Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Gaia Network

Computers and computing resources used to be only for professionals. Later, after the advent of the personal computer, individuals could use and operate their own computers, getting the privilege and limitation of the equipment they owned. Ethernet, Internet and other network technologies have since made limited resource sharing between home computers (and others) possible and peer-to-peer networks enable effective horizontal communication without centralized administration. The Gaia Network is the next logical step.

Right now, the home computer is still going strong. Individuals own equipment and associated computing resources. They usually share very little of it to others, yet they might browse Wikipedia with a computer that has a dual core 2 GHz processor and 4 GB of main memory, with 90 % of the 300 GB hard drive unused. In a way, they are using a supercomputer to play Space Invaders. At the same time, when they need even more resources, they need to buy more equipment; it's the only way. They might have other computers, too - desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, media players - but they cannot offer their resources to boost the computer that is in need.

What if Internet was replaced with a universal network enabling all modern computing devices to share their resources? They would make a self-organizing network, automatically sharing everything they can do, to always provide the most effective computing ecosystem possible. They would be sharing CPU power, processes, memory, storage, specialized interfaces, users... to a common good, to enable feats that are not possible without cooperation. Wherever you would go, your devices would make new friends and assemble a powerful virtual team to do work, retrieve information, process data - to service your needs as a user. Isn't that how humans (optimally) interact?

Dropping one node out of The Gaia Network would mean less resources to share but others would take its place automatically with no visible effect to the result. Because Gaia would constantly organize itself in the most efficient way, bottlenecks around central nodes (as is typical with Internet) would not matter so much.

A turbo boost to computing. A powerful shadow of virtual power. A dream team always around. A virtual exoskeleton in a cloud.

Except that it will not happen.

The owners and operators of computing devices do not want to share their resources. The network is not ready for the amount of traffic and there is no centralized authority to design and implement Gaia. Resource allocation and sharing is not a trivial thing to do and Gaia would need it to be smooth and invisible - and effective, of course. Jealosy is another thing. If some use the power of Gaia to copy new movies, should there also be somebody (or something) to say that it is wrong, or should be allocated less resources? What about abuse, DDOS, privacy issues, copyright issues, anonymity? And think about the children, will you?

The current way of computing seems like the work of a control freak if compared to Gaia. We have our own equipment bought with our own money, used for our own purposes (even if we only use 5 % of its resources), and sharing it might even be illegal even if it was possible.

Cloud computing and distributed computing are, of course, already reality but they fall short of Gaia, a holistic computing ecosystem. The utopia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sacrificing your population to produce energy

Finland sacrifices 0.5 % of its population every year to produce the electricity and heat its population uses. Yes, more than 20 000 citizens are killed every year, with full knowledge. Finland only represents roughly 0.1 % of the world population, so pause for a second to think about the global massacre that is going on.

The article Deaths per TWH by energy source lists the average number of fatalities per source of energy. Not surprisingly, burning coal to produce electricity and heat is very polluting - and causes deaths. Even though it is by far the worst method (by fatality rate), burning other fuels are dangerous, too.

By combining those figures and the table called Electricity and heat production by production mode and fuel in 2009 from Statistics Finland, a very grim figure emerges. Production of electricity and heat kills about 24,000 people annually. Of these, over 19,000 die because of using coal as fuel. 1295 die by oil, 447 by natural gas, 2409 due to biomass/biofuels, 842 by peat, 18 by hydro, 1 by nuclear and 0 by wind and solar. The death toll is about 0.5 % of the population of Finland - every year.

Granted, those deaths/TWh figures are world average and Chinese coal mining and hydro power accidents are included, and so are the fatalities of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The actual number of deaths in Finland are thus probably lower and the good preventive health care also counts. We are still talking about deaths of people, an event where life ceases to exist. And this is no surprise - of course we know that ordinary citizens pay the price for polluting and by building coal plants we kill people. In modern world, that is totally acceptable and legal, right?

Alcohol kills less than 2,000 people per year in Finland (source) and traffic less than 400 (source). These causes of death are seen as major problems in the Finnish society and a lot of money and effort goes into preventing these deaths by different campaigns. At the same time, it is known that people die of pollution, but this is not seen so important. And - of course - nuclear power is feared because of the radiation and its potential to wipe out a major part of the population with one accident.

No, 24,000 people do not actually die annually as a direct result of energy production related pollution in Finland. In some other countries the relative death toll is probably above the global deaths/TWh figure but as there are not any Finland-specific figures, I go with the global ones. It should also be noted that the fuel might be imported from abroad and the pollution spreads in the atmosphere, so whatever we do inside one country's borders is not just our problem and we also suffer from others' decisions.

Recently it was announced that Germany will fund new coal plants with money originally meant to fund renewable energy research (Germany to fund new coal plants with climate change cash). Thus, Germany knowingly kills its citizens in thousands, with money intended for research.

These figures are huge. Even if they were only one hundredth of what were listed in the Deaths/TWh article, would they be justified? After all, our industry, our game consoles, trains, lights and hospitals need energy.

And an afterthought: I usually recharge my mobile phone in the evening. It means that some time during the night, it beeps to signal that the battery has been recharged and I should unplug the charger. So, the phone wakes me up to use some calories to unplug the charger, so that I would conserve some 0.1 W of power and that some 8 hours later in the morning the battery would be only 60 % full. And I might not fall sleep again after waking up. That makes no sense.