CNN’S Anna Stewart talks metaverse, crypto, artificial intelligence and more

CNN’S Anna Stewart talks metaverse, crypto, artificial intelligence and more
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Updated 24 February 2023

CNN’S Anna Stewart talks metaverse, crypto, artificial intelligence and more

CNN’S Anna Stewart talks metaverse, crypto, artificial intelligence and more
  • She said her experiences presenting tech show “Decoded” have turned her from a cynic to a firm believer in the potential of new technologies
  • ‘Sometimes we worry too much about change. People worried the mobile phone would have a similar impact (on real life interaction) and I don’t believe it has,’ she said

DUBAI: Anna Stewart, a CNN reporter at the news channel’s bureau in London, is the host of its shows “Decoded” and “Marketplace Europe.”

In the former, she explores the latest trends in technology, from cryptocurrencies to wearables, so Arab News sat down with her for an exclusive chat about the latest developments in the tech sector.

The metaverse has been a hot topic for the past year or more yet it remains hard to define exactly what it means and encompasses.

“It’s always difficult to define something that is still evolving and people really differ in their opinions on this one,” Stewart said. “At its most broad definition, I would say the metaverse is the internet gone three-dimensional.”

As Stewart has gotten to know the ideas behind the metaverse better, she said she has been most surprised by the fact that there is more than one metaverse, “and they all look and feel very different.”

She told how she has experienced several metaverses, including a virtual nightclub in Somnium Space, a virtual reality experience on the Ethereum blockchain, where she danced with strangers, and buying a pet lion in Second Life and then flying with it, because “why not?”

Some metaverse platforms aim to enhance human connections, such as Meta’s Horizon Workrooms. 

Anna Stewart

“I was skeptical that this would be any better than Skype or Zoom,” said Stewart. “I like to meet people IRL (in real life) but, of course, that’s not always possible and the VR experience brings you ever closer.”

The “Decoded” team often holds production meetings in the metaverse, she explained.

“When I’m wearing my VR headset in London, I am able to interact with the team around a virtual desk and even view the latest episode on the big virtual screen,” she said.

“It makes us feel like we are together and collaborating in a way that a video call just can’t.”

Although some people have voiced concerns that the metaverse might be detrimental to real-life connections and interactions, Stewart is not too concerned about that.

“Sometimes we worry too much about change,” she said. “People worried the advent of the mobile phone would have a similar impact and I don’t believe it has.”

The rise of the mobile phone, the internet and, consequently, social media did, however, have implications for privacy and online safety. Even now, more than a decade after the dawn of social media, regulation remains a challenge.

“I worry deeply that hate speech, cyberbullying, and sexual harassment could be even more invasive if people can hide behind the anonymity of an avatar,” said Stewart.

The question of user privacy is something Philip Rosedale, the founder of virtual world Second Life, has been pondering since its inception. One of his biggest concerns is how future metaverse platforms will make money.

He told Stewart: “It has to be a business model that doesn’t include surveillance, targeting and advertisement.”

If metaverse platforms fail to self-regulate, governments might have to step in and define the rules, which will be no easy task, Stewart said.

Jane Thomason, a futurist and author on the subject of digital ethics, told Stewart: “Typically, regulation has been done on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis, and yet some of these metaverses will be multijurisdictional, and even virtual in that they don’t have any particular geography that is their home.”

Another important area in which regulation is still under development is cryptocurrency. Following the FTX scandal, crypto adoption has slowed globally. Dubai, however, has embraced cryptocurrency, “so it’s little surprise you’ll find well-known crypto influencers living there,” Stewart said.

“You’ll also find you can buy a car or even an apartment using cryptocurrency; two of the region’s largest property developers, Damac and Emaar, appear to be embracing a crypto future,” she added.

More importantly, she said, Dubai is seeking to regulate the sector through its Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority. Additionally, crypto exchanges such as BitOasis and Binance have secured licenses to operate in the UAE.

The future of cryptocurrencies, according to Stewart, will probably be different from what many people think.

“I think a truly decentralized currency, like Bitcoin, could revolutionize financial transactions in some parts of the world and is a useful method of payment for cross-border transactions,” she said.

