Archive for Hardware

Featured Article – AI, Supercomputers … and Storm Dennis

The disruption and damage caused by weather events affect businesses across the UK but having the benefit of early and detailed insights provided by a new supercomputer system could enable businesses, organisations, agencies, local authorities and the government to plan and minimise disruption where possible, thereby saving billions of pounds per year.

Climate Change

The widely recognised effects of climate change are likely to be responsible for the seemingly more frequent and record-breaking extreme weather events such as storm Dennis here in the UK which brought a record number (594) of flood warnings across England and devastation to many town and businesses.

The increase of a whole degree in temperature since the Industrial Revolution has, for example, warming the atmosphere, making it able to hold more moisture and become unstable. This is likely to mean, at the very least, more storms and flooding in the coming years, and highlights the need for longer advance warnings (Dennis was forecasted 6 days in advance) and more targeted information.

Met Office

The current Met Office system for weather forecasting utilises 200 billion daily observations from satellites, weather stations and ocean buoys that are interpreted by Cray XC40 supercomputers which are due to reach the end of their life in late 2022.  Even though the Cray XC40 is in the top 50 of the world’s most powerful computers, and performs more than 2 million calculations per second for every man, woman and child on the planet, the need for faster, even more accurate, earlier and even more locally-focused weather forecasting requires an investment in new computers to replace the Cray systems for a 10-year period from 2022 to 2032.

New Investment

The new Met Office supercomputer system, announced against the backdrop of storm Dennis, will cost £1.2 billion (which include hardware and running costs too over a ten-year period) but could, according to the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) deliver £19 worth of economic benefits for every pound spent.

The new system will create a simulated picture of the weather, will divide the globe into grid smaller squares, and will have a massive increase in processing power (six times more powerful) at its disposal which will mean that:

– Four-day weather forecasts will be as accurate today as one-day forecasts were 30 years’ ago.

– With the grid that the simulated picture of the earth’s weather is divided into, the new system will be able to operate (and deliver accurate forecasts) for a resolution as sharp as 100m squares.

– Extreme weather conditions will be spotted earlier.

– Improved daily to seasonal forecasts and longer-term climate projections can be made.

– The effects of a hotter world in the future can be explored, and more detail can be added to projections taking account of factors such as the way nitrogen reacts with the carbon in the air.

– Scenarios such as how the country can make the best use of the land if/when the target of net zero emissions by 2050 is reached can be explored.

– Data from the supercomputer can be used to inform UK government policy as part of leading the global fight against climate change.

Artificial Intelligence

The Business and Energy Secretary, Alok Sharma, has highlighted how the new supercomputer looks likely to drive forward innovation and grow world-class skills across supercomputing, data science, as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence.  The Met Office’s new supercomputer will, for example, be able to use artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to carry out even more detailed climate model analysis.

Supercomputer Carbon Footprint?

Some commentators have pointed out that the new supercomputers will require a massive amount of electricity to operate them (as the existing ones do), thereby meaning that ironically, they could be contributing to the global warming that is producing the changing weather conditions that they have been introduced to predict.

The Met Office has, therefore, invited potential providers to come up with low-carbon options and it is likely that much of the processing work could be located in countries with easy and abundant sources of clean energy within the European Economic Area e.g. Iceland (geothermal energy) or Norway (hydropower).

Other Weather Forecasting Options For Business

Weather Source and its Snowflake, cloud-based (AWS) data exchange is an example of another accurate forecasting service for businesses that helps them to quantify and manage climate risks. In addition to being fast and providing forecasts projected over 15 days, the service requires only a few hundred gigabytes of new data to be processed per day, therefore, making it a very efficient option.

Benefits

Looking forward, the socio-economic benefits of the new Met Office system are likely to be many.  These will include better forecasting at airports to help the aviation and travel industries,  more sophisticated modelling of flooding to help businesses with premises in flood areas with continuity and contingency planning, providing more detailed information to the energy sector which will have knock-on benefits to many businesses, and providing insights and early warnings that are vital for the UK’s transport infrastructure and for business transportation, delivery and distribution services.

In a world where the climate is capable of causing massive damage and disruption on a more regular basis, the investment in even more powerful supercomputer technology and AI by the Met Office could actually bring considerable savings for businesses of all kinds and provide a better basis for government decisions.

