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Mahathir says King willing to pardon Anwar



Mahathir Mohamad, former Malaysian prime minister and opposition candidate for Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) reacts during a news conference after general election, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, May 9, 2018.

Lai Seng Sin | Reuters

Mahathir Mohamad, former Malaysian prime minister and opposition candidate for Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) reacts during a news conference after general election, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, May 9, 2018.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday the country’s monarch had indicated he was willing to grant a full pardon to jailed politician Anwar Ibrahim.

Speaking at a news conference, Mahathir also said he would announce a 10-member cabinet on Saturday, including ministers for finance, defence and home affairs.

Anwar and Mahathir, former allies and then implacable foes, joined hands to contest this week’s election and oust the administration of Najib Razak. Anwar is in custody on charges of sodomy and corruption and cannot take any office until he is pardoned and released.

Mahathir has said he will step aside and hand over the prime minister’s post to Anwar once he is pardoned.

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AI researchers rank the top AI labs worldwide



Google Deepmind head Demis Hassabis speaks during a press conference ahead of the Google DeepMind Challenge Match in Seoul on March 8, 2016.

Jung Yeon-Je | AFP |Getty Images | Getty Images

LONDON — Artificial intelligence researchers don’t like it when you ask them to name the top AI labs in the world, possibly because it’s so hard to answer.

There are some obvious contenders. U.S. Big Tech — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — have all set up dedicated AI labs over the last decade. There’s also DeepMind, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, and OpenAI, which counts Elon Musk as a founding investor.

“Wow, I hate this question,” Mark Riedl, associate professor at the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing, told CNBC when asked to pick his standouts.

“Reputationally, there is a good argument to say DeepMind, OpenAI, and FAIR (Facebook AI research]) are the top three,” Riedl said.

AI investor Nathan Benaich, a partner at Air Street Capital, agreed. Google Brain and Microsoft could potentially be included in the top ranks, Benaich said, before adding that he believed Amazon and IBM weren’t quite in the same league when it comes to AI research output and impact.

Another AI expert, who asked to remain anonymous because he didn’t have approval from his company to speak publicly, told CNBC that DeepMind, OpenAI and FAIR were probably the top three pure AI research labs in terms of known funding, while IBM pushes out more patents. “The unknown question is the Baidus and Tencents of the world,” he said in reference to the Chinese tech giants.

Alphabet gives DeepMind hundreds of millions of dollars a year to carry out its work, while Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI on top of the $1 billion that the founding investors contributed. FAIR’s funding is less clear because Facebook doesn’t break it down.

A.I.’s potential

One way to measure the impact of an AI lab is to look at how many academic papers it publishes at the two biggest AI conferences: NeurIPS and ICML.

In 2020, Google had 178 papers accepted and published at NeurIPS, while Microsft had 95, DeepMind had 59, Facebook had 58 and IBM had 38. Amazon had less than 30.

For the same year at ICML, Google had 114 papers accepted and published, while DeepMind had 51, Microsoft had 49, Facebook had 34, IBM had 19, and Amazon had 18.

PR vs reality

AI has been hailed as a technology that has the potential to bring about a new industrial revolution and dramatically change the world we live in. But, for now at least, it remains relatively nascent and “narrow” in its abilities — an AI that can play chess to a superhuman level doesn’t know how to make an omelet, for example.

DeepMind, OpenAI, and FAIR are widely perceived as the top three labs partly due to “strong PR games,” Riedl said. 

He believes that Microsoft, which carries out much of its AI work through Microsoft Research, could legitimately be included in the top ranks. “For whatever reason they fly below the radar sometimes,” Riedl said. “Salesforce, Amazon, IBM all have some really strong pockets of research but, again, fail to make big splashes.”

Riedl said he’s “not sure that you couldn’t swap any group of researchers from any of these companies with any other and make any difference.”

Neil Lawrence, the former director of machine learning at Amazon Cambridge, told CNBC that Amazon doesn’t have a large, centralized AI research lab because it’s more focused on bringing technology to customers.

“I would argue they’ve done that very successfully,” said Lawrence, who is now a professor of machine learning at the University of Cambridge. “But if you look at (academic) publications as a measure then they don’t rank.”

Lawrence said that Microsoft Research is personally the research lab that he admires the most but “Amazon really ranks up there in deploying AI … despite not having a (big) research lab.”

