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How Huawei plans to win the Western Markets

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Some Chinese high-tech companies may be bigger than you think. The e-commerce giant Alibaba has a market capitalization of over $400 billion. The social media and gaming company Tencent is not far behind, and nearly a billion people use its WeChat messaging service. Baidu is the world’s second largest search engine, and is increasingly strong in the key sector of artificial intelligence. Despite their size, these companies are largely invisible in the West because their massive successes are almost entirely restricted to China.

That’s partly because they offer software and services, neither of which travel particularly well thanks to the cultural baggage they bring with them. Chief among those is that the Chinese government has access to all of a company’s user data, and can impose any restrictions that it wishes on the use of software and services, as this blog reported earlier this year. More recently, Alibaba was instructed to remove unauthorized VPNs from its Taobao e-commerce platform. These are not aspects that are likely to endear Chinese software and services companies to Western users worried about privacy and censorship.

But there is another Chinese IT giant – Huawei – still relatively unfamiliar in the West, that is having far more luck in selling its products into markets outside China. It has achieved that because it is a company that produces hardware based on international standards, and largely running open source software. As well as the general benefits of adopting open standards and open source, this approach may also be an attempt to allay earlier fears that Huawei hardware might contain backdoors available to the Chinese government.

In the West, Huawei is probably best known for its mobile phones. Recent market research suggests that it has overtaken Apple as the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer by sales after Samsung, with particular success in Europe. However, for several decades after its founding in 1987, its main product line was telecoms equipment. A measure of its success is that in 2012, it overtook Ericsson as the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

Huawei today employs 180,000 people, many of whom hold shares in the company, which is still privately held despite its size. Last year, its revenue was around $75 billion, with a profit of $7 billion. In 2016, approximately 80,000 employees were engaged in R&D, comprising 45% of its total workforce. Huawei’s R&D expenditures that year were around $10 billion.

The fruits of that investment were revealed at Huawei Connect 2017, its massive annual conference that this year saw 20,000 participants from over 150 countries, and which I attended last week (disclosure: Huawei paid for my travel costs). As the conference motto “Grow with the cloud” underlined, Huawei is placing public and private clouds at the heart of its strategy.

According to one of Huawei’s “rotating CEOs“, Huawei aims to be a key player in one of the five global cloud systems it predicts will coalesce, rather as airline alliances have created three main global carrier groups. Huawei placed great emphasis on what it called the “intelligent cloud”, which runs artificial intelligence software on the cloud platform. Specifically, at its conference the company launched what it called “the industry’s first all-cloud, network-wide smart video cloud solution.” This, it said, “provides a strong computing engine that supports public safety video application services and accelerates video application innovation to help public safety organizations better serve and protect citizens.”

Such “smart video” capabilities form an important component of a larger concept, the “smart city“, which is now one of the hottest marketing buzzwords in the high-tech world, along with its variant, the “safe city”. A brochure available during the Huawei Connect conference entitled “The Road to Collaborative Public Safety” defines three aims of the safe city: being able to detect threats as they emerge; being able to collect, share and analyze city data; and allowing the authorities to identify threats and then act in real-time. Huawei’s brochure says that there are already more than 100 safe city implementations using its products in 30 countries, covering 400 million people.

A key element of Huawei’s safe city system is “intelligent video surveillance.” This offers scene search in order to track particular elements in the video feeds, and video synopsis, which can summarize hours of surveillance videos into key clips for human analysis. Other features include “entity recognition”, behavior analysis and crowd counting. Extra features that can be added go beyond video surveillance to include data from Internet of Things devices to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material, radar and electro-optics, and monitoring of social media feeds. According to Huawei’s text:

“Public safety is more than current safe city. It is about preventing and solving crimes, reducing loss of life and property. Public safety is also about minimizing disruption to life. Public safety is beyond detection and response; it includes prevention and bringing life to normalcy. It encompasses digital security, health security, infrastructure safe and personal safety.”

As that hints, this includes predictive policing, or “PredPol” as the brochure terms it, which “involves analysis of data to predict the next crime, with the objective of preventing it.”

The ideas and technology behind the “safe city” sound troubling, not least from a privacy viewpoint. But in truth, much of this is already happening in the West. For example, CCTV cameras are routinely keeping tabs on our every movement, especially in countries like the UK, which has millions of the systems in place. As this blog has reported, facial recognition systems are also being used in the UK and elsewhere. The only difference between this and what Huawei offers with its safe city systems is that the latter is completed integrated and probably works rather better. Indeed, it’s easy to see Western governments that already carry out mass surveillance of their citizens acquiring Huawei’s products in order to upgrade their snooping capabilities.

The problem is not so much with Huawei’s application of powerful cloud and AI technologies to surveillance, but the bargain it implies – the bargain that we have all, to varying degrees, accepted. The deal is that if we allow the government to watch our every move, it will keep us safe from all those lurking dangers in the modern, uncertain world. Politicians everywhere shamelessly play on our fears to justify intrusive surveillance laws. So it should come as no surprise that many people are happy with the roll-out of CCTVs or suggestions that end-to-end encryption should be banned – after all, if you are a law-abiding citizen, you have nothing to hide, right?

