Blockchain technology projects will be shelved from 2018: report – ETCIO.com

Bangalore: The hype surrounding blockchain technology will recede sharply in 2018 as the cost and complexity of implementing blockchain solutions becomes apparent, according to GlobalData’s Thematic Research report

Many of the early blockchain projects will either be quietly shelved in favour of more traditional approaches or they will evolve in a way which reduces their dependence on blockchain technology.

GlobalData’s Thematic Research report, ‘Blockchain – Thematic Research’, reveals that while the market is awash with absurd claims about the benefits of blockchain technology, there are some key domains where the ability to execute distributed transactions without relying on a single central authority will bring significant value. While blockchain technology will have lost much of its gloss by 2025, it will have found its way into the heart of many key business processes; especially those involving multiple, disparate, participants.

Blockchain is an electronic ledger of transactions that are continuously maintained in blocks of records. The ledgers are jointly held and run by all participants. Coupled with cryptographic security, this makes them tamper-proof (at least in theory).

How China acquires ‘the crown jewels’ of US technology – South China Morning Post

This story is being published by the South China Morning Post as part of a content partnership with POLITICO. It was reported by Cory Bennett and Bryan Bender and originally appeared on politico.com on May 22, 2018.

The U.S. government was well aware of China’s aggressive strategy of leveraging private investors to buy up the latest American technology when, early last year, a company called Avatar Integrated Systems showed up at a bankruptcy court in Delaware hoping to buy the California chip-designer ATop Tech.

ATop’s product was potentially groundbreaking — an automated designer capable of making microchips that could power anything from smartphones to high-tech weapons systems. It’s the type of product that a U.S. government report had recently cited as “critical to defense systems and U.S. military strength.” And the source of the money behind the buyer, Avatar, was an eye-opener: Its board chairman and sole officer was a Chinese steel magnate whose Hong Kong-based company was a major shareholder.

Despite those factors, the transaction went through without an assessment by the U.S. government committee that is charged with reviewing acquisitions of sensitive technology by foreign interests.

In fact, a six-month POLITICO investigation found that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the main vehicle for protecting American technology from foreign governments, rarely polices the various new avenues Chinese nationals use to secure access to American technology, such as bankruptcy courts or the foreign venture capital firms that bankroll U.S. tech startups.

The committee, known by its acronym CFIUS, isn’t required to review any deals, relying instead on outsiders or other government agencies to raise questions about the appropriateness of a proposed merger, acquisition or investment. And even if it had a more formal mandate, the committee lacks the resources to deal with increasingly complex cases, which revolve around lines of code and reams of personal data more than physical infrastructure.

“I knew what was critical in 1958 — tanks, airplanes, avionics. Now, truthfully, everything is information. The world is about information, not about things,” said Paul Rosenzweig, who worked with CFIUS while at the Department of Homeland Security during President George W. Bush’s second term. “And that means everything is critical infrastructure. That, in some sense, means CFIUS really should be managing all global trade.”

As a senior official at the Treasury Department, which oversees CFIUS, put it: “Any time we see a company that has lots of data on Americans — health care, personal financial data — that’s a vulnerability.”

When CFIUS was formed, in the 1970s, the companies safeguarding important technology were so large that any takeover attempt by foreigners would be certain to attract attention. Now, much of the cutting-edge technology in the United States is in the hands of much smaller firms, including Silicon Valley startups that are hungry for cash from investors.

The gap in oversight became a more urgent problem in 2015, when China unveiled its “Made in China 2025” strategy of working with private investors to buy overseas tech firms. A year earlier, Chinese investments in U.S. tech startups had totaled $2.3 billion, according to the economic research firm CB Insights. Such investments immediately skyrocketed to $9.9 billion in 2015. These amounts dipped the following year, as the Obama administration voided a high-profile deal, but analysts say China’s appetite to buy U.S. firms and technology is still strong. In 2017, there were 165 Chinese-backed deals closed with American startups, only 12 percent less than the 2015 peak.



Yet the failure to investigate some forms of Chinese investments in American technology has flown under the radar as President Donald Trump goes tit for tat with Beijing, imposing tariffs meant to punish China for unfair trade practices. Critics noted on Monday that Trump’s tentative agreement to drop his tariff threat in exchange for Chinese pledges to purchase billions of dollars more in American goods avoided any mention of the outdated foreign-investment policies that have alarmed lawmakers across the political spectrum.

On the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lashed out at Trump’s approach.

“China’s trade negotiators must be laughing themselves all the way back to Beijing,” he said. “They’re playing us for fools — temporary purchase of some goods, while China continues to steal our family jewels, the things that have made America great: the intellectual property, the know-how in the highest end industries. It makes no sense.”

National security specialists insist that such a stealth transfer of technology through China’s investment practices in the United States is a far more serious problem than the tariff dispute — and a problem hiding in plain sight. A recent Pentagon report bluntly declared: “The U.S. does not have a comprehensive policy or the tools to address this massive technology transfer to China.” It went on to warn that Beijing’s acquisition of top-notch American technology is enabling a “strategic competitor to access the crown jewels of U.S. innovation.”

Some congressional leaders concur. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) regularly warns his colleagues that China is using private-sector investments to pilfer American technology. China has “weaponized” its investments in America “in order to vacuum up U.S. industrial capabilities from American companies,” Cornyn said at a January hearing. The goal, he added, is “to turn our own technology and know-how against us in an effort to erase our national security advantage.”

Legislation to expand the CFIUS budget and staff has been moving slowly through the halls of Congress amid pushback from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and business groups. The legislation would give CFIUS new resources to scrutinize bankruptcy purchases and establish stricter scrutiny of start-up investments.

As months passed without any action, and the issue of Chinese investments got overshadowed by tariff fights and feuds between Beijing and the Trump administration, national security experts grew more concerned, fearing that Congress lacked a sense of urgency to police transfers of sensitive technology.

The White House began exploring what more it could do on its own, asking the Treasury Department in late March to offer a list of potential Chinese investment restrictions within 60 days.

Finally, earlier this month, Senate and House leaders announced plans to mark up the bill, starting a process that could lead to passage later this year.

Still, the failure to act more quickly may itself be jeopardizing national security. At a hearing in January, Heath Tarbert, the Treasury Department assistant secretary overseeing CFIUS, testified that allowing foreign countries to invest in U.S. technology without making sufficient background checks “will have a real cost in American lives in any conflict.”

“That is simply unacceptable,” he said.

‘Made in China 2025’

Last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping took the podium before 2,300 Communist Party delegates to deliver his expansive vision for China’s future.

Xi was speaking at the party’s 19th Congress, a summit held every five years to choose the nation’s leaders in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the expansive theater right off Tiananmen Square. Speaking in front of a giant gold hammer and sickle framed by bright red drapes, Xi held forth for 3½ hours, declaring that China would look outward to solve its problems.

“China will not close its door to the world — we will only become more and more open,” Xi declared to his rapt audience of party leaders, many of them having close ties to the billionaire investors who represent China in the global market. “We will deepen reform of the investment and financing systems, and enable investment to play a crucial role in improving the supply structure.”

China watchers said Xi was alluding to the government’s relatively new economic plan, dubbed “Made in China 2025,” which leaders had unveiled in 2015. The detailed vision shifted the focus on domestic research investments to the need to pump money into — and better understand — foreign markets.

“We will,” the document proclaimed, “guide enterprises to integrate into local culture.”

