WE NEED MORE INFORMATION;
THOUGHTS ON DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE INFORMATION ECONOMY

28th November 2021
Sath Ganesarajah
Founder & CEO, Lake Parime

The information machine

Tasked with decrypting messages from the the infamous Enigma Machine, work at Hut 8 — the British codebreaking station at Bletchley Park — would go on to become a key factor in turning the tide of World War II. Alan Turing, leader of Hut 8, and the individual widely considered the father of theoretical computer science, built an information processing machine that laid the foundations to usher in the Information Age.

Information is intangible and omnipresent. The ability to capture, process, and deliver information anywhere in the world was the breakthrough that catapulted human civilisation into a truly networked society, one where people can interact instantly and over long distances.

Turing, building upon the work of predecessors Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, invented the computer and pioneered the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) industry, which now contributes over Statista — Global ICT Market Share 2013-2021five trillion US dollars in value per year.

Modern society has been completely transformed by the ICT industry and ubiquitous data connectivity. Commerce is increasingly digital, leisure and entertainment are heavily influenced by technology, and we are beginning to embrace ‘smart’ homes and transport. In the widespread shift to digitalisation, computer processing becomes as essential as the electricity that powers it. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025 a staggering World Economic Forum — How much data is generated each day?463 exabytes of data will be created globally every single day — roughly equivalent to streaming 200 million movies.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing, widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science

Microscopic detail of integrated circuits on a silicon wafer

Microscopic detail of integrated circuits on a silicon wafer

What is information?

The Bit

Information is data that is processed, organised and structured to provide useful context or enable human decision making. In computing, a unit of information is a binary digit, known as a bit, that exists in only two states — zero or one. Binary code, made up entirely of zeros and ones, represents meaningful information when interpreted by computers, through many layers of abstraction. Endless sequences of bits and bytes emerge as pixels on a screen, as images, text, sound and other forms of media.

The Electron

Binary Code — abstracted data to be reconstructed as meaningful information — is itself an abstraction of electrical signals.

When current flows through an integrated circuit, individual transistors can switch between conducting and non-conducting states, giving physical form to the zeros and ones of Binary Code. These semiconductor chips are the foundational technology used to build computers.

In the Oxford Dictionary, code is defined as ‘a system of words, letters, figures, or symbols used to represent others’, and thus, when we see moving images on a screen, listen to music or read text on a phone, these are abstractions upon abstractions of code. The electron, or electricity, therefore becomes a fundamental building block of information.

Energy

Electrons that are not attached to the nucleus of an atom and free to move when external energy is applied are called free electrons. Electric current can be defined as the flow of these free electrons in a material. Since electricity is fundamental to information systems, an abundance of energy is essential to the ICT industry — and as this industry continues to grow at an explosive rate, more and more energy will be required to power its activities. At the same time, the energy sector is undergoing extensive structural changes, dubbed the Energy Transition. In the fight against climate change, this describes the move away from fossil fuels, towards sustainable and renewable sources of power.

As the shift to digitalisation and the Energy Transition converge, an enormous demand is created for a configuration of key commodities: Energy, Electrons, and Bits.

We Need More Information

The fourth industrial revolution is underway. Cyber-connected industries, automation and the digitalisation of workflows are commonplace, as general economic activity is enveloped by the information economy. The infrastructure required to support this new world, often called digital infrastructure, must account for the resource requirements needed to maintain current levels of economic growth.

To build a sustainable economy, we need to make the transformations of energy to electrons to bits as efficient as possible. At a macroscopic scale, we are talking about highly efficient networked computing systems powering all aspects of life, run on renewable technologies. On a microscopic scale, technology companies will start to consider how to fashion highly integrated autonomous systems, where semiconductor design is based on the thermal management properties of the data-centre they’re housed in. This level of technological advancement will support an inclusive society, falling living costs, and a higher quality of life on a global scale.

Diagram of the Information Processing 'Fire Triangle'

Processing information using computers requires electrical energy, the Information Processing Triangle describes how increasing the energy efficiency of computing will enable greater throughput of information and, as the information system scales, how it will rely on sustainable sources of energy to perpetuate the cycle.

As the world’s demand for information processing continues to grow, and the urgency of the Energy Transition intensifies, two key megatrends are realised:

1. The Electrification of Everything. The renewable energy sector will continue to scale through technological innovation and capital flows, creating higher volatility and a trend towards lower electricity prices. Paradoxically, an investment scenario could emerge that involves zero or negative renewable electricity prices — turning investments in the sector upside down, pushing energy companies to develop their business higher up the value chain (such as through data processing).

2. The Vanishing Computer. The bifurcation of the computing landscape into mobile (“edge”) computing and specialised data-centres means the personal computer workhorse as we know it is becoming redundant. Data processing is happening increasingly in the cloud — an already vast global data-centre infrastructure. Optimising the way information is moved and processed will necessarily involve sourcing sustainable energy at reasonable cost.

Large wind turbines in a field

Enercon wind turbine assets in rural France

Planetary Scale Computing
for a Sustainable Earth

At Lake Parime we are focused on optimising the Information Processing Triangle, making it as energy efficient as possible. We recognise that the Energy Transition creates new opportunities in the electricity market. Traditionally electricity supply is generated to match demand, but in a new renewable energy paradigm, electricity demand is required to match supply. This is because renewable generation is reliant on the weather and the natural world, creating a variable and intermittent supply independent to when it might be needed. This mismatch in supply and demand creates cumbersome dynamics for both the operations, and economics of power producers and the grid.

To support the Energy Transition and the decarbonisation of the electricity sector, decentralised computing can help by providing flexible and predictable demand for power. Flexible demand is critical to support renewable generators and can help finance expansion of the sector. For this operating model to work, Lake Parime must seek out very large-scale — planetary-scale — use cases for processing data where time-sensitive availability is less of a priority than sheer processing capability.

Blockchain is the nascent internet technology set to revolutionise how we think about digital identity and interactions on the web. The Bitcoin blockchain now stores over one trillion US dollars of value for 80+ million users. Core to the network’s operations and security is a process called mining, which is essentially computer processing. Because blockchain networks are decentralised, the system is not reliant on any single computer to remain operational and, therefore, blockchain datacentres can provide variable processing power. This translates to the flexible demand for power that is so sought after by renewable generators.

Blockchain represents only one application of Lake Parime’s fundamental focus: decentralised and distributed computing. Almost every modern industry, including medicine, finance, and manufacturing, increasingly relies on machine learning, simulation, forecasting, rendering and other heavy-duty processing tasks. By shifting these workloads to remote data-centres, Lake Parime can deliver orders of magnitude improvements in the cost-to-performance ratio of computation, while simultaneously reducing its carbon footprint.

Lake Parime works with some of the largest utility companies in the world, leveraging proprietary technology and a unique operating model to build pathways to Net Zero for both the computing industry and the energy sector.

Information is a currency of reality no different to space, time, and matter

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