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Future

Robot Artists And Us: Who Decides The Aesthetics Of AI?

Ai-Da is touted as the first bonafide robot artist. But should we consider her paintings and poetry original or creative? Is this even art at all?

Ai-Da sits behind a desk, paintbrush in hand. She looks up at the person posing for her, and then back down as she dabs another blob of paint onto the canvas. A lifelike portrait is taking shape. If you didn’t know a robot produced it, this portrait could pass as the work of a human artist.

Ai-Da is touted as the “first robot to paint like an artist”, and an exhibition of her work called Leaping into the Metaverse opened at the Venice Biennale.

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Disrupting Death: How Tech Is Shaking Up The Funeral Industry

Funeral undertakers belong to one of the oldest professions in the world. But now, start-ups want to disrupt old-fashioned funeral homes. Unafraid to tackle taboos, new services offer ways to live on digitally after death.

PARIS — The confrontation was aggressive but ultimately turned out to be beneficial. In late January, Lilian Delaveau deeply split the investors of French TV show “Who Wants To Be My Associate?” in which aspiring entrepreneurs present a pitch to experienced investors. The 27-year-old pitched Requiem Code, a QR code app that personalizes graves by displaying various memories of the deceased person in augmented reality when put on a funeral tablet.

“I completely disagree with your project. You are wiping out the contemplation. Each person should be allowed to keep a different memory,” the tourism professional Jean-Pierre Nadim told him.

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Work → In Progress: Why 'Financial Wellness' Is Not Just About A Raise

The workplace wellness trend now includes the very practical questions about how, when and how much we get paid, and is shaping up to be the next step in blurring the lines between personal and professional that were once so neatly divided.

We’re approaching the end of Q1 of 2022 and the “wellness” trend that’s usually reserved for millennials’ yoga mats has officially made its way into the professional world. After two years of realizing that job setups don’t always favor employees’ health, the call for sweeping workplace changes — ranging from more medical access to an HR focus on mental well-being — is in full swing.

But wouldn't you know: the latest professional self-care trend carries a notably practical air: financial wellness.

Bank of America’s 2021 Workplace Benefits Report mentioned “financial wellness” 43 times, which it defined as “the type of support employers are offering to address financial needs.” But is making money not the point of work? It seems this new rebranding of how work relates to cash is indicative of how differently we now view employment.

The financial wellness movement doesn’t want companies to just fairly compensate employees but instead to teach them how to manage their salaries, be it saving for retirement, navigating debt or budgeting.

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1939 v. 2022: Putin Like Hitler, The West Without A Churchill

The Russian leader's invasion is a both a pursuit of his Hitlerian obsession to rectify his nation's humiliation, and a bet that the West's decline is permanent.

Since the start of the 21st century, the pace of history has accelerated.

The 9/11 attacks marked the first sign of the United States’ vulnerability, and the financial and economic crisis that began in 2007 confirmed the fragility of the capitalist West. Encouraged by these negative signals, authoritarian regimes gained momentum: In a symbolic way for China with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and in a concrete way, the same year, for Russia with its first successful “bluff” in Georgia. Tangled up in internal contradictions and divisions and distracted by external adventures, the Western world witnessed — almost as though in absentia — the spectacle of its decline.

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Geopolitics

Russia-Ukraine War Begins: 24 Newspaper Front Pages

Tensions culminated this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin launching a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, a move widely opposed by world leaders that made virtually every front page around the world.

"THIS IS WAR," reads the front page ofGazeta Wyborcza. Alongside the terse, all-caps headline, the Polish daily features a photo of Olena Kurilo, a teacher from Chuguev whose blood-covered face has become one of the striking images of the beginning of the Ukraine invasion.

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A day after simultaneous attacks were launched from the south, east and north of the country, by land and by air, some press outlets chose to feature images of tanks, explosions, death and destruction that hit multiple cities across Ukraine, while others focused on the man behind the so-called "special military operation": Putin.

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Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

We’re All Sweden Now: How COVID Fatigue Brought Us Back To Herd Immunity

Early in the pandemic, Swedish authorities were roundly criticized for the lack of COVID-19 restrictions and for arguing for a different cost-benefit calculation in trying to eliminate the virus at all costs. Now, more and more countries are dropping all restrictions even as Omicron continues to spread. But is this really about herd immunity?

