Smarter Planet

building-a-smarter-planet-logo-ibmEarlier today, Sam Palmisano, IBM’s chairman, delivered a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations called “Smarter Planet”. In it, he outlined IBM’s vision for the future, a vision where technology helps improve people’s lives all over the world by becoming “digitally aware and interconnected”. But the thing that interests me is how the proof points deal almost entirely with efficiency problems: electricity losses from the grid, wasted food, petrol burned while sitting idly in traffic, and more besides.

The timing of the announcement couldn’t be better. As I stated at the end of my previous post, the topic of efficiency has been on my mind for a while now and quite serendipitously, this gem gets dropped into my lap. I didn’t plan to start writing about it so soon, but I got caught up in the Zeitgeist sweeping through the IBM community.

Let me start by stating the problem: humans are manifestly inefficient; the primary evidence being the amount of waste that we generate. Our limited brains and selfish nature mean that we spend most of the time doing things that are either necessary for our personal survival, or leads to our pleasure. So what a rare time in history we find ourselves in today, when humanity is starting to wake up to the fact that its collective burden on the environment is causing negative change. Scientists are even beginning to label this as a new epoch: “the Anthropocene” – the time when human activity started having a significant impact on the earth.

Like most, I worry about the future, but I tend to focus on unusual resource management issues, such as what will happen if we keep flinging our limited terrestrial resources out into space? And I think several people have heard me talk about my career aspirations as a garbage sorter (it’s not enough to separate the recycling from the ordinary rubbish in my own home, I want to do it for everybody else too). It is from these thoughts that spring my visions for the future.

I dream of crazy machines that liquify garbage, with nanobots to sort the output into piles of base molecules and elements ready for resuse. I imagine computers that can keep track of every single object on earth, so nothing in good, working condition that could be reused by somebody, somwhere, is ever discarded. I’ve considered starting a global database of instruction manuals and spare parts, so that whatever can be fixed, will be. All of this makes perfect sense in my head – I just wish somebody, or some business, would make it a reality. And it seems IBM could very well be that business.

I often tell people how much I love my job. Now that it has become apparent that IBM’s vision aligns so closely with my own, I know that I couldn’t be happier anywhere else.