Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Plus Ca Change

The Black Watch of 1974
When I started writing this weblog, ten years ago, not that many people in Thanet, compared with the present, had the Internet and Amazon sold books and little else. Today, super-high-speed broadband has just become available in Westgate; that's if you are prepared to pay £30 a month extra for the experience with BT.

Ten years on and it seems that everyone is shopping online and mostly at Amazon or eBay, iPads and tablet PCs are the gift of choice this year - how did we live without them -  and we are just emerging from the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s.

So what will the world look like in another ten years? You can be sure there's something making a big impact that none of us have thought about yet but in general terms the future, at least where the advances in technology are involved has become relatively predictable

With the good news from Government, we are hearing about jobs and growth; all those things we need to raise the standard of living and be competitive in a changing world. However, in China, workers wages are also rising and FoxConn Technology, which employs over over one million Chinese, assembling most of those high-tech goodies that will sit under your own Christmas tree, is on an ambitious programme to replace one million of its 1.2 million workers with robots over the coming decade. Labour costs, even in China, are now eating into the profits which once made its cheap labour so attractive. Google, a major disruptive force in the world, also wants to put together the definitive standard platform for a personal robotics revolution and is investing millions.

The Pebble Watch of 2013
As one example, a robotic hamburger kitchen already exists that can produce 360 gourmet hamburgers in one hour. McDonalds has enough profit to fund the development of automated machines that could provide a one year return on investment. Each McDonalds might need more one machine. Each machine takes up 24 square feet and replaces the people who cook and the the kitchen too.

You see, the technology to automate humans out of many jobs is now advancing so fast, that in the space of ten years, the world or work will start to look very different and for many, without professional skills, finding work may become much harder than ever.

All this is because as humans we are not good at recognising exponential rather than linear growth. We try and look at the future as a straight-line evolution of the past and today, with around eight technologies colliding, like genomics and robotics, we can't see clearly what's in front of us; the evidence appearing of the biggest changes since the start of the industrial revolution.

Let me take an example from a lecture I gave for KPMG's bigger clients last month.

Imagine that you are sitting in the top row seats of the FA Cup final at Wembley and the stadium has been made watertight. Far below, you see the captain of one of the teams and standing next to him is the referee, holding an eye dropper. He squeezes a single drop of water into the players palm and then one minute later two drops,  a minute after that four drops and then eight as the infinite eye-dropper carries on dripping water into the player's outstretched hand.

Sony's Smart Wig - It's No Joke
When does the pitch become covered with water?

Some soccer loving mathematician has worked out that this happens in 43 minutes and you remark: "So what?"

But when does the stadium become filled with water and everybody has to learn to sink or swim? The answer to that is 49 minutes and is an example of exponential growth. Suddenly something that at first looks linear, suddenly leaps up dramatically and everything changes very quickly

From a technology perspective, we are now at roughly at the equivalent of 43 minutes since Moore's Law of 1965 which has processor power doubling every 18 months. The pitch is filled with water and subsequent changes to the landscape of work, the economy and with it, society, are going to start happening very quickly indeed over the coming five years, as all of a sudden, ground-breaking technologies swiftly move from the drawing board into the workplace and the living room.

In another ten years, with luck, I will still be writing this blog, if such things exist and drawing my pension in Bitcoins too; if it still exists - my pension that is -  but I promise you a bumpy ride, as all of a sudden, everyone realises that in the most part, distracted by gadgetry, we have been sleep-walking into a future that may look very different to the comfortable assumptions we hold today.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Light the Blue Touchpaper

Like a modern version of the gunpowder plot, perhaps one day we will look back and trace Britain's exit from the European Union to a speech given one evening by the Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan in Thanet; setting light to a political fuse that may lead to an explosion in Brussels later this month.

Hannan is a remarkable figure and an inspiring orator of the kind that no longer exists in modern politics. The last time I came across an intellect as powerful, it was Gary Kasparov and like the former world chess champion, Hannan has an astonishing memory for detail, facts, figures and quotes.

His thesis, is that the European Union was created for the purpose of trade but instead it delivers suffocating regulation into every tiny corner of our lives.

