From Alibaba in the Gulf to OpenAI's new AI tool Sora – Here are today's Headlines

 Despite facing internal hurdles, Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba is growing its footprint in the Gulf region.

From Alibaba in the Gulf to OpenAI's new AI tool Sora – Here are today's Headlines
People in traditional Emirati clothes stand during the World Governments Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 12, 2024. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

To start off, we're looking into:

Alibaba's Gulf partnerships

The backstory: Over the past few years, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been looking to diversify their economies beyond oil and boost their global influence. Notably, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia in 2022 and signed 34 agreements covering areas like technology and green energy. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE were also invited to join the BRICS bloc, an influential economic alliance that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

So, what's the plan for these Gulf nations? The UAE, in particular, has been actively investing in artificial intelligence (AI), with OpenAI partnering with Abu Dhabi's leading AI firm, G42. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, views China as vital for its Vision 2030 plan, with Chinese companies securing contracts to construct data centers in projects like NEOM, a futuristic city.

The development: Despite facing internal hurdles, Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba is growing its footprint in the Gulf region, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At Dubai's World Government Summit last week, Alibaba's president, Michael Evans, talked about the company's strategy. Click the link here for more.

OpenAI's Sora

OpenAI Sora
Source: Sora/OpenAI

The backstory: Text-to-image artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic in tech for a while now. While text-to-image generators like Midjourney are gaining popularity, companies like Runway and Pika are moving forward with text-to-video models.

OpenAI, a big player in the AI world, has been making waves in the scene, especially with the launch of ChatGPT. The AI tool quickly gained traction, reaching 100 million users in just two months – faster than TikTok or Instagram ever did. Even before ChatGPT, OpenAI introduced DALL-E, its text-to-image model. By 2022, the company released DALL-E 2, although access was initially delayed due to concerns about explicit and biased images. Eventually, OpenAI sorted out these issues, making DALL-E 2 accessible to everyone.

The development: OpenAI just dropped its latest creation, Sora (nicknamed after the Japanese word for “sky”), which can create up to one-minute-long videos from short text prompts. Click the link here for more on what this new AI tool can do.

China’s domestic jet

China C919 CORMAC
A Comac C919 flies past during an aerial flying display ahead of the Singapore Airshow at Changi Exhibition Centre in Singapore February 18, 2024. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The backstory: China has been working to become self-reliant in many fields, including aviation, as the US continues to impose export restrictions on advanced technology to the country. The country has put a lot of money into the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) to compete with top aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus.

COMAC began work on its passenger jet, the C919, 16 years ago and received its certification in China in 2022. It then flew the first C919 domestically with China Eastern Airlines last year. The jet can hold 158-168 passengers and has a maximum range of about 5,630 kilometers (3,500 miles). 

More recently: In December, the C919 made its first flight outside mainland China to Hong Kong. There's been a growing global demand for new aircraft as air travel has made a comeback post-COVID, and Chinese media reported a COMAC official saying in January that the company plans to invest tens of billions of yuan over the next 3-5 years to expand its production of the C919. China's aviation authority said last month that it would try to get European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) validation for the C919 this year.

The development: On Sunday, at a preview of Asia's biggest airshow in Singapore, COMAC staged a fly-by of its C919 on its first flight outside Chinese territory. The Singapore Airshow 2024 will run from Tuesday to Sunday, and COMAC has more demonstrations planned. Click the link here for more. 

To end, we'll look into:

Being bilingual can delay dementia

It's time to revive your Duolingo owl! Sadly, dementia has become an increasingly common disease that, by last year, affected more than 55 million people in the world, with nearly 10 million new cases arising every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Dementia is an umbrella term for several diseases, like Alzheimer's, that affect a person's memory, thinking and ability to do daily activities. This tends to happen to older people, and the symptoms worsen over time, depending on how quickly the disease advances.

But, recent studies have shown that speaking two languages, especially from a young age, can delay the onset of dementia by up to five years. And if you speak more than two languages, it could help delay dementia for even longer. Click the link here for more.

In other news ...

🗞️Russia/Ukraine update:  Russia has said it has taken full control over the Ukrainian town Avdiivka, making it the latest major gain for Russia since it captured the city of Bakhmut in May. This came at the cost of around 17,000 Russian troops killed and another 30,000 injured, said Ukraine's military and its spokesperson Dmitry Likhovy. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, where they discussed bilateral relations, trade and the "need to restore a just and lasting peace" in Ukraine by bringing its war with Russia to an end, according to Kuleba's post on X. Wang also reaffirmed that China hasn't and won't be selling any "lethal weapons to conflict areas or parties to conflicts."

📰Middle East update: At the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, several top diplomats met to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire in the Israel/Gaza conflict amid recent talks of Israel invading Rafah, the southernmost town in Gaza, which is currently sheltering around 1.4 million Palestinians. But Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, "Those who want to prevent us from acting in Rafah are basically telling us lose the war." On Sunday, Israeli Minister Without Portfolio Benny Gantz said Israel would launch the ground offensive into Rafah unless the hostages still held by Hamas are released by Ramadan in March.

