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NEOM: A $500 Billion smart-city to be built in Saudi Arabia

Ranine Awwad

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NEOM A $500 Billion smart-city to be built in Saudi Arabia

As part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to transform the Kingdom for a post-hydrocarbon age, a project entitled NEOM is currently being developed in Tabuk, in northwestern Saudi Arabia. On August 23, Saudi Energy Minister Abdul Aziz bin Salman said that his Ministry is ready to offer assistance to NEOM – a $500 million smart city, according to Reuters.

The NEOM project was set to be complete by 2025. Unfortunately, it was stopped amid the Covid-19 pandemic. With the Ministry of Energy assistance, the project that includes tourism and sports facilities on the Red Sea would be completed on schedule. “We have to preserve and make all our capacities available to realize this project”, explained Prince Abdulaziz during the signing ceremony for the agreement, according to Al Arabiya English.

On the other hand, NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr said “ Built from the ground up as a model of future living, NEOM will be one of the largest, most sophisticated and advanced infrastructure projects ever undertaken globally, and we are delighted to have a major industry leader like Bechtel on board to work with us to realize our ambitions”, according to Oilprice.com.

First revealed in 2017, the NEOM project consists of 26.500 square km (10,230 square miles) development powered by wind and solar energy. The BBC said that the NEOM zone would focus on nine sectors including food technology, energy, and water. On the other hand, NEOM aims to produce 15 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, states Arab News. Moreover, it is set to operate as an independent economic zone powered solely by regenerative energy and will have self-governing laws and regulations, according to the same source.

Back to 2017, BBC refers to a statement where it is mentioned, “NEOM’s contribution to the Kingdom’s GDP is projected to reach at least $100bn by 2030, in addition to its per capita GDP- projected to become the highest in the world”.

Early August 2020, NEOM has signed a contract with Saudi Telecom Company STC aiming to deploy a 5G network infrastructure as well as launching an innovation center at the city to explore new 5G opportunities. The deployment of 5G technology across NEOM will enable the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), smart homes, and autonomous vehicles. NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr said, “The procurement and deployment of a future-proof wireless network is a critical first for NEOM in realizing our goal of driving innovation in the future digital economy”, according to NEOM twitter account.

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Ranine joined Inside Telecom as an Investigative Journalist. Her extensive fieldwork and investigations shed light on many socio-economic issues. Over the past few years, she has transformed her key findings into in-depth analytical reports. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication.

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AI to enhance healthcare system and improve COVID-19 treatment in Britain

Karim Hussami

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healthcare system

The pandemic has shifted the focus regarding many areas in our lives by changing our norms and finding it vital to always search for new ways to improve care, especially as we fight Coronavirus.

While the vaccine is being rolled out around the world in order to fight the virus, artificial intelligence (AI) has also proved to be an effective tool in this scope.

As such, the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) will use AI to help improve the outcome for COVID-19 patients and reduce their time spent in hospital.

Benefits of AI

Before the series of lockdowns began, artificial intelligence is being used extensively in many countries to help detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of the virus.

This new-old method includes algorithms that identify patterns and anomalies that are already working to detect and predict the spread of COVID-19, while image recognition systems are speeding up medical diagnosis.

Some of the ways AI can help medical centers and hospitals are:

  1. Help identify virus transmission chains and check broader economic impacts. AI technologies demonstrated their potential to deduce epidemiological data more rapidly than traditional reporting of health data, following several cases.
  2. Institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the OECD (oecd.ai) also included interactive dashboards that track the virus’ spread through live news and real-time data on confirmed coronavirus cases, recoveries, and deaths.
  3. Artificial intelligence has an early warning system that can help detect epidemiological patterns by digging mainstream news, online content amongst other information channels to provide early warnings related to healthcare networks and data flows.
  4. Data collection of populations is key to ensuring scalability and accuracy which is followed by rapid diagnosis to limit contagion and understand the disease spread.

AI could help to rapidly diagnose COVID-19 cases by quickly analysing large volumes of research data. This technology’s text and data mining tools can uncover the virus’ history, transmission, and diagnostics, management measures, and lessons from previous epidemics.

Monitor COVID-19 cases

On the other hand, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “The use of artificial intelligence is already beginning to transform patient care by making the NHS a more predictive, preventive, and personalised health and care service.”

Many countries are using population surveillance to monitor COVID-19 cases (In Korea, algorithms use geolocation data, surveillance-camera footage and credit card records to trace coronavirus patients).

In addition, AI imaging database will improve diagnosis of patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, whilst increased speed and accuracy in diagnosis can lead to early medical intervention and save lives.

Contact tracing systems to identify possible infection routes is a method being implemented in many countries such as Austria, China, Poland, Singapore and Korea.

The power of artificial intelligence is employed to treat one of the most crucial health crises that humans are facing and will have a huge potential for future treatments.

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WhatsApp delays privacy update until May 15

Yehia El Amine

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privacy update

After a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp announced on Friday that it will push back its privacy update till May 15, the delay is intended to allow users ample time to review the new conditions.

