Can virtual influencers build real connections with audiences?- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

Despite investment in virtual influencer campaigns by brands such as SK-II, Calvin Klein and Smart Car, some marketers still doubt whether a virtual character can forge a real connection with an audience.
Speaking at the Tempemail Live, a new monthly magazine launch event hosted by the Hospital Club, Lore Oxford, global head of cultural insights at We Are Social, suggested that audiences may not yet be willing to fully engage with virtual content creators. She said: “We’re right in the middle of uncanny valley… it’s still an emerging space.
“People affiliate these platforms with reality and real people. There’s a soap opera element to social media, where we engage with all of these different people’s conflicts and stories – but I don’t know whether people are ready for those platforms to have fictional narratives on them.”
Oxford said people still desire authenticity from creators, pointing to recent stories of influencers accused of deceiving followers, such as the revelation that Instagrammer Caroline Calloway had produced much of her content with the aid of a ghostwriter and the Calvin Klein campaign featuring Lil Miquela and Bella Hadid accused of queerbaiting.
Andrew Jude Rajanathan, global director at Zenith, suggested that for now, the publicity gained by associating with popular virtual characters could outweigh audience reservations. He said: “You’ve now got the virtual world colliding with the real world. And you’ve got your brand front and centre.”
For Lucy Robertson, account director at influencer agency Seen Connects, virtual influencers aren’t currently able to produce “emotive storytelling“.
She said: “Part of the reason why people invest in influencers long term is if they see themselves in that person, and they really connect with their values.
“We’ve seen people like virtual influencers, like Lil Miquela… she did a vlog not too long ago talking about her experience of sexual assault. That’s a very traumatic and real human experience. And there’s something very kind of like cold and clinical about someone who isn’t real explaining a human experience. So I wonder, when it comes to that kind of emotive storytelling, how can we bridge that gap?”

Tempemail recently unveiled its own virtual influencer, a digital character named Floresta, in partnership with Live & Breathe and the Virtual Influencer Agency (VIA). Dudley Nevill-Spencer, founder of VIA, suggested that audiences would engage with virtual influencers as entertainment, rather than documentary.
“The key is understanding that that character is not real,” he said. Then I think it’s fine to engage in those kinds of deep emotional stories. Effectively, it’s just another art form. The difficulty is when you don’t know if a person is real or not – that messes with your head.”
Tempemail Live is a new event series that marks the launch of each issue of Tempemail, held every month at the Hospital Club in London. Tempemail Tempemail’s events team to be notified about the next event.

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Tempemail Live asks whether virtual influencers can build real connections with audiences- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

Despite investment in virtual influencer campaigns by brands such as SK-II, Calvin Klein and Smart Car, some marketers still doubt whether a virtual character can forge a real connection with an audience.
Speaking at the Tempemail Live, a new monthly magazine launch event hosted by the Hospital Club, Lore Oxford, global head of cultural insights at We Are Social, suggested that audiences may not yet be willing to fully engage with virtual content creators. She said: “We’re right in the middle of uncanny valley… it’s still an emerging space.
“People affiliate these platforms with reality and real people. There’s a soap opera element to social media, where we engage with all of these different people’s conflicts and stories – but I don’t know whether people are ready for those platforms to have fictional narratives on them.”
Oxford said people still desire authenticity from creators, pointing to recent stories of influencers accused of deceiving followers, such as the revelation that Instagrammer Caroline Calloway had produced much of her content with the aid of a ghostwriter and the Calvin Klein campaign featuring Lil Miquela and Bella Hadid accused of queerbaiting.
Andrew Jude Rajanathan, global director at Zenith, suggested that for now, the publicity gained by associating with popular virtual characters could outweigh audience reservations. He said: “You’ve now got the virtual world colliding with the real world. And you’ve got your brand front and centre.”
For Lucy Robertson, account director at influencer agency Seen Connects, virtual influencers aren’t currently able to produce “emotive storytelling“.
She said: “Part of the reason why people invest in influencers long term is if they see themselves in that person, and they really connect with their values.
“We’ve seen people like virtual influencers, like Lil Miquela… she did a vlog not too long ago talking about her experience of sexual assault. That’s a very traumatic and real human experience. And there’s something very kind of like cold and clinical about someone who isn’t real explaining a human experience. So I wonder, when it comes to that kind of emotive storytelling, how can we bridge that gap?”

