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The seeds of surveillance capitalism are starting to sprout while Stuxnet attacks, 3D TV flops, and a 2D game of flinging furious fowl is a runaway success.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

Tweets were sent in their billions in 2010, and at least some of them were about Irish showband sensations Crystal Swing. This internet-famous group was not among the stellar line-up for the second Dublin Web Summit, but founder from Twitter, YouTube, Skype and Bebo were all invited for the Irish event and its new sister conference, Founders.

As US tech was reaching across the Atlantic and landing in Dublin, an ill wind that blew in from that side of the world had left Europe shuddering. The debt crisis that followed the financial crash was taking hold across the EU, and Ireland was among the worst hit. In late November, the EU agreed to an €85m bailout package to rescue the country’s failing financial sector.

The unemployment rate continued to trend upwards, but jobs were still being created in tech as more Irish outposts were established and growing. US analytics firm Dun & Bradstreet was among them.

“Dun & Bradstreet opened its software and data operations centre in Dublin in 2010 with the express intent to leverage the technical talent in the Irish market,” said Donal Cavanagh, the company’s present-day Dublin site lead. “In the intervening decade, we have seen both the explosion of data and the critical role data now plays in the successful running of any business. … Everyone is looking for growth, to manage risk, to navigate ever-growing compliance directives. Today, in a world that is digitalised, the way to connect and control these is through data.”

There was still plenty of money to be made in the age of big data and, as a new decade dawned, the reach for analysis and monitoring was moving beyond the commercial and into the personal lives of individuals.

Facebook, fame and the right to privacy

Facebook was reaching new heights in 2010, hitting 500m users just over halfway through the year. Among them was about a third of the Irish population.

Facebook had become so mainstream it was taken to the big screen. Directed by David Fincher and penned by Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network wowed critics and topped the US box office. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the film completely misrepresented the motivation behind the social media platform, but conceded that the costuming was fastidious. “Every single shirt and fleece they had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own,” he said.

Meanwhile, the subject matter of future Facebook documentaries was coming to the fore. At the January Crunchies awards in San Francisco, Zuckerberg made comments downplaying users’ desire for privacy. He was forced to eat his words in May after a glitch was found that could make users’ chat messages and pending friend requests visible if exploited, and a Wall Street Journal report claimed advertisers on platforms such as Facebook were using a privacy loophole to retrieve personal information.

Zuckerberg responded with an op-ed in the Washington Post announcing new privacy controls. “The biggest message we have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information,” he wrote, changing his tune from earlier in the year.

This became the holding pattern for Facebook privacy concerns for years to come, as the vast trove of information offered up by the platform presented just too tempting an opportunity for data mining. Indeed, this was the year the US National Security Agency started its large-scale social mapping programme, though that wouldn’t be revealed until later. In the meantime, the man who made half a billion friends closed out 2010 as Time magazine’s Person of the Year and almost $2bn in revenue.

Nightmare on Google Street View

Of course, Facebook wasn’t the only tech company building a lucrative business on an abundant data mine.

Google was stirring up its own privacy-centred controversy in 2010, as it was revealed that the company’s Street View mapping vehicles had captured more than they should have. (And not just the “odd or inappropriate moments” caught on camera.)

Street View had mapped Ireland’s major cities in 2009 and its cars returned the next year to fill in some gaps. This was after it had emerged that unauthorised code deployed by Street View captured data broadcast over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries. This prompted investigations in the US, Spain and the UK, while the Irish Government demanded that Google simply delete the data it had intercepted.

Eventually the US investigation was closed after Google promised to improve its internal procedures. The company also promised to delete the data it collected in the UK.

In Germany, Google agreed to allow residents to opt out of the service and have images of their homes blurred out. This, however, made these homes a target for vandals.

Street View launched in Ireland at the end of September, after its cars and pedal-powered trikes finished their intensive mapping of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. It had reached all seven continents in 2010, and even photographed several penguin colonies in Antarctica.

They really tried to make 3D TV happen

While controversial in its roll-out, Google was right in thinking that Street View was something that people wanted to see. What viewers didn’t want, however, was 3D TV.

