China has better hackers than us

The failure to teach computer science in schools and universities bites back

The Register reports on new statistics released by the coding site Interview Street which illustrate the dominance of developing economies in the field of information technology.

The site offers jobseekers tricky coding challenges to solve, with the idea being that the coders who have objectively demonstrated their merit will get picked up by big tech firms (it seems to work; Business Insider claims that Facebook and Zynga recruit from the site). They also have leaderboards, with the best candidate's countries listed. And guess who dominates the boards:

It's not just China. Over half of the top fifty hackers (that's "proficient at using computers", not "cyber-terrorist") are from BRICS countries, and although the US makes a showing, the highest Briton is 79th. Well done anyway, "srowley".

The Register's Phil Muncaster argues that our poor form is a consequence of the decline in focus given to science and technology, writing:

The government’s announcement last year of an overhaul to GCSE and A-Level exams to include more focus on coding and programming is a step in the right direction but fails to address the basic fact that sci-tech courses don’t have the requisite cool to attract large numbers of students.

Of course, China's lead may mean little if they continue to cordon their citizens off from the rest of the internet. Unless, that is, their lead in computer science is viewed, not as an economic issue, but as a military one. The great international relations scholar Joseph Nye warned today:

The world is only just beginning to see glimpses of cyber war – in the denial-of-service attacks that accompanied the conventional war in Georgia in 2008, or the recent sabotage of Iranian centrifuges. . . It is time for states to sit down and discuss how to limit this threat to world peace.

A Chinese computer user visits Ali Baba. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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