“We will,” the document continued, “support enterprises to perform mergers, equity investment and venture capital investment overseas.”

At the top of the investment wish list were high-tech industries like artificial intelligence, robotics and space travel.

For the increasingly powerful Chinese leader, it was the culmination of years of efforts to guide how China spends its blossoming wealth. In addition to luring foreign companies to China, Xi wanted the country — which is sitting on several trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves — to start investing abroad.

The plan had “much more money behind it” and “much more coordination” between Beijing and Chinese industrialists than previous economic strategies, according to Scott Kennedy, an expert on Chinese economic policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank that specializes in defense matters.

“And a big component of that is acquiring technology abroad,” he said.

From 2015 to 2017, Chinese venture capitalists pumped money into hot companies like Uber and Airbnb, but also dozens of burgeoning firms with little or no name recognition. The country didn’t just want “trophy assets,” Kennedy explained. China’s leaders wanted to “fill in some of the gaps they have” in China’s tech economy.

While the Asian power has piled up profits from its large manufacturing plants that churn out low-cost products, the Beijing government realized it would face declining productivity unless its economy, from agriculture to manufacturing, adopted high-tech methods. Essentially, China wanted to automate entire industries — including car manufacturing, food production and electronics — and bring the whole process in-house.

So Beijing’s leaders encouraged the country’s cash-rich investors to search for “emerging companies that have technologies that may be extremely important … but aren’t proven,” Kennedy said. The initiative has spawned investments in American startups that work on robotics, energy equipment and next-generation IT. Of particular concern to U.S. national security officials is the semiconductor industry, which makes the microchips that provide the “guts” of many advance technologies that China is seeking to leverage.

“A concerted push by China to reshape the market in its favor, using industrial policies backed by over one hundred billion dollars in government-directed funds, threatens the competitiveness of U.S. industry and the national and global benefits it brings,” declared a January 2017 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, warning of the urgent threat to U.S. superiority in semiconductor technology.

Notably, many of China’s investments didn’t register on the CFIUS radar. They involved the early-seed funding of tech firms in Silicon Valley and low-profile purchases such as the one in Delaware bankruptcy court. They included joint ventures with microchip manufacturers, and the research and development centers created with international partners.

“They have diversified to look for smaller targets,” Kennedy said. “Those things typically do not generate a CFIUS reaction. That is part of it.”

An obscure research body

CFIUS was set up by Congress in 1975 amid growing concerns about oil-rich countries in the Middle East buying up American companies, from energy firms to armsmakers. Chaired by the Treasury Department, the committee brought together representatives from all the major Cabinet agencies to assess the financial, technological and national security threats posed by such investments. For its first decade, however, CFIUS existed mostly as an obscure research body. From 1975 to 1980, the committee met only 10 times, according to congressional reports.

Japan’s economic ascendance in the 1980s changed that. The Defense Department asked CFIUS to step in and investigate potential Japanese purchases of a U.S. steel producer and a company that made ball bearings for the military. In 1988, Congress gave the committee the authority to recommend that the president nix a deal altogether. Still, the committee remained mostly an ad hoc operation into the 1990s.

“Bureaucratically it was not a very smooth, functioning operation,” recalled Steve Grundman, who worked as part of the committee during the Clinton administration. “We had to pick up some intelligence here, some technology assessment there, some industrial analysis hither.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress renewed its interest in CFIUS, passing legislation that instructed the committee to consider a deal’s effect on “homeland security” and “critical industries,” a notable change, according to Rosenzweig, the DHS official who worked with CFIUS during the George W. Bush administration. The directive gave the committee a mandate to keep an eye on a wider array of industries, such as hospitals and banks, that DHS considered “critical” to keeping American society operating.

Rosenzweig called it a “singular shift.” Over time, he said, the committee went from reviewing acquisitions of steel companies — involving just two parties and a tangible product — to investigating technically complex purchases of microchip companies and other software or data-rich firms.

“When I first came to CFIUS, the filings from the other side would be a few-page letter about why this was a good deal,” Rosenzweig said. “Now it’s a stack of books that’s up to my knee.”

The committee’s staffing and resources have not kept pace with the growing workload, multiple people who work with CFIUS told POLITICO. While the Treasury Department has been hiring staffers and contractors to help handle the record workload, the committee’s overall resources are subject to the whims of the individual agencies involved in the process, said Stephen Heifetz, who oversaw the CFIUS work at DHS during the second Bush administration.

There is no single budget or staffing figure for CFIUS. Instead, each agency decides the level of personnel and funding it’s willing to commit to the committee. The Treasury Department and DHS have two of the larger CFIUS teams, Heifetz said. During his tenure, Heifetz’s DHS squad included roughly 10 people, split equally between government workers and outside contractors.

“Each agency decides more or less on their own how they’re going to staff it,” Heifetz said.

At Treasury, there are now between 20 and 30 people working for CFIUS, according to a senior department official. But even with the expanded team, the committee is stretched precariously thin. The official described 80-hour workweeks, regular weekend work and no ability to take time off.

“It’s enough to handle the current mandate, but not comfortably,” the official said.

Amid this uncertainty over resources, CFIUS investigations into foreign acquisitions nearly tripled from 2009 to 2015. The most common foreign investor that hits the CFIUS radar is now China. Nearly 20 percent of the committee’s reviews from 2013 to 2015, the most recent data available, involved the Asian power, easily ahead of second-place Canada at just under 13 percent.



Since 2015, the Treasury official said, those trends have only continued: Chinese deals now represent a large plurality of the committee’s work.

The attention appears to be well-founded. In recent years, China has been repeatedly accused of industrial espionage — using indirect means to obtain American software and military secrets, everything from the code that powers wind turbines to the designs that produce the Pentagon’s modern F-35 fighter jets. And several Chinese businessmen have pleaded guilty to participating in complex conspiracies to get their hands on sensitive technical data from U.S. firms and shuttle it back to Beijing. Again and again, high-tech products and military equipment have popped up in China that bear a too-striking resemblance to their American counterparts.

Spurred by these incidents, CFIUS has successfully advised the president to nix Chinese deals at a record clip. In December 2016, President Barack Obama stopped a Chinese investment fund from acquiring the U.S. subsidiary of a German semiconductor manufacturer — only the third time a president had taken such a step at that point. In September 2017, Trump halted a China-backed investor from buying the American semiconductor maker Lattice, citing national security concerns.

Three months later, a Chinese company’s plan to acquire the American money transfer company MoneyGram fell apart when the two sides realized they would likely not get CFIUS approval because of concerns that the personal data of millions of Americans — including military personnel — could fall into the hands of the Chinese military.

Weeks after that, the committee essentially jettisoned a Chinese state-backed group’s attempt to buy Xcerra, a Massachusetts-based tech company that makes equipment to test computer chips and circuit boards. Then, in March, Trump blocked the purchase of the chipmaker Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom Ltd. CFIUS said such a move could weaken Qualcomm, and thereby the United States, as it vies with foreign rivals such as China’s Huawei Technologies to develop the next generation of wireless technology known as 5G.

To national security leaders, though, CFIUS is still only scratching the surface of China’s ambitions to acquire U.S. technology, noting that traditional sale-and-purchase agreements to obtain a U.S. company aren’t the only ways to gain access to cutting-edge technology.

“You can buy a [partial] interest in a company and gain access to the same type of technology,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress in October, adding that Justice Department investigators “are really worried about our loss of technology” in instances where Chinese investors buy small stakes in American tech companies.

