Understanding Digital Technology and Fourth Industrial Revolution
Posted on April 15th, 2020

Aloysius Hettiarachchi

In trying to take advantage of the lockdown that we have been subjected to, I decided to read a book on digital technology from which I had previously read here and there, this time with a determination of understanding it better. It had been written by a famous professor (US) who had inspired the likes of Linus Torvalds and the Norwegian duo Alf and Vegard (college students) to invent the Linux operating system and the AVR technology, respectively. The AVR technology in particular is used in many electronic devices today. This professor is old (same as me) but is still serving in a famous university in the Netherlands. And it dawned on me that this is an opportune moment for GOSL to take advantage to enlighten many youths (and even adults) about the digital technology using the electronic media and their ICTA guys.  Yesterday morning I was watching a TV program in ITN in which one psychologist taking part in the program said that normally our guys, when they go for an international event always take a back seat. Perhaps this may be the reason why we are backward when compared to those in countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and even India which were way behind us in the 60s. In the field of digital technology also we seem to have taken a backseat even though many businessmen come on various forums and talk about AI etc.  

  1. To my mind there is no need for knowledge in science or engineering to understand the basics of digital technology; it is simple as understanding “yes” or “no”, “high” or “low”, 12 volts, 5 volts and 3 volts of batteries and the current flows in metal wires. Steve Jobs’ training was only on Cartography, but he was quick to understand the need for the computer to have a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and took the advantage along with Bill Gates and created the computer (and the mobile) that we use in our everyday life today. This was a huge loss of opportunity to Xerox which actually spent for the development of that technology in Polo Alto research facility. So, the smart guy who make use of the opportunity always wins.
  2. The headquarters of manufacture of digital devices and products now is not the US (or UK & Germany) today, but Taiwan; this dispels the myth that a good knowledge of English is a prerequisite to gain knowledge of digital technology. Watch the video in the link given below to see how they ridicule this myth:

        ; TechNexion PCB design and manufacture in Taiwan

  • The Prez should get his ICTA team that comprise professors, lecturers and Industrialist to give a series of lectures to students in A’level classes as well as in Universities explaining the basics in the computer organization as the lady in the link given below does. This may be given in Sinhala using the new terms that are used these days. This lady has a crash course that can be followed if necessary. I have observed that it is the top guys in any governmental organization that does the biggest damage to the country by staying put without contributing much. Software development is not digital technology; one does not need any knowledge of internal combustion engine to drive a car. Software development can be done without knowing any digital technology as long as one knows how operate a computer. I therefore believe that Prez should give them targets to be achieved in a definite time frame and should not keep them beyond that even if they try to help him in various ways or sing hosannas.

        ; Crash course1 on digital technology, the history

        ; Crash course3 Logic Gates

  • It is the private sector that has helped countries to achieve greatness except in the case of Russia. It was IBM, Xerox, Apple, Microsoft etc in the US, ARM in the UK, Samsung in Korea and Acer and TSMC in Taiwan that has helped those countries to earn billions and improve the living standard of their people. (The recent pandemic shows that these countries ,except Taiwan, have been solely depending on these technologies for survival). These are all hardware companies except in the case of Microsoft but they too are constantly following the trends in hardware and that is why they send updates from time to time in trying to maintain the hardware acceleration etc. by even upgrading the booting system remotely all the time. I therefore feel that the government should encourage startups in this field by making things easier for such companies to operate in this field.
  • It was in the news that the current PM even gave funds (Rs. 180 million) as early as 2014 to Moratuwa university to set up a facility for PCB design using software, whether they actually made use of it is not known. I give below two videos to explain what I am talking about; these are free open source software:

        ; KiCad, PCB design using cad syst

          ; PCB design

  • I have visited couple of exhibitions recently including the one at Homagama ICT campus couple of months ago and found that the guys who were there to explain their ware did not have a good understanding of the controllers their exhibits make use of. For example the technical guy who was displaying the operations of a drone did not know the controller it was using. They had mounted a standard Raspberry Pi 3 as the controller which can use standard software that can be downloaded. But the drone lacked stability. If there are academics worth their salt who bring these items, they should design controllers using the facilities provided by the government and also enlighten their technical staff as to how they operate. Perhaps ministry of education should buy the kits the guy in the following two videos is using to demonstrate how an 8 bit computer can be made on just about ten bred boards and simple chips all of which costs no more than US$ 250.  The second video explains the basics of a building a graphics card. This will demonstrate how a simple computer can be built. The chip 6502 was the processor (8 bits) on which both BBC Micro and the Apple 11 computers were built and computer enthusiasts (including those of the ARM engineers) had experimented while our academics were concentrating on revolutions.

