The digital divide between developed and developing countries is no longer only about access to technology. A gulf also exists in attitudes to technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
It’s pretty obvious that developed countries almost seem to be a on a different planet from those with emerging economies when one considers use of high-tech devices and their visibility in the human environment.
But now an invisible divide between the haves and have-nots has also emerged, and that is the gulf between the attitudes of those living in such divergent economies.
A global study released by Microsoft last week shows that, while most Internet users believe personal technology has improved their lives, far more users in developing countries believe it has improved social bonds.
The report, entitled “Views from Around the Globe: 2nd Annual Poll on How Personal Technology Is Changing Our Lives,” is based on interviews with more than12 000 Internet users from 12 countries.
The most fascinating aspect of the study is how greater pervasiveness of technology seems to result in reduced enthusiasm for specific benefits, like fitness and the sharing economy. Instead, those with greater access tend to express greater concern about issues like privacy. Naturally, such issues are less important in environments where the implications of pervasive connectedness have not yet become apparent.
The key overall findings, according to Microsoft, include:
- • Most respondents across all 12 countries think personal technology has had a positive impact on their ability to find more affordable products, start new businesses and be more productive;
- • Most respondents say it has benefited social activism;
- • More respondents than in the previous year said technology had had a positive impact on transportation and literacy;
- • Fewer than in the previous year said it has benefited social bonds, personal freedom and political expression.
- • Concern about technology’s impact on privacy jumped significantly. Most users across 11 of the 12 countries surveyed said technology’s effect on privacy was mostly negative.
- • Majorities in all countries except India and Indonesia said current legal protections for users of personal technology were insufficient;
However, marked differences began to emerge when responses from developing countries were grouped, says Zoaib Hoosen, managing director of Microsoft South Africa.
“In developing countries, 60 per cent of respondents said technology had a positive impact on social bonds, versus only 36 per cent in developing countries. That’s a very significant difference.
“The sharing economy, with its online services like Uber, are seen as having a positive impact in in developing countries, while in developed countries they still preferred traditional services.
“The issue there is that they often didn’t have a viable alternative in developing countries, whereas such services in developed countries merely add additional options. It’s about leapfrogging traditional services that don’t exist versus disruption of existing services. The former has a bigger impact.”
Nevertheless, says Mark Penn, Microsoft executive vice president and chief strategy officer, “Internet users overwhelmingly say that personal technology is making the world better and more vital.”
The area that saw the greatest divergence was the effect of technology on trust in the media, says Penn.
“By a 2:1 margin, respondents in developing countries think personal technology has had a mostly positive effect on trust in the media. But in developed countries, the impression is the opposite: respondents believe by a 2:1 margin that the effect on trust in the media has been mostly negative.”
The key factor behind this attitude divide appears to be the media habits of respondents, and dependence on social media.
“These opposing views are borne out in the two kinds of countries’ media habits,” says Penn. “In developing countries, 70 per cent of respondents get most of their news from social media, compared to only 31 per cent in developed countries.”
With social media access accelerating in developing countries, thanks to rapidly growing access on phones, that divide is unlikely to be bridged very soon.
* The poll, conducted in the last two weeks of December 2014, included Internet users in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the U.S.
Hot new phones offer choice at the top
Three powerful new name-brand phones mean anyone in the market for a mid-to-high-end smartphone is spoiled for choice, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
A few months ago, only two phone brands were on the lips of consumers in the market for a new high-end smartphone. It seemed a straight choice between Apple and its iPhone X or 8 Plus, and Samsung with its Note 8 and Galaxy S9+.
But the rivals refuse to be written off. Just in the past month, three powerful new contenders have arrived in South Africa. The Huawei P20 Pro, Sony Xperia XZ2 and Nokia 7 plus have all thrown their frames into the ring of high-end features, although not always at high-end prices.
This means that customers for features are spoiled for choice, and it comes down to comparison of features, along with issues like brand preference and design appeal.
Rather than look at each phone separately, let’s look at them feature by feature.
The Sony XZ2 uses LTE-A, the ultimate 4G standard, and claims a 1.2 Gigabit per second maximum speed. However, this is purely theoretical, as no mobile network in South Africa allows for anywhere close to that. The Nokia 7 plus is also an LTE-A phone, but claims “only” 300 Mbps, which is theoretically possible on a network like RAIN. The Huawei P20 Pro is the slow-coach of the three, with basic LTE, offering a “mere” 150 Mbps, the theoretical maximum offered by Telkom Mobile. Any of these speeds are, in reality, still blazing fast and will stream high-definition video without buffering.
The Huawei P20 pro has the largest display and screen-to-body ratio at 6.1 inches and 82% respectively. The Nokia 7 plus is close, with a 6.0 inch display and 77.2% screen-to-body ratio. In comparison, the Sony XZ2 is positively small, with a 5.7 inch display and 76.1% screen-to-body ratio, due to large bezels around the screen, despite similar body dimensions. Because the phone is heavier despite a smaller display, this gives the impression of it being a lower-end phone than it really is.