The U.S. military has raised similar concerns. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned last summer that America is failing to restrict foreign investments in certain types of critical industries, testifying during another hearing that CFIUS is “outdated” and “needs to be updated to deal with today’s situation.”

A mysterious takeover

The case that occurred last summer in an obscure courtroom in Delaware seemed innocuous enough: one relatively small tech firm buying out a bankrupt competitor, a transaction that elicited about as much drama as mailing a letter.

The bankrupt semiconductor maker ATop Tech had only 86 employees when it was declared insolvent. But it had a more than a $1 billion market share of the electronic-design automation and integrated circuits markets, the company told the bankruptcy court, giving it potential value to any player seeking to enter the highly specialized semiconductor industry.

Avatar Integrated Systems, the company seeking to purchase ATop, was apparently such a player. But it was not well known to others in the semiconductor industry, and its precise ownership was a bit of a mystery. The sole director listed on its incorporation papers was a Hong Kong-based businessman named Jingyuan Han, and it issued shares to King Mark International Limited, a Hong Kong company in which Han was an investor. Avatar was set up in March 2017, according to the company.

The transaction went ahead despite concerns raised to the court by other players in the semiconductor industry, as well as those of a former senior Pentagon official who specifically suggested the Chinese government may be backing Avatar.

The former Pentagon official, Joseph Benkert, was enlisted by another American semiconductor company, Synopsys, to help recoup money it was owed by ATop. He warned the court that the deal might have national security risks.

“CFIUS has identified businesses engaged in design and production of semiconductors as presenting possible national security vulnerabilities because they may be useful in defending, or seeking to impair, U.S. national security, as semiconductor design or production may have both commercial or military applications,” Benkert, the former assistant secretary of defense for global affairs under the second Bush administration, wrote to the court.

Benkert argued that the question of Avatar’s ownership needed more review given that the company appeared to be “under the control of Han, a Chinese national.”

“In my opinion,” Benkert wrote, “the proposed transaction is likely to receive thorough CFIUS scrutiny and there is a material risk that it will not receive CFIUS approval.”

But despite those concerns, the deal to buy ATop Tech was not given a formal review by CFIUS, according to a senior administration official with direct knowledge of the process. A Treasury Department official, speaking on behalf of CFIUS, declined to comment on the merger.

An Avatar official, reached at the company office in Santa Clara, California, did not respond to questions or a request for an interview with Han. The company did not respond to multiple requests to discuss its relationship — if any — with the Chinese government or the details of its business.

Han, who has been described in media reports as one of China’s wealthiest men, has spent his career almost entirely in the iron and steel industries. Avatar’s scant history seemed to suggest that it was created for the sole purpose of acquiring an established American semiconductor firm like ATop Tech, according to several former national security officials who still work on CFIUS cases.

Attempts to reach Han through China Oriental Group, the iron and steel company that he runs, were also unsuccessful.

Officials familiar with the CFIUS process say that bankruptcy deals such as the Atop-Avatar case sometimes fall off their radar because of difficulty in discerning whether Chinese investors are working with the government. In other bankruptcy cases, Chinese investment in a potential buyer may not be visible in official filings, especially when a web of holding companies is involved. Thus, say current and former officials working with CFIUS, a significant amount of detective work is necessary to discern both the identity and the intentions of the investors.

Traditionally, courts have defined control of a company as “the ability to direct management to make certain decisions.” But a former Treasury Department official said CFIUS needs to focus on “beneficial ownership,” defined as having the ability to obtain technology from the firm, rather than overall decision-making power.

“It is very hard to find beneficial ownership,” said the official. “Our concern is the capacity of the system to deal with these.”

The bills pending in Congress to strengthen the CFIUS review process include provisions designed to make scrutiny of bankruptcy cases easier. The bills would require CFIUS to “prescribe regulations to clarify that the term ‘covered transaction’ includes any transaction … that arises pursuant to a bankruptcy proceeding or other form of default on debt.”

A sharper focus on bankruptcy cases, particularly in making sure CFIUS scrutinizes investors to ties to foreign governments, is desperately needed, said a former Pentagon official who is still involved in CFIUS cases. “How do they find out about it now? They are reading The Wall Street Journal late at night,” the official said. “It is not a very systematic process.”

The former official also recalled that in the past, the Pentagon has hired an outside contractor to scour around for unreported transactions that might raise some national security flags, such as in the semiconductor or aerospace sectors. Such checks need to be performed in a more systematic way.

“There is no process for surfacing information out of the bankruptcy courts,” the official said.

China goes to Silicon Valley

In Silicon Valley, Chinese investment isn’t typically viewed as a threat, but rather more of a blessing.

Chris Nicholson, co-founder of Skymind, an artificial intelligence company that makes the type of cutting-edge software that both the United States and China covet, recalls the many long months he spent in 2014 trudging up and down Sand Hill Road, the heart of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firms, and all the doors that slammed shut.

“That was a long, dry year for us,” he told POLITICO.

Nicholson hadn’t sought Chinese money. But then Tencent, China’s internet and telecommunications giant and now one of the world’s largest companies, approached the firm, offering $200,000 in seed funding. The Chinese monetary infusion buoyed Skymind, which soon landed a coveted spot in Y Combinator, the powerful startup accelerator. American investors, who had only months earlier eschewed the firm’s overtures, quickly changed their tune. Chinese investment soon beget American investment.

“It was that crucial piece of Chinese capital that allowed us to survive,” Nicholson said. “That’s all it took. Now we’re a company with 35 employees.”

Reflecting a common feeling among his cohorts in Silicon Valley startups, Nicholson insisted that working with Chinese investors does not mean granting Beijing officials access to the coding process. “My American co-founder and I are in control,” Nicholson said, noting that Skymind has given up none of the rights to its intellectual property and has made its code “open sourced,” which means the code is freely available for cybersecurity experts to inspect, audit and offer suggestions.

But Bryan Ware, CEO of Haystax Technology, which works with law enforcement, defense and intelligence clients on securing their technologies, cast some doubt on the idea that the owners of tech startups would naturally refuse to share details of their technology with their investors: “If you’ve got a Chinese investor and that’s the lifeblood that’s going to allow you to get your product out the door, or allow you to hire your next developer, telling them, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ or, ‘No you shouldn’t do that,’ while you have no other alternatives for financing — that’s just the nature of the dilemma.”

“Every investment comes with a risk of some loss of intellectual property or foreign influence and control,” Ware said.

And too many Silicon Valley deals exist in a “netherworld” between passive investment and absolute takeover, “where there’s access to information, technical information, [and] there is the ability to influence and potentially coerce management,” according to the senior Treasury Department official.

One major concern among specialists like Ware is that Beijing officials could use early Chinese investments in next-generation technology to map the software the federal government and even the Defense Department may one day use — and perhaps even corrupt it in ways that would give China a window into sensitive U.S. information.

A POLITICO review of 185 tech startups with Chinese investors found just over 5 percent had received government contracts, loans or grants ranging from a few thousand dollars to several million dollars. Often, the contracts simply involved research — renewable energy for the Energy Department, electronics and communications equipment for the Pentagon, space technology for NASA. Others ordered lab equipment for the Commerce Department, or machine tools for the military.

“There’s a tremendous amount of intelligence value there,” Ware said. “All governments desire to know what other governments are doing. And knowing the technologies and how they work I think is a big part of that.”

