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5G: A new stage in civilization development amid global competition

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The format of the next-generation cellular networks, which is commonly known as 5G, is considered by a vast majority of experts as one of the “key technologies in the decades to come.” It is seen as a major element in ensuring the leading positions of a country at a new stage of the race for the most favorable national development status. What are the political features of this phase of technology rivalry?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) plans to approve the final version of the 5G standard by early next year. However, experts throughout the globe have been developing the “general principles and properties” of the fifth-generation cellular communication technologies for more than five years. The current fourth-generation technology guarantees maximum data transfer rate at about 150 Mbit/s. 5G promises speeds of more than 1 Gbit / s. By the middle of this year, “China, South Korea, Japan, and most EU countries had chosen the frequency spectrum that will be used in fifth-generation networks.” A heated debate has been under way in the United States, which has already held several frequency auctions for 5G .According to Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov, who oversees the development of digital technologies in the Russian Federation, the launch of 5G is “a matter of survival if we do not want to lose technological leadership”.

Experts have no doubt that the fifth generation mobile networks will lead to “drastic changes” in many areas of life. While the present-day cellular communication standards are designed to exchange voice traffic and exchanges between terminal communication devices, the 5G technology is intended to create an environment in which billions of different devices interact with each other in real time. Moreover, the speed and reliability of connection should boost many times. The 5G environment should become a kind of communicative digital “ocean” into which an overwhelming majority of people and economic entities will plunge in the coming decades. This will fundamentally change the industry, global supply chains, defense tecnology, agriculture, transport, medicine, approaches to managing national infrastructure, and in general, the quality of life of billions of people, by becoming part and parcel of everyday life.

One of the most promising and at the same time, conflicting areas, which will, undoubtedly, get good impetus following the introduction of 5G, will be the so-called “Internet of Things”. Microchips will be installed in almost all industrial and consumer products, transmitting all kinds of information and capable of receiving control commands from the outside. Critics fear that the world is moving in the direction of “surveillance capitalism”. The government and business are to address many issues, The Economist points out, including digital ownership, big data, surveillance, competition monitoring, and security. The  standards of receiving, transmitting, processing and storing data promise to become a battlefield of both private companies and government organizations . Those who will control their development and implementation will enjoy  significant, if not crucial, advantages.

“When an invention becomes part of infrastructure, it also becomes part of political relations and undergoes both engineering and political changes”. Therefore, the main political battles are currently unfolding over the choice of frequency bands for building 5G networks, and over the suppliers. Pessimists, including in Russia, fear that, in case of the worst scenario, the priorities of maintaining sovereignty and security may lead to further fragmentation of not only the Internet, but also the cellular communications space. Differences in the frequency bands used for the development of 5G networks may cause conflicts between telecom operators and refusals to conclude agreements on international roaming. According to optimists,  in the absence of universally approved 5G standards, manufacturers of client equipment, from terminals to smart phones, are forced to envisage the possibility of operating in the widest possible frequency range.

At present, the observer attention is focused on two conflicting approaches to the implementation of 5G technologies, the American one, on the one hand, and the Chinese one, on the other. US President Donald Trump regularly makes high-profile statements about the need to ensure America’s top position in promoting 5G technologies. Trump has come out strongly against the purchase of Chinese-made 5G technologies by the United States. Washington is urging other countries to refrain from doing so as well. Otherwise, it said it may wrap up cooperation with its close allies in the field of telecommunications, including the exchange of intelligence data. Given the situation, the US government agencies that deal with technology development have, on the one hand, already managed to distribute the bulk of frequency modulations for the introduction of 5G, compared to other countries. On the other hand, Leonid Kovachich of the Carnegie Moscow Center says, “the United States is working to create networks in the ultra-high frequency range.” Such frequencies – above 6 GHz, provide  “the most tangible capacity growth against the existing ones.” However, due to specific technological  characteristics, they require an extremely high density of transceiver infrastructure. Thus, America has picked the most expensive option, which, according to critics, including specialists from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is “extremely prodigal”. In addition, this approach “will further accentuate the technological and, as a result, social gap between large cities and sparsely populated regions in the United States”, and will also significantly weaken the ability of American cellular manufacturers and mobile operators to successfully compete with China in other countries of the world.

