Tag Archives: #tech

Indian-American’s Palo Alto Nonprofit Announces $2,000 Mini-Grants For US Classrooms

Palo Alto-based Osmo for Schools, in partnership with Osmo Cares, the charitable arm of award-winning STEAM brand Osmo, announces one-time mini-grants consisting of $2000 worth of Osmo for Schools’ educational technology.  A total of 20 in-kind mini-grants will be awarded to schools in time for the Fall 2021 semester.
Award-winning STEAM brand Osmo was co-founded by Pramod Sharma, who came to the U.S. from India to study at Stanford and later became an engineer at Google. In 2013, he co-founded Osmo with Jerome Scholler. Osmo has won numerous awards from US consumer and educational technology media outlets, including a Time Magazine Best Invention Award in 2014, EdTech Digest’s 2020 E-Learning Innovation of the Year Award, and Best AI-based Solution for Education Award for its proprietary reflective AI technology in 2018. The technology is used in over 2.5 million homes and over 30,000 classrooms.
“Osmo for Schools is so thrilled to offer 20 mini-grants for the first time ever,” says Jan Richards, head of education sales and marketing at Osmo for Schools, the division of Tangible Play that promotes in-classroom usage of Osmo’s devices. “We know there are many schools across the country which lack needed funding to purchase educational technology, so we decided to give 20 schools a gift. Their students and teachers will have something to look forward to when they return to in-person learning this fall.”
The grant application will be open to public schools in the United States desiring to outfit a classroom with Osmo’s award-winning STEAM technology. Mini-grant recipients will be able to choose from a selection of Osmo for Schools products; only one recipient will be selected per school. Schools must already have appropriate tablets on hand, or a plan to purchase them–they are not included as part of the mini-grant.
Applications will be accepted July 1-17, 2021; mini-grant recipients will be announced Aug. 9, 2021.
For further details about the Osmo for Schools’ mini-grant and application process, visit here: schools.playosmo.com/grants.

Osmo for Schools, a division of Tangible Play, Inc., focuses on building in-classroom usage of Osmo’s award-winning educational systems. Using proprietary AI technology, these systems help teachers foster collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and increased engagement in learning, in students. Osmo is used in more than 30,000 schools in North America. Tangible Play is headquartered in Palo Alto, California. For more information about Osmo for Schools and its products, visit schools.playosmo.com

Pfizer’s Vaccine Expert Discusses Allocating Doses For Low Income Communities

Dr. Advait Badkar, Senior Director of Pfizer’s Drug Design Team.

Radha Rangarajan, CSO of a medical devices company, and healthcare journalist Sujata Srinivasan, interviewed Advait Badkar, a Senior Director in Pfizer’s Drug Product Design and Development organization. Badkar is leading the efforts on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine program with respect to the formulation and process development, scale-up, technology transfer, and registration across global markets. The team Badkar heads specializes in novel delivery technologies with emphasis and expertise in nanoparticle-based modalities.

IC: Are there any differences in immunogenicity in subpopulations? 

Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 clinical trial data demonstrated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95% in participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (first primary objective) and also in participants with and without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (second primary objective), in each case measured from 7 days after the second dose. Efficacy was consistent across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics. 

IC: Participants enrolled in Pfizer’s clinical trials were known not to have been infected previously with COVID-19, for obvious reasons. But now that the vaccine is publicly available, it is not possible to test every person before vaccinating. In India, 70%-80% of people have the asymptomatic disease and are unaware of their COVID-19 status. Are any studies planned to assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in previously exposed populations? 

Yes. Immunity after vaccination is a question we continue to explore in our research. The duration of immunity after COVID-19 requires observing a large number of people who have had the disease once until some get it a second time. Because the first known cases of COVID-19 only occurred in December 2019, there hasn’t been enough time to observe a significant number of second illnesses to know the duration of natural protection. 

We will better understand transmission when we have data on protection for those who were previously exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or infected with COVID-19, asymptomatic disease and severity of the disease. Our trial will continue to study those areas to determine the full protection and potential of the vaccine. 

IC: Even though the science behind mRNA vaccine is not new, some fear that it might alter the genetic makeup, or cause other irreversible side effects. How is Pfizer’s outreach arm dispelling these myths?   

