Yesterday at Microsoft’s TechFest the behemoth company
concept for an operating system they’ve decided to call
Singularity. This is a meme grab that will not go un-noticed by the
growing mass of Singularity-aware.
In tech and futurist circles the word singularity is almost
always synonymous with the technological singularity – a concept
coined by mathematician Vernor Vinge
that’s been the basis for innumerable theoretical and sci-fi
scenarios and exalted for its societal implications. Inventor and
technology theorist Ray
Kurzweil has also used it to mean “a period of extremely rapid
technological progress, implied by a long-term pattern of
There’s even an entire institute dedicated to furthering the
study of such a possibility.
Research for Microsoft’s Singularity apparently began
in 2003 as ground-work for a “highly-dependable operating
system in which the kernel, device drivers, and applicatios are all
written in managed code.” In other words, this is a significant
“Singularity is not the next Windows,”
said senior VP Rick Rashid, in a statement. “Think of it like a
concept car. It is a prototype operating system designed from the
ground up to test-drive a new paradigm for how operating systems
and applications interact with one another. We are making it
available to the community in the hope that it will enable
researchers to try out new ideas quickly.”
Microsoft did not choose the Singularity brand for their
forthcoming OS by accident. Bill Gates is hip to acceleration, has
spoken at length with Kurzweil and is surely betting the
Singularity meme will grow proportionately to technology. It’s like
buying a gigantic domain name for a bargain-basement price.
So now it’s up to Microsoft to deliver a kick-ass application
that lives up to the name. Rest assured that all the
Singularity-aware will be following this one closely.
Red Herring is reporting on a $75 million investment round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for Smart Grid startup Silver Spring Networks. Kleiner’s involvement lends support to forecasts that ‘smart grid’ systems are a near term possibility.
The ‘smart grid’ is coming, but arriving at this future is likely to include some twists, turns and battles led by some ‘Big Grid’ utilities who might struggle to see their role in this alternative future.
At the surface ‘smart grid’ concepts sound like a logical next step for the modern day utility grid: minimizing downtime, managing peak demand, improving efficiencies, and anticipating problems before they occur all sound like a positive step for the world. But underneath it all the ‘smart grid’ is incredibly disruptive to the regulatory framework, operational standards, capital investment strategies and business models of most large utilities.
To understand the evolution of the ‘smart grid’ and the utility of the future, we can imagine two initial stages of development.
Part One: Software for Managing Infrastructure
The first steps to building a ‘smart grid’ utilize the power of software to maximize the efficiency of the grid. Simply put, we add a layer of information technology to improve management of existing one-way grid infrastructure to improve performance and reduce costs.
Leading startups include: Gridpoint, Silver Spring Networks,
BPL Global, Comverge, Enerwise and Enernoc
Part Two: Onsite Power Generation & Electron Storage
Google Android has one of the best features designed for Google maps. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But while the newly released Android is getting all the hype in the news as of late, it seems Apple isn’t going to let Google get away with that title just yet. With the software 2.2 update, the iPhone will now support Google Street View as well as mass transit directions. With this feature, people will be able to view their actual surroundings so they can get a better sense of where they need to go. The mass transit feature is especially helpful for those who commute on a daily basis and need to catch those buses on time.
It wasn’t too long ago that a map was the confused traveler’s staple — you’d stare at it for what seemed like hours, dimly aware of your orientation or distances, unable to fold it back into it’s designed shape.
The most amazing thing about some of the movies hitting theaters nowadays is their uncanny ability to map human movement for special effects. Case in point are creatures such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the great ape in King Kong, and of course the infamous movie Beowulf which mapped out the actors bodies so accurately that in some of the shots you’d have sworn they weren’t computerized images. It only makes sense that this kind of technology would gradually find its way into the broader consumer market.