He argues, that from Britain's point of view there is no national benefit to being a member, rather than being a free trade partner like Norway or Switzerland, simply because our balance of trade has moved away from Europe; they need us a great deal more than we need them, as our economy increasingly looks to the United States the Far-east and young nations like Brazil.

What we pay into Europe's tax and regulation coffers each year he claims, would very quickly bring down our own deficit and membership of the EU is strangling our own ability to recover, given that alone of all the members, as we remain outside the faltering common currency we are incrementally rebuilding our battered economy with new jobs and less debt.

Without any shadow of a doubt, Hannan delivered the most stirring and indeed logical, political speech I've every had the privilege of hearing and it's a shame it could not have been played to a national audience, rather than a small room, here in Thanet. However, I firmly believe its message is heard very clearly in the corridors of power, both in Brussels and Westminster and may well prove the prelude to a referendum decision from David Cameron before the month ends.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

All About Inflation

My daughter asked me recently why Governments can't just print more money to escape a recession. It's an astute question, because of course they do but call it 'quantitative easing' which brings the risk of inflation with it like a plague-infected flea on the back of a rat.

If you ask anyone in the street and many politicians, it's quite likely that they won't recall how we arrived at the mess we are now in, in the first place and it's all to do with Gold.

Until 1971, the quantity of dollars the US Government placed into circulation was linked to the amount of Gold held in the treasury at Fort Knox; remember James Bond and Mr Goldfinger? Most western governments worked the same way and this was called the 'Bretton Woods' standard and quite simply prevented governments, like our own, from printing currency when they wanted to.

However, in the irresistible race to make government larger, raise money for huge projects and to employ millions of hitherto unemployed people in the public sector, two things happened which led us to the dilemma we face today.

Firstly, government did what it had always done when it couldn't raise money to meet costs through direct taxation, it issued bonds. However, this rapidly became the equivalent of you or I paying for Xmas on our credit cards as old debts were recycled into new ones; almost identical to moving the balance from one big debt, to a new credit card with an introductory and attractive lower rate but over a greater period of time, so you pay more interest in the longer term.

But who pays you might ask and this is when it becomes very clever and explains why the banks are a vital part of our twisted economic ecosystem. The Government issues, let's say £1billion of bonds at 5% interest and sells these to the big banks; exchanging the paper IOU's for hard money the government can spend. The paper is quite worthless unless of course, the Bank of England or any other central bank, then prints the money, which it gives to the private banks in return for the IOU's with interest and this is what happens. If you tried this in the real world you might get arrested for fraud.

So far, so good you might think but the collapse of the Gold Standard removed any restraint on government printing as much money as it wished, with the spectre of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s, hovering in the background. This is where you and I pay for this conjuring trick, without realising it, because that's how we get inflation. Western government agree on their inflation targets each year to synchronise their currencies to prevent them becoming worthless over time; think of the Zimbabwe pound as an example of a currency outside the system.

Since 1971, the Pound has lost 90% of its value, in contrast with the Swiss Franc, which is still locked to the Gold their government holds in their Zurich vaults. This means that someone has to pay to pay for the interest each year, which is fundamentally what we call inflation, through a deliberate policy of allowing prices to rise to balance the decline in the value of the currency. And if everyone is in it together, the prospects of any one nation dropping-out of this poker game is rather too frightening to consider when countries like Greece and Spain can no longer pay the interest payments.

Lastly of course, the arrival of New Labour and in particular Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, intoduced an even cleverer conjuring trick to fund the runaway expansion of government. This was called 'PFI.' the public finance initiative. It is no different to a really impressive credit card but one with extended payment terms and which isn't controlled by the banks but by private business instead. So if you want to build new schools and hospitals, you do a twenty-five year deal with a big company at eye-watering levels of interest; think of Wonga.com.

You get get all the big projects which Government dreams about on credit, which convinces the voters that the government and in this case Labour, with its creative borrowing tricks going back to Harold Wilson, is wonderful with our taxes and great with its finances, mortgaged against future generations but our grandchildren are saddled with the debts. These hidden' off books' liabilities are estimated at being worth over 20% of or GDP or £11,330 of debt per household, in addition to the existing £32,000 of 'official debt' left to each home by the last government.