There is no evidence to support that notion. To the contrary, the mRNA platform is well suited for a pandemic response on many levels.  

First, one aspect of safety – unlike some conventional vaccines, mRNA vaccines are non-infectious, and there is no need for a viral vector to deliver the mRNA vaccine. Second, because no viral vector is used, mRNA vaccines pose no risk of an anti-vector neutralizing antibody response, thereby permitting repeated boosting, which may be important if additional vaccinations are recommended in the future.  Third, speed, mRNA technology enables rapid development if the vaccine needs to quickly adapt to potential mutations. mRNA vaccines have an efficient, fast production process, without the need for complex mammalian cell systems.

IC: Is there any plan to simplify the vaccination protocol to one dose? 

No. Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 study for the COVID-19 vaccine was designed to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and efficacy following a 2-dose schedule, separated by 21 days. The study concluded that the two doses are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95 percent. 

IC: What are your thoughts on how to choose between the different vaccines?

At Pfizer, we understand that mitigating this global pandemic will require more than one vaccine and more than one company’s efforts. In March of 2020, Pfizer announced a 5-point plan calling on the biopharmaceutical industry to join the company in committing to an unprecedented level of collaboration to combat COVID-19. The industry responded. We are rooting for each other’s success and are confident that science will win.  

IC: What is the plan for a global supply? How will these be administered?

Pfizer and BioNTech are firmly committed to equitable and affordable access for its COVID-19 vaccine for people around the world. That commitment includes the allocation of doses for supply to low-income countries at a not-for-profit price. We are actively working with governments all around the world, as well as with global health partners to work towards fair and equitable access to our vaccine. We are also partnering with global health stakeholders to provide expertise and resources that can strengthen healthcare systems where greater support may be needed to deploy COVID-19 vaccines.  


Radha Rangarajan, Ph.D., is Chief Scientific Officer at HealthCubed Inc., a medical devices company. Prior to this, she was the founder and CEO of Vitas Pharma, a drug discovery and development company focused on novel drugs to treat multidrug-resistant infections. Radha has also worked in the Drug Discovery division of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. She received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, her Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health before moving back to India in 2003.

Sujata Srinivasan is an award-winning, independent business and healthcare journalist with the nonprofit Connecticut Health Investigative Team, whose grant-funded, data-driven reporting is carried by media outlets statewide. Previously, she was the Connecticut correspondent for Crain’s Business, business reporter at NPR’s regional station WNPR, U.S. correspondent for the Indian edition of Forbes, editor of Connecticut Business Magazine, and Interim Chief of Bureau at CNBC-TV 18, Chennai, India. You can follow her on Twitter @SujataSrini

Kartikaye Mittal

Indian American Devises Collapsible Chamber to Manage Panic Attacks

An Indian American has designed and fabricated a sanctuary that one can retreat into during moments of panic, in a bid to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a widespread condition in America and the world over. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition, can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. It could cause significant issues in the social life of a person and interfere with the ability to perform daily tasks.

Mittal's Reboot, a collapsible PTSD chamber.
Mittal’s Reboot, a collapsible PTSD chamber.

Kartikaye Mittal, 32, who holds a master’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York, has created the prototype called Reboot, employing his knowledge of design and engineering, and combining it with his research in psychotherapy and wellness, according to a statement issued on Monday.

Reboot is a collapsible chamber that can be used by survivors of PTSD in moments of panic and is intended to be installed in university campuses, hospitals, airports, malls, and other crowded places. The chamber alters sensory stimuli and creates an environment in which the person can manage one’s emotions without disturbance, distraction or aggravation. It gives the user a personal space to retreat into when needed, to practice the therapeutic exercise prescribed by his or her therapist, to meditate, or just be, it said.

Kartikaye visited PTSD support groups in New York City and consulted psychotherapists as part of his research for Reboot. He discovered that in a trauma-survivor, panic may be triggered at any point in time, especially when in a public place, where one doesn’t have immediate access to his or her therapist. The drive to empower the user made him build several models, experimenting with material, size, shape, and color.