The UN Security Council's 15 members may vote on Tuesday about an immediate humanitarian ceasefire after Algeria pushed forward a draft resolution. But, if the US, Britain, China, Russia or France veto the resolution, it can't move forward. The US has already stated that it doesn't support the resolution. 

💐RIP Alexei Navalny: Alexei Navalny, a leader of the Russian opposition who previously survived a poisoning attempt, has died at the age of 47 in a Russian penal colony. He was an outspoken advocate of reforms to the Russian government and a major opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The cause of death is still undetermined, though reports say his family was told the cause was "sudden death syndrome." Hundreds of people throughout Russia streamed to memorials and monuments to pay tribute to Navalny, and over 300 people have been reportedly arrested. Navalny was also the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary, "Navalny," released in 2022.

Alexei Navalny
A person holds a placard that reads: "Alexey Navalny is my hero", as people pay tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, following his death, at the Trocadero near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, February 17, 2024. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

🧑‍⚖️Thailand's former PM freed: Thailand's former PM Thaksin Shinawatra was convicted of crimes of corruption and abuse of power six months ago and was originally sentenced to eight years in prison, but then this was reduced to just one year by the country's king. Since his arrest, Shinawatra has been in a police hospital and has now been released on parole due to his age and health issues and returned to his home in Bangkok.  

🚜India's farmer protests: Over the last week, tens of thousands of Indian farmers were advancing toward the country's capital, New Delhi, demanding a range of things, including guaranteed crop prices, debt waivers and pensions, with protestors willing to go on for months until their demands are met. The movement's leader, Jagjit Singh Dallewal, said the farmers would hold off their march for now as government ministers were set to hold another talk with union leaders on Sunday. Initial reports suggest the talks went well, with Union minister Piyush Goyal saying it was a "positive and long discussion."

🚢Taiwan Strait patrols: Last week, the Chinese coast guard condemned the deaths of two fishermen who drowned after being pursued by Taiwanese patrol vessels near Quemoy. Now, China has said the mainland coast guard will have regular patrols and inspections in the waters between Xiamen and Taiwan to strengthen maritime law enforcement.

✈️Hong Kong's New Year visitors: During the Golden Week of the Lunar New Year, Hong Kong saw a little over 1.4 million visitors, and about 1.25 million of them were mainlanders, boosting the number of visitors to the city over this time period to its highest since 2018. Hotel occupation was over 80%, boosting business around the city, especially in catering and retail.

🤑Hong Kong price gouging: Hong Kong's Consumer Council found in a recent test that major delivery platforms operating in the city charge up to 85% more for orders compared to the takeaway prices directly from the food outlets. The watchdog found that 83% to 91% of surveyed food items cost more than the pick-up price on popular platforms like Deliveroo, Foodpanda and KeeTa. Restaurant delivery platforms like KFC's service and McDonald's McDelivery were also found to be jacking up prices.

👟Trump's new shoe brand: Former US President Donald Trump launched his namesake sneaker brand and US$399 gold shoes over the weekend, which received a mostly negative response from those attending Sneaker Con in Philadelphia. This comes just a few days after a defeat in his New York civil fraud lawsuit, where a judge ordered him to pay US$355 million for lying about the value of his properties (which could end up being even more once interest is added). He was also banned from running any business in the state for three years. But his "super limited" sneakers (there are reportedly only 1,000) sold out within hours of launch.

Donald Trump sneaker
Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Haughey misses out on second gold: Last week, Hong Kong's Olympic silver medalist Siobhan Haughey won her first gold medal ever at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha in the 200-meter freestyle. But, Haughey fell short of a second gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle on Saturday, bringing home a silver instead.

Siobhan Haughey silver medal
Swimming - World Aquatics Championships - Aspire Dome, Doha, Qatar - February 16, 2024 Gold medallist Netherlands' Marrit Steenbergen celebrates on the podium after winning the women's 100m freestyle final alongside silver medallist Hong Kong's

🍊Citrus Olympians in France: The Summer Olympics are set for this year in Paris, and a French Riviera town is celebrating with massive sculptures of athletes made from lemons and oranges at the annual Menton Lemon Festival. Around 140 tonnes (almost 500,000 fruits) were used to build the floats and historical scenes for the festival.

Menton Lemon Festival Olympics
Source: AP

Quiz Time!

What is the name of OpenAI’s newest text-to-video AI tool?

  1. Sora
  2. Runway
  3. Pika
  4. Picture This

Enjoying our TMS Headlines?

Forward it to a friend! After all, sharing is caring.

Anything else? Hit reply to send us feedback or say hello. We don't bite!

Written and put together by Joey Fung, Alisha Khan and Christine Dulion

**The answer to the quiz is [1]