The political argument is a relatively simple one. Conservatives are naturally resistant to borrowing against an uncertain future and the taxes of future generations but this represents a central pillar of Labour's game. This works when economies grow in a predictable fashion and income tax revenues remain sensibly proportionate to expenditure but this hasn't happened for over twenty years now as western economies stagnate and there is little guarantee that future generations will have the economic strength to repay the interest on these huge loans, let alone the capital. This explains why the present government is trying so hard to bring the debt down so fast in such painful austerity measures.

"It had become usual to give Napoleon the credit for every successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune. You would often hear one hen remark to another, 'Under the guidance of our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days'; or two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim, 'Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!'

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Disruptive or Not

Occasionally, I'm asked how I define a 'Disruptive Technology' and the answer isn't always as straight forward as one might think.

Simon Moores - Disruptive Technologies - Ritz Hotel London 2012
It's easy to say, that it's the introduction of a new technology that changes the way we do business or represents a sudden evolutionary leap forward in a social, technical or informational sense.

In the past, it was easy to point at the steam engine the electric light, the telegraph, television or the Internet and describe them as 'disruptive' without any shadow of a doubt. Today it's a little more complex for several reasons.

Take 'Twitter' for example. Is it disruptive? After all, if you look at its impact on the Arab Spring and the libel laws in the UK, it's certainly having a disruptive effect.

What about Apple's iPod, iPhone or iPad? All of these individually and in concert represent an evolutionary step forward in the computing and software industry, not least of all the iPad, which in the space of two short years is becoming rapidly ubiquitous.

Our rapidly growing universe of “Things” is being linked through wired and wireless networks to the Internet. GSMA estimates connecting 24 billion devices by 2020, while Cisco and Ericsson think we will hit 50 billion. Altogether, these networks are churning out huge volumes of data that flow to computers for analysis. When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly. And then there's the convergence between, GPS, social media and fast developments in camera technology as well as rapid advanced in nano-engineering and DNA sequencing.

This is a subject I'm thinking more deeply upon for one of my presentations at the Ritz Hotel in December but what immediately strikes me is the sudden arrival of inflection points.

In the last century the pace of advance was more dramatic but much slower and has been accelerating rapidly, almost geometrically, since the 1980's. As the digital world expands and interfaces with every aspect of life that surrounds us, it's both raw speed and code that make makes a big difference as computer's follow the inexorable path of Moore's law.

So what happens today is that we see incremental and then very sudden, swift leaps forward, as technologies converge and arrive at an inflection point. The door suddenly opens to a raft of new opportunities and applications that might never have been imagined twelve months previously. All of a sudden, a large swathe of humanity is touched by one new product or feature or another and you might pause to consider, that reportedly, last year, 24 percent of the population of Mogadishu checked into Facebook once a week.

And so that's where we are today, inflection points are starting to arrive faster than companies and governments can deal with them in a modern day equivalent of Pandora's Box. Most of these opportunities, like the arrival of 3D printers, are dazzling and exciting but a few have a darker side which can be missed among the prevailing sense of excitement, until like computer viruses, they return to bite us.

So let's be optimistic but let's also learn the lessons of the past that sudden disruptive change frequently brings unexpected consequences in the business and social ecosystem.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Lesson of Ludd

Two hundred years ago, in 1812, there was a strike at the Rawfolds Mill in Yorkshire. Today, we know know it as the first defeat of the machine-breaking Luddite Movement, a contemporary reaction to the first wave of disruptive technology that marked the start of the Industrial Revolution and a period of history which may hold lessons for us today, in a period of great economic uncertainty, where productivity is increasingly automated and removed from human labour.

Simply taking a moribund Europe and a struggling United States economy, as examples, every statistic of the last decade warns of trouble ahead, as the rapidly climbing curve of automation and intelligent computing overtakes the millions of individual that make-up the traditional workforce.

Some fundamental jobs requiring manual labour and human skills remain irreplaceable in a service economy but huge swathes of knowledge-based careers are rapidly disappearing into cyberspace or to the digital sweat-shops of the Far East, leaving an army of unemployed young University graduates without real prospects for the future.

Europe, in particular, floats on generous, entitlement-based, socialist economies with a disproportionately large public sector and a rapidly shrinking number of workers that pay the taxes to support it. As the poorly educated migrant-driven populations continue to grow in countries such as France, the potential for opportunity and unemployment-driven unrest in the largest cities grows with it because the jobs required no longer exist in the volumes needed.