The telescoped space is 5 feet wide, 7.5 feet high, and depth extendable to 4 feet. The chamber collapses to merely 15 inches and can be instantly extended when necessary. The internal surface is designed to absorb sound, the statement said. The primary objectives of this space are dampening the noise from the surrounding environment, spatial comfort, collapsibility, and adaptability to available space in the buildings.

With inputs from clinical psychologists, Mittal was able to keep the look and feel of the structure benign and non-evocative. Neutral grey was the overall color chosen for a muted look. Reboot is Phase 1 of Kartikaye’s initiative to create an aid for trauma survivors. Phase 2 is scheduled to commence soon under his STEAMplant residency at Pratt’s Math & Science department.


Lalit K Jha is the Chief US Correspondent for Press Trust of India (PTI), the largest news agency of India subscribed by over 500 newspapers as well as scores of TV channels and radio stations. Based in the Washington D.C. Metro Area, Lalit extensively covers the White House, the State Department, and US Congress from an Indian perspective, besides writing about Indian Americans.

This article was first published here and has been republished with the permission of the Author.

Unconventional

Unconventional

disquieting dreams,

and marooned behind inadequate screens

await former days

and absent glitching in say.

eyes stained: debilitated red

with dilly- dally chained to bed. 

and what to find?

obliterated time!

how can one comprehend?

when inhibited voices send.

this institution is rapid pace 

we aren’t tying lace

but how can they care about dreams…

After all, vision is by screen.

*****


Rashmika Manu is a 10th grader attending High School. She enjoys using poetry as a form of expression. She is passionate about travel and hopes to fight poverty when she is older. 

Adopting Impermanence as a COVID Response

“All conditioned things are impermanent – when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

-Gautama Buddha

In times of chaos and tribulation, it seems wise to refer to the teachings of those who sought to understand suffering. Impermanence is the word that comes to mind, yet humanity finds comfort in permanence. 

At the August 14th Ethnic Media Services briefing on the science behind COVID-19, doctors on the frontlines reaffirmed the motif I had been seeing – a contradictory society seeks change, yet is resistant to it.

This moment of truth in American history requires quick and consistent change. I wonder, can we rise up to the challenge?

Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute remarked “America may have the worst response of any country in the world, to this pandemic” and added that we were in the same position, if not worse condition than Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. Further, he stresses that success with outbreak control has nothing to do with imposing government structures, the culture of the country, or the wealth of a nation. 

Government: Russia’s authoritarian government is struggling with containment.

Culture: East Asian and European countries are dissimilar in their cultural practices but both have managed to lower their COVID rates. 

Wealth: Vietnam, a developing nation, until recently, had avoided COVID-related deaths.

“It’s tempting to look for explanations for why other countries are doing better”, cautions Dr. Jha. He logically builds to the conclusion that where we have failed is in deploying ONE action effectively across all states. That is all that is required. With one-third of the U.S. population on the brink of succumbing to the pandemic, one third already fully at risk, and one-third managing to keep the pandemic at bay, mismatched messaging is wreaking havoc. Without a coordinated response from strong federal leadership, the COVID death numbers will not plateau. 

The onus of information dissemination and access to resources lies heavily on those in positions of power but behavioral change can come from the top-down and the bottom-up. 

Impermanence. The ability to adopt thought that lasts for an undetermined period of time. 

No one wants to be in lockdown. No one wants to wear a mask outside. No one wants to continuously get tested.

Just one of these, fully implemented and enforced, could be the key to end suffering. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, Senior Scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, informs his research from the positive COVID control he has seen in Asian countries where schools remain open. He notes, “Right now there is a false choice between lives and livelihood.” That choice drives contention and spreads misinformation.

What is needed to re-open safely?

Early warning systems, broad & efficient testing, effective quarantine/isolation, adequate treatment capacity, actionable data collection, and vaccines. 

He brings forth antigen testing as the cheaper, faster method to detect COVID. Cost-effective and almost instantaneous results, I am feeling more optimistic as he continues to speak.

Source: U-T reporter Jonathan Wosen

Early warning systems and actionable data collection rely on the immediate transfer of information to an online database to make it accessible. Temperature monitoring using a thermometer linked to the internet would increase the efficiency of detecting COVID hotspots and roll out timely mandates required to limit spread. Dr. Shah’s blend of technology and the pandemic is the obvious way to move forward. Daily reporting is the necessary next step.

