Weekend Briefing No. 99

Welcome to the new year! This week China got a new license to pry. A new law passed by the Chinese legislature on Sunday will give the government sweeping new powers under the auspices of fighting terrorism. The law has been criticized as overreaching by human rights advocates, business groups, and the United States. Guinea was declared free of Ebola.

Enjoy my January playlist and check out my favorite music video This Is The New Year to get your year started right!

WEEKEND BRIEFING

The ultimate empathy machine. Virtual reality videos that allow viewers to take an immersive 360-degree tour of refugee camps and informal settlements are being touted as “the ultimate empathy machines” that could persuade policymakers and donors to pledge more humanitarian relief. There is little concrete evidence that virtual reality films lead to more aid. However, one out of every six New Zealanders who watched Clouds Over Sidra donated to a Unicef appeal, according to preliminary data. That is double the number of people who normally give, the agency says. Christopher Fabian, the co-lead of Unicef’s innovation unit. “I can’t even count the number of times someone has taken off the headset and the goggles are filled with tears.” Learn more at The Guardian.

Zimbabwe & China. Zimbabwe plans to adopt the Chinese yuan as legal tender in return for debt cancellation worth about $40m – a move one economist predicted “has no future at all”. China has become the largest investor in Zimbabwe, which has been shunned by the West over its human rights record and is struggling to emerge from a deep 1999-2008 recession that forced the government to ditch its own currency in 2009. In the last five years, Zimbabwe has received more than $1bn in low-interest loans from China, which is Harare’s second largest trading partner after South Africa. Learn more at Aljazeera.

Should big oil fall on its sword? Despite collapsing oil prices, which have settled into a long-term range of $30-50 per barrel, oil majors are still pouring scads of money into exploring new fields. They should instead exploit the existing reserves, return cash to their shareholders and / or divert their profits into green energy research, or they’ll be left high and dry when the cleantech revolution finally comes. Read more at Project Syndicate.

Ice rush. More than a century has passed since explorers raced to plant their flags at the bottom of the world, and for decades to come this continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve, shielded from intrusions like military activities and mining. But an array of countries are rushing to assert greater influence here, with an eye not just toward the day those protective treaties expire, but also for the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now. Antarctica’s mineral, oil and gas wealth are a longer-term prize. The treaty banning mining here, shielding coveted reserves of iron ore, coal and chromium, is expected to come up for review by 2048. Learn more in the New York Times.

Internet.org in India. Last week, the Times of India reported that the country’s telecom regulatory body had asked Facebook’s partner, wireless carrier Reliance, to cease the Internet.org service as it determines whether operators should be able to price their services based on content. Responding to criticisms of the program, Zuckerberg penned an op-ed published Dec. 28 in the English-language daily. In it, he expressed annoyance that India is debating net neutrality—a principle dictating that telecom operators provide people with equal access to the internet—as the country struggles to connect its citizens to the internet. Learn more in Quartz.

THINGS I LIKE

A Machine Successfully Predicted the Hit Dance Songs of 2015. Run this year’s top Billboard dance singles through this prediction tool, and the algorithm will predict a 65 percent or higher probability of a hit for all of the top 10 songs of the year.

Louis Vuitton’s next top model is from a video game. Lightning, a character from the Final Fantasy series, stars in a new ad for the Paris fashion house.

ABOUT THE WEEKEND BRIEFING

The Weekend Briefing is a selection of this week’s top stories on innovation and society, curated by Kyle Westaway – author of Profit & Purpose and Managing Partner of Westaway Law. I consider it a privilege to be a part of your weekend routine. Thanks.

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