Since Denmark became the first European nation to drop all COVID restrictions in late January, a slew of countries around the world have followed suit — including Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Dominican Republic and, most recently, the UK. After almost two years of curfews and mask mandates, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared Monday it was time to “live with the coronavirus.”

And the list of others taking the same path is set to grow: Italy and Spain recently lifted masking mandates for outdoor spaces, while French authorities have announced indoor masking will no longer be mandated starting next week. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer harkens “a dignified spring awakening” with most restrictions to be lifted by March 5 — while German Chancellor Olof Scholz hailed last Wednesday “a very special day of the pandemic” after agreeing with 16 state governors on a schedule to drop most restrictions in the coming months.

But all of this rosy talk and rescinded restrictions also begs the question of why this is a special time. Why, as the Omicron variant is spreading far faster than previous versions, and when it’s clear that no nation on Earth has come close to conquering COVID, is it time to abandon containment efforts?

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Geopolitics

Send In The Tanks — 28 Newspaper Front Pages As Putin Moves On Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin's move to order troops into two rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine, after recognizing them as independent states, is front-page news all around the world.

After weeks of escalating rhetoric, diplomatic roller coasters and wondering “what will Putin do,” Russian President Vladimir Putin took a decisive first step toward what some fear may be the worst military conflict in Europe since World War II.

During a televised speech late Monday night from the Kremlin — and just hours after rising hopes of a potential Biden-Putin summit — the Russian president formally recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian troops to move in, officially for "peacekeeping" purposes.

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THE CONVERSATION
Rosalind Gill and Shani Orgad

What "Lean In" Leaves Out: Women Need Structural Change, Not Pep Talks

The so-called "Confidence Culture" is a trap that puts the emphasis on boosting women's self-confidence without addressing the real causes of gender inequality.

With Valentine’s Day here, advice about confidence is proliferating. British Vogue enjoins women to boost their sexual confidence with slogans like “feel good in your body” and say goodbye to negative talk. Meanwhile, Selfridges promises shoppers a sex and relationship “MOT”, in which “confidence coaching” for women comes as part of the package.

But (like dogs and Christmas), confidence is not just for Valentine’s Day. It is now a 24/7 obligation for women.

Inequality in the workplace? Women need to lean in and become more confident. Eating disorders and poor body image? Programmes promoting girls’ confidence and body positivity are the solution. Parenting problems? Let’s help make mums feel more confident so they can raise confident kids. Post-pandemic relationship sours? Well, confidence is, after all, “the new sexy”. Even the British Army now targets potential female recruits with the promise that joining the military will give young women confidence that “lasts a lifetime”.

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Society
Eva Sauphie

Unzipped! The African Women Breaking Taboos Of Sexuality

In countries and communities where sexuality is often kept under wraps, more and more women are taking up their microphones, pens and keyboards to talk about intimate issues without filters.

When the subject of African women's sexuality gets media coverage it's almost always a bad thing, says Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, a Ghanaian writer based in London: "through the spectrum of disease, HIV or repeated pregnancies."

While universal access to sexual and reproductive health services remains a central issue in West Africa, Sekyiamah wants to share other narratives. To do this, she co-founded the blog: Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women.

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Geopolitics
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Games Of The Absurd: Beijing’s Olympics Of Politics And Pandemic

With both fans and diplomatic dignitaries missing, it’s an Olympics that recalls politically combustible Games of the past. COVID-19, like it did for the Summer Games in Tokyo, will also help haunt the premises. The good news is that the athletes will most likely take over our attention as soon as they hit the ice and snow.

-Analysis-

The Olympic script includes the invoking of the spirit of friendly competition as a respite from geopolitics.

Yet the global sporting event has long struggled to separate itself from the biggest social and political events of the day: from the 1936 Berlin Games during Hitler's rise to power to the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games to the PLO killings of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. There were also major tit-for-tat U.S. and Soviet boycotts of the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.

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Society
Laure Gautherin

With Boom In Senior Drivers, 5 New Safety Solutions Around The World

As life expectancy continues to rise, the question of road safety for older drivers has become a priority for governments and carmakers. From AI and deep-learning tech to voluntary retirement, here are some of the innovative solutions being explored to ensure older people can drive safely.