Source: Covid Act Now

So why haven’t we already been using this technology?

“We really need to start to think about a fundamentally different approach that protects privacy and lets public health [professionals] do their job”, Dr. Shah frustratedly shakes his head.

He is moving fast and hits a wall with effective quarantine/isolation and vaccines. The U.S. has expended no energy to strategize or provided resources for isolation and most vaccines are a year out still. 

“We are not anywhere close to doing well”, ends Dr. Shah. 

It seems Dr. Shah and Dr. Jha come to similar conclusions – the United States has the resources and the intelligence to rewrite the course we have taken with regards to the pandemic.

A grim message but I leave with positive outcomes. Testing is changing and so is data collection. Mitigation and prevention of COVID is plausible.

Can we adapt? Can we change? Can we make space for impermanence in our lives to end suffering?


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

How to Secure Your Startup Properly

It’s always hard to set up a new business. And it’s even harder to do so successfully in the middle of a pandemic. 

According to TechCrunch, in the current climate, 70 percent of Indian startups will face financial difficulties alongside the other issues inherent in launching a new venture. But India has one of the world’s most bustling startup ecosystems, a fact that gives an immense amount of hope to both the private and public sectors. 

Attending to cybersecurity is a key part of setting up any new business in 2020. Without the right tools and strategies in place, a startup is likelier to fall victim to cybercrime and suffer both financial and reputational losses.

India is the second most affected region worldwide when it comes to cybercrime, so to give your new company the very best chance of succeeding, it stands to reason that your venture needs to significantly invest in a solid cybersecurity strategy, here’s how:

Create a culture of cybersecurity

Whether your business has 200 staff members or you’re operating with a team of 5, make sure that cybersecurity forms a key role in your company’s ethos. Creating a culture of cybersecurity means ensuring that everyone in the business is aware of the risks and knows that security is everyone’s job, not just the IT people’s.

Staff training can go a long way towards a solid cybersecurity culture. Bring in experts to train the team on procedures if possible.

Have the right tools for the job

Gone are the days when an antivirus was all the protection your computer needed. Now, in today’s dynamic and ever-changing digital world, the threats are far more advanced. Your company should seriously consider investing in the following tools at the very minimum:

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

You might think VPNs are primarily tools for privacy. But what a VPN does is create a private network, which in the process encrypts any data in transmission, keeping it safe from prying eyes. Installing a VPN in the office’s router means all devices, including any IoT-enabled tools, are protected.

Anti Malware & antivirus

Get both to ensure as much protection as possible from both the threats of old and the more modern threats such as drive-by malware downloads.

Email scanners

The changing face of phishing means that it’s not always easy to detect fraudulent emails or outreach attempts, especially when the attack is planned by seasoned hackers. To help avoid any nasties being unwittingly opened by staff, invest in email scanning software.

Check for vulnerabilities and make a breach plan

Although it’s not nice to consider, it’s always best to plan for the worst-case scenario. If a breach occurs, what is your company’s plan, who do you need to report the breach to, and how will the business inform affected clients? These are the questions your breach plan needs to cover.

To help avoid the nightmarish breach plan being enacted, try and get a cybersecurity expert to check over your systems and find any vulnerabilities. 

Founding a new business is tough, and it’s tougher still when faced with the spate of cyber threats on the horizon. But following the three actionable steps above gives your startup a greater chance of making it through and becoming a success.


Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe and free internet for all. He writes about his dream for free internet and unravels the horror behind big techs.

Count the Ticking TikToks

The summer has been eventful for ByteDance, the owner of the rapidly growing social network TikTok. First, the government of India banned the application from distribution in the country due to concerns that the Chinese government is accessing user data. Then, a number of US companies warned employees to remove TikTok from their work phones. Most recently, US President Donald J. Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the US.

Into this maelstrom has stepped Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with an offer to purchase the US business of TikTok. Nadella has earned a reputation as a savvy operator. He has restored Microsoft’s growth with smart bets on various types of business software, and a strong push to move the users of various applications, including the company’s lucrative Office products on to the online Office 365 version. Nadella has also remade the image of the swaggering giant as a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful company.