Apple Fined £21M For Slowing Old iPhone

The French competition and fraud watchdog DGCCRF has fined tech giant Apple €25 million (£21 million) for slowing down some old iPhones and not telling people how to fix the problem.

What Happened?

Back in 2017, some iPhone users were sharing concerns online that their iPhone’s performance had slowed with age but had sped up after a battery replacement. This led to a customer sharing comparative performance tests of different models of the iPhone 6S on Reddit, which appeared to support the customer suspicions.

Technology website Geeknebench also shared the results of its own tests of several iPhones running different versions of the iOS operating system where some showed slower performance than others.

After customers concerns mounted and received more press, Apple publicly admitted that it had made changes one year earlier in the iOS 10.2.1 software update that is likely to have been responsible for the slowdown that customers may have experienced in iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE.

Apple issued an apology to customers in January 2018.

Why?

According to Apple, the slowing down of the phones was due to the lithium-ion batteries becoming less capable of supplying peak current demands over time, so in order to prevent the phones from shutting down (and to protect their components), Apple released a software update to smooth-out the battery performance.

What The Watchdog Says

The DGCCRF has ruled, however, that Apple needs to pay €25 million fine and to display a statement on its website for a month because the iOS software update negatively affected the performance of ageing devices, customers were not told that the 10.2.1 and 11.2 iOS updates would cause a slowing down of their devices and that customers were also not told that replacing the battery rather than replacing the whole phone would solve the problem.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When this story first made the headlines, it was a serious embarrassment for Apple and a blot on the copybook of a brand that had managed to maintain an image of trust and reliability. This story illustrates how managing customer relationships in an age where information is shared quickly and widely by customers via the Internet involves making smart decisions about transparency and being seen to be up-front with loyal customers.

It is very likely that Apple regrets the entire incident and that even though the French regulator, in this case, has decided to impose a big fine, it is likely to be of more annoyance to Apple that customers have to be reminded of the incident again several years later and that the company will now have to display a notice on its website for a month as a further reminder.

Want A Walkie-Talkie? Now You Can Use Your Phone and MS Teams

Microsoft has announced that it is introducing a “push-to-talk experience” to its ‘Teams’ collaborative platform that turns employee or company-owned smartphones and tablets into walkie-talkies.

No Crosstalk or Eavesdropping

The new ‘Walkie Talkie’ feature will offer clear, instant and secure voice communication over the cloud.  This means that it will not be at risk from traditional analogue (unsecured network) walkie-talkie problems such as crosstalk or eavesdropping, and Microsoft says that because Walkie Talkie works over Wi-Fi or cellular data, it can also be used across geographic locations.

Teams Mobile App

The Walkie Talkie feature can be accessed in private preview in Teams in the first half of this year and will be available in the Teams mobile app.  Microsoft says that Walkie Talkie will also integrate with Samsung’s new Galaxy XCover Pro enterprise-ready smartphone for business.

Benefits

The main benefits of Walkie Talkie are making it easier for firstline workers to communicate and manage tasks as well as reducing the number of devices employees must carry and lowering IT costs.

One Better Than Slack

Walkie Talkie also gives Teams another advantage over its increasingly distant rival Slack, which doesn’t currently have its own Walkie Talkie-style feature, although things like spontaneous voice chat can be added to Slack with Switchboard.

Last month, Microsoft announced that its Teams product had reached the 20 million daily active users (and growing) mark, thereby sending Slack’s share price downwards.

Slack, which has 12 million users (a number which has increased by 2 million since January 2019) appears to be falling well into second place in terms of user numbers to Teams in the $3.5 billion chat-based collaborative working software market.  However, some tech commentators have noted that Slack has stickiness and strong user engagement and that its main challenge is that although large companies in the US use it and like it, they currently have a free version, so Slack will have to convince them to upgrade to the paid-for version if it wants to start catching up with Teams

Apple Watch Walkie-Talkie App

Apple Watch users (Series 1 or later with watch OS 5.3 or later, not in all countries though) have been able to use a ‘Walkie-Talkie’ app since October last year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses using Microsoft Teams, the new Walkie Talkie feature could be a cost-saving and convenient tool for firstline workers, and the fact that it integrates Samsung’s new Galaxy XCover Pro will give it even more value for businesses.