While there’s no indication that the firms had U.S. government contracts at the time that Chinese investors became involved, that may be part of China’s strategy. Derek Scissors, who manages the American Enterprise Institute’s China Global Investment Tracker, an exhaustive database of China’s major global investments, said that as welcome as the surge of Chinese-funded deals may be in Silicon Valley, the engine behind them is the Chinese government. China’s Silicon Valley investment strategy “was shaped by the state and that shaping has gotten tighter,” he said.

Still, many Chinese investments in the United States are not directly backed by the Beijing government, but it can be hard to distinguish.

Some prominent Chinese VC firms in Silicon Valley have clear links to the government. Westlake Ventures, for example, received funding from the government in the coastal Chinese city of Hangzhou, according to media reports and a Pentagon research paper. And Westlake has put money into other VC funds, such as the WI Harper Group, which has a stake in a wide slate of American tech companies, from a dating app to a three-dimensional imaging company to a maker of robot cooks. Westlake did not respond to a request for comment.

But it’s not always easy to trace the money back to a single source, let alone determine what connection that source has to Beijing’s Communist leadership. Haiyin Capital, a Beijing-based VC firm, is partially backed by a state-run Chinese company, according to a company release. Also complex is ZGC Capital Corporation — located in Silicon Valley and focused on providing startups with basic business help — is a subsidiary of a state-owned enterprise funded by the Beijing government, according to the organizations’ websites. Attempts to reach each organization were unsuccessful.

Security and economics experts say they are unsure how much financial or national security harm these Chinese investments are actually causing the United States — if any — simply because it may not be clear for years exactly how important the technology may be.

In the meantime, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are blunt: America actually needs Chinese money to maintain its global tech advantage.

“Here’s my warning shot,” Nicholson said. “If we make it difficult for foreign talent and foreign capital to find each other by over-regulating early-stage startup investing … we will lose our supremacy as the top tech economy in the world.”

Enter Congress

In Washington, Silicon Valley’s warning has been heard loudly enough to delay the passage of a bill to strengthen the CFIUS process, despite the support of such bipartisan figures as Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, and California’s own Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Last year, after a cascade of warnings from the Defense Department, Justice Department and other powerful sources, both the House and Senate seemed ready to take action to strengthen oversight of foreign investment in technology companies.

The bipartisan proposal would direct CFIUS to consider whether pending investments would erode America’s technological edge, enable a foreign government to utilize digital spying powers that might be used against the United States, or give sensitive data — even indirectly — to a foreign government. Similarly, it would expand the definition of “critical industries” — a reference to sectors like banking, defense or energy — to include “critical technologies,” a significant expansion of the committee’s current mandate.

Under the bill, CFIUS would have to create a system to monitor transactions that aren’t voluntarily brought to the committee’s attention.

The measure would also centralize some of the committee’s functions and allow the committee to charge filing fees up to 1 percent of the total value of the transaction up to $300,000, and let Treasury offer a single CFIUS budget request rather than relying on contributions from other departments.

The Trump administration offered a full-throated endorsement of the bill in January, saying it “would strengthen our ability to protect national security and enhance confidence in our longstanding open investment policy.”

And while the bill doesn’t explicitly cite China, the provisions are clearly aimed at limiting its access to the most sensitive areas.

“Any Chinese-related company that is part of our supply chain is a concern to me,” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), a lead House sponsor of the bill, told POLITICO.

Pittenger insisted that Congress’ inaction is allowing China to brazenly pilfer the technology that drives America’s military might, and sell that technology to adversaries like Iran and North Korea. He noted that a Treasury official told him getting the bill signed is the department’s No. 1 legislative priority for 2018.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to this,” Pittenger said.

But many technology entrepreneurs believe the bill would simply drive cutting-edge research overseas. In 2016, foreign investors injected $373 billion into the United States, a figure that has been mostly increasing since the early 2000s, according to government data. Lengthening the CFIUS review time — currently 30 days, but set to extend to 45 days under the new bill — could damage the “brittle process” of early-stage fundraising, said Nicholson, who encouraged lawmakers to focus on expanding CFIUS powers in other areas, such as bankruptcy courts.

“I worry that they’re driving a bulldozer towards a rose garden,” said Nicholson, echoing his claim that training the CFIUS lens on Silicon Valley could scare off the very financing that keeps America growing.

IBM’s vice president for regulatory affairs, Christopher Padilla, agreed, warning at a January hearing that the bill “could constitute the most economically harmful imposition of unilateral trade restrictions by the United States in many decades.”

He raised particular concerns about expanding CFIUS authority to cover foreign investments in “critical technologies,” a phrase tech leaders say is worryingly opaque and that could force companies peddling sensitive technology to have every single sale reviewed.

Padilla called it a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach to regulating that “would be deeply damaging to U.S. competitiveness, and, more important, could lead to a false sense of security.”

Some industry groups have suggested that the bill should delineate these technologies — robotics or artificial intelligence, for instance — to avoid having every deal scrutinized from top to bottom.

“We would be well served to define those issues from the outset,” said Dean Garfield, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group representing industry heavyweights such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. Garfield said getting the bill revised is a top-five issue for ITI in 2018.

He cautioned that the bill, as written, could spike the number of annual CFIUS reviews from “a few hundred deals” to “a few thousand.”

Proponents, however, feel that specifying specific technologies might be impossible. The software powering the country — from waterways to missile systems — is constantly changing and evolving, they say. Instead, they suggest, new CFIUS funds and a streamlined reporting process would help keep the growing stream of deal reviews moving.

“For the price of a single B-21 bomber, we can fund an updated CFIUS process and protect our key capabilities for several years,” Cornyn said at a hearing. “That is a down payment on long-term national security.”

Nonetheless, lawmakers have been working to address industry complaints, making tweaks to the legislation. And just last week, lawmakers made a breakthrough, agreeing to slightly narrow the bill’s scope, raising the chances the measure will make it to the president’s desk.

The House and Senate are scheduled to mark up their respective CFIUS bills on Tuesday, and lawmakers now are angling to attach the legislation to the annual, must-pass defense authorization bill as a way to guarantee it gets through. But lingering disputes could still derail the process.

National security leaders and lawmakers warn that these squabbles, while reflecting sincerely held positions, are simply delaying necessary action. At that January hearing, Cornyn described a changing reality if CFIUS is left in its current iteration.

“Just imagine if China’s military was stronger, faster and more lethal,” Cornyn said.

“That is what the future likely holds,” he added, “unless we act.”

Big Data: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly! – ETCIO.com

By- Bithal Bhardwaj & Rahul Sharma

Data is the oil that fuels digital economy. It promotes innovation, increases democratic quotient of the society, enhances productivity & efficiency of systems and helps better understand different worlds. We generate, process and consume quantum of information that is unprecedented. It won’t be naïve to say that third rock from the sun is developing a digital nervous system.

We are standing at an inflection point where machines are generating more information than humans as we march into a world that’ll be dominated by IoT (Internet of Things) & M2M (Machine to Machine) communications. Powerful computing capabilities now available at the edge drive data integration from across varied sources as open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) gain popularity. It’s not just the ubiquity of data generation; platforms like Hadoop have enabled on demand processing of huge chunks of data in open source format, commoditizing what earlier perceivably required supercomputing processing capabilities residing with a select few. Even databases that have been siloed can throw up interesting insights when correlation is run, bringing a fresh perspective to understand things differently – identifying biases, unearthing frauds, determining root cause of issues etc.

