As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through a digital renaissance?

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through a digital renaissance?
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Updated 02 December 2022

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through a digital renaissance?

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through a digital renaissance?
  • NFT startups in region seem to think so

DUBAI: OasisX, the nascent curated multichain non-fungible token marketplace, which aims to drive adoption of NFTs in the Middle East and North Africa region is embracing Web3 in several ways integrating NFTs, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies within its platform.

Jimi Ibrahim, one of the co-founders of the company, who has described the new iteration of the internet as a digital renaissance, said: “Web3 has four pillars: Blockchain as a secure infrastructure, tokens like NFTs for proof of ownership and provenance, cryptocurrencies for store of value and transactions, and the metaverse, which is a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality.”

The adoption of Web3, however, has witnessed a slowdown as cryptocurrency and NFT scams have become rampant in markets such as the US. Despite the promise of a more secure internet, cryptocurrencies can be used and abused for fraudulent activities, as evidenced by the recent FTX scandal.

Founded by Sam Bankman-Fried in 2019, FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange, that rose to popularity thanks to celebrity endorsements and an aggressive marketing strategy.

In November, the crypto news site CoinDesk published the balance sheet of Alameda Research, a crypto investing firm also owned by Bankman-Fried, showing that Alameda held a large amount of a digital currency created by FTX called FTT.

“While there is nothing per se untoward or wrong about that, it shows Bankman-Fried’s trading giant Alameda rests on a foundation largely made up of a coin that a sister company invented, not an independent asset like a fiat currency or another crypto,” the article said.

However, if the value of the FTT were to drop, Alameda would essentially be at risk of insolvency.

The article set in motion a series of legal actions against Bankman-Fried, FTX, and the celebrities who promoted the crypto exchange, resulting in one of the biggest financial scandals.

The incident has slowed down the adoption of crypto, diminished faith in the industry, and cost a lot of people a lot of money. Although Ibrahim noted that it had “hurt the industry,” he pointed out that it had acted as a purge of sorts.

He said: “Foul play has to be shed light on, and such players have to be removed from the playing field so that the environment is much more safe and secure for natural growth.” He added that, ultimately, was the future where “decentralized finance is going to change the world for the better.”

The global NFT industry alone reached a market capitalization of $41 billion by the end of 2021, according to blockchain data company Chainalysis.

The space was also growing to include non-fungible assets, Ibrahim said, which would see it extending into the real world. For example, the real estate and NFT industries have been merging with several properties being sold as NFTs.

In February, US-based real estate company Propy sold an NFT-backed property, a 2,164-square-foot house in Florida, for $653,000 with the winning bidder receiving a NFT as proof of the home’s ownership.

“This is the future we’re looking to tap into, facilitate and expedite because it only makes sense to secure everything on the blockchain,” Ibrahim added.

OasisX aims to bring a new layer of security and accessibility to the world of NFTs in the MENA region for both artists and businesses.

Ibrahim along with co-founders Najib Khanafer and Ramzi Mneimneh started working on the platform more than one year ago and officially launched it at the NFT LB event in Lebanon in September.

The event featured the work of 23 artists, half of which were sold out during the event, as well as served as a platform for panel discussions, movie screenings, and AR and VR experiences.

The company’s marketplace features only vetted artists, unlike platforms such as OpenSea, which avoids any “bogus projects,” Ibrahim said.

Anyone can create and sell NFTs on OpenSea. Since the platform does not vet artists, many fraudulent NFTs end up on it. Earlier this year, OpenSea reported that more than 80 percent of the items on the platform were plagiarized works, fake collections, and spam.

“We want to keep the art community safe and secure with the right projects,” Ibrahim added.

Available in English and Arabic, the platform currently has 250 vetted artists and aims to grow into the biggest MENA-based marketplace. It also works with galleries through a referral program where the gallery receives a royalty over the first sale of any artist that gets onboarded and vetted on the platform.

It only charges 2 percent in transaction fees — among the lowest in the industry — because “artists should make the most of the sale of their hard work,” Ibrahim said. That was also why, he added, the company would never remove royalties.

Often, the technical skills needed to create NFTs can serve as a barrier to entry for both artists and brands. The company, therefore, created LaunchX, an NFT generator powered by artificial intelligence.

Recognizing that there are some still wary of NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the company has integrated options such as paying through credit cards, to make it more accessible.

The entire process is secured through a smart contract on the blockchain. Ibrahim said it was more secure than using traditional banking, especially in countries such as Lebanon, where the banking system was a shambles leaving many unable to use credit cards.

It was almost impossible to corrupt information on the blockchain making it more secure than traditional transaction methods used in Web2, he added.

Despite resistance and reluctance, Ibrahim forecasted that Web3, and cryptocurrencies, would become the norm in the next five to 10 years with people using it just as seamlessly as they use debit and credit cards today.

