The Game of Go

The Economist writes on what is considered the most intellectually challenging game of them all:

[Go] is a simple parlour game where two opponents, comfortably seated and often equipped with nothing more than folding paper fans and cigarettes, take turns placing little stones, some black, some white, on a flat wooden grid. Simple regarding rules and gear, that is, yet so challenging that in this mind-game, unlike chess, and despite the long-standing offer of a $1.6m reward for a winning program, no computer has yet been able to outwit a clever ten-year-old.

The game…is not just more difficult and subtle than chess. It may also be the world’s oldest surviving game of pure mental skill. Devised in China at least 2,500 years ago, it had stirred enough interest by the time of the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD) to inspire poets, philosophers and strategic theorists. One of these strategists, Huan Tan (who died in 56AD), advises in his work Xin Lun, or New Treatise, that the best approach in the game is to spread your pieces widely so as to encircle the opponent. Second best is to attack and choke off enemy formations. The worst strategy is to cling to a defence of your own territorya warning that would have benefited, say, the designers of France’s 1930s Maginot line.

China and IT Services

WSJ writes:

In India, Infosys employs tens of thousands of English-speaking employees to handle back-office software projects for U.S. clients including Citigroup Inc. and American Express Co. Now, the company wants to re-create that high-tech, low-cost model for software development in China, where many of its biggest clients are beefing up operations.

“China will be a useful source of skills for Indian companies,” says Girija Pande, a regional director for Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., another Indian software company expanding in China. Tata now has more than 200 people working at three China offices and plans, like Infosys, to market services to multinational companies operating in China as well as domestic ones. “These are two countries that are going to be collaborating,” he says.

For U.S. companies still struggling to compete with cheap foreign labor in industries ranging from textiles to computers, it sounds like a double-outsourcing nightmare. But the trend toward Indian-Chinese business cooperation is likely to continue, analysts say, particularly in information-technology services where both countries have a wealth of engineers.

There are risks: The Indian companies must spend extra money to train Chinese engineers, many of whom lack strong project-management and consulting skills, including good English. But the Indian companies feel they need to be physically closer to their existing Western and Japanese clients who are now selling more products inside China. The idea is that Chinese programmers are best-suited to deal with material written in Chinese and can better customize programs for the heavily regulated Chinese market, including the accounting and billing software used by Western companies.

The Indian companies also are worried about their bottom lines: With competition for skilled programmers getting fiercer in India, and salaries soaring, the companies need new, affordable sources of labor to maintain a competitive edge over Western rivals such as IBM.

Infosys estimates that wage costs for software engineers are rising about 15% a year in India, but increasing just 4% in China. That makes China an alluring alternative to India for all types of programming, not just software built specifically for a customer’s China business.

McKinsey Quarterly asks if China’s can compete in IT Services:

To compete effectively in global outsourcing, China’s software industry must consolidate. The top ten IT-services companies have only about a 20 percent share of the market, compared with the 45 percent commanded by India’s top ten. Furthermore, China has about 8,000 software-services providers, and almost three-quarters of them have fewer than 50 employees. No company has emerged from this crowded pack; indeed, only 5 have more than 2,000 employees. India, on the other hand, has fewer than 3,000 software-services companies. Of these, at least 15 have more than 2,000 workers, and someincluding Infosys Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, and Wipro Technologieshave garnered international recognition and a global clientele.

Without adequate scale, Chinese players are unlikely to attract top international clients. In general, smaller companies are riskier and less reliable partners. They are more vulnerable to the loss of key personnel, may not have the financial muscle to survive for the duration of a project, and often don’t have the capacity or breadth to absorb large projects easily.

With greater size and an improved talent base, Chinese software-services companies will be in a better position to address other issues, such as building credible brands in international markets and developing knowledge of specific industries, including finance and pharmaceuticals. Organizational and operational changes are also needed to protect the intellectual property of clients. Last, most companies will have to abandon their project-based mentality and adopt a new focus on giving clients long-term value.

On-Demand TV

Video on-demand is finally becoming a reality. First, it was TiVo which time-shifted TV. Now, telcos and cable companies are engaged in a race to provided high-speed pipes to homes. WSJ writes:

Internet technology, which has rapidly changed how many phone calls are made, is beginning to fundamentally change TV.

As big cable companies morph into providers not only of television but also of telephone and high-speed Internet services, they are setting up national fiber-optic networks capable of transmitting all three signals using Internet technology.

The new networks are expected to allow cable companies to offer features combining phone, data and television, such as flashing the phone number of a telephone caller on a TV screen when the phone rings.

The move is another sign that cable companies are shifting away from traditional scheduled programming to shows that are available whenever viewers want to watch them. The fiber-optic networks will make it possible for digital-cable subscribers to click their remotes to view tens of thousands of hours of content stored on cable company servers — the same way Internet users click on a mouse to get Web pages and other online content stored on distant servers.

By leasing raw fiber, rather than leasing wavelength on fiber as some other cable companies are doing, Comcast is giving itself maximum flexibility to design its network from the ground up. The network will use at type of Internet technology called “gigabit Ethernet” to transport television signals. “You can use your personal computer as your television set. You can use it as a telephone. You can use it as your video telephone,” says Dave Fellows, Comcast’s chief technology officer. (Comcast doesn’t at present offer videophone service.) “We’re trying to go all services, all devices, one network.”

While most operators will continue to send traditional programming this way, Comcast is planning to use its new nationwide fiber network to distribute thousands of hours of “on-demand” programming, which digital-cable subscribers can watch just as they do a video or DVD.