China’s authorities have been trying to follow major global trends, including the choice of frequencies for 5G. Meanwhile, as experts at Oxford Information Labs claim, China is operating in several areas at once, for the purpose of at least significantly downsizing the competitive edge of Western companies in implementing 5G projects. The Chinese companies are stimulated by the fact that they already control “more than a third of all 5G patents in the world” and also a fairly limited number of potential developers and manufacturers of 5G technology. The West suspects official Beijing of striving to create a de facto corporate-technological “vertical”, with non-governmental organizations pursuing a policywhich is determined by the country’s political and military leadership. What speaks of such a policy is the pragmatic readiness of the Chinese authorities to provide substantial government loans and subsidies for an early launch of domestically developed technologies, including abroad, through resorting to political, diplomatic, financial and economic influence amidst the international community.

Amid the growing confrontation between the United States and China, European countries voice different views. The German government, Die Zeit wrote in November, still expresses its readiness to “use the key technology of the coming decades – data transmission through the new 5G standard – using the technology of the Chinese company Huawei.” However, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, such an approach “is naive.” Macron is convinced that the infrastructure of the future, which is represented by 5G, should consolidate the sovereignty of Europe, not weaken it. What is meant is data security, without which, Europeans say, it makes no sense to talk about security policy asn such. In his opinion, “it is necessary to abandon” the Chinese-manufactured technologies “in favor of European analogues”.

Russia is balancing between fears of alarmists over the “cumbersome nature” of regulators and controllers that “jeopardize” the country’s technological development under the pretext of concern “for national security”, on the one hand, and on the other, the belief of optimists who remind them that the 4G and LTE standards of cellular communication were introduced in a similarly protracted and “bureaucratic” way. A number of representatives of the Russian telecommunications industry have expressed concern that “transition to unconventional frequencies or even an isolated Russian 5G system will delay the creation of modern networks for 5-7 years”. Their opponents are confident that domestic operators will need a few more years to launch 5G networks that cover vast areas. “There are no economic scenarios for 5G yet, no one in the world knows how to earn money on such networks, the existing networks all but prove this in practice. It makes no sense to strive to launch 5G networks at any cost. Just as there is no need to clear the frequencies now – nobody will use them ”.

Whatever the case, the undisguised attempts to halt the development of Chinese high-tech companies or even ruin them which have been made by the United States in recent years “have demonstrated to most countries that independence in IT technology is crucial.” A possible scenario envisages prohibition or restriction of services, products or services provided by American companies in other countries; or at least in such a vital sector as public procurement. For many states it becomes critical to create and develop the domestic IT sector, IT services and software. All this may culminate in the “process of disintegration” of the global IT market, the division of countries into blocks and coalitions focused on “their own” manufacturers of software and their own technological standards.

The problem is to ensure sovereignty without having to face technological or informational isolation. “Information isolationism in the era of digital communication is usually a characteristic of rogue states.” While easing the burden of confronting external pressure, this approach deprives the country of the opportunity to form its own international agenda, believes Dmitry Evstafiev from the Higher School of Economics . On his part, Igor Ashmanov, CEO of Ashmanov & Partners, remarks: “Absence of information sovereignty is an absolutely toxic thing. Speaking about digital sovereignty from a technological point of view, it is necessary to underscore the importance of creating domestic technologies and companies. Borrowing something without giving it any thought is not the right thing to do. ” In his turn, Ilya Massukh, Director of the Autonomous Non-Profit Organization “ Center for Import Substitution in ICT”, says that technological development may result in the loss of identity. Consequently, nations that are striving to maintain sovereignty cannot afford to be completely dependent on foreign “suppliers of technological products”.

Russia, like most countries of the world, has yet to strike the so-called “golden middle,” which would enable it to use the advantages of the new technological reality to maximum efficiency in terms of national development. However, it should do so without turning the process of adopting new technologies into the driving force of self-isolation, which may easily reduce to zero a significant chunk of benefits supplied by the next- generation communication technologies. 

From our partner International Affairs

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Light at the end of the tunnel: New technologies to fight the COVID-19 on transport

Anna Bazarova

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Disinfection robots, thermometer robots, smart tunnels, automatic passenger counting, powerful ultraviolet lamps and other examples of how new technologies reshaped public transport amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to significant changes in many areas of life in just a few months. As the coronavirus continued to spread around the world, governments in several countries took measures to restrict movement, and people themselves tried to avoid traveling on public transport. The demand for the services of transport operators has dropped drastically. So, according to the Moovit Public Transit Index, passenger traffic in public transport on April 15, 2020 decreased in Israel by 92.1%, in Rome – by 89.2%, in Madrid – by 88.1%, in New York-by 74.8% and has not yet recovered. City residents are afraid to use public transport actively again, and their fears are fully justified. High daily passenger traffic and high frequency of contact between passengers make public transport an ideal environment for the spread of infections. The problem of fighting the spread of infections while maintaining normal life activity is particularly acute for large cities, such as Moscow or Beijing, where daily passenger traffic reaches 19.4 and 12.3 million passengers respectively. The average density of passengers on a bus or in a traincar at the same time ranges from 2 to 5 people per square meter, while, according to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, in order to comply with safety standards, passengers must maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters. Furthermore, virus particles can remain for a long time on public surfaces inside a bus or a traincar. Handrails on public transport are usually made of plastic, on which the coronavirus can remain up to 3 days, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. By touching them passengers increase the risk of contagion.

