If there’s one major downside to our digital lives, it’s the enormous amount of power needed to keep massive data centers running. Thankfully, tech companies are increasingly focusing on ways to power those centers with clean energy. As Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOm reports, Facebook is the latest to make a major commitment:
On Wednesday Facebook will announce that when its fourth data center is built in Iowa, and starts serving traffic in 2015, it will be entirely run off the power of a nearby wind farm.
Local utility MidAmerican Energy will build, own and operate the 138 MW wind farm, which will be built in 2014 in Wellsburg, Iowa. The data center, which will be built close by in Altoona, Iowa, will use a similar energy efficient design as Facebook’s other data centers based on its Open Compute architecture in Oregon, North Carolina and Sweden.
All told, Facebook is aiming to have a quarter of all its energy consumption come from clean energy within the next two years. Good on them.
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a short piece that packs a big tech wallop.
Penned by Charles Townsend, “Smartphones to Monitor Insulin and Smell Flowers” argues that the devices we now carry are only at the beginning of the potential. For example, Townsend writes:
Ten years from now, you won’t need to carry your Visa or MasterCard because your cellphone will function as a credit card. You will place your phone on a scanner at a restaurant and your purchase will either be charged directly to your cellular bill or to your credit card. The phone will verify that it is you by checking your thumb print. Wireless companies will have become mobile banks.
Other highlights from Townsend’s piece: A new wireless camera being developed by Qualcomm that transmit pictures to your doctor’s smartphone(!); a smartphone that translates languages for you in real-time(!); and a phone that, as Townsend puts it, is “able to smell a strange odor in your home and tell you that tomatoes are rotting(!).”
Townsend’s article isn’t all future-cool, though, as he pivots into territory we at IIA have long tread in — having enough spectrum available to handle the coming deluge of data on wireless networks. As he writes:
If all goes as planned, the FCC may be able to come up with about half of the necessary new wireless spectrum by 2020, leaving a 250 MHz shortfall. Hopefully, the FCC can convince a number of federal agencies to give up significant additional spectrum. Otherwise, wireless engineers will have to come up with a better way to use the finite amount of spectrum they already have. If they don’t, soon enough your smartphone will remind you of the dial-up speeds of the 1990s—and it will be years, if not decades, before we realize the full potential of these devices.
While the iPhone is breaking sales records, BlackBerry — which used to rule the roost when it came to smartphones — is in deep trouble. Via Zach Epstein of Boy Genius Reports:
BlackBerry has been hemorrhaging users and its worldwide count fell to 72 million from 76 million during the May quarter. According to one industry watcher, the bleeding won’t stop until BlackBerry’s subscriber base hits zero.
When it comes to technology, entire industries can be turned upside down seemingly overnight.
At the Huffington Post, Clive Thompson profiles a man who has been at the forefront of wearable computing:
[S]ay hello to Thad Starner. Starner is a forty-three-year-old computer science professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who also works for Google.
But he’s best known as one of the few people on the planet with years of experience using a wearable computer. The guts of the computer are the size of a small soft-cover book, strapped to his torso in what amounts to a high-tech man purse. And what’s most prominent is the screen—a tiny LCD clipped to his glasses, jutting out just in front of his left eyeball. While you or I have to pull out a phone to look up a fact, he’s got a screen floating in space before him. You might have seen pictures of Google Glass, a wearable computer the company intends to release in 2014.
Starner’s helping Google build it, in part because of his long experience: He’s been wearing his for two decades.
When NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) begins operation aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., it will attempt to show two-way laser communication beyond Earth is possible, expanding the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data. This new ability could one day allow for 3-D High Definition video transmissions in deep space to become routine.
“The goal of the LLCD experiment is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager. “This unique ability developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory), has incredible application possibilities and we are very excited to get this instrument off the ground.”
3-D High Definition video transmission to deep space? Okay, that’s pretty great. What else you got NASA?
