TECH TALK: A slowing of mobile phone sales should trigger important research into their impact, says BILL MAGEE
Grand Theft Auto gamesters know well a stratagem called “You’ve Had Your Chips”, but beyond GTA’s twilight fictional world is a real-time drama, summed up by headlines declaring “A Global Chip Shortage”. COVID-19 is taking the blame for being uncomfortably close to terminally affecting vital supply chains involving every electronic device across all business sectors.
Everything from electric cars to games consoles, mobile phones, computers, smart TVs, washing machines and refrigerators, as well as trains and critical medical networks, even ever-growing numbers of satellites hovering above us, and the internet.
Intel’s £15 billion spend on a brace of new manufacturing plants to help stem global semiconductor shortages signals the sheer panic currently experienced within Silicon Valley, that accounts for almost half of all chip sales.
Goldman Sachs estimates 169 industries face severe disruption; 1% has been shaved off US GDP and government is spending – surely an initial – £25 billion in a bid to ramp up production of integrated circuits to energise a faltering sector, reverse factory closures and stem the catastrophic effect on fulfilling orders across the board.
Other contributory factors include a cryptocurrency marketplace with more than 7,800 chip-hungry platforms, also China stockpiling chips to ride out the crisis coupled with the latest trade war with the States.
The world’s largest chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, says it will take time to catch up and tech analysts talk of “uncharted territory” in a perfect storm affecting supply and demand.
Bloomberg claims such shortages are raising alarm bells from Washington to Beijing. Samsung, the second largest chips user after Apple, altered the date of its latest smartphone launch because of shortages.
The FT points to serious roadblocks for UK car sales, with new registrations well below pre-pandemic levels and production levels continuing to be hit well into the second half of this year.
‘The chips shortage is curbing the unceasing demands of a gadget-hungry consumer society. Some would say this is no bad thing and a digital circuit breaker is overdue’
Everyone hopes for a more balanced situation by next year but tellingly Gartner tech analyst Alan Priestley thinks it’s more like two, even three years before recovery really kicks in.
Something’s got to give. A highly volatile situation can often provide an opportunity: the chips shortage is curbing the unceasing demands of a gadget-hungry consumer society.
Some would say this is no bad thing and a digital circuit breaker is overdue.
Let me explain: Smartphones, so integral to practically every person on the planet, are reckoned to be associated with health dangers such as declining eyesight and damage to our brains.
International Journal of Health Sciences research warns mobiles emit radio frequency energy, representing “a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, which can be absorbed by tissues close to the phone”, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies mobile phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic..(there) could be some risk”.
Mobile phones are everywhere though sales are slowing (pic: Terry Murden)
The World Health Organisation has warned for years even a small increase in cell phone usage can result in major public health implications, especially given the immense number of people using mobiles.
WHO concludes whilst an increased risk of brain tumours has not been established, such increasing mobile phone usage, together with a lack of data over time periods longer than 15 years, warrants further research. Especially with the growing popularity among younger people and a potentially longer lifetime of exposure.
Calls are growing to study “heavy use” of mobiles along with multivarious other electronic devices, as they increasingly take over our lives. It’s not helped by what MIT describes as “pandemic brain fog”, hopefully a temporary aberration but not helping.
Smartphone users went over six billion globally in 2020 but Statista forecasts this will grow by a mere several hundred million in the next few years, as unit sales level off.
Given this factor, together with the global chips supply hiatus – how about someone high up in techland using such a breathing space to make the connection by commissioning an obviously vital healthcare project. Or is that too joined-up for the industry?