NEW YORK, NY —Today’s global Cloud is society’s first foundationally new infrastructure in nearly a century. It is comprised of thousands of warehouse-scale computers and history’s biggest network of “information superhighways.” Powering this data behemoth consumes more energy than all global aviation. Yet, as disruptive as the Cloud has already become, we are only at the end of the beginning of what digital masons are building for the 21st century.
In DIGITAL CATHEDRALS (Encounter Books; January 7, 2020), Manhattan Institute senior fellow Mark Mills explores this new infrastructure through the lens of energy demand, and the implications for policymakers and regulators, who will be increasingly tempted—or enjoined—to engage issues of competition, fairness, and even social disruptions, along with the challenges of abuse of market power, both valid and trumped up.
Mills, who is available for interview this January, discusses topics such as but not limited to:
- “Data is the new oil” is a popular aphorism, but in energy terms it’s more relevant to note that smartphones are the new SUVs of the 21st century – and in 2020 we are at the equivalent growth stage as the auto age circa 1920.
- The Internet isn’t “virtual” but built on a largely invisible, enormous infrastructure of material- and energy-using hardware supplied by, for example, natural gas from Texas and cobalt from the Congo; an average smartphone uses as much electricity each year as a home refrigerator.
- Now comes the age of artificial intelligence (AI), the most data- and energy-intensive use of computing in history; the ‘teaching’ phase for one AI application (there will be legion) can consume more energy than 50 cars a year.
As today’s top five Cloud architects (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook; there will be more) spend over $400 billion annually — a rate rising rapidly — to build out the Cloud infrastructure, and the associated Cloud services in the United States alone already constitute an $80 billion annual business, one should expect to see on the horizon an array of new services that are no more imaginable today than Twitter, Uber, or Airbnb were in 1990.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mark Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a faculty with the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University, and a strategic partner in a tech venture fund. Mills is also author of Work in the Age of Robots, and coauthor of the highly acclaimed The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy.