Monday, July 13, 2015

Greece minister warns of recession; India, South Korea bright spots as US, China head for slowdown; A robot that gives undivided attention

1 Greece minister warns of recession (BBC) Eurozone leaders have agreed to offer Greece a third bailout, after marathon talks in Brussels. But a senior minister has said that European institutions will not immediately provide more emergency lending to Greek banks.

Rania Antonopoulos said the banks would remain closed until at least Wednesday night, after the parliament in Athens votes on the new rescue package. She said the combination of austerity measures, and the temporary closure of Greek banks, would tip the country back into serious recession.

2 India, South Korea bright spots as US, China head for slowdown (Camille Accad in Khaleej Times) The world economy has been on a path of deceleration in the past 12 months, but at the country level, economies have experienced a variety of trends. Growth in developed countries has been sluggish, despite the US labour market showing some signs of recovery and the eurozone economy stabilising.

In emerging Asia, China has been on a gradual slowdown while India is in recovery following years of lacklustre growth. The rest of emerging Asia did not experience a clear trend in growth either, but from the major economies, only South Korea and Hong Kong witnessed a notable decline in economic growth.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, publishes the composite leading indicators, or CLI, aimed at providing early signals of changes in economic trends, between six and nine months in advance. According to the OECD, developed economies will maintain their sluggish run and slow further, mainly due to a slowdown in the US.

The leading indiators show that after a few more months of stability, the US economy will cool down. However, eurozone output is expected to pick up again. In Asia, China's economic activity is expected to continue softening further in the next three quarters.

The CLI also shows the Indian economy maintaining its acceleration. In the other two emerging Asian economies assessed by the OECD, South Korea is expected to recover following more than one year of slowdown while Indonesia will soon begin to cool down.

The resurgence of the Indian economy and the ongoing Chinese slowdown are in line with consensus. If these projections are accurate, then, in the case of the US, the Federal Reserve may have to postpone its rate hike to next year. Similarly, the slowdown in China, if materialised, will probably lead to further monetary easing.

3 A robot that give undivided attention (San Francisco Chronicle) Pepper, the new companion robot from Tokyo-based technology company Softbank Corp., delivers cuteness like you've never seen. What's striking is the absolutely ardent attention it gives you — frankly a lot better than some real-life people.

It's another matter entirely whether it's worth the price tag of 198,000 yen ($1,600), plus the maintenance and insurance costs that ownership entails, adding up to some 1.2 million yen ($10,000) for an estimated three-year lifespan.

Pepper has cameras, lasers and infrared in its hairless head so it can detect human faces. Whatever direction you move, its cocked head will also move, intently looking into your face with its big eyes, like a puppy. Except this pet can talk. As long as you don't walk too far from it, removing yourself from its attention, Pepper will prattle on and on, switching from one small talk topic to another, gesticulating at times with its five-fingered soft hands for effect.

Yes, the conversations do sometimes repeat themselves, but so does human dialogue. It's attracting regular technology fans but also a kindergarten, a cafe and people who're buying it for their elderly parents. The kind of patient interaction Pepper excels at is recommended for people with dementia. So Pepper might come to the rescue of stressed out families.

Equipped with artificial intelligence by Aldebaran of France, Pepper has what Softbank calls an emotional engine, meaning it reacts to what it interprets as anger or sorrow in humans around it by deciphering voice tones, facial expressions and language.

This is not some slapped together toy of a robot. It's the first convincing semblance of a step toward artificial intelligence fantasized in science fiction movies that's affordable for the regular home. It isn't for everyone. You have to have an open mind. The way it's designed, Pepper is basically about human relationships. Pepper is imperfect. But so are human beings.

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