In Pakistan, men are on a mission to be groomed

In Pakistan, men are on a mission to be groomed

Customers usually fork out a minimum of Rs1,400 for a visit to the salonThis photograph taken on October 10, 2017 shows a male hairdresser applying colour on the moustache of a customer at a men's salon in Islamabad.Islamabad: Nails are buffed, blackheads scrubbed and coffee sipped to the sound of clipping scissors inside the "Men's" salon in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, where a growing number of male patrons are set on revamping their style.Deeply conservative Pakistan has strict notions of masculinity where men are often expected to be austere and flamboyant styling is to be avoided.But savvy entrepreneurs in urban centres have latched on to a new metrosexual trend: male beauty salons.While women in urban Pakistan have long enjoyed access to the care of beauticians and stylists, expensive facials and mani-pedis for men are becoming more common as disposable incomes in the nation's swelling middle class grow – per capita income jumped by 6.4 per cent in 2017.A vibrant social media culture has also fuelled the desire to be selfie-ready at any time, with influencers such as Adnan Malik and Osman Khalid Butt attracting hundreds of thousands of followers online with their fashion-conscious posts.At Tauseeq Haider's Men's salon, customers usually fork out a minimum of Rs1,400 (Dh46) for a visit – a far cry from the 200 rupees spent at traditional barber shops."Men have equal right to be groomed and times have changed.

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China’s Top Retailer Launches Startup Incubator To Lure Foreign Blockchain Projects

China’s Top Retailer Launches Startup Incubator To Lure Foreign Blockchain Projects

27.The Beijing-based program, which has seen candidates from as far afield as Australia and the UK, aims to use the company’s vast Chinese infrastructure to arrive at new applications of Blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), according to the press release.JD highlights its plans to “partner with innovative blockchain startups to build new businesses and create and test real-world applications of their technologies at scale.”“JD is in a unique position to explore the potential of AI and blockchain in global commerce,” Bowen Zhou, vice president of the company’s AI Platform and Research Division commented as part of the release.“We are excited to work with some of the world’s most innovative startups to explore ways we can scale these cutting edge technologies for the future of retail and other industries, as well.”The startups on board include Australia’s Blockchain-powered services marketplace CanYa and UK payments and ID platform Nuggets.The opening of Al Catapult marks not only JD’s newest foray into Blockchain following partnerships from its various subsidiaries such as JD Finance, but also the increasing competition for its ultimate application in the Chinese domestic market.Fellow Chinese conglomerates Tencent and Baidu have similarly established firm interaction with the emerging technology.

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Dropbox will be the first-ever IPO out of Silicon Valley’s most important startup factory

Dropbox will be the first-ever IPO out of Silicon Valley’s most important startup factory

Mike Blake/Reuters On Friday, Dropbox filed its S-1, making it the first among Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator's companies to ever file for an IPO.Y Combinator accepted Dropbox founder Drew Houston's application for Dropbox in 2007. While the Silicon Valley-based incubator has overseen the development of several successful companies like, Airbnb, Docker, and Instacart, Dropbox will be the first within the Y Combinator program to go public. Led by Sam Altman and founded by Paul Graham, Robert Morris, Jessica Livingston, and Trevor Blackwell in 2005, Y Combinator quickly rose to prominence as a program for young startups to gain a network of investors and advisors, in addition to seed funding, in exchange for the incubator taking an equity stake. Dropbox founder Drew Houston applied twice to Y Combinator before the selective incubator accepted his application in the summer of 2007. While at Y Combinator, the startup attracted interest from tech elites like Michael Moritz, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, who famously said the startup's core online storage offering was "a feature, not a product" and that Apple would destroy it. The company's last valuation was at $10 billion in 2014.

