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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 14 July 2017, 4:17 pm

Dumb and dumber

It feels like we've been talking about net neutrality for decades but in fact it's only been since Y2K settled down so thank the gods for that.

And yet here we are, still seeing telcos in the US fighting for the "right" to change the way we currently get access to the internet. In this case, "we" means users of internet services and since a large slice of the internet is governed by and run out of the US, that "we" includes New Zealand users as well.

A brief recap: a neutral net means content is delivered even-handedly regardless of commercial agreements. So Google can't pay extra to have its search work faster and better than anyone else's search. It's all just search.

Many of the ISPs of course hate this. They'd love to see us all move to a system where they're paid by end users to receive a service and by service delivery agents to deliver that service. Yay for double dipping. Even better, they'd like us to break down our internet connections into bundles, much like cable TV, so you pay so much for basic access then a bit more for fast search and a bit more for social and a bit more for TV and so on.

I'd hoped we'd put this particular bugbear to bed years ago, and to be fair in New Zealand it's far less of an issue than it is in the US or other parts of the world primarily because we've always kicked up such a stink about having a neutral net.

But Trump (motto: I can't find the limo so I'll enact a law) is busy rolling back what protection was put in place during Obama's presidency because he can. And so we're likely to see US telcos take this opportunity to really push hard on shattering the internet and that would suck.

Yesterday was a day of action and many of the internet's largest properties took to the web to champion net neutrality but I suspect this fight is still, repeatedly, far from over.

InternetNZ - Take action today - support net neutrality

Forbes - Net Neutrality Is Dying. Speak Out Now Before It's Too Late

HBO - Net Neutrality: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (from 2014)

HBO - Net Neutrality II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

The Oatmeal - Dear Senator Cruz

The Guardian - Ajit Pai: the man who could destroy the open internet


Net Neutrality.jpg


Election year

Yes, it's that time of the news cycle again when politicians paint human faces on their masks and try to lure us into choosing them to be our lords and masters for another three years.

I'm a huge fan of Douglas Adams' work in this area and yes, if you don't vote the wrong lizard might indeed get in.

But having said that, it is important that our politicians know and understand how technology actually works because they'll be making decisions about what laws govern that technology and our lives for a while to come and frankly in the past they only just managed to spell IT on a good day.

Here at Techblog Towers we've (to use the parlance) reached out to the major political parties and asked them for their policies relating to the tech and communications portfolios. We've also offered them the chance to have their say on what they think the tech sector needs to know about their policies and I'm delighted to say that most have come back with a cheery "yes". Once we've got them all in play we'll publish them on the blog for all to see.

So how do we fare currently?

Pretty well, it would seem.

According to Computerworld New Zealand we have been ranked as one of the world's top digital economies along with Singapore, the UK, the UAE, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Israel which is pretty good going..

Fletcher School's 2017 Digital Evolution Index ranks Australia, along in Western Europe, the Nordics and South Korea as 'stall out' countries with a history of strong growth, but coming off the boil currently.

The report measures 170 indicators in four main categories: internet access and infrastructure, consumer demand, government policies, laws and resources and innovation  - that is, the old chestnut of R&D spending.

So given the UFB and RBI projects (and their offspring) and the sudden rush to provide us with diverse routes out from New Zealand to the rest of the world, we do jolly well in the first category and customer demand has always been there so that's taken care of as well. Currently our legal standing seems to be more on the benign side of things - the laws don't get in the way much - but they should be far more encouraging in my view so hopefully we'll see a bit of that from the parties.

Watch this space.

And if you're a minor party who would like to be included, do get in touch. We'd love to hear from as many political types as want to take part without fear or favour so jump on in.

And if you're interested in these things, check out the political party tech debates being co-hosted by ITP in Auckland and Wellington shortly.

Computerworld - New Zealand ranked as a top digital economy


I'm sorry, Dave

I just can't take any talk of AI seriously. Artificial Intelligence is the holy grail of computing in many respects. Computers that can think for themselves.

Instead I smell Marketing's influence as it gets watered down to mean "something cool that we thought up in the lab" and frankly that's a bit too artificial for my liking.

True AI is potentially game changing for everything. Finding a way for computers to learn from their mistakes and from inputs galore is a great idea and one I whole-heartedly recommend. But I know lots of people who struggle with it as a concept and they have a lot more processing power at their fingertips.

I'm sure we'll get there one day but the current round of AI releases make me think more about other technologies that were touted ahead of their time. AI is today's "big data" or thin client or even WAP (for those of an older generation) and frankly it doesn't impress me. Over promising and under delivering is a really bad way of doing things.

That aside, there's plenty going on in the AI space.

Local accounting software service Xero is talking up its machine learning approach (a much better term in my view) and I can well understand the eagerness many Xero clients have for taking a closer and more nuanced look at their accounts. Who are my biggest customers? Where do I spend my money? After buying from me what do my customers do?

These kinds of questions keep business owners awake and having a report spat out by machine that can actually tell them is going to be worth a lot to them.

But it's the other end of town - the true artificial intelligence end - that I'm really interested in. I want computers thinking. I want them to say "that's interesting, what if we do this instead" and I want them learning as they go. Because of the speed of modern processing I'd expect to see huge advances in our understanding of disease (and therefore medicines), of astronomy ("we've processed all the signals, got any more?) and many more areas. That's the real game in town and yes, sure, fine, Science Fiction tells us they'll immediately take over the world and kill us all, but frankly I suspect we can do a lot better than that. Don't you?

SBS - Xero to up investment in AI space

Xero blog - Will artificial intelligence (AI) lead to Accounting Innovation?

Reseller News - Xero talks up AI play

Techblog - The Summit of AI for Social Good


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