Once upon a time, Governments would introduce huge public sector projects, such as the Pyramid of Giza or the Great Wall of China or canals and railways to employ Karl Marx's growing proletariat but today the finances no longer exist, Governments are facing chronic debt challenges or are simply bankrupt, like Greece and the intellectuals are as vulnerable to the advancing machine age as the uneducated,

What I also observe around me today is ageism in the workplace. Outside of the more senior positions in business, how many people over the age of 50 are actually employed any more? Most recently and here in the UK, you'll see the public sector 'streamlining-out' the over-fifties with generous redundancy packages, as their pensions can no longer be supported. In the private sector and particularly among technology businesses 50+ is as old as Methuselah.

Transition periods in human history never pass without pain and I can't quite subscribe to the rosy optimism in Andrew McAfee's 'Ted Talk' shown below. Luddism failed because ultimately new types of work appeared to replace the old and which delivered the mass-employment that led to the the industrial revolution. However, digital technology is rapidly displacing the widest spectrum of human skills and continues to grow at a geometric rate. If you follow the progress of Moore's Law and concede that 75% of human skills and intelligence can be automated out of the workplace, making companies more profitable as a consequence, then the outlook for the workforce and for employment looks increasingly bleak.

So where do we go in this expanding transition economy where large numbers of human workers are no longer needed? 'Economies run on ideas' but no politician or economist can answer this riddle without using 'Hope' somewhere in the answer.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Rough Tech's Guide to Istanbul

Several days in Istanbul last week woke me up to the fact that Apple's iPad is not only pervasive and disruptive technology but it's increasingly ubiquitous as well. Only a matter of two years into to its production cycle as a piece of commodity electronics, it shows us the shape of things to come.

Aside from watching other tourists wandering around with their iPads held up in front of them, using its camera to take photographs of Istanbul's magnificent historical sites, my own served two specific purposes.

The first of these was having several guidebook 'apps' and interactive sites, pre-loaded with city maps. Wave goodbye to maps and guide-books, which must be a financial blow to the small army of hawkers outside Hagia Sophia, trying to make a few Turkish Lira, selling both.

There was real comfort being able to explore the old quarter of Istanbul, without any chance of becoming lost. The GPS on my iPad and my iPhone not only gave me an exact position on the city street map but helpfully pointed-out the nearest historical attraction with a direct link into either Wikipedia or the Istanbul tourist guide. Without it, I doubt I would never have discovered the fabulous subterranean cistern museum, hidden away in plain sight.

Trip Advisor is now maturing rapidly as a useful guide to just about everything the business or occasional traveller needs and of course it conveniently suggests the best and most recommended tourist locations within easy walking distance of any GPS position. This is something that restaurants and hotels in many countries desperately need to come to grips with, as they don't realise that their business can be made or killed by bad online reviews.

What comes next in the technology within the next five years is obvious. Augmented reality, either by simply viewing through the iPad or Galaxy screen and camera or through the arrival of Google-driven spectacles.

I'm anticipating to be able to visit the Top Kapi palace museum one day and point my device at any exhibit and have all the historical and item information overlaid on the screen, much like a heads-up display, as already happens on my 'Night Sky' astronomy app on my iPad.

As for what come after this, one can only imagine but in only two short years, 'Rough Guide' tourism has changed forever.

Friday, 26 October 2012

With Each Passing Week

Following on from yesterday's e-crime congress, Mid-year Forum in London, I had a few thoughts, based on the presentations and my own ideas of the constantly evolving risks we face.

William Gibson
So let's accept that that the arrival of the 'Internet of Things' and 'Always-on' technologies is creating a constantly growing surface opportunity for the kinds of sophisticated criminals that once use to exist only in the imagination of the science-fiction author, William Gibson.

What concerns me after a decade of chairing and speaking at e-crime and info security conferences, is the shortage of new and even radical ideas and answers, as business and industry struggles to keep pace with the parabolic curve of exploitation, vulnerability and criminal opportunity.

In the middle of the biggest recession in sixty years, many businesses are even more focused on cutting their technology costs that building a resilient defense posture and the language of risk has changed very little over the last five years.

