From Antitrust to Strategic Independence – towards a European cloud

While current developments in the cloud industry have market regulators increasingly concerned about antitrust issues with the two big providers, governments might also be well advised to look at the situation from an international security perspective.

At present, economic issues

At the moment, concerns about market dominance and questions about which laws are applicable for cloud providers are dominating the discussions. For instance, as the market share of the two largest cloud providers (Microsoft & AWS) reaches 70% in places, the concern is whether those companies could be using their market share to stifle competition. In a Swiss scenario, a large concern is whether US laws (CLOUD Act) might force Swiss banks to further loosen their secrecy commitments and thus undermine one of their strongest business arguments. Still, these issues are limited to legal questions, whether antitrust or international law.

In the future, a strategic problem?

However, there is another aspect to this concentration of market power. Currently the number one to three (Google) of the cloud market all reside in the United States. So could the fact that almost all major European businesses and a large number of government agencies have – for all practical purposes irrevocably – moved large parts of their IT into US-controlled clouds become a major political liability?

A political worst-case scenario

So far, and certainly under the Biden government, the US has been viewed by all European governments as either a formal ally, or at least a friendly country and a partner in upholding international law, European security and free trade. However, it is by no means clear that this will remain so in the future.

As the 2024 elections begin to loom large on the Horizon of US politics, indicators are suggesting that there is a distinct possibility that the next US government might actually be a radical republican one (Trump or any of his followers) . In this case, US interest could quickly start to diverge from European ones, in the security space, the economic space or even the question of international conduct.

America First
Will America First trump technology? (Bildquelle Pixabay)

Today it seems far-fetched to think that a US government could use European dependence on AWS, Azure or Google to exert political or economic pressure, both because it would violate US law and international law, and be very bad politics. But Trump has already proved that any laws do not overly concern him when his interests (or even his fancies) are at stake, and other republicans have not been averse to resort to hitherto unthinkable tactics in selecting a new House Speaker, paralyzing the entire lawmaking apparatus in the process. What would they be capable of when in power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Strategic Alternatives

Sound risk management needs to look at even very unlikely scenarios if they carry catastrophic risks, and in this extreme scenario European businesses and governments could indeed be susceptible to pressure because of their dependency to AWS, Azure or Google.

  • It is doubtful whether their international locations could work entirely independently from the US headquarters even if they wanted to.
  • Models like the Oracle „EU Sovereign Cloud“ or Amazon’s AWS European Sovereign Cloud might be the answer to regulatory and data protection challenges, but – even though they are technically not connected to a US data center – they are ultimately still under the control of a US company.
  • Short of a wholesale takeover of data centers by European governments European ownership and control of the data could not be guaranteed.
  • The only other nation to offer hyperscaler cloud services on a reasonable scale – China – is no real alternative, for obvious reasons.

Towards a European cloud

The recently initiated GAIA-X project claims to aim at digital sovereignty and is a step in the right direction. However, on its website it is expressly defined that „our outcome will not be a cloud„.

Thus, it could be worthwhile to look at launching a dedicated European alternative in hyperscale services to address strategic scenarios beyond data privacy or market share. Unfortunately, things that happen in the US out of economic dynamism usually need a bureaucratic government base to get started in Europe. Still, as there are many success stories like Airbus, CERN or Galileo, it certainly can be done.

With the world in an increasingly unstable state, now is the time for a European cloud!

Driverless cars and the real world

While driving in Germany the other day, a traffic situation just a little out of the ordinary got me thinking about autonomous cars and in how far they are ready for the open road.

On a not too small two-lane road, a vehicle had broken down and stood on the side of the road. There was no way to pass it without crossing into the oncoming lane, which was pretty busy, with the cars going rather fast. So what I and other drivers on my side did was slowly ease my way past the broken-down car, forcing the oncoming traffic to slow down and steer a little towards the side of their lane (they did have plenty of space). Certainly not exactly according to the rules, but the only way to avoid a very lengthy delay. An everyday occurrence in traffic.

Now, what would a driverless car have done? I can see only one option within the current paradigm, namely to wait until the lane was cleared, as passing the way I did was clearly against the rules of the road. This would have resulted in a huge tailback, inviting dangerous moves by drivers of conventional cars further back in the queue.

Where is this going? Now, in my view, there can be two solutions to enable a completely automatic car to cope with such everyday road situations without bringing traffic to a temporary standstill:

–         If we create robotic cars that reliably handle this kind of real-world situation the way a human does, in interaction with humans, we will in essence have created androids or artificial life-forms (like Cmdr. Data, for the Trekkies among us), as dealing with this stuff is a little bit of what it means to be human. Not sure we can do that, or even want to.

–         Much more likely, in my view, is that traffic, like so many other things (warehouses, assembly lines, voice assistants, Internet banking etc.), will be transformed into a laboratory environment, where it is easy for robots to work, but any human and other real-world interaction with them must take place on their terms. For traffic, this also means that manual driving must be prohibited altogether, so that nobody in the inevitable queue in my example loses their nerves and swerves into the oncoming robot traffic, which would not know to give way flexibly.

