Author and futurist Ray Kurzweil has popularized the term “singularity,” or the emergence of greater-than-human super-intelligence through technological means. It could happen with Borg-like computer implants or, say, through a bizarro marriage of Google and IBM’s Jeopardy-conquering Watson supercomputer. But chances are it won’t happen while you’re Facebooking about the Kardashians. (Then again …)
To most of us, the whole singularity thing seems like some science fiction dream or nightmare, even though it’s supposed to happen this century. And through Kurzweil is a great thinker, he may not be the best spokesman; he hopes to live forever by taking hundreds of pills a day—or at least until the singularity takes place and we can all exist in some form of eternal cyberspace.
Before that happens, though, we may see a singularity of another type: an Efficiency Singularity—in which information technology and energy efficiency come together to deliver something far greater than the sum of their parts. And this, folks, is no sci-fi dream.
GE’s Industrial Internet
The seeds for the Efficiency Singularity have already been planted, and a whole bunch of water was poured on it recently, with a paper by GE titled Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines.
“The Industrial Internet is really mostly about using information technology for energy efficiency gains for industry — across transportation and power generation and distribution,” reported GigaOm.
“Something important is going on here,” echoed Joel Makower of GreenBiz, in a comment that may prove to be more understatement than hype:
GE’s new focus is about “the convergence of the global industrial system with the power of advanced computing, analytics, low-cost sensing and new levels of connectivity permitted by the Internet.” It’s about how “the deeper meshing of the digital world with the world of machines holds the potential to bring about profound transformation to global industry, and in turn to many aspects of daily life, including the way many of us do our jobs.”
It’s fundamentally about data — Big Data — and how it transforms and even revitalizes the dirty work of manufacturing, transportation, and energy production.
… data and IT create new platforms that enable radical efficiencies, breakthrough business models, and innovative products and services. … the Industrial Internet has a great deal to do with radical efficiencies, primarily of energy.
It’s not just about industry, though. The convergence of efficiency, networking and products will affect all aspects of our lives and help spur a new and vibrant energy economy. Image from GE report
GE’s report focuses on industrial efficiency, where there are tons of low-hanging fruit. But there’s also a very compelling business case being made here—and much more. Here’s more from Greenbiz’s Makower on the GE report:
Industrial Internet could boost global GDP by $15 trillion by 2030. That’s roughly the size of today’s U.S economy, according to the World Bank. The savings come from such things as lower fuel and energy costs; better-performing and longer-lived physical assets, like airplanes and power plants; and lower-cost healthcare. The authors claim that in the U.S. alone the Industrial Internet could boost average incomes by 25 to 40 percent over the next 20 years “and lift growth back to levels not seen since the late 1990s.”
What the report makes clear is that industrial companies are no longer just about “big iron” — planes, trains, power generators, and the like. Today, software, intelligence, connectivity, analytics, sensors, diagnostics, integration, user interface, and materials science are key parts of industrial companies’ ecosystems.
GE’s report states:
The full potential of Internet-based digital technology has yet to be fully realized across the global industry system. Intelligent devices, intelligent systems, and intelligent decisioning represent the primary ways in which the physical world of machines, facilities, fleets and networks can more deeply merge with the connectivity, big data and analytics of the digital world.
It’s All About Integration
Makower and GigaOm’s Katie Fehrenbacher have both characterized this new business focus as a rebranding of the green movement, and that may well be for GE—though to me it seems like a natural evolution. For one, it’s about time green advocates made the business case for being green and energy-efficient. But it’s also about something much larger: It’s about how energy efficiency will become a part of virtually all technology, from using Big Data from big data centers to effect efficiencies in everything from huge civic infrastructure projects to industrial processes and products to efficiency becoming a part of our computers and smartphones and home systems. This is already happening, folks.
How many big, bad energy-sucking TVs are now Energy Star-compliant, plasma TVs included? Lighting control systems of all scales are dimming and coloring LEDs. Thermostats like the Nest can learn our patterns. Energy monitoring is being combined with energy management in homes andbuildings. ADT, Comcast, Verizon, and others offer pseudo-home control systems with energy management (thermostats and lighting) components that can be controlled from smartphones. Sensors are available for everything, and can be self-powered through energy harvesting. Energy management software is making it easier for building managers to see their buildings’ energy usage patterns and act on it. This is just the beginning.
We now live in a world where information and data is everywhere. Technology is everywhere. And energy efficiency will become entwined in it all. It will be at once everywhere and nowhere. It will be invisible and as automated as possible and yet with us always. (And considering the latest dire news about the climate, we will need all the processing help we can get!)
Sustainability becomes Big Data plus business efficiency plus energy revolution, all rolled into one, neat and fully integrated and holistic package.
This is not just some Kurzweilian yearning. All this is already happening; just click on the links above to see.
Companies like GE will bring it together for the industrial sector. Big Data will help in the business sector and energy efficiency will become a part of virtually all of our home and personal technologies.
The integration of energy efficiency and technology across business, industrial and home platforms is the key. And those who can best effect that integration will be the big winners.
By the way, our headline about the Efficiency Singularity being near may be wrong. The Efficiency Singularity may be now.