Image of Satya Nadella by Brian Smale

Microsoft’s purchase of TikTok would be Nadella’s riskiest bet to date. If Beijing, in fact, views TikTok as a crucial asset for influencing US political and social discourse, it could attempt to put backdoors into the software and service. Microsoft would need to work hard to extricate them, and they could result in TikTok’s being shut down anyway.

Also, with TikTok, Microsoft would enter the politically fraught world of social-content moderation. Microsoft has assiduously avoided political controversy, but TikTok would inevitably force Nadella to enter that arena in one way or another. For example, critics have loudly complained that TikTok censored videos of recent Hong Kong protests, citing that as evidence of Chinese government control. One can imagine similar discontent, due to slights — real or perceived — arising among any number of causes, particularly at either extreme of the US political spectrum.

TikTok’s present valuation $5 billion has critics warning that Microsoft is about to overpay. That is one of many things that could halt the deal altogether — valuation, government intervention, and fresh revelations of spying on users being just a few.

Yet the logic of the acquisition is clear. TikTok is under threat of closure by the US federal government. It’s hard to imagine that Microsoft will pay its full valuation price. For ByteDance, this may offer a graceful exit from a business that it realizes will only create more problems. So, Nadella may be making a smart bet — one with less to lose and more to gain than others realize.

Microsoft would increase its market presence by simultaneously acquiring both a social medium and an application popular with the younger crowd. It has long pined for more of the under-25 group, and TikTok may fulfill that aspiration most clearly and cleanly. Also, TikTok, a kinder, gentler social network than Facebook and Twitter, aligns culturally with Microsoft’s carefully groomed image.

The platform is designed to encourage discovery and consumption, but not to fan the flames of extremism. That does entail algorithmically controlling content more carefully and spreading new content more slowly than Facebook and Twitter care to. To date, however, moderation has been a lesser problem on TikTok than on other platforms and, due to its design and mechanism, is likely to remain so.

With TikTok would come a large and growing pool of user-generated video data for training Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) engines. In theory, if Microsoft can continue to grow TikTok’s user base, its advertising benefits to Microsoft may be enormous. Microsoft’s cash flow would benefit from the added diversity of the advertising revenue and potentially of another rapidly growing source: social advertising. To put this into perspective, Amazon’s fastest-growing revenue stream, of late, has been advertising sales on its powerful eCommerce platform.

The purchase’s major benefit to Microsoft and the US public may be the ability of US consumers to continue to use an innovative platform for free expression and creativity after rescuing it from the quicksand of politics. Yes, we must remain vigilant in limiting government spying (which, let’s be honest, both sides engage in) and restrictive business practices (in which China is clearly the worst offender). But ultimately the potential of such technology as TikTok is to soar above partisanship and divisiveness to let people connect and create.

Certainly, social networks have created their fair share of problems for society, and TikTok is not a perfect vessel. People will find ways to abuse its potential. For now, however, Microsoft’s purchase of TikTok would, in a rare win-win, benefit Microsoft, TikTok’s users, and society.

And just as the US learned from India’s ban, India now needs to learn from it. China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 requires all of its companies and citizens to ‘support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work’. If China decided to launch more aggressive moves against India, it could have its companies intercept private communications, shut down key services, or even sabotage infrastructure. This is why the US State Department launched the Clean Network program: to purge Chinese companies from US infrastructure. This applies to telecoms carriers, cloud services, undersea cables, apps, and app stores.

Removing Chinese-developed infrastructure will take time. But India can surely take a page out of the US State Department’s book and require companies such as Xiaomi, Haier, Oppo, Vivo, Oneplus, Huawei, and Motorola to sell their Indian products to local players. Companies such as Reliance, Mahindra, and Tata have the capability and funding and could win in the same way as Microsoft.


Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow, Labour and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, US, and co-author of the forthcoming book, From Incremental to Exponential: How Large Companies Can See the Future and Rethink Innovation.

This piece was first published here.

License for embedded image can be found here.