Most organisations are now on familiar terms with 'Blended threats,' 'Advanced Persistent Threats,'  'Denial of Service,' 'Spyware,' 'Crimeware,' 'Malware' and much of the depressingly expanding lexicon of e-crime.

Yesterday, we heard that 'security solutions are fractured' and new strategies are enabling hackers to hide malicious traffic where security doesn't know where to look. I'm worried we are so busy looking on one familiar direction, that we may not be keeping-up with the arms race, as it evolves in quite different directions, the subject of cyber-warfare and terrorism aside and that may now be heading towards the theft, aggregation and analysis of what is increasingly described as 'Big Data.'

The kinds of  Big Data tools that were once only available to wealthy corporations are increasingly within-range of well-funded criminal gangs who can buy a new generation of cloud-based services on demand.  to achieve their goals. What these might be or even look like, it's hard to say but if you take the underground economy as it is today and project the direction of its potential evolution, then some conclusions are unavoidable, even if these are simply speculation for now.

There's absolutely no doubt that we know a great deal about risk and exploitation, after all, it's an almost daily occurrence for large organisations today. A $20 billion dollar industry has a vast army of useful and frequently effective point solutions but the evidence clearly shows that no amount of investment in security offers any form of magic bullet against the risk of compromise or data theft from an army of highly sophisticated and motivated adversaries.

The security industry reminds me of a traditional Egyptian market. Crowded, busy and with some of the  merchandise on offer varying very little over the years; just the packaging changes colour.

If I'm not going to be back wringing my hands over the landscape of risk in another decade, much like a did with my 'Trustworthy Computing Report' in 2002, then we need to see the industry or the analysts stepping-up with some new and original ideas to challenge an arms race which I would argue we are in danger of losing, inch by inch with each passing week.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Software and Chips

Night Vision Nikon
There’s a conversation running through the camera community at present, that certain manufacturers are disabling features in order to switch them on, one by one in subsequent product releases.

To me, it sounds as if the technology is now moving so quickly in this particular space, with product advances such as Lytro, that there’s seemingly little commercial point in releasing a new camera with all the super new, software-driven features in one go. Instead, as the product design teams work on new chips and new software, which can take a couple of years, it may make more sense to dribble out the features over a period of time to keep the sales going.

Otherwise, why would you buy the next expensive upgrade, if like me, what you have is perfectly good for now? The same conversation could conceivably extend to all kinds of software-driven commodity products where manufacturers depend on quarterly and annual sales targets. You only have to think of the iPhone being jailbroken and already there’s a suggestion that one major camera manufacturer has had its software successfully hacked and new, hitherto hidden features revealed as a consequence. Which brings me back to the argument that has been raging over the past two weeks between the United States Government and the giant Chinese telco, Huawei.

Several years ago, I recall conversations and expressions of concern, surrounding the close relationship between Huawei, British Telecom and the delivery of Chinese-manufactured hardware across the spectrum of UK Government departments.

Reflecting what we have heard from the United States Congress in recent weeks, some observers were concerned that spy ware could successfully be concealed in the hardware, quite invisible in the likes of compiled keyboard chips. The joke in circulation at the time was that we shouldn’t have to worry about the Chinese stealing our national secrets because they have them already, together with our European partners, either through spies or their huge army of hackers.

So do I think the Chinese have been spying on us? Of course I do and there’s a huge volume of evidence to support this. Are state actors involved? Once again the evidence is very powerful and they also appear to work in 9-5 shifts at some well-defined locations in the Chinese mainland.

Is Huawei a national security risk as the United States Government suggests? I really don’t know but I do hope that our security services and GCHQ are up to the task of remediating any risk that we may face as a consequence of outsourcing so much of our critical infrastructure to companies controlled by foreign governments, who at best, we share an uneasy political relationship.

Monday, 15 October 2012

From Bradford to Beijing

I wanted to return to the theme, briefly touched-upon in the last blog entry and that's what will happen when computers cease to merely assist us in making discoveries but discover things for themselves. Perhaps things that are too complex for most of us to understand, like abstruse mathematics?

A Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University. Steven Strogatz, argues that we are living in a special window of time, stretching from the dawn of the scientific revolution, 350 years ago, to a point, a few decades into the future. Only people living in this window can say they truly understand the world in which they live. Why is this so? It's because as the volume of knowledge and 'Big Data' continues to expand at a near geometric rate, we are building a web, so tangled and so complex in terms of supporting information and infrastructure, it is rapidly running away from our limited human ability to make sense of it.