We can see this “laboratory” environment at work already in driverless airport trains, for instance*. In a Swiss motoring magazine I saw an article demanding that street signage be designed with robotic cars in mind. Going down this road will be very costly, but might bring benefits in efficiency and safety. Let’s for the moment just assume that the benefits (beyond fascination with technology for its own sake) will actually be worth the cost.

Still, do we want this? To me the answer is no. Automatic functions in cars, sure, but to transform a large part of the infrastructure of human society into an environment where only robots would be truly at home is a nightmare idea.

What do you think?

*By the way, almost all SF films and series presume the first solution, as in all of them, the heroes still pilot their vehicles/gliders/spaceships/whatever themselves.

Throw the electric car under the bus (or the tram, or the train…)!

Well, no, I am not an enemy of the electric vehicle (EV). I am fairly certain it is going to have an important role to play in the future of personal travel. The problem is not in the technology, or in the number of charging stations, or any other technical point, it is in the timing! Let me explain…

There seem to be a few things that almost everyone can agree on, if not on the exact numbers, so at least on the rough outlines:

– While electric cars will consume less energy (independently from the discussion of how electric energy is produced in different areas), their lifetime consumption is still significant. Over a car lifetime may they consume two thirds of what a Diesel car uses, or even less, but it is far from negligible.

– By far the biggest amount of an EV’s energy use accrues in production, so right at the start.

– According to many predictions, the world has a small window, five to ten years (again, the details vary) to reduce its CO2 emissions, an important part of which is to reduce energy use in car traffic.

– At the moment, the production capacity for EVs is in the hundreds of thousands per year, if at all.

Given these facts, it is immediately obvious that replacing any significant number of conventional cars (40 million, give or take, in Germany alone) by EVs is going to take many more than those years we seem to have left to avert a climate disaster. And even if we could ramp up production by a factor of ten within a year – let’s say by Musky magic – it would actually worsen the problem, as all the up-front energy use for building these cars would happen in the critical years, while most of the old gas guzzlers would still be around and there is not enough renewable energy to supply all those Gigafactories. So we would actually get increased energy use, and with it increased CO2 emissions, exactly in those critical next ten years (and, in fact, much beyond that).

So while using EVs for replacement of conventional cars at the “natural” attrition rate is going to be a boon for the climate ten or twenty or more years from now, it isn’t going to help at all inside the critical window. Forcing replacement of still workable conventional cars by EVs would even be absolutely counterproductive.

This brings me to back to the title, to the one simple and effective measure we could take right now to combat climate change in the traffic area in the next couple of years: Make public transport free of charge! Instead of wasting money on incentives to buy EVs, it (and more) should be spent on subsidizing public transport down to zero cost for the traveler. This would immediately change almost everyone’s calculation basis for choosing a medium for their mobility needs, and would lead to gazillions of miles not driven, which is the only real way to help the climate in the immediate future.

ECB folly

When is this charade going to stop? Telling everyone it’s still about inflation is becoming an insult to every thinking human being. The inflation is there, it has been for years. The thing is, it’s only there in stuff that rich people buy, like stocks, Swiss Francs, property, vintage cars and art. The money is just not reaching the real world, because of many reasons, one of them being that an aging population does not spend money when they are fearing for their savings because of a Zero interest rate on their retirement accounts . Are the ECB guys too daft to see this? Of course not. Then why continue? Because the goal is really a different one: It is to force the northern European countries and especially Germany – governments and consumers alike – to spend more money than they would otherwise be willing to do, so their spending will improve the economic situation of the southern European countries that are unwilling or unable to enact reforms that would lower their debt burden and improve their competitve standing. Whether that is good or bad, right or wrong is another debate, but it is high time to admit it and to stop trying to fool everyone!

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Habecks Heuchelei

Ich fass es ja nicht: Da verteidigt der Vorsitzende der Grünen allen Ernstes einen der hirnlosesten existierenden Binnenflugeneratoren, die seit Jahrzehnten andauernde, völlig unsinnige Aufteilung des Regierungssitzes zwischen Bonn und Berlin, und druckst rum, er müsse ja auch fliegen, so sei der Job nun mal, wenn man um 9 Uhr in ich-weiss-nicht-wo sein müsse. Kaum wird er irgendwo als nächster Kanzler gehandelt, ist Klimaschutz nur noch eine Nebensache neben Apparat-beschwichtigender “Strukturpolitik”. Und in anderen Interviews schwärmen die Grünen dann von Greta und moralisieren rum, dass man sich für die Klimabilanz bitte in überfüllte Pendlerzüge mit schlechten Anschlüssen quetschen möchte bei 35 Grad im Schatten, und ja nicht in die Ferien fliegen solle? Alle anderen – oft guten – Ideen (Kerosin besteuern, Bahn ausbauen etc.) werden zu leeren Polit-Phrasen angesichts solcher Heuchelei. Und dann trinkt er auch noch aus einem Moma-Pappbecher, im Studio, vermutlich fünf Meter vom Kaffeeautomaten entfernt…Egal, ich steige jetzt in meinen 6-Liter Zwölfzylinder und fahr mir einen Keks holen, zur Beruhigung.