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Nexus Startup Hub: US Embassy’s initiative to promote the Indian startup ecosystem

Nexus Startup Hub: US Embassy’s initiative to promote the Indian startup ecosystem

Located in downtown New Delhi on Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Nexus serves as a central hub for entrepreneurs, innovators, faculty, government agencies, industry players and funding organisations interested in gathering, interacting and collaborating to promote Indian startups and the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Nexus is a collaboration between the US Department of State and the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. We are now in the middle of our third cohort of startups, and the reaction has been tremendously positive.South Asia Connect is an initiative that was just launched. It is an expansion of the Nexus programme to the surrounding countries of Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. We we will be training leaders in those countries as well as work with their startups to present best practices in innovation and entrepreneurship and help strengthen their ecosystems. YS: Tell us more about the recently launched Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs programme EA: The Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs programme has been designed for Indian university students with entrepreneurial ideas. Building off the theme of the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit ‘Women First, Prosperity for All,’ the programme will provide training to selected women with practical tips and mentoring on how to launch sustainable businesses. For the approximately 20 selected women, three kinds of integrated experiences have been arranged: First, an online course with mentoring by successful women entrepreneurs; second, an intense weekend workshop at Nexus in Delhi; and, finally, a two-week trip to The University of Texas at Austin, where the Indian student innovators will work with students from the US and Europe to develop strategies to grow their business ideas in India and internationally. We will work together with you to sharpen your value proposition, define your target market, get market feedback on your product/technology and create and achieve milestones to bring your company to the market. A key part of our methodology is “getting out of the building” to collect real market data and the voice of the customer. During this time, we will work with you to take your company to the next level on getting your product to market, growing your customer and revenue base and, if appropriate, working to get you funding for scaling up operations and market growth.YS: What are some of the initiatives in the pipeline?EA: There are several new initiatives we are working on, including an expansion of our incubator management training programme, modelled on UT's top ranked Austin Technology Incubator. Nexus has partnered with many organisations in the Indian innovation ecosystem: Department of Science and Technology, FICCI, TiE, Indian Angel Network, AmCham, TechStars and ISB among others.Erik Azulay is Executive Director at Nexus Startup Hub and Incubator. Eric Azulay (Centre, 2nd row) with participants of incubator management training workshop held at NexusYourStory: Tell us more about the programmes run by Nexus.Erik Azulay: We run several initiatives here in India:The Innovation Hub runs events to support the innovation ecosystem here in India and is open to all. As a serial entrepreneur, before agreeing to conduct a session, I ask myself "Would I find this programme useful?" The Nexus business incubator runs a ten-week ‘pre incubation’ programme three times a year to demonstrate best practices in startup incubation and to help early-stage companies successfully launch and grow their business.

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Retail Intelligence and Analytics Startup DealSmash Raises $150,000

Retail Intelligence and Analytics Startup DealSmash Raises $150,000

Retail intelligence startup, DealSmash has announced that it has secured seed funding of $150,000 from an Angel investment firm Al Hilal Securities Advisors to fund its project of providing retail brands and retailers with valuable insights on consumer behavior.DealSmash is a retail intelligence tech start-up in Pakistan. DealSmash collects and analyses the shopping data from the shopping receipts to provide brands with valuable consumer insights.The startup was founded in 2016 and has already won a grant of USD 88k from Government of Pakistan’s National Technology Fund (Ignite) to develop its recommendation system.The central component of the DealSmash recommendations is an intelligent, adaptive software-based system that can learn – both offline and online – the preferences, shopping behavior, geographic attributes and demographics of the customer base. In return providing a personalized shopping experience to each customer by suggesting only relevant offers to his or her mobile device in a context and location-aware manner.Speaking at the occasion, Ali Hasnain Shah, CEO of DealSmash said,We enable consumers as well as retail brands to make better and informed decisions. It will also enable us to upgrade our data analytics platform for sharing consumer insights with brands.Al Hilal Securities Advisors (pvt.) Limited is part of the Al Hilal Group that specializes in providing Shariah compliant investment solutions to a diverse base of clientele locally and internationally. Recently, Al Hilal has started funding startups in the the field of Technology, Food and other growth sectors.ALSO READThis Islamabad Based Startup Wants to Challenge WhatsappSpeaking at the occasion, Faraz Younus Bandukda, CFA the Group Chief Executive at Al-Hilal stated:We’re really excited about DealSmash product, its team and the opportunity in Retail market in Pakistan; which is one of the fastest growing market in the region.Zaheeruddin Khalid, CFA one of the sponsors of Al Hilal (who is also Chief Investment Officer at Jadwa Investment, a leading Saudi Arabian investment management firm) added,DealSmash is an exciting breakthrough for retail brands as well as customer- conscious retailers who, by using the power of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, can connect directly with their customers and give them what they need, when they need it.“Its really heartening to know that our funded startup DealSmash has closed a deal for next round of funding.