Samuel Arbesman, in ARC magazine, argues that the worry begins when we arrive at ideas so complex that even an Einstein, Hawkings or a Kasparov might be defeated and that these might only be understood by one person in a billion, at the very far end of the human spectrum of intelligence. That's of course where machines and analysis come into the picture. Either computers so sophisticated and powerful that they tell us simply what we need to know or a new generation of highly-skilled, data analysts who can tease patterns of useful knowledge and new ideas from a blizzard of data.

Personally, I'm not sure where it all ends because quite simply, we haven't started coming to grips with a problem which may start to dominate the computing and economic debate within a decade.

What I do know, is that here in the Western economies, we are completely unprepared, educationally, emotionally and technically, to deal with the post-industrial, data-packed demand that will soon be coming our way. It's like the industrial revolution all over again, except that this time the future won't be born in small towns like Bradford but rather from sprawling mega-cities like Beijing

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Big Data - Big Limits

It must be more than twenty years since I predicted that one day, we would be able to cram all the world's data into a single optical disk. I recall, that I was writing an article about Apple Computer, perhaps it was for Computer Weekly, with Apple very much a niche player at the time and Steve Jobs, as ever, well ahead of the curve, had expressed real excitement about the technology.

Of course, I was wrong in one very important respect. All the world's data or the sum of human knowledge, twenty years ago, is only a fraction of what it is today, at a time when IDC reports that three exabytes of new data are created each twenty-four hours. That's two to the sixtieth bytes or simply a billion gigabytes; I'm told about 50,000 years worth of DVD quality video. As volumes of data continue to grow at near exponential rates, the prevailing 'Big Data' debate surrounds the very real challenge of storing and making sense of it all, let alone the the privacy implications of capturing every keystroke and query for pattern and behaviour analysis.

In October's ARC Magazine, Samuel Arbesman worries that soon, we will no longer be able to understand a large fraction of the knowledge we have created and in 'Scientific American 2010' Danny Hillis makes a similar point. Hillis argued that that we have moved from the Enlightenment, a period where logic and reason could bring understanding, to the Entanglement, where everything is so unbelievably interconnected, that we can no longer understand systems of our own making.

Arbesman speculates that for a greater part of human history, the vast majority of humanity has understood its surroundings according to the knowledge of the day: "From the four elements to the workings of the screw and the pulley, a significant fraction of the world's knowledge was within the grasp of most individuals." He adds: "As our world as become more complex and knowledge has increased rapidly, a smaller and smaller fraction of society has felt it has a true-enough understanding of everything."

This is a theme I would like to explore a little further in the weeks and months ahead, as I think further on the nature of physical limits and our ability to draw meaningful and useful conclusions from seemingly infinite volumes of human behaviour, expressed and delivered in neat digital packets.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Past and Future

In the technology business, memories are short and thanks to the internet, attention spans are now even shorter.

I've been blogging for a decade now and was one of the first columnists to use 'Blogger' when it was a new idea, WAP was the next big thing for mobile platforms, MP3 music players were a hot item and Apple was still struggling to sell products like my Powerbook 3400 laptop computer which they gave me for free.

In my attic, there are boxes of old magazines I used to edit and which I haven't seen for years, stored like nostalgic time capsules, so that one day, I could tell my grandchildren, 'I told you so!'

There's Microsoft BackOffice Magazine, Lotus Notes Magazine and Java Vision alongside old copies of Computer Weekly and a full set of 'AquaCorps', the magazine for technical divers. Very few people remember these or indeed, what the pace and change in technologies was like before the arrival of the internet and the beginning of the millennium, when its reach extended significantly into the home for the first time; enough for governments like our own to sit-up and take notice.

But with so much information now available, the sum of all human knowledge, a touch away on my iPhone, comes a loss of clarity, drowned-out by the sheer volume of competing sources, like an angry buzzing over the ether, clamouring for the attention of the readers and dictated by search engine interests or algorithms.

Everyone worries about the future but we all live in the present. So I want to start looking at some of the ideas, events and technologies which are shaping a tomorrow which is far closer than we may think.