In China, government surveillance is baked in to every online service, not just in safe cities. But again, the situation outside China is not that different: everything we do on Google or Facebook is tracked and analyzed for the purpose of selling advertising. As we now know from Snowden’s leaks, under the Prism program, the US government taps into that commercial surveillance data to gather intelligence. So the only difference between China and the West is that the former does not attempt to hide the fact that it spies on its citizens, while the latter tries to deny it. Similarly, Huawei has no problem openly offering its new AI-enhanced cloud-based surveillance systems, while its Western rivals are doubtless doing the same, but keeping quiet about it. The real issue is our meek acquiescence in the continual roll-out of privacy-harming technology by both governments and companies everywhere.

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About the Author

This article was written by Glyn Moody of Privacy News Online.

Entrepreneurship

The Legacy of AIM

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On a cold February morning in 1997, America Online filed a patent for something that was to become the basis of hundreds of social tech startups.

They called it the “Buddy List.” It was the heart of the digital social structure that formed AOL Instant Messenger.

The first words of the patent abstract explained:

The invention implements a real time notification system that tracks, for each user, the logon status of selected co-users of an on-line or network system and displays that information in real time to the tracking user in a unique graphical interface.

If you were a 90’s kid, chances are you remember what a Buddy List was. You likely recall the AIM install CD, your screen name, and how much effort went into your carefully crafted away messages. You can probably reminisce about competing for time on the home computer so you could chat with your friends.

The world had never seen anything like it. And it captivated us all.

AOL Instant Messenger is shutting down for good, 20 years after it launched.

But what it established lives on. AOL didn’t know it back then, and we don’t realize it today, but AIM is the father of our modern social web.

Don’t believe me? Let’s start with the Buddy List.

Buddy List

Think about what’s at the foundation of any social media you use today. It’s that list of other human beings. Followers, friends, whatever they’re called. Social media doesn’t work without these groups of real people and it all originated with the Buddy List.

The Buddy List was everything. Credit

The Buddy List was exactly what you’d think — your list of friends. You controlled who was on it. You could find new people through information they put in their profile, but you had to both agree to the connection — if you were on their buddy list, they were on yours.

The most important feature of the buddy list was the ability to see whether each person was online. This remarkable little feature created a way to “feel” that your friends were around. There was an intimacy and immediacy to it.

Being on someone’s buddy list meant something. Nothing had ever come along like this before AIM, where you had a digital group of connections tied to your real relationships.

Away Messages

If one of your friends wasn’t online, you’d see their “away message.”

AIM away messages.

Have you ever written a tweet or status update? Then you’ve gone through the same process AIM users went through to write away messages. It is the ancestor of those widely-used features.

The away message started as a set of three default options: online, busy, or away. But then AOL set up the ability to write a custom message and it quickly transformed into a way to express yourself to your buddies. From simple plans you had for the day, to quoting lyrics from your favorite songs, the away message let you broadcast anything to the world.

Profiles

The modern digital profile is quite a remarkable thing. In essence, it represents the notion that we can have a web persona that we completely control.

We’ve all agonized over the perfect profile pic or handle. We make conscious decisions about cover images and bios so that we present to the world exactly the image that we want.

That all started on AIM.

Some examples of AIM profiles.

The service let you choose things like an avatar, bio, fonts, and colors, but your biggest decision was your screen name. It could be anything from xXPunkRockPonyXx to InternetDiane. The possibilities of every alphanumeric combination allowed you to choose something meaningful, personal, and easily recognizable, so that’s what everyone did.

This kind of customization helped us realize how what an online persona could be.

Messaging

Online instant messaging hit a sweet spot. It was better than email and less formal than a phone call. It fit right in with what the rising generation wanted as a form of communication.

Chatting on AIM. Credit

It’s still something we can’t get enough of 20 years later. The underlying concepts of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Discord, and Snapchat all began with AIM.

This is where communication and real human connection actually happened. Things like late night chats with your best friend about the latest music or deliberately worded conversations with that girl or boy you had a crush on.

It was all about the contact with other human beings over the internet in a real, direct, private, and personal way.

The Running Man

AIM could be considered the first social media superpower. It was a digital consumer tool used at an unprecedented scale, a household name.

It defined the social potential of the web for Americans. Perhaps more than any other product, AIM helped establish the internet as a place to hang out rather than a simple utility.

Entrepreneurs realized that, too. AIM was the starting point of an exponential trend in social web startups. Companies like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram are some of the major players who have ridden that wave.

The running yellow figure of AIM’s logo seems fitting in retrospect. The idea of always on, always transmitting captured the feeling quite well.

Now the runner is passing the baton.

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About the Author

This article was written by Jordan Bowman.

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Entrepreneurship

Making Globalisation Work for Startups

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AI platform Globality is giving small and medium businesses access to broader opportunities.