The key task for transport operators is to make the usage of public transport safe. To help them solve this problem came technology -all kinds of robots are widely used among innovations. With their help, it is possible to carry out disinfection effectively and safely without the involvement of staff. The Hong Kong Metro, also known as the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), together with the biotechnology company Avalon Biomedical Management Limited, has developed a disinfection robot that can disinfect even the most inaccessible places of traincars and stations. In addition to disinfection, robots can cope with more complex tasks. So, in Ningbo Lishe International Airport was tested a 5G-supporting robot-thermometer, which can measure temperature at a distance of 5 meters up to 10 people simultaneously and also identify those who are not wearing a face mask. Another innovation in many transport operators is the sanitary gate. According to Giulio Barbieri, one of the manufacturers, this is a “a tested, safe, and effective method to sanitize people and objects in just 5 seconds, killing up to 99% of any pathogenic microbes on the surfaces, including COVID-19”For example, the technology was tested in the Moscow and Dubai metros. In Moscow the clothes of the employees entering the depot were processed using a disinfection tunnel; at the same time, the territory was manually disinfected, so that the entire depot was safer for the staff.

The process of digitalization of ticket systems, which began long before the pandemic, also had a positive effect. Thanks to the competent actions of transport operators, the number of contactless payments in public transport around the world increased by 187% in the period from April to June, as evidenced by a report from Visa. Following WHO recommendations, many transport operators have made it mandatory to wear masks and maintain social distance on public transport. A number of digital technologies have been developed to comply with these rules. In the Beijing metro, compliance with a mask regime is controlled by cameras with a facial recognition system that can identify people. In addition, in the Panama Metro, observance of social distance is monitored by sensors which determine the degree of capacity of train cars. The technology called Mastria, which aggregates information from train weight sensors, ticket machines, signalling, management systems, CCTV and mobile networks for the Panama metro was developed by Alstom (a french manufacturer specializing in the production of infrastructure for rail transport) and installed almost a year ago. In just three months, thanks to artificial neural networks, it was possible to reduce average waiting times at stations by 12%. This development became particularly relevant during the pandemic. The Moscow metro is planning to introduce a similar technology. To maintain the social distance digital displays with colored indicators that reflect the level of capacity of subway cars will be installed. In the Moscow metro a new generation of traincars with an automatic air disinfection system built into climate control systems helped to reduce the risk of infection. It makes it possible to disinfect the air without disrupting the train schedule and attracting employees. The Moscow metro rolling stock consists of more than 50% of train cars with built-in UV lamps, and this percentage is constantly growing. After evaluating the effectiveness of using UV lamps to disinfect public transport, the transport operator MTA New York City Transit, together with Columbia University, launched a pilot project worth 1 million dollars on the use of disinfecting lamps. During the first phase of the project, 150 autonomous lamps were purchased and installed to decontaminate wagons, stations and buses in New York, during the second phase it is planned to install equipment in commuter rails. To carry out disinfection measures, the New York City Subway took unprecedented measures – the closure of the subway from 1 to 5 a.m. daily.

The use of robots, disinfection tunnels, digital technologies, ultraviolet lamps, and intensive work of staff – all this helped to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus in public transport and made a significant contribution to fighting the global problem. According to the coronavirus distribution model, developed by Imperial College London at the beginning of the pandemic, if no action had been taken by mid-March there would have been over 500,000 deaths from COVID in the UK and over 2.2 million in the USA. At the moment, in the middle of October, there are about 43,000 deaths in the UK and about 214,000 in the USA. Of course, these are high rates, but they could have been much higher if the necessary measures were not taken in time. Technological innovations already available today will continue to be used, which will make the stay of passengers on public transport more comfortable and safer, reducing the risk of the spread of any infectious disease, especially during the flu and cold seasons.