Like every other technology, the possibilities of Big data are both fascinating and scary. It’s upon us to demarcate what’s desired, what is acceptable and what is harmful. Big data is a boon for weather and disaster predictions, in non-tech oriented sectors like agriculture and manufacturing for improving productivity, to discover potential of kids in early years helping identify career paths & prospects, to design cities with data aided urban planning, and even for crime predictions and security. It’s the power of big data, combined with big-simulation, that resulted in an algorithm called Alpha Go defeating Grandmaster of yesteryears in the game Go, which supposedly has countless possibilities exercised intuitively when played by humans. Machines and algorithms process both structured and unstructured data better than human brains, and with increasing automation of systems harnessing machine learning, the extolled benefits are not so distant.

UST Global decodes the future of technology with Microsoft – ETCIO.com

Trivandrum: UST Global in partnership with Microsoft, has embarked on a transformative digital journey that brings anthropology, art and technology together, to generate and transform innovative ideas into breakthrough services for customers. UST Global hosted ‘Future Decoded’ at its Trivandrum campus on 15-16 May, 2018, bringing UST Global and Microsoft Leadership, Digital Experts, Developers and IT Pros together to help expand the capabilities of technologists to create solutions of the future. At the event, Microsoft recognized UST Global with the “Innovation and Leadership in Digital Transformation” award.

The two-day event featured multiple keynotes, demos, panel discussions and hands-on labs where UST Global employees were able to experience the array of possibilities with artificial intelligence, how to apply machine learning to transform various business roles, data driven business innovation models, workplace trends, technology and talent, how to transform lines of business with modern applications and tools and techniques for building a cyber resilient organization.

Speaking at the event, Sunil Kanchi, Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President, UST Global said, “As part of our digital transformation journey, Microsoft is our key partner to not only enable and enhance our employees’ capabilities in being future-ready, but also in creating cutting-edge solutions for our global customers. Future Decoded at UST Global is a great amalgamation of Microsoft and our talent and synergies.”

Sashi Sreedharan, Managing Director, Microsoft India, in his keynote address stated, “We are thrilled to partner with UST Global. Both companies have similar DNA. Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to do more. UST Global believes in creating social capital and being involved in something higher than themselves. In this age of artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing it is imperative to maintain security, trust and compliance, even as we jointly create breakthrough experiences for our customers.”

Telstra rolls out SD-WAN to over 90 Rabobank branches across A/NZ – ARNnet

Telstra (ASX:TLS) has announced a deal with Rabobank Australia and New Zealand that will see the telco’s software defined wire area networks (SD-WAN) solution deployed across the Tasman.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Rabobank is a financial services company focused on food and agriculture financing banking. The financial institution has more than 90 branches in the A/NZ region.

According to a blog post by Jim Clarke, Telstra Enterprise’s director for global connectivity and networks, the telco has worked Rabobank for a number of years in both Australia and New Zealand.

“Today, we’re excited to strengthen this partnership even further as it [Rabobank] takes the first step in its digital transformation program which includes a redesigned architecture for the bank,” Clarke said.

The agreement came after a successful proof of concept with Rabobank, which showed significant increase in speed and bandwidth capabilities.

Subcutaneous Fitbits? These cows are modeling the tracking technology of the future – MIT Technology Review

Somewhere on a dairy farm in Wellsville, Utah, are three cyborg cows, indistinguishable from the rest of the herd.

Just like the other cows, they eat, drink, and chew their cud. Occasionally, they walk over to a big, spinning red-and-black brush, suspended at bovine back height, for a scratch. But while the rest of the cows just get their scratch and move on, these cows deliver data. Trackers implanted in their bodies use low-energy Bluetooth to ping a nearby base station and transfer information about the cows’ chewing frequency, temperature, and general rambling around the farm.

These cows are the first to try a device called EmbediVet, created by a startup named Livestock Labs. For now, they’re just going about their normal lives, unintentionally providing data that helps train an artificial neural network. The hope is that in the near future, this AI will help farmers figure out quickly and easily how well cows and other livestock are eating, whether they’re getting sick or about to give birth—things that are typically done today just by watching and waiting but are difficult to spot when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of animals to keep an eye on.

Embedded RFID sensors and other trackers have long been used in livestock, though generally just for identifying each animal. There are already some behavior-tracking wearables out there, such as collars, that use sensors to pinpoint events like cud-chewing and illness. But Livestock Labs claims that once EmbediVet is implanted—currently in a surgical procedure done under local anesthetic—it’s less annoying to the cow than a wearable and, potentially, a more powerful way to collect useful data and spot bovine behavior patterns over time.

This subcutaneous tracker actually had a human tryout before it even got anywhere near a cow. And its creator hopes to eventually bring the cow-tested technology back under your skin.

Livestock Labs’ EmbediVet tracker. The rounded part is a bit larger than a quarter.

Livestock Labs

Tried in humans, retooled for cattle

Livestock Labs CEO Tim Cannon never set out to make what is, in essence, an embedded Fitbit for cows. What he really wanted was to use the same technology to reengineer himself, and anyone else who wanted to do likewise.

Cannon, a software developer and biohacker, took his first plunge into surgically upgrading himself in 2010 after seeing a video of a Scottish biohacker named Lepht Anonym talking about the sensations produced by a magnet she implanted in her finger. Shortly thereafter, he got his own finger magnet and cofounded Grindhouse Wetware, a biohacking startup in Pittsburgh that focuses on designing and building implantable electronics.

For years at Grindhouse, Cannon and his team made several sensors, including a device called Circadia, which included a thermometer and LED lights that glowed from beneath the skin.

Cannon hoped Circadia could collect data and work with AI software he built to start predicting illnesses. And in 2013, after about a year of work and $2,000 in development costs, he had a Circadia sensor surgically implanted into his arm.

“When we did this, we were actually trying to throw down a glove to the medical industry, to technological fields, to say, ‘Look, if a bunch of idiots in a basement can do this while smoking joints and listening to Wu Tang, what the fuck is the problem?’” Cannon says.

The problem, it seems, is that beyond a small community of hackers, grinders, and curiousobservers, most people just aren’t interested in having things implanted in their bodies, especially if these things aren’t medically necessary.

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Grindhouse tried selling the implants it created, but it wasn’t making money. It couldn’t pull in any investors, so Cannon and others were funding the work themselves with their day jobs. They grew aware of the enormous regulation challenges they faced if they wanted to make non-essential implants for humans, he says, and realized that the job would undoubtedly include years of work and millions of dollars.

Then, last spring, an Australian biohacker named Meow-Ludo Disco Gama Meow-Meow (yes, really) contacted Cannon with an idea. A tech incubator in Sydney, Cicada Innovations, was about to launch a program that focused on helping build agricultural food technology companies (the country has a large livestock industry, with about 25.5 million cattle). How about putting sensors in cows instead of people?

It was like a “Duh, it’s obvious” moment, Cannon says. His new venture, dubbed Livestock Labs, was accepted to Cicada’s GrowLab program. In September, Cannon moved to Sydney from his home in Pittsburgh, and soon started working with a small team to remake the Circadia sensor from scratch into one that could be implanted in farm animals.

Within months, Livestock Labs readied a new device—now called EmbediVet—for testing in cattle. Covered in a clear resin, it includes an ARM processor and Bluetooth and long-range radios, as well as a thermometer, accelerometer, and heart-rate monitor and pulse oximeter for measuring heart rate, blood oxygen levels, temperature, and basic activity. It runs on a coin-cell battery the company expects will last for about three years.

