Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for the ‘Information and energy economy’ Category

Moore’s Law, the Rise of the Data Economy, and the Problem of “Dirty Data”

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In the piece on “Are Greenpeace attacking the younger generation and their ‘dirty data’?”, I found the discussion interesting as to whether data centres were “dirty” or not, in the sense of using energy that is high in CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gases.    In that British Computer Society blog post, the rates of growth are looked at in the data economy, the ability of computational technologies to respond, and then just how green this computational response is, in practice.   Let’s have a closer look at this. 

First I will touch on compute power and space.   Moore’s Law refers to the doubling of processor, storage, and related computing capability every two years.   Hence the compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, for doubling every two years, is 41.42% per annum.   

Hydropower is “the most widely used renewable resource for clean power generation across the globe”, and stable, flexible and inexpensive, as noted by ”Hydropower continues to account for major share of renewable power through 2020”.   A CAGR for hydropower in the period 2011-2020 is estimated as 3.6%. 

Moore’s law and hydropower indicate just well we can do to handle data growth. 

Citing from “IDC Releases First Worldwide Big Data Technology and Services Market Forecast, Shows Big Data as the Next Essential Capability and a Foundation for the Intelligent Economy”, that discusses an IDC (International Data Corp.) report on the Big Data Economy to 2015:

“IDC defines Big Data technologies as a new generation of technologies and architectures designed to extract value economically from very large volumes of a wide variety of data by enabling high-velocity capture, discovery, and/or analysis. Further, the study segments the Big Data market into server, storage, networking, software, and services segments.”

Compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is looked at in this IDC report, and for 2015 it is estimated at 44% CAGR for Big Data deployments, and up to 61.4% CAGR for storage.    Servers and software are less, being estimated respectively at 27.3% and 34.2%.  

So – my conclusion, echoing the Greenpeace and “dirty data” discussion above: the soaring rise of the data economy, and in particular storage, point to high growth of up to around a CAGR of 60%.  Technology as expressed by Moore’s law can only partially keep up with this pace – 41%.   Renewable power generation, as represented by the leading category of hydropower, is incapable of doing the job alone, in the green and global picture.   The growth of data outstrips greatly computing technologies and green technologies. 

So we have something of a conundrum here: just how do we handle our data economy, while avoiding or mitigating the data economy’s “dirty data” side?   Potential answers: nuclear, hydrogen, a battery miracle.   Or the Spirit of Ireland solution. 

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Momentous Change in Research Process

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The last few years have seen very great changes in research process. Some of these changes are accelerating by the day. One facet is at issue here, powered by economics and demographics.

Research results in all manner of outputs. For three and a half centuries, a very prominent form of research output has been a delimited or demarcated textual description that is laid out in a relatively standardized way. That’s the research article.

The big changes of interest are the “meteoric” increase in authorship by our Chinese colleagues, and the enormous increase in research journals coming from India and also from Western publishers.

A useful overview of the data is presented in Elsevier’s Editors’ Update. See in particular “The Rise of Asia: A Research Profile”.

China, it is noted there, has 1.4 million researchers and compound growth of 24% per year over the past ten years in number of papers published. Hardly a week goes by, I find, that there is not an invitation to be an author or an editor or, often enough, to be editor-in-chief, of a new journal.

As always great change goes hand in hand with significant new opportunity.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2011/10/02 at 17:03

Pharmaceutical products as the new software: considerations on intellectual property and innovation

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Consider what pharmaceutical products really are: a type of software. They are expensive to produce and essentially have zero cost to reproduce. Furthermore, a crucial property of software is how it is associated with a very rich ecology of intellectual property rights. Since new product innovation in pharmaceuticals is at a low level, globally, it is an interesting idea that software in general could be looked at as a future-oriented role model for innovation.

Not just software is explored in my wide ranging article on this (see below). Research publishing is also, and the move towards open access in particular in the life sciences. I also deal with the scientific method, arguing that the scientific research process itself ought to be considered as an output of research, and a very important one too.

Fionn Murtagh,
“Intellectual Property in Publishing and Research: Open Access in Biotechnology, Life Sciences, and Software”,
CEPIS UPGRADE, The European Journal for the Informatics Processional, Vol. XI, issue no. 4, August 2010, pp. 50-64. Full issue of this journal at: http://www.cepis.org/upgrade/media/full.IV.20102.pdf

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/10/10 at 12:04

Case Study of How Knowledge Economy Triggered Industrial Growth

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Some interesting perspectives arise out of recent work that looks at the origins of copyright intellectual property in Germany and Britain in the 19th century. Most interesting is the vantage point offered on the implications for innovation in science, engineering, and technology generally. The view emerging from this work is that wide circulation of scientific, engineering and technical books was highly influential in the growth and scaling of German industry (Krupp, Siemens etc.) in the 19th century.