For Microsoft, the new Walkie Talkie feature, along with 7 other recently announced new tools for Teams focused firmly on communication and task management for firstline workers are more ways that Teams can gain a competitive advantage over rival Slack, and increase the value of Office 365 to valuable business customers.

Glimpse of the Future of Tech at CES Expo Show

This week, at the giant CES expo in Las Vegas, the latest technology from around the world is on display, and here are just a few of the glimpses into the future that are being demonstrated there, with regards to business-tech.

Cyberlink FaceMe®

Leading facial recognition company Cyberlink will be demonstrating the power of its highly accurate FaceMe® AI engine. The FaceMe® system, which Cyberlink claims has an accuracy rate (TAR, True Acceptance Rate) of 99.5% at 10-4 FAR, is so advanced that it can recognise the age, gender and even the emotional state of passers-by and can use this information to display appropriate adverts.

D-ID

In a world where facial recognition technology is becoming more prevalent, D-ID recognise the need to protect the sensitive biometric data that makes up our faces. On display at CES expo is D-ID’s anti facial recognition solution which uses an algorithm, advanced image processing and deep learning techniques to re-synthesise any given photo to a protected version so that photos are unrecognisable to face recognition algorithms, but humans will not notice any difference.

Hour One

Another interesting contribution to the Las Vegas CES expo is Hour One’s AI-powered system for creating premium quality synthetic characters based on real-life people. The idea is that these very realistic characters can be used to promote products without companies having to hire expensive stars and actors and that companies using Hour One can save time and money and get a close match to their brief due to the capabilities, scale/cope and fast turnaround that Hour One offers.

Mirriad

Also adding to the intriguing and engaging tech innovations at the expo, albeit at private meetings there, is Mirriad’s AI-powered solution for analysing videos, TV programmes and movies for brand/product insertion opportunities and enabling retrospective brand placements in the visual content. For example, different adverts can be inserted in roadside billboards and bus stop advertising boards that are shown in pre-shot videos and films.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI is clearly emerging as an engine that’s driving change and creating a wide range of opportunities for business marketing as well as for security purposes. The realism and accuracy, flexibility, scope, scale, and potential cost savings that AI offers could provide many beneficial business opportunities. The flipside for us as individuals and consumers is that, for example, as biometric systems (such as facial recognition) offers us some convenience and protection from cyber-crime, they can also threaten our privacy and security. It is ironic and probably inevitable, therefore, that we may need and value AI-powered protection solutions such as D-ID to protect us.

Blue Light Thinking Wrong Suggests Research

New research results from the University of Manchester suggest that the popularly accepted wisdom that the sharp blue light emitted by our smartphones and laptops is harmful to our health and disruptive to our sleep may be wrong.

Blue Light

The current thinking, which has led to device makers adding filters to our devices (e.g. Night Shift in the iPhone 11 and even the Windows 10 Night Mode) that show warmer colours at night is based on the idea that too much exposure to artificial blue light emitted by our devices at night is bad for us. For example, as highlighted by Samsung (on its Australian website), too much blue light displayed on the screen of a device has been thought to suppress the production of sleep-inducing hormone ‘melatonin’, hence the need to filter out the blue and replace it with warmer colours. Samsung also suggests that its filter could “reduce digital eye strain”.

Mixed Messages

The new results presented by the University of Manchester researchers show that not only is this belief about blue light (and the need for warmer light filters at night) likely to be mistaken but also that using warmer light filters may be sending our bodies mixed messages.

Why?

The new research, which was carried out using mice, has revealed that blue colours associated with twilight have a weaker effect than white or yellow light of equivalent brightness. The research results appear to show that, in fact, our eyes naturally associate warmer, brighter colours with daytime, and dimmer and cooler colours (blue and darker) with the night as our body clock synchronises with the environment. These cool colours are signals to the brain that it’s twilight and, therefore, time to start getting ready for sleep.

Meaning?