Tempemail recently unveiled its own virtual influencer, a digital character named Floresta, in partnership with Live & Breathe and the Virtual Influencer Agency (VIA). Dudley Nevill-Spencer, founder of VIA, suggested that audiences would engage with virtual influencers as entertainment, rather than documentary.
“The key is understanding that that character is not real,” he said. Then I think it’s fine to engage in those kinds of deep emotional stories. Effectively, it’s just another art form. The difficulty is when you don’t know if a person is real or not – that messes with your head.”
Tempemail Live is a new event series that marks the launch of each issue of Tempemail, held every month at the Hospital Club in London. Tempemail Tempemail’s events team to be notified about the next event.

Tempemail , Tempmail Temp email addressess (10 minutes emails)– When you want to create account on some forum or social media, like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, TikTok you have to enter information about your e-mail box to get an activation link. Unfortunately, after registration, this social media sends you dozens of messages with useless information, which you are not interested in. To avoid that, visit this Temp mail generator: tempemail.co and you will have a Temp mail disposable address and end up on a bunch of spam lists. This email will expire after 10 minute so you can call this Temp mail 10 minute email. Our service is free! Let’s enjoy!

Can these Nobel Prize winners build a media platform to inform the masses?- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

With trust in news under threat like never before, an unprecedented alliance of 48 Nobel laureates, revered authors and eminent professors is seeking to shore up the information ecosystem.
This week as delegates and speakers, from Greta Thunberg to Donald Trump, arrive at the World Economic Forum in Davos, they will be invited to sample the work of the global media organisation that is Project Syndicate.
Though relatively little-known, this is a digital platform of such growing influence that it can now claim to be the “World’s Opinion Page”. Its website brims with brilliant writing on politics, economics, climate change and the other big issues of the age.
But its real impact is in supplying that content to 507 media outlets in 57 countries and 61 languages. Partner publishers include Le Monde, El País, The Guardian and Dow Jones’s Market Watch. As a result, it is unquestionably helping to shape the international news agenda and public policy worldwide.
It has vast reach. It sells its commentary articles to around 250 media outlets in developed countries – and then provides the material for free to a similar number of publishers in the developing world. “It’s more important than ever that people have access to credible, fact-based, authoritative, expert information,” says its chief executive Nicolas Chatara-Morse.
He talks of the project’s “rock star” writers, who include many of the world’s foremost economic brains. The consistent readers’ favourite for many years is the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (former chief economist of the World Bank), who this month wrote a piece exposing the US president’s failings: “The Truth About the Trump Economy”. At Davos, Stiglitz has attacked Trump’s inaction on climate change, saying “we’re going to roast”.
Other rock stars are the sustainable development maven Jeffrey Sachs, Christine Lagarde (president of the European Central Bank) and Stern School of Business professor Nouriel Roubini, whose latest piece for the site was provocatively headlined: “Trump Will Make China Great Again.” Vladimir Putin’s Russia is covered by Nina Khrushcheva, the Moscow-born American professor of international affairs and granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Yet Project Syndicate’s greatest asset – its unrivalled pool of expertise – is also one of its biggest challenges. Some of today’s political leaders have made a quarry of great thinkers in order to diminish their authority and silence criticism. Michael Gove, the UK government minister and former environment secretary, claimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts”.
World leaders are similarly distrusted, and Project Syndicate has taken opinion pieces from 120 heads of state, a clear indication of its prestige and traction in the corridors of power.
The project also has links to George Soros, the Hungarian-American investor, philanthropist and favourite bête noire of reactionary conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites who see everywhere the hidden hand of a controlling elite. Soros is the founder of the Open Society Foundations (OSF), dedicated to opposing authoritarianism and the negative consequences of globalisation, and it was out of the OSF network that Project Syndicate was created 25 years ago.
Soros occasionally writes for Project Syndicate. “When Mr Soros publishes a piece with us he is a lightning rod so there will always be a lot of trolls and comments, nasty comments that pop up that we have to watch out for and weed out,” says Chatara-Morse. A more significant threat, he says, is from political pressure on the media outlets with which Project Syndicate partners.
This has been most evident in central Europe, where the project has its roots. Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán and Poland’s ruling Law & Justice party have “squeezed” local independent media, says Chatara-Morse, who is based in Prague along with most of the 25-strong Project Syndicate team (the editor-in-chief Kenneth Murphy is in London and there are other editors in Vienna and North Carolina). “In Poland and Hungary and even in Czech Republic…our partnership reach is much less; we work with fewer publications in those countries than ever before despite the fact that we are here,” he says. “It’s one of our priorities for this year to reestablish ourselves in the region and to support independent media in the region because it’s needed; papers and media outlets are struggling because the populist leaders have figured out how to put pressure on them through legislation.”
