The top news in tech: the August digest
This month, I’m pleased to launch a new Babel blog series looking at the top tech news stories, and wrapping up four weeks of content that caught my eye. As PR professionals, it’s our job to keep on top of the news and maintain a comprehensive overview of what’s being written about by the media. Not only does having great news sense help us keep abreast of the ever-changing industry that we work in, it enables us to serve our clients better.
By knowing what pitches and stories journalists might want to hear about, we’re able to secure more coverage for our clients. This wrap-up series of the top news stories is my brief digest of monthly news worth highlighting, rereading, and keeping an eye on in the future.
Without further ado, here are my top tech news stories from August:
In the largest ever cryptocurrency heist, hackers stole $600 million worth of digital tokens from the blockchain site Poly Network. Yet surprisingly, just hours after the attack, the hacker began to return some of the stolen funds in increments, amounting to $260 million in total. The most notable aspect of this story however, is not the size of this heist or the return of the money, it is the hacker’s three-page-long self-interview which provides insight into the his/her motives. Their reasons were indeed unconventional, as it was claimed that the attack was carried out to illustrate the vulnerabilities on Poly Network’s software and to encourage the firm to improve its security.
The validity of this is questionable, as experts suggest that it is actually harder for cyber-criminals to profit from stealing digital currencies on blockchain technology, because the movements of stolen money across the network are clearly traceable. Whatever the motivations for the heist, these insights are valuable to the cybersecurity industry; a sector that’s now (with the world’s reliance on digital technologies) more critical than ever before.
The UK government has invested £4 million in funding research into running fibre optic broadband cables through water pipes. This infrastructure project aims to bring fibre broadband to and improve mobile signal in remote areas of the UK, while simultaneously installing sensors to monitor these pipes for leaks.
This is great news for telecoms companies. When trying to improve connectivity, operators face large costs and the logistical obstacles of digging up land to establish the necessary infrastructure to improve their bandwidth reach. By taking advantage of existing networks (over a million kilometres of underground cables), these companies can significantly reduce their costs and the disruption to the environment. This latest fund would enhance connectivity across the country, and simultaneously boost telecoms businesses in their rollout of faster broadband networks such as 5G, and 6G, in years to come.
Amid mounting concerns over the commanding position that Big Tech companies hold within their respective sectors, Brussels has taken steps to restrain these platforms. Big Tech, the name given to the top five tech operators, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft, have been sharply criticised of late due to their domineering influence, not only within the tech space but also on wider society, politics and the economy. As part of their tougher approach toward these giants, EU regulators have launched antitrust probes. Whilst this is a positive change in the right direction, these antitrust cases can take years to enact any meaningful change on the market.
As regulators recognise that these probes, alongside fines, do not go far enough in curbing the problematic activity of these tech platforms, two new pieces of legislation have also been drafted. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act both seek to improve the policing of these platforms and curb their market supremacy. This legislation has received wide political backing from European state actors, although some criticise this legislation for not going far enough. It will be interesting to see how the attempt to reign in Big Tech plays out in the future, and the extent to which these efforts restrain the companies and give their competitors a fighting chance. In the future, we hope to see a greater breakthrough of smaller tech start-ups, to diversify the field, bring further innovation, and diminish the dominance of Big Tech.
In the run-up to COP26 in November, the pressure is on for governments to do more to meet their net-zero targets. This commitment to a greener and more sustainable future is reflected in the record-high levels of investment in renewable energy. In the first half of 2021, global investment in renewable energy projects totalled $174 billion (£125 billion), an increase of 1.8% compared to last year. Wind and solar projects received the most investment.
With COP26 on the horizon, there’s greater pressure on both public and private sectors to make bolder commitments to assuage the pace of climate change. As the crisis becomes ever more urgent, the Conference will likely generate further investment in renewable energy and inspire more organisations to initiate positive change. We’ve already been seeing a lot of investment activity in the sustainability space, particularly in greentech companies that are producing the solutions that will make renewable energy options more viable. This was a point raised in our latest webinar, which featured a host of expert panellists discussing the role of technology in battling climate change. You can watch the webinar in full here, and more on greentech in the year of COP26, read Babel’s latest whitepaper here.