Tech Mahindra For A Safe Global Reopening

To be sure of the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 screening technology that he was considering for his employees, Tech Mahindra CEO CP Gurnani, suggested testing it on himself and his household members. That decision may have saved him and his family from having to be admitted to hospital —as actors Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan were last week. As it turned out, everyone in the house received a clean bill of health, except the two sons of his cook who were diagnosed as high risk.

As the Bachchans too must have done, Gurnani had had his domestic staff take all necessary precautions, remaining distant and wearing masks. His cook’s sons did not show any visible sign of infection, yet were potential Covid-19 carriers.

The fact is that the testing techniques in common use are inadequate, and social distancing isn’t always possible. RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests have ‘false negative’ rates of 20-67%, depending on when they are taken. Also, temperature screening and contact tracing fail to identify the presymptomatic spreaders who, according to mathematical modeling, could be responsible for half of the infections. When Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain showed symptoms, his first RT-PCR results came back negative. But they were positive the very next day.

The technology and techniques I had persuaded Gurnani and Tech Mahindra to pilot — and that I had a hand in developing — are based on understanding an individual’s risk and performing monthly testing. The reality is that even though Covid-19 can be devastating for a few, not everyone who gets infected will have serious symptoms. We can identify the people at high risk with reasonable accuracy based on studies from around the world and data from India. And we can give them special treatment.

For example, it is well established that men above 65, whose health is chronically compromised by diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity, are at higher risk of severe outcomes. Further, severity can be predicted by a number of tests, including those for hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, and measures of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and D-dimer.

Businesses in the US have considered offering these types of tests. But the costs and logistics of doing so are usually prohibitive, with the most basic tests costing more than $100 apiece, and requiring the shipment of samples to labs. A single comprehensive screening for an individual could cost over $1,000, and is usually not covered by insurance plans. It can take days to get basic test results.

This is where India has an advantage over the West: it has developed screening devices, such as HealthCube, which can conduct a range of biochemical and physiological tests for a tiny fraction of the US cost. These include 12-lead electrocardiograms (ECG), tests for blood pressure, oxygen saturation, blood glucose, hemoglobin and cholesterol, and rapid diagnostic tests for infectious diseases.

With HealthCube, an entire regimen of tests, including a test for Covid-19 antibodies and severity markers, can be performed for less than Rs1,000 within minutes. The technology has received Europe’s CE certification.

The Covid-19 risk screening program underway at Tech Mahindra on the HealthCube platform uses patient risk factors — age, gender, medical conditions, potential exposure, recent travel or being in a crowded place, public health data, aggregations from previous screenings, patient symptoms, etc — to compute a risk score for patients. Those at high risk are checked for markers, such as D-dimer and troponin, which are elevated in those who develop the severe disease (which indicate heart ailments). These tests are followed up by teleconsultations and further testing, as appropriate.

With more data and testing, the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms become increasingly accurate, and people are given an individualized screening and testing protocol based on their risk factors, rather than being treated like machines that need temperature checks.

Antibody tests have been controversial largely because the first generation of tests performed worldwide were mostly from China and were low quality and defective. There have also been doubts about whether all Covid-19 patients develop antibodies and, even if they do, how long the immunity lasts.

The newer generations of tests, made outside China, are highly accurate. Swiss pharma giant Roche, for example, claims that 14 days after infection, its test can detect antibodies with 99.8% specificity and 100% sensitivity. HealthCube claims that its India-made tests have 98% specificity and 96% sensitivity. These are both a huge leap from the 5.4% accuracy of the tests that China first sold to India.

There is substantial evidence that within 19 days after symptom onset, 100% of patients test positive for Covid-19 antibodies. And as Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch explained in the New York Times, ‘After being infected with SARS-CoV-2, most individuals will have an immune response, some better than others. That response, it may be assumed, will offer some protection over the medium term — at least a year — and then its effectiveness might decline.’ Even half a year will buy us time to understand and develop better approaches to prevention and treatment — and administer vaccines to those at high risk.

Gurnani told me that his personal experience, and the testing Tech Mahindra has conducted on a few hundred employees, have convinced him to offer the full health screening to the entire India Tech Mahindra employee base — including third-party employees, who typically can’t afford the test and are the most vulnerable because they stay in crowded places. He says that he puts his employees’ health above any business needs and cannot allow even one person to be at unnecessary risk.