Spurred on by the phenomenal success of James Cameron’s Avatar in December 2009, TV-makers and broadcasters threw their weight behind 3D entertainment in a big way.

Sky was the first network to announce a 3D TV channel for Ireland and the UK (and SiliconRepublic.com got a pre-launch sneak peek in 2009). Sony built one of the world’s first 3D outside broadcast trucks and, by March, Samsung and LG promised at-home sets. Ireland’s first 3D TV broadcast, a Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea, was made on 3 April – adding a whole new dimension to watching sports.

That same month, Samsung pointed out that 3D TV might cause motion sickness, altered vision, disorientation, eye strain and instability, among other things.

Add that to the high cost and low content on 3D TV, and the market just wasn’t adding up. Even though 3D TVs were shipping faster than HD TVs in November 2010, it wouldn’t be long before most 3D TV sets and services were no longer available.

Angry Birds take flight

But with touch-enabled smartphones becoming ubiquitous, the demand for mobile gaming was at an all-time high. And along came Finnish game developer Rovio to take a (sling)shot at this trend.

Angry Birds launched in late 2009 at the height of the swine flu epidemic, hence the antagonist pigs. It quickly rose ranks in projectile motion to become the number-one iPhone game. When it finally arrived on Android, it scored more than 1m downloads in one day as more and more users flung themselves into the action.

The Android roll-out was slightly scuppered by the fragmentation of the Google mobile ecosystem, and this would become a common issue for the rival to Apple’s tightly controlled iOS. But its popularity held strong and, by year end, Angry Birds was top of the app charts – another feather in its cap.

Stuxnet stokes fears of cyberwarfare

Another viral success of 2010 was far less charming. The Stuxnet computer worm was first detected in the summer, described as one of the most refined pieces of malware ever discovered.

The threat it posed became clear in September when it attacked Iran’s first nuclear power plant. While initially described as cyberterrorism, some experts felt it had to have been a state-sponsored cyberattack due to the worm’s sophisticated design.

Some saw Stuxnet as a new form of cyberwarfare. Within days, a major cybersecurity exercise was set to assess the vulnerability of vital services in the US and, later, the US military created a Cyber Command to protect its networks. However, security technologist Bruce Schneier said that threats of cyber war and terrorism were grossly exaggerated and were really hindering our understanding of online risks.

By the end of the year, Stuxnet code had made its way to underground forums, while threat reports and a former CIA director predicted the rise of cyberattacks in the future.

In other news

27 January: Apple unveils the iPad, a nine-inch tablet computer with all the capabilities of an iPhone, minus the phone.

16 February: At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announces that the company is now pursuing a “mobile first” strategy.

23 March: LinkedIn connects with Dublin, announcing that it will establish its international headquarters here.

5 April: WikiLeaks publishes footage of a 2007 airstrike on Baghdad, which shows a US helicopter killing civilians.

30 April: Journalist Mark Little bases his social media news service Storyful (which he founded in January) at the National College of Ireland Business Incubation Centre, alongside Barracuda FX and Ian Lucey’s Lucey Technology.

6 May: A trillion-dollar stock market crash is triggered by a series of automated trading programs entering a feedback loop.

20 May: Scientists create the first synthetic cells in a project that took 15 years to complete.

22 May: In a big moment for bitcoin’s use in the real world, computer programmer Laszlo Hanyecz trades 10,000 bitcoin for two pizzas from Papa John’s. (At today’s rate, those pizzas cost more than €210m each.)

27 May: Whistleblower Chelsea Manning is arrested by the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.

11 June: The FIFA World Cup kicks off in South Africa and the deafening sound of vuvuzelas in the crowd inspires Irish start-up Restored Hearing to pitch its tinnitus treatment to football fans.

15 June: One day after the slim iPhone 4 with its high-definition Retina display is made available for pre-order, Apple and AT&T have already sold out of their initial stock.

24 June: Ergo’s financial software spin-off Fenergo raises €2m in funding from Enterprise Ireland and the European Investment Bank to go global.