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Next gen in liquor businesses: In good spirits

Next gen in liquor businesses: In good spirits

Vinay Mohan, director, Mohan Meakin, is working towards a number of extensions for brand Old Monk Image: Amit VermaOperating in India’s over 300 million case-strong (each case equivalent to 9 litres) spirits market is not for the faint-hearted and the meek, given that the trade is highly regulated by respective state government agencies. In 2001, Old Monk, under the leadership of Hemant and Vinay’s uncle Brigadier Kapil Mohan, clocked sales of over 8 million cases (of nine litres each) to emerge as the world’s third largest selling rum brand after Bacardi and Tanduay. His two nephews, the only third-generation family members in the business, are now tasked with reviving the fortunes of the company and its iconic Old Monk brand, which was launched in 1954.Growing competition, entry of foreign players with deep pockets, and, some might argue, the lack of willingness of the promoters to scale the brand, saw Old Monk’s sales decline steadily to 3.8 million cases in 2016, as per data from global research firm IWSR. Vinay is currently a director in the company. “We will definitely adapt to the changes [in the market], but we will still follow a principled way of working,” says Vinay.  Old Monk, which has considerable goodwill in the market, says Rekhi, “can actually be leveraged to bring it back to its former glory”. Sanjay Jain, an industry expert and director at boutique advisory firm Taj Capital, believes that if there is one Indian brand that has global resonance and potential, “it probably is Old Monk”.According to Vinay, sales of Old Monk, which continues to be the company’s flagship brand, have started picking up and “are now touching 5 million cases”. Given that the liquor industry is highly regulated and politically controlled, Vinay says, “The decline [of Old Monk] only happened in the [key rum drinking] southern states because the regulations were such that it became impossible for us to sell.” He adds, “Our sales in the southern states were close to 4 million, which had dropped to under a million. Though at present more than half the market is dominated by two multinational companies—French-based Pernod Ricard, which has built its operations from bottom up in India, and global spirits giant Diageo Plc, which bought a controlling stake in India’s largest spirits company United Spirits Limited (USL)—there are several legacy family-owned businesses that are trying to reassert their brands and create new niches. Roshini Sanah Jaiswal is a third-generation scion of the Jaiswal family Image: Amit VermaA Toast to Aristocracy“I was always told by my parents that I needed to carve out a path of my own,” says 49-year-old Roshini Sanah Jaiswal, the third-generation scion of the family-run Jagatjit Industries, makers of Aristocrat whisky. Her joining the family business, liquor or Milkfood, was never a certainty.  “And if I were to join the business, it was never to be Jagatjit, it was to be Milkfood,” says Roshini, who was eventually appointed as the chief restructuring officer at the loss-making Jagatjit Industries in January 2015. As the only child to carry forward the company legacy, her father Karamjit S Jaiswal gave her two options: Either sell the company or turn around the business.The seven-decade-old Jagatjit Industries, which had the patronage of the erstwhile Maharaja of Kapurthala (in Punjab), was a fading star. Allied Blenders and Distillers’ Officer’s Choice and USL’s Old Tavern whiskies had a 31 percent and 15 percent market share, respectively.Roshini, a double major graduate in economics and political science from New York University, decided to revive the fortunes of Jagatjit Industries. This, after she had spent over a decade in the food and beverage industry—she opened 180 Proof lounge bar in Bengaluru (in 2000) and F-bar (in 2003) in New Delhi.