Spotify launches ‘Women of Iran’ playlist

Spotify launches ‘Women of Iran’ playlist
Updated 01 February 2023

Spotify launches ‘Women of Iran’ playlist

Spotify launches ‘Women of Iran’ playlist
  • Compilation celebrates Persian music history and amplifies female voices

LONDON: Spotify has launched a new playlist called “Women of Iran,” voicing its support for females protesting in the country.

Curated by Iranian American Leila Kashfi, DSP’s associate manager, artist partnerships, the playlist aims to amplify the voices of Iranian girls and women and their global allies, according to reports.

“For decades, the Islamic Republic has forced Iranians to suppress the beauty of Persian culture — a culture founded thousands of years ago in music, dance, romance, & tolerance,” Kashfi wrote on Instagram.

“The (Islamic Republic) targets artists because music fuels revolution.”

The compilation reflects core characteristics of Iran’s culture and celebrates the country’s past and contemporary music history, including songs specifically about the current protests.

“Women of Iran” includes songs by iconic Iranian singers, including Googoosh, Mahasti and Hayedeh, alongside artists Shervin Hajipour and Toomaj Salehi, who were both arrested and imprisoned after sharing music in support of the fight against the Islamic Republic’s injustices.

Hajipour, who received a whopping 95,000 submissions for The Grammys’ new best song for social change award, was released following international pressure back in October.

As a part of the playlist launch, Spotify is utilizing its video story feature that provides a platform for the Iranian creative community to speak on topics including culture, art and freedom of expression.

The algorithm-driven 50-song custom selection pulls from over 100 Iranian songs and will include five songs pinned to every user’s playlist, including Hajipour’s “Baraye” and Salehi’s “Soorakh Moosh.”

The other three are “Dobareh,” a collective song led by iconic artist Googoosh, “Soroode Zan” from popular singer Mehdi Yarrahi, and a song that translates to “Freedom Anthem” by a collective calling themselves Ethnic Musicians.

The playlist also includes diasporic Iranian artists, including Rana Mansour, Snoh Aalegra, and Iranian-Dutch singer Sevdaliza, who has released a number of songs in support of the ongoing revolution in Iran.

ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text

ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text
Updated 01 February 2023

ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text

ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text
  • But the company said the detection tool is still "imperfect"

SAN FRANCISCO: Creators of a ChatGPT bot causing a stir for its ability to mimic human writing on Tuesday released a tool designed to detect when written works are authored by artificial intelligence.
The announcement came amid intense debate at schools and universities in the United States and around the world over concerns that the software can be used to assist students with assignments and help them cheat during exams.
US-based OpenAI said in a blog post Tuesday that its detection tool has been trained “to distinguish between text written by a human and text written by AIs from a variety of providers.”
The bot from OpenAI, which recently received a massive cash injection from Microsoft, responds to simple prompts with reams of text inspired by data gathered on the Internet.
OpenAI cautioned that its tool can make mistakes, particularly with texts containing fewer than 1,000 characters.
“While it is impossible to reliably detect all AI-written text, we believe good classifiers can inform mitigations for false claims that AI-generated text was written by a human,” OpenAI said in the post.
“For example, running automated misinformation campaigns, using AI tools for academic dishonesty, and positioning an AI chatbot as a human.”
A top French university last week forbade students from using ChatGPT to complete assignments, in the first such ban at a college in the country.
The decision came shortly after word that ChatGPT had passed exams at a US law school after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation.
ChatGPT still makes factual mistakes, but education facilities have rushed to ban the AI tool.
“We recognize that identifying AI-written text has been an important point of discussion among educators, and equally important is recognizing the limits and impacts of AI generated text classifiers in the classroom,” OpenAI said in the post.
“We are engaging with educators in the US to learn what they are seeing in their classrooms and to discuss ChatGPT’s capabilities and limitations.”
Officials in New York and other jurisdictions have forbidden its use in schools.
A group of Australian universities have said they would change exam formats to banish AI tools and regard them as cheating.
OpenAI said it recommends using the classifier only with English text as it performs worse in other languages.

Tech giants in Europe could pay for 5G, fiber networks under fresh EU plans

Tech giants in Europe could pay for 5G, fiber networks under fresh EU plans
Updated 31 January 2023

Tech giants in Europe could pay for 5G, fiber networks under fresh EU plans

Tech giants in Europe could pay for 5G, fiber networks under fresh EU plans
  • Proposal aims to offset costs of data-heavy companies including Google, Netflix
  • But ‘fair share’ vision could threaten net neutrality, civil society groups warn

LONDON: ‘Data-heavy’ tech companies in Europe recording high levels of internet data traffic could be required to contribute to telecom infrastructure costs under new EU plans, sources said on Monday.

Under the proposal, companies including Netflix and Google will be required “to help pay for the next generation of internet infrastructure” across the continent.

The initiative to charge companies over their bandwidth usage — data transfer measured in bits per second — is part of the “fair share” vision being pursued by the EU.

“Fair share,” also known as the sender-pays principle, is based on the argument advanced by leading European telecom carriers that online platforms fail to contribute to network expenses while benefiting from the digital economy.