Project Syndicate is having much more success outside its home region. Its business model allowed it to generate 1,259 columns in 2019, leading to 24,651 published pieces around the world. Its “absolute game-changer” was to translate its content into Chinese and Arabic, making it an instant media force in those regions. “We have 14 media partners in mainland China now, apart from Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore and Malaysia where we also have Chinese publishers,” says the CEO. All content is now provided in 13 languages.
The non-profit organisation’s stated objective is: “We believe the entire world deserves access to its greatest minds. Our mission is to reach those without this opportunity.”
So it was with some trepidation around “inherent tensions” that, two years ago, it decided to put part of its website behind a paywall and create a premium service, On Point, charging subscribers $2 a week. “We are a mission-driven organisation to provide our content to as many readers as possible. So we didn’t really want to just throw up a paywall,” says Chatara-Morse. “What we ended up on was a premium corner of our website where we are producing long reads, essays and interviews. We have come up with what I think is a unique way to straddle that line and it seems to be working.” So far 6,500 subscribers have signed up.
Persuading Nobel laureates and heads of state to write for this niche audience – rather than readers of hundreds of separate media outlets – could have been a problem. But Chatara-Morse was able to make the argument that On Point pieces – which typically run to 3,000 words – were prized by Project Syndicate and promoted to its 150,000 newsletter followers, and sent directly to prestigious institutional subscribers such as the Federal Reserve Bank and Harvard University. “By telling our authors that this was important content to us to be featured and promoted online to our core readership very heavily, they began to see that it was worth their time.”
The delegates at Davos will be invited to take a read of Project Syndicate’s annual compendium, the print magazine The Year Ahead. It sells for $25 and has contributions from leading economic thinkers such as Klaus Schwab (executive chairman of the World Economic Forum), Jim O’Neill and Sir Angus Deaton (another Nobel laureate). It also wrestles with doubts expressed by society at large in the future of capitalism and the very value of the social science of economics.
The Year Ahead was launched at Davos four years ago (the first time that Project Syndicate had published its own content in print). At this time of year, much of the project’s output is aligned with the themes of debates at the WEF gathering. A specialist magazine on Sustainability and Climate Finance is produced in September to coincide with climate week in New York. Later this year Project Syndicate plans to come to London to launch a new magazine and series it is planning on “the intersection of technology, society and public policy”.
Every commissioned piece has been sent for approval by Project Syndicate’s editorial board, which includes its co-founders Roman Frydman (professor of economics at New York University) and Andrzej Rapaczynski (professor at Columbia Law School). When they set the scheme up in 1995, soon after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, it was known as the “Privatisation Project”. It pivoted to produce economic supplements for media and then focused on opinion pieces.
Its global outlook has been crucial to its model, says Chatara-Morse. “By writing for Project Syndicate you are just as likely to be published in Sweden as you are in Zambia,” he says. “This global multi-language reach is very attractive for authors. It’s this virtuous circle – as we bring in an interesting high-name contributor that’s attractive to another set of publishers which helps bring in revenue which enables us to continue reaching out and placing content in developing parts of the world.”
The US has been hard to crack, partly because titles such as The New York Times and
Wall Street Journal prefer to commission their own writers and offer them for syndication. Chatara-Morse says other parts of the US media tend to be inward-looking and not amenable to the global perspective. “Our model doesn’t fit so well for the US and that has been pretty clear over the years.”
Project Syndicate still takes money from big foundations, including the Mastercard Foundation, the European Climate Foundation and the McKinsey Global Institute. Another supporter, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is backing Project Syndicate’s plans to make its roster more diverse by establishing a fellowship for upcoming writers from the developing world.
“We have been working in the opinion journalism space for 25 years and we want to start using that expertise to start training up the next generation of champions,” says Chatara-Morse. “[We want] people who do not have a Nobel laureate tag or a Harvard professorship but are an expert in their field. Wherever they may be located.”
Ian Burrell’s column, The News Business, is published on Tempemail each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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Google and Sabre team up to build the Future of Travel |Tempemail – Up to date technology news, IT news, Digital news, Telecom news, Mobile news, Gadgets news, Analysis and Reports – Blog – 10 minute