“Being a legacy company, the biggest challenge was to make it lighter and leaner,” says Roshini. And much of the effort is being led by the third-generation family members at companies such as Mohan Meakin, Jagatjit Industries and Amrut Distilleries. [The only sizeable Indian player left in the market is Kishore Chhabria-led Allied Blenders and Distillers, maker of Officer’s Choice whisky.]At one point, Mohan Meakin and Jagatjit Industries boasted of powerhouse brands such as Old Monk rum and Black Knight whisky, and Aristocrat whisky, respectively. Even as the company reported a loss of ₹119 crore in fiscal 2017, Roshini says the company “has been at Ebitda break-even for the last five quarters and in the last two quarters we have been Ebitda positive”. Rakshit Jagdale (right) with brother-in-law Thrivikram Nikam, executive directors at Amrut DistilleriesImage: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes IndiaIn Single Malt They Believe The beginnings of the now-famous Amrut Single Malt Whisky can be traced back to 2002 when Rakshit Neelakanta Jagdale was doing his MBA dissertation at the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom (UK). Amrut Distilleries, which was established in 1948 by Rakshit’s grandfather Radhakrishna N Jagdale, had accumulated casks of high-quality, matured, Indian single malt whisky, a spin-off from producing blended whiskies. “We had a lot of good [single malt] whisky that was maturing and my father [Neelakanta Rao Jagdale] was keen to see if there was a demand for such a product from India,” says Rakshit, now 39. Using that as the peg, Rakshit based his thesis on whether an Indian single malt whisky had the scope of doing well, particularly in the UK, home of the world’s best-selling single malt whiskies. As part of his thesis, Rakshit imported duty-paid samples of Amrut’s single malt whisky and blind-tested the product in restaurants and pubs in the UK. The response was good and the result of his dissertation was that in August 2004, Amrut Distilleries launched the Amrut Single Malt Whisky, in Glasgow, UK. Today, the brand is exported to over 44 countries and clocked sales of about 25,000 cases in 2016, according to IWSR data. Whisky connoisseur Jim Murray rated the product as the third finest whisky in the world in his 2010 edition of the Whisky Bible. These brands bottomed out with the entry of global brands and premium product offerings by larger rivals, post liberalisation. “Aristocrat whisky was a path-breaking brand launched when I was in shorts,” recalls Vijay Rekhi, 72, former managing director of USL. “And Black Knight of Mohan Meakin was a whisky that everyone had at the top of their mind.”He believes the time is ripe for disruption in the Indian spirits market and some of these legacy brands, if managed well and “have access to an unfettered availability” of working capital, could make a comeback. Amrut Single Malt Whisky is another brand that Sanjay Jain of Taj Capital believes has global appeal.Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Rakshit is the eldest of the two children of Neelakanta Rao Jagdale, chairman and managing director of Amrut Distilleries, a company known in South India for its value-priced brands Old Port rum and Silver Cup brandy. The two brands accounted for about 50 percent of the company’s ₹280 crore turnover in fiscal 2017, and are largely retailed in Kerala and Karnataka.Rakshit, along with his brother-in-law Thrivikram G Nikam, are executive directors in the company and overlook critical functions such as marketing, production, and supply chain. While family patriarch Neelakanta Rao Jagdale is still very much at the helm of affairs, the transition of power to the next generation leaders is beginning to take shape. “The thrust of our generation will be on premiumisation, growing our footprint across India and on our single malt business,” says Rakshit. In the last two years, Amrut Distilleries started retailing its premium products in newer markets such as West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana, among others. “The next-generation [of legacy Indian spirits companies], having seen the writing on the wall, are trying to have a presence in the premium end of the market by focusing only in certain states and intelligently pricing their products with respect to the MNC brands,” says Jain. In the pre-Partition years, Narendra had been associated with Murree Brewery, one among many breweries run by the erstwhile Dyer Meakin Breweries (set up by the family of Colonel Reginald Dyer of the Jallianwala Bagh infamy), located in the erstwhile Punjab Province. The time is ripe for disruption in the Indian spirits market; legacy brands could make a comebackAnd then suddenly, one fine day two years after Partition, as Vinay recalls, “We were told that our grandmother’s jewellery and everything that my grandfather owned was pledged to buy the company.” Overnight, from supplying bottles to Dyer Meakin Breweries, “My grandfather became the owner of the company.”Mohan Meakin, which was initially known as Mohan Meakin Breweries, is the maker of the iconic Old Monk rum and once-popular Black Knight whisky.