This means that rather than suppressing sleep-inducing hormone ‘melatonin’, the emission of blue light (in dimmed conditions) may actually be more restful than yellow light, and that showing ‘warmer’ colours (via a filter) rather than blue light could be sending the wrong message to the brain. If this is so, it may be the warmer colours of the filter that are more likely to suppress the production of melatonin rather than the blue light glow from our devices.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For device-makers who have developed filters based on the opposite of theses findings, these research results may be unexpected, embarrassing, and highlight an area where costs have been incurred unnecessarily. That said, the view that blue light needed to be filtered at night was widely supported by many credible, expert sources and these filters were developed by device makers with the customer’s wellbeing (and a marketing/value-adding brand benefit) in mind, based on what appeared to be correct information at the time. Also, these new results were based upon one study involving mice, not humans, and that more research is likely to be needed before this new opposite idea about blue light can be widely accepted as the new truth.

Amazon Announces Smart Office Supply Re-Ordering Device

Amazon has announced the introduction of a ‘smart’ office essentials re-ordering device called Dash Smart Shelf which uses a weight-sensing, Wi-Fi-enabled smart scale to re-order products when they’re running low.

Why?

According to Amazon, monitoring and reordering everyday business essentials (e.g. printer paper) can be unnecessarily time-consuming for the small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that make up 99% of business in the U.S. (99.9% of the business population / 5.9 million businesses in the UK – FSB figures).  Having a smart inventory-tracking service could, therefore, mean that time and money in manual stock checking can be saved, plus the disruption of running out of a particular item when it’s needed can be avoided.

How Dash Smart Shelf Works

Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf is a weight-sensing, Wi-Fi-enabled smart scale that looks like a closed laptop. The device is around 1-inch-tall and will be offered in three different sizes – small (7” x 7”), medium (12” x 10”), and large (18” x 13”). Amazon says that the Dash Smart Shelf can work on a range of surfaces e.g. from counter-tops to wire shelving.

The idea being that the Dash Smart Shelf is placed on the shelf where stationery is stored and the stationery e.g. packets of printer paper, sticky tape or pens are stacked (one Smart Shelf per item type) on top of it.  When supplies run low, the Dash Smart Shelf automatically orders more.

Incentive

The Dash Smart Self is for Amazon Business Customers and Amazon is offering them “business-only prices” on certain products, and savings of up to 15 per cent on orders for selected products placed using the new Dash Smart Shelf.

Easy

Amazon says that the Dash Smart Self is easy to set up and only requires a wall plug (included) or four AAA batteries, a connection to your business Wi-Fi and that you are logged in to your Amazon Business account via the web or Amazon Shopping app.

Timescale and Price

Amazon says that the Dash Smart Shelf will be made available first to Amazon Business customers with a registered U.S. business license “starting sometime in 2020”, and no prices have yet been made available.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon makes the point that if you’re in a location far from an office supplies shop, or if you miss a big order (e.g. because you don’t have a certain sized cable), you will instantly see the value of a product that makes sure that you never run out of essential supplies. This product does appear to have the potential to save time, money and hassle by no longer having to manually monitor stock levels.  However, since this product is aimed SMEs, and one unit will need to be purchased for each office product type and the price per unit Dash Smart Shelf (as yet unknown) is going to be an important consideration. Businesses may wonder how much flexibility they will have in choosing which supplier (via the amazon platform) they can have with the device.

Amazon has made in-roads into our homes and found out much more about us and our listening, viewing and other consumption patterns with smart speakers (Echo), Fire TV, the Ring Doorbell and more, and the Dash Smart Shelf marks a move into our business lives by Amazon. As the company becomes the close, sole supplier of some of our valued home and business services, this should enable Amazon to use the data about us to tailor more services and offers, thereby helping it to increase our loyalty and commitment to Amazon, and further fuelling the growth, power and diversification of this online giant.

Uber Loses London Licence

A decision by Transport for London (TfL) means that ride-hailing service Uber has lost its licence to carry passengers in London over safety and security failures.

Why?

According to TfL, it had identified a pattern of failures by Uber, including breaches that had risked the safety of passengers and drivers, plus some uninsured journeys.

Prior to the decision to remove its London Licence, Uber had pledged to improve its drivers’ safety training and provide a direct connection to emergency services.

Not The First Time

Uber had its London licence removed before by TfL back in 2017 after it was decided that the company was “not fit and proper” following security issues, public safety issues, poor reporting (of serious in-car crimes), poor medical checks (of drivers) and poor background checks (of drivers). Uber’s controversial founder and CEO Travis Kalanick had already resigned (in June 2017) amid rumours that he had possibly been “pushed” by unhappy shareholders.  Mr Kalanick was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi.

