China’s alarming plan for tech dominance

China has been using robotics in its manufacturing for quite some time, and it has some very powerful AI tools as well that automate processes in its factories. This is going to push other countries to match China, particularly the USA.

However, while America may be regarded as a world leader in tech, China’s President Xi has a plan to take that role for his country, and ensure that China is not using US-made tech either.

In an article published by the South China Morning Post, in May of 2020, President Xi presented his vision for China and his goal of achieving global tech supremacy by 2025. This is an extract from the piece:

“Beijing is accelerating its bid for global leadership in key technologies, planning to pump more than a trillion dollars into the economy through the roll-out of everything from next-generation wireless networks to artificial intelligence (AI).

In the master plan backed by President Xi Jinping himself, China will invest an estimated 10 trillion yuan (US$1.4 trillion) over six years to 2025, calling on urban governments and private hi-tech giants like Huawei Technologies to help lay 5G wireless networks, install cameras and sensors, and develop AI software that will underpin autonomous driving to automated factories and mass surveillance.

The new infrastructure initiative is expected to drive mainly local giants, from Alibaba Group Holding and Huawei to SenseTime Group at the expense of US companies. As tech nationalism mounts, the investment drive will reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, echoing objectives set forth previously in the “Made in China 2025”programme. Such initiatives have already drawn fierce criticism from the Trump administration, resulting in moves to block the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.”

Tim Bajarin in Forbes, asks us to consider Xi’s use of the term, “tech nationalism.” He explains that Xi plans to “nationalise everything in China so it is the main provider of goods, services and tech-related products to China itself.” He wants China to be completely self-sufficient in tech by 2025, and nationalised tech will “receive a huge financial boost from China’s $1.4 trillion dollar fund.”

In early September former Google CEO Eric Schmidt commented that China’s leadership in AI posed a security threat and could lead to “high-tech authoritarianism” worldwide.

According to Bajarin, the US government is aware of the problem, but so far nobody knows exactly what actions it might take. Will it counter China’s influence by remaining a tech powerhouse, or what? If China is successful in fulfilling Xi’s vision, then it is also likely that “there could be a time when products we get from China are no longer available to the west.” Currently, China is still committed to globalisation, so its products will continue to reach us, but if it scales back on that, then those products will need to be sourced elsewhere. The question is, where might that source be? It is time the USA and any other countries likely to be negatively affected by a lack of good from China form a plan – the clock is ticking!

The digital banking surge predates the pandemic

It may be supposed by some that the global pandemic was the kick-starter of the rise in the number of digital bank accounts. However, that isn’t quite true as Ron Shevlin usefully points out in Forbes. 

In 2019, half of all community banks and credit unions opened less than 5% of their new checking account applications in digital channels. But then these banks only account for 15% of the total current account applications last year.

More significantly, it is what the Americans call ‘megabanks’ (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) alongside the digital banks that “accounted for roughly 55% of all checking account applications in 2019, 63% in Q1 2020, and 69% in Q2 2020.”

However, one thing is clear; digital account openings are overtaking in-branch applications. For example, “Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the checking account applications taken during the height of the Coronavirus crisis in Q2 2020 for what consumers considered their primary account were submitted either online or on a mobile device,” Cornerstone Advisors report. That’s a 59% increase over the same period in 2019.

The turning point came earlier though; in the second half of 2019 to be precise. This is the moment when digital applications for primary accounts exceeded branch applications.

It would also appear from Cornerstone’s research that the 35% of Americans with more than one current/checking account, are more likely to turn to digital solutions when applying for a second or third account. Shevlin writes, “In Q2 2020, roughly three-quarters of the applications consumers submitted for their secondary checking was done through digital channels, up from 65% in the first quarter of the year.”

And there is more good news for digital platforms: “a larger percentage of consumers who opened an account in the past three years rated their experience on the mobile channel as “excellent” compared with those who used online or in-branch services.

Banks have for some time clung to the idea that consumers want the ‘human touch’, but Cornerstone’s research indicates that while this is somewhat true, “The rest of the experience isn’t as good as it is in a digital channel.” Furthermore, consumer ratings of the in-branch experience haven’t increased in recent years, and in some cases have fallen.

The megabanks have captured much of the millennial market, largely due to a better digital and mobile experience. This leaves the smaller banks at a disadvantage, although there are opportunities for them to become second account providers. They just need to provide a digital account opening process.