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Trump vs. Democracy

While it is not surprising to see moronic attacks by Trump against everyone who is not his sycophant, it really is a new low for a US President to call into question the legitimacy of duly elected members of congress just because he dislikes something about them or their opinions. These ladies have been chosen by their constituencies and to deny them his respect is an attack on the core of American democracy, and – ironically coming from a Republican – on the “law and order” governing the representation of the American people by freely elected members of the legislative branch. On a lighter note, Trump should really think twice about continuing down this road, Germany is most emphatically not taking him “back” now or ever!

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Bild über den D-Day: Hitler schlief…

Hat jemand gestern in die Bild-Zeitung geschaut? Ihr könnt es ruhig zugeben…Aber Spass beiseite – im wörtlichen Sinne – denn ich bin völlig entsetzt über das, was ich gesehen habe bei einem Artikel über den D-Day. Ist sicher ein Thema, über das man alles mögliche Sinnvolle schreiben kann, von Historischem über Human Interest bis zu Trumps Sprüchen bei den Feierlichkeiten. Aber nein, die Bild Zeitung titelt “Als Hitler schlief” und in der Sub-Überschrift heisst es tatsächlich: “Am 6 Juni […] landete eine Armada der Alliierten […] – der Führer wurde erst um zehn Uhr geweckt”. 

Der Führer wurde erst um zehn Uhr geweckt…das musste ich schon zweimal lesen, und fassen kann ich es immer noch nicht – wie aus einer Depesche der NSDAP. Mal abgesehen von der Überschrift, als ob Hitlers Schlaf das wichtigste am Invasionstag gewesen wäre. Was ist bloß aus journalistischer Distanz geworden? Oder weiß jemand, ob in der Bild-Zeitung jetzt komplett die Neonazis das Ruder übernommen haben? Unfassbar…

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Solidarität mit den Eliten!

Nun ist sie im Angesicht der europäischen Krise wieder angebrochen, die Zeit der Solidarität. Es wurden Dummheiten gemacht, die deren Verursacher nicht ausbaden wollen. Es wurden fahrlässig Risiken eingegangen, deren Folgen nun keiner akzeptieren will. Da erinnert man sich flugs des schönen Konzeptes des Abwälzens unangenehmer Folgen des eigenen Handelns auf Andere, der modernen Solidarität. Selbst ein Helmut Schmidt mit all seinem wirtschaftlichen Sachverstand kann es nicht lassen, in seine Analysen solche moralisierenden Appelle einzuflechten.
Aber für wen wird denn da Solidarität eingefordert? Für den griechischen Rentner, für den italienischen Arbeiter, die portugiesische alleinerziehende Mutter, die jetzt alle unter den Sparhaushalten leiden?  Sind sie es, die in den letzten Jahren in Ihrer existentiellen Not die Haushalte ihrer Ländern bis zum Reißen strapaziert haben?  Die das ganze Geld zum Bestreiten ihres bescheidenen Lebens aufgebraucht haben? Mitnichten! Die Macht- und Wirtschaftseliten der betroffenen Länder sind es, die den Ruin der Haushalte zu verantworten habe, und ein guter Teil des jetzt fehlenden Geldes ist von eben jenen Eliten in der Schweiz oder den Cayman Islands beiseite geschafft worden. Griechische Reeder, die keine Steuern bezahlen, italienische Politiker, die sich dank  dubioser Verbindungen seit Jahren an staatlichen Fleischtöpfen laben oder irische Immobilienspekulanten, die ihren Landleuten Milliarden an Defiziten und ein paar überspannte Villen hinterlassen haben, das sind die Leute, bei denen das Geld verschwunden ist.  Und denen soll die Solidarität des deutschen, finnischen und holländischen Steuerzahlers gelten? Solange die nationale Politik der verschuldeten Länder oder die EU es nicht schaffen, diese Milliarden anzuzapfen, um die von deren Besitzern geschaffenen oder fahrlässig in Kauf genommenen Defizite auszugleichen, ist es mehr als dreist, mit moralischer Pose das Geld von anderen einzufordern. Ach ja, apropos deutsche Machtelite, und wie seht die SPD übrigens den Fall ihres ex-Finanzministers, der sich einen Nachschlag auf seine eh schon üppige Rente vor Gericht erstreitet? Es ist im Vergleich kein großer Betrag, und er mag  ein Recht darauf haben, aber wohlfeiles Geschwätz von der gemeinsamen Verantwortung für das Gemeinwohl kann man sich dann wohl sparen.
Nun sind die Verhältnisse im zerrütteten Europa so, wie sie sind, und Politik muß mit ihnen zurechtkommen. Man kann also über unappetitliche Alternativen sprechen, über notwendige Rettungen, über Einschränkungen und Kosten, vielleicht auch über Wachstum, Wettbewerbsfähigkeit oder Exporte, aber in dieser Situation von Solidarität zu sprechen, ist von ihrem korrupten System verhafteten südeuropäischen Politikern eine ans kriminelle grenzende Frechheit, und von deutschen Altbundeskanzlern immer noch schwer erträglich.

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