August 24, 2015
PARIS â€" Even before our first handshake, it's clear that Rand Hindi, with his ripped jeans and grey scoop-neck T-shirt, oozes coolness. And when it comes to his crazy ambition, the 30-year-old could not be more straightforward. "Our goal is to make technologies disappear in the long run," he says.
â€¨â€¨Hindi has an obsessive fear that we'll become slaves to the billions of connected objects being used across the planet, from the obvious smartphones and computers to watches, cars, clothes, refrigerators and blood pressure monitors.
"We're going to be hassled by these objects that will constantly be asking for confirmations or sending us information," he says. "The years to come will be the worst in history in terms of quality of life."
â€¨â€¨This young man is neither a doomsayer nor a guru. A mathematics, computing and big data enthusiast, Hindi studied biocomputing at University College London and now lives in Paris, where he has gathered a team specializing in artificial intelligence.
Snips, the startup that Hindi founded in 2012 â€" whose motto is "We make technology disappear" â€" will launch its first general use product on Aug. 31, a free smartphone interface users can download. It's supposed to make accessing a service on our cellphones 10 times faster.
"It's going to be a smart gateway to all your apps. We're working on the sensibility of objects towards the user, what we call context awareness," he says before launching into a lecture on the subject. "The device will be able to anticipate certain user actions â€" for example, by booking a means of transport before an appointment that's been saved on the device's calendar."
In Hindi's ideal world, technology won't disappear per se. But it will stop being something we constantly need to think about. "When connected objects are smart enough not to be invasive, we can add as many as we want," he says.
He thinks we're 10 years away from the inflection point between growing enslavement to technology and the liberation it will provide.
A tempting opportunityâ€¨â€¨
The young man's obvious magnetism and a lack of complexes are among his assets. With a father working in finance and a mother in the fashion industry, both of whom are Lebanese citizens who left their war-torn country for France, he has often enjoyed a great level of freedom. In high school, for example, he took a four-month break before his Baccalauréat graduation exam so he could prepare for it the way he saw fit.â€¨â€¨
Mathematician Mael Primet didn't think twice before partnering with Hindi after their first meeting on a December night in 2012. "I was already in my pajamas when a friend called and urged me to come right away to meet the guy he was having dinner with," Primet recalls. That guy was Rand Hindi.â€¨â€¨
Their conversation over a rib steak quickly turned to big data and machine learning. "We had the same way of thinking," Primet recalls. Not long after that, the then 29-year-old gave up his job at the Ministry for Industry and joined the Snips adventure, becoming the startup's co-founder and chief technology officer. He brought with him a third member, Michael Fester, who was studying pure mathematics at Cambridge University.â€¨â€¨
The first success for this scientific, dynamic and friendly team was Tranquilien, a collaboration mobile app that predicts passenger flows in Parisian trains. "Rand is extremely intelligent and his startup was going forward fast, even too fast for us sometimes," says Cynthia Gutton, head of innovation for France's national railway company SNCF. "They were always suggesting new projects."
After this partnership with the state-owned company began, Snips began receiving recognition and the possibility of some major money. Suddenly it was on the verge of signing a significant contract with the American telecommunications company Sprint for a new app. Success was within reach.
But then, Hindi and his partners decided to change direction completely. "When I wake up, I sometimes tell myself that the world we'll be living in 20 years from now could be a world of destruction, or on the contrary a world of abundance without any limits," he says. "I'm just trying to bring something to the world."
More prosaically, Primet explains that "we haven't studied for 10 years to end up selling people's data behind their backs, just so that others can sell ads." That's why the company declined the Sprint opportunity.
â€¨It takes some nerve to say "no" to the promise of big money, especially when in their first year together they weren't able to pay themselves a wage every month. â€œWe want to build useful technology in an ethical way," Primet says.
Protecting user privacy is among their primary objectives, at a time when big data raises the specter of Big Brother, either public or private. That's why Snips has adopted what Hindi calls a "privacy by design" approach.
He can go on and on about the things he hopes to create, but he becomes much quieter when asked about his company's economic model. "We don't have one yet," he says. "We first want to try and understand people's behavior."
Yann Lechelle, at 44 the oldest member of the Snips team and a serial entrepreneur himself, explains, "Rand prefers to wait until we have a very successful product before cashing in on it."â€¨â€¨
That doesn't stand in the way of the team exploring new possibilities. "We're launching a long-term project to predict depression, thanks to data," Hindi says. Fascinated by what data exploitation could bring to health care, he insists that "the goal is not to replace doctors, but to augment them."
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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