               Eight bit computer

        ; World’s worst video card

Founders of Microsoft, Bill Gates and Paul Allen not only had an intimate knowledge of the Basic and C languages they used (for the MSDOS system) but also had a good knowledge of the underlying hardware layers on which the microprogram operated. They had the confidence to leave the university courses they followed and start their endeavor that became the most valuable company in the world. After leaving the university they first enlisting themselves on a project with Washington road department for traffic count. The ‘engine’ of the laptop on which I am typing this today (Intel Core-i7 CPU on a 2016 Dell machine) is only an extension of Intel 8008 machine made in 1972 that they used in 1973.  And this machine had so many problems the Microsoft seems to have been trying to solve from the time I bought it. They seem to have tried to gain hardware acceleration at the same time to keep it power efficient at the expense of poor users. The display of my computer was not stable from the time I bought it in 2016 in a foreign country and it stayed that way until quite recently when they had remotely updated it with a different booting system (UEFI). I had seen people coming from distant places like Badulla carrying the same laptop to service centers in Unity Plaza in Bambalapitiya in Colombo saying their computer is not waking up from hibernation.  

Michael Dell was also a student in a university who experimented in building computers with cheap parts and when he found that his products were selling fast dropped out of uni to build his own company. He seems to be still experimenting in plants spread around the world. This particular machine I am using had been assembled in Malaysia but was unable to solve the problem when the vendor sent it there. So, why not our guys also embark on such ventures without fear?.

Because of the Corona virus our people have got the opportunity to make things like robots, ventilators, sanitizers etc for which we would have had to spend large amount of forex. So, necessity is the mother of invention and what I can say is automate, automate and automate for the next level. I have done this with software using AI techniques since 1990 in many of my projects, although it is only recently people have started talking about it

 To my mind education as tool to keep parents and children occupied is just wastage of resources and time; it is alsonot the solution to develop our economy. It did not happen in Korea or Taiwan, it will not happen in Sri Lanka either; it will only produce more jobless graduates the GOSL has to take care of while those who do science and engineering will have no option other than to emigrate and still do menial jobs overseas. To my mind our guys working in big software companies here and abroad are doing jobs similar to those of house maids but in a more dignified way.

I appeal to GOSL to get their experts in the field of digital Technology to come forward and give a series of lectures that may be useful to students (and even adults) using the TV channels that has been freed from Teledramas and make the best use of enforced holiday. If this is done may be in the near future we will have not billionaires (we already have them in the US?) but challenge the likes of Elon Musk who owns Tesla. The following video describe his efforts:

        ; Will Elon Musk be the first trillionaire

This video below gives an assessment of the ventilator basics and how Teslas machine made with car parts compares with a real commercial one. This is for the Vega guys who built their own ventilator with their car parts.

        ; Tesla Ventilator (food for thought of Vega engineers).

I am open to take both criticism as well as any kind words as I had to, 30 years ago.

One Response to “Understanding Digital Technology and Fourth Industrial Revolution”

  1. aloy Says:

    “Please let me elaborate a bit on the following statement which I made at the first bullet above:

    “I therefore believe that Prez should give them targets to be achieved in a definite time frame and should not keep them beyond that even if they try to help him in various ways or sing hosannas.”

    I was watching a program of Rupavahini channel yesterday in which our president’s head of the ICTA was speaking of the innovations they are making use of in the present situation. He mentioned that he is promoting a scheme to make all Grama Niladaries to use technology to keep records by giving tabs to each one of them together with a couple of young employees to assist. I have no problem with this if he wants to build laptops or desktops locally over a long period of time with some of the parts imported. But this scheme is the type of bribing machines our administrators usually invent. This is a way to survive at the top by singing hosanna or showing carrots to the boss, instead of doing some thing useful to the country. At this moment we have a serious forex problem. So thinking about importing so many laptops like the previous government in itself is a crime.

    Talking about our tech companies, he said they have been able to be withing the top ten in the world. But the figure he gave as total earnings is clearly wrong; his figure was Rs. 1.2 billion. He seems to be having a maths problem and also cannot scale; it cannot be a slip of tongue.

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