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Trump’s Huawei threat a risk to Canadian and global tech in 2019: Don Pittis

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Reports that U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to up the stakes in his battle with Chinese tech giant Huawei in 2019 seem at first glance the kind of Trumpian sniping the world has grown to expect.

But if it is true, as Reuters reported this past week, that Trump may sign an executive order prohibiting U.S. firms from buying Huawei technology, the issue goes far beyond Huawei and 5G wireless networks to one that could transform the global tech industry. And not for the better.

The reason is that Huawei — and Chinese chip maker ZTE, which the U.S. president also threatened to ban — are not unique. Instead, they are merely a couple of examples of Chinese technology that is not just catching up to the best in the world, but beginning to exceed it.

China, tech superstar

For Canadian technology businesses trying to see their way forward, facing a global tech leader that is in conflict with the U.S. is an unfamiliar experience.

Despite the Soviet Union’s space race victory with its 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite, the collapse of the Soviet communist empire nearly 30 years ago revealed a creaking technological relic.

Canadian technology experts say China is something entirely different and people who try to make the comparison with Eastern Europe, where the Trabant was the communist answer to the BMW, have it all wrong.

Some analysts say the poor quality of the Trabant and the time it took to order one were significant factors in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. But China’s rise as a tech industry powerhouse is a different story. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Pretty well everyone now knows that China is a developing technological competitor. But there are growing indications that, barring some political or economic cataclysm in China, or a sudden technological golden age here in North America, China is on its way to becoming not just a technological powerhouse, but the technological powerhouse. It is becoming the global tech superstar.

And at some point Canada is going to have to make some crucial decisions on how it will cope with that change. And it may find its interests do not coincide with those of the United States.

“On Chinese technological prowess, they are now graduating twice as many graduates as the United States from university, but they’re graduating five times as many STEM graduates,” says Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, the kind of graduates who make a real difference in the race for world-beating know-how.

Leapfrogging the world

In many ways, the explosive developments in Chinese science and technology have no equivalent since pre-war Germany leapfrogged the world in many areas of science and industrial production.

Over the past month, the arrest in Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, at the request of U.S. prosecutors, has helped focus attention on that company.

An exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up at the National Museum of China in Beijing shows off the country’s space technology. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

While the charges against Meng have nothing to do with 5G — she’s accused of misleading financial institutions about her, and Huawei’s, relationship with a company that did business with Iran — the case has spotlighted Huawei’s state-of-the-art contributions to communications technology.

There has been much debate over whether Huawei’s involvement in 5G, or even the sale of its phones in the world market, represent a Trojan horse for the Chinese government, giving the country’s security forces backdoor access to our deepest secrets.

Not just telecom 

But that focus on 5G may be misleading. For one thing, 5G is not a single gizmo. It is more accurately a kind of marketing title for the fifth generation of mobile phone technology. As such, it represents a host of technological subsets, mostly software, some of which are being developed in Canada, says R&D specialist Rick Clayton, a partner with the Ottawa-based consultancy Doyletech.

Clayton says Huawei is just one company operating in an industrial cluster in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata North, where Canadian engineers, some of whom used to be at Nortel Networks before its collapse, work on new software components.

“There’s a fair bit of implicit and explicit sharing between the companies,” he says, which is part of what makes an industrial cluster strong.

And this by no means applies just to the smartphone sector.

One way of sharing is to license intellectual property that someone else has already invented, says Mark Henderson, former owner and editor of the specialist newsletter Research Money.

“They can get it immediately as opposed to working it out of their lab over a period of months or years,” he says.

That international sharing of technology between companies saves money and speeds up progress. The financial damage of cutting off access to intellectual property invented in China, especially as its technology pulls ahead, is hard to calculate.

Chinese open source

Another common way of sharing is called open source software, something that’s been around for years and famously includes the operating system Linux, where employees from many different companies work to build and improve chunks of programming components that are widely used in the systems of those and other companies.

An increasing number of those open source projects are being invented and co-ordinated by Chinese software developers, and that trend is only likely to grow as China increases its number of STEM graduates.

Another potential mistake compounded by the focus on Huawei is thinking that China’s growing technological skills are isolated in just a few areas, such as telecom.

While the experts interviewed for this piece say the U.S. still has an overall technological lead in many sectors, China is not just catching up, it is pulling ahead.

According to the MIT Technology Review, China has become the one to beat in space technology, while its southern city of Shenzhen is racing to outdo California’s Silicon Valley as “a global hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and manufacturing.”

Currently, most global products include the best innovations from around the world. U.S. firms use Chinese-invented technology and vice versa. 

A Huawei executive has said the company will do absolutely anything, including opening its code to detailed inspection, to prove that it is not a threat. Whether a ban is worthwhile can only be determined by the best and most independent security experts. And banning Huawei to eliminate a purported backdoor does not guarantee U.S. systems will be secure from international hackers who have used other methods of entry.

If instead the security concerns are actually part of a political attempt by Trump to weaken China’s technological advantages, the world may be on the verge of a watershed that could hurt everyone. The risk is there could be a new technological cold war that divides the world, forcing countries to choose between two increasingly incompatible technical — and political — systems.

As Gordon ​Houlden of the China Institute says, besides the business cost and difficulty of untangling two sets of competing technology, economic interdependence helps prevent wars. He says as an outward-looking trading nation, Canada should do everything it can to try to prevent such a technological fissure and the resulting political divide that will inevitably hurt both the U.S. and China.

Ultimately, says Houlden, if push comes to shove, Canada must stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S., its longtime ally and security guarantor. 

But avoiding a technological split into “we” and “they” is not just in the interests of Canada, but those of the global technology industry both inside and outside the American sphere. 

And if that doesn’t matter to you, consider this. If we gang up with the U.S. against China’s increasingly sophisticated knowledge industry, maybe sometime soon we will no longer be able to get our hands on the coolest tech.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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