Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

An epic number of citizens are video-conferencing to work in these lockdown times. But as they trade in a gas-burning commute for digital connectivity, their personal energy use for each two hours of video is greater than the share of fuel they would have consumed on a four-mile train ride. Add to this, millions of students ‘driving’ to class on the internet instead of walking.

Meanwhile in other corners of the digital universe, scientists furiously deploy algorithms to accelerate research. Yet, the pattern-learning phase for a single artificial intelligence application can consume more compute energy than 10,000 cars do in a day.

This grand ‘experiment’ in shifting societal energy use is visible, at least indirectly, in one high-level fact set. By the first week of April, U.S. gasoline use had collapsed by 30 percent, but overall electric demand was down less than seven percent. That dynamic is in fact indicative of an underlying trend for the future. While transportation fuel use will eventually rebound, real economic growth is tied to our electrically fueled digital future.

The COVID-19 crisis highlights just how much more sophisticated and robust the 2020 internet is from what existed as recently as 2008 when the economy last collapsed, an internet ‘century’ ago. If a national lockdown had occurred back then, most of the tens of millions who now telecommute would have joined the nearly 20 million who got laid off. Nor would it have been nearly as practical for universities and schools to have tens of millions of students learning from home.

Analysts have widely documented massive increases in internet traffic from all manner of stay-at-home activities. Digital traffic measures have spiked for everything from online groceries to video games and movie streaming. So far, the system has ably handled it all, and the cloud has been continuously available, minus the occasional hiccup.

There’s more to the cloud’s role during the COVID-19 crisis than one-click teleconferencing and video chatting. Telemedicine has finally been unleashed. And we’ve seen, for example, apps quickly emerge to help self-evaluate symptoms and AI tools put to work to enhance X-ray diagnoses and to help with contact tracing. The cloud has also allowed researchers to rapidly create “data lakes” of clinical information to fuel the astronomical capacities of today’s supercomputers deployed in pursuit of therapeutics and vaccines. 

The future of AI and the cloud will bring us a lot more of the above, along with practical home diagnostics and useful VR-based telemedicine, not to mention hyper-accelerated clinical trials for new therapies. And this says nothing about what the cloud will yet enable in the 80 percent of the economy that’s not part of healthcare.

For all of the excitement that these new capabilities offer us though, the bedrock behind all of that cloud computing will remain consistent — and consistently increasing — demand for energy. Far from saving energy, our AI-enabled workplace future uses more energy than ever before, a challenge the tech industry rapidly needs to assess and consider in the years ahead.

The new information infrastructure

The cloud is vital infrastructure. That will and should reshape many priorities. Only a couple of months ago, tech titans were elbowing each other aside to issue pledges about reducing energy usage and promoting ‘green’ energy for their operations. Doubtlessly, such issues will remain important. But reliability and resilience — in short, availability — will now move to the top priority.

As Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) last month reminded his constituency, in a diplomatic understatement, about the future of wind and solar: “Today, we’re witnessing a society that has an even greater reliance on digital technology” which “highlights the need for policy makers to carefully assess the potential availability of flexibility resources under extreme conditions.” In the economically stressed times that will follow the COVID-19 crisis, the price society must pay to ensure “availability” will matter far more.

It is still prohibitively expensive to provide high reliability electricity with solar and wind technologies. Those that claim solar/wind are at “grid parity” aren’t looking at reality. The data show that overall costs of grid kilowatt-hours are roughly 200 to 300 percent higher in Europe where the share of power from wind/solar is far greater than in the U.S. It bears noting that big industrial electricity users, including tech companies, generally enjoy deep discounts from the grid average, which leaves consumers burdened with higher costs.

Put in somewhat simplistic terms: this means that consumers are paying more to power their homes so that big tech companies can pay less for power to keep smartphones lit with data. (We will see how tolerant citizens are of this asymmetry in the post-crisis climate.)

Many such realities are, in effect, hidden by the fact that the cloud’s energy dynamic is the inverse of that for personal transportation. For the latter, consumers literally see where 90 percent of energy is spent when filling up their car’s gas tank. When it comes to a “connected” smartphone though, 99 percent of energy dependencies are remote and hidden in the cloud’s sprawling but largely invisible infrastructure. 

For the uninitiated, the voracious digital engines that power the cloud are located in the thousands of out-of-sight, nondescript warehouse-scale data centers where thousands of refrigerator-sized racks of silicon machines power our applications and where the exploding volumes of data are stored. Even many of the digital cognoscenti are surprised to learn that each such rack burns more electricity annually than 50 Teslas. On top of that, these data centers are connected to markets with even more power-burning hardware that propel bytes along roughly one billion miles of information highways comprised of glass cables and through 4 million cell towers forging an even vaster invisible virtual highway system.

