2nd October News Roundup - Monopolies and Espionage - Nvidia buys ARM, Feds Tap Protestors' Phones


News - Week of 2nd October (mostly the weeks before it)

Hi! This is the first of my News posts, which will be going up approximately once a week (if I get the time).

These will include a selection of pieces of news from that week (and prior, if relevant), some sources to read further, and my (or a different writer’s) opinions relating to it. That last point is important - anybody can write these! If you have any thoughts on any news, feel free to write a post, however you wish. Feel free also to respond to anything you disagree with, or add anything you think was missed.

Nvidia swipes up ARM

As I write this, this is relatively old news - but it’s worth talking about, due to the potential long-term impacts on the tech industry. Nvidia, one of the industry’s biggest heavyweights, especially in the GPU and AI space, has bought ARM for $40bn/£31.2bn, expanding their already huge portfolio to… well, everywhere.

Geopolitically, this is a fairly major move - ARM, based in Cambridge (with more offices in Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow, Sheffield, and Warwick), is one of the UK’s Crown Jewels (albeit not literally). An American takeover of this scale is major for the UK’s tech industry - understandably, there are concerns that the company could relocate to the US. Such a move would threaten Cambridge’s role as the UK’s tech capital and the UK’s role as a tech pioneer overall, alongside job losses and a hit to national income. The timing is also not ideal - with the impending exit from the European Union, the UK needs every industry leader it can get. ARM’s UK-based status also gives the UK trading leverage over other countries.

To counter this, Nvidia has promised to not only keep ARM’s headquarters in Cambridge, but to expand it with further projects, including an AI research and education centre in the city. Not all are convinced though - ARM’s co-founder, Dr. Hermann Hauser, is sceptical, warning of job losses and the stifling of competition. In an open letter to the PM, Hauser warns that the sale will destroy ARM’s even-handed dealings and licensing - many of whom are Nvidia’s rivals. He also asserts that, under Nvidia’s leadership, ARM will be subject to US OFAC regulations - essentially, the White House will control who ARM can sell to. Without legally binding job guarantees, legally binding guarantees of impartiality, and an excemption from US OFAC, Hauser views Nvidia’s promises as meaningless.

In my view, Nvidia’s purchase will invariably cause shifts in the industry. For one, it’s hard to believe that Nvidia wouldn’t give themselves preferential treatment over their competitors in one way or another - potentially leading to a monopolistic situation. On the flipside, such a move could potentially shift some of ARM’s customers to competitors. As Geoff Blaber wrote in CCInsight before the acquisition, a lack of independence could threaten the company, and potentially let an alternative such as the open-source RISC-V architecture take some of the market. i The deal is still in its relatively early stages - there are a variety of regulatory hurdles to pass through, for instance - but if successful, Nvidia has a lot to gain. Their GPU expertise combined with the CPU expertise (and market share) of ARM could prove remarkably effective. Nvidia seems to be focusing on AI and datacentres - but it’s quite possible the effects ripple through to the consumer market too. Only time will tell.

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Feds tap the phones of Portland’s Protestors

In more recent (and perhaps more terrifying) news, Ken Klippenstein of The Nation recently reported that the Department of Homeland Security (alongside other federal agencies) have been engaging in a focused surveillance scheme against protesters in Portland, specifically involving cell phone cloning (the specific details are unknown).

In my opinion, such an operation is remarkable, terrifying, and could have knock-on effects. For a start, it sets a precedent of sorts - many protesters have been worried about this before, and so use communication techniques harder to track (Signal, Telegram, etc). This report appears to back up those fears. It also sets a form of precedent - this could absolutely happen again, and could absolutely happen elsewhere. The government’s apparent strategy, of treating all or many protestors in the same veign as terrorist organisations, leave more potential violations of civil liberties, via technological routes, on the table.

Links and Sources:

Quick End Note

I’ll be doing these relatively often (this one’s a bit short, been dealing with the first weeks of the semester) - but it’d be great if anybody else wants to write up any news they want to share or talk about. I hold no monopoly on this style of content, and others posting anything they find interesting would be really awesome to see.