In 2018, Uber was only given a probationary 15-month license in London following changes made to improve relations with city authorities and had most recently (September) only been granted only a two-month license, which is the licence that is now about to be allowed to expire.

Black Cab Battle

Uber has not had an easy ride in London from its competitors, the drivers of the famous black cabs. The 22,000 traditional “cabbies”, who are required to pass the notoriously difficult memory test of the city’s road network known as “the Knowledge” in order to pick up passengers have objected (many would say understandably) to the loss of business as a result of having to compete with a growing number of Uber drivers who don’t face the same costs or regulations, and who don’t take the same test, and who can rely on satnav apps.

Carry On and Appeal

It has been reported that although the decision to remove the London licence has been taken, Uber will appeal and it is likely that its 45,000 drivers in London may decide to keep accepting customers until the long process of the appeal has been considered.

Trouble Around The World

It’s certainly not just the UK where Uber has found itself facing legal challenges in recent years.  For example:

In the US, in March, the company had to pay $20 million in settlement of a lawsuit brought by drivers who claimed they were employees and were therefore entitled to some wage protections. Also, in November, Uber unsuccessfully challenged a city law which limited the number of licenses for ride-hailing services.

In Australia this year, the company faced a class action on behalf of thousands of drivers who alleged that Uber was operating illegally and harming them financially, and back in December 2018 in Germany, Uber’s limousine service (stopped in 2014) was ruled to have been illegal. Uber has also faced legal problems in the Netherlands, India, and Austria.

Other Woes

Back in November 2017, Uber was handed a £385,000 fine by the ICO in the UK for data protection failings during a cyber-attack back in 2016 which involved the compromising (and theft) of data relating to 600,000 US drivers and 57 million user accounts.

Also, back in May, Uber’s trading debut at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) proved to be somewhat underwhelming when the opening share price was much lower than had been expected at only $45 per share.

Move to Bikes and Scooters

In August 2018, Uber announced a shift in focus towards bikes and scooters in order to drive growth and keep people using the platform. It was thought that bikes and scooters would be more effective and efficient than cars in congested city areas, could represent a way to get another slice of the lucrative mobility market, and that they could be used to help shape consumer behaviour and keep levels of engagement high.

Popular With Users

It has to be said that despite Uber’s problems with the authorities and London cabbies, the service has been popular with many users having positive things to say about the convenience of the app, Uber prices and the speed of the service.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Uber had already been on borrowed time in London after finally being granted a two-month licence (following on from just a 15-month probationary one).  Uber’s relationship with the UK authorities and Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had accused Uber as adding to the city’s congestion problems, has been on the edge for quite some time, and it appears as though Uber may not have made the changes that it had pledged to make in order to retain its licence.  The appeal may take a few months, so it is likely that Uber drivers will simply carry on for the time being.

For users, it may come as a disappointment that a service that they found to be very convenient will soon no longer be available but it may be the case that a new London Mayor after May 2020 could take a different approach towards Uber.  For example, some Uber drivers have expressed the belief that Mayor Khan may be pandering too much to the black cabbies, and a hopeful future mayor candidate, Shaun Bailey (Conservative) has expressed regret over TfL’s decision to not grant another licence to Uber.  For the time being though, it’s a waiting game in London for Uber.

Windows Still Need Some Work on Tesla’s New “Cybertruck”

Tesla’s Elon Musk proudly launched the new ‘Cybertruck’ in front of the world’s media last week, only to find that the distinctly breakable difficult-to-break windows were the main focus of media reports.

Cybertruck

The new Tesla all-electric Cybertruck is a futuristic pickup truck / armoured vehicle which will not be manufactured until late 2021 and will retail for between $39,000 and $76,900.  The Tesla website claims that the Cybertruck features “a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton” and that all of the components are “designed for superior strength and endurance”.  For example, the truck features an “Ultra-Hard” 30X Cold-Rolled stainless-steel structural skin and armour glass (toughened glass).  The smooth steel shell is intended to resist dents, damage and long-term corrosion as well as providing added safety to the truck’s occupants.

