Archive for the ‘Impact of ICT’ Category

Could the Internet be shut down in the West?

07 Feb

Unless you have been on holday on a desert island (I wish), you cannot have missed the 24 hours media coverage of the developments in Egypt.

Notwithstanding the political developments, what has become apparent is that the Internet in Egypt was shut down for some days.

But could a government, say the USA, shut down the Internet? The answer seems to be yes. And plans are afoot to make it law that it is able to do so.


In Egypt, there are only a handful of ISPs and it seems they were told to effectively re-program their main routers so no IP traffic could find its way into the country. Traffic is directed through a router by a protocol called ‘Border Gateway Protocol’ or BGP. A quick change to the routers and the country became an Internet black hole.

Senators in the States are now pushing for legislation to have their own  ‘Internet off switch’, one that may give their government authority over privately owned computer systems.  Is this a good thing?

There has been such a furore over civil liberties that a statement has been issued to refute the implication.

It seems the Internet is now right at the centre of our democratic process in the West.

This could be a topic of discussion when discussing Society and ICT.


Our home as a multiplex cinema?

24 Jan

News came along this week that Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, are buying up Lovefilm – the most successful  popular video-through-the-post service in the UK. Lovefilm have around 1.6 million customers in Europe.


Story here and Guardian story here

The way it works is that you go to their web site and make up a list of the films you would like to see. say 30 or so. They will send you a DVD film from the list through the post and as soon as you return that one, the next one is sent.  There are various rental deals depending on how keen a movie watcher you are.

Now with Amazon on board, they hope to break into the video streaming market. There is a catch though, as Sky has contracts to not only broadcast films from the main movie studios, they also own the UK on-demand rights as well. This makes it very difficult for new entrants into the market.

The Competition Commission has now got involved with the whole video on-demand issue to see if the market needs more competition. The decision is still out.

Meanwhile in America video-on-demand is huge, growing at 31% per year.  As a taster of what kind of devices you need to take advantage of this new form of entertainment, have a look at Wired magazine’s review of HDTV media streamers now available in the States.

I think in about 5 to 10 years time, the way we all consume films and entertainment will look very different.


‘Disruptive’ technologies for 2011

18 Jan

A ‘disruptive’ technology is one where it suddenly changes the way people do things. For example, for hundreds of years people used a slide rule to calculate, then seemingly overnight in the 1970′s the electronic calculator appeared. Everyone went Wow! and just threw away their old slide rules.


A whole industry had to change their ways or disappear. Same thing happened with electronic watches.

The leading technology research firm IDC are prediciting 3 disruptive technologies for 2011.

Going mainstream will be:

  • Web connected TV
  • Mobile devices
  • The ‘cloud’

Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets)

It is predicted that 2011 will be the year when there will be more mobile devices sold than PCs for connecting to the Internet.It will be the end of the PC centred computing experience.And driving this change is the rise of the ‘Apps’. For the first time there will be over a million apps out there compared to only 10′s of thousands of PC applications.

There are over 2 billion people connecting to the Internet now and more than half of them do so through mobile devices.

Web connected televisions.

It is predicted that over half of TVs over 40 inches will have a network connection. And at the other end, many companies are springing up to provide content – the programs – Google TV, Apple TV, Roku and so on.
So entertainment and leisure will shift from terrestial to internet based delivery. A whole industry will begin to change the way it does things and new companies will emerge that threaten the old status quo.

The cloud

This is where companies off-load their expensive IT infrastructure and instead choose to let a cloud company host their applications and data. Over 80% of new software will be cloud based and by 2014 over a third of all software spending will be done for delivery through the cloud.
All the major IT companies are preparing the ground – IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, VMWare, Google. Think of how this will change the IT departments in large companies – no more data centres or hundreds of IT support staff needed to look after things. So the cloud is a technology that changes the way we do things.

Disruptive technologies


Access database helps Motor Neurone Disease sufferers speak.

11 Nov

You may think that the Access database that comes with the top end Office suite is only useful for mundane things such as stock control but you would be wrong.

Patricia Ruckoff was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2009 and her daughter Melissa of course wanted to help. MND gradually destroys upper and lower torso muscle control which includes being able to speak. Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most well known sufferer of MND and his robotic speech is almost part of his persona. But many people want to be able to communicate with more emotion and personality if possible, perhaps even speak with an accent to reflect who they are.