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This angel investor got all of his crypto stolen by T-Mobile impersonators

This angel investor got all of his crypto stolen by T-Mobile impersonators

Because I started playing with cryptocurrencies as a hobby years ago, and for a long time they were not worth much of anything (read Some thoughts on cryptocurrencies), it did not occur to me to treat my crypto holdings more securely than other assets I owned. I assumed that by using very complex passwords, or a password manager like Dashlane, and requiring two-factor authentication with text messages sent to my cell phone, I would be safe. I tried to log in to my Gmail (which I very rarely use) and that password had also been changed. I checked my regular email address and while send and receive worked with no error, no new external emails had come in for a few hours (which is unusual as I get over 200 emails per day). I tried to log in to my domain manager and no longer had access. After they got control of my cell phone number, they sent themselves a reset password text message at my domain manager to get access to that. They left my existing Exchange mailbox intact, but created a new mailbox and switched the MX record to point to that mailbox. It took a few hours for the MX record change to propagate so I still received emails for a few hours. Also, because they did not reset the password of my Exchange email I did not get an incorrect password message that would have aroused my suspicion. Once the MX record change had propagated, they were able to use their control of my email and access to my cell phone (given that I required text confirmation in addition to control of my email) to reset the password for my Dropbox, Venmo, Twitter, Gmail, Coinbase, Xapo, Uphold and Bitstamp accounts. I did not see any of those reset password messages or any of the text message confirmations because they were going to the new mailbox and phone they set up. They then sent themselves all my BTC to 12LmHubDmhnLTrvPgs82MJ2FTJR68rwrfK. I then reset the password at my domain manager and noticed the MX record had been changed. It took hours, but I reset all the MX records and the passwords on all my accounts and replied to all the emails I had missed that had been sent to the new mailbox. I did not realize I had a (very) weak link in my security: my cell phone provider. I had fundamentally revised my crypto investment strategy the week before the hack and sold all of my direct crypto holdings. They did not try to make wire transfers from my normal bank accounts, perhaps because that money would have been easier to trace and I require a few more security measures for wire transfers that are more difficult to get around. To make any changes to my T-Mobile account by phone or in person, you now need to mention a very complex password with digits and special characters. I recommend that everyone adds a voice authorization password required to make changes to their cell phone account. It also made me realize the perils of using an email address everyone knows and a phone number everyone knows to manage my crypto holdings. The crypto accounts I now use all have email addresses dedicated to them and I use a non-US cell phone for two-factor authentication. No one has that number and I don’t use it for anything other than to authenticate access to my accounts. The hackers called T-Mobile pretending to be me. They said I had lost my cell phone and asked T-Mobile to activate another SIM with the same number. Also note that if you use an application like Authy for two-factor authentication (which I recommend), you should only allow it to work on one device (it’s the default setting). I like that it takes several days to reset your Authy account even if you are just putting it on a new cell phone with the same number. For crypto in particular, once the access to your accounts is secure you must decide whether you should leave your assets on the exchange or be your own custodian. This does come with the drawback of users not being able to participate in certain airdrops, or not having access to new currencies from forks immediately, but I won’t delve into that topic here. Someone could also get the password for your given wallet and steal the hardware from you, in which case, unless you immediately get a new wallet, recover your keys from the passphrase, and transfer all of your assets out, they’ll all be soon gone. You could also lose your passphrase, as well as the password as it infamously happened to Wired writer Mark Frauenfelder in his epic tale of hacking his own wallet. For most people with little crypto exposure, I would recommend they leave their crypto on Coinbase as it probably has a lower probability than the risks involved in being your own custodian. If you own a lot of crypto assets, you should avoid leaving coins in exchanges to avoid the risk of those being hacked as it famously happened to Mt. Gox, Bitfinex, and YoBit not so long ago. When you first set up your wallet, you will be prompted with a passphrase and a password, the latter being specific to that wallet. Just as you can be the one recovering these keys, anyone else who gets access to it will be able to do so as well so make sure that you save it in a safe place. Safe means: not on a computer with internet access; not on a hard-drive that’s not encrypted; not on a paper that could be easily stolen. You should also have more than one copy in different places (all of which must have tight security since your system is just as secure as your weakest link) to protect yourself against a potential loss (hard-drive malfunction, fire, a potential robbery, and others). As a side note, while hardware wallets are certainly great products, if you are an institution or someone who might be likely the target of a personalized attack, this path might also fall short. I assumed it was just a roaming issue, put my phone on airplane mode (as I do every night) and went to sleep. You could either leave a paper with your passphrase hidden in the closet or store it in a safety box inside of a bank. When I woke up, I still did not have connectivity, but it was not obvious that something was awry as many normal emails had come through the night. After a few hours, I randomly decided to check my Twitter and realized my password no longer worked.