While I can't possibly explore the changing face of the future in a single 'Tweet,' I will try and keep my impressions short, because if your'e like me, with a dwindling attention span, an Outlook preview pane is about as far as it goes when it comes to summarising ideas and arguments these days.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The London Conference on CyberSpace

Over the last two days, the great and the good of the cyber-world have been gathered here in London at the Foreign Office’s Conference on Cyberspace.

Government representatives from over sixty countries have joined the online business community in looking at all aspects of the cyber-world and how we balance online security and freedom in the face of a growing challenge from online criminals and an increased level of online censorship of oppressive regimes.

The critical area of discussion has been over the issue of cyber-security.

Governments and businesses across the globe are seeing a rapid increase in the number of hostile attacks on their infrastructures. This year alone the UK Government has spoken publically of large-scale attacks on the Foreign Office and the Treasury, and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox commented in June that the MoD was under a daily attack.

We have also seen high profile attacks on Sony, RSA, and Lockheed Martin to name but three corporations. One thing we can be sure of is that these attacks are just the tip of the iceberg.

When the head of GCHQ Iain Lobban publically states that the number of attacks being seen is “disturbing”, we know the problem is significant.

On Tuesday, William Hague spoke of the need to bring together individuals governments and organisations to tackle these issues .

He also spoke of a drive to “ensure that as many small businesses as possible win contracts to help build our cyber security infrastructure”.

For me, this was very encouraging to hear.

The majority of Governments and big businesses have had a tendency to be over-reliant on the big companies in the sector for their cyber-security solutions. Big, long-term contracts have been signed with vendors that only provide a certain level of protection and this has had a stifling effect on the growth of innovation in the sector.

As a result, Governments and businesses have spent too long being reliant on tools which are simply no longer effective. The most obvious example of this is the use of standard blacklisting technologies like anti-virus software.

Tackling the threat of modern, sophisticated and targeted malware – often referred to as Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) – calls for a very different approach as these types of threats have already been proven to repeatedly bypass traditional anti-virus defences. The Stuxnet worm being the most high-profile example.

The crux of this issue is that we have no choice but to look at next generational security technologies to help combat these new sophisticated attacks, and at present, there is only one type of solution which is proven to be effective at stopping the APT - Application Whitelisting.

This is a technology which was pioneered by my company Bit9, and as the name suggests, works in the opposite way to blacklisting, by increasing an organisations security posture and thus, lowering their overall risk of being breached. Our solution proactively protects only what you know to be the trusted pieces of software on your user’s desktops, laptops and servers.

At Bit9 we have also built up a unique Global Software Registry (GSR) of over 450 million pieces of ‘known good’, trusted software. The GSR provides Governments and businesses with a tremendously valuable and quick way to validate the integrity of each file on their network and make real-time decisions on the risk of that particular file to their organisation. If a file is deemed to be untrustworthy, it can be immediately blocked and prevented from running on any machine across your global enterprise.

The UK has announced a £650 million funding agreement to build their cyber defences. The truth is that this amount will not even scratch the surface of the issue if we look to solve the problem with the traditional technologies currently being used.

There are many innovative SME’s within the UK and across the globe dealing with these issues and William is right to raise the need to engage with them.

The UK Government has shown awareness and leadership in putting together this conference and attempting to bring together the world to tackle these issues. William Hague is right to say that cyber-crime is not something that any one country can tackle on its own.

It is my hope as I fly back to the US that the UK Government and Governments across the globe will be brave enough to look beyond existing technology to find their solutions. We are already behind the cyber-criminals. Innovation is the only way to catch up.

A Guest Blog entry by Patrick Morley, President and Chief Executive of Bit9 Security – www.bit9.com

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Farewell Steve - We'll Miss You

A day to remember. The legendary Steve Jobs checks out, the first of my generation of world-dominating technology icons to remind us that all the success and money in the world is no substitute for the gift of good health, a fact reinforced by the on-going Michael Jackson trial in Los Angeles. For millions upon millions of consumers, Steve Jobs will be sorely missed for his innovation and the enormous influence he has had on the technologies that we now take for granted.