Initially, the update had required people to agree to the new privacy policy by February 8 or see their accounts shutdown should they refuse. Matters became even more confusing when the company said that it partnered with Facebook on new “integrations,” without specifically saying how the data sharing process would work.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a statement.

User backlash was driven further forward due to the spread of misinformation which stated that WhatsApp could now read people’s conversations and other personal data. “There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the statement read.

The controversy around the update instantly spread worldwide, as many users began to migrate to rival alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week.

Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

Facebook execs, such as Instagram head Adam Mosseri and WhatsApp lead Will Cathcart, attempted to quell the bleeding, as they took to Twitter to clear up the confusion, but with little to no avail.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply routed problem of trust, or lack thereof.

Facebook has a notorious track record when it comes to digital privacy, to the extent of which its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently testified in front of the U.S. Congress and EU Parliament for that matter.

While the company has clarified time and again that the update will not affect users when talking to friends and family, many refuse to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.

Since its acquisition by Facebook in 2014, Zuckerberg left WhatsApp to operate as an independent entity, which would take advantage of its parent company’s infrastructure and resources.

That arrangement allowed the instant messaging app to flourish, gaining billions of news users worldwide.

However, the approach has changed over the years, as both of WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left the company in 2018 due to a falling out with the Facebook CEO. Since then, efforts of stitching together messaging services of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have increased, in the hopes of strengthening their e-commerce presence online.  

The fact that WhatsApp has, over time, turned its sights on monetizing the platform for its large international user base, has eroded trust in the chat app, which, in turn, has had the effect of turning a relatively mundane update into a worldwide controversy.

While Facebook has doubled down on its mission to combat misinformation on the platform, the furor over WhatsApp’s privacy changes is bitterly ironic, seeing that its hands are tied due to the closed and private nature of the service.

WhatsApp has begun sharing graphics in multiple languages detailing exactly what the privacy policy update will mean, as well as giving users a three-month delay to better communicate and explain the changes.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms…We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the statement highlighted.

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Step aside WhatsApp; there is a new sheriff in town

Osama Habib

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“Come, Watson, come, the game is afoot.”

This phrase from the famous fictional detective character Sherlock Holmes sums up the fierce race between the popular WhatsApp messenger and other rivals, who have gained spectacular demand in the past few months.

In recent weeks and even months, the founders of WhatsApp have noticed with alarm a growing trend among many of its dedicated users to shift to other messenger apps on mobile phones such as Signal and Telegram.

The reasons behind the surge in the number of users of the new apps can be attributed to many reasons, starting from WhatsApp’s intention to alter its privacy act on February 8, to the mounting resentment of  U.S. President Donald Trump supporters after several leading tech and platform companies decided to ban the president from using any leading social media outlet under the pretext that Trump could incite violence.

 No matter what the real motives behind the rising demand for new apps, WhatsApp’s board of directors are facing their biggest challenge: Keeping their loyal users who have exceeded 2.5 billion accounts around the world.

However, this task may not be easy to achieve in a short period of time as many dedicated users of platforms now see an abundant and wide range of apps on mobile phones.

Just like in life, people are willing to change their habits and routine.

People may be willing to drop a certain brand of coffee or chocolate if any company succeeded in convincing the consumers that their products are as good as any item on the shelves of supermarkets.

This same simple principle can be applied to apps because in the eyes of the people, these apps have turned into a useful tool to communicate with people and even promote products.

We in the tech industry remember when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in February 2014.

The price tag has even stunned many tech companies around the world, with some wondering if WhatsApp really worth all this money and was it a good investment?

“For months, the company had been tracking WhatsApp obsessively using Onavo, a VPN and data analytics app, whose data showed that the messaging app was not just a rising competitor, but a potential Facebook killer,” according to one article.

According to the Associated Press, Encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram are seeing huge upticks in downloads from Apple and Google’s app stores. Facebook-owned WhatsApp, by contrast, is seeing its growth decline following a fiasco that forced the company to clarify a privacy update it had sent to users.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week. Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

“Experts believe the shift may reflect a rush of conservative social media users seeking alternatives to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and the now-shuttered right-wing site Parler. The mainstream sites suspended President Donald Trump last week and have tightened enforcement on violent incitement and hate speech,” AP said.

Parler, meanwhile, was unceremoniously booted from the internet after Apple and Google banned it from their app stores for failing to moderate incitement.

Amazon then cut Parler off from its its cloud-hosting service. Experts worry that these moves could lead to more ideological splintering and further hide extremism in the dark corners of the internet, making it harder to track and counteract.

“WhatsApp didn’t do itself any favors when it recently told users that if they don’t accept a new privacy policy by Feb. 8, they’ll be cut off. The notice referenced the data WhatsApp shares with Facebook, which while not entirely new, may have struck some users that way,” the agency said.

But despite the surge in the download of new apps, Whatsapp is still by far the most popular messaging app of the three, and so far there’s no evidence of a mass exodus.

Sensor Tower estimates that Signal has been installed about 58.6 million times globally since 2014. In that same period Telegram has seen about 755.2 million installations and whatsapp a whopping 5.6 billion – almost eight times as many as Telegram.

But time will tell if the new boys will be able to gain the same momentum.

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