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Sastaticket.pk Aims to be the Premier Destination for Booking Flights and Hotels in Pakistan

Sastaticket.pk Aims to be the Premier Destination for Booking Flights and Hotels in Pakistan

And thanks to a new stream of booking startups that have propped up over the past few years, booking hotels, flights, cars, is now a piece of cake too.What’s more, it does away with the middleman — the travel agents — saving you hordes of money and allowing you to make your own plans on your own terms.What is SastaTicket?SastaTicket is a Pakistani startup that provides flight and hotel booking options for the people of Pakistan to cater to their traveling needs. Before co-founding his own startup, he was the Co-CEO and Executive Director of Quality Aviation, a partner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a global leader in business travel.Quality Aviation is one of the larger travel management companies in Pakistan with a strength of over 300 travel professionals and a network of 6 branches across the country.SastaTicket went live in September of 2016, offering booking services for both domestic as well as international flights and hotels.Shazil’s old employer, Quality Aviation, acts as the parent company and main investor in the startup and, having significant domestic and international hotel volumes, helps them negotiate deals and discounted rates.How has SastaTicket Fared Up Till Now?Talking about the growth of the company, Shazil said that they have delivered 19% compounded monthly growth in gross bookings over the first 12 months. Their team has also grown — they now employ over 40 individuals working towards making travel easier for Pakistanis around the country.We closed our first year averaging 300,000 searches per month.The startup is funded by the co-founders themselves and is yet to turn a profit — Shazil says that their focus over the first year has been on growth alone.When asked about the biggest challenges they have faced up till now, he highlighted the lack of trust the general Pakistani customer places in companies and how hard they have had to work to change this mindset.“Customer trust was an initial challenge that we faced over the first couple of months where customers would require a lot of assurance that our business was legitimate and that their transactions were secure.”To tackle this problem, they provide dedicated customer support services daily from 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM, which has done an excellent job giving exceptional service and getting good reviews to further build customer trust.Moreover, they also have a physical presence in 3 cities across Pakistan and have set up physical cash payment points in the major cities of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, and Multan.ALSO READFlights, Hotel, Itinerary: Plan the Perfect Trip with These Apps and ServicesBeing a licensed company in partnership with Quality Aviation has also helped them in establishing them as a trusted company and reassuring their customers.The biggest challenge has been the high-tech requirement of our market and the technology required to scale our business.Another issue they have faced is how the government and the industry hold travel companies responsible for screening travelers and verifying their documents prior to issuing tickets or processing visa applications.Localization and Future PlansInternationally, they face tough competition from the likes of Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, SkyScanner and more — global giants who have way more resources and reach than SastaTicket. As a result, the people at SastaTicket have focused on making their service better specifically for the Pakistani public.“We believe that we are in a unique position where we have been able to combine travel technology expertise with a deep understanding of the Pakistani travel industry,” shared Shazil.Pakistani travelers are able to book domestic airlines such as Serene Air, Shaheen Airways, Air Blue, and PIA at the lowest rates on their platform. I compared the ticket prices charged by SastaTicket with some other services, including PIA’s.I found no change in their prices, so it is clear that they do not charge any extra fees for their services. For the next year or so, they will be working to upgrade and deploy new technologies that will help improve the customer experience and allow them to scale.We are very excited to play a leading role in the development of the online travel segment in Pakistan.The low internet penetration, the low literacy rate and a general lack of startup culture mean that entrepreneurs in Pakistan have a harder time than they do in most other countries.Very few startups have managed to face and beat the adversity that came their way and reach sustainability.