But she added: “I don’t think buying Bitcoin in the hope its value will go up and make you a Bitcoin billionaire is a good strategy or one that’s likely to work.”

In addition to the metaverse and crypto industries, artificial intelligence is another topic that has sparked controversy and discussions about regulation, especially the emergence of bots and deepfake technology for manipulating digital images.

Stewart was deepfaked, with her consent, for an episode of “Decoded” and the process “was fairly easy, which is hugely worrying,” she said.

Selina Wang, another CNN journalist, recently reported on deepfaked anti-US newscasts spread by pro-China bot accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

“These realistic newscasts feature AI-generated anchors that are difficult to tell apart from the real thing,” said Stewart.

“This technology is spreading rapidly around the world and would have major consequences on trust and reliability.”

Although AI is not without its share of controversy, and concerns about the disruption it might cause to some jobs, its proponents believe it holds great promise in terms of reshaping society and education, and creating new industries. One report predicted that 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet.

Despite fears about AI-powered chatbots such as ChatGPT, which has been used for a wide range of activities, from writing essays to creating recipes, Stewart believes they could in time prove to be an “incredible sounding board for creatives.”

She said she uses them herself to find the right words or metaphors for her scripts, or to generate new ideas for her show.

“Even if what it spits out is no good, it may spark a different idea in my brain,” she explained.

While new technologies often seem threatening and dangerous at first, they could revolutionize the future, Stewart added.

The experiences she has had talking with guests on “Decoded” and trying some of the innovations for herself have converted her “from a cynic to a firm believer that this technology has an important role to play in the future.”

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh
Updated 01 June 2023

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh
  • Event to be hosted by Motivate Media Group, TRACCS

DUBAI: UAE-based Motivate Media Group, and communications consultancy TRACCS — which started in and is headquartered in Saudi Arabia — have announced the launch of the inaugural Athar — Saudi Festival of Creativity, in Riyadh in November.

The festival aims to bring together the creative and marketing industries in Saudi Arabia to recognize and celebrate them.

Mohamed Al-Ayed, vice chairman of Athar Festival and CEO of TRACCS, said that the event would “enable and empower a new generation of creative-first Saudi marketers and inspire the sustainable development of the country.” 

The festival — which is being held over four days — will include a variety of training courses, roundtables, C-suite sessions, young talent competitions, and an awards ceremony.

It will also boast exclusive programs for women and executive marketers.

The awards will be presented to agencies, networks, and brands, and will be verified by Cannes Lions and Dubai Lynx.

Ian Fairservice, chairman of Athar Festival and managing partner and group editor-in-chief of Motivate Media Group, said: “The festival will be a dynamic and vibrant meeting place in Saudi Arabia where culture, creativity, talent, and technology will collide.

“It is a celebration of the power of creativity in an environment that inspires cultural exchange, collaborative innovation, tangible learning, and training and development.”

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies
Updated 01 June 2023

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies
  • Even though uptake in MENA remains low, it is still higher than in other regions, research suggests
  • Companies should focus on building capabilities in 4 crucial areas to tap into full potential,

LONDON: Embracing artificial intelligence technology could boost Gulf economies by $150 billion, equivalent to about 9 percent of their combined GDP, according to a recent report by Global consultancy McKinsey.

The research indicates that this estimate might be quickly surpassed, given the rapid advancements in technologies like generative AI.

Vinay Chandran, partner at McKinsey, underlined the transformative power of AI, saying: “With the rapid pace of technological innovation, AI has emerged as a transformative force, reshaping industries and societies.

“We believe it has the potential to deliver huge value in the Middle East’s GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries.”

The consultancy firm conducted an online survey in collaboration with the GCC Board Directors Institute, involving 119 senior executives and board directors from six Gulf countries across various industries.

These industries included retail, professional services, energy, capital projects, and financial services.

While results show that AI uptake remains relatively low in the Gulf, it is still higher than in other regions.

In fact, 62 percent of respondents reported their organizations utilized AI in at least one business function, outpacing North America (59 percent), Europe (48 percent), and the Asia-Pacific region (55 percent).

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, governments and businesses in the Middle East are becoming increasingly aware of the global shift toward AI and advanced technology.