He added: “DeepMind, OpenAI and FAIR have definitely dominated the headlines. But it’s interesting how much of the research they are publishing might traditionally have been done in universities.”   

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U.S. to remain a WHO member and join Covid vaccine plan



Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Patrick Semansky | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. will remain a member of the World Health Organization under President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday, and intends to join a global alliance that aims to deliver coronavirus vaccines to low-income countries.

Speaking from Washington by videoconference one day after Biden was sworn into office, U.S. Chief Medical Advisor Fauci told the WHO’s executive board: “President Biden will issue a directive later today which will include the intent of the United States to join COVAX and support the ACT-Accelerator to advance multilateral efforts for Covid-19 vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development.”

The U.S. will also remain a member of the WHO, the United Nations health agency, and “fulfill its financial obligations,” Fauci said. It comes after former President Donald Trump announced in May that the U.S. would withdraw from the WHO, but the process wasn’t expected to be finalized until this July.

Fauci said the Biden administration planned to work with the other 193 member states to help reform the group.

“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We are all glad that the United States of America is staying with the family,” Tedros said via Twitter.

WHO delegates “warmly welcomed” the decision, with many underlining their appreciation that the new administration would now seek to reengage with the international aid group amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, accepted Biden’s offer to join his administration and serve as chief medical advisor last month. He will lead a U.S. delegation at the WHO’s annual meetings throughout the week.

Trump vs. WHO

Trump had repeatedly criticized the WHO for being what he perceived to be too “China-centric,” and denounced the amount of funding the U.S. allocated to the health agency in comparison to other countries.

The U.S. was the largest single donor to the Geneva-based aid group in 2019. It reportedly contributed more than $400 million, accounting for roughly 15% of the WHO’s budget.

The WHO is funded by a combination of members’ fees based on wealth and population and voluntary contributions.

The WHO’s Tedros said in August that he hoped the U.S. would reconsider its decision to leave the organization. The problem was “not about the money,” he said, but rather about the lack of cooperation in the midst of the pandemic.

— CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.

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Unilever strategy to tackle inequality includes training young people



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The coronavirus pandemic has both shone a light on and exacerbated social inequalities, and consumer goods giant Unilever says it wants to tackle these to help build a more equitable society. 

Unilever announced on Thursday a strategy on how it plans do so, setting out a list of commitments that aim to raise living standards across its value chain, promote inclusivity, and prepare people for the future of work. 

Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, told CNBC’s Julianna Tatelbaum in an interview recorded ahead of the announcement, that the company was aiming to be a “positive force in tackling the persistent and worsening issue of social inequality” with its new strategy. He added that this goal had “never been more relevant than what we’ve seen with the crises of the last year — the pandemic, the social and racial justice crises.” 

One of the goals on Unilever’s list is to “help equip 10 million young people with essential skills that they will need for the types of job opportunities that will be around in 2030 and which will be very different from today,” explained Jope. 

Unilever plans to train up this number of young people by 2030, partly by working with youth employability platform LevelUp, giving them access to training, volunteering and work experience. 

Young people have been disproportionately affected by job and income losses, as well as disruption to education and training, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A report by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization in August found 42% of young people around the world had lost income due to the pandemic. 

Living wages, diversity and inclusivity 

Another of Unilever’s commitments is to ensure that everyone who directly provides goods and services to the consumer goods giant earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030. Jope said that this target was about “ensuring millions of people around the world have a standard of living that allows them to feed, clothe, house, educate, provide health care for them and their families.”

While Unilever already pays its employees at least a living wage, it wanted to extend this further down the supply chain, “specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

Another report by the United Nations University, published last year, forecasted that the coronavirus pandemic could push around half a billion more people into poverty globally. 

Alongside its living wage goal, Unilever also plans to “help 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in our retail value chain grow their business through access to skills, finance and technology, by 2025.”

As part of its efforts to drive equality and inclusivity, Unilever plans to spend 2 billion euros ($2.42 billion) a year with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, by 2025.

These suppliers will be SMEs owned and managed by women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+.

In addition, Unilever said it will increase the diversity of people appearing and working behind the camera on its advertisements.

Last year, Unilever also took steps to make its business more sustainable, including using geolocation data and satellite imagery to check for deforestation in its supply chain.

Asked about balancing changing consumer preferences and environmental priorities, with investor impatience for returns, Jope told CNBC that he believed “one of the most dangerous mindsets in business, is that it’s a tradeoff between responsible business and strong financial performance.”

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