January 22, 2020 • Cloud Computing, Company News, Top Stories
Google Cloud has announced that it has joined forces with Sabre — a software and technology provider that powers the global travel industry—to help digitally transform the traveller’s experience, and co-create the future of travel.

Sabre, which launched in 1960, revolutionised the travel market with the industry’s first semi-automated flight reservation system. Since then, Sabre has evolved into a broad technology platform that manages more than $260 billion worth of global travel spend annually, supporting a wide range of travel providers, such as individual airlines, hoteliers, agencies, travel aggregators, and more.
The 10-year-strategic partnership between Google and Sabre hopes to enable the travel provider to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline, hospitality and travel agency customers.
“This is a really exciting time for Sabre, our customers, employees and other key stakeholders. For decades, Sabre has made travel easier for people on the go and within the industries that serve them,” says Sabre President and CEO, Sean Menke. “Today, we embark on a new transformational journey with Google. As our preferred cloud provider and broader strategic partner. Google Cloud will help to accelerate our digital transformation and ability to create a new marketplace and critical products and systems focused on our customer needs for decades to come.”
As part of the agreement, engineers and business leaders at both companies will work side-by-side on three main initiatives:

Improving Sabre’s technology capability: Sabre will begin the process of migrating its IT infrastructure to Google Cloud’s highly available and secure services. The partnership provides Sabre advanced support and greater flexibility to meet its technology objectives.
Using Google Cloud tools to enhance and optimise travel: Google Cloud’s data analytics tools will enable Sabre to enhance the capabilities of current and future products.  They will provide Sabre with insights to help them improve operational efficiency and create and optimise travel options, improving both loyalty and revenues for its customers.
Driving a broader innovation framework: The two companies have aligned upon a framework that leverages talent and assets of both companies to imagine, develop and deploy future capabilities that will advance the travel ecosystem, benefiting all market participants.

“We are thrilled to work with Sabre through this important initiative to bring together the strengths of both our companies and accelerate innovation in the travel industry,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud. “We believe our partnership will deliver more personalised experiences for travellers, saving time and providing greater convenience that will ultimately raise the standard for the travel industry overall.”
Edited by Jenna Delport
Follow Jenna Delport on Twitter
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Scientists build a memory cell with electrical-optical duality – Blog – 10 minute

Through the looking glass: A team of scientists at Oxford University have built a computer memory cell that can be accessed or written to by electrical and optical signals, simultaneously. It’s an unexpected breakthrough that makes chip-scale photonics suddenly much more viable.
Using light instead of electrons is an obvious, ideal form of signaling that promises more bandwidth and more power efficiency. However, the complexities of using such a delicate form of energy have meant that the only present deployment of photonics is in optical cables, from household ethernet to those spanning the distance between continents.
While those are cool, it’s the board-scale and chip-scale uses that have made photonics such a hot topic. In short, light emissions have low power thresholds so signals are sent earlier and faster, resulting in on-chip latencies orders of magnitude better than electrical signals. The issue is that right now, converting an optical signal to an electrical one requires a lot of power and space, negating all the gains.
We’ve seen interesting attempts to remedy this issue in the past, but the new research tackles the problem in an entirely different way. If the memory (be it primary storage, ram or cache) can accept and output information in both forms, then there’s no need to convert it.
The scientists’ memory cell, which is a non-volatile germanium-based compound, sits at the intersection of gold electrodes and silicon-nitride channels. Electrons flow through the gold, and light waves are funneled through the channels. When either hits the cell, the cell switches between a binary or multi-level state. Your standard 0s and 1s stuff.
While the specific uses of this technology will hopefully materialize in the coming decades, scientists have envisioned how it could help solve current problems. The memory cells might facilitate the development of photonic transistors and could act as a cache and interface for reconfigurable photonic circuits and photonic neural networks. The sky’s the limit.

