Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Optical computing gets European size and power breakthrough

October 16, 2009

For years there has been talk within the computer industry of optical computing being the next big thing. Replacing electronic components with light-bearing ones – think tiny fibre optic cables – promised startling breakthroughs in computational speed. But up until now there has always been a problem making the optical components small enough for computers.

A team of European researchers has just demonstrated ‘light on a wire’ technologies that could lead to computing systems that can combine electronics and optical communications in one system. They call it plasmonics and it makes use of a physical property called electron plasma oscillation to transmit both electronic and optical signals down the same wire. What’s exciting about this is that while the plasmonic technique has been demonstrated before, this team have managed to get the idea to work using existing commercial lithography chip-manufacturing techniques.

As Anatoly Zayats, a researcher who’s been working on the project on behalf of the EU, says: “For the last five years or so it has been possible to build an optical computer chip, but with all-optical components it would have to measure something like half a metre by half a metre and would consume enormous power. With plasmonics, we can make the circuitry small enough to fit in a normal PC while maintaining optical speeds.”

Zayats expects commercial results in five to ten years and a French chip manufacturer is drawing up plans. Looks like a good day for the European computer industry.

Silence of the Chips

July 9, 2009

If you’re thinking deep-fried slithers of Maris Pipers and a monastic vow of silence, or a cheap re-make of the Anthony Hopkins/Jodie Foster blockbuster, then this piece is not for you.

The chips in question are RFID chips, which the EU wants to sprinkle liberally in our urban environment in order to kick-start a world-leading tech industry (a very rough summary). However, there’s been such a kafuffle over the potential for privacy invasion that the EU now wants to start a debate about whether or not people should have the right to ‘disconnect’ from this networked environment.

The problem is that in this vision of the future there will be perhaps 70 billion Internet-enabled, computer-like devices plus countless other everyday physical objects and consumables that have been tagged with RFID. In effect we will be surrounded by a kind of permanent, ‘always-on’ computational fabric woven into our physical surroundings. In a recently announced action plan, the EU poses the question of what rights we should have to be able to disconnect from this networked environment, which they call the ‘right to silence of the chips’.

The action plan is very sketchy on details of what such a right might consist of. Would it, for example, apply permanently or just for certain periods of time? How will we be reassured that we have genuinely been ‘disconnected’? When the chips are down, what do you think they’ll put first – big business or the right to privacy?

Kindle doesn’t catch fire (at least this Xmas)

December 17, 2008

If you’ve listed an Amazon Kindle e-book reader in your letter to Father Christmas then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed (at least in the UK). According to an article in the BookSeller magazine the company will not be able to release in time for Christmas because of problems sorting out Europe-wide Wi-Fi access. There are a large number of operators across the EU and they all need to be squared or the device will not operate when you pack it in your luggage for that holiday in France.

This kind of thing is part of a wider European agenda that was discussed at a roundtable last month in Lyon: the perceived need for a single market for digital services. Given the size of the EU these days there are potentially 27 different markets and according to Jacques Stern of the French National Research Agency, this results in numerous forms of a particular service. A complication. As Amazon is finding out.

A delicate game of chess

June 20, 2008

Within the EU, a delicate game is afoot. A group of MEPs is trying to ascertain if Microsoft can be ruled out of public procurement processes because they’ve been found guilty of serious misconduct through anti-competitive behaviour in the recent past. This is a reference to Microsoft’s recent fine of 1.68 billion euros by the EU for abusing its position in the PC operating systems market place. In the latest move, Green Party MEPs have been attempting to clarify whether, under Article 93 of the EU’s financial regulations, Microsoft should be excluded from current or future public procurement procedures.

In response to the MEPs, the EU commission has equivocated over the public procurement issue and refused to rule out excluding the computer giant from future EU public procurement.

This follows hard on the heels of another move to maintain the EU’s focus on open standards. On 10th June, EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, emphasised the importance of open standards and the need to avoid lock-in to single vendors. Without mentioning Microsoft by name, she reiterated the EU Commission’s commitment to not accepting closed standards, arguing that: “when open alternatives are available, no citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information.”

This last statement got me thinking though. All the media coverage of these developments focuses on Microsoft and the on-going debate about their Office products and open or proprietary document data formats. But, where does Google fit into all this? How do most citizens go about trying to ‘access government information’?

Like chess this is a strategic game, full of slow deliberation and careful moves. But the world of technology is changing rapidly and there is much talk of Microsoft’s dominance coming to a natural end as technology moves away from the era of the PC. At the end of the game the EU’s opponent may not turn out to be who we all thought it was.


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