Already people are spending hundreds on golf clubs that measure swing speed and trajectory, or gloves that tell you if you’re gripping the handles too hard. In fact there are even devices out there already that can tell you where your swing is wrong, if your feet are too far apart, or if your posture is poor. You can buy equipment and software that can work for just about any sport. Tennis, bowling, baseball or track and field to name a few. Heck, even curling, the greatest Olympic sport in the world, could benefit from video analysis.
Down the road we could see the technology get so advanced that instead of having to carry around 30 pounds of equipment costing over a thousand dollars, all we’ll need is an add-on to our digital cameras. Coupled with expert analysis instead of self-analysis, this product could change the importance and role of coaches worldwide.
Sports are perfect for this technology, but what other applications could this be used for?
Imagine taking tango lessons in your home with a world-class dancer telling you where you’re going wrong and what you’re doing right. A culinary program showing you the proper way to clean a fish or prepare cherries jubilee. If we really expand our minds, how about a mobile program on a sailboat speaking into your ear piece whether you’re on the port side instead of starboard, or telling you how to tie a knot step by step. What would you think about taking karate lessons from Jet Li?
If you enjoy Wii Fit, imagine playing a video game that depends on your every move. When attacking an entrenched bunker you have to lay lay flat on the ground, then jump up quickly to sprint across a mine field. Or maybe you have to dodge a lineman to dive and score the winning touchdown.
The possibilities are almost endless and not all that far from feasible.
But would there be a downside to this kind of technology?
MIT Technology Review has a great post on the use of (bee) 'swarm' inspired algorithms to reduce energy consumption of networked appliances like air conditioners, computers and heating systems. Toronto-based startup REGEN ENERGY is building smart energy platforms using new technology standards like Zigbee and micro-controllers to 'maximize collective efficiency'. Their trick is to enable 'bottom up' self organized smart grids for appliances without having to actively manage their energy consumption with a 'single order'.
Related posts on The Smart Grid
Although Google finally got approval for its voice recognition upgrade released earlier this week for the iPhone, it has run into some snags overseas. Not downloading problems, but more of a language barrier.
Although there has been some amazing feedback to the voice recognition feature here in the US, people in the United Kingdom have some serious issues with the update. Mainly, the fact that it can’t understand their thick accents. “The free application, which allows iPhone owners to use the Google search engine with their voice, mistook the word “iPhone” variously for “sex,” “Einstein” and “kitchen sink,” said the Daily Telegraph.” It seems that the accents of those in the UK are responsible for limiting voice recognition technology. It makes one wonder if people will have to develop a North American accent until voice recognition is able to deal with the varied British accents.
Will there be a Universal Voice Recognition Voice?
A new Ceres report on company supply chain and operation efficiencies that support climate change strategies, has named IBM the #1 company for its internal practices and green innovation strategies. The RiskMetrics Group authored report analyzes climate change governance practices at 63 of the world's largest retail, pharmaceutical, technology, apparel and other consumer-facing companies.
Using a 100-point scale, the three highest scoring companies were IBM, UK-based grocery retailer Tesco and Dell, with 79, 78 and 77 points, respectively. More than half of the 63 companies scored under 50 points, with a median score of 38 points.
Beyond 'green' recognition, what does IBM see in a a Smart Planet?
The big story is not the 'green' award recognition for IBM, Tesco and Dell - it's the brand association IBM is trying to build between its core practice as a hardware-software service provider and the transformation of global industries that deal with infrastructure and the transmission of information, goods, energy and water.
Consumers can change light builts, but companies like IBM and Johnson Controls can transform industry level supply chains, built environments, and national infrastructure systems. This is where we are likely to find the greatest ROI.
IBM (and others) sees an opportunity to improve industrial scale efficiencies in a near term future shaped by software, sensors and micro controllers. The vision? A Smart Planet.
For IBM the world is quickly becoming, instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. This is the driving force behind 'Big Blue' trying to enable a 'Big Green'world. Sensors and Software can lead to a greener world.