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Modern-day threats to human rights in an era of global digitalization

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Digital security is an overarching issue related to the development of information technology. More and more new opportunities are popping up here each year, all of which have their upsides and downsides too. Adding to the technical and economic aspects of this issue are all sorts of equally important legal and humanitarian ones, primarily those dealing with technologies for collecting people’s personal data, with tracking systems and the risks inherent in the development of other aspects of information technology. This and many other topics took center stage during an online roundtable discussion organized by the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights at the TASS press center in Moscow. The Council’s head, Valery Fadeyev, mentioned a number of negative aspects of the active spread and development of digitalization, underscoring the following topics: bullying and defamation in social networks, manipulation of people’s opinions through advertising and politics, surveillance and the related problem of personal data protection, cyber fraud and censorship practiced in the digital space by commercial companies. Suffice it to mention Facebook’s recent decision to block the Instagram account of Ramzan Kadyrov in line with US sanctions imposed on the leader of the Chechen Republic.

To minimize these risks, Fadeyev proposed to set up a special commission with a primary focus of human rights.

Picking up where Fadeyev had left off, National Anti-Corruption Committee Chairman Kirill Kabanov mentioned the emergence of criminal groups specializing in online fraud, and new challenges associated with the active use of the Internet by young people.

“What we are discussing right now is how the Internet and artificial intelligence should develop in Russia. I don’t think that anyone believes that Russia will have its own version, like, for example, what they have in China or America. The Internet is developing in the world according to certain laws that need to be registered,” Kabanov noted.

When we talk about the Chinese model, we mean full government control of all Internet resources operating in the country by means of keyword filtering of web pages, and through blacklisting of website addresses (the so-called Great Firewall of China). As for the US model, many Internet resources there are highly dependent on the current political agenda – just recall President Trump’s order to ban the Chinese social network TikTok for allegedly stealing the Americans’ personal data.

Kabanov believes that such issues should be resolved by analyzing specific cases with specialists.

Igor Ashmanov, CEO of Ashmanov & Partners, a company specializing in Internet marketing, raised the issue of preserving the citizens’ digital identity by improving and expanding the legal framework of information security.

“We must have the right to protect a person’s digital identity, essentially the right to stop using digital technology as such. Without a smartphone, we literally become stripped of our rights,” Ashmanov said. He also brought up the extremely important ethical aspect of a mass-scale collection of personal data using cutting-edge digital technology done as part of an experiment in Perm schools where commercial companies installed cameras and tracking systems everywhere under the pretext of preventing the so-called “school shooting” – violent and terrorist acts by individual students or groups of students. Ashmanov argued that schoolchildren need personal space and that such measures “violate a whole list of human rights.”

Victor Naumov, Managing Partner of the St. Petersburg office of Dentos, also underscored the importance of safeguarding the people’s digital identity. In his report Naumov decried the lack of digital awareness among people. “Unfortunately, our society, not only in Russia, was not ready for the temptations that we faced. People do not realize that when they press the “I agree” button, they allow their fingerprints to be registered somewhere, which may have far-reaching negative consequences.”

Vladimir Ovchinsky, a retired general with the Interior Ministry, outlined the time that a request for large-scale measures in the field of information security may take to come along and highlighted the main areas of high technology application directly pertaining to human rights.

“What we are discussing now are the consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution proclaimed at the Davos Forum in 2017. The information revolution has been happening for quite some time now, but since 2017, some things have been growing rapidly. Any technology has a triple purpose: the development of society, military purposes, and the criminal segment. In each of these areas we see human rights being infringed upon,” Ovchinsky said, noting the negative impact of the global pandemic on the development of digital crime in all three areas. Crimes associated with telecommunications technologies have particularly spiked with crooks disguised as bank employees extorting money from the people by phone. “The general trend is that the mafia is switching to new technologies and hitting the most vulnerable social groups,” Ovchinsky summed up.

Retired FSB General Alexander Mikhailov focused on criminal gangs of prisoners in Russia engaging in cyber fraud right from the places of their detention.

“Under the circumstances, the idea of ​​creating a digital code makes a lot of sense as it would not only regulate information flows but would also provide punishment for the illegal use of such information,” Mikhailov suggested.

The head of the Cyber ​​Moscow project, Grigory Pashchenkov, also spoke about protection of a person’s digital identity – “the rights of a digital person as a person,” which is an aspect still generally overlooked today.  Pashchenkov insists on the need to create a digital identity passport, arguing that it would better safeguard people against leaks of their personal data. However, such a measure is extremely hard to implement and, while helping prevent personal data leaks, it is still fraught with many complications, well exemplified by the need to enter passport data when restoring access to a profile on the VKontakte social network.

The participants in the roundtable meeting also discussed measures to increase the people’s digital literacy and set up a working group to protect human rights in the field of information technology. Thus, the question that we have yet to answer is the extent to which our life could be covered by information technologies. Here it is imperative to maintain the right balance and clearly understand the permissible limits to the invasion of science and technology into public space and the private life of an individual.