However, the survey suggests that companies that are currently using AI have only just begun to explore the full potential of the technology.

Global consultancy PwC estimates that by 2030, AI could contribute $320 billion to economies in the Middle East, or 2 percent of the total global benefits of AI.

Annual AI contribution growth in the region is expected to range between 20 percent and 34 percent, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading the way.

Chandran noted that over the past five years, McKinsey’s research had revealed a striking difference between high-performing companies and their competitors, with the former deriving 20 percent or more of their earnings from AI.

He argued that for GCC companies to follow suit, they should focus on building AI capabilities in four crucial areas: strategy, organization and talent, data and technology, and adoption and scaling.

However, several respondents emphasized the significant challenges they face in developing AI capabilities due to various concerns.

To overcome the hurdles, the report advises companies to align their AI strategy with enterprise goals, cultivate AI talent, treat data as a product, and implement effective change management programs.

The UAE, for instance, has been making significant investments in AI and has even launched the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence to support the development of its AI ecosystem and promote research.

But while AI adoption in the GCC is “relatively encouraging,” McKinsey’s research suggests there is still a “significant” untapped value that companies can access.

Different sectors in the GCC are adopting AI at varying speeds, with retail leading the pack, as 75 percent of respondents in this sector reported implementing AI in at least one business function.

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia
Updated 01 June 2023

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia
  • 22m active users in the Kingdom to benefit from range of improvements, including AR, AI offerings

RIYADH: Snapchat has unveiled innovative story features, including Communities, After Dark and Friendship Flashbacks, that enable users to more creatively document special moments.

To highlight improvements shown off at the annual Snap Partner Summit, the platform held a press conference in Riyadh on May 31.

The event showcased a variety of new functions and developments in enterprise solutions, retail innovation, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence technologies.

“In Saudi Arabia, Snapchat is a part of people’s lives, with over 22 million active users, including a remarkable 71 percent of parents. It’s heartwarming to witness the deep engagement of Snapchatters in Saudi, who open the app nearly 50 times per day, embracing its role as a daily companion,” said Abdulla Alhammadi, Snapchat regional business lead for the KSA market.

“Our augmented reality features, particularly the Lenses, have struck a chord with over 85 percent of KSA users, demonstrating their popularity and impact. Equally inspiring is the fact that almost 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s Monthly Active users are 25 or older, showcasing the diverse appeal of Snapchat across different generations.”

Users of Snapchat have several options for staying in touch with loved ones using the features: Communities, After Dark, and Friendship Flashbacks that let users capture memorable occasions in more interesting ways.

Friendship Flashbacks bring throwback memories from Snapchat Memories directly into conversations with friends, After Dark offers a dedicated story format for evening memories, and Communities allows students to share their perspectives with classmates.

A customized 3D Snap Map will make it simpler to find landmarks and popular destinations, and also provide new location-sharing capabilities.

Additionally, the Bitmoji design has been improved to offer avatars that not only look like Snapchatters, but also dress like them, with a greater selection of shoppable clothing and accessories.

Snapchat recognizes the power of its AR innovations and the camera in enabling storytelling and empowering content creators. And to further support creators, a Stories revenue sharing program has been introduced. Eligible creators with at least 50,000 followers, 25 million monthly Snap views, and a minimum of 10 Stories per month and at least 50,000 followers can now monetize their Stories through ads.

This program incentivizes creators and provides the community with more engaging content from their favorite creators.

Snapchat also aims to provide creators with more growth opportunities through new features such as Snap Map.

By tagging locations in Spotlight Snaps or saving Stories they love, creators can expand their reach and offer the community the chance to discover new talent. Moreover, dozens of new tools have been developed for creators, including the integration of Linktree, a leading link-in-bio platform, into their new Public Profiles.

Additionally, new Story updates will allow a broader audience to discover and appreciate creators’ creativity while maintaining Snapchat as the best platform for genuine friendships.

Snapchatters aged 18 and older can now post their own Public Story with a simple tap, and creators gain access to content performance insights and Story Replies.

Additionally, a new tool recommending Sounds to pair with Lenses will make Snaps even more expressive.

