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A globe on a range of pennies Gene Wolf

A Penny’s Worth of Data

AI is crucial for managing and optimizing the increasingly complex infrastructure of power generation, grids, homes, and any connected devices.

I ran into a toothbrush the other day with built-in bluetooth and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. It monitors my tooth brushing, judges my abilities and tells me how to improve them, plus it keeps a record of all that. It gave me a chuckle, but it also gave me a wake-up call. I had never given this type of connectivity a thought. It turns out that after a quick check, I found there are several AI-enriched toothbrushes in consumer-land. In addition, my googling led me to YouTube where I found a wide selection of videos telling the pros and cons of each toothbrush. Who would have guessed?

I thought I had been keeping up with techno toys. Doorbells with built-in facial recognition didn’t surprise me. A fridge that keeps track of the food inside and emails you to pick up a quart of milk on the way home when needed wasn’t that shocking. A trashcan that emails you reminders to dump it and many other weird smart gadgets, but a bluetooth enabled, AI enhanced toothbrush really caught my attention. It pointed out how much our customers have really been embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) technology and they have been for a long time. But don’t think that our industry hasn’t been taking advantage of IoT. We have been taking advantage of wired technology too.

Smart grid technology was introduced a couple of decades ago, and deployment continues to set a fast pace. Our grid digitalization has been so successful it has brought about an innovative segment of IoT called the Utility Internet of Things (UIoT). This UIoT branch is the combination of information and operational technologies, which has improved a lot of functions of the grid, but it comes with a price. It produces a great deal of data. There is so much data that we are having trouble managing it with the out-of-date traditional methods so prevalent in the world today.

This dataset goes by the name big data, and a lot has been written about it, but what does big data really mean? It’s such an abstract term. Abstractions tend to be ambiguous for me. Forget the classical definition, what is big data in concrete terms? I want definitions I can wrap my head around. While I was thinking about this, I stumbled across an article in an old copy of Forbes I had saved. It was a commentary on big data and one fact jumped out at me. The article said, worldwide, we generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day!

Now 2.5 quintillion bytes is a tangible fact, but is still somewhat of an abstraction to most people. Number crunching engineers know that a quintillion bytes is 1018 bytes, but my non-engineering friends roll their eyes at such definitions. To them, it’s geek-speak, and the number is still meaningless. With that in mind, I googled quintillion. Most of the illustrations I found didn’t help much, they just added to the confusion factor, until I hit the MetaFilter site. They had several good examples, but the one that helped me the most used pennies.

I can relate to those little round copper coins I horded as a child. MetaFilter said, “A quintillion pennies, if laid out flat like a carpet, would cover the surface of the earth twice.” That visual picture is stunning, and it’s understandable. Since the daily production is 2.5 quintillion bytes, that is enough pennies to cover the earth five times over. In a week, we have 35 layers of pennies covering the world and so on. That is a lot of pennies and now we have a physical relationship to the dataset.

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of where all this data comes from, and where the electricity industry stands, but that information wasn’t included, and it really doesn’t matter. Any amount of data that is too large to manage with traditional methods is a problem for the users. This does give us pause for thought. Aren’t new technologies supposed to solve problems, not cause more problems, which brings us back to AI technology. AI is one of those technologies that has many uses in today’s world, but the one trait driving AI deployment is its ability to make sense of the tsunami of data.

I recently spoke to some folks at ABB Power Consulting about why AI is such a hot topic. Salman Gill, manager of Global Business Development Power Consulting, told me, “Three essential components of AI technology have seen significant growth over the past years, which have accelerated and expanded the uses of AI.” Gill identified the components as computation power, access to big data, and the algorithms that find the patterns. He went on to say, “AI is crucial for managing and optimizing the increasingly complex infrastructure of power generation, grids, homes, and any connected devices.” My takeaway from all this is, we better be ready for AI in many shapes and forms grab your toothbrush, it’s here!

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