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Toyota to build ‘city of the future’ in the foothills of Mt. Fuji for testing AI, robots and self-driving cars – Blog – 10 minute

Forward-looking: Hydrogen fuel cells and rooftop solar panels will be powering Toyota’s “Woven City,” a project announced by the company this week at CES. With construction set to begin next year, the prototype facility will serve as a “living laboratory” for testing and developing emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and personal mobility, smart homes, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
With technology encompassing nearly every aspect of modern life, Toyota is creating an entire city that imagines the future of urbanized living with health monitoring in-home robots, autonomous delivery networks, wooden buildings, and designated routes for fast traffic, personal mobility vehicles, and pedestrians.
Powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the city will be a “fully connected ecosystem” built on a 175-acre site, previously home to a Toyota factory at the base of Mt. Fuji, 60 miles from Tokyo, Japan.
“Building a complete city from the ground up, even on a small scale like this, is a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the city’s infrastructure,” said Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.

The city’s architecture is being led by Danish designer, Bjarke Ingels, whose firm has previously lent design services to high-profile projects like Google’s Mountain View and London headquarters, New York’s World Trade Centers, and Dubai’s Mars simulation city.
Commenting on the city’s masterplan on-stage at CES, Bjarke said that “homes in the Woven City will serve as test sites for new technology, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily life.” Using sensor-based AI, these robots would be able to automatically take out the trash, restock fridges and even monitor the health of occupants.

Robots will also help in the construction of buildings, most of which will be made from wood and inspired by traditional Japanese architecture. Bjarke also stressed on the importance of parks and places of public interaction, noting that “In an age when technology, social media and online retail is replacing and eliminating our natural meeting places, the Woven City will explore ways to stimulate human interaction in the urban space.”
The futuristic city will also have a fleet of Toyota’s autonomous e-Palette vehicles performing delivery and retail duties. Toyoda remarked that the connection and communication of people, buildings, and vehicles with each other through data and sensors will enable them to “test connected AI technology… in both the virtual and the physical realms… maximizing its potential.”

Toyota’s Woven City will break ground next year with over a dozen structures to be constructed in the initial phase. The company’s employees and their families will be among the first 2,000 residents of the city, joined later by invited “retired couples, retailers, visiting scientists, and industry partners.”

Although Toyota didn’t mention costs or a completion timeframe, Akio called the project his “personal field of dreams,” believing that the “fully sustainable” city can benefit everyone, not just Toyota.
“You know, if you build it, they will come.”

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State Bank of Mauritius signs MoU with PayNearby to build open banking network- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

SBM Bank (India) has signed an MoU with fintech startup PayNearby to build an open banking network towards delivering basic banking solutions as well as advanced financial services to the customers.
The partnership would enable the bank to offer complete suite of digital and assisted banking solutions through PayNearby’s exhaustive network of micro-enterprise and retail touchpoints, SBM Bank said in a statement.
It will also enable micro-enterprises and retail touchpoints to earn better returns on their investments, it said.
The deployment of the banking module will be done in a phased manner and will work seamlessly with the existing platforms at PayNearby outlets and touchpoints, it added. State Bank of Mauritius (SBM) is the first foreign lender to receive banking license in India through wholly-owned subsidiary route.

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Telangana Govt awards Rs 1800 crore contract to STL to build rural broadband network across 3000 gram panchayats- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