Thus the global information infrastructure — counting all its constituent features from networks and data centers to the astonishingly energy-intensive fabrication processes — has grown from a non-existent system several decades ago to one that now uses roughly 2,000 terawatt-hours of electricity a year. That’s over 100 times more electricity than all the world’s five million electric cars use each year.

Put in individual terms: this means the pro rata, average electricity used by each smartphone is greater than the annual energy used by a typical home refrigerator. And all such estimates are based on the state of affairs of a few years ago.

A more digital future will inevitable use more energy

Some analysts now claim that even as digital traffic has soared in recent years, efficiency gains have now muted or even flattened growth in data-centric energy use. Such claims face recent countervailing factual trends. Since 2016, there’s been a dramatic acceleration in data center spending on hardware and buildings along with a huge jump in the power density of that hardware.

Regardless of whether digital energy demand growth may or may not have slowed in recent years, a far faster expansion of the cloud is coming. Whether cloud energy demand grows commensurately will depend in large measure in just how fast data use rises, and in particular what the cloud is used for. Any significant increases in energy demand will make far more difficult the engineering and economic challenges of meeting the cloud’s central operational metric: always available.

More square feet of data centers have been built in the past five years than during the entire prior decade. There is even a new category of “hyperscale” data centers: silicon-filled buildings each of which covers over one million square feet. Think of these in real-estate terms as the equivalent to the dawn of skyscrapers a century ago. But while there are fewer than 50 hyper-tall buildings the size of the Empire State Building in the world today, there are already some 500 hyperscale data centers across the planet. And the latter have a collective energy appetite greater than 6,000 skyscrapers.

We don’t have to guess what’s propelling growth in cloud traffic. The big drivers at the top of the list are AI, more video and especially data-intense virtual reality, as well as the expansion of micro data centers on the “edge” of networks.

Until recently, most news about AI has focused on its potential as a job-killer. The truth is that AI is the latest in a long line of productivity-driving tools that will replicate what productivity growth has always done over the course of history: create net growth in employment and more wealth for more people. We will need a lot more of both for the COVID-19 recovery. But that’s a story for another time. For now, it’s already clear that AI has a role to play in everything from personal health analysis and drug delivery to medical research and job hunting. The odds are that AI will ultimately be seen as a net “good.”

In energy terms though, AI is the most data hungry and power intensive use of silicon yet created — and the world wants to use billions of such AI chips. In general, the compute power devoted to machine learning has been doubling every several months, a kind of hyper version of Moore’s Law. Last year, Facebook, for example, pointed to AI as a key reason for its data center power use doubling annually.

In our near future we should also expect that, after weeks of lockdowns experiencing the deficiencies of video conferencing on small planar screens, consumers are ready for the age of VR-based video. VR entails as much as a 1000x increase in image density and will drive data traffic up roughly 20-fold. Despite fits and starts, the technology is ready, and the coming wave of high-speed 5G networks have the capacity to handle all those extra pixels. It requires repeating though: since all bits are electrons, this means more virtual reality leads to more power demands than are in today’s forecasts.

Add to all this the recent trend of building micro-data centers closer to customers on “the edge.” Light speed is too slow to deliver AI-driven intelligence from remote data centers to real-time applications such as VR for conferences and games, autonomous vehicles, automated manufacturing, or “smart” physical infrastructures, including smart hospitals and diagnostic systems. (The digital and energy intensity of healthcare is itself already high and rising: a square foot of a hospital already uses some five-fold more energy than a square foot in other commercial buildings.)

Edge data centers are now forecast to add 100,000 MW of power demand before a decade is out. For perspective, that’s far more than the power capacity of the entire California electric grid. Again, none of this was on any energy forecaster’s roadmap in recent years.

Will digital energy priorities shift?

Which brings us to a related question: Will cloud companies in the post-coronavirus era continue to focus spending on energy indulgences or on availability? By indulgences, I mean those corporate investments made in wind/solar generation somewhere else (including overseas) other than to directly power one’s own facility. Those remote investments are ‘credited’ to a local facility to claim it is green powered, even though it doesn’t actually power the facility.

Nothing prevents any green-seeking firm from physically disconnecting from the conventional grid and building their own local wind/solar generation – except that to do so and ensure 24/7 availability would result in a roughly 400 percent increase in that facility’s electricity costs.

As it stands today regarding the prospects for purchased indulgences, it’s useful to know that the global information infrastructure already consumes more electricity than is produced by all of the world’s solar and wind farms combined. Thus there isn’t enough wind/solar power on the planet for tech companies — much less anyone else — to buy as ‘credits’ to offset all digital energy use.

The handful of researchers who are studying digital energy trends expect that cloud fuel use could rise at least 300 percent in the coming decade, and that was before our global pandemic. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency forecasts a ‘mere’ doubling in global renewable electricity over that timeframe. That forecast was also made in the pre-coronavirus economy. The IEA now worries that the recession will drain fiscal enthusiasm for expensive green plans.

