NZ Fry Up: What to do about autonomous weapons; AI adds little to NZ economy; Waikati DHB cyberattack rages on; So long, dialup

New Zealand IT, tech, and telco news and views from our editor in Auckland.

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The danger posed by autonomous weapons systems

Imagine a swarm of armed drones being unleashed on a packed sports stadium by a terrorist cell. I can, actually, and so too can Phil Twyford, New Zealand’s minister for disarmament and arms control. In a speech to the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, he painted quite the verbal picture about the harm that could be unleashed by autonomous weapons systems—or AWS as he then insisted on referring to them in his speech.

“A weapon akin to a low-grade nuclear device” and “autonomous tanks and ships, unmanned and making targeting and kill decisions alone” were two warnings he sounded about AWS. Jeepers, so what is the government doing about it? You might have asked this if Twyword didn’t ask and answer the question himself in the speech.

“Because of the importance of this issue, and the speed at which autonomous technologies are being developed, I have directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to accelerate the development of a comprehensive New Zealand policy on AWS, and to prepare for a more active role internationally. Accordingly, MFAT has launched a domestic multistakeholder consultation process to support this process,” he says.

They are one-workshop through the consultation having all convened a meeting with “academics, activists, officials, defence personnel, and entrepreneurs” in April 2021.

Now, you might think a policy document ordered by a New Zealand minister outside of cabinet is a little bit like the proverbial wet bus ticket. But, setting aside the country’s membership in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, there is that burgeoning aerospace industry in Aotearoa that seems to be scaling up, up, and up. Sure, there is RocketLab, but there are also programmes like the Airspace Integration Trials, which are about testing advanced unmanned aircraft. It involves companies like Wisk (backed by Boeing and by Kitty Hawk, itself backed by Google founder Larry Page) and Insitu Pacific (a Boeing subsidiary that provides technology for, among others, the Australian Defence Force).

The point being that as a lot of the unpopulated parts of the country are being used for space and AI drone-type experimentation, maybe a policy document looking to curb AWS might actully go somewhere.

AI adds little to local NZ economy

Mention of Google, Twyford notes in his speech that “tech workers” like those at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have been sounding the alarm on AWS (the weapons, not the company) since 2015, and Google, Tesla, and Apple have called for a ban on them. So good to have a couple of the FANNG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) on our side when it comes to things like the destruction of the planet.

They are not, sadly, on the side of our economy. That’s according to University of Otago academics Colin Gavaghan, Alistair Knott, and James Maclaurin, authors of the report ‘The impact of artificial intelligence on jobs and work in New Zealand’. While we might all interact with FANNG products and services every day, the authors contend that we are not getting a lot of direct economic benefit, as they “generate few tax dollars and few jobs”. They do, however, hoover up a lot of data.

“These companies (and others such as Microsoft and Tesla) have built up data assets so great that it would be very difficult for New Zealand companies to compete against them. This isn’t to say that New Zealand can’t profit from AI. It is, after all, a general-purpose technology and New Zealand are successfully deploying it in a wide range of contexts. But it is to say that a great deal of the AI that New Zealanders use adds very little to our GDP.”

AI and automation are the new kids on the IT block and will pose new governance issues for CIOs and CDOs, as our sister site CIO New Zealand explains.

Waikati DHB cyberattack rages on

Meanwhile, the ransomware attack on the Waikato District Health Board is in its second week, with little resolution in sight. The government is standing firm on its decision that it won’t pay up, while vital healthcare services such as cancer treatments are disrupted and the attackers taunt them by sending emails to media outlets containing patient and staff information. ]

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), police, NZ CERT, and the privacy commissioner have all been dragged in to assist, with the Privacy Commissioner John Edwards issuing a statement warning all district health boards to address IT security issues. “Edwards says his office is not investigating to determine any liability at this stage, but if a DHB is found not to have taken adequate security measures to protect its information systems, it could be liable to any staff member, contractor or patient who suffers harm as a result,” reported our sister site Reseller News.

A reminder to all IT professionals that the new Privacy Act passed in December 2020 includes mandatory disclosure of privacy breaches. The fine is a mere $10,000, but the reputational damage is where the real cost lies.

So long, dialup

Finally, Vodafone has let us know that it is killing off dialup on Monday 31 May 2021. What is that you ask? It’s how we all first learned to use the internet, as the Vodafone release helpfully explains:

Dialup is a type of internet access that was used before broadband. It uses a 56kbps modem and a phone line to create a connection. The primary job of a dialup modem is to take digital information and convert it back to an analog signal that can travel over a telephone line.

Do you remember its telltale squeal?

Vodafone is moving its remaining dialup customers (about a thousand of them) to broadband options from next week. The telco has been supporting, but not selling, dialup connections in recent years. Stats NZ used to tally up the telco connections, but stopped doing so in 2019; its last survey in 2018 showed that less than 1% of New Zealand internet connections were dialup.

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