to be fully operational by the turn of the decade and may even cumulate up to 40,000 satellites in the event of a hit. Elon Musk remains relentless in his efforts to reach out to the public and is also working on ironing out the aesthetic appeal of the product. At the moment, there is only speculation as to the data cap, the cost of the package, and the effect of net neutrality on the provision. With a growing demand for localised, low-latency, and high-speed broadband at reasonable prices, Starlink may pave the way to a revolution in the technology industry. This accomplishment could kickstart the process of extra-terrestrial colonisation as always envisioned, and we may perhaps one day see ourselves asking for the Wi-Fi password on Mars.

Featured Image Credits: Ars Technica

Connecting With the Past—A Tech Talk by Tanay Pratap

A curious bunch of thirty-odd students interested in the various aspects of technology convened in the illustrious MIT KEF Research and Development Centre on 11th March. Tanay Pratap, an alumnus of MIT now working as a web developer in Microsoft gave a seminar in the form of an interactive question-answer session. The talk, organised by IOSD, was conducted over a video call in one of the rooms as Tanay took time off his busy schedule to provide hands-on pragmatic advice to the budding protégés.

A mic was passed around to those who had questions and Tanay addressed the answers to the entire audience. He explained that he foresees a lot of potential in his area of expertise and reassured the listeners that he is just another engineer working at Microsoft. He then went on to speak about the clear-cut definition and development of the term ‘Internet of Things’, and advocated the importance of learning the business facet of jobs as well. Tanay resonated with the audience’s struggles and counselled them on what to do and what not to do.

Tanay followed this up with an explanation on how he arrived at a job in Microsoft, stating that one must go deeper into their area of interest after testing the waters on all the options available. He backed this up with recommendations to participate in technical events and quizzes, talk to the professors and seniors, and digest material that isn’t taught in class. He answered questions based on various spheres of job opportunities such as game development, data science artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, stating the current scope in the market for each and shedding light on the pros and cons.

Tanay was successfully able to grasp the audience’s attention throughout the talk owing to his ease in explanation and several years of experience. He conversed with each student in a congenial manner and related to fellow engineers using their lingo. His unique and charming idiosyncrasy made the talk both informative and amusing at the same time. “I have never done web development before and I was still able to grasp the basics. It was nice to talk to someone who had been through the same things as we did. His advice made me think about my career a lot ”, explained Nihal Dias, one of the listeners. At the end of the talk, the audience left the room with a lot more knowledge than they came in with.


Featured image credits : www.home-designing.com

When Engineering Meets Creativity — Innovation Fest 2020

The MIT Innovation Fest sought to challenge the intellectual creativity of students. It was conducted in the aptly suited Innovation Center on 7th February. The congregation was joined by honorary chief guests, Dr. Girish Rao and Mr. Chandrashekar Shetty as well as the director, Dr. Srikanth Rao. The inauguration of the event began with an insightful speech from the technical secretary, Ms. Ankita Modi.

The respected dignitaries proceeded to light the lamps, followed by individually astute speeches from the chief guests which envisioned a future of sophisticated yet novel ideas to benefit the society we live in, that set the stage for the seven teams to present their projects. A vote of thanks succeeded by a memento to the judges shortly concluded the inauguration as the eager participants  waited in anticipation. Following the inauguration, the judges began their assessment of each project.

The dignitaries seated during the inauguration. [Image credits: The Photography Club]

The team h3lloworld.py created an effective and simplistic algorithm to take feedback from company portals, wherein the rating system isn’t thoroughly established to classify the reviews as either positive, negative, or neutral. This provides an insight into a product’s output whilst also indefinitely simplifying the employee’s job. Code Linguists designed a multi-lingual and interactive user-friendly mobile application framework for the local farmers to ascertain data regarding location, weather, soil, crops, fertilizers, prices, etc. on a certain plot of land at the tip of their fingers.

Having identified an important factor affecting today’s population, an aspiring first-year student single-handedly conceptualized Prana, a mask capable of filtering out very minute particles without causing any breathing issues. SecuriPal was an exemplary pioneering piece of technology made by one of the teams that essentially combated the increasing problems about burgling and break-ins. By eliminating the need for storage devices, this device performs surveillance as and when a motion sensor is set off.