The benefits of artificial intelligence systems are currently being seen across all fields, particularly in healthcare. Scientific research in a new trial has shown the potential of AI to diagnose dementia, long before symptoms physically manifest. An AI algorithm could detect abnormalities in the brain from a single brain scan, years before the physical onset of dementia. This algorithm takes the scan of a patient, and compares it to a database of brain scans of thousands of dementia patients.
This revolutionary machine-learning technology thus promises to provide an early diagnosis, which would greatly benefit the lives of patients and their families. Early interventions mean the condition can be treated prematurely, thus slowing down the progression of the disease, or the extremity of which it is suffered. This development is not only exciting for the field of dementia, but the entire medical profession as a whole. Watch this space: who knows how far the field of medicine can progress with AI technology?
The sky is quite literally the limit for cloud infrastructure, a market that just keeps on growing. In Q2, the cloud amassed $42 billion in total revenue, an increase of $2 billion from Q1, reflecting its sharp upward trajectory. The key players in the cloud competing for the market share were the big three: Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The huge investments made by these tech giants in cloud infrastructure demonstrate the confidence in the future prosperity of this system.
Despite these staggering earnings, analysts estimate that global cloud usage sits at around 25%, illustrating that a majority of worldwide businesses remain untouched. There is therefore a big opportunity for tech businesses that play in the cloud space to tap into and leverage this widely untouched market. Since one of the key appeals of the cloud is that it is far better for the environment than traditional data centres, cloud players can take advantage of the increased demand for greener technology that will allow businesses to meet their sustainability goals. With this in mind, the cloud market can only be expected to continue growing, as more enterprises and more industries come to rely on this infrastucture.
5G is only just being rolled out around the world, yet eyes are already looking toward the next generation of mobile: 6G. The race for 6G is underway, particularly between leaders in the field, China, and the US. As with 5G, the geopolitical tensions between telecoms operators are evident. Alongside rivals China and the US, the UK is also beginning to develop research into 6G, despite the fact that this next leap in telecommunications is estimated to be a decade away.
Two universities in the UK, King’s College London and the University of Bristol, have set up a research centre to work on the technology. The project, 6G Futures, aims to prepare the UK for the future of mobile technology, involving over 400 experts across a variety of fields including telecommunications, cyber and AI. While 6G shows great promise, the logistical impediments that telecoms operators must contend with provide an obstacle. Geopolitical tensions aside, telecoms operators face the challenge of ensuring that they have both the physical, and financial capabilities to commercially roll out 6G.
Popular fast-food chain, Nando’s, was forced to temporarily shut 40 of its UK restaurants, around 10% of its outlets in the country, due to staff shortages. The COVID pandemic has hit the hospitality sector hard, and problems in recruiting sufficient staff have been exacerbated by the so-called ‘pingdemic’. However, this will be alleviated as those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to isolate. Nonetheless, as cases remain high, the pandemic will continue to have adverse effects on UK supply chains.
Nando’s is not alone, many companies in the food and hospitality sector have experienced low numbers, leading to delivery delays and forced closures. How these supply chains will fare in the coming months, in the lead-up to the peak busy Christmas season, is difficult to predict. Technology has a role to play here: whilst it cannot completely mitigate the disruption, there is an opportunity for IT companies to help minimise it. Technologies such as AI, machine learning models, data solutions and predictive analytics have the potential to ease the detrimental impact of these supply chain issues. In the future, we are likely to see a greater collaboration of traditional retail vendors and new tech companies.
Phew, there we have it: my pick of August’s news stories. Stay tuned for my coverage of September’s happenings in the world of telecoms and technology. If you’d like to find out how we can help you leverage the news agenda to drive visibility and coverage, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!