Best of the week's news: comment and analysis from E&T's editorial staff
E&T staff pick their favourite news stories from the past week and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them.
Jack Loughran, news reporter
Which? says Microsoft should honour consumer rights with regards to Windows 10 users who have suffered from technical issues. Microsoft has spent the last year shoving Windows 10 down everyone’s throats: those who didn’t opt to upgrade voluntarily were presented with an ‘Upgrade to Windows 10 now!’ prompt. Although this box had a red cross in the corner, which has basically meant NO! in computer language for the best part of two decades, Microsoft decided that in this case it meant yes, please do the upgrade in the background, no questions asked. With no other way to deny the upgrade process, Microsoft literally forced it upon users. It also turns out that during the installation process, if users don’t read every single tiny bit of text, they will unwittingly sign away all their privacy and allow Microsoft to collect data on everything they do on their laptop. It’s almost as if the firm had ulterior motives. When the upgrade then caused difficulties, with some people suffering performance and reliability issues and webcam failures, it’s really very hard to feel sorry for Microsoft, even if developing an operating system that is perfectly compatible with thousands of different devices and configurations is an almost impossible task. But what Which? is suggesting could set a dangerous precedent. Windows 10 has supposedly been installed on 350 million computers, and 12 per cent of users in Which?’s survey reported issues with the software. Extrapolated to the entire userbase, this amounts to 42 million people worldwide. If Microsoft is eventually forced to compensate users who have had difficulties, it could effectively bankrupt the company.
Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
That’s seriously amazing. I would love to see other mobile phone networks follow soon as I’m seriously annoyed by cold callers constantly trying to persuade me that someone has had an accident with my car. I don’t even have a car but these people don’t care. I wonder how profitable this scamming business is and I feel really sorry for those who fall for those individuals’ lies.
Arup’s Circular Building showcased at London Design Festival really enthused me. The name doesn’t have to do anything with the building’s shape. It’s a reference to the circular economy - a concept of a perfectly sustainable world where all resources are being reused over and over again. The entire building is made of natural and recyclable non-toxic materials. It’s a little bit like a Lego kit. The Arup team spent months pondering its designs and came up with a modular approach that allows the building to be dismantled and rebuilt into a different shape or in a different place. Moreover, the prototype is close to the passive house standard and despite its rustic feel is equipped with super smart technology that allows it to use very little energy. Thumbs up, Arup. Let’s hope to see more houses like this one in the near future.
Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Eleven years after the IET began publishing an annual survey of the engineering and technology skills situation in UK industry, not much seems to have changed, even though in that time a cohort of young people will have gone all the way through secondary education and university. Roughly half that time has been under one government, half under another administration, with the resulting swings back and forth in education policy that should be based on sound scientific evidence. So why are employers still so concerned that they’re not only finding it hard to recruit experienced engineers, but that people starting out in industry aren’t emerging from the education system with the skills they need to hit the ground running? Warnings of a skills deficit that could have serious consequences for the British economy are nothing new and a greater focus on practical training through routes like apprenticeships may address them in the long term. But why, as one participant in a seminar held this week to discuss the IET’s findings, are so many places of learning regarded as ‘sausage machines’? It’s well known that a big part of the problem is a lack of awareness among the teachers who can influence potential recruits at a young age of what a career in engineering actually involves. Research by the IET last year found that more than half of those questioned considered it to be ‘a boy’s career’. Educating them when they have so much on their plates already is a hard job, so a lot of it is up to parents. Fortunately, as the cost of a degree becomes more and more significant in deciding whether to go to university and what to study, engineering has a trump card. I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more in future about the return on investment that graduates enjoy when you get down to comparing end of course debt with job prospects and starting salaries.
Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
No one is suggesting that robots can entirely replace building inspectors, but this collection of sensors and measuring devices should make the job a lot easier - even to the point of detecting cavities behind tiles. It will still need the human touch, though, to have that uncomfortable conversation with the builder and insist that poor quality work is put right.
I’m sure we’ll all be delighted with this piece of news. I’m extremely cautious about giving out my mobile number, but I still get the occasional call along the lines of “according to our records you haven’t yet claimed compensation for your accident”. They always come when I’m in the middle of something important, too. Anything that makes these trawls too unprofitable to be worthwhile has to be a good thing.
Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Hate crime on the web is difficult to deal with. Now the US Department of Justice is planning to use a specially created algorithm in a bid to predict cyber-hate outbreaks. The computer program has been developed at Cardiff University, after it received a $800,000 grant from DoJ. For three years, scientists will be closely monitoring tweets related to the Los Angeles area, and the idea is to spot indications that cyber-hate is about to take place - to eventually predict in real time when and where hate crime is likely to happen. The algorithm will also look for a relationship between hate crime online and offline.
Dickon Ross, editor in chief
UK politics has changed so radically since last December's Paris agreement on climate change that was no longer inevitable that the UK would ratify the agreement even if it intended to. Thankfully, Prime Minster Theresa May has now confirmed the UK will ratify it by the end of the year. The Paris agreement went further than anyone had expected, agreeing to not just limit global warming to 2 degrees C but to aim for 1.5 degrees C. It's an ambitious target and won't be easy to achieve. What will the world have to do too achieve it? What engineering will it take? And what will the world look like after just a few degrees rise? These are the questions we'll explore in the next issue of E&T.
Let's send a miniature spacecraft to Alpha Centauri. We'll make it chip-sized, powered by a sail pushed by a huge array of lasers. And we'd better launch loads of them in the hope some of them will make it. That's the unlikely but serious plan from the Breakthrough Initiative funded by a Russian billionaire. Stephen Hawking thinks it could work and he should know. This week, E&T interviewed the project director to find out more.