A functional prototype of an electrical vehicle by RevX. [Image Credits: The Photography Club]

A zealous duo, Rev X, in the ballpark of mechanical interest proposed an avant-garde alternative to internal combustion engines causing vehicular pollution. The team further demonstrated the working of an electrical engine manufactured in a two-wheeler with the aid of a live prototype. Virtual Dietician was yet another extraordinary web-based application that performed a multitude of functions such as calculation of BMI, curation of charts tailored to a person’s diet as well as evaluation of the calories present in food.

One of the teams ambitiously brandished two separate ideas. The first one was Ecomie Tiles, an eco-friendly and cost-effective tile manufacturing concept intent on using the non-renewable aspect of plastic to mould it into various designs for multiple applications. The other one was Ampop, which sought to do away from nurses in hospitals being affected by the improper breaking of ampoules to administer injections by creating a sleek plastic tool to help break open the ampoule.

Ecomie Tiles on display.  [Image credits: The Photography Club]

“All the propositions were truly fascinating. It was nice to witness participation from first-year students as well. Innovation is the need of the hour after all.”, exclaimed Samyuktha Raj, the event’s organizer. All things considered, the projects on display deeply impressed the judges as they relished the thought of such creative and thought-provoking ideas paving the way to a brighter and better future.

Featured Image Credits: The Photography Club

Netflix—Are You Still Watching?

In a world heavily supplemented by an influx of technology with various applications, the television industry is one of the many key players in the entertainment collective. The current leading entity in this bid, with 158 million subscribers worldwide, is Netflix. An American media-services provider that offers a wide range of television programmes and movies, Netflix’s content is specifically curated to the interests of each viewer. This model of viewing content has risen to become the norm and has replaced old-fashioned mediums such as cable TV, and up to a certain extent, the big screen. As of April 2019, Netflix has an 87 per cent market share in the USA and nearly 30 per cent globally in the streaming services market. 

Netflix was founded in 1997 by its current CEO, Reed Hastings. Netflix began as a web service that allowed people to rent DVDs online and have them delivered, or returned, by mail. It adopted the approach of enabling people to stream content online in 2007. Consumers were able to watch what they wanted, whenever, or however, they wanted, without being limited to a specified time frame. In the late ’90s, Netflix rapidly grew as a competitor to many leading companies at the time. By the early 2000s, Netflix was in prime position to be acquired by Blockbuster. However, the proposed deal wasn’t mutually agreed upon by both parties. Netflix soon began putting Blockbuster out of business and eventually, the latter declared bankruptcy in 2010. Soon after, Netflix started growing on its own as a streaming business by releasing its original television series and movies, and by striking exclusive deals with studios and show-runners. As a result, the stock value skyrocketed in 2013 and has only proliferated since. 

A Blockbuster outlet closing down as a result of Netflix making their service obsolete. [Image Credits: Entrepreneur]

Cable companies are by far the most affected entities by the advent of Netflix. In 2013, Netflix began competing with TV networks and cable directly for original content. While most networks only approved shows based on pilots hitting specific metrics, Netflix offered series producers and show-runners contracts upfront to create an entire season or two. Additionally, show-runners were given creative leeway to develop their programs without notes or approval from Netflix. As a result, many of the most critically acclaimed and popular new series now release on Netflix instead of the established networks.

Netflix also started uploading entire seasons of established TV series at once, resulting in the advent of binge-watching, in contrast to broadcast and cable TV’s once-a-week programming model. Many TV networks, such as NBC and BBC, are now experimenting with this model, even if it means sacrificing advertising revenue. Netflix’s production methods have forced TV networks to be more aggressive in recruiting and retaining talent by paying more generously and offering more creative freedom. Netflix’s most salient feature is its on-demand library of media, along with the option to download the same. If this trend continues, cable services such as Tata Sky are vulnerable to becoming obsolete in the coming years.

