Fear and Brexit in Tech City: Digital 'elite' are having a nervous breakdown

Who will pour cash into our disruptive apps?


Comment As Brexit sends London's tech sector and Silicon Roundabout into post-traumatic shock, and protesters out onto the streets of London, inventor Andrew Fentem wonders "what sort of hippy free-for-all is this anyway?"

While some sections of the British press celebrate the Brexit vote in the UK, in the technology press there has been much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

Forbes interviewed a clearly traumatised Brent Hoberman – of Lastminute.com fame – who seems to be in need of a reassuring cuddle: "People feeling rejection. I think this is what the Leave campaign underestimated: the psychology of rejecting openness."

Sensitive Brent's words will no doubt remind Peep Show fans of this classic scene.

Preening international elitists like Hoberman are exactly what Brexit voters so dislike. While the self-styled “digital elite” talk in therapy-speak about European peace, love, and understanding, they are masking their true motivation – which is the freedom to exploit low-cost mobile tech labour. Cheap labour was the top reason cited by Tech City startups for voting Remain.

Whatever happens after Brexit, tech poseurs will remain in the UK because the global elite just love London – it's a wealthy, well-connected, cool, creative city with a ready supply of precarious labour and an impressive money-laundering infrastructure.

Last week, I met up with a friend who is the head of software for a large, well-known British technology company. Like a lot of the Remainers in the tech press, he was complaining that he had to do most of his recruitment abroad – such as from Eastern Europe. So I asked him what levels of salaries he was offering. The answer, it turned out, was £25k a year for junior roles. I was quite shocked. In the very early 1990s I was briefly employed as a junior coder and was paid about the going rate back then: £19k. Since those days, general compound inflation has been approximately 100 per cent, and rents have increased approximately 200 per cent.

When I asked why they were offering so little, my friend replied that with the EU’s mandatory freedom of movement, the owners of the company "know that they can get away with it".

In the early stages of my career I was an engineering apprentice and benefited from a considerable amount of on-the-job training. Apparently British tech employers no longer feel the need to provide that, either.

Meanwhile, over at the BBC – among their deluge of Project Fear articles – was a piece about London's apparently endangered Tech City. What is most interesting about this BBC article – and is unwittinglyly ironic to the point of satire – is the image they used to illustrate the UK's thrusting tech sector. The photo is of a young man sitting alone in an empty cafe with his laptop, presumably waiting for his next tech gig.

This not a picture of UK tech success – this is a picture of the precariat: no steady job, not even a desk to work at, living in cramped and expensive housing. These same young people have spent this past weekend petitioning, protesting, and marching for the right to be further exploited.

Silicon Roundabout is not an economic phenomenon, it’s a lifestyle scene, and this “tech lifestyle” is underpinned by taxpayers' money. The European Union is the biggest investor in UK venture capital firms, according to Adrian Drodz of Frost & Sullivan

The beneficiaries of this public money in Silicon Roundabout are simply disguising their self-interest as modernity.

During these protests, I received an email from a well-known Silicon Roundabout innovation agency urging their mailing list to “Save the UK” by signing a referendum petition. I reminded a worried friend that in 1974 (when I was very small) the UK only had commercial electricity for three days a week, and sometimes after school we would just sit in the silent darkness until bedtime. Amazingly, the UK survived.

For growth: look beyond Silicon Roundabout and beyond the EU

KPMG's sensible head of technology, Tudor Aw, also sought to reassure us, saying that, "Technology is a sector that will only increase in importance and works without borders." He's right. Speaking personally, very few of my own activities in the high-tech sector have involved anyone in the EU; almost all of the significant collaboration offers that I have received over the years have come from the US, China, South Korea, Japan, and from within the UK. The EU has primarily been a source of legal headaches – as I explained here on The Register two weeks ago.

Moving on from Brexit and the referendum, what will damage the UK more than Brexit is a continuation of the angst and disunity being driven by the losing Remain camp’s Project Fear. I suggest that, in the interests of true peace and understanding, technology entrepreneurs, VCs and pundits take a break from jetting between London, Berlin, and New York, and instead go on a Brexit Safari – taking in the delights of Grantham, Sunderland, Bolton and Merthyr Tydfil.

LastminuteBrexitBreaks.com?

Brent – you can have that one for free. ®

Andrew Fentem has worked in human-computer interaction research and hardware development for over 30 years. He pioneered multitouch surface technologies before Apple entered the field. His recent work includes Flick Pixels, a programmable fabric display technology.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Foxconn forms JV to build chip fab in Malaysia
    Can't say when, where, nor price tag. Has promised 40k wafers a month at between 28nm and 40nm

    Taiwanese contract manufacturer to the stars Foxconn is to build a chip fabrication plant in Malaysia.

    The planned factory will emit 12-inch wafers, with process nodes ranging from 28 to 40nm, and will have a capacity of 40,000 wafers a month. By way of comparison, semiconductor-centric analyst house IC Insights rates global wafer capacity at 21 million a month, and Taiwanese TSMC’s four “gigafabs” can each crank out 250,000 wafers a month.

    In terms of production volume and technology, this Malaysian facility will not therefore catapult Foxconn into the ranks of leading chipmakers.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's InSight doomed as Mars dust coats solar panels
    The little lander that couldn't (any longer)

    The Martian InSight lander will no longer be able to function within months as dust continues to pile up on its solar panels, starving it of energy, NASA reported on Tuesday.