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The GANfather: The man who’s given machines the gift of imagination

The GANfather: The man who’s given machines the gift of imagination

At Les 3 Brasseurs (The Three Brewers), a favorite Montreal watering hole, some friends asked for his help with a thorny project they were working on: a computer that could create photos by itself. What he invented that night is now called a GAN, or “generative adversarial network.” The technique has sparked huge excitement in the field of machine learning and turned its creator into an AI celebrity. Supply a deep-learning system with enough images and it learns to, say, recognize a pedestrian who’s about to cross a road. That will mark a big leap forward in what is known in AI as “unsupervised learning.” But while deep-learning AIs can learn to recognize things, they have not been good at creating them. Doing so wouldn’t merely enable them to draw pretty pictures or compose music; it would make them less reliant on humans to instruct them about the world and the way it works. Today, AI programmers often need to tell a machine exactly what’s in the training data it’s being fed—which of a million pictures contain a pedestrian crossing a road, and which don’t. This is not only costly and labor-intensive; it limits how well the system deals with even slight departures from what it was trained on. In the future, computers will get much better at feasting on raw data and working out what they need to learn from it without being told. Researchers were already using neural networks, algorithms loosely modeled on the web of neurons in the human brain, as “generative” models to create plausible new data of their own. That will mark a big leap forward in what’s known in AI as “unsupervised learning.” A self-driving car could teach itself about many different road conditions without leaving the garage. A robot could anticipate the obstacles it might encounter in a busy warehouse without needing to be taken around it. Our ability to imagine and reflect on many different scenarios is part of what makes us human. And when future historians of technology look back, they’re likely to see GANs as a big step toward creating machines with a human-like consciousness. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, has called GANs “the coolest idea in deep learning in the last 20 years.” Another AI luminary, Andrew Ng, the former chief scientist of China’s Baidu, says GANs represent “a significant and fundamental advance” that’s inspired a growing global community of researchers. The GANfather, Part II: AI fight club Goodfellow is now a research scientist on the Google Brain team, at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. When I met him there recently, he still seemed surprised by his superstar status, calling it “a little surreal.” Perhaps no less surprising is that, having made his discovery, he now spends much of his time working against those who wish to use it for evil ends. The magic of GANs lies in the rivalry between the two neural nets. But the results were often not very good: images of a computer-generated face tended to be blurry or have errors like missing ears. The second, known as the discriminator, compares these with genuine images from the original data set and tries to determine which are real and which are fake. Nvidia In one widely publicized example last year, researchers at Nvidia, a chip company heavily invested in AI, trained a GAN to generate pictures of imaginary celebrities by studying real ones. Once it’s been trained on a lot of dog photos, a GAN can generate a convincing fake image of a dog that has, say, a different pattern of spots; but it can’t conceive of an entirely new animal. The plan Goodfellow’s friends were proposing was to use a complex statistical analysis of the elements that make up a photograph to help machines come up with images by themselves. The quality of the original training data also has a big influence on the results. Because the training data contained cat memes from the internet, the machine had taught itself that words were part of what it meant to be a cat. Since Goodfellow and a few others published the first study on his discovery, in 2014, hundreds of GAN-related papers have been written. One fan of the technology has even created a web page called the “GAN zoo,” dedicated to keeping track of the various versions of the technique that have been developed. The most obvious immediate applications are in areas that involve a lot of imagery, such as video games and fashion: what, for instance, might a game character look like running through the rain? But looking ahead, Goodfellow thinks GANs will drive more significant advances. “There are a lot of areas of science and engineering where we need to optimize something,” he says, citing examples such as medicines that need to be more effective or batteries that must get more efficient. “That’s going to be the next big wave.” In high-energy physics, scientists use powerful computers to simulate the likely interactions of hundreds of subatomic particles in machines like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. Researchers at Yale University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a GAN that, after training on existing simulation data, learns to generate pretty accurate predictions of how a particular particle will behave, and does it much faster. GANs can help solve this problem by generating fake records that are almost as good as the real thing, says Casey Greene of the University of Pennsylvania. A machine designed to create realistic fakes is a perfect weapon for purveyors of fake news who want to influence everything from stock prices to elections. AI tools are already being used to put pictures of other people’s faces on the bodies of porn stars and put words in the mouths of politicians. Hany Farid, who studies digital forensics at Dartmouth College, is working on better ways to spot fake videos, such as detecting slight changes in the color of faces caused by inhaling and exhaling that GANs find hard to mimic precisely. Researchers are already highlighting the risk of “black box” attacks, in which GANs are used to figure out the machine-learning models with which plenty of security programs spot malware. “There are a lot of areas of science and engineering where we need to optimize something. That’s going to be the next big wave.” Goodfellow is well aware of the dangers. Now heading a team at Google that’s focused on making machine learning more secure, he warns that the AI community must learn the lesson of previous waves of innovation, in which technologists treated security and privacy as an afterthought. By the time they woke up to the risks, the bad guys had a significant lead. “Clearly, we’re already beyond the start,” he says, “but hopefully we can make significant advances in security before we’re too far in.” Nonetheless, he doesn’t think there will be a purely technological solution to fakery. Instead, he believes, we’ll have to rely on societal ones, such as teaching kids critical thinking by getting them to take things like speech and debating classes. “In speech and debate you’re competing against another student,” he says, “and you’re thinking about how to craft misleading claims, or how to craft correct claims that are very persuasive.” He may well be right, but his conclusion that technology can’t cure the fake-news problem is not one many will want to hear.