 Comparison between Netflix and major cable companies in the US. [Image Credits: Statista]

An inevitable consequence of global streaming services is its impact on the Hollywood sector. Netflix is creating greater original and award-winning content and offering it to the customers for affordable subscriptions. By doing so, it is constantly feared by Hollywood studios and film distributors, due to their entire business model being disrupted. In the first six months of 2018, Netflix had released as many movies as the six major studios of Hollywood combined. It is also planning to spend around $8 billion on creating original content, television series, and movies that would give competition to the other studios. It is increasingly producing movies that are released to the customers on the same day as they hit the movie theatres. For the active user, an average subscription to Netflix is a cheaper alternative to purchasing a movie ticket. Netflix reflects people’s tendency to prefer quality content and value for money over 4D and IMAX. Movies such as The Irishman and 6 Underground are a testimony to Hollywood producers capriciously shifting their business model to generate a larger revenue by directly broadcasting movies on Netflix instead of the theatres.

[Image Credits: Statista]

Despite Netflix’s boundless success with its extensive variety of regional and international programmes, it does have several limitations. To start with, all the new content isn’t readily available for streaming on Netflix. This is owing to the long and onerous process at the corporate level to put pen to paper on lucrative deals and contracts. Secondly, Netflix’s library is quite outdated. Viewers often have to wait for a long time before its library is updated and new content is added.

Another significant drawback is the lack of a quality adjustment feature, which leads to a large data cap that eats away a sizeable chunk of bandwidth. Moreover, Netflix has an odd way of eliminating some TV shows and movies. Periodically as the library is revised, old media is discarded without warning, which is frustrating for consumers who must rely on third-party sources to be informed. Lastly, Netflix does not have a live-streaming feature. This is one of the primary issues when it comes to the entertainment sector, and is overcome by competing services such as Amazon Prime and Hotstar, which offer live broadcasting of sports events.

Netflix also sports an easily overlooked Achilles heelits outstanding debt problem. As of November 2019, Netflix is at a debt valued at about $12 billion, which is not quenched by its relatively minor cash revenue. By the end of 2019, Netflix is expected to generate a cash loss of $3.5 billion. The driver of its cash problem is hefty content costs. The concern of the hour is that if the consumer market stops growing, it won’t be able to meet its debt obligations, and this will quickly throw the company into bankruptcy.

[Image Credits: Statista]

India has shown a penchant for Amazon and the multitude of services that are offered along with Prime Video. To combat this, Netflix executives are working on a new long-term plan in India to offer cheaper subscription rates. As of now, Indian users are privy to a mobile-only subscription plan at a considerably lower price, thus benefiting the company in the short run. Despite having poured money into original Indian titles such as Sacred Games, Chopsticks, and Lust Stories, as well as a multitude of beloved Bollywood titles in their library, Netflix has a relatively low footprint in the Indian market.

Due to the country’s capriciously unsaturated market and the broad range of ethnic communities, it is an increasingly unassailable challenge to cater to everybody’s interests. A pivotal player in the Indian market that shuts the doors for any further expansion by Netflix is Hotstar, which offers incredibly cheap live-streams of cricket and football matches. Netflix most recently has an estimated four to six million monthly active users in India, in comparison to Hotstar’s 300 million users.

Sacred Games, which enjoyed nation-wide success, was widely advertised in India by Netflix. [Image Credits: BBC]

Another important aspect to consider in today’s scenario is data mining and artificial intelligence. Netflix utilises a highly efficient algorithm that controls the content being suggested on the platform based on user interactions with the various titles. Their selection is based on the existence of over 75,000 ‘micro-genres’ that are latent to the user, which allows for ludicrously specific recommendations.

By cross-referencing basic geographical information and the data produced by the 70 million-odd Netflix subscribers, Netflix can produce comprehensive charts detailing exactly what people watch. Given the vast wealth of statistics about viewing habits Netflix has at its fingertips, the company abstains from micro-managing shows because they have more than a fair idea of what will flourish. Perhaps the best example of this is House Of Cards, Netflix’s first original series, which was predestined to succeed even before its production as the company possessed user data that indicated users would enjoy it.

Just a few years ago, most television programming could only be consumed on television. This has changed largely due to Netflix, whose success has been deemed an existential threat for the entrenched TV industry. Many consumers have already cut the cord from existing cable, as the cost of a Netflix subscription is a small fraction of that of most cable packages. Numerous companies are working to overtake Netflix, and the firm faces competition from other digital operators like Amazon and Google. All of this merely points to the fact that Netflix has broken the mould for how television is made, watched, rated, and ultimately exhibits the extent of its influence on all future content.

Featured Image Credits: Unseen Opportunity