On the farm

On April 3, Kerry Rood, an associate professor at Utah State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, implanted a series of EmbediVet sensors in three cows on the school’s dairy farm: two in the left side of the lower jaw, and one between two ribs. (Since there’s not much existing data about the best places for implanted activity trackers in cattle, and Livestock Labs wants to log chewing and rumination, these seemed like good starting points.)

To perform this minor surgery, Rood gave the cows local anesthesia, sliced their hide in the proper spots, slipped in an EmbediVet prototype, and stitched them up. Over a month later, he says, they’re tolerating the implants well.

A cow on Utah State University’s dairy farm that has been embedded with Livestock Labs’ EmbediVet tracker.

Livestock Labs

Why do it? Rood thinks that this kind of device can be more accurate than a wearable one such as a collar or an anklet, especially when it comes to tracking a metric like body temperature, which correlates with disease, in thick-skinned animals.

To check out the early data, Cannon says, he’s built some charting software that can pull in what’s gathered from the cows’ EmbediVet devices and plot it out. Eventually, Livestock Labs intends for farmers to use a smartphone app to check out their animals’ status and see alerts about issues.

“As a veterinarian, if there’s some way I can detect animal diseases, animal discomfort, earlier, then I’m ahead of the ballgame when it comes to providing care and welfare to these animals,” Rood says.

Beyond the work Livestock Labs is doing with Rood, Cannon says, other research trials are in the works with Charles Sturt University and the University of New England, both in Australia, as well as trials with some commercial farmers he won’t name. He hopes EmbediVet will be available in a public beta test next March.

“We stumbled onto something that was a lot bigger and more in demand than we thought, in this particular sector of the world,” Cannon says.

Ryan Reuter, an associate professor of animal science at Oklahoma State University who studies beef cattle, thinks the tracker could be quite useful. He cautions, however, that there are a lot of factors to consider with its design. For instance, cows are big and strong and like to rub on things (such as that aforementioned back scratcher), so anything implanted in them needs to be rugged enough to hold up to abuse. It also needs to stay in place, he says, especially with animals being raised to be eaten.

“That would be important in food animals, so you make sure that you put the implant somewhere that it has no chance of ending up in a food product for humans,” he says.

There’s also the issue of pricing, since margins in dairy and beef cattle production are slim. The components of EmbediVet cost $20 right now, Cannon says, but it’s not clear what the eventual price will be; Reuter says that somewhere in the range of $10 or $20 a cow would get beef or dairy farmers interested.

Back to you, humans?

These days, Cannon splits his time between Pittsburgh and Sydney. Livestock Labs has $2 million in early funding from Australia’s livestock industry group, Meat & Livestock Australia (which is also a GrowLab partner), and additional funds from individual investors in the US.

For now, he’s concentrating on making sure that the implants aren’t causing any unintended consequences with the cyborg bovines.

“They are developing a slight urge to destroy humanity,” he jokes, “but we’re monitoring it.”

Joking aside, Cannon is serious about one goal that’s far beyond anything his startup may do to help farmers and their livestock. He says he also hopes the company gets people more comfortable with the idea of bodily implants in general. He is adamant that one day he will return to offering sensors to people—though he’s not sure if it will be a totally new company or a “human line” from Livestock Labs.

The second option, he admits, might be “just a little bit too much for people.”

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Starting a robotics company out of school? Not so fast, suggest investors – TechCrunch

Every once in a while, a college student or recent graduate dares to launch a robotics startup and . . . everything goes as well as could be expected. Such is the case, for example, with Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak, two former University of Waterloo students who worked on self-driving technologies together in college and formed their now venture-backed, self-driving truck company, Embark, instead of graduating. (Originally called Varden Labs, the startup’s trip through Y Combinator undoubtedly helped.)

Still, to capture the sustained interest of robotics investors, it helps to either have experience in a particular industry or to pull in someone, quickly, who does. That much was established yesterday at UC Berkeley, when three veteran investors — Renata Quintini of Lux Capital, Rob Coneybeer of Shasta Ventures, and Chris Evdemon of Sinovation Ventures — took the stage of a packed Zellerbach Hall to talk about where they’ve invested previously, and where they are shopping now.

Though the three expressed interest in a wide range of technologies and plenty of optimism about what’s to come, each lingered a bit on one point in particular, which was the difficulty robotics founders face who are completely unfamiliar with the particular industry they may hope to reshape with their innovation.

You can catch the entire interview below, but we thought college students — and their professors and mentors — might want to pay particularly close attention to this concern if they’re thinking about hitting up investors in the not-too-distant future.

Quintini on how comfortable she and her colleagues at Lux are when it comes to backing recent college graduates:

What we care the most about what is your unique insight and what do you know about tackling a certain market or problem that’s not obvious or easy to replicate. In some cases, it’s very fair for someone right out of university who finds a technological breakthrough and . . . that breakthrough alone is understandable and comprehensible to the market and it’s a very backable company, and we’ve done that in the past.

But in some cases, and you’ve heard today, [CEO] Patrick [Sobalvarro] from Veo Robotics speak — and [Veo is] actually giving robotic arms perception sensors to allow people and robots to work together — all his insights came because he came from industry. He was at Rethink Robotics; he’s been in the robotics industry, selling to people who use robots as part of the manufacturing process. And so he actually understands the importance of safety and the selling of those systems to customers. Because he knew that, it made a big difference in how he approaches his go-to-market strategy and how he approaches building a product. And somebody who’s just thinking about, ‘Oh, let me figure out the technology and how to understand when a human is close or not’ and who didn’t think about the other angle wouldn’t be so successful or differentiated in our opinion.

Coneybeer sounded a similar tone. In fact, when asked if he felt there were other overlooked opportunities like that identified by Veo — which is refitting existing robotic arms, rather than trying to remake them from scratch — Coneybeer said the most attractive thing of all to him are startups in search of a problem that actually exists:

What we’re very cognizant of is people who love robots and are trying to invent a market or invent a need and kind of force fit it, as opposed to people who understand a need and are using robotics as a tool to truly solve that need. That’s a really key differentiator.

We directed an entirely different question to Evdemon, about how Sinovation thinks about domestic versus industrial robots and whether it expects to commit more capital to one or the other. But Evdemon first took the time to note that the problem of founders who don’t know their industries is a very big one, and deserved more discussion:

Chiming in to what Renata and Rob were saying, you understated [the issue]. The majority of the teams that we are looking on both the consumer and industrial robot [worlds] at the moment are more of a technology trying to find a fit in the market, and that’s obviously a very big problem from a venture point of view.

We also see a lot of teams that are fresh out of school, usually a supervising professor with a couple of his or her PhD students having come across some kind of technological breakthrough in university and trying to commercialize that. But robotics are all about what sectors they are being applied to. An ag tech team that knows nothing about agriculture, or a security robot that has a team that’s come up with a great computer vision breakthrough around security issues but that has no idea how the security industry in the U.S. or other parts of the world is structured, is obviously not a good starting point — at least not from a business-minded point of view.

And all of these companies run across tremendous difficulty when it comes to sales. Complementary of teams and market fit [both, are] important for [students] who are thinking about such a move straight out of school.