Features

Tesla says that the new Cybertruck can accelerate from 0-60 mph in only 2.9 seconds, has up to 500 miles of range (thanks to improved Tesla batteries),  a 3,500 pounds of payload capacity, offers 100 cu ft of “vault-like” storage, has adaptive suspension, and can seat six comfortably.

In addition to the futuristic exterior, the ‘cyber’ aspect of the truck appears to be focused around the 17” touchscreen with a new customized user interface.

That Glass Incident

The embarrassing aspect of the launch that international media outlets chose to focus on was when Tesla’s head of design, Franz von Holzhausen attempted to demonstrate how strong the window glass on the Cybertruck was by throwing a heavy metal ball at two different windows, only to find that both broke (although the ball didn’t end up inside the vehicle in either case).

Orders

Elon Musk tweeted on the Sunday after the Cybertruck’s (Thursday) launch that there had already been 200,000+ orders of the vehicle (with no advertising), but this figure appears to relate to pre-orders of the not-yet manufactured vehicle involving a commitment from potential customers of only $100 deposit (fully refundable).  As any car salesperson could tell you, the small deposit coupled with the long wait for manufacture may be unlikely to produce anywhere near the same number of actual sales as pre-orders.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is no doubt that the major car manufacturers are committed to producing electric cars, and Tesla has achieved a great deal in establishing itself as a major player in this market, particularly with its Model 3. Much of the media attention for Tesla, however, has focused on the claims and behaviour of its charismatic leading light and often double-edged sword Elon Musk, who appears to be no stranger to controversy e.g. when he was sued by (and settled with) The US Securities and Exchange Commission for a “false and misleading” tweet about his plans for Tesla that was thought to have upset the market and investors.

Unfortunately, unpredictable and embarrassing events at the launch appear to have slightly overshadowed many of the positive aspects of the Cybertruck. Sir James Dyson also found that his ambition in the electric car market didn’t live up to reality as Dyson recently had to scrap its £2.5 billion ‘N526’ electric car project with Sir James Dyson announcing that it was “not commercially viable”.  It remains to be seen if Tesla’s Cybertruck can achieve the same levels of popularity and approval as its Tesla 3 model.

Despite Patches, Researchers Warn That Intel Chips Are Still Vulnerable

The New York Times has reported that despite Intel issuing patches for security flaws (that were discovered last year) in its processors, security researchers are alleging that the processors still have some serious vulnerabilities.

What Flaws?

In January 2018, it was discovered that nearly all computer processors made in the last 20 years contained two flaws known as ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’. The 2 flaws could make it easier for something like a malicious program to steal data that is stored in the memory of other running programs.

Meltdown, discovered by researchers from Google’s Project Zero, the Technical University of Graz in Austria and the security firm Cerberus Security in Germany, affects all Intel, ARM, and other processors that use ‘speculative execution’ to improve their performance; i.e. when a computer performs a task that may not be actually needed in order to reduce overall delays for the task (a kind of optimisation).

Meltdown could, for example, leave passwords and personal data vulnerable to attacks, and could be applied to different cloud service providers as well as individual devices. It is believed that Meltdown could affect every processor since 1995, except for Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013.

Spectre, which affects Intel, AMD and ARM (mainly Cortex-A) processors, allows applications to be fooled into leaking confidential information. Spectre affects almost all systems including desktops, laptops, cloud servers, and smartphones.

8 More Flaws Discovered

Then, in May 2018, 8 more security flaws in chips/processors were discovered by several different security teams.  The new ‘family’ of bugs were dubbed Spectre Next Generation (Spectre NB).

September 2018

According to reports by The New York Times, the Dutch researchers (at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) also reported a range of security issues about Intel’s processors to the company in September 2018 and provided Intel with a proof-of-concept code to help them to develop fixes

14 Months On – Only Some Fixes

It has been reported that after waiting 8 months to allow Intel enough time to develop fixes (of which only some have issued), and more than a year after providing Intel with a proof-of-concept code, Intel has only just announced the issue of more security updates earlier this week.

More Vulnerabilities

Unfortunately for Intel, just as they announced the issue of new security fixes last week, the researchers notified them of more unfixed flaws, and it has been alleged that Intel asked the researchers to alter the report about the flaws and to effectively stay quiet about them.