In terms of display quality, the Huawei P20 Pro takes the lead with an infinite contrast ratio (usually the higher the ratio, the better) due to its AMOLED display. AMOLED currently produces the best colour replication available on the phone market. Both Nokia 7 plus and the Sony XZ2 use IPS LCD 16-million colour, and have roughly the same display quality.
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Data and the stars
An ambitious star-mapping project highlights the growing importance of big data and the cloud, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
At an event in Berlin today, the European Space Agency (ESA) is unveiling the biggest set of data about the stars ever gathered. The positions and magnitudes of no less than 1.7 billion stars of our Milky Way galaxy have been gathered by the Gaia spacecraft, which took off in 2013 and began collecting data a year later.
The ship is also transmitting a vast range of additional data, with distances, motions and colours of more than 1.3 billion stars collected so far. And that is without counting temperature measures, solar system analysis and radiation sources from outside the galaxy.
“The extraordinary data collected by Gaia throughout its mission will be used to eventually build the most accurate three-dimensional map of the positions, motions, and chemical composition of stars in our Galaxy,” according to a project document. “By reconstructing the properties and past trajectories of all the stars probed by Gaia, astronomers will be able to delve deep into the history of our Galaxy’s formation and evolution.”
The entire project would be impossible were it not for advances in cloud computing storage, big data analysis and artificial intelligence systems during this decade. The storage demands alone are mind-boggling. The ESA roped in cloud data services company NetApp, which focuses on management of applications and data across cloud and on-premise environments.
NetApp was previously involved with the Rosetta space mission, which landed a spacecraft on a comet in 2016. Lauched as far back as 2004, ten years later it became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around a comet, and its lander made the first successful landing on a comet.
“For the next two years Rosetta was following the comet and streaming data,” says Morne Bekker, NetApp South African country manager. “But with the comet speeding away from the sun at 120 000kph, Rosetta would soon lose solar power. Scientists seized the opportunity to attempt what no one had ever tried before — to gather unique observations through a controlled impact with the comet. Despite blistering speeds and countless unknowns, the spacecraft landed just 33m from its target point.
“It’s quite phenomenal when you think of the data and analytics harvested, and the information it can send back. Now we’re helping with the Gaia project. You can imagine how much data is being collected daily. The catalogue will probably end up at 2 Petabytes in size – that’s 2-million gigabytes. If you think of the minute points of data being extracted, obviously you have to be using AI and machine learning to analyse all of this.”
Ruben Alvarez, IT manager at the ESA, sums it up simply: “Data is everything. Our biggest challenge is processing of the data.”
Naturally, ESA required absolute reliability from data storage. It also demanded almost infinite scalability to support the massive data requirements of past, present, and future missions.
“We have a commitment to deliver data to different institutes in Europe on a daily basis,” says Alvarez. “Adding to the challenge, data from every mission must be accessible indefinitely. In the coming years, we will be launching new missions that will demand huge amounts of data. NetApp provided us with solutions that were scalable, even if we didn’t know in advance how much disk storage we were going to need.”
ESA says it expects to publish the full Gaia catalogue in 2020, making it available online to professional astronomers and the general public, with interactive, graphical interfaces.
The catalogue, says Alvarez, will unlock many mysteries of the stars.
“We call our site the Library of the Universe because we keep the science archive of
all of our scientific missions. This is how we allow people to really investigate the universe. t’s all about the data.”
The mission has tremendous scientific implications, but also makes a powerful business case for big data and cloud computing.
“The capabilities for AI and machine learning in the processing of mass amounts of data are far-reaching,” says Bekker. “Not only does it equate to extreme performance, but also to massive non-disruptive scalability where scientists can scale to 20 PB and beyond, to support the largest of learning data sets. Importantly it also allows scientists to expand their data where needed.”
Across Africa, the power of the cloud and big data is only slowly being harnessed. A new research project, Cloud Africa 2018, conducted by World Wide Worx for global networking application company F5 Networks, shows that cloud uptake is now pervasive across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
However, the research reveals that each country experiences the benefits of the cloud differently. Respondents in Nigeria and Kenya named Business efficiency and Scalability by far the most important benefit, with 80% and 75% respectively selecting it as an advantage. Only 61% of South African respondents cited it.
The opposite happened with the most important benefit among South Africans: Time-to-market or speed of deployment came in as the most prominent, at 68% of respondents. In contrast, only 48% of companies in Kenya and 28% in Nigeria named it as a key benefit.
This appears to be a function of the infrastructure challenges in developing information technology markets like Nigeria and Kenya, where the cloud is used to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of efficiency.
In South Africa, where construction of the giant Square Kilometre Array multi radio telescope is due to begin next year, the learnings of Rosetta and Gaia will ensure that data collection, storage and analysis will no longer be a challenge.
- For the latest on project Gaia, visit http://sci.esa.int/gaia/