Good technology versus bad technology; who will win?


OPINION: It’s the perfect storm.

Google employees have written an open letter protesting Google’s Project Dragonfly – a search engine designed to work within China’s censored version of the internet.

The open letter was initially signed by 11 Google engineers, managers and researchers. But since publication, its gained 400-plus more signatures from employees who agree with its message.

“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be.”

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The open letter goes on to say “the Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions”.

David Court: Project Dragonfly is designed to censor specific phrases. Any searches relating to democracy, religion, human rights, peaceful protests will be blocked.

ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

David Court: Project Dragonfly is designed to censor specific phrases. Any searches relating to democracy, religion, human rights, peaceful protests will be blocked.

It’s hard to argue with the sentiment of the letter.

Project Dragonfly will not be anything like the Google that you and I have access to. Mainly because it’s designed to censor specific phrases. Any searches relating to democracy, religion, human rights, peaceful protests will be blocked.

It gets worse. Dragonfly is being designed to link search history with mobile devices and phone numbers. This information is reportedly going to be made available to a “Chinese partner company”. Which opens the door for Chinese security agencies. Which, in turn, makes it possible authorities to take action against its citizens based on mundane internet searches.

Google employees first protested Dragonfly inhouse, with a similar letter gaining 1,400 signatures. However, the protesters are clearly dissatisfied the company’s response and decided going public was the best way to move forward.

And it seems to be working. As Amnesty International staged its own supportive protests against Project Dragonfly outside Google’s offices in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Spain, Germany, Holland and Spain.

Google has been tight-lipped about the project. Failing to acknowledge its existence until very recently when Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer, finally confirmed its existence during a hearing at the Commerce Committee. More recently, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai went one-step further, saying that Dragonfly may never launch.

This isn’t the first time Google employees have publicly let their feelings be known. The last one happened just a few weeks ago. When more than 20,000 employees, from more than 20 global offices, staged a walkout in protest to the way sexual misconduct was being handled in the company.

The Apple Watch Series 4.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The Apple Watch Series 4.

GOOD: APPLE WATCH WILL DOON BE ABLE TO TAKE A WEARER’S ECGs

A couple of weeks ago I moaned that wearables were pointless and that L’Oreal’s new device, that actively monitors UV levels, was the only wearable that actually had a use. And I stand by that comment. However, Apple is about to join the useful party in a big way.

Wearers of the latest Apple Watch will soon able to take real ECGs. Which is incredible.

The new feature will be available, on the latest Apple Watch, after the next watchOS software update.
This, as Apple points out, makes the Apple Watch “the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers”.

ECG (electrocardiogram) is an advanced technology. It can also be life-saving technology. As it records the electrical activity and rhythm of a person’s heartbeat. Having this technology on a watch is a pretty remarkable achievement.

The device’s ECG feature was first demonstrated at Apple’s September Event in New York.

The demonstration showed that ECGs can be taken via electrodes that are built into the digital crown and the device’s crystal rear – which is also used to monitor a wearer’s heart rate.

Apple is keen to make it clear that the Apple Watch’s ECG feature is “not intended to be a diagnostic device or to replace traditional methods of diagnosis” and “should not be used to monitor or track disease state or change medication without first talking to a doctor”.

But, being used in conjunction with a doctor is clearly where the benefit for this feature lies. Especially when you consider that the Apple Watch has the potential to passively send your ECG records to trained health professionals from anywhere in the world.

The Microsoft HoloLens.

SUPPLIED

The Microsoft HoloLens.

BAD: MICROSOFT WINS AUGMENTED REALITY CONTRACT

Here’s a scary sentence for you. Microsoft has won a USD$480m contract to help the US Army “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.”

The US Army is effectively buying 100,000 of Microsoft’s Augmented Reality HoloLens devices. Which is a massive win for Microsoft as its only managed to sell 50,000 since it made the device publicly available in 2016.

A spokesman for Microsoft said “augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area”.

The devices the US Army are buying are expected to be different to the standard USD$5,000 HoloLens devices.

Night vision and thermal sensing are, perhaps, two of the easiest features to comprehend. As I understand it, the modified devices will also measure a wearer’s breathing and “readiness” – while offering hearing protection and passively monitor for signs of a concussion.

Microsoft is expected to have 2,500 units ready within the first two years.

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