Unlike in France and Britain, in the 19th century the German lands witnessed an unparallelled knowledge explosion. In the year 1843 alone there were 14,000 new publications in German, which is, pro rata for population, about today’s level. About 1000 new publications were then appearing each year in Britain. The massive output in German included novels but was mostly scientific. Because of this, it is suggested that the underdeveloped, agricultural German lands caught up with the colonial powers in terms of technological and social development during the 19th century.

The British introduced copyright in 1710. Prussia did so in 1837. Copyright was a considerable time being established though in the German lands. The result was that in Britain, books were a luxury, produced in runs of up to 750 copies, bought by the rich and powerful, but also guaranteeing profits for publishing houses. In the German lands, a way was found to face down the lack of copyright and breaching of any and all ownership rights: a dual market was developed with inexpensive paperbacks to target first mover advantage, and to undercut copies made by others.

A most interesting market developed in practical and applied treatises and manuals in chemistry, mechanics, machines and production, optics, steel production, and other areas. Many professors supplemented their income through the huge demand for scientific and engineering knowledge of all sorts. This was the age that gave rise to the big industrialists, like Alfred Krupp and Werner von Siemens.

However as copyright came in increasingly from the 1840s onwards, and the cheap editions became less and less common, but prices went up and up, the generalizing of author rights was no substitute at all for what had been so lucrative beforehand for author and beneficial for reader, and for wider society.

Interesting perspectives. Could we have today anything like the possibility of markets and economic sectors “developed in practical and applied treatises and manuals”, based on open innovation models? The answer is clearly yes, considering all the crowd-sourced, web-based possibilities.

But in health, governance, education and other areas, we still have a considerable way to go, before quality of information and knowledge are what they should be. A job – a most inspiring job – needs to be done, to turn today’s 21st century innovation models, whether open or proprietary, into a deep and broad citizen science.

The book at issue here is Eckhard Höffner’s Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts, Band 1, Band 2. Verlag Europäische Wirtschaft, München, 2010. A review is available in Der Spiegel and online in English.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/09/05 at 20:54

Towards the Renaissance of the Irish Construction – Planning; Prices

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The report A Haunted Landscape: Housing and Ghost Estates in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, by Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson, Karen Keaveney, Cian O’Callaghan, National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) Working Paper 59, July 2010, pp. 66, provides interesting data. From the summary:

“Government has two principle levers through which it can seek to regulate property development. The first is through fiscal policy with respect to regulating access to credit and determining taxation rates. The second is through planning policy and the zoning of land and the granting of planning permissions. Explanations of the Irish property bubble have focused almost exclusively on the former, and the role of the banks, tax incentive schemes, and the failures of financial regulators. To date, the role of the planning system in creating the property bubble has been little considered.”

In regard to transaction price information, an Irish Times editorial had this to say, on Saturday 14 August 2010:

“A property market that is undergoing a huge price adjustment … was never in greater need of accurate price information. … the public awaits right of access to national property sales data.”

Open, linked data and information relating to all aspects of planning and prices are desperately needed.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/08/15 at 16:46

Towards the Renaissance of the Irish Construction Industry

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The Irish construction and property sector powered the post-Celtic Tiger period in Ireland, and had many bubble characteristics. But while dysfunctional in various ways (building in flood-prone regions, giving rise to long work/home commutes, lack of facilities such as high speed broadband connectivity) nonetheless there is a “real economy” rationale underpinning the property sector. Yes, there was a bubble economy there, but there was also an underlying “real economy”. The latter is what I want to focus on.

By 2008, construction had 13% of Irish employment, or 280,000 people, compared to 10% in 2000. Employment in the sector has taken a huge hit. For the sector, and for some if not most employment in the sector, to recover in Ireland, there is a need for a renaissance of construction, – a new, innovative industry that breaks with the past.

The Irish construction sector collapse started in 2007 and preceded the global, financial crisis of 2008. This is a reason to probe future technology options for Irish construction, to some extent in its own right relative to banking and lending.

