Theo Blackwell: London can be world’s data capital

By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine

London’s first city-wide chief digital officer has invited public-sector IT professionals to get involved in making it the “data capital of the world”.

Theo Blackwell, who moved to the Greater London Authority last autumn, has started a listening exercise to gather new ideas. “A component of it is to get the people on the ground, the experienced professionals delivering services, to give us their views on what measures we should take to enable London to become smarter, whether it’s about connectivity, collaboration or our approach to data,” he says.

“They are totally invaluable in shaping our vision, as they are the enablers,” Blackwell adds of the capital’s public sector IT staff. “We really want them to play a full role, whether through a CIO forum or contacting us with individual submissions, because it’s a real moment for the profession to express their ambitions here.”

He says that London’s approach to digital devolution, which could work in other city regions gaining powers over local public services, will include the capital’s 33 councils but also local NHS, transport, police and fire organisations.

The exercise, which will also include companies and other organisations working in technology, will feed into the production of a new Smart London plan, to be launched during London Tech Week in June. “It’s about how we make London the data capital of the world,” Blackwell says, using innovation to deliver benefits such as jobs or new digital services.

“London so far has been a collection of things that are good, but together we can do more than that – we can be greater than the sum of our parts,” Blackwell adds.

Theo Blackwell and Socitm president Geoff Connell will be giving the closing keynote at ShareDigital’18 on 8 March at Church House in Westminster. Information and registration:

Read a longer version of this article in the new issue of Socitm’s In Our View magazine, now available to everyone.

Theo Blackwell: London can be world’s data capital

Facebook’s kids app slammed

kids computer

Facebook’s plans to launch an app for children have been slammed with one of the most powerful weapons in the world today: the open letter.

Aimed at those aged under 13, Messenger Kids is the social media firm’s attempt to shore up the last outpost of the population currently barred from its charms – the very young.

However, over 110 teachers, medics and child health experts have signed a letter sent to Facebook king Mark Zuckerberg that warns of ‘a growing body of research’ that demonstrates that ‘excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development’.

According to the letter, the very young are ‘simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users.’ Fair point – adults frequently meltdown, unravel and suffer greatly on social media, so goodness knows what it might do to children.

The letter highlights recent research that suggests social media use is linked with teenage depression, while ‘eighth graders who use social media for 6-9 hours per week are 47% more likely to report they are unhappy than their peers who use social media less often’.

Of course, concerns about the perhaps devastating effect of Messenger Kids on the minds of the young are one thing – but what about Facebook’s natural right and need to make a great deal of money? We’ll just have to wait and see how they react to the letter, won’t we.

Facebook’s kids app slammed

95% of UK now has ‘superfast’ broadband

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The government has fulfilled a ‘manifesto commitment’ to bring ‘superfast broadband’ to 95% of the UK, the government says.

Pointing to figures released by, the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) is overjoyed that ’19 out of 20 UK homes and businesses now have the opportunity to upgrade their internet connections to superfast speeds of 24 Mbps or faster – more than double what Ofcom advise is required by a typical family home’.

Hurrah! But what’s this? There’s a ‘caveat’ in thinkbroadband’s press release, which is: ‘…the 95% target is not a consistent 95% across all communities in the UK, but with areas like Epson and Ewell, Tamworth, Worthing and Watford and others all pushing into the 99% superfast coverage zone these areas pull the figures up compared to the City of London (50.3%), Orkney Islands (66.8%), Western Isles (71%) and Kingston Upon Hull (71.7%) at the other end of the table.’

The Orkney Islands outstripping the City of London? Isn’t that interesting?

But anyway, culture secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Over the last five years, the government’s rollout of superfast broadband has made superfast speeds a reality for more than 4.5 million homes and businesses who would otherwise have missed out.

‘We’ve delivered on our commitment to reach 95% of homes and businesses in the UK, but there’s still more to do in our work building a Britain that’s fit for the future. We’re reaching thousands more premises every single week, and the next commitment is to making affordable, reliable, high speed broadband a legal right to everyone by 2020.’

And that’s all well and good, but only 3.4% of homes and businesses can access full fibre broadband, which is the really important stuff as we go forward into an access-everything-online world.

Last August, it was revealed that the UK’s is 31st in the world broadband speed league table. Most of Europe outstrips our average download speed of 16.5Mbps, with Spain managing 19.6Mbps, Hungry 23Mbps, and the mighty Sweden hitting the swooning heights of 40Mbps.

Thus, though the government’s declaration of victory is kind of justified, there’s still a huge amount to do – and this has nothing to do with the fact that I can only get 1.5Mbps at my house.

95% of UK now has ‘superfast’ broadband

Mid and northern England facing robot threat


Jobs in the north of England and the Midlands are the most at threat from the seemingly inexorable march of robots, an urban policy research unit reckons.

According to the Centre for Cities’ (CfC) estimates, workers are set to suffer over the next few years as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation encroaches in areas such as admin, retail and warehouses.

Mansfield tops the CfC’s critical list of nine places most at threat from machines, where nearly 30% of roles are expected to be lost to robots by 2030, with Sunderland and Wakefield very close behind.

Overall, the CfC thinks that three million UK jobs will be gobbled up by robots over the next 12 years. Other areas particularly at risk from robot workers include Stoke, Doncaster, Blackburn, Northampton, Dundee and Huddersfield, so the CfC says.

CfC chief executive Andrew Carter said: ‘Automation and globalisation will bring huge opportunities, but there is also a real risk that many people and places will lose out. We need to reform the education system to give young people the skills to thrive in the future, and we also need greater investment in lifelong learning to help adults adapt to the changing labour market.’

Having said all that, a man called Russell Jones, chairman of a business group known as Mansfield 2020, isn’t having any of it, believing as he does that his town is adjusting itself to the ways of automation.

Said he: ‘Jobs being automated has been happening in Mansfield for the past 20 years. Our future will be somewhat different to the picture portrayed in this report.’

So, plenty to think about. Now let’s ask a big question: imagine a future where virtually every single role currently filled by a human was easily facilitated by an AI-driven robot. In that situation, what would humans be for?

Bit heavy for a Monday afternoon? Probably, but any answers will be, as always, gratefully received.


Mid and northern England facing robot threat

Microsoft moves to fix Intel’s clumsy fix


An exasperated Microsoft has released an update to fix a bug in an update that Intel put out to fix some well-publicised problems with its CPUs.

Intel’s attempts to fix the Meltdown and Spectre security issues with many of its chips led to further humiliation when its new firmware was found to cause systems to reboot unexpectedly.

In fact, in its latest financial results the troubled firm mentions in passing that its updates could possibly result in ‘adverse performance, reboots, system instability, data loss or corruption, unpredictable system behavior, or the misappropriation of data by third parties’. First class bodging.

Microsoft has now elected to put out its own update for Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 that disables Intel’s ropey firmware.

And it’s not just Microsoft – Intel seems to have realised that its patch is so rubbish that it’s advising users not to download it until they can test it properly. I’d have done that first.

Last week, the inventor of the Linux operating system, Linus Torvalds, diplomatically entered the conversation, claiming that Intel is doing ‘insane things,’ and that its updates to address the Spectre variant 2 security issue afflicting its CPUs are ‘complete and utter garbage’.

His amusing rant continued: ‘Is Intel really planning on making this sh*t architectural? Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane? Please, any Intel engineers here – talk to your managers.’

The company has toppled from a position of almost total market dominance to gibbering wreck in under a month. Strange, interesting times.





Microsoft moves to fix Intel’s clumsy fix

Latest tech firm news: Democracy threat, totalitarian control, etc

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Mega rich tech firms are a threat to democracy and could be ushering in a new age of authoritarianism, a very rich man has said.

Speaking at the wealthy folk knees-up World Economic Forum in Davos, the billionaire philanthropist George Soros slammed Facebook and Google as ‘obstacles to innovation,’ whose operations may lead to ‘a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined’. Blimey.

Soros told listeners in the Swiss town: ‘The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.’ And this is very bad because there’s a chance that ‘once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it’.

And, apparently, social media firms manipulate users’ attention towards their commercial activities – which I would have thought was even obvious to isolated tribes living deep in the Amazonian forests by now.

But it wasn’t all bad: Mr Soros also cheerfully predicted the imminent downfall of the likes of Facebook, as the world’s tax agents start to go after them. Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we.

Then the hedge fund manager said that he and all the other billionaires should start finding ways to distribute their wealth more equally, and encourage mass participation in democracy by people from every corner of society – and then they all laughed for 10 minutes until the tears ran down the cheeks.

Latest tech firm news: Democracy threat, totalitarian control, etc

Self-driving cars in crash ‘spate’


Luddites, rejoice! Self-driving cars are crashing like Windows ME – well, two of them have, but that’s more than enough for some sensationalist reportage, so let’s crack on with some good ol’ demonization.

The accidents both occurred in California, with the most recent involving a Tesla Model S colliding with a parked fire engine on Monday.

According to Culver City’s fire service, which probably was far from impressed, the robot-brained car ‘ploughed into the rear’ of its vehicle, which was attending another accident that was probably caused by an old-fashioned human-driven car.

Much earlier, on 7 December in fact, a GM Chevy Bolt was involved in a collision with a motorbike in San Francisco – as a result of which the bike’s rider is suing GM. Naturally, GM claims it was the rider’s fault.

Anyhow, firefighters on the scene at the Tesla smash have claimed it was doing 65mph when it twanged their engine, with an official saying it was amazing that ‘there were no injuries’.

Responding to the crash, Tesla has said that its Autopilot should only be used with ‘a fully attentive driver’ who should have their hands on the wheel at all times (aren’t these things supposed to be self-driving?).

So, I’m not sure where this ‘spate’ leaves us. Are self-driving cars on the verge of becoming 1. a successful boon for the human race, or 2. a gigantic, gruesome catastrophe that’ll turn our roads into robot-controlled terror zones? Please let us know in the comments.

Self-driving cars in crash ‘spate’