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Malicious use of A.I. could turn self-driving cars and drones into weapons, top researchers warn

Malicious use of A.I. could turn self-driving cars and drones into weapons, top researchers warn

With advances in artificial intelligence, the risks of hackers using such technologies to launch malicious attacks are increasing, top researchers warned in a report released on Wednesday. "We also expect novel attacks that take advantage of an improved capacity to analyse human behaviors, moods, and beliefs on the basis of available data," the report said. To be sure, the researchers said that the scenarios highlighted in the report were not definitive predictions of how AI could be maliciously used — some of the scenarios might not be technically possible in the next five years, while others were already occurring in limited form. But it provided certain recommendations that include more collaboration between policymakers and researchers, and called for the involvement of more stakeholders to tackle the misuse of AI. They could use such AI to turn consumer drones and autonomous vehicles into potential weapons, for instance, said researchers from universities such Oxford, Cambridge and Yale, as well as organizations like the Elon Musk-backed OpenAI, in a report. AI is predicted to be so massive that Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said it could have a more profound impact than possibly electricity or fire — two of the most ubiquitous innovations in history. At the same time, there are plenty of skeptics of AI. High-profile physicist Stephen Hawking said last year that AI could be the "worst event in the history of our civilization" unless society finds a way to control its development. Self-driving cars, for example, could be tricked into misinterpreting a stop sign that might cause road accidents, while a swarm of drones, controlled by an AI system, could be used for surveillance or launching quick, coordinated attacks, the report said. Intelligent machines, according to the report, could lower the cost of carrying out cyberattacks by automating certain, labor-intensive tasks and more effectively scoping out potential targets. "If some of the relevant research and synthesis tasks can be automated, then more actors may be able to engage in spear phishing," the researchers said. For example, "highly realistic videos" of state leaders making seemingly inflammatory comments they never actually made, could be made using advances in image and audio processing, according to the report.

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