Business Is Booming for the UK’s Spy Tech Industry – The Intercept

Chris Dunning-Walton, the founder of a nonprofit called Cyber Cheltenham, or Cynam, organizes quarterly events in the town attended by politicians and entrepreneurs. “Historically, there has been a need for the companies that are working here to be very off the radar with their relationships with GCHQ and to some extent, that does exist,” says Dunning-Walton. But since Edward Snowden leaked information in 2013 about GCHQ’s sweeping surveillance activities, the agency has been forced to come out of the shadows and embrace greater transparency. One consequence of this, according to Dunning-Walton, is that GCHQ is now more open to partnering with private companies, which has helped fuel the cyber industry around the Cheltenham area.

Northrop Grumman, the world’s fifth-largest arms manufacturer, has located its European cyber and intelligence operations in Cheltenham, where it has two offices in the center of the town. In the nearby city of Gloucester, a 20-minute drive west of Cheltenham, Raytheon, the world’s third-largest arms company, in 2015 opened a Cyber Innovation Centre that it says is focused on “big data, analytics and network defense.” BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, the cyber arm of the world’s fourth-largest arms company, also has offices in Gloucester, where it says it “delivers information intelligence solutions to government and commercial customers.”

Many of these companies are secretive about the work they do – especially when it concerns surveillance technology – and refuse to speak to the media. But L3 TRL Technology – which is based in Tewkesbury at the northern tip of this new cyber corridor – does grant an interview via email.

L3 says it provides “electronic warfare” equipment that can jam communication signals and gather intelligence. A spokesperson for the company says it plays “a crucial role in counter terrorism and the protection of military forces with our electronic warfare solutions.” He declines to provide any information about any of the company’s customers. But a video posted on YouTube by a Middle Eastern news agency reveals one potential client: It documents a recent meeting between L3’s parent company and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of the UAE military.

According to government records, the U.K. has sold weapons and other equipment worth £7.3 billion ($9.9 billion) to the UAE in the past decade, including components for telecommunications eavesdropping technology and “intrusion software,” which is used to hack into targeted phones and computers.

Another Cheltenham-based company is CommsAudit, whose flagship product is a surveillance system called Spectra Black, a portable device that can monitor cellphone calls and other wireless communications. CommsAudit did not respond to a request for comment and does not publicly disclose the identities of its customers. The company was, however, showcasing its products at the 2017 DSEI arms fair in London, which was attended by government delegations from across the world.

Latching onto this wave of innovation, last year, the British government pledged £22 million ($30 million) in funding for a new cyber business park on a patch of land close to GCHQ’s headquarters. “It will act as a ‘honeypot’ for cyber security and high tech supply chain businesses,” the promotional literature said, creating 7,000 jobs, while boosting the number of private companies in the area that can then potentially become GCHQ’s clients. There is a lot of largesse to go around. GCHQ takes the majority of the share of the roughly £2.8 billion ($3.8 billion) budget for Britain’s intelligence services and has twice the number of personnel of MI5 and MI6 combined.

David Woodfine, a former head of the Ministry of Defence’s Security Operations Centre, worked inside GCHQ’s Cheltenham headquarters for two years. He left in September 2013 to found Cyber Security Associates, a Gloucestershire-based company providing cyber consultancy services to the public and private sector.

Woodfine says toward the end of his tenure at GCHQ, there was a realization that the agency needed to partner more with private industry. “From a GCHQ perspective, I think their whole attitude has changed from quite a hard approach – ‘we’ll keep everything in-house’ – to ‘actually, we need to open up.’ They changed their recruiting, their apprenticeship schemes, so they are attracting more young talent into their organization.”

The National Cyber Security Centre – which opened in 2016 under the remit of GCHQ – is currently piloting new “Cyber Schools Hubs” in Gloucestershire. The idea is to send staff into local schools to “encourage a diverse range of students into taking up computer science,” in effect grooming the next generation of cyber-competent spies.

GCHQ offers meager salaries compared to the private sector, but the agency can offer prospective employees the chance to work with technologies that they could not use anywhere else – because if they did, they would be breaking the law. “That’s a good way of retaining people on public sector pay,” says Woodfine. “So you can argue that they don’t join for the money, they join for the ability to learn and to test their techniques and their abilities.”

A GCHQ employee can work with the agency for a few years, learn about its tools and methods, and then take that knowledge with them to a job in the more lucrative private sector, where there are plenty opportunities for surveillance innovation. According to the London-based advocacy group Privacy International, the U.K. has 104 companies producing surveillance equipment for export to foreign governments and corporations. Only the United States – with 122 companies – has more.


A view of the 24-hour operations room at Government Communication Headquarters in Cheltenham on Nov. 17, 2015.

Photo: Ben Birchall/AFP/Getty Images

Since 2013, sales of surveillance and hacking technology have been controlled under the Wassenaar Arrangement, which was signed by 42 countries, including the U.S. and most of Europe. The arrangement is intended to prevent authoritarian regimes from obtaining arms and sophisticated spy tools that could be used to commit human rights violations. However, it is not legally binding. And the U.K. has continued to sell eavesdropping equipment to a number of countries with questionable human rights records, such as Honduras, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, China, and Qatar.

Inside the bustling Victoria train station in central London, Digital Barriers, the world’s premier video analytics company, has its offices. Video analytics sounds like an arcane branch of the high-tech industry, but in terms of surveillance technology, it is a field that has rapidly advanced in recent years. Zak Doffman, chief executive at Digital Barriers, founded the company in 2010 after recognizing that in the area of video intelligence, there was a gap in the international market. Digital Barriers’s technology is designed to analyze video – and identify people’s faces – in real time, where the cameras are placed, rather than having to rely on retrospective analysis.

In its London offices, the company demonstrates to this reporter how even with a scarf wrapped around a person’s face, its software can successfully identify them within a few seconds using a standard surveillance camera. Facial-recognition technology is notoriously inaccurate and can produce false positives, but Digital Barriers claims its software can pick out obscured and blurred faces in crowds and match them with photographs that are held on databases or published on the internet. It is, the company says, most useful for counterterrorism operations. But in the wrong hands, wired up to a nationwide camera network, the technology could potentially be used to trace the movements of millions of people in real time. “We built the business primarily in the public sector working for government agencies,” says Doffman. “We are now working increasingly in the private sector with the commercial customers.”

Digital Barriers’s website boasts that it has clients in more than 50 countries. Doffman won’t reveal the names of his customers, and when questioned about the export licensing process, he says the company’s products are exempt. “It’s not export control per se,” he says, “so there’s no formal restrictions on the technology.” What would he do if countries with authoritarian governments wanted to buy the system? Doffman says only that Digital Barriers has a “moral code on this stuff.”

People within this industry want the technology to remain uncontrolled; they argue that countries with authoritarian governments don’t want this type of video surveillance anyway. “Countries where you have a lot of corruption, the last thing they want is facial recognition,” says one industry source, because of elite factionalism. But that seems scant reassurance for dissidents living in dictatorships that can now freely access this technology at the right price.

Support for this article was provided by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Top photo: An aerial view of the Government Communications Headquarters, also known as GCHQ, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on July 1, 2014.

National technology day: here’s how CIOs reforming technology implementation – ETCIO.com

11th May is celebrated as National Technology day since 1998, when India carried first nuclear tests at Pokhran and indigenous aircraft “Hansa-3” test flown at Bangalore. This year the National Technology Day is marked as “Technology for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”.

After the technology boom in 1988, IT industry started contributing to India’s GDP with an initial surge of 1.2% in the same year.

Information technology industry in India comprises two major components- IT services and business process outsourcing (BPO).

According to NASSCOM, the sector aggregated revenues of US$160 billion in 2017, with export revenue standing at US$99 billion and domestic revenue at US$48 billion, growing by over 13%.

