Digitizing murals before they are erased by urban development.
Rafah assault looms amid US-Jordan talks
REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Israel’s proposal to evacuate Palestinians sheltering in the Gazan town of Rafah and build massive tent cities for them suggests an invasion is imminent, The Wall Street Journal reported. The plan, which Israel recently pitched to Egypt, comes as fear and criticism mounts over the looming assault. Israeli airstrikes have already killed dozens there, local health officials said. U.S. President Joe Biden — who has sharpened his criticism of Israel’s Gaza offensive in recent days — discussed a potential hostage deal and six-week ceasefire on Monday with the King of Jordan, who has pushed for an immediate truce. The talks “may be one last roll of the dice to get powerful Western allies to listen,” an expert on Jordan told Al-Monitor.
A produce market in India. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Warnings that the world is heading toward a “polycrisis” of overlapping geopolitical conflicts may be overblown, The Economist argued. Global GDP grew last year, labor markets remain strong in many places, and countries like the U.S. and Brazil have put out encouraging economic signals, suggesting the global economy may be more resilient to turmoil than conventional wisdom would suggest. Attacks in the Red Sea also haven’t totally upended markets, since shipping costs make up only a small fraction of the price of goods. It may be possible that “the world no longer minds chaos as much as it once did,” the magazine said. But uncertainty still looms, especially when it comes to Russia, the Middle East, and the Taiwan Strait.
China’s electric-vehicle industry is buying huge cargo ships to overcome the transportation bottleneck holding back its global ambitions. China became the world’s largest car exporter in 2023, shipping 4.91 million vehicles overseas. But it lacks the big roll-on-roll-off ships that Japanese rivals such as Toyota use, meaning it needs to scramble for limited space on shipping lines — a key reason it has only 3% of the market in Europe despite its models being far cheaper than those from local competitors. BYD, China’s biggest electric-vehicle manufacturer, plans to buy eight giant vessels in the next two years, Nikkei reported — the first left port in mid-January and will arrive in the Netherlands and Germany this month.
Vietnam is offering tax breaks and other incentives to semiconductor companies in a bid to become a global hub for high-tech manufacturing. Nvidia and Samsung are already looking to expand their presence in Vietnam, which has one of the highest-rated education systems in the world and is preparing to train 50,000 semiconductor engineers by 2030, Nikkei reported. Companies often see it as a less risky alternative to China: Apple recently shifted engineering resources for its iPad line to the country for the first time. But Hanoi faces stiff competition from nearby nations like Malaysia, where Austrian circuit board maker AT&S will soon open a new plant.
The transition away from cash is running into hurdles in some countries, but increasingly globalized payment platforms could help ease the transition. Foreign tourists in China often have trouble buying things in a country where two domestic payment apps are ubiquitous, the South China Morning Post reported. But China’s central bank is encouraging more hotels and restaurants to accept foreign credit cards, a sign of Beijing’s desire to boost tourism. In India, a lawmaker warned digital payment platforms are “ticking time bombs” after a leading fintech company effectively collapsed last week. But Indian tourists got some good news Monday when officials announced a popular payments app can now be used in Sri Lanka and Mauritius, as well as at the Eiffel Tower.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign joined TikTok, a move that appeared to show he cared more about reaching younger voters than national security risks the U.S. has raised about the Chinese-owned platform. Biden’s team uploaded its first video on Sunday, featuring the president answering questions about what Super Bowl team he was supporting. A third of U.S. adults say they use TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center, while the company says 150 million Americans have joined the platform. A White House spokesperson said the Biden administration still has concerns about the app, including how it collects data and “the potential misuse of that data.”
An AI-generated depiction of former Indonesian President Suharto. Screenshot via Twitter
Artificial intelligence is being used to resurrect dead politicians whose avatars can mislead voters. The likeness of Indian film and politics icon Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who died in 2018, has been broadcast at public events three times in the last six months, most recently to congratulate a politician on his book launch, Al Jazeera reported. Ahead of Indonesia’s elections Wednesday, a deepfake video of former President Suharto was used to encourage voters to support the party he belonged to before he died in 2008. Experts have sounded the alarm about the impact of AI during a busy global election year; the U.S. recently outlawed AI robocalls after one clip mimicking President Joe Biden’s voice discouraged people from voting in a state primary election.
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Generative artificial intelligence is transforming the advertising industry. Cheap, obviously AI-generated ads promoting a range of goods have given way to more sophisticated campaigns. One food brand eschewed spending thousands of dollars on designing a new name and logo and instead “simply asked an AI chatbot for six ideas and selected the best,” according to the Financial Times. The market is changing, too: High-production television ads designed for mass consumption are on the decline, with the “dream” now being to create bespoke AI-powered ads aimed at individual consumers, one executive told the FT. The changes represent the biggest upheaval the ad industry has seen “since the arrival of the internet.”
Farmworkers planting drought-resistant grapevines in California. U.S. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
The El Niño climate phenomenon that drove global temperatures higher in 2023 and early 2024 will likely end this spring, replaced by its counterpart, La Niña. The National Weather Service estimated a 79% chance that the transition would occur by June. In the U.S., El Niño is associated with warm, wet weather — hence the deadly floods in California this winter — while La Niña brings cooler temperatures and drier conditions. Southern states could face drought: In 2011, La Niña led to devastating wildfires and prompted the governor of Texas to start prayers for rain, Axios noted. The Los Angeles Times reported that California is rushing to improve its water capture facilities ahead of potential drought this year.
Nearly half of the world’s 1,200 migratory species — including birds, sea turtles, and whales — are declining in population, and more than a fifth face the risk of extinction, according to a new United Nations report. Migratory sharks, rays, and sturgeons are especially at risk: Their populations have already fallen by 90% since the 1970s. Since migratory species pass through multiple environments, humans need to rethink their impact on key flight and swim paths, as well as land infrastructure, experts said. “We have to look at rail, road, and fences,” the head of the U.N. migratory conservation agency argued. The report named climate change, overexploitation, and habitat loss as the top causes for the declines.
Members of the public look at artwork bearing the hallmarks of street artist Banksy in Reading, UK. BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images
An art education group is digitizing about 5,000 murals across the U.K., including works by the mysterious street artist Banksy, and making them available through a free database, ARTnews reported. Urban development obliterates murals, the group undertaking the three-year project noted, and historians have increasingly taken a digital approach to archiving art at risk of disappearing. Academics similarly digitized the grand murals found in ancient Chinese Buddhist grottoes, RADII reported last year, allowing more young artists to take inspiration from Buddhist works and produce their own interpretations.