STL, a global data networks innovator, was recently awarded the mandate to create a high speed rural broadband network from Telangana Fiber Grid Corporation Ltd. (T-Fiber). Supporting the vision to establish a ‘Digital Telangana’, T-Fiber and STL will work together for enabling affordable and high-speed broadband connectivity to 6 million rural citizens in the state of Telangana.
Government of Telangana is taking big leaps to build and leverage the broadband infrastructure under BharatNet, which aims to provide broadband connectivity to all 250,000 gram panchayats in the country. As a state-led program, Telangana Government has initiated T-Fiber to provide broadband connectivity up to the household level across the state by rolling-out optical fiber and network infrastructure.
STL was awarded a work order for about Rs.1100 crore for Phase- 1 of the project. The total project value is worth about Rs.1800 crore for which STL has received the letter of intent.
This turnkey project entails designing and building an end-to-end rural broadband network across 11 districts, 3000 gram panchayats of Telangana and managing the network for an additional seven years. The project has a significant O&M revenue stream, close to 30% of the overall Project value.
The scope includes rolling out end-to-end network connectivity by deploying 64,000 kms of OFC (Optical Fibre Cable) Network, as well as deploying IP MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), a routing technique and GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network), a point to multipoint access to create seamless network connectivity. STL will leverage its latest network solutions such as LEAD360, iCORE and FTTx Mantra to deliver this project.
Commenting on the announcement, KS Rao, CEO, Network Software and Services, STL, said, “We are excited to have been awarded the T-Fiber project. At STL, we are constantly working to innovate and create a smart digital ecosystem with our projects ranging from tower, home and enterprise connectivity to rural broadband and smart cities. The uniqueness of T-Fiber project is that it will connect every household across the rural part of the state through optical fiber and provide them high speed internet connectivity. Internet connectivity will enable economic growth and social well-being of rural citizens, thereby make this project a shining example for rural development. STL is proud to be associated with T-Fiber.”
“We are happy to get STL on board and work together towards achieving Telangana state’s goals of enabling high quality digital reach to the remotest of households within the state and making them future ready, as part of the broader ‘BharatNet’ project, said Sujai Karampuri, MD, T-Fiber & Director, ITE&C Department, Government of Telangana. “This initiative will work as a digital revolution that would bridge the digital gap between urban and rural India. With T-Fiber project, we aim to provide an infrastructure for affordable and high-speed broadband connectivity and digital services across the state.”

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Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers – gpgmail


Fully autonomous cars may (or may not) be just around the corner, but in the meantime, a startup that’s building in-car apps to help human drivers pass the time when behind the wheel has raised a round of funding.

Drivetime — which makes voice-based trivia quizzes, games and interactive stories that people can play while driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation also from Amazon (via the Alexa Fund) and Google (via its Assistant investment program).

The startup today has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of games and stories that you can access either within a limited free-to-play tier or via a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year). The plan is to use the funding to continue expanding that catalog, as well as investing in deeper integrations with its new big-name strategic investors, who themselves have longstanding and deep interests in bringing more voice services and content to the in-car experience.

Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori told gpgmail that his ultimate ambition is for Drivetime to become “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for cars, with hundreds of different channels of content.

In keeping with those plans, along with the funding, Drivetime is today announcing a key content deal.

It has teamed up with the long-running, popular gameshow Jeopardy to build a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers test their own skills and also play against other drivers and people they know. The Jeopardy channel will source content from the TV show’s trove of IP and come with another familiar detail: it will be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a new quiz getting published every weekday for premium users.

That social element of the Jeopardy game is not a coincidence. The San Francisco-based startup is founded by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson also working together at another startup called Rocket Games since leaving the social games giant and exiting that as well, to gaming giant Penn National, for up to $170 million. That track record goes some way to explaining the strong list of investors in the new startup.

“Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” said Makers Fund Founding Partner Jay Chi, in a statement. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”

“Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, in a separate statement. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

In addition to the three investors in this latest round, prior to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that include Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.

Vuori declined to say how many installs or active users the app has today — although from the looks of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing decent if not blockbuster success on iOS and Android so far.

Instead, the company prefers to focus on another stat, its addressable market, which it says is 110 million drivers in North America alone.

Meanwhile, adding a Jeopardy channel is building on what has worked best so far. The most popular category at the moment is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” game) coming in second with storytelling a third.

Drivetime’s premise is an interesting one. Drivers are a captive audience, but one that has up to now had a relatively limited amount of entertainment created for it, focusing mainly on music and spoken word.

However, the rise of voice-based interfaces and interactivity using natural language — spurred by the rise of personal assistant apps and in-home hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a new opportunity, developing interactive, voice-based content for drivers to engage with more proactively.

You might think that this sounds like a recipe for a car accident. Won’t a driver get too distracted trying to remember the fourth President of the United States, or who was known as the Father of the Constitution? (Hint: it’s the same guy.)

Vuori claims it’s actually the reverse: having an interactive game that requires the driver to speak out loud can focus him or her and keep the driver more alert.