LLCD’s main mission objective is to transmit hundreds of millions of bits of data per second from the moon to Earth. This is equivalent to transmitting more than 100 HD television channels simultaneously. LLCD receiving capability will also be tested as tens of millions of bits per second are sent from Earth to the spacecraft. These demonstrations will prove the technology for increased bandwidth for future missions is possible.
This is the Z3, also known as the first electromechanical computer. Over at the blog World Information, Danish Khan writes:
The Z3 was an electromechanical computer designed by Konrad Zuse. It was the world’s first working programmable, fully automatic computing machine. It was Turing-complete, at least in theory, and by modern standards the Z3 was one of the first machines that could be considered a complete computing machine, although it lacked the conditional branch operation. The Z3 was built with 2000 relays, implementing a 22 bit word length that operated at a clock frequency of about 5–10 Hz.Program code and data were stored on punched film.
The finishing touches on the Z3 were completed in 1941, but the machine’s life was short-lived. Just two years later, Allied bombing in Berlin destroyed it.
At CNet, Dan Farber highlights a stunning innovation out of the University of Washington:
The telepathic cyborg lives, sort of. University of Washington scientists Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco claim that they are the first to demonstrate human brain-to-brain communication. Rao sent a signal into a Stocco’s brain via the Internet that caused him to move his right hand. Brain-to-brain communication has previously been demonstrated between rats and from humans to rats.
“The experiment is a proof in concept. We have tech to reverse engineer the brain signal and transmit it from one brain to another via computer,” said Chantel Prat, an assistant professor of psychology who worked on the project.
Via Dominique Mosbergen of the Huffington Post, the age of jetpacks may finally be here:
According to reports this week, the human race is now one step closer to fulfilling its jetpack dream thanks to the work of Martin Aircraft Company, the New Zealand-based organization behind the Martin Jetpack, considered to be the world’s first commercial device of its kind.
Here’s a photo of the jetpack in action, courtesy of Wiki Commons:
The phenomenon of people “cutting the cord” is about more than people choosing wireless and Internet-based technology instead of traditional phone service. Cable is also feeling the effect, with services like Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Prime plucking consumers away. Case in point: Gerry Smith of The Huffington Post, who writes about his experience with a new service called Aereo aimed at providing consumers with a new way to watch broadcast television:
For me, Aereo has been a welcome addition to the patchwork of services my wife and I use to watch our favorite shows and live sports.
We are two of the “cable cutters” you hear about—youngish residents of big cities who don’t have cable. We don’t want to pay an expensive monthly bill and don’t want to be tempted to watch hours of mindless television.
For $8 a month, we’ve been able to watch live golf tournaments and basketball games and record up to 20 hours of programs when we’re not home. To watch must-see shows we can’t get on Aereo, like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and old episodes of “Friday Night Lights,” we use iTunes and Netflix.
Smith notes that while Aereo is facing a flurry of lawsuits from content providers, the service still plans to expand to 22 cities over the next year. Stay tuned…
After months of speculation, Apple has finally made a move that signals it may be jumping into the world of wearable computing. As Nack Fujimura and Takashi Amano of Bloomberg report:
Apple Inc, the world’s most valuable technology company, is seeking a trademark for “iWatch” in Japan as rival Samsung Electronics Co. readies its own wearable computing device.
The iPhone maker is seeking protection for the name, which is listed in a category for products such as a handheld computer or watch, according to a June 3 filing with the Japan Patent Office that was made public last week. Takashi Takebayashi, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Apple, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
From the Internet on your phone to the Internet in your glasses to the Internet on your wrist. Thanks to mobile broadband, we truly live in amazing times.
Today, Google is shutting down its popular RSS service Google Reader. Over at Gizmodo, Eric Limer about the effect the popular service had on him personally:
Every day I bounce between dozens of sites, each with its own purpose, its own content, its own look and feel. But inside Google Reader, the Internet—the carefully curated Internet I built, pruned, and tweaked—comes to me. And, more often than not, I don’t even have to leave its comfortingly familiar little interface to ingest what my little intranet has to offer. At its best, it’s my virtual study, a private reading room. At its worst, it’s a closet with a slop bucket on the floor. But it’s still my slop bucket close. Or it was.