Gurnani’s ambition is to show India — and the world — how to safely and sensibly open businesses and economies.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow and professor, Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, Silicon Valley.


This article was republished with permission from the author and can be originally found here.

On Tech, Was India Naive?

The Chinese government banned Facebook in 2009. And even Mark Zuckerberg — despite having a wife of Chinese origin; learning Mandarin; and doing public relations stunts such as jogging in the smog-filled streets of Beijing to say how much he loved China — was not able to have it change its policy. Zuckerberg even went to the extent of creating new tools to censor and suppress content — to please the communists.

But the Chinese were smarter than he was. They saw no advantages in letting a foreign company dominate their technology industry. China also blocked Google, Twitter, and Netflix, and tripped up companies such as Uber. Chinese technology companies are now among the most valuable few in the world. Facebook’s Chinese competitor, Tencent, eclipsed it in market capitalization in November 2017, passing the $500-billion mark. Its social media platform, WeChat, enables bill payment, ordering taxis, and booking hotels while chatting with friends. It is so far ahead in innovation that Facebook is desperately trying to copy its features in the payment system it added to WhatsApp. Other Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and DJI, have also raced ahead. Huawei has become a global threat with its 5G technologies and deep government links.

The protectionism that economists have long decried — which favors domestic supplies of physical goods and services — supposedly limits competition, creates monopolies, raises costs, and stifles competitiveness and productivity. But that is not a problem in the technology world. Over the Internet, knowledge, and ideas spread instantaneously. Entrepreneurs in one country can easily learn about the innovations and business models of another country and duplicate them. Technologies are advancing on exponential curves and becoming faster and cheaper, making them affordable to every country. Technology companies that don’t innovate risk going out of business because local start-ups are constantly emerging to challenge them.

Chinese technology protectionism created a fertile ground for local start-ups by eliminating the threat of foreign predators. The government selected what companies it could best control and gave them the advantage.

China actually learned some of its tactics from Silicon Valley, which doesn’t believe in free markets either. The Valley’s moguls openly tout the need to build monopolies and gain an unfair competitive advantage by dumping capital. They take pride in their position in a global economy in which money is the ultimate weapon and winners take all. If tech companies cannot copy a technology, they buy the competitor.

And then there is data, the most valuable of all technical resources. Data analysis enables everything from micro-targeting of advertisements to voter suppression and population control. Mobile applications are the greatest spying devices ever invented, monitoring not only their users’ interests but also their locations, purchasing habits, connections, political opinions, and health.

That is why the top technology companies from both East and West, the monopolists and predators, see India as the juiciest of all spoils. It has a massive market ripe for the picking, and data gold mines. India has also been naïve in its data protection policies and support for domestic innovation; it bought the old propaganda about the need for open markets.

There are some big differences, though, between the Chinese and American companies that are vying for the Indian markets. The Chinese government largely controls the actions of its companies, feeds them resources and technologies it has stolen from the West. It gives them every unfair advantage so that it can steal more and subvert democracies. Silicon Valley companies want more data so that they can sell more products. They may show bad judgment and cross ethical lines, but they aren’t playing geopolitics or endangering the sovereignty of free nations.

This is why the Indian government’s decision to ban TikTok and other Chinese companies makes sense. What was long holding Indian entrepreneurs back was the lack of Internet connectivity and mobile phones. When these became pervasive, the foreign companies stepped in. Eliminating some of that competition will give Indian entrepreneurs a chance to build world-changing technologies. These will benefit not only India but also the rest of the world, which is desperately looking for an alternative to Chinese influence and domination.

This is not to say that, without broad data and privacy protection policies, Indian technology companies won’t abuse the data that they gather. Such policies are needed as well. But the day politicians talk of breaking up companies such as Inmobi or Jio because they have become global monopolies and gained too much power will be the day of recognition that India has taken strides forward. Right now, what the country has to worry about is the dire threat from the East.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at the Labor and Worklife Program of Harvard Law School and the author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future.

This article was republished with permission from the author and can be originally found here.

Foreign Worker Visas Are the Tech Industry’s Dirty Secret

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bars hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States by suspending new work visas.