From our partner International Affairs

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Frank White says that there needs to be more international collaboration in the Space Sector

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Space-exploration is not merely a scientific expedition. It is of immense significance as it has the potential to remind humankind of what it has forgotten. The fact that Earth in the larger universe, is a very tiny planet. 

Our social divisions and hierarchies really do not hold much meaning when we consider the larger challenges that we collectively face as a species. The choices that we make today are going to impact the future generation, and our descendants would have to live with the consequences of our decisions.

Excessive focus on national priorities could provide short-term relief to our urges, but it is heavily detrimental to our interests in the longer run. Frank White, a space-psychologist who became very popular in public discourse due to the theory of the ‘Overview Effect’ which he devised, propounds on the basis of his personal experiences, that astronauts have a real potential to become agents of social change. 

According to Frank, Space-travel alters and uplifts human consciousness, and enables us to build a newly found appreciation of Earth as a system. The astronauts who look at Earth from space, often come back and say that being there really made them feel a sense of togetherness.  From outer space, the borders on Earth fade and make Earth look like a planet without distinctions. 

This very much reveals why astronauts and their experiences have been a major object of psychological interest for White in his research. 

The current pandemic has made it clearer than ever before that nations and people need to cooperate with each other to save the planet from larger existential threats. For the virus during this pandemic is coming at us irrespective of our nationalities.

Likewise, space-travel also reveals an opportunity to instil a humanitarian spirit and consciousness within us. But for that to become a reality, our space programs would also have to reflect this spirit of unity. Unfortunately, space-expeditions currently are often driven by specifically national aims and a fervour that is detrimental to the aspiration and hope of international cooperation.

The Space Force built by the U.S. for instance, has been largely justified as a response to the threats posed by other nations (The U.S. Space Force is the 6th independent U.S. military service branch, tasked with missions and operations in the rapidly evolving space domain). Frank White, on the contrary, aims to build a human space program that would reflect a global commitment towards the aim of exploring the universe. It would aim at enabling the brightest of astronauts from all across humanity to reach space, and not segregate them on the basis of nations. Building a new mental connection with the universe would be the prime motivator of such a project.

Space for Humanity as an organisation is working to sponsor citizen flights to space. The organisation founded by Dylan Taylor ensures that there is equal access and opportunity to go to space. Frank White is on the board of Space for Humanity too. 

White believes that the International Space Station (ISS) deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because it fosters the humanitarian feeling of connectedness. The ISS has truly contributed in strengthening the spirit of peace, environmental thoughtfulness, and a cooperative attitude towards situations of conflicts and crises. Frank is one of the people who had written a letter to promote the ISS getting the Nobel Peace Prize this year. He urges people to rethink the reasons why the Nobel Peace prize was founded. The astronauts who work at ISS hail from different countries that are oftentimes at conflict, but when they traverse space together and work to build a station, they put all of it behind. In space, people truly realise the value and necessity for international co-operation and this changes their outlook on life. 

The International Space Station (ISS) is a multi-nation construction project that is the largest single structure humans ever put into space. Its main construction was completed between 1998 and 2011, although the station continually evolves to include new missions and experiments. It has been continuously occupied since Nov. 2, 2000.

The opportunity of space-travel could bring us closer to each other and drop down the age-old tribal divisions artificed by social structures intended to separate us.  A deeper mental bond with the universe, would emanate out of the realization that Earth is, but a smaller part of a much larger system, and not a whole in itself.

The pandemic has given us a strong reason to stay united at a time of crisis, and White hopes that after discovering the vaccine for the virus, people would not forget what these times were like, and rather take inspiration from it and retain the spirit of international cooperation and empathy.

White’s primary contribution to space psychology remains the Overview Effect, where he highlights the “Earth-out-of-sight” experience.  The farther away from Earth one goes, deeper would be the shift and elevation in consciousness. For it would give one the ability to look at our planet as one single beautiful, blue entity; where borders would look artificially constructed and the barrenness of huge patches of land would alert us to the singular threat that should actually instigate a deeper alarm and united response from the international community; the threat of environmental deterioration, which directly thwarts Earth’s ability to sustain life.

For it is really difficult to build life-like conditions on any other surface in the universe.

It is only on Earth that human beings are able to enjoy protection from harmful radiations. If we were to inhabit Moon or Mars in the near future, the possibility of genetic mutations or the threat of diseases such as cancer proliferating is something we would seriously have to think about.

Moreover, Frank speculates that people might not be willing to go on a one-way mission to Mars. The threat of homesickness and depression could become too real.

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