“We are double-dipping in safety,” he said. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”

While the content today may serve as a way of keeping drivers from doing things they shouldn’t be doing while in a car, there is another obvious opportunity that might come as drivers become less necessary and themselves will need other things to occupy themselves.

Longer term, the Jeopardy deal could usher in other channels based on popular gameshows. Sony Pictures Television Games, which owns the rights to it, also owns Wheel of Fortune, and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

“We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring Jeopardy, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” said Vuori said in a statement.

Interestingly, despite the growth of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Home and other home hubs, and the overall popularity of these as a way of interacting with apps and sourcing information, Vuori says that he hasn’t seen any competition emerge yet from other app developers to build voice-based entertainment for drivers in the way that Drivetime has.

That gives the company ample opportunity to continue picking up new users — and more details with publishers and content companies looking for more mileage (sorry) for their legacy IP and new business.

“Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, noted in a statement. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”


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AppZen nabs $50M to build AI tools for expenses and other finance team work – gpgmail


AI now touches every aspect of how a company operates — from forming the core of the service itself, through to customer interactions, building new things, and helping with mundane paperwork and other back-office tasks. Today, one of the faster-growing startups in the latter category is announcing a round of funding as it continues on its own path: AppZen, which builds AI-powered tools to automate functions within the finance department, has raised another $50 million in funding led by Coatue Management with previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participating.

We understand from sources that this funding has been raised at a $500 million valuation, which is a huge hike. For some context, the company in October of last year raised a $35 million round led by Lightspeed that put it at a post-money valuation of $175 million.

The Series C — which brings the total raised by the company to just over $100 million — will be used to continue expanding the platform and its capabilities, CEO Anant Kale said in an interview (Kale co-founded the company with Kunal Verma, who is its CTO).

To date, AppZen’s biggest product has been a service that automatically audits expenses — comparing, for example, an employee’s charges with travel that person has undertaken (along with many other data points) to see if the charges match up; as well as making sure the expenses are compliant with company policies and raising flags when they are not.

This is the product that has won the company a ton of business from huge businesses, which now number 1,500 (another point of comparison: this is more than double the 650 customers it had last October). AppZen users include Amazon, Nvidia, Salesforce, and three of the top ten banks in the US, four of the top ten media companies, three of the top ten pharmaceutical manufacturers, two of the top five aerospace companies, a number of other software providers and (disclaimer) Verizon, which happens to own us.

Going forward, while the company continues to see a lot of traction with its existing products in auditing how a company pays out money, the plan will be to build that out to other functions of the finance department, covering, for example, other areas where the finance department makes evaluations to determine spend and money collection (billing) across the business.

“There have been so many decades where nothing new was developed for finance departments,” Kale said of the opportunity.

That’s an opportunity that is so big — enterprise IT overall is forecast to be a $1 trillion market by Gartner this year — that AppZen will be facing a large range of competitors, not just those applying automation and AI to auditing expenses but those coming from other angles like robotic process automation (RPA) that are looking to expand from their computer-vision-based tasks into a deeper set of tools addressing other back-office needs. And that’s before you consider the number of other giant businesses (such as SAP) that provide expense management software, the very tools that AppZen helping to be used in a better way by their clients.

For now, though, AppZen is growing fast, and has secured a formidable place as a reliable partner for its customers.

“AppZen allows enterprises to do something they’ve never been able to do – audit 100 percent of their spend at scale and with the team they have, all before payments go out the door. AI lets these enterprises dramatically reduce spend, comply with policy and streamline process,” said Thomas Laffont, Senior Managing Director for Coatue Management, in a statement. “When we met Anant, Kunal and the team, we were struck by their AI expertise and finance transformation vision, not to mention the company’s clear and rapid execution in the market. ”

At the end of the day, however, even with all the strides that artificial intelligence has help us make, there is always a catch. In this case, automating more repetitive tasks and calculations that had been the domain of humans doubtless must reduce operational costs in an organization, and generally speed up the process, but AI is not always perfect, and sometimes replacing people with those systems makes it very hard to query results if there is a hiccup.

“Our goal is to make sure employees don’t get too frustrated,” Kale said of the learning process, words that apply not just to the companies building these services, but those organizations buying them, too.

 


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