The dangers of Chinese expansion

The dangers of Chinese expansion

From a purely technology standpoint, why do you care if China invades Taiwan? Taiwan is a major supplier and producer of chips for technology devices. Companies from across the planet have their goods made there including giants like Samsung. There is a massive amount of intellectual property (IP) tied up in this production and the rest of the world has a high dependence on Taiwan to provide their notebooks, PCs, modems, smartphones and myriad other electronic devices.

- Now imagine if that is suddenly cut off. Countries like India and South Korea might be able to fill in some of the demand, but to fully ramp up new product locations will take years and potentially cost more. Many major brand-new computers and devices will be hard to come by with an unknown time to market. China would have access to IP they don't currently have and if the world did accept devices from the new Taiwan, they will most likely have hidden monitoring technology added. The non-technological ramifications include a very worried Asia, that they will be next.

- On Oct 4, Facebook and its other social media sites including WhatsApp and Instagram went offline. For some it was a breath of fresh air, for others it represented millions in lost advertising and the associated revenue. Facebook responded on Twitter with: "We're aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We're working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologise for any inconvenience." Perhaps the understatement of the year.

- Showing just how fragile things can be, the issue was caused by a routine Border Gateway Protocol update that causes Facebook's routing to be withdrawn from the internet. This then affected the DNS servers so that any attempt to access facebook.com failed. Part of the problem was exacerbated due to Facebook's automated configuring system reacting badly to the update. The side effects from this kind of event included FBI employees not being able to enter their building because ID badges were not working with access doors. This is a great indication of just how interconnected seemingly unrelated things can be. A number of other services were affected by the outbreak, and more than a few people expressed how sad it was that Facebook actually came back up again.

- Another side effect was an increase in people signing up for other platforms like Signal, a rival to WhatsApp, indicating just how addicted some are to instantaneous news and feedback. Facebook's share prices were already down 10% after documents were leaked by so-called whistleblower Frances Haugen, a data scientist at Facebook. Her allegedly leaked documents purported to show how potentially harmful the platform is for younger users, based on Facebook only blocking about 5% of what they define as hate speech. The twist in this story is the individual involved is a leftist activist driving a response that Facebook needs to take down more content, primarily from only one side of the political spectrum. The outcome from this story could be more suppression and less freedom of speech and expression for some. The suggestion at the time of writing is that this whole story is a contrived one.

- So where are we when it comes to quantum computers? The big players are IBM, Google and D-Wave along with a host of smaller organisations all working to build a faster and more powerful quantum device. D-Wave calls theirs "solvers" and they currently sell smaller units based on a quantum annealing process that targets specific problems to solve. They are now working on a much larger unit based around the superconducting gate system approach as used by IBM and Google. The plan is to have their first version out by 2023 or the following year. This approach will allow more complex problems like those requiring differential equations to be solved. Think things like fluid mechanics and other similar problems that are currently difficult if not impossible to solve with existing technology. IBM had previously criticised D-Wave for not building "real" quantum computers.

- Differing from the rest, D-Wave will still be using their flux qubit approach. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

- The European Union is still actively working to keep major tech companies in check. Their latest target is Apple for keeping others from using their built-in NFC electronics, which are tightly integrated with Apple Pay and not open to rival payment systems, with the EU preparing anti-trust charges. According to competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager: "It is important that Apple's measures do not deny consumers the benefits of new payment technologies, including better choice, quality, innovation and competitive prices." South Korea also passed legislation in August to force Google and Apple to allow the use of third-party payment systems for app and in-app purchases. Countries like Australia and the US are also looking at this issue.


James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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