The Irish construction sector is (admittedly in bubblish manner) largely privately financed. So much so, in fact, that very considerable volumes of Irish investment took place in the sector across the globe. Irish property investment abroad according to reports amounted to €10 billion in 2007, €11 billion in 2006, over €5 billion in 2004. A cash-rich sector therefore, with lavish spending even if not for the right reasons. Can we spur investment that comes anywhere close to that again in the future?

The first part of the response to this is to see where a major job of work is needed now. The report “Greenprint for a National Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme” (end 2009) points to how “there are 1.2 million dwellings in Ireland in need of an energy efficiency retrofit, creating at least 30,000 direct construction sector jobs with additional indirect and induced jobs” and that is only the start of it. Buildings of all sorts need mutualized telecoms, energy and waste infrastructure too. In the natural order of things there are big needs to innovate in areas such as those. As families grow up and as mobility becomes less sprightly with age, homes have to adapt in significant ways. A building, any building, is continually changing and, we might even say, a living entity. A real job of work is needed, that extends into the future as far as the mind’s eye can see.

Recommendations arising from the Greenprint report include this: “Create regulatory certainty for businesses and service providers” – and consumers, customers, and you and me. That is part of the core issue. But there is a way to go in establishing anew anything like the confidence that the construction sector enjoyed before its internal (and admittedly quite rotten) collapse.

To create confidence and trust what is needed is linked, open data including all aspects of planning processes and investments and contracts. Pointing the way here is Obama’s Open Government Initiative, for transparency, participation, and public/individual collaboration. The UK’s open data initiative too is hugely active in giving access in a meaningful way to data. Highlighted just from July 2010 alone, there are data and resources for housing and planning, landfill, weather and flood warning, schools, building energy usage, …

Ireland needs now an open, linked data initiative for the construction sector, including data and tools to interpret and exploit the information in new ways, from central and local government, environment, regulatory authorities, finance and banking, transport, schools, hospitals, and all other areas of our built environment. This transparency is necessary in order to start to restore confidence and trust, and to focus where, when and how regulatory, financial and other policy instruments can be brought into play.

Semantic web technology is capable of elucidating open information and data. That is what we need to start to remedy the huge errors of the past.

Technology and Research: Alternating Leadership

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One big change in recent years, independent of the economic downturn in the West, is that the societal problems have ratcheted up very significantly. It is clear enough that the economic downturn in the West has been severely aggravated by these societal problems.

Such societal problems include those relating to climate, transport, energy, and so on.

So, for example, China plans to invest more than USD 3 trillion by 2020 on expanding its railway networks.

Or in order to exploit nine wind parks off the UK coast, the UK is envisaging investing 110 billion euro.

We know only too well the financial engineering issues that must be addressed in the West. For example, in 2006, the private household debt in the US was at the level of over USD 12 billion.

What we have is a very wide range of technologies, relating to environment, transport, finance, and many other areas, that are urgently and critically in need of innovation. In other words, new research is urgently needed.

A leading contrary example from recent times where it was otherwise, where we had research-led technology, was in the origin of the information infrastructure of our global society. I am referring to the web. In the years leading up to 1993, the http protocol was developed by Tim Berners-Lee and his physicist colleagues as a document exchange system. In early 1992, undergraduate student Marc Andreessen wrote and released the XMosaic browswer, a graphical user interface. The mix allowed the spark to move from high energy physics and university environment to the world of business. It was the spark that happened in early 1993 that set off the Dot Com boom years, Ireland’s Celtic Tiger years, Finland’s telecoms-based recovery from 1994, and much more.

What is different now is that that we are again in a period of technology-led research, where technology is putting demands on us as researchers, as engineers, scientists and mathematicians. Our work processes are as important as our outputs. Very clearly too “science” is not just the restricted domains that have been demarcated in the English language under this term, but have to include all areas of the human and social sciences too. Technology – social requirements – is now in the driving seat relative to science, broadly understood.

Just one example of the implications of this: take batteries, that are fundamental in the electric cars now being developed. Small companies are pursuing lines of enquiry, large corporations are ambitiously staking out technologies and markets, policy makers are trying to get their heads around the complex deployment scenarios, others are modelling – mathematical, financial, physical, and then there are university labs and many researchers in different disciplines. My point is that there is no essential difference at all between university lab and company research and deployment. Nor also is there any real difference between blue skies thinking and practical, applied demonstrator or beyond. There is no pipeline here. There is just the technology needs that are immediately and directly motivating and driving (in every sense!) the research.

For technology and for research, opportunity beckons.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/05/11 at 23:15