After trawling the internet, she found a small company called Time is Ltd. Ian Schofield is a director of the company and he is the inventor of a system called JayBee. The name is quite personal as Jay was a friend and Bridget was his mother-in-law and both succumbed to MND. He – also – wanted to help his friends communicate but the present systems were extremely expensive and had very limited predictive speech power. It took ages to type out ‘pillow’ or ‘water’ when  perhaps only one muscle could be controlled.  There had to be a better way, and so he set about developing a new system.

To keep costs down, he needed to use off-the-shelf software as much as possible and this is where Access proved to be so helpful. When running on a modern computer, Access is an extremely fast and powerful data processing application. This would be the backbone of the predictive speech and artificial intelligence programme that is JayBee. Mind you, it was not a trivial task – over 2,500 hours of effort was invested in developing the Visual Basic (VBA) code. Once the processing engine was in place, they worked with another company called CereProc who can create voices that sound like the original person if they have enough material to work with.

In the video below, Ian Schofield explains JayBee to Vitali Vitaliev of

This is an Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) clip. I am a long-time chartered engineer with the IET and encourage any of your students aspiring to be professional engineers to look into what it can offer in terms of professional development.

This clip would be an excellent introduction into how ICT helps overcome disability.


Will physical and virtual life blur?

12 Oct

I was recently pondering the further blurring of the line between our life in the physical domain and our life online. Is there a distinction any more? Is an online friend whom you have never met any less valid than your best buddy?

Back in the day (around the 1980′s) I was exploring this thing called the Internet with a Hayes smartmodem running at 300 baud. At the time there was CompuServe providing a walled garden online experience and in the wilds you could visit text based bulletin boards. I could even indulge in a bit of text based MUDs for entertainment and some creative of ASCII art to fulfil the artist in me.

So at that time there was a clear on-line / off line life. Then two decades or so later there was ‘cyber’ this and ‘e-’ that cropping up in the media, which is now starting to sound quaint, like your old uncle calling the DAB radio in the kitchen a ‘wireless’.

Wind forward to today and it is a completely different ball game. Milllions are happily playing on-line, perhaps connected to a World of Warcraft server and a real-time audio server such as Ventrillo so a group of you can chat away for a bit of escapism and goblin bashing.

Even politicians are recognising that the internet is becoming as vital as water as a basic resource. And they have a point. I was recently unable to go online at home due to a wonky telephone connection and it was not a pleasant experience. No banking, no gaming, no social networking, no blogging, no research. I even had to dig out my old CDs from the attic as the music service streaming into my living room no longer worked.

Hollywood are also recognising the concept with its recent Bruce Willis film Surrogates where they reverse the concept of avatar and physical presence.

Let’s move on a few years when I think the lines will blur even more. Consider augmented reality. Devices will be available that overlay on-line data with what you see.

In a recent BBC interview with the SF author William Gibson opined that our grandchildren will see no distinction between on-line and off-line. He has a point.


One Laptop Per Child develops new tablet

06 Oct

The one laptop per child organisation (OLPC) continues with its efforts to allow all children, especially in poorer nations to have access to a computer.

With the support of chip maker Marvell, they have been given £3.5 m to develop a tablet version of their $100 computer. Without the generosity of commercial operations such as these, the digital divide would be that much slower in closing.

They plan to show it off at the CES show in January 2011 and to be ready in 2012.

This story would be an useful topic when discussing the effects of ICT on society

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Posted in Impact of ICT, Social effects of ICT


Health advert sparks gaming row

12 Mar


With the concerns of rising obesity in children, the Government has released an advert suggesting that many children might be facing a shorter life expectancy due to the large amount of time they spend playing computer games rather than doing something more physically active.

The games industry have lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority stating that this broadbrush statement is inaccurate and that playing computer games is not the main cause of overweight and sedentary children.

Read the full news story here

Suggestions for use in class and questions for students (subscription only)


Online networking ‘harms health’

19 Feb


Gone are the days when it was normal for kids to ‘play out’ with their friends after school.  The chances are that most of them will be chatting with one another online either via an instant messaging service or through a social networking site.

Many people, parents included, might thing, ‘what’s the harm, at least I know where they are and they’re safe’.  However Dr Sigman, a biologist, argues differently.  He believes that social networking sites end up keeping people apart and could actually affect our health, increasing the long-term risk of serious health problems such as cancer, strokes, heart disease and dementia.

Read the full news story here

Suggestions for use in class and questions for students (subscription only)

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Posted in Communication, Impact of ICT