Regardless of the issues and debates around the technologies used to make electricity, the priority for operators of the information infrastructure will increasingly, and necessarily, shift to its availability. That’s because the cloud is rapidly becoming even more inextricably linked to our economic health, as well as our mental and physical health.

All this should make us optimistic about what comes on the other side of the recovery from the pandemic and unprecedented shutdown of our economy. Credit Microsoft, in its pre-COVID 19 energy manifesto, for observing that “advances in human prosperity … are inextricably tied to the use of energy.” Our cloud-centric 21st century infrastructure will be no different. And that will turn out to be a good thing.


TechCrunch

A lot of startups have answered the call for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essentials to support healthcare workers in their efforts to curb the spread and impact of COVID-19. One of those is direct-to-consumer 3D-printed eyewear brand Fitz, which is employing its custom-fit glasses technology to build protective, prescription specs to frontline healthcare workers in need of the best protection they can get.

Fitz Protect is a version of Fitz’s eyesore that uses the same custom measurement tool Fitz created for use via its iOS app, made possible by Apple’s depth-sensing Face ID camera on newer iPhones and all iPad Pro models. The app allows virtual try-on, and provides millimeter-level accurate measurements for a custom fit. Protect is a version of the glasses that still supports a wide range of prescriptions, but that also extends further like safety glasses to provide more coverage and guard against errant entry of any fluids through the eyes.

Health care professionals are doing what they can to ensure their face, mouth, nose and eyes are protected from any coughs, sneezes or other droplet-spreading activity from COVID-19 patients that could pass on the infection. These measures have more broadly focused on face shields that feature a single transparent plastic sheet, and N95 masks (and alternatives when not available) to protect the mouth and nose.

Fitz CEO Gabriel Schlumberger explained via email that the design for Fitz Protect came from working frontline doctors in nurses from New York, LA and Texas who were all looking for something to source prescription protective eyewear.

“More than 60% of doctors are glasses wearers, and current guidance is for them to stop wearing contact lenses,” Schlumberger explained, adding that Fitz Protect is also designed to be worn in conjunction with a face shield, when that’s an available option, and provide yet another layer of defense.

“We heard from prescription glasses wearers that their standard glasses didn’t provide anywhere near adequate coverage, especially over the eyebrows, and in some cases they were adding cardboard cut-outs,” he said. “We leveraged our existing system to create something much better. ”

Fitz’s model also helps on the pricing side because it’s already designed to be an aggressively cost-competitive offering when compared to traditional prescription eyesore. Their glasses typically retail for just $ 95 including frames, lenses and shipping, and are also offered in a $ 185 per year unlimited frame membership plan. For doctors, nurses and hospital staff, the entire cost of Fitz Protect is being waived, and the company is seeking donations to help offset its own manufacturing costs, which currently stand at around $ 100 per set, though process improvements should bring that down according to Schlumberger as they expand availability.

Already, he said that nearly 3,000 healthcare professionals have signed up to receive a pair in their first week of availability, so they’re working on adding scale to keep up with the unexpected demand.


TechCrunch

The rumors have been suggesting it for a while now, and fans have been pretty much begging for it… and it’s happening: Ewan McGregor will return to the role of Obi-Wan for a new Disney+ series.

Disney dropped the news at a panel during D23 this evening, almost immediately after premiering the trailer for its other live action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

Details are still remarkably light. There’s not even an official name for the series yet. Beyond McGregor’s involvement, the only details mentioned are that the scripts are written, and that shooting should begin in 2020.


TechCrunch

MaC Ventures, the new Los Angeles-based investment firm formed from the merger of Cross Culture Ventures and M Ventures, has quietly started deploying capital from its fund.

One of the firm’s first disclosed investments is Edge Delta, which announced a $ 3 million seed round earlier this week.

The Seattle-based company, which has a tool to predict and identify faulty code and potential security issues in software designed for mobile environments, reflects the new continuing focus on companies that reflect the changing cultural environments throughout the commercial, cultural and technological worlds.

And if anyone knows anything about downtime and application failures, it would be the two co-founders who have held positions at Microsoft, Twitter and Sumo Logic. That’s the background Ozan Unlu, a Microsoft and Sumo Logic alum, and Fatih Yildiz, who spent years at Twitter and Microsoft, will leverage as they pitch their services. 

“We have reached the inflection point for centralized security analytics, SIEM products like Splunk are struggling to scale and a lack of mature SaaS offerings mean that if customers want to keep up with growth in their environments, innovation is required,” said Will Peteroy, founder and chief executive of ICEBRG (acquired in 2018) and chief technology officer for Security at Gigamon, in a statement.