    Launched from Earth in 2018, the six-metre-wide machine's mission was sent to study the Red Planet below its surface. InSight is armed with a range of instruments, including a robotic arm, seismometer, and a soil temperature sensor. Astronomers figured the data would help them understand how the rocky cores of planets in the Solar System formed and evolved over time.

    "InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. "We can apply what we've learned about Mars' inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems."

    Continue reading
  • The ‘substantial contributions’ Intel has promised to boost RISC-V adoption
    With the benefit of maybe revitalizing the x86 giant’s foundry business

    Analysis Here's something that would have seemed outlandish only a few years ago: to help fuel Intel's future growth, the x86 giant has vowed to do what it can to make the open-source RISC-V ISA worthy of widespread adoption.

    In a presentation, an Intel representative shared some details of how the chipmaker plans to contribute to RISC-V as part of its bet that the instruction set architecture will fuel growth for its revitalized contract chip manufacturing business.

    While Intel invested in RISC-V chip designer SiFive in 2018, the semiconductor titan's intentions with RISC-V evolved last year when it revealed that the contract manufacturing business key to its comeback, Intel Foundry Services, would be willing to make chips compatible with x86, Arm, and RISC-V ISAs. The chipmaker then announced in February it joined RISC-V International, the ISA's governing body, and launched a $1 billion innovation fund that will support chip designers, including those making RISC-V components.

    Continue reading
  • AMD claims its GPUs beat Nvidia on performance per dollar
    * Terms, conditions, hardware specs and software may vary – a lot

    As a slowdown in PC sales brings down prices for graphics cards, AMD is hoping to win over the market's remaining buyers with a bold, new claim that its latest Radeon cards provide better performance for the dollar than Nvidia's most recent GeForce cards.

    In an image tweeted Monday by AMD's top gaming executive, the chip designer claims its lineup of Radeon RX 6000 cards provide better performance per dollar than competing ones from Nvidia, with all but two of the ten cards listed offering advantages in the double-digit percentages. AMD also claims to provide better performance for the power required by each card in all but two of the cards.

    Continue reading
  • Google opens the pod doors on Bay View campus
    A futuristic design won't make people want to come back – just ask Apple

    After nearly a decade of planning and five years of construction, Google is cutting the ribbon on its Bay View campus, the first that Google itself designed.

    The Bay View campus in Mountain View – slated to open this week – consists of two office buildings (one of which, Charleston East, is still under construction), 20 acres of open space, a 1,000-person event center and 240 short-term accommodations for Google employees. The search giant said the buildings at Bay View total 1.1 million square feet. For reference, that's less than half the size of Apple's spaceship. 

    The roofs on the two main buildings, which look like pavilions roofed in sails, were designed that way for a purpose: They're a network of 90,000 scale-like solar panels nicknamed "dragonscales" for their layout and shimmer. By scaling the tiles, Google said the design minimises damage from wind, rain and snow, and the sloped pavilion-like roof improves solar capture by adding additional curves in the roof. 

    Continue reading
  • Pentester pops open Tesla Model 3 using low-cost Bluetooth module
    Anything that uses proximity-based BLE is vulnerable, claim researchers

    Tesla Model 3 and Y owners, beware: the passive entry feature on your vehicle could potentially be hoodwinked by a relay attack, leading to the theft of the flash motor.

    Discovered and demonstrated by researchers at NCC Group, the technique involves relaying the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals from a smartphone that has been paired with a Tesla back to the vehicle. Far from simply unlocking the door, this hack lets a miscreant start the car and drive away, too.

    Essentially, what happens is this: the paired smartphone should be physically close by the Tesla to unlock it. NCC's technique involves one gadget near the paired phone, and another gadget near the car. The phone-side gadget relays signals from the phone to the car-side gadget, which forwards them to the vehicle to unlock and start it. This shouldn't normally happen because the phone and car are so far apart. The car has a defense mechanism – based on measuring transmission latency to detect that a paired device is too far away – that ideally prevents relayed signals from working, though this can be defeated by simply cutting the latency of the relay process.

    Continue reading
  • Google assuring open-source code to secure software supply chains
    Java and Python packages are the first on the list

    Google has a plan — and a new product plus a partnership with developer-focused security shop Snyk — that attempts to make it easier for enterprises to secure their open source software dependencies.

    The new service, announced today at the Google Cloud Security Summit, is called Assured Open Source Software. We're told it will initially focus on some Java and Python packages that Google's own developers prioritize in their workflows. 

    These two programming languages have "particularly high-risk profiles," Google Cloud Cloud VP and GM Sunil Potti said in response to The Register's questions. "Remember Log4j?" Yes, quite vividly.

    Continue reading
  • Rocket Lab is taking NASA's CAPSTONE to the Moon
    Mission to lunar orbit is further than any Photon satellite bus has gone before

    Rocket Lab has taken delivery of NASA's CAPSTONE spacecraft at its New Zealand launch pad ahead of a mission to the Moon.

    It's been quite a journey for CAPSTONE [Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment], which was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab's US launchpad at Wallops Island in Virginia.

    The pad, Launch Complex 2, has been completed for a while now. However, delays in certifying Rocket Lab's Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) pushed the move to Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022