Ina post-Brexit, “America First” world, protectionism seems to be back in fashion, and globalization has become something of a dirty word. Since the 1990s, global trade has helped lift over a billion people out of poverty, driven sustained economic growth, lowered consumer prices, and delivered unprecedented freedoms to much of the world’s population.

Still, middle-income earners have seen their living standards stagnate, while many of the great leaps forward in automation are destroying the jobs of those least able to cope, with vastly greater levels of disruption feared.

Large multinational companies still seem to be the greatest beneficiaries of a globalized marketplace. Small and medium-sized businesses, which constitute the bulk of the world’s economy and drive most job creation, find it more difficult to make valuable connections that can lead to international trade opportunities and contracts with large organizations.

This is due in large part to the outdated procurement process based on Requests for Proposals (RFPs), which is still the standard across most industries. RFPs are not only extremely time consuming, but such competitions are used as cover for a procurement decision that has already been made, so prospective smaller suppliers never really stand a chance.

Joel Hyatt cofounded Globality to prove that technology could be the missing link to make globalization work for more businesses. By providing a matchmaking platform that connects big clients–Fortune 500 companies spanning financial services, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, consumer goods, and other sectors–with a diverse pool of providers, he wants to help those small and medium-sized companies land contracts that would otherwise be out of their reach.

He served as the national finance chair for the Democratic Party during Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, and after the election, partnered with Gore to start a media company that they sold in 2013. When Hyatt started Globality in 2015, Gore became an investor. The company has since raised $35 million in their latest funding round and embarked on a major expansion of its platform that uses artificial intelligence to match the small clients with big contracts all over the world. So far, over a dozen fortune 500 companies and over 40 multinational corporations have signed up on the client side, and its SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprise) Service Provider Network covers every continent and more than 100 countries.

The platform is made up of three main elements, explains Globality CTO Ran Harpaz: The first gathers information from the client, helping them to determine what their real needs are. The second matches them with the best service provider to fulfill those needs, and the third helps build the relationship by fostering collaboration between the two parties.

For the first part, the client answers a detailed Q&A devised by their experts. Their algorithms then extract a variety of data points from those clients using NLP (Natural Language Processing) and continues to build upon that in a constant learning loop. It takes all the information from the questions it asks of both client and providers during the matching process to suggest a shortlist of possible matches, which is then reviewed by an industry expert consultant at the final stages.

This AI-powered consultancy model effectively harnesses the best of both worlds, according to Harpaz, as it scales the nuanced, sector-specific expertise that traditionally comes at a prohibitive premium. By leveraging machine learning to recognize interactions–often spotting patterns in the data that might not have occurred to a person and using that in the matching process–this high-level human know-how becomes accessible to companies without multimillion-dollar consultancy budgets at their disposal.

“At every step, the system is collating feedback from both sides, learning from signals that tell it how the match is actually working in practice by prompting them with questions based on interaction data,” Harpaz says. “This systematic approach to human knowledge representation effectively gives people superpowers, by taking that magic sauce of human interaction and knowledge, and making it possible to apply that consistently and at scale.”

Although this process is building toward ever more efficient automation, Harpaz says that they will always need a human expert to look at those matches with a strategic eye and make the final decision on the most suitable pairings. “What Globality is doing is making high-level knowledge and expertise accessible to a much larger pool of companies and people, rather than only the large corporations who have been traditionally able to afford the services of consultancy firms,” he explains. Globality’s pricing model is usually free for client companies, with suppliers being charged a percentage of the contract’s value, but only once they receive payment themselves for the services they provided.

Waqqas Mir, a partner at Axis Law Chambers, a law firm based in Lahore, Pakistan, is one of the suppliers using Globality to reach international clients. Mir feels that law firms such as his in developing countries often lose out on such business because of their size. Being on the platform, however, gives them the opportunity to open up new channels of communication, which he believes provides great value in the long term. “That allows you to begin a relationship and remain on their radar,” he explains. “The whole thing is motivated by a desire to ensure a more inclusive global economy.”

Globality matched a Fortune 50 company with South African marketing agency Colourworks. The company had to find service providers who were Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment-certified by the South African government. “So we worked backwards from that, looking at all the providers who matched the certification criteria, and narrowing it down from there,” Harpaz says.

Since winning the Africa account, the agency has continued to use the Globality platform to connect with their new client on a global level, and are now exploring the possibility of working with them in Germany. “In this day and age, it is so easy to do business online or over video conferencing, so distance is really not a barrier,” says Lexy Geyer, account director at Colourworks.

Enabling smaller companies to become “micro-multinationals” means they will in turn fuel job creation and economic growth throughout the developed and developing world. Globalization and AI are often portrayed as inevitable waves of disruption that will leave chaos and inequality in their wake and ultimately make much of humankind and their skills redundant. But if platforms like Globality continue to create opportunities for diverse smaller businesss in this global marketplace, perhaps globalization can become a force for good.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Alice Bonasio.

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