That innovation is something that M Ventures and Cross Culture have tried to identify according to previous statements from both founders. And the merger between both firms was likely about growth and scale. Both firms have co-invested on a number of deals and both share the same emphasis on cultural shifts that create new opportunities.

Shared portfolio companies between the two firms include Blavity, BlocPower and Mayvenn, and each reflect a different aspect of the firms’ commitment to the transformations impacting culture and community in the twenty-first century.

BlocPower is focused on urban resiliency and health in the face of new challenges to the power grid; Blavity has become the online community for black creativity and news; and Mayvenn is leveraging the economics of community to create new entrepreneurs and enable new businesses.

For Adrian Fenty and Marlon Nichols — the two managing general partners of the new fund — and general partners Charles King and Michael Palank and partner Alyson DeNardo, MaC Ventures is a logical next step in their progression in the venture business.

Fenty, the former mayor of Washington, DC and an early special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz seven years ago, has long been interested in the intersection of technology and governance and said that politics was a great introduction to the venture world in an interview with TechCrunch when he joined Andreessen:

“As a mayor you have a lot of districts you work with, and every day is different,” Fenty said, noting that the same could be said for VCs who work with different startups. However, the pace will likely be a bit quicker in this space than it is in the political realm. “I believe that change should happen fast and in big ways, and that’s the tech industry,” he said. “Some of these entrepreneurs and CEOs, their energy and ability to come up with new ideas is infectious.”

As for Nichols, the introduction to venture capital came through work at Intel Capital before striking out with Troy Carter, a limited partner in the MaC Ventures fund, to form Cross Culture.

As the new firm finds its legs, it’s likely that some of the guiding principles that Nichols expressed when talking about Cross Culture will carry over to the new vehicle.

“This is the time to be here,” Nichols said in an interview earlier this year. “If you are going to invest in the companies of tomorrow you have to go where the world is moving to — and that’s black and brown, honestly.”


TechCrunch

About two months ago, in the middle of the night, a small, specially designed unmanned aircraft system – a drone – carried a precious cargo at 300 feet altitude and 22 miles per hour from West Baltimore to the University of Maryland Medical Center downtown, a trip of about 5 minutes. They called it, “One small hop for a drone; one major leap for medicine.”

The cargo was a human kidney, and waiting for that kidney at the hospital was a patient whose life would be changed for the better.

“This whole thing is amazing,” the 44-year-old recipient later told the University of Maryland engineering and medical teams that designed the drone and the smart container. The angel flight followed more than two years of research, development and testing by the Maryland aerospace and medical teams and close coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) .

There were many other ways the kidney could have been delivered to the hospital, but proving that it could be done by drone sets the stage for longer and longer flights that will ultimately lower the cost and speed up the time it takes to deliver an organ. And speed is life in this case – the experts say the length of time it takes to move an organ by traditional means is a major issue today.

This is one example of how small drones are already changing the landscape of our economy and society. Our job at the Department of Transportation (DOT), through the FAA, is to safely integrate these vehicles into the National Airspace System.

Time is of the essence. The Department has been registering drones for less than four years and already there are four times as many drones—1.5 million– on the books as manned aircraft. This week in Baltimore, more than 1,000 members of the drone community are coming together to discuss the latest issues in this fast-growing sector  as part of the fourth annual FAA UAS Symposium, which the Department co-hosts with the Association for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Along with public outreach, the Department is also involved in demonstration projects, including the Integration Pilot Program, or IPP. Created by this Administration in 2017, the IPP allows the FAA to work with state, local and tribal governments across the U.S. to get the experience needed to develop the regulations, policy and   guidance for safely integrating drones, including tackling tough topics like security and privacy. The experience gained and the data collected will help ensure the United States remains the global leader in safe UAS integration and fully realizes the economic and societal benefits of this technology.

A couple of IPP examples show the ingenuity of the drone community.

In San Diego, the Chula Vista police department and CAPE, a private UAS teleoperations company, are using drones as first responders to potentially save the lives of officers and make the department more efficient. Since October, they have launched drone first responders on more than 400 calls in which 59 arrests were made, and for half of those calls, the drone was first on the scene with an average on-scene response time of 100 seconds. Equally important is the 60 times that having the drone there first eliminated the need to send officers at all.

Recently as the result of an IPP project, the FAA granted the first airline certification to Alphabet Inc.’s Wing Aviation, a commercial drone operator that will deliver packages in rural Blacksburg, Virginia.

What happens next is that the FAA will gradually implement new rules to expand when and how those operators can conduct their business safely and securely. To manage all the expected traffic, the FAA is working with NASA and industry on a highly automated UAS Traffic Management, or UTM, concept.

At the end of the day, drones will help communities like Baltimore — and others throughout the country — save lives and deliver new services. DOT and the FAA will help ensure it’s all done safely, and that public concerns about privacy and security are addressed.


TechCrunch

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