A draft document suggested that tech firms might contribute to a fund to offset the costs of building 5G mobile networks and fiber infrastructure, as well as take part in the creation of a mandatory system of direct payments to telecom operators.

The European Commission, which is developing the proposal with industry players, is reportedly floating a “threshold” proposal that would help identify companies that generate large amounts of data traffic, similar to the concept of “gatekeeper” companies introduced as part of the Digital Markets Act.

According to a European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association study, a small number of internet companies — including Google, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and Netflix — account for more than 56 percent of global data traffic.

The proposal to force tech giants to contribute to telecom costs was first brought forward in May 2022 but was met with skepticism by some members of the EC, who called for broad consultations with relevant stakeholders.

Tech companies and civil society organizations have also expressed alarm about the move, warning that it might jeopardize net neutrality, which promotes the democratization of the internet and freedom for individual users.

EC President Ursula von der Leyen said in December that the EU “intends to launch a thorough discussion on the future of Europe’s connectivity infrastructure,” adding: “The amount of data exchanged and harvested is larger than ever and will increase.”

EU lawmakers are aiming to move ahead of the curve with legislation focusing on the growth of the data-intensive metaverse and virtual worlds.

SRMG Academy launches registration for journalism boot camp

SRMG Academy launches registration for journalism boot camp
Updated 01 February 2023

SRMG Academy launches registration for journalism boot camp

SRMG Academy launches registration for journalism boot camp
  • Classes start on April 30 in Riyadh and run for six months
  • The program features lectures by a group of SRMG journalists

RIYADH: SRMG Academy has announced that registration for its signature journalism boot camp is now open until Feb. 18, 2023.

The six-month program, which kicks off in Riyadh on April 30, seeks to discover new media talents and develop emerging journalists in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

The SRMG Academy Boot Camp offers 20 participants hands-on classroom training and the opportunity for work experience at SRMG’s most prominent publications.

The rigorous program is led by world-class Arab and international journalists who have experience in regional and global news organizations. It will also feature lectures by a selection of SRMG’s leading journalists.

“I can’t think of a better gateway to begin a career in journalism in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world than taking part in this unique program,” said SRMG Academy Managing Director Alaa Shahine Salha.

“Each day, the training will offer new challenges to the participants,” he added. “They will be presented with real-life situations that are faced by journalists and the students will have to make quick decisions…about how to address them.”

The first edition of the program is open to residents of Saudi Arabia who are recent university graduates or have a maximum of two years of work experience.

The best-performing trainees will receive job offers from SRMG publications. The selection will be based on a combination of talent and the needs of the business.

Launched in December last year, the SRMG Academy is the editorial training arm of the Saudi Research and Media Group, which owns more than 30 leading publications and platforms across the Middle East and North Africa region, including Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Asharq News and Independent Arabia.

The SRMG Academy Boot Camp is designed to offer participants a gateway to building a career in the industry by equipping them with the skills needed in today’s media world. The course will include fundamental skills, such as writing, editing and beat reporting, in addition to different story formats, such as mobile journalism, podcasting and broadcast journalism.

Advisory firm Salient launches in Saudi Arabia

Advisory firm Salient launches in Saudi Arabia
Updated 01 February 2023

Advisory firm Salient launches in Saudi Arabia

Advisory firm Salient launches in Saudi Arabia
  • Industry veterans behind company hail Kingdom’s ‘leading role on global stage’

LONDON: Newly formed communications advisory firm Salient has launched in Saudi Arabia.

The company was launched by industry veterans Andrew Bone and Sean Trainor. Salient specializes in corporate reputation and organizational culture management.

“Saudi Arabia is the most exciting market globally for communications professionals,” said Abdullah Al-Muzaini, co-founder and non-executive chairman.

“Salient is committed to building local capacity to enhance the reputation of leading organizations and increasing familiarity and favorability toward the Kingdom.”

Headquartered in Riyadh, Salient combines global expertise and local insights to build the reputations of organizations in the region.

The two veterans behind Salient said that the company will provide communication expertise to corporates operating across a wide range of industries, and will support organizations in the country as the Kingdom continues to implement its far-reaching Vision 2030 national transformation program.

“Guided by Vision 2030, the pace of change is accelerating every day as Saudi Arabia takes a leading role on the global stage,” Trainor said.

“The communication challenges and opportunities are unprecedented, and Salient is committed and well positioned to support the country in this dynamic marketplace.”

Bone said that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is an ambitious project “the likes of which has never been witnessed before worldwide.”

He added: “Collectively we have been working at the center of government in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade helping the nation to tell its compelling story.”

The company aims to support a new generation of Saudi industry leaders by blending global talent and local professionalism, the pair said.

“Our fresh, innovative approach to communication is the perfect learning environment for nurturing Saudi talent to become global communication consultants,” Salient general manager Osamah Alqusayer said.

“Blending the best of global talent with smart, inquisitive young Saudis is an attractive proposition for organizations looking for standout communications with impact.”