How AI Takes Wearables to the Next Level – IoT For All (blog)

The market for wearable technology is increasing steadily. Around 115 million wearables were shipped in 2017, which is 10.3 percent more compared to 2016.

Apple took the lead with Apple Watch Series 3, and doesn’t seem to let go of the gold in 2018. Together with Xiaomi, Fitbit, Garmin and Huawei, Apple makes up the majority of the market share and keeps smartwatch and fitness trackers first.

However, the trend for other wearables is more than optimistic. According to BI Intelligence, they’ll likely outrun popular wearable solutions in terms of growth rate and take a significant slice of a third of the market by 2021.

There are many features that define today’s wearables – increased functionality, lighter and less bulky hardware, seamless user experience and improved connectivity. Enhanced intelligence would probably be the number one element to define this market across different verticals.

We’ve interviewed the executives and founders of successful wearable companies to find out how AI-enabled technology takes wearables to the whole new level.

AI Assistants in Wellness and Sports

Today, many wearables rely on popular smart assistants, such as Alexa or Siri in Apple Watch. When Amazon rolled out its Mobile Accessory Kit, it became possible to insert Alexa directly into a wearable, not always successfully though. In the meantime, some wearable manufacturers decided to equip their systems with custom, intelligent assistants that excel at certain tasks instead of going all-purpose. And it paid off.

One of such examples is Sensoria Fitness. Award-winning producer and vendor of smart sport apparel, the company provides consumers with an AI in-app coaching to improve running routines using performance analytics.

According to Sensoria Fitness, “Mara artificial intelligence coach provides real-time, actionable, audio and visual feedback on metrics that help you improve performance while decreasing your likelihood of injuries. She cheers you up to keep you motivated, but also provides reminders when your running form falls outside of preset parameters. Mara will tell you not only how far and how fast, but how well you run.”

Game Your Game is another example. The company figured out how to leverage AI and enhance its GAME GOLF wearable system with Caddie – personal golf assistant available in GAME GOLF app from April, 2018. Here’s what the company’s CEO and founder John McGuire says about the upcoming feature:

“Smart Caddie uses artificial intelligence to help golfers make data-driven decisions as they play. It’s like having your own personal caddie who considers every shot you’ve ever hit, and has identified all of your tendencies, understands the course and adjusts for weather and elevation in making its recommendations.”

John McGuire points out the importance of machine learning, defying it as “the core of this product.”

“GAME GOLF has the largest dataset of on-course usage in the industry and allows us to draw knowledge from over two million rounds with users in 137 countries. That is what 60 billion GPS data points can do for you and Smart Caddie will be available to use on over 36,000 courses worldwide.

Machine learning is at the core of this product. These things can only be accurate if the data set is large enough for your machine learning algorithms to be pointed at the data set and basically be learning from the data set that we collect.”

AI Analytics in Wearable Healthcare

Connected devices and AI-enabled technology are likely to increase life expectancy and improve life quality. Wearables play a significant role in this outlook as the simplest, most convenient tools to collect health data, monitor and interact with users on the go. Here’s how medical and care wearables use AI analytics to accellerate their performance.

Take Qardio products as an example. The company produces a variety of smart health tools, such as Qardio armband, intelligent scales and medical-grade ECG trackers. Behind these devices there’s an AI-powered QardioMD platform for doctors that uses vital health data from wearables, analyzes this data and uses an algorithm to prioritize patients who need more attention.

Propeller Health, another medical wearable producer, also works with patient data analytics, but on a bigger scale. Building tracking devices attached to the inhalers for the people who suffer from asthma, the company went further than the analytics of an individual inhaler use.

Propeller Health rolled out an open API for air service that predicts the changes in asthma conditions in certain locations. The company uses machine learning to analyze data from various respiratory medication intake and environmental conditions and forecast potential asthma attacks.

AI Tools to Improve Security

Helping people lead healthier lifestyles and achieve sports goals is one thing, saving people’s lives is an entirely new level, and powered by AI.

One such compelling example is Lumenus. The company started when the founder, Jeremy Wall, was almost killed while riding his bicycle. It was this life-changing event that pushed him to create products that use technology for something meaningful—to save lives. Today, Lumenus designs and produces apparel equipped with wearable LED lights for runners, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. This is what Jeremy Wall says about the product:

“We use IoT data points from a litany of different sources: sensors, 3rd party APIs, GPS, and more to control the color, brightness, and animation of wearable LED lights. Think like the smart-lights we’re used to in homes, but instead of being screwed into a socket in one place, Lumenus makes them mobile.”

And this is how AI helps Lumenus wearables save lives:

“Our software aggregates the different information into a single source, but that’s where we take it to the next level with AI. A Lumenus user opens the app, puts in a final destination and maybe some other notes and then puts the phone away. The goal is what we refer to as Zero UI — once you start the system there is no interaction with the mobile app or even the hardware directly — every command is autonomous.

The system knows where you’re heading and automatically gives a turn signal, alerting the drivers around you. It engages the brake lights that can sense your deceleration while AI helps us know when you’re hitting the brakes and not on a hill. It uses training guidance pace lights, which understand your target training speeds and visually keeps you on pace in real-time. Moreover, it engages the flash for extra safety in danger zones like intersections or roundabouts where over 1/3 of fatal accidents occur.

Today, AI allows us to know which information is necessary and which information is just noise. Soon, we plan to connect Lumenus users directly to in-vehicle car systems and with the help of AI determine if there is a potential of a collision and predictively warn drivers.

Another safety wearable tool by Jiobit was also inspired by a real-life case when the company’s CEO and founder John Renaldi found his own kid wandered away at Millennium Park, according to TechCrunch.

Smart Jiobit trackers for children monitoring also use GPS data, however, for different purposes. The company relies on machine learning algorithms to analyze daily routes and routines of the kids who wear the device and free parents from setting manual “rules” or maps for tracking. It helps parents get a full data-driven picture of their children’s activity. By the way, Jiobit also works for pets.

AI Wearables for Everyone

Jiobit trackers are good both for people and pets. Some wearable manufacturers, in turn, focus on building smart devices for four-legged companions and also rely on AI to excel technology capabilities.

This is what Trackener system does to enable users provide utmost horse care, for example. The wearable tracks horse’s activity, location, behavior and health conditions to inform on nutrition needs, stress levels and predict and prevent anxiety.

The true gem is in the AI-powered analytics, which enables more intelligent monitoring and management. Company’s CEO and co-founder Pauline Issard explains:

“The power of Trackener lies in the data analysis we are doing. The more data our device has been collecting on a horse, the more accurate the problem detection, prediction and recommendation system will be. Trackener is all about comparing data with previous analytics from this same horse, but also with data from other similar horses (age, breed, gender, etc.).”

Other AI-powered wearable Whistle, a Fitbit for Dogs, does for dogs what Trackener does for horses, but with a 3k mile radius of location tracking. The company combined advanced cellular and GPS technology to enable this incredible coverage plus Bluetooth and WiFi connection for activity tracking. On top of that, the Whistle system relies on machine algorithm methodologies to classify dog’s activities, analyze and understand how individual activities such as walking and playing affect pet’s health and wellbeing and identify particular type of activity a dog is doing at a certain moment.

All of these examples showcase the ability of AI-enabled technology to enhance the capabilities of today’s wearable devices and analytics, regardless of industry, field and wearer. Despite occasional disappointments, this market continues growing and surprising us, and AI appears to be the means to streamline this move.