Living longer means driving older. This demographic is pushing governments around the world to look for new ways to ensure the safety of their citizens on the road by introducing specific policies targeting people over 65. Compulsory medical assessment, voluntary retirement, financial incentives, as well as tapping into technologies like AI, VR and deep-learning tech.

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In The News
Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Putin Speaks, Tonga Lockdown, Queen's *Jubbly

👋 សួស្តី*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Putin sends mixed messages on Ukraine showdown, Tonga goes into lockdown and the Queen is victim of a special typo. From Germany, Die Welt uncovers a system of parents and doctors defying national regulations to have children under 5 vaccinated.

[*Susadei - Khmer, Cambodia]

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Coronavirus
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Here's Why Healthcare Workers Around The World Are Quitting In Record Numbers

The long toll of the pandemic is the final straw for many burned out healthcare workers in the West. But the Great Resignation in the medical field is global, with developing countries already struggling to contain the pandemic in the face of a doctor brain drain.

PARIS — The COVID-19 pandemic has led many around the world to reevaluate their careers, becoming part of the so-called “great resignation.” Just take one statistic: a record 4.5 million U.S. citizens quit their jobs last November. By far, the industry that has been most shaped by the pandemic is healthcare, the field leading resignations, with a 3.6% increase in the number of U.S. health workers quitting their jobs in 2021.

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Geopolitics
Cameron Manley

Putin Is Watching: The Foreign Policy Price Of BoJo's Partygate Scandal

The damning findings of Sue Gray’s independent probe into the “partygate” scandal held No. 10 Downing St responsible for “serious failure to observe high standards.” But whether Boris Johnson is forced resign, the impact internationally should not be overlooked, particularly as it relates to the West's need to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — Just after the UK referendum to leave the European Union in 2016, Boris Johnson was clear about his ambitions for Britain’s international role post-Brexit: “We are not some bit part or spear-carrier on the world stage,” Johnson declared. “We are a protagonist — a global Britain running a truly global foreign policy.”

Fast-forward six years, after a stint as Theresa May’s foreign secretary, Johnson has cut a largely inconsequential (and sometimes bumbling) figure on that same world stage as Prime Minister since 2019. Now those failings are being punctuated in a whole new way, with Johnson consumed by a rolling series of home-grown scandals linked to unauthorized festivities that violated COVID-19 lockdown rules — just as the West and Moscow are locked in the most dangerous confrontation since the end of the Cold War over Russian troops massing at the Ukrainian border.

The release Monday of the findings of Sue Gray’s independent probe into the “partygate” scandal — which held No. 10 Downing Street responsible for “serious failure to observe high standards” and “failures of leadership” — hit British domestic politics with full force. Speculation the past month swirling of Johnson being forced to resign will no doubt multiply.

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Society
Paul Dobraszczyk

Build Back Freer? Anarchist Architecture As Post-Pandemic Model

Imagine self-organized forms of building, from remodeling existing structures to building entirely new spaces to accommodate individual liberty and radical change in social organization. It's a movement whose time may be coming.

Architecture and anarchy may not seem like the most obvious pairing. But since anarchism emerged as a distinct kind of politics in the second half of the 19th-century, it has inspired countless alternative communities.

Christiania in Copenhagen, Slab City in the California desert, La ZAD in the French countryside, and Grow Heathrow in London all feature self-organized forms of building. On the one hand, this includes remodelling existing structures, usually abandoned buildings. On the other, it can mean building entirely new spaces to accommodate individual liberty and radical change in social organization.

At its heart, anarchism is a politics of thought and action. And it reflects the original meaning of the ancient Greek word anarkhi meaning “the absence of government”. All forms of anarchism are founded on self-organization or government from below. Often stemming from a place of radical scepticism of unaccountable authorities, anarchism favours bottom-up self-organization over hierarchy. It is not about disorder, but rather a different order – based on the principles of autonomy, voluntary association, self-organization, mutual aid and direct democracy.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Troops On Ukraine Alert, BoJo’s New Party Scandal, NFT Beatles

👋 Salve*

Welcome to Tuesday, where NATO and U.S. troops are on alert amid Ukraine tensions, there’s a new Boris Johnson party scandal and Beatles memorabilia will be sold as NFTs. Worldcrunch’s teleworking Carl-Johan Karlsson also takes a tour of countries mulling a bonafide legal right to work from home.

[*Latin]

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