India’s Budget

The Economist writes:

Responding to the domestic pressures, Mr Chidambaram produced a budget whose central theme was curbing price rises. It also gave a much-needed boost to spending on agriculture, education and health care. The stockmarket’s first reaction was gloomy, made worse by plummeting markets around the world, and businessmen found little to cheer about. But, while defending the pursuit of growth, Mr Chidambaram was aiming at different targetsfor economic and social as well as political reasons. He increased funds for education by 34%, while money for health and family welfare went up by 22%. By comparison, spending on defence will go up just 7.8%.

Enjoying the surge in revenues brought by rapid growth, Mr Chidambaram said that agriculture must hold the first charge on our resources. He announced plans to boost credit to farmers, as well, disappointingly, as to increase fertiliser and water subsidies, which tend to benefit the better-off, and help cripple the budget in leaner times. The Confederation of Indian Industry, a business lobby group, said more should have been done to increase private-sector investment. But Mr Chidambaram said later that agriculture had to be tackled through the millions of small farmers with less than a hectare of land rather than corporate investment. The hope is that such measures to boost agricultural supply will curb prices.

India Mobile Space

India Knowledge@Wharton has a good overview with an analysis of the Vodafone-Hutch deal:

The growth numbers explain most of the market’s fervor. India’s cell phone user population doubled during the past year to 150 million at the end of 2006. More than 6 million new subscribers are signing up for mobile services each month, making India the world’s fastest growing mobile market. Cell phones are not just a way to keep in touch with loved ones in a country that loves to talk, but in a booming economy they also become workstations for millions in India’s unorganized sectors. Vodafone’s India-born CEO Arun Sarin said in a speech in Barcelona recently that he expects the 150 million subscriber base — which represents a penetration rate of just 13% — to grow to 500 million in a few years. Much of this growth is expected to come from more than 600,000 villages where millions of Indians live. “We are really excited to move into the rural areas,” Sarin said in his speech. “Whenever we get into these rural areas, we find people love to talk. They light up our base stations immediately.”

Ravi Bapna, professor of information systems at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, notes that Google’s co-founder and president Larry Page has said he wants cell phones to be free. Low-cost phones like Motorola’s MotoFone F3 will allow for “m-commerce” capabilities to emerge in the industry, including banking, insurance and other financial services. “What I see on the horizon is more localized search with phones that connect to GPS (satellite-based global positioning systems), so they [the service providers] know your location,” he says. “Google will tie in these things; if you type in an SMS saying you are looking for a restaurant in Brigade Road (in Bangalore’s main shopping district), it will send you the information, and maybe also give you a restaurant coupon.”

Blinkx for Video Search

The New York Times writes:

Mr. Chandratillakes solution does not reject any existing video search methods, but supplements them by transcribing the words uttered in a video, and searching them. This is an achievement: effective speech recognition is a nontrivial problem, in the language of computer scientists.

Blinkxs speech-recognition technology employs neural networks and machine learning using hidden Markov models, a method of statistical analysis in which the hidden characteristics of a thing are guessed from what is known.

Mr. Chandratillake calls this method contextual search, and he says it works so well because the meanings of the sounds of speech are unclear when considered by themselves. Consider the phrase recognize speech, he wrote in an e-mail message. Its phonemes (rek-un-nise-peach) are incredibly similar to those contained in the phrase wreck a nice beach. Our systems use our knowledge of which words typically appear in which contexts and everything we know about a given clip to improve our ability to guess what each phoneme actually means.