Snapchat also unveiled the AR Shopping Suite by ARES as part of its mission to revolutionize the shopping experience, AR Enterprise Services.

Innovative AR and AI technologies like Try-On and Fit Finder are integrated into customers’ own apps and websites by this package.

To bridge the gap between the virtual and real worlds in retail settings, Snapchat has unveiled AR Mirrors. This technology has already been adopted by companies like Nike and Coca-Cola.

Zainab Hawsawi, head of communications for Snap in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News: “AR is revolutionizing the way we live, and its impact is undeniable. In MENA, 85 percent of users engage with Lenses on a daily basis, emphasizing its integration into our daily lives. Looking ahead to 2025, we foresee an exciting shift where the majority of Gen Z and millennial social media users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE will actively embrace AR.

“Ipsos research reveals that shopping is the top motivator for consumers to utilize AR, and at Snapchat, we’re proud to introduce innovative AR solutions to the Saudi market. From Live Garment Transfer to AR Enterprise Services Shopping Suite and AR mirrors, we aim to enhance the shopping experience, making it more enjoyable and seamless for all.”

LBCI campaign champions Lebanese basketball teams at FIBA Cup 

LBCI campaign champions Lebanese basketball teams at FIBA Cup 
Updated 01 June 2023

LBCI campaign champions Lebanese basketball teams at FIBA Cup 

LBCI campaign champions Lebanese basketball teams at FIBA Cup 
  • #OurWorldOurPlayground will be on screen, on LBCI’s website, and on digital platforms

LONDON: The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International launched on Thursday a campaign to support and inspire Lebanon’s three national basketball teams, which will be competing in three upcoming global tournaments.

The promotional campaign, “#OurWorldOurPlayground,” will be showcased on screen, on LBCI’s website, and on digital platforms, announced LBCI in a press statement.

Through an agreement with FIBA, the private television station has secured exclusive broadcasting rights in Lebanon for major international and continental championships until 2025.

LBCI said the campaign would seek to unite the Lebanese community, at home and abroad, rallying their support for the competing teams across the three world championships.

LBCI’s campaign will include promotional clips, special TV shows, and in-depth newscast coverage.

This coverage will feature exclusive interviews, unique stories, and reports involving renowned experts and male and female players supporting Lebanon’s presence on the global sports map.

The Lebanese women’s team is the only Arab team competing in the first stage of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Sydney, Australia, starting June 26; the U19 team will compete in the first stage of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup commencing on June 24 in Hungary; and the men’s team will participate in the FIBA Basketball World Cup starting on Aug. 25 in Indonesia.

Meta threatens to yank news content from California over payments bill

Meta threatens to yank news content from California over payments bill
Updated 01 June 2023

Meta threatens to yank news content from California over payments bill

Meta threatens to yank news content from California over payments bill
  • California Journalism Preservation Act would require online platforms to pay a 'journalism usage fee’
  • Meta said it would remove news if similar bill is approved by Congress

NEW YORK: Facebook parent Meta Platforms said on Wednesday it would remove news content in its home state of California if the state government passed legislation forcing tech companies to pay publishers.

The proposed California Journalism Preservation Act would require “online platforms” to pay a “journalism usage fee” to news providers whose work appears on their services, aimed at reversing a decline in the local news sector.

In a tweeted statement, Meta spokesman Andy Stone called the payment structure a “slush fund” and said the bill would primarily benefit “big, out-of-state media companies under the guise of aiding California publishers.”

The statement was Meta’s first on the California bill specifically, although the company has been waging similar battles over compensation for news publishers at the federal level and in countries outside the United States.

In December, Stone said Meta would remove news from its platform altogether if the US Congress passed a bill that closely resembles the proposed California legislation.

The company is likewise threatening to withdraw news in Canada in response to proposed legislation there, along with Alphabet’s Google, which has said it would remove links to news articles from Canadian search results.

The proposals are similar to a ground-breaking law that Australia passed in 2021, which also triggered threats from Facebook and Google to curtail their services.

Both companies eventually struck deals with Australian media companies after amendments to the legislation were offered, although the standoff prompted a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in Australia in the process.

An Australian government report released in December concluded that the law had largely worked.

Google did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment about the California bill.