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Software and Chips

Night Vision Nikon
There’s a conversation running through the camera community at present, that certain manufacturers are disabling features in order to switch them on, one by one in subsequent product releases.

To me, it sounds as if the technology is now moving so quickly in this particular space, with product advances such as Lytro, that there’s seemingly little commercial point in releasing a new camera with all the super new, software-driven features in one go. Instead, as the product design teams work on new chips and new software, which can take a couple of years, it may make more sense to dribble out the features over a period of time to keep the sales going.

Otherwise, why would you buy the next expensive upgrade, if like me, what you have is perfectly good for now? The same conversation could conceivably extend to all kinds of software-driven commodity products where manufacturers depend on quarterly and annual sales targets. You only have to think of the iPhone being jailbroken and already there’s a suggestion that one major camera manufacturer has had its software successfully hacked and new, hitherto hidden features revealed as a consequence. Which brings me back to the argument that has been raging over the past two weeks between the United States Government and the giant Chinese telco, Huawei.

Several years ago, I recall conversations and expressions of concern, surrounding the close relationship between Huawei, British Telecom and the delivery of Chinese-manufactured hardware across the spectrum of UK Government departments.

Reflecting what we have heard from the United States Congress in recent weeks, some observers were concerned that spy ware could successfully be concealed in the hardware, quite invisible in the likes of compiled keyboard chips. The joke in circulation at the time was that we shouldn’t have to worry about the Chinese stealing our national secrets because they have them already, together with our European partners, either through spies or their huge army of hackers.

So do I think the Chinese have been spying on us? Of course I do and there’s a huge volume of evidence to support this. Are state actors involved? Once again the evidence is very powerful and they also appear to work in 9-5 shifts at some well-defined locations in the Chinese mainland.

Is Huawei a national security risk as the United States Government suggests? I really don’t know but I do hope that our security services and GCHQ are up to the task of remediating any risk that we may face as a consequence of outsourcing so much of our critical infrastructure to companies controlled by foreign governments, who at best, we share an uneasy political relationship.

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