Covid-19 sparks the tech trends of 2021

This year, 2020, has been such a disaster that looking forward to 2021 is our only option. Of course, while making predictions used to be a fairly safe occupation, now it feels slightly dangerous. Furthermore, as Bernard Marr reminds us in Forbes, “tech has been affected just as much as every other part of our lives.”

It is also true that tech promises to play a major role in adapting to whatever the future may now look like. As Marr says: “From the shift to working from home to new rules about how we meet and interact in public spaces, tech trends will be the driving force in managing the change.”

You would be correct in thinking that Covid-19 has accelerated tech advances that were already in the pipeline, due to our increasingly digital lifestyle. Now they will happen quicker, because necessity is driving the change.

In Marr’s latest book, Tech Trends in Practice, he has identified some of the things we may see in 2021, many of which will support the recovery from the effects of the pandemic on almost every part of our lives.

He identifies Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a leading tech trend. In 2021 “it will become an even more valuable tool for helping us to interpret and understand the world around us.” We have seen an unprecedented amount of data collected around Covid, and machine-learning algorithms “will become better informed and increasingly sophisticated in the solutions they uncover for us.” Some of the AI tools Marr envisages include “ computer vision systems monitoring the capacity of public areas to analyzing the interactions uncovered through contact tracing initiatives, self-learning algorithms will spot connections and insights that would go unnoticed by manual human analysis.”

The provision of services that we need to live and work through cloud-based, on-demand platforms, known as ‘as a service’ providers are also key. Just look at how quickly Zoom entered our personal and business lives during the last few months.

5G is another key tool, and not just so you can download films faster. 5G will support services relying on advanced technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality (discussed below) as well as cloud-based gaming platforms, and it will likely make cable and fibre-based networks redundant.

Extended reality, virtual and augmented reality that uses glasses or headsets to project computer-generated imagery directly into the user’s field of vision is growing. Emergency services have already been using it for training during Covid, as real-life training situations for firefighters and police were not feasible. We may also see it used more in medical diagnostics, as face-to-face consultations decrease.

There will be many more tech advances as we grapple with an uncertain future. The aim is to make everyday activities safer for everyone, and to allow business to continue as we negotiate our way through a new environment.

The cybersecurity of your front door key

Cybersecurity is one of my main interests, so when I spotted this article by Davey Winder titled “How Hackers Use Sound To Unlock the Secrets of Your Front Door Key’, I was intrigued, not least because smart houses are something of a passion of mine.

The smart lock is the risk in question, and Winder remarks that when he asked 549 security professionals if they would use a smart lock, 400 of them said ‘No’ and “get in the sea.”

What are the smart lock security issues?

Reports suggest that smart locks have a number if vulnerabilities, from snooping via WiFi to smart hub weaknesses. One expert, Craig Young from tripwire, found that one smart lock could easily be bypassed by a hacker with “a media access control (MAC) address and a smartphone app.” Young himself says that he generally doesn’t advise consumers to use internet-connected locks. “If the risk of strangers finding and opening your lock isn’t enough discouragement,” Young says, “just consider what you will do if you’re locked out because the lock maker got hit with ransomware or simply pushed a bad update.”

Winder poses another question: “what if hackers had figured out a way of unlocking the secrets of your actual, physical, door key just by listening to the sound it makes when being inserted into the lock?”

Hackers show how simple it is to open the door

Thankfully a group of ‘hackers’ at the National University of Singapore have developed an “attack model” they call SpiKey, which determines the key shape that will open any tumbler lock. They say SpiKey “significantly lowers the bar for an attacker,” when compared to a more traditional lock-picking attack. Their methodology is surprisingly simple in that it is a matter of listening for the sound of the key as it moves past tumbler pins when the key is inserted.

The Singapore ‘hackers’ have been using “a simple smartphone to record the sound of the key being inserted, and withdrawn, with a smartphone and then observe the time between each tumbler pin click using their custom key reverse-engineering application,” as reported by Hackster.io. ” The group’s research paper states, “SpiKey infers the shape of the key, it is inherently robust against anti-picking features in modern locks, and grants multiple entries without leaving any traces.”

Of course, the real world presents other challenges, the biggest one being “that the current attack mode requires the threat actor to be within a few inches of the lock to make that recording,” which means they need to be literally outside your front door.

However, if you already use a smart lock, don’t panic. For the moment, a smart lock that isn’t connected to any network, is still doing a job of protecting you and your property.