The first technology industry job I had after leaving Thanet, was at a large Apple dealer in the City of London, where I taught the financial community how to use Apple's biggest 'White Elephant' the Apple Lisa. Back in the mid-nineties I found myself at the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt, as a purple-hued dawn was breaking over the desert and mountains to the east. I was carrying a handheld Apple 'Newton', the precursor of the iPad, for a photo opportunity, having climbed throughout the night to be there just in time for a 'Mosaic Moment.' The photos are buried somewhere in an album in the attic. I wonder if anyone remembers that John Sculley once led Apple when he pushed Jobs out as CEO in the 80s?

Vladimir Putin is attempting, at almost the same age, to prove he's a both a superman and a very poor underwater archaeologist and quite capable of taking over the Presidency of Russia for another term. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Bill Gates quietly gets on with giving millions upon millions of his personal fortune to different charities, with the stated ambition of leaving this earth with as much money as he came into into it with.

I'm off to a Local Development Framework meeting so I may write more later if I have an opportunity.

Back from the council offices and I see that I'm getting very close to breaking the magic 20,000 page views in a month barrier and that I also have an email from a hijacked Hotmail account playing a familiar scam. Why would any European write 'Madrid, Spain,' for starters?

I think I will play the bad guys along for a while to drive them crazy thinking I'm sending them money but keep getting the instructions wrong. I'm expecting a quick response to my offer of help to the email below very soon! That's the risk you take when you keep your address book in the 'The Cloud'.

"Dear Simon

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes,my family and I came down here to Madrid Spain for a short vacation unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.

We've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves in less than few hours from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills,I'm freaked out at the moment."

Here you go.. it took all of nine minutes for the criminal gang to get back to me as you can see from the reply below... fun time! - I have removed the name! Western Union is an irrevocable transfer so that's always a giant clue to any potential internet fraud.

"Glad you replied back. This is a terrible experience,All i need right now is €1,750.00 you can have it wired to my name via Western Union outlet i will be so glad to have what you can help with. I'll have to show my passport as ID to pick it up here and thank God i still have my life and the Passport.i promise to pay you back as soon as i get back home.Here's my info below

Name:Sarah C****
State:Víctor Andrés Belaúnde 22, 29036 Madrid,
Country:Spain

As soon as it has been done, kindly get back to me with the confirmation number.let me know when you are heading to the Western Union now.???"

And the next reply after my offering to call the hotel direct is....

"l think its a good idea to wire the cash to me via western union as the hotel is having some difficulties with their credit card machine, western union outlet is 3 blocks away from me here,l can pick the cash at the outlet once you're done with the transfer, how about that ?wondering if you could spare all? you can as well wire the money online by visiting western union website online www.westernunion.com and you get back to me with the transfer details and the MTCN numbers once you are done."


13:40 and the fraudster is firmly hooked waiting for the money. The next step is for me to transfer the responsibility for the transfer to a friend called 'Daniel', who by complete coincidence also happens to be in Spain and through another stroke of luck, happens to be a senior member of the Spanish National Police hi-tech crime unit. We'll see!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Apple of My Eye

It's a toss-up between 'How Facebook changed the world' or write a new blog entry.

I'm experimenting with 'Daedalus', a new iPad app and so with luck, I will manage to get through the entry without my usual spelling mistakes. At times I find the iPad virtual keyboard does strange things, as readers will have noticed from time to time. However, I've found the Apple device has made such an important contribution to both work and personal tasks, I can't recommend it enough.

From a councillor's perspective its invaluable. Local government produces mountains of paper documents and correspondence and now I can carry what I need, with me, fully searchable and up to date with portfolio briefing documents and council papers going back months.

If you go into the big computer store retailers, then you may notice that they are almost desparate to off load this year's generation of laptops. Why? Because the industry is about to experience a convulsive technology change as the end of 2011 approaches and a new generation  of devices starts to appear. Already, we are seeing the impact of such generational change on cameras, with the convergence of GPS and wireless built-in. So, if you are holding on before buying a new PC, you are either going to get some very good deals in the Xmas sales or with a little extra wait, like that for the Apple iPhone 5.0, you will be in at the beginning of the next leap forward in terms of integrated features and processing power.

So, Daedulus appears to work without a hitch. Let's see if I can now upload the results to my blog!

PS.Anyone remember the Apple Newton, pictured. I have one and it still works!