MDS

The latest unpatched flaw in Intel processors that the researchers from Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany and Austria have gone public about is a hacking technique, which is a variant of ZombieLoad or RIDL (Rogue In-Flight Data Load). The technique which exploits a flaw in Intel processors is known as microarchitectural data sampling (MDS) and it can enable hackers to carry out several different exploits e.g. running code on the victim’s computer that forces the processor to leak data.

Criticism

The news that there may still be flaws in Intel’s processors after the company appears to have had a long time to fix them has prompted some criticism of Intel online, some of it reported in the New York Times e.g. allegations  that there has been a lack of transparency about the issue from Intel, that the company has tried to downplay the problems, and allegations that Intel may not decide to do much to fix the problem until its reputation is at stake.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Bearing in mind that these flaws are likely to exist at the architectural level in the majority of processors, this story is bad news for businesses that have been legitimately trying to make themselves totally compliant with GDPR and as secure as possible from attack.

For the time being, in the short term, and unless processor companies try to completely re-design processors to eliminate the flaws, closing hardware flaws using software patches is the only realistic way to tackle the problem and this can be a big job for manufacturers, software companies, and other organisations that choose to take that step. It is good practice anyway for businesses to install all available patches and make sure that they are receiving updates for all systems, software and devices.

The hope is now that researchers can put enough pressure on processor manufacturers e.g. through bad publicity to make them speed up their efforts to tackle the known security flaws in their products.

‘Moore’s Law’ and Business Innovation Challenged By Slow-Down In Rate of Processing Power Growth

Many tech commentators have noted a stagnation or slow-down period in computing related to ‘Moore’s Law’ being challenged, but has the shrinking of transistors within computer chips really hit a wall and what could drive innovation further?

What Is Moore’s Law?

Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, is based on his observation from 1965 that transistors were shrinking so quickly that twice as many would be able to fit into a micro-chip every year, which he later amended to a doubling every two years.  In essence, this Law should mean that processing power for computers doubles every two years.

The Challenge

The challenge to this Law that many tech commentators have noted is that technology companies may be reaching their limit in terms of fitting ever-smaller silicon transistors into ever-smaller spaces, thereby leading to a general slowing of the growth of processing power.  The knock-on effect of this appears slowing of computer innovation that some say could have a detrimental effect on new, growing industry sectors such as self-driving cars.

What’s Been Happening?

Big computer chip manufacturers like Intel have delayed the next generation of smaller transistor technology and increased the time between introducing the future generations of their chips. Back in 2016 for example, Intel found that it could shrink chips to as little as 14 nanometres, but 10 nanometres is going to be a challenge that would take longer to achieve.

The effect has not only been a challenge to Moore’s Law, and a challenge to how the big tech companies can keep improving their data centres, but also how computers are able to work for (and keep up with) the demands of business.

Mobile devices, which use chips other than Intel’s may also have the brakes put on them slightly as they now also rely, to a large extent, on the data-centres to run the apps that their users value.

What About Supercomputers?

Some experts have also noted that the rate of improvement of supercomputers has been slowing in recent years and this may have had a negative impact on the research programs that use them.

That said, the cloud means that IBM is now able to offer quantum computing to tens of thousands of users, thereby empowering what it calls “an emerging quantum community of educators, researchers, and software developers that share a passion for revolutionising computing”.  It is doing this by opening a Quantum Computation Centre in New York which will bring the world’s largest fleet of quantum computing systems online, including the new 53-Qubit Quantum System for broad use in the cloud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many smaller businesses that are less directly reliant upon the most-up-to-date computers may not be particularly concerned at the present time about the challenge to Moore’s Law,  but all businesses are likely to be indirectly affected as their tech giant suppliers struggle to keep improving the capacity of their data-centres.

Many see AI and machine learning as the gateway to finding innovative solutions to improving computing power, but these also rely on data-centres and other areas of computing that have been challenged by the pressure on Moore’s Law.

A more likely way forward may be that chip designs will need to be improved and highly specialised versions will need to be produced, and Microsoft and Intel have already made a start on this by working on reconfigurable chips.  Also, the big tech companies may need to collaborate on their R &D in order to find the way forward in increasing the rate of improvement of computing power that can ensure that businesses can drive their products, services and innovation forward.