What in the World—Week of November 15

Sesame Street introduces first Asian American puppet
Sesame Street is introducing Ji-Young, the first Asian American puppet in its 52-year history. The Korean American character will be introduced in a new special airing on HBO Max on Thanksgiving. See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special will feature celebrities including Padma Laskshmi and Naomi Osaka. According to AP News, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind Sesame Street, set up two task forces to look at its content and its own diversity in the wake of 2020 events such as George Floyd’s murder and a wave of anti-Asian racism. That led to the development of Coming Together, a multi-year initiative with a focus on how to talk to children about race, ethnicity and culture.

Why Heinz made Martian tomato ketchup
In The Martian, Matt Damon’s marooned astronaut character is able to grow potatoes on the Red Planet. Turns out he could have grown tomatoes as well. Heinz has created a bottle of Marz Edition ketchup made from tomatoes grown in similar soil, temperature and water conditions as those found on Mars. It is part of a collaboration with the Aldrin Space Institute at Florida Tech to study agriculture in harsh environmental conditions. Growing tomatoes that Heinz deemed of sufficient quality for its ketchup was considered a real success. “Before now, most efforts around discovering ways to grow in Martian-simulated conditions are short term plant growth studies,” said Dr. Andrew Palmer of the Aldrin Space Institute in a release. “What this project has done is look at long-term food harvesting. Achieving a crop that is of a quality to become Heinz Tomato Ketchup was the dream result and we achieved it.”

Instagram testing a take a break feature
Instagram confirmed last week that it is testing a new feature that can suggest users take a break after extended use. Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced the new test last week, and said it will be an opt-in feature encouraging users to take a break “after you spend a certain amount of time on the app: 10, 20, or 30 minutes.” The new test comes as Instagram and parent company Meta are under intense criticism and media coverage for claims its platforms are causing widespread harm. Mosseri said the take a break feature is part of a larger effort to give people more control over their Instagram experience. “Ultimately, you know what’s best for you when it comes to how you use the app,” he said. According to The Verge, users who opt-in to the feature see a pop-up reminder on their screen, along with suggestions like “take a few deep breaths, write down what you’re thinking, listen to your favorite song, do something on your to-do list.”

Indian government wants to crack down on cryptocurrency ads
Saying they are misleading the country’s youth with promises of wild profits, the Indian government wants to crack down on “irresponsible” ads from cryptocurrency exchanges. According to Techcrunch, cryptocurrency ads, many of them featuring Bollywood stars, have been proliferating during televised events such as cricket matches. Experts say the ads make cryptocurrency look easy and safe. These exchanges have been “very irresponsible in making absurd and outright false claims in their relentless ads,” said Rajeev Mantri, founder and executive director of Navam Capital in a recent tweet. There is currently no regulatory oversight of cryptocurrency in India, where lawmakers have held conversations with several stakeholders to develop a path forward. In September, 10 government agencies in China issued a joint statement vowing a “high pressure” crackdown on cryptocurrency.

Bartending with a shot of technology
Bartending could be the latest profession to feel the impersonal touch of technology, thanks to the advent of robot bartenders. One of these units, Cecilia, was introduced by the Israeli firm Cecilia.AI for World Bartender Day in February. It resembles a slot machine with an upright video screen serving as the bartender’s face, and can hold up to 70 different spirits and serve as many as 120 drinks per hour. It has already been used at corporate events by Microsoft, KPMG and Cisco, and Cecilia.AI is said to be targeting it toward hotels, airports, stadiums and cruise ships. Alan Adojaan, who runs a rival robot bartender firm called Yanu, told the BBC that robots address inefficiencies such as workforce shortages, and bartenders who overpour or give free drinks to friends. As for their impersonal nature, Adojaan says that having a discussion with a bartender is a “cliché from the movies.” In nightclub environments, he says, people simply want to get their drink as fast as possible.

David Brown