It’s equally strange and accurate to say Googs and I were intimately familiar. I’ve barely been a working blogger for two years, and yet hastily scrawled napkin math suggests that I’ve spent upwards of 1,000 hours at http://www.google.com/reader. I’ve spent more time with Google Reader than I have with some humans I consider to be friends. In a weird sort of way, it feels like I grew up there.
Meanwhile, for those who have come to rely on Google Reader for their news fixes, Slate’s Chris Kirk has put together a hand flowchart to help you pick out the best replacement.
Like most high-tech companies, Google is highly secretive—one of the reasons Brad Stone’s glimpse at the company’s secret lab for Bloomberg makes for great reading. Here’s a taste:
Since its creation in 2010, Google has kept X largely hidden from view. Over the past month, Bloomberg Businessweek spoke to many of X’s managers and project leaders, who work with abundant resources and few of the constraints that smothered similar corporate research efforts in the past. “Anything which is a huge problem for humanity we’ll sign up for, if we can find a way to fix it,” Teller says.
Google X seeks to be an heir to the classic research labs, such as the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb, and Bletchley Park, where code breakers cracked German ciphers and gave birth to modern cryptography. After the war, the spirit of these efforts was captured in pastoral corporate settings: AT&T’s (T) Bell Labs and Xerox (XRX) PARC, for example, became synonymous with breakthroughs (the transistor and the personal computer among them) and the inability of each company to capitalize on them.
Stone’s full piece is definitely worth checking out.
Here’s some good news in the world of education. IIA member AT&T has announced it is partnering with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Massive Open Online Courses provider Udacity to launch the first online-only Master of Science degree in computer science. From the press release:
Workers with skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are increasingly important to our business – and to nearly every business – because STEM drives innovation and innovation drives our economy.
During the next six years, 2.8 million STEM openings are predicted. But, today, many STEM jobs are going unfilled as candidates lack the necessary skills, training or degrees.
Through this new program, Georgia Tech will be able to offer employers like AT&T a larger and more diverse pool of highly qualified, STEM-trained workers and help the U.S. retain its global competitive edge.
Cool stuff. And on a related note, check out our recent infographic on the benefits of broadband access in eduction.
Google believes the future is in wearable computing, and that their innovative glasses Google Glass is going to lead the way. But as Brendan Sasso of The Hillreports, at least some members of Congress aren’t too keen on where Google is attempting to go:
Eight members of Congress raised privacy fears about Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, expressing concern the device could allow users to identify people on the street and look up personal information about them.
The lawmakers, members of the congressional Privacy Caucus, said they are concerned users could access individuals’ addresses, marital status, work history and hobbies.
“As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.
In response, Google has reassured the members of Congress that privacy concerns are very much on their radar:
“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology — and we’re excited to hear the feedback.”
4G LTE is just starting to be widely adopted here in the States, but as Jon Russell of The Next Web reports, Samsung is already working toward the next big leap in mobile broadband:
The Korean tech giant says its 5G wireless technology will be capable of providing users with data speeds of “up to several tens of Gbps per base station”. That, it says, is “several hundred times faster” than even yet-to-be-released 4G LTE technology.
In practical terms, Samsung’s estimated speeds would allow a movie to be downloaded in under one second, and it could enable a host of new services that feed off the ability to transfer large files quickly.
Over at CNN, Andrew Keen has a great story about innovation, mobile apps, and helping those with autism live better lives:
With $20,000 in prize money, the mobile app “Autism Speaks” hackathon , organized by AT&T and by the advocacy group Autism Speaks, attracted more than 25 teams of developers and was judged by panel of technology and autism experts (including myself).
The goal was to design apps to improve the lives of the one in every 88 children who, according to the American Center for Disease, are on the autism spectrum.
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