16 July: Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger posts the platform’s first photo: an artistically angled harbour view through a window. (The app would arrive on the App Store in October.)

25 July: WikiLeaks publishes a trove of more than 90,000 classified documents on US military action in Afghanistan.

10 August: Physicist Stephen Hawking says he believes “that the long-term future of the human race must be in space”.

10 August: The World Health Organization declares that the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ pandemic is over after just over a year.

10 September: A transatlantic flight is grounded at Shannon Airport after a charging mobile phone overheated to the point of melting and emitting smoke, unbeknown to its owner.

4 October: Twitter co-founder Ev Williams announces that he will step down as CEO, to be replaced by COO Dick Costolo.

5 October: Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking graphene discovery from 2004.

9 October: Google announces that its self-driving cars have clocked more than 140,000 miles.

11 October: The Big Four record labels – EMI, Sony, Warner and Universal – fail in their bid to secure an injunction against UPC to implement a three-strike rule for illegal file-sharing.

22 October: The International Space Station outstrips Mir for the record of the longest continuous human occupation in space, passing its 3,641st day.

28 October: China’s Tianhe-1A, packed with more than 14,000 Intel Xeon processors and more than 7,000 Nvidia Tesla GPUs, is dubbed the world’s top supercomputer with the capability to perform 2,507trn calculations each second.

10 November: Microsoft launches the Kinect for Xbox 360 in Ireland with some help from Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

17 November: Researchers at CERN trap antimatter for the first time (for a sixth of a second).

18 November: Camara recycles its 20,000th computer in Ireland.

28 November: WikiLeaks publishes a collection of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

16 December: Following an international arrest warrant issued by Swedish police over allegations of sexual misconduct, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is released on bail from a second extradition hearing in the UK.

17 December: Reports emerge that Twitter is considering Dublin as the site of its European HQ.

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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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Midwest universities unite to support US chip industry • The Register

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A dozen US midwestern research colleges and universities have signed up to a project intended to bolster the semiconductor and microelectronics industries with combined research and education to ensure work for their students in high-tech industries.

The “Midwest Regional Network to Address National Needs in Semiconductor and Microelectronics” consists of a dozen institutions, made up of eight from Ohio, two from Michigan, and two from Indiana. Their stated aim is to support the onshoring efforts of the US semiconductor industry by addressing the need for research and a skilled workforce.

According to Wright State University, the network was formed in response to Intel’s announcement that it planned to build two chip factories near Columbus, Ohio, and followed a two-day workshop in April hosted by the state.

Those plans, revealed in January, are to build at least two semiconductor manufacturing plants on a 1,000-acre site, with the potential to expand to 2,000 acres and eight fabs.

At the time, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said he expected it to become the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet. Construction started on the site at the beginning of July.

However, the university network was also formed to help address the broader national effort to regain American leadership in semiconductors and microelectronics, or at least bring some of it back onshore and make the US less reliant on supplies of chips manufactured abroad.

Apart from Wright State University, the 12 institutions involved in the network are: Columbus State Community College, Lorain County Community College, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Sinclair Community College, University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

The president of each institution has signed a memorandum of understanding to form the network, and the expectation is that the group will expand to include more than these dozen initial members.

The intention is that the institutions taking part will be able to make use of each other’s existing research, learning programs, capabilities, and expertise in order to boost their collective ability to support the semiconductor and microelectronics industry ecosystems.

Challenges for the network include developing mechanisms to connect existing research, and training assets across the region, and developing a common information sharing platform to make it easier to identify opportunities for joint programming and research across the network.

University of Cincinnati chief innovation officer David J Adams called the announcement a game-changer. “This highly innovative approach illustrates that we’re all in this together when it comes to meeting industry workforce and research needs,” Adams wrote in a posting on the University of Cincinnati website.

The move follows the long-awaited passage of the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act at the end of last month, of which $52 billion of the total spend is expected to go towards subsidizing the building of semiconductor plants such as Intel’s, and boosting research and development of chip technology. ®

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