The argument against the most significant of these visas, the H-1B, has always been that they harm employment prospects for Americans and depress wages. Some of the criticism is justified: The H-1B visa, which U.S. technology companies and outsourcing firms use to hire 85,000 new foreign specialists each year, is indeed problematic because it puts both American and foreign workers at a disadvantage. These visas are the U.S. tech industry’s dirty secret. They tie the foreign workers to their jobs and allow the employer to pay them less than they could be earning—which drives down pay for American workers as well.

But the solution isn’t for the government to lock the doors or try to control wages; it is to let competition on the labor market do its magic. The simple fix is to allow H-1B visa holders to work for any employer that pays them the highest wage or for the start-up that offers the most rewarding work.

This is something I have written about a lot, including in a 2012 book titled The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. I warned then about the deep flaws in U.S. immigration policies and predicted that China and India would greatly benefit from these flaws—and, unfortunately, that prediction was correct. With help from workers who honed their skills in the United States but couldn’t stay, both of those countries have built innovation capabilities that rival the United States’, and both now have many technology start-ups valued in the billions of dollars.

Here is the problem: For decades, the United States has been bringing in large numbers of workers on temporary visas such as the H-1B, but it never increased the numbers of permanent-resident visas (“green cards”) available for those who want to stay. There are 140,000 green cards issued per year to employment-based visa holders, and the law stipulates that each nationality may receive no more than 7 percent of the total number of employment-based green cards. My research team documented in 2007 that this limitation had trapped more than 1 million skilled immigrants and their families in immigration limbo. The Cato Institute found that number to be unchanged in 2020 and forecast that the backlog would increase to 2.4 million by 2030. Today, skilled Indian workers make up 75 percent of the employment-based backlog, and those who recently arrived face a wait of 90 years.

Technically, any H-1B worker can change jobs by filing a petition with the government, and some do take advantage of this rule. But there is a catch: The H-1B visa allows a path to permanent residency only when an employer sponsors a worker. And this is the carrot employers offer, one that most people coming to the United States want. Once they accept this carrot, they are trapped in immigration limbo because they can only change sponsoring employers or take new jobs at their current companies if the new job is in the same category and at the same level as the old one—otherwise, they risk losing their status or having to reapply. Most don’t take the risk. Therefore, visa holders shun promotions and changes in their job descriptions, leading to stagnating careers and lower salaries than they could otherwise make.

Opponents of the H-1B visa are correct in claiming that the visa disadvantages American workers, who are effectively competing with bonded labor. To the would-be immigrants, this indentured servitude is compounded by the employment restrictions that their spouses now face once again: The H-4 visas that permit them employment have also been suspended by Trump.

The overall problem could be fixed if the number of permanent-resident visas available for skilled workers was increased and the wait times decreased dramatically. But that is not going to happen in this era of pandemics and xenophobia. The most realistic solution is to untether the visa holder from the hiring company. In other words, allow an employee who enters the country on an H-1B visa and gets an offer of a higher salary to change jobs regardless of the status of his or her green-card application—without cumbersome additional paperwork. This way there’s no cheap labor anymore, and market forces take over. And, of course, the spouses of H-1B workers must not be prevented from working; no civilized society can place such restrictions on a group that is mostly women.

Technology companies don’t propose such a fix because it would cause them to lose power over the employee. Politicians won’t propose such legislation because it is not what tech-industry lobbyists want. Instead, we get a series of convoluted proposals that increase the role of government and disadvantage all workers, both American and foreign—and create the immigrant exodus.

Sadly, there is unemployment in the tech industry, and there are many heart-breaking cases of Americans being displaced by cheap foreign labor. This is not an acceptable situation, and it is why smart immigration reform would fix the salary disadvantage. Having more highly skilled, job-creating immigrants will lead to more innovation and more jobs. It will make the economic pie bigger for everyone.

The key to competitiveness is to allow the tech industry to hire the best talent, no matter where it comes from. The economy thrives on competition of every form, including technology and skill. Attacking immigrants and demanding that companies hire Americans over people who are more skilled, as Trump is doing, is the fastest way to destroy the United States’ remaining competitive advantages—and prolong the recession.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow and professor, Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, Silicon Valley.

This article was republished with permission from the author and can be originally found here.