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Veterans prepare for high-tech to move into high-gear

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If we thought the technology revolution was slowing down, fasten those seat-belts. You ain’t seen nothing yet, industry veterans tell ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The dizzying speed of technology advance over the past 30 years, driven first by the advent of the personal computer, followed by the Internet and then by smartphones, was merely the curtain-raiser for the coming decade.

This view was expressed by one industry executive after another in interviews at last week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. And these were no start-up upstarts. These were industry veterans who had been instrumental in some of the landmark products and services that built the information technology industry we know today.

Pat Gelsinger, CEO of cloud computing giants VMware, was the first chief technology officer at Intel and architect of the original Intel 486 processor. As one-time head of Intel Labs, he led many of the research projects in the 1980s and 1980s that would help speed up the pace of high-tech change.

“We are at the dawn of a re-acceleration of the technology industry overall,” he said in an exclusive interview at MWC. “The next decade will see more change and new technology than in the last 20 or 30 years.

“An accelerating crescendo of technologies is coming together: cloud, mobile, big data, robotics, analytics, 3D printing, and more. It will bring together a reinforcing set of innovative activities.

“In the next decade, 75 per cent of the world’s population will have a persistent connection to the Internet with some smart device. Today it’s already 40 per cent. Soon, you’ll be able to touch half the world’s population.”

These devices, he said, will come into their own once intelligence is added.

“I can put intelligence into everything for almost zero cost, so while there are more people than machines connected today, in the next few years there will be twice as many machine-connected intelligent devices as human-connected intelligent devices. It will transform supply chains and our quality of life.”

Emerging markets, including South Africa, may well have “some of the greatest opportunities we have collectively over next decade,” he says. “Would someone in Ethiopia or Zambia be able to buy a $700 iPhone and $100 service? Of course not. But in markets where the price of phone is $20 and a service less than $10, we see rapid innovation around affordable access to core technologies, basic financial services, crop information, trading information.”

Gelsinger offered a fascinating vision of a future that is already possible.

“Tomorrow morning your smart device will wake you, and tell you: ‘last night you had a heart irregularity, so I’m waking you early and uploading your biometrics to the medical cloud, I’m running comparisons of your pattern with everyone in your DNA group. I’ve made a doctor’s appointment and loaded the directions into your self-driving car. I’ve moved your regular coffee order to a different Starbucks on your revised route, and made it decaffeinated because you’re seeing the heart doctor.’

“None of that is unreasonable to implement, but the results are life-changing.”

These sentiments were echoed by Frank Kern, chief executive officer of Aricent, a global technology services company with more than 12 000 staff focused on software and hardware innovation. He spent 30 years with IBM, including heading up its core consulting division, Global Business Services. He came out of retirement to take up the challenge of the future.

“This is the most exciting time yet,” he says. “Before, I was just in the boring old computer industry.

“I was around when IBM did a lot of interesting stuff. We created a services business, I ran the consulting business, and in 2009 I created an analytics practise with 9 000 people, worth $25-billion.

“But today is the most exciting time of all. It’s a time when you have a combination of an explosion of sensors, accelerating of communications, combined with the software capabilities of AI, and now we are designing the user interface of the future, the customer experience of the future.”

Aricent owns a renowned strategy and design company, frog, which was responsible for the design of several Apple computers, along with hardware for numerous global organisations. The parent company has also been in research and development of software for 25 years, with a strong focus on telecommunications, and taking a leading position in 5G, AI and autonomous vehicle software.

“We are able to see and participate in multiple trends going on, and all are accelerating at same time. It’s not only one thing right now; it’s all these things that, together, are creating this exciteme.”

Gelsinger puts it neatly into perspective.

“All of this gives me an almost child-like enthusiasm. I’ve been in the technology industry for 37 years. If you ever used a microprocessor or a USB drive, I helped do all of them. But, in many cases, the